Archive for February, 2012

It’s not very often that I can say this, well, once there was a salmon and spinach en croute thing that should NEVER be repeated but nonetheless I tend to be adventurous as well as optimistic in the kitchen. However, whilst trawling the aisles at the supermarkets I’ve always tried to look for something unfamiliar that I should be able to cook. If I don’t have the skill set to cope with certain foods then it is up to me to research what it is that I need to do to be able to do to work with that ingredient and it was this supermarket-philosophy that I picked up ox-tail at my last food shop.

Having researched online as to what treatment this cut of meat needed as to create the perfect winter warmer, I set about the task.

Visually, this looked fatty and therefore I imagined would need several hours of slow cooking.

I rushed home after work and dredged the ox-tail through seasoned flour and sealed the meat in hot butter and oil. In the meaty flavoured fat I gently fried the onions, celery and carrots (aka mirepoix). Once these were translucent I added the sealed ox-tails and added a glass of red wine, beef stock, seasoning and herbs.

Whilst I had a much needed power-nap the ox-tails were stewing for the desired time (3hrs) in a low oven (180¬įC). I even added the potatoes within 45mins of the remaining cooking time as instructed by the online recipe.

As delicious and welcoming as this pot looks it fooled me too!

“This is an eat at the table meal – preferably with lots of napkins!”

The meat was not falling off the bone as the recipe suggested. I made a mess of the shirt I was wearing as I tried to negotiate the meat from the sinew. My table cloth is also in need of a washing machine!

I would not be much of a food writer if all I ever wrote about were my kitchen successes. If anyone can produce an ox-tail stew worth its credit please send me your recipe as I would be more than happy to try it again and give this meat the credit I have heard so much about.

“With a heavy heart and a somewhat heavy stomach I write that I was disappointed with dinner.”

Sweet

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Uncategorized
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As a child, my favourite part of a meal was dessert.  If I went to a restaurant I would sometimes not finish my main meal and claim I was full up!  Hence leaving room in my second stomach for dessert.  My dessert stomach.  Which was never full and always wanted more!

It was always something with a grand name, multicoloured and served in a frosted sundae glass.  Ice-cream, strawberry syrup, chocolate sauce, cream and topped with sprinkled nuts.  My favourite, the Knickerbocker Glory.

As you grow-up your taste changes and I find that nowadays I don’t necessarily have to end a meal with a dessert/pudding. ¬†Not that any of this means that I forgo all desserts! ¬†On the contrary, I still have a sweet tooth, it is just that now a liqueur almost seems more appropriate.

On the occasion that I do order dessert, I tend to order things like Banoffee Pie with its thick wodge of biscuit as its base and luscious, cool, caramel topping. ¬†But unless it’s a special occasion I really don’t want to have to create this at home. ¬†Boiling tins of condensed milk for hours on end, waiting for them to cool before being able to pour them over the biscuit base and banana layer. ¬†Then chilling this before you can put on the cream layer. ¬†By the time I would sit down to eat dessert I don’t think I’d want to. ¬†What an ordeal. ¬†Speaking from experience, none of the stages are particularly difficult but home cooking should not be about spending 3hours+ preparing a dessert.

“Home cooking should be about creating simple yet delicious recipes.”

A regular dessert in my repertoire is a plum crumble.  Generally, supermarkets sell out-of-season fruit which tends to be under ripe and tart therefore cooking them brings out their natural sweetness.

However, to try something different, instead of making a plum crumble, I made a plum, blueberry and raspberry tart.

Plum Tart

1st: Cut the plums in half and remove the stone.  Cut into segments.

2nd: Add these plum segments to a very hot sauce pan and sprinkle over some sugar.

3rd: Once some colour has built up on the plums add golden syrup, a vanilla pod, a cinnamon stick and a good slosh of red wine or port (or a bit of both!!)

4th: Pierce the plums to check that they have been cooked through but are not falling apart.

Pour into a colander and collect the juices in a saucepan. 

5th:¬†Whilst the plums are cooking roll out some shop bought all butter puff pastry. ¬†If you’re feeling adventurous make your own but this is unnecessary. ¬†If you want to save time buy some already rolled puff pastry.

6th: Score an edge into the rolled pastry and eggwash.  Pierce the centre before placing into a hot oven for 20mins.

7th: When cool enough, press the middle down leaving the edge intact.


8th: Assemble the plums, blueberries and raspberries onto the centre.

Sprinkle with icing sugar before placing back into the oven/grill

or using a blow torch which is too much fun for words!

9th: Reduce the plum juices in the saucepan (step 4) until they are sticky and coat the back of a spoon.

10th: Pour these juices over and serve with clotted cream on the side.

EAT…

Of all the places I have travelled to, New York aka New Yoik, is still one of my favourite destinations.  Having been there on three seperate occasions with three different groups of people, I can encouragingly recommend this place to everyone.  Other than the typical tourist attractions statue of liberty, times square, central park, etc which I will gladly visit again, it is the food that stays with me the most!

But what actually is American food?  Historically, as Europeans gradually colonised the Americas they took with them ingredients and cooking styles from their native lands.  These influences continued expanding proportionally with the influx of immigrants from many foreign nations.  It is this influx that has developed a rich diversity in food preparation throughout the country.

As these immigrants passed through Ellis Island, many of them settled in New York City.  Creating a melting pot of cultures, race and food.

On my second visit to NYC we stayed at¬†the Beekman Tower Hotel, near the United Nations building.¬†¬†Opposite our hotel there was a cafe – I think it was¬†called Union Cafe – which severed food all day from 6am to 11pm (I may be exaggerating).¬† My NY breakfast of choice¬†was french toast with¬†maple¬†syrup¬†fried bacon and eggs, sunny side up ūüôā

What can I say?¬† If you don’t want to have to keep stopping for mid-morning snacks delaying your itinerary to your next tourist queue this is the sort of breakfast you are going to¬†want, no, correction, need!

But this food obsession does not just stop at breakfast.  From a city that boasts ~23, 500 active restaurants (figure taken from nycgo.com) there is food for all pockets and tastes.

This figure also incorporates food stands selling the quintessential hot dog with relish, burger stands and the other New York City staple, the pretzel.

When you first buy a pretzel you welcome its warmth and bready smell.¬† Holding it in your hands you feel victorious that you have found the answer to keeping warm in¬†New York in Winter –¬†but when you take your first bite you realise you should have asked the guy for relish!¬† It is too dry therefore hard.¬† However, for me, it is the rock salt that covers it that makes it an unpleasant experience.¬† Each bite you take makes you wonder whether your fillings are being hacked out of your teeth!¬† Not content with this the first time (or wondering whether I was sold a dodgy pretzel), I have then¬†bought pretzels on my other two visits to NYC and found the same unpleasant, salty experience.

Actually make a point of adding relish to anything you buy from a food stand/hot dog cart/burger stand/pretzel stand as generally the sweet relish masks the taste of what you are consuming!

NYC does sweet very well.  Not only is it a mecca for cupcakes and muffins which are amazing.  Stop in any deli and get a coffee (cu-o-ffy) and a slice of cheesecake that lifts you spiritually as well as providing much needed respite from walking the streets of Manhattan.  And it was with this uplifting memory of NYC and those indulgent if not calorific breakfasts that I made American Style Pancackes for my Saturday breakfast!

American Style Pancakes

1st: Mix plain flour, milk, melted butter, eggs, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and salt in an electric foodmixer until everything is mixed well.

2nd: Pour the mixture into a jug as they are easier to pour onto the pan than spooning them out.

3rd: Cook on both sides.

4th: Serve with maple syrup like a waterfall, cascading over its sides!!

YUMMERS!!

Nostalgia

Posted: February 7, 2012 in Childhood, Family
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My parents are in the process of redecorating their kitchen and getting rid of kitchenware they no longer want; subsequently passing it onto me! In between random cutlery sets and unwanted easter-egg mugs they have given me a stainless steel pot which according to both Mum and Dad, they bought in Portugal some 20 years ago.

20 years ago I was only 13 years old! At this age we still lived at my Grandparents’ house and it got me thinking about the meals that this pot would have catered for us over the years.

My Granny was fantastic in the kitchen. She fed 7 of us a cooked lunch everyday. Mum helped Gran with dinner when she got back from work . On Saturdays another 4 of us would be present for lunch! This was no easy achievement on a limited budget, supplies and a small kitchen area.

But like all women of her generation she made the most of every penny that was in the food budget and made sure never to waste anything.

The family never went hungry. Yet how was this all possible?

Organisation. Granny had a repertoire of set favourites that we all loved. For lunch between Mondays and Thursdays we ate combinations of the following: Shepherd’s Pie (really cottage pie) with baked beans or pastel de corned beef (corned beef pie); chicken/corned beef/tuna in rice; gallina al horno (chicken pieces in a white wine gravy); sausage, egg and chips. Fridays was always a steak and kidney pie and chips (as Gran went to the hairdressers), Saturdays would be Rosto (macaroni in tomato sauce with chopped sausages and topped with bacon) which she could bulk out with pasta and Sundays, the quintessential roast.

On some occasions and when the weather called for it Granny would make potaje (pronounced po-tah-hay). This could be in the form of a chickpea or butter bean stew with chorizo and blackpudding, as well as another one made with spinach or lentil stew with pumpkin and chorizo. Served with fried chickpea flour based tortillas perfect for cleaning the plate. Another of Granny’s winter warmers was sopa de calavacines (white marrow soup with dairylea and small vermicelli pasta).

The sopa de calavacines is super easy to make and one that I make often; see Recipes.

I have never made nor wanted to make potaje before. My brother loathed it and it loathed him! But my mantra, ‘if it doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ meant I was willing to try anything once. Feeling the cold and holding this 20 year old pot in my hands made me feel very nostalgic about the food of my childhood and I tried to evoke it from tast memory. Here goes:

Potaje de Alubias, lomo, morcilla y chorizo (White pea bean stew with pork, black pudding and chorizo)

Using pulses in stews is typical peasant food. They are cheap, highly nutritious and ideal for large numbers of people. Even though they are ‘meaty’ in texture they can be quite bland tasting therefore they need a flavour injection.

1st: Either soak your beans over night and then boil for 2 hours OR buy a jar of precooked beans that you are confident using.

2nd: Chop a medium onion and fry in some olive oil. Add crushed garlic. I also added a chopped red chilli.

3rd: Slice chorizo and morcilla and fry in the olive oil. This will release a lot of sweet, smoked paprika flavoured oil into the pot. Add the pieces of pork and cook in these juices.

4th: Chop a large tomato and add to the pot.

5th: Once the tomato has broken down add the cooked beans. Simmer for a few mins. Serve hot with fresh parsely spinkled over.

Not exactly like Granny used to make but I am sure she would be very proud! ENJOY!

Pancakes…mmmmm! Which type should I make? American style, french cr√™pe, ricotta hotcakes, galette, gridle cake, pfannkuchen, pannenkoeken, poffertjes, palacinky, palacsinta, blini, drop scones, pikelets, crumpets, waffles the list goes on.¬† Or so the internet tells me!

“Ultimately, all of the above are a variation on a theme.”¬†

They all have flour, milk and eggs.¬† Some use yeast as a leavening agent others use baking powder some even use yoghurt or buttermilk. which¬†as it¬†hits the heat reacts creating a fluffy, light pancake.¬† On this occasion, and¬†purely because I had a tub of it in the fridge when I planned this weekend’s cooking, I decided on Ricotta Hotcakes.

A surprisingly easy recipe to follow. 

Creating the batter for these hotcakes is simple.¬† You need to whisk the egg whites before mixing them into the batter mixture but to be honest, this is not strenuous work.¬† Even bleary-eyed and jauntily dressed in stripey Pj’s this is manageable.¬† I do have to say I was tempted to use the electric food mixer but I’m not quite sure my neighbours would have appreciated the racket it makes in the still of¬†an 8 o’clock Sunday morning.¬† Top Tip: add salt to the egg whites before whisking as this helps them froth up a treat!!

Once you fold the egg whites into the batter you are ready for lift off.

The texture of these hotcakes was sublime.  They felt as if they had souffled in the pan.  The ricotta was so smooth yet tangy in the batter leaving a clean lemony taste in your mouth.  If I were to compare these hotcakes to anything, I would have to say that they reminded me of

a light lemon flavoured doughnut. 

It was due to this that I added the raspberries and blueberries.¬† Even though I am sure they would be just as delicious doused in maple syrup.¬† However, I wouldn’t recommend bacon with these!¬†

The only downside is that I’ve got to wait another 7 days before I’m going to be attempting them again!¬† Or perhaps next time I’ll dispense with the ricotta version and make american style gridle cakes.

Weekend – Saturday

Posted: February 4, 2012 in Weekend
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Hard as it may seem, it had felt as if I had not thrown myself into the kitchen for a while. So at some quiet moment on Friday, between breakfast and after work beers (of which there were lots) I sat down with orange post-it notes and pen in hand and decided on cooking/baking that I was willing to embark upon this weekend.

The following recipes are neither of them difficult nor tedious – they just require some waiting around. This is why they are ideal weekend activities. During the week I wouldn’t want to wait 45 mins for something between creation and consumption.

First on my to do list primarily because I had run out of it was the infamous chilli jam:

I have put the recipe on a previous post but here are some photos taken during the production of this batch.

You have got to take my word for it, please believe me; red flecked and fiery this chilli jam is addictive. It makes for complsive eating as you convince yourself that you need that extra chunk of cheese or slice of cold meat drizzled with sweet chilli. It is so easy to make it is a shame not more people try it. All I really need to do here is buy smaller Killner jars and hand out to friends and family, as 1500mls of chilli jam is clearly too much for me. Any takers?

Whilst my preserve cooled, I started on my Saturday night staple Pepperoni Pizza:

I use a very basic bread recipe taken from Jamie Oliver which I have jiggled slightly.

1st: I pour out my bread flour direct onto my granite worktop and mix with lukewarm water, dried yeast, salt and honey. NB: Yeast is a microorganism. Hot water will denature the yeast and it will not make your dough rise (that’s enough science for now.)

2nd: Once the flour has absorbed the liquid I start using my hands to bring the mixture together. At this moment I start kneading the dough.

Kneading: This is the process whereby you use the heel of your hand to push the dough away from you, fold the dough over, rotate and repeat until the dough becomes elastic and smooth.

3rd: I then place this dough ball into a bowl and cover with a tea-cloth to prove. It is this proving that makes the dough rise and fill up with pockets of carbon dioxide gas making for a light and fluffy dough.

After ~45 mins I knock the dough back and start rolling out and assembling my pizza.

I make this pizza so often that I don’t weigh the ingredients. Everything is by eye. My two rules are: how big a pizza am I going to able to consume and how big my oven is!

“For me it is about the feel of the dough under my hands”

If with every push of the heel of my hand I feel the dough is dry and flaky I wet my hands in tepid water and continue. If alternatively it is too moist and not taking the force I add more flour. Once the dough becomes as warm as flesh, it is ready to rest in a warm place to allow the yeast to work its magic.

Fresh parmesan grated over and topped with rocket leaves. Drizzled with olive oil and tobasco sauce at the ready.

I always eat my pizza off the board.

DELICIOUS!

Damn! I just dropped the piece of chicken into the jar of chilli jam. Literally scraping the last few fiery flecks of sweet chilli onto the scalloped chicken breast “gallina empana” I look back, even though a few months late, at what was a highly successful¬†seasonal cooking extravaganza.

Seduced and inspired by Nigella, whom I watch avidly every December, I began my preparations to launch myself into the Christmas Spirit (or several spirits as the case may be)!

I met a friend for a coffee one day to plan what food and cocktail we could make for a party of approx 20 people. She whipped out the Christmas cooking bible that is Nigella Christmas; I am almost sure but I think everyone stopped and turned in our direction! I stroked each and every glossy photo; gently fingered pages and salivated over every Christmas buffet party-clad table, and set to task.

The Christmas Cocktail that we decided upon was Poinsettia Рa severely quaffable fizzy wine based cocktail with cointreau and cranberry juice.

“When you run out of cointreau you know it is going to be a good party!”

Foodwise, other than the usual fare* we decided on:

Cranberry and soy-glazed cocktail sausages**, Chilli Jam for cheeses, Union Square Cafe nuts, Tuna Salad, Christmas Rocky Road and Peanut butter cups.

*Gibraltarian households celebrate Christmas with spanish charcuterie Рthis can be a thing of magnificence; the omnipresent chorizo, the majestic jamón (Pata Negra) and the angelic salchichon. As well as Manchego cheese sliced onto plates and drizzled with olive oil.

Cranberry and Soy-glazed Cocktail Sausages:

These were an absolute hit and will become a regular feature at my future parties.

1st: Put sausages into a disposable roasting tin (to save on labourious washing up after the party when your head cleverly just wants to go to bed!)

2nd: Mix 125ml of sweet chilli sauce, 60ml cranberry sauce, 60ml soy sauce, 1 tbls dark brown sugar, juice of 1 clementine and juice of 1 lime together and pour over the sausages.  Coat evenly.

3rd: Cook in a hot oven for 40mins with a shake of the oven dish half way through cooking.

These are so lip-smackingly good that you’ll have guests asking for more!¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† **Alternatively replace the sausages for spare ribs.¬† I however, find that, the spare ribs even though delicious in this sauce, need an extra 10mins in the oven with some honey over to make them extra-sticky-finger-licking-good!¬† This perhaps isn’t ideal for parties but make a great mid-week treat over a few beers.

Union Square Cafe Nuts:

1st: Roast some mixed nuts in the oven.

2nd: Melt some butter and mix together with dark muscovado sugar, salt, cayenne pepper and finely chopped rosemary.

3rd: Mix the nuts into this butter mixture.

These nuts are so ridiculously moreish, you will come up with all sorts of reasons to make these again and again and again!

Chilli Jam:

My pièce de résistance was Chilli Jam.  I made it with the intention of giving away food presents this year (last year at time of writing!) but could not find jars small enough to be able to make a good batch of them.  So I ended up just making 3 x 500ml jars; keeping one for myself and giving the other two away as presents.

1st: Place 1Kg bag of Jam Sugar into a saucepan and pour over 600ml of cider vinegar.

2nd: Warm through until the sugar dissolves.

3rd: Deseed 150g of red bell pepper and 150g of red chillis and place into a blender.  Blitz until finely chopped.

4th: Add to the saucepan and bring to the boil.  Boil for 10 mins on a very high heat.

Allow the mixture to cool for about 40mins without stirring.  As it cools the jam becomes more viscous.  Place into sterilised jars.  Enjoy!

I made this again during December, this time for my brother and sister-in-law whilst staying at their house over the Christmas holidays but was requested to make it hotter, so therefore added a few birds-eye chillies into the mix as well.  Whilst the sweetness and chilli taste was still there there was an increased tingle on the lips and at the back of the throat.

WARNING: Whilst cooking, the boiling birds-eye mixture made my eyes water and made me cough incessantly.  My face (unintentionally) received a chilli steam facial which was sore for a while after.  Oh and the rest of the house complained about the vinegary smell.

Regardless, having finished off my jar of chilli jam, I shall be making some more (original strength) very soon.¬† I’ve used it on cheeses, cold meats, gallina empana, croquettes, in sandwiches, in wraps, on chips,¬†as a dip for nachos… the list goes on.¬† And it is with great respect and authority, hand on my heart, trumpets sounding,¬†that I say:

Nigella is for life, not just for Christmas!