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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Sausage & Egg snackMuffin

There is something incomparably dirty, yet singularly satisfying about the Sausage and Egg McMuffin as a breakfast or brunch. The processed cheese that has but a passing acquaintance with Dairy produce, the grease-seeping sausage patty of undefined meat-like substances, and the egg... which is, thankfully, unmistakeably egg. Pressed together within a good, thick muffin, they create the kind of taste sensation that the old "It's like a party on my tongue..." jokes were made for.

But if it just ain't Breakfast Time at McDonalds anymore, what's a guy to do but...

Come on, you're reading snacks & the single man, a blog in which I prepare myriad and sometimes bizarre foodstuffs in my very own kitchen (when I'm not being lazy and cooking something prepackaged), surely you can guess..?

...That's right: Make His Own.

Those of a fragile disposition, or who dislike even the concept of Home-Made McDonalds should leave while still in possession of their faculties. What are you doing here anyway? It's not all cookies and brownies.

Ingredients:
  • Muffins
  • Pork Sausages (2 per snackMuffin)
  • Eggs (medium will do)
  • Processed Cheese Slices (Dairylea again, on this occasion)
  • Butter
  • Cooking Oil (just a dash, to prevent the butter from caramelising)
Preparation Time: about 10-15 minutes

Tools Required:
  • Frying Pan
  • Toaster
  • Knife (to cut Muffins and Sausages)
  • Spatula
  • Egg Rings (optional
Process:
Start by slicing open the muffins, then cut the sausages lengthways, opening them out but taking care not to split them entirely. It's helpful, but not imperative, that the sausages are of approximately the same size as the muffins.

Melt the butter in the frying pan and add the oil. Once it's all good and medium-hot, add the sausages, as they'll take the longest to cook. Turn them occasionally so they're cooked evenly on both sides. As they begin to go grey and show signs that they're nearing completion, lower the heat, crack open the egg and dump it into the pan, using an egg ring if your obsessive compulsion requires a perfectly even, circular egg. Mine does not. I arranged the sausages to act as barriers to the egg, so it came out nearly shaped like a quarter circle... but I'm just awesome that way. I flip my omelettes, remember.

As the egg cooks, pop the muffin halves into the toaster on a relatively low setting - muffins tend to be thicker and more moist than yer average slice of bread, so adjust accordingly. You're aiming for a light toasting, rather than '3 seconds from charcoal'.

Keep turning the sausages in the last couple of minutes. When the muffin pops back out of the toaster, lay the processed cheese slice on one half, then transfer the two sausages on top (draining if necessary), then the egg. Finally push the other half of the muffin down on top and consume while still nice and warm.

The Results:
Bizarrely, McDonalds so-called 'sausagemeat' patties actually have more flavour (or, perhaps, more salt) than the sausages I picked up (Waitrose Premium Pork), and their processed cheese must contain some form of fireproofing, because this didn't actually taste as good (or should that be as dirty?) or stay as solid as the genuine article. Nevertheless, it was a most satisfactory snack.

It requires rather more time and effort than the Filet O'Fish Fingers, but it's effort worth making and time well spent. The contents ooze out in an enticing manner, made all the more precarious by the fact that there are two split-open-and-flattened sausages in there, rather than one sausagemeat patty. Either one could slip out at any time... perhaps even both. That could get messy.

Again, those with food-related OCD issues may want to take the sausagemeat out of its skin and fashion their own patties to go in the pan along with their nice, tidy egg rings. My wonderfully assymmetrical snackMuffin was just right.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Margherita plus... M&S Festive Spiced Streaky Bacon

While I love pizza, I am a conscientious objector to the Margherita. I mean, honestly, what's the point? It's a pizza without any topping (no, cheese is not a topping, it's the default state - one may have extra cheese, but the presence of some cheese is a given). It's pizza for people who don't like pizza.

But it's also an excellent starting point. And, with this Blog going experimental with baking, it was surely only a matter of time before I had the epiphany that led to adding my own choice of toppings to the humble Margherita.

And what better way to begin, as ye Festive Season approacheth, than with Marks & Spencer Festive Spiced Streaky Bacon? The label describes it thusly: "With festive spices of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg. Perfect for laying over turkeys or as part of Boxing Day breakfast". While I might query the grammar of the description (spices of? Really M&S?), I cannot deny its veracity. It seems to have been prepared in much the same way as yer average breaded ham - a great chunk of meat is coated, then sliced finely - in that the festive spices appear as but a thin layer around the edge of the bacon. Fret not, however, as the flavour suggests a slightly more extensive form of seasoning once the bacon is cooked.

And, yes, I'd sampled the bacon prior to this pizza experiment. A couple of slices made it into an all-day breakfast I'd prepared the night before. I normally steer clear of streaky bacon just because the proportions of meat to fat are damn near 50:50, and I prefer my meat to have more... well... meat. But the description piqued my curiosity, and I was intrigued enough to give it a try.

Hey, don't knock it - first, I may be experimenting with food, but I ain't stupid; second, the sampling of festive bacon actually helped to inspire this pizza.

Come on now, do I really need to list the ingredients? Oh, why not? Let's get specific...

Ingredients:
  • 1 Pizza Express Margherita (shop's own brands would do, but a trusted brand in pizza is preferable)
  • 4-5 Rashers M&S Festive Spiced Streaky Bacon
  • Nothing Else. Really. Move Along, Please.
Preparation Time: Approx 14 minutes

Tools Required:
  • Oh, Good Grief. Really?
  • Alright, then... A Pizza Slice. Or a Knife, if you prefer.
Process:
How specific do I need to get here? Preheat the oven to 190degrees. Open the Pizza Express Margherita box, remove it from its plastic wrap. Lay out 4 or 5 rashers of the bacon across the pizza, then place the pizza into the oven - being careful to separate the pizza from its polystyrene base beforehand - and cook for about 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve when fully cooked.

Did I miss anything? I don't think so... but, hey, let me know if there are any glaring omissions (such as "use oven gloves and exercise caution when placing the pizza in the oven and when removing it. The oven will be hot"... Except I guess I just covered that one...).

See how quick that was, both in preparation time and cooking?

The Results:
Well, lesson #1 in 'How to Make a Margherita Less Boring' was both simple and very successful. Normal bacon can be a little sharp and salty for adding to even the barest of pizzas - the oil from the cheese and the fat from the bacon would tend to make it rather unpleasantly slimey, which is why bacon normally appears on pizza in tiny chunks. This stuff, meanwhile, is subtle of flavour... not especially salty, and the spices serve both to bring out its flavour and supplement it. The effect, upon a pizza as otherwise bland as the Margherita, is nothing short of stunning.

On the downside, even having given this the full, recommended 14 minutes of cooking time, the bacon remained a little underdone for my taste: I prefer the fat to be fairly crispy, and some of it was still positively moist. Breaking the habit of a lifetime, I did not permit this to deter me... and I very much enjoyed this little upgrade.

I do feel, however, that I should apologise for having basically created The Christmas Pizza... I mean, all you'd need to do is add a few choice cuts of turkey, some sliced cocktail sausage and a touch of cranberry sauce, and you're right there.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Baking Again - Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Having successfully negotiated a recipe for cookies, and having picked up a box of this Betty Crocker ready-made mixture some months ago, I finally decided to give it a whirl. Hey, I've got the Delia Smith Christmas Cake package, so I need to work up to it somehow. You won't catch me going straight from cookies to large cakes! I'm not daft.

This package is incredibly convenient, because it's almost all the ingredients you need. All you have to do is add the fluids, stir, and bake in a suitable tin. Having done this, if I manage the Christmas Cake, I may revisit brownies in the New Year, and start from scratch, rather than with a pre-prepared recipe. Y'know, baby steps.

But this wouldn't be snacks & the single man if I didn't do something wacky to the recipe. I'd had a secret ingredient in mind for quite some time so, before starting, I popped down to my local Confectioner in search of Pop Rocks. They only had Cola flavour, so I had to detour to the local supermarkets, eventually getting something like what I needed in my nearest Sainsburys. Continuing the crackly candy theme, I decided to top the brownies with a whole Terry's Volcanic Popping Candy Chocolate Orange...

But was I ready for the results?

Onward, gentle reader, and you shall see...

Ingredients:
  • 1 packet Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Brownie Mix
  • 75ml Water
  • 30ml Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Medium-sized egg
  • 1 Terry's Volcanic Popping Candy Chocolate Orange
  • 2 packs Pop Rocks (or equivalent, I used something called Fizz Wiz)
Preparation Time: Allow about 20 minutes to blend the mixture thoroughly, then 20-25 minutes to bake, followed by 10-20 minutes cooling time.

Tools Required: 
  • Medium-sized Mixing Bowl
  • Spoon, Fork or other preferred mixing implement (or, y'know, a blender if you're lazier than I am)
  • Baking Tin

Process:
Gotta say, when I measured out the miniscule quantities of water and vegetable oil, I was just a little incredulous - how could so little fluid turn a whole pack of this chocolatey powdered melange into brownie dough? Of course, once the egg went in, my fears were quashed - that accounts for a fair amount of the required fluids and, apart from a few persistent lumps, it all mixed up nicely. I did it by hand, too, which gave me nasty RSI, but that's just because I'm a complete namby, and don't do this kind of stuff nearly as often as I should. I mean, come on, it's not exactly a hardship, is it? Weigh it up, people: Brownies vs Arm Ache.

Brownies win.

Anyway. Essentially, with a mixture like this, all the hard work is done for you. All you need to do is dump the mixture into a bowl, measure out and add the oil and water, then crack an egg into the bowl before mixing it all up. Once you have a nice, smooth dough, you are ready to proceed - I did find the clumps of powder were rather difficult to eliminate, and so I basically gave up after about 20 minutes of arm-ache. That, and I got bored.

Lightly grease a baking tin (I used the vegetable oil, but butter is just as good if you prefer) and spread the mixture evenly about the tin. Now, in the interests of honesty and full disclosure (and because I do so love to criticise myself extensively), I'm going to admit that I'd started pouring the dough into the baking tin before I rememberd to add the damned Pop Rocks. It was no great shakes, though - just meant I had to do a small amount of stirring once they were added into the bulk of the dough and final mixture decanted into the tin.

The first sign that my brilliant idea was destined to fail was audible immediately. The mixture was popping merrily away in the tin. I suspect that it had all dissolved into the mixture before the tin even got into the oven.

Once the dough was evened out as much as possible (again, short attention span got in the way of doing it properly properly), I broke open the Terry's Chocolate Orange and laid out its segments on the top. I figured they'd either sink in, or melt nicely over the top...

Finally, the tin was placed roughly in the middle of my oven, which had been preheated to 160degrees (being fan-assisted, 180degrees is suggested otherwise). 20 minutes later, I inserted a fork into the brownies to check their progress... it came back covered in dough and melted Chocolate Orange. I gave it another 5 minutes - the instructions reckoned 25 minutes would be the most it would require, after all.

At the 25 minute mark, however, the fork test was still suggesting that more time was required. I risked another 5 minutes, and the fork came back nice and clean. So far, so good.

The tin was removed from the oven and left to cool for a while before cutting. At this point, I cursed my stupidity for leaving the cooling rack in the bottom of the oven - not much good for cooling if it's baking hot! Since my experiment was to be tested on my colleagues at work, I wrapped the brownies in cling film and left them in the fridge overnight. Normally, I'd just scoff the lot there and then. In between getting them into the fridge and getting them out again to take them to work, I did drop a couple of pieces. I'd cut it into 25, though, and 23 was still more than enough for the few I intended to share with. And, hey, it meant I got to sample it early.

The Results:
Resoundingly positive, except in the case of the colleague I almost poisoned, as he despises orange flavoured chocolate. When I got some funny looks following my announcement of "a secret ingredient", I didn't immediately realise why. Once I figured out the possible implication, I joked that the secret ingredient was actually crack cocaine. Sadly, the Pop Rocks were basically indistinguishable, though a couple of folks reckoned they got a little pop out of their piece.

The brownies were nice and moist, very chocolately and, while the topping didn't melt evenly, it worked well enough. It's certainly an excellent recipe, and the instructions are probably simple enough for any baking novice to follow.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

You Won't Believe It Is Sushi..! For Reals!

Because why else would I decide, upon a whim, to lark about with fish fingers? Come on, surely you remember that someone bought me an 'All You Need to Make Sushi at Home' kit? I only mentioned two posts ago.

Seriously, I shit you not. Get ready for one of the most fiddly and intricate Snacks this blog will ever behold!

Please note, though, that I love sushi, and I have the utmost respect for the chefs who train for years to prepare it for my delectation. My little foray could quite possibly be an insult to them all... but I prefer to think of it as an homage (and I'm such a reverse-snob, I had to grit my teeth to type 'an' before 'homage' there). And, let's face it, how cool is it to be able to put together sushi in your own home, even knowing that it's going to be a bit cock-eyed compared to the stuff you'd be presented with in a restaurant? After all, it's cock-eyed because that's how I made it.

The quantities alluded to vaguely herein should be more than enough for two people, possibly three.

Ingredients:
  • Sushi Rice
  • Sushi Nori
  • Wasabi (can be purchased in several forms, I used Clearspring's Wasabi powder)
  • Rice Vinegar
  • Mayonnaise
  • Light Soy Sauce
For California Rolls:
  • Seafood Sticks
  • Avocado
  • Cucumber (optional)
For Vegetarian Rolls:
  • Cucumber (this time - peppers, carrot, celery, baby corn, all kinds of veg can be used if you can turn it into long, thin strips)
For Nigiri/Sashimi:
  • Small Salmon steak
  • Small Tuna steak
For Tamago:
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar (I'm not kidding)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Light Soy Sauce
  • Butter (approx 1/2 tablespoon worth)
For Maki:
  • Salmon Caviar
Preparation Time: Didn't keep track, but probably not as long as it felt... Maybe about an hour or so in total.

Tools Required:
  • Sushi Mat
  • Cling Film (optional)
  • Knife
  • Spoon or similar for spreading rice
  • Frying Pan
  • Saucepan
  • 2 Pots or bowls (one fairly large, one small)

Process:
Start with the rice, as that takes longest to prepare and needs washing before use. It's a particular kind of rice - short grained, and very glutenous and sticky - so make sure you get something that's specifically described as sushi rice. Pour 250g into a bowl and wash with cold water, repeating a few times before draining in a sieve. Put 330ml of water into a saucepan and add the rice. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes with the saucepan lid on. Take off the heat and leave to stand for about 20 minutes, leaving the lid in place. Add 2-3 tablespoons of rice vinegar and stir in, then leave for another 10 minutes. It might even be worth refrigerating, because it ideally needs to be cool when you start adding the fish.

While all this is in progress, make a start on the Tamago omelette. Break two eggs into a bowl and beat. Stir in a tablespoon of sugar (really, I'm not making this up) and half a teaspoon of light soy sauce. Put the frying pan on a medium heat (this is the general omelette lesson I needed to learn months ago!) and melt the butter all over the pan. Pour in the egg mix and fry until the egg becomes mostly opaque. Flip (or, y'know, turn it with a spatula if you're not one for living dangerously) and cook through. Once it's done, remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Again, this might be worth refrigerating. When it's cooled off a bit, cut into strips of about 2x10cm.

Next comes the Wasabi. If you've purchased it in some ready-made form, all well and good. If using a powder, it'll go something like this: Add one part warm water to two parts Wasabi powder in a small bowl or pot and stir into a paste. Leave to cool. Simple, huh?

Then we have the fish. Basically, all you do for either the Nigiri or the Sashimi is cut the small Salmon/Tuna steaks into small slices, say about half to three quarters of a centimetre thick, then cut down into chunks of about 2x5cm. The most important thing to note is that the fish really must be bought fresh, not pre-packaged, and certainly not frozen! I cannot put enough emphasis on this. Where's the damned flash tag when you need it?!

It might also be worth pre-preparing your Nori sheets. Some will be kept as complete sheets for the rolls, some will be cut into strips - fairly long and thin for the Nigiri and Tamago (say about 1cm wide), wider strips for the maki (about 3cm maybe?).

Finally, have a large-ish pot/bowl containing a mixture of warm water and Rice Vinegar. This acts both as a lubricant for spreading the rice around and a means of preventing the rice sticking to your hands as you manhandle it.

California & Vegetarian Rolls:
Cut the avocado into quarters, removing the skin and stone. Cut the quarters into thin (2-3mm) slices. Place a sheet of cling film over the sushi mat (not utterly necessary but, depending on your preferences, it may make things easier), and a sheet of Nori on top of that. Take a couple of tablespoons full of rice and spread evenly and thinly over one end (using the water/rice vinegar mixture to keep your chosen spreading implement lubricated), taking up about 2/3 of the sheet, with the empty third being furthest from you. Spread a thin line of mayonnaise about 1/3 along the rice. Add the fillings (seafood sticks, avocado - and, should you so wish, cucumber cut into long, thin sticks - for the California Rolls, or chopped veg for the vegetarian rolls) on top of the mayonnaise. Roll up the mat (taking care to pull back the cling film, if used), tucking in the near end to start the roll. Wet the bare end of the Nori and roll over to seal. Squeeze the roll firmly, then remove from the mat and cut into 6-8 pieces (depending on how large you like your sushi rolls). Lay out on a plate or tray and, if not eating them immediately, place in a refrigerator.

Fish & Tamago Nigiri:
Lay out a sheet of cling film on the sushi mat and wet with the mixture of water and rice vinegar. Take about 2 tablespoons of rice and lay out in a line. Roll up in the cling film and sushi mat to create a long, thin, densely packed strip of rice. Remove from the roll and cut into chunks of about 4cm. Add a dab of Wasabi paste then press one of the salmon/tuna chunks down on top, thus spreading out the rice underneath. Wrap with one of the longer, thinner strips of Nori, wetting the tail end to seal.

The process is essentially the same for the Tamago but, since the strip of omelette is about twice the length of the rice block, you just fold it over before wrapping with a thin strip of Nori. Add all to the plate or tray with the rolls, and refrigerate if necessary. You'll probably only end up using about half the omelette, but it's a tasty enough snack in its own right and you'll probably end up snaffling some of it as you prepare the Nigiri. Any excuse will do, but the old favourite "it's a curved bit" is good for starters.

Maki:
The simplest of the lot. Prepare and cut another long, thin, densely packed strip of rice as for the Nigiri/Tamago. Round off the blocks, then take the wider strips of Nori and wrap them around the rice to create a kind of bowl. Spoon in a serving of Salmon Caviar, and add to the plate or tray with the rest.

Serve with picked ginger and a mixture to your taste of light Soy sauce and Wasabi.

The Results:
Well, I wasn't kidding when I said it'd be cock-eyed, so I can see why it takes years of training to perfect the art of making sushi. While the fish, even though bought less than an hour before preparation, wasn't as fresh, tasty or melt-in-the-mouth as the stuff you'd be served in any halfway decent restaurant, it certainly wasn't terrible. I'm not a big fan of seafood sticks - the melange of seafood just doesn't taste good on its own, as far as I'm concerned - and Salmon Caviar is certainly a taste I haven't quite acquired yet, but the overall mix of sushi was pretty darned cool for my first home-made effort.

It is an awful lot of effort, though, and I did find my concentration flagging many times during the preparation. The fiddliness of the rolls means a lot of practice would be required to get them bang on, and making a selection like this felt like a really long, drawn-out process.

I'm certainly intending to try it again sometime, but likely over a weekend, for lunch, having picked up the fish first thing in the morning.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Asda 'Meal for One' (times three)

Yes, I know, it's another write up of packaged ready meals but, let's face it, I can't do interesting stuff all the time.

And so, we begin this pre-packaged culinary tryptich with:

Tuna Pasta Bake
Described by its packaging as "Flakes of tuna with Italian pasta shells in a rich tomato sauce, topped with a creamy cheese sauce and Cheddar", this product actually manages to deliver on most of its promise. The traditional mistake with this kind of product is there's either too much pasta, too much tomato sauce, too little tuna, or any combination of the three. I must admit that, at first glance, Asda's Meal for One seemed to fall into the 'too little tuna' category but, upon serving, a whole layer of tuna at the bottom was revealed. Impressive though that may be, both the cheese sauce and the Cheddar were somewhat overpowered by the tomato sauce which also seemed a little thin.

Still, overall, it's a tasty, reasonably quick meal of a decent size... And it's just possible that it needed a few minutes longer, though I did follow the cooking instructions (25 minutes at 190degrees in a fan-assisted oven), and it certainly didn't seem underdone.

Tomato & Mozzarella Pasta Bake
What is it with me and pasta bakes anyway?

Here we have "Italian penne in a chunky tomato and basil sauce, topped with Mozzarella and mature Cheddar".

What is it with pasta bakes and tomato anyway?

Seriously, though, this is another pretty decent contender from Asda's range. Far simpler than the tuna bake, being essentially just the pasta and tomato components of the dish above. Obviously, though, while the previous entry features tomato sauce, this proffers chunky tomato and basil. The sauce certainly has more texture and flavour but the cheese still disappoints - both in terms of quantity and flavour, this Mozzarella and supposedly mature Cheddar is almost entirely overwhelmed, being a fairly sparse layer over the top of the product. It's not bad, however, and would probably be excellent as an accompaniment to either meat or additional vegetables.

Sausage & Mash
Finally, in this batch, Asda serves us "2 succulent seasoned pork sausages in a rich onion gravy, served with buttery Maris Piper mashed potato". Now, I'm a big fan of sausage and mash, and this isn't my first S&M rodeo...

...perhaps I should rephrase that...

In the main, I find one can't go too far wrong with any ready-made sausage and mash in just about any kind of gravy, but I do find that onion gravy - preferably with large chunks of onion - tends to be the best. Probably the worst I've had (from a supermarket I shall tactfully neglect to name here) had rather too high a gristle content in its sausages, but I'm pleased to report that Asda's Meal for One is good and meaty. I would, however, point out that the packaging is emblazoned with an 'Improved Recipe' lozenge, and yet I tasted nothing particularly special about the seasoned pork sausages (not even wholly convinced that they were seasoned, despite the claims of black pepper, ginger, coriander, sage and parsley in the ingredients), and the mash was nothing more than yer basic buttery mashed potato. Assuming, then, that the improvements were to the onion gravy, I would say there's something to be proud of. It's certainly rich, and there's plenty of the onion's natural flavour still present.

So, there you go... Three pretty darned good meals, though none really outstanding in any way. It's worth noting that not all of these Meals for One are freezer-friendly, so it's necessary to check the packaging, and store and use them appropriately. Those that can be frozen must be fully thawed before cooking, because the instructions are for cooking from chilled. One could guesstimate an adjusted cooking time, but it probably wouldn't be wise. Even the Microwave instructions, for those who can't wait the 20-30 minutes of oven cooking time, are from chilled. Possibly not the most convenient of convenience foods, but they'll certainly be returning to my personal menu.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

"I Can't Believe It's Not Sushi!"

or "Adding Insult to Culinary Ninjary"

So I've been doing all this experimentation with the Great British Favourite, the humble Fish Finger (and it's slightly less humble, alluringly pink Salmon cousin)... And then a friend bought me an 'All You Need To Make Your Own Sushi' kit.

What's a guy to do, except perform further silly experiments with his food?

I mean, come on, Raison d'Être, anyone? If I'm going to do this Blog, I might as well include the stupid stuff.

Now, let's face it, I don't need to list the ingredients in this one, or the tools, or even go into detail about the process. Out came the Fish Fingers - Cod, Pollock, Salmon - the dark Soy sauce and the Wasabi. Fish into oven, 12 minutes at the required temperature (210degrees in a fan-assisted oven). Soy sauce decanted into a small dish (or plate, since my crockery is somewhat lacking in this department at the moment), along with a small amount of Wasabi paste and mixed together. Once cooked, the fish fingers are dipped into the sauce and consumed.

The Results:
Um. Yeah. Certainly interesting. The Soy/Wasabi sauce brings back the flavour that is otherwise obscured by the crispy breadcrumb coating, but this is a really, truly, pathetically basic snack. While inevitably doomed to be repeated in times of desperation, drunkenness or outright whimsy, it just ain't satisfying. And it's not simply that the rice or the seaweed were absent... it's just... They're bloody fish fingers, aren't they?

But it had to be tried, gosh-darnit!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Variations onna Theme... Inna Bun: Filet o'Salmon Fingers

Yes, after searching far and wide and repeatedly coming up empty, I happened upon some Salmon fish fingers in a branch of Asda, on the way home from work during the week... And so, I can finally attempt this variation on the guilty pleasure that is Filet o'Fish Fingers.

Ingredients:
  • A Bun
  • Salmon Fish Fingers (3-4, depending on the size of the bun)
  • Processed Cheese Slices (Dairylea this time round!)
  • Dill Sauce
Preparation Time: 12 minutes

Tools Required:
  • Knife (to cut the bun, as per usual)
  • Other Knife (to spread the Dill Sauce upon the inner surface of the bun)
  • Oven Gloves
  • Spatula
  • Baking Tray

Process:
Essentially the same as the original, and the Vegetable Finger remix: Lay out the Salmon fingers on the baking tray, slap them in the oven for 12 minutes, then start preparing the bun while you wait. Cut it open, put the processed cheese slice on the lower half, then spread a decent amount of Dill sauce on the upper half. Note that, as long as you use a halfway decent Dill sauce, the flavour is fairly strong, so you shouldn't need quite so much of that as you would the Tartare sauce from the original 'recipe'.

When the Salmon fingers are done, scoop them up with the spatula and lay them out on the cheese slice, then close up the bun. Consume at your leisure.

The Results:
By God, this was awesome. Truly, this is the Lord of all Snack Foods... Salmon fish fingers are actually quite bland in and of themselves... there's something about coatings something in breadcrumb that just erodes flavour, and so I find that some kind of sauce is a necessity with any fish finger. It's disappointing that the Salmon version is affected in this way, but a good Dill sauce brings that flavour right back. The Dairylea slice melted perfectly, becoming one with the bottom half of the bun and adding a subtle note of flavour, while the Dill sauce added just the right note of piquancy to the proceedings. Dairylea could well be the best choice for this kind of thing, so I'll have to revisit the original and see how it fares with either Cod or Pollock.

This, my friends, is what Snacks & the Single Man is all about: Quick, vaguely nutritious, and easy to cook as an alternative to the post-clubbing kebab.

Although I had this for dinner tonight... and I hadn't been clubbing.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Adventures in Omelette #2 - Mushroom & Pork Breakfast Sausage

OK, really stretching myself here... This is something I tried last weekend, but completely forgot to write it up.

Largely because it didn't go so well.

It's basically the same as Adventures in Omelette #1 only with slightly less mushroom, and bulked up with Sainsbury's sliced, packaged Pork Breakfast Sausage, cut into quarters because the slices are rather large. I also did away with the Olive Oil, since I honestly don't think it made much of a difference in the original. So...

Ingredients:

  • Eggs (Duh. Sorry, three for a decent-sized omelette)
  • Closed Cup Chestnut Mushrooms (3, from a punnet still containing many)
  • Sainsbury's Pork Breakfast Sausage slices (4, quartered)
  • Butter (for to stir-fry)
Preparation Time: about 10 minutes in total

Tools Required:
  • Bowl or jug for mixing eggs
  • Fork or egg whisk, also for mixing eggs
  • Knife, for to cut the mushrooms and sausage slices
  • Hob
  • Frying pan
  • Spatula optional

Process:
Beat eggs, blah, slice mushrooms, blah... So far, so #1. Literally the only difference at this point is that, after slicing the mushrooms, you take 4 slices of the Pork Breakfast Sausage and cut them into quarters. Mushrooms and sausage bits were added to the pan at the same time and fried briefly before pouring the eggs on. Flipping didn't go quite so well this time, but only ended up with a slight fold-over rather than any eggy splashing or omelette breakage.

The Results:
Y'know, I think I have sussed the problem of cooking these things through evenly. Because I am dim, and still not used to simple processes like cooking omelettes, I've been blasting these on pretty much the highest setting on one of the larger burners on my hob. Slower cooking on a lower heat would surely produce a more thorough cooking, rather than singing the underside while the top remains a gooey liquid.

Which, in case you haven't guessed, means this one was all but unpalatable. I managed most of it, but the combination of singed egg, sausage and mushroom really didn't taste good.

Must Try Harder.

And, seriously, stop with the flipping. Showy, yes... useful, no.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Baking Special - Halloween Surprise Cookies

OK, here's something a bit more interesting and challenging... Every so often, my boss bakes a round of what she calls 'Cardiac Cookies' (so called because the quantity of sugars involved in making them means they're liable to induce cardiac arrest if consumed to excess). Since starting this li'l ol' blog, I've been thinking about baking... I've got the makings of brownies, but in a box bought from a shop, so the next most interesting option was to attempt to bake my own Cardiac Cookies.

...Or my own version.

I considered what could be used in place of the Snickers chunks used in the original recipe, and ended up with After Eight mints... after all, how often do you get mint choc cookies? So... here we jolly well go...

Apologies for the use of American cup sizes for measurements... The recipe is technically American, but I shall endeavor to update with coherent UK measures once I have them figured out. Please note that these measures do not equate to a teacup... though I'd imagine that, as long as the proportions remain the same, you'd just end up with loads more cookie dough if you used teacups.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup Golden Syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups flour (preferably self-raising, or add a tablespoon each of baking powder and baking soda if using plain)
  • 1 box After Eight mints
Preparation Time: About 20 minutes for the dough, then about 10-15 minutes per batch to bake

Tools Required:
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Measuring cups
  • Bowl or jug for beating the eggs
  • Fork or whisk for beating the eggs
  • Spoon or somesuch stirring implement for mixing the dough (but see personal note below)
  • Baking tray
  • Foil
  • Oven for baking cookies
  • Rack for cooling cookies
  • Microwave for softening butter (or patience, if waiting for it to happen naturally)
Process:
To begin with, soften the butter by chopping it up into manageable chunks, placing in the measuring cup, and sticking the whole thing in the microwave on the lowest setting for about 30 seconds. Mix together the two kinds of sugar, butter and golden syrup. Beat the eggs then add them to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Add in the flour and mix some more, until you're dealing with a sticky mass of sugary, cookie dough goodness. Due to the way I measured out my ingredients, I got this bit hopelessly wrong, and consequently had a very hard time mixing it all up. My bowl received three cups of self-raising flour first, followed by the sugars, butter and syrup. I may have given myself RSI trying to beat that stuff into submission so, once I'd added the eggs and mixed them in to a certain degree, I cast aside my spoon and got to mixing the old-fashioned way.

Meaning 'By Hand'.

Oh yes, I did.

This automatically makes my cookies sexier, not to mention more sensual and intimate... Or something. Certainly more personal than carrying on with the spoon and, frankly, more comfortable.

And, yes, I washed my damned hands. Several times, in fact. Messy work, making cookies, and I can get a little obsessive about keeping my hands clean when dealing with food.

Anyway, once the dough was ready, it was placed in the fridge for a while, just to give me a bit of a rest. Cooling the dough does make it easier to handle, also. It is very, very sticky, and will end up sticking to your hands better than the fillin' once it's warmed up. Theoretically, this fridge time was also when I should have made myself some dinner.

Ahem.

Once the dough is cooled, yank it back out of the fridge, and grab a heaped tablespoonful. Grab an After Eight mint, pretending it's nowhere near 8pm so you're not obliged to eat it, and wrap the dough around it. Try to ensure it's all even and nicely sealed. My first round of cookies used rather too much dough, and ended up swelling to virtually fill the baking tray. These things expand a hell of a lot in the oven, so be sparing. There should be sufficient dough should make about 20-30 cookies in total.

Lay out on foil on the baking tray (this makes extracting the baked cookies far easier) and bake in an oven pre-heated to 200C (350F) for 10-15 minutes (closer to the low end, if using a fan-assisted oven like mine). The cookies should be golden brown when done. Transfer the foil sheet to a rack, allow the cookies to cool for a couple of minutes, then remove them from the foil to allow them to cool more fully without going sweaty. As long as they're not overdone, they should remain reasonably soft.

Once the baking is complete, scoff any remaining After Eight mints. Go on, you deserve them.

The Results:
Y'know, I have to say I'm pretty happy with the way these turned out. As mentioned, the first batch turned out pretty massive... four of them almost becoming one megacookie... but, other than that, they were probably the most successful. Subsequent batches suffered slightly (none burnt, but they were more than 'golden' brown) through mistiming and leakages where the corners of the mints protruded from the dough. The original recipe suggests 12-18 minutes baking time, which must be for ovens that are not fan-assisted (or possibly the Snickers bar, and the addition of Peanut Butter, change the composition of the dough to the extent that it takes longer to bake), so I had to dial back the time for each batch. Even ten minutes turned out to be a bit too long once I'd got the correct amount of dough per cookie.

I must further confess that the later batches suffered from a loss of attention as my inherent laziness kicked in. Making up the cookies to be baked is a very fiddly process, made worse by the stickiness of the dough as it warms in the hand. Possibly rolling it out might have been a better idea, but I don't have a rolling pin, and I didn't have space to do the rolling anyway. I ended up washing my hands a lot.

I ended up with about 28, 8 of which were the oversized initial batch, and two of those were used for sampling purposes (the first one was pretty good... but I just needed to be sure, darn it!). The remaining six oversized cookies will be given to my sister tomorrow, and the 20 'normal' sized cookies will accompany me to the office. Not enough for a full house but, being Friday, I don't expect there to be a full house.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Terry's Chocolate Orange - Volcanic Popping Candy version

Look, it's called 'snacks & the single man'. It's inevitable that chocolate would come into it sooner or later.

I'm not quite sure why I've avoided Terry's Chocolate Orange. It's not that I dislike chocolate, or orange-flavoured chocolate, or orange-shaped, orange-flavoured chocolate, either in theory or in actuality. Maybe I tried one when I was younger, and it didn't light my candle..?

These days I'm clearly not so fussy about my chocolate delivery systems.

The standard version is perhaps a little too sweet for milk chocolate so, if Terry's were to make a dark chocolate orange, I'd be all over that like... well, like the remnants of chocolate on my fingers from the last one. Or, most likely, more so.

I was given the mint chocolate variety by a friend, and I found that very moreish. It really was a struggle not to finish it in one sitting, despite it being still quite rich... the milk chocolate again somewhat spoiling the otherwise pleasant flavour... Though whoever thought of making a mint-flavoured chocolate orange was clearly in need of some quiet time in a padded room. It's just not right, OK?

So when I saw this thing in all it's orange and purple Halloween/Bonfire Night glory, I could not help but try one. I quite like the concept... but does the execution live up to the promise of 'volcanic' popping candy?

The short answer is 'no'.

The popping candy is barely discernable, causing only the mildest of crackling at the back of the tongue. The average serving of fizzy drink is comparatively more 'volcanic' than this stuff, even without having been shaken. What little popping candy there is does add to the sweetness, though, making the end result almost unbearably sugary except when eaten straight from the fridge.

Rather disappointing... and probably best not given either to diabetics or hyperactive children on Halloween.

Iceland Italian Stonebaked Mediterranean Vegetable Pizza

This appears to be a fairly new product, considering I'll often pop into my local Iceland to restock on the simple, freezer-friendly stuff. It looks interesting enough and, for a mere £1.50, I could probably even forgive the usual Iceland trick of using too much tomato purée and not enough cheese... However, this one seems quite well-balanced, and certainly has no shortage of toppings, in the form of peppers (yellow and red), spinach, courgette and red onion. Furthermore, it lays claim not just to the presence of Mozzarella, but of "cheese sauce", whatever that may be.

The blurb on the back describes it thusly:
A real Italian pizza made in Meduno, a small village near Venice in Northern Italy. The dough for this pizza is prepared and left to rest for 6 hours before it is baked traditionally in a stone oven producing a delicious thin and crispy base.

And here, in many ways, is the problem with ready-made pizza: the base is pre-baked. When you go to a restaurant the serves pizza - even the place we have at work - they start with the dough, add the toppings, and slap the thing in the oven in its properly raw state, there to cook for 10-15 minutes. This produces a pizza base that's far fresher - crispy, yet still almost moist inside - than ready-made, pre-baked pizzas can deliver.

But, y'know what? This has to have been one of the best ready-made vegetable pizzas I've had in a long while. All of the toppings survived being frozen with all their flavour both intact and distinct (with the possible exception of the red onion, some of which seemed a little bland). My worry with vegetable toppings on frozen products, particularly low-budget ones, is that they'll just go soft and tasteless in the oven, so top marks to Iceland for this pizza.

Once cooked, the cheese-to-tomato purée ratio did start to look a bit more like Iceland's usual but, in terms of flavour, the whole thing was just right. I do wonder if they'd be better off freezing it with the base raw... but then, since most UK ovens come with wire racks, rather than solid flat surfaces like a proper pizza oven, that probably wouldn't work out so well.

Having eaten it, though, and read the ingredients list, I'm still none the wiser as to what the "cheese sauce" was.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Variations onna Theme... Inna Bun: Filet o'Vegetable Fingers

Following the success of the Filet o'Fish Fingers, I have been considering my options for other bun-filled snacks. While browsing my local Iceland today, I happened to espy Birds' Eye Vegetable Fingers, and thought to myself they would make an interesting experiment.

Virtually everything about the procedure is identical to the original (though the fingers take 15 minutes to cook, rather than 12), so take a look at that page for the finer details. Obviously no tartare sauce with this variation... and, on this occasion, no sauce at all, just the processed cheese.

The Results:
It needs a little something extra because, frankly, the fingers themselves are not particularly flavourful. Not bland, as such, but not seasoned in any significant way, and the content just merges into a melange of breadcrumb-coated mixed veg.

So, what do we think? Ketchup? Brown sauce? Mustard? Either one of the latter two would certainly give the snack a much-needed kick, and there are certainly plenty of mustard varieties to play with. It's actually amazing how well the processed cheese slices go with fillings other than the fish fingers... but I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that they worked here, considering that veg can be served in all manner of cheese sauces. Still, for a quick, vegetarian snack, this worked out very nicely.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Adventures in Omelette #1 - Mushroom

Yes, I made this one myself. Go figure.

It's actually quite surprising that, considering how easy these things are to make, I don't put in the minimal effort more often but, as I say in my blurb, I'm lazy.

Really, really lazy.

But I digress. I popped out to stock up my fridge with the simple stuff and decided to do something more than a plain old omelette. My first instinct was to go for some ham, but that seemed a little boring. I picked up a pack of Pepperoni and some of the shop's own-brand processed cheese slices, but decided to put some of them in a bun for lunch... And, while I like Pepperoni, I don't necessarily want to have it for every meal.

The next thought was mushrooms. The selection on offer at the shop I visited was the standard white mushrooms that you can get just about anywhere, and tend to be a little bland, or 'Closed Cup Chestnut Mushrooms'. Described on the packaging as "mild and nutty", I figured they'd make an interesting ingredient to a slightly less boring omelette. And, just to make the interesting a little more interesting, I started by stir-frying the mushrooms, as per the suggestion on the packaging. I know how to live on the edge, don't I?

Ingredients:
  • Eggs (Duh. Sorry, three for a decent-sized omelette)
  • Closed Cup Chestnut Mushrooms (4, from a punnet of many)
  • Butter (for to stir-fry)
  • Olive Oil (prevents the butter caramelising too quickly, it is said)
Preparation Time: about 10 minutes in total

Tools Required:
  • Bowl or jug for mixing eggs
  • Fork or egg whisk, also for mixing eggs
  • Knife, for to cut the mushrooms
  • Hob
  • Frying pan
  • Spatula optional

Process:
The first step should be getting the eggs ready - it would be foolishness itself to start anything else before the blended eggs are ready to add to the pan. Having selected my mushrooms, they were sliced thinly (well, 3-4mm thick). Butter and oil were added to the frying pan. Once they were good and melted together, the mushrooms were added and fried till they started going brown. At that point, the blended eggs were added, aiming to fill the base of the pan evenly, in amongst the mushrooms as they fry.

For some reason, my frying pan has a problem with 3-egg omelettes. The underside browns all very well, but the top takes ages to cook, so I've taken to flipping them to prevent burning on one side.

Yes, that's right, I said I flip my goddamn omelettes. I said I know how to live on the edge, didn't I?

In some ways, I think the butter and oil exacerbated the situation, but they did also make it far easier to flip the omelette. I wish I'd taken photos, because this one flipped perfectly - I kid you not, nor do I exaggerate. 180degree flip, and straight back into the pan to finish.

The Results:
I kind of wish I'd added some kind of seasoning, but my first mushroom omelette was a great success. The underside exhibited some signs of caramelisation, but the flavour was unaffected. The mushrooms were not only nutty, but fairly sweet. Quite pleasant, overall. I suspect another part of the problem with the slow cooking was down to the addition of the mushrooms, but it hasn't put me off trying more and different additions to my omelettes in future.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Pizza Double Bill

I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be posting a lot of ready-made stuff and a fairly paltry amount of stuff I make myself... Oh well. We can but wait and see.

Well, I could put in some more damned effort while you wait and see but, frankly, after work these days, cooking is the last thing on my mind. This last weekend, I finally got round to washing the dishes that have been stacking up for a couple of weeks.

But that's another story. This one is about Pizza. Specifically...

Dr Oetker Ristorante Pizza - Speciale:
When I said I like my pizza to feature pepperoni, I wasn't kidding... so when I saw a ready-made pizza featuring pepperoni and salami, my belly sent clear signals of a positively romantic interest.

And I really wasn't disappointed. The multi-lingual blurb on the back describes it as "Richly topped with cheese, salami, mushrooms and ham on a crisp, thin base." and this many-tongued expression is no lie. Frequently with ready-made pizza, one finds something or the other is lacking - either there's not enough tomato purée, not enough cheese, or not enough of the gosh-darned topping. This thing has to be the best-balanced ready-made pizza I've had in a long while, and the cooked end result is truly excellent.

I must admit I'm getting better at judging cooking temperatures and times in my fan-assisted oven - generally I can shave off about 10-20degrees, and about 2-5 minutes... and it always helps to keep checking on a pizza - the eye can tell better than a timer when it's ready to serve.

Had I the space, I'd stock up on Dr Oetker's Speciale.

(Dr Oetker) Chicago Town Edge to Edge Thin & Crispy California Cheese Pizza:
I find it curious that the Chicago Town folks have adopted 'Fact*' as part of their advertising slogan. I'm sure there's a bleach or detergent that's currently using it, too... and its vulgar overuse was highlighted by Ricky Gervais's character, David Brent, in The Office.

Anyway... They do actually qualify this 'Fact*' with the explanation/caveat "Product tests proved that Edge to Edge has more topping than any other frozen branded thin and crispy pizza. FACT! (products compared February 2010)" and, yes, I shit you not, "FACT!" - all upper case, and with exclamation mark - is printed on their packaging.

Thing is, this pizza is actually a fair bit smaller than other 'frozen branded thin and crispy pizzas' - something like an inch smaller by diameter. So, when they say it has 'more topping', is that average by area?

Whatever the story, I have to say that this one impressed me, as 'cheese only' pizzas go. I normally find them quite bland, but the interplay between the mozzerella, mature cheddar and provolone was quite pleasant. It all kind of merged into one fairly mild cheesy melange, but I guess that's the whole point of something like this.

It's not necessarily something I'd go looking for specifically in the future, but I may well try the others in the series... I seem to recall seeing a New Orleans Cheese Pizza in the same chiller cabinet, if not more.

Both were very quick to cook, but naturally the one featuring pepperoni was my personal preference.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Simple Salmon Lunch for a Baby / Salmon Teriyaki Stir-Fry

I had my sister round for lunch yesterday and, feeling daring, I offered to cook for her and my niece, rather than heading out anywhere. We had discussed eating out near where I work, but that would tend to be more useful if meeting her after work, during the week.

My cunning plan was to make a second attempt at a Salmon Teriyaki stir-fry recipe detailed by a friend which, on the last attempt, burnt rather badly. It's a simple enough dish to prepare, but best done without distractions of any kind, because various parts of it can burn very quickly if left unattended, and it's very easy to get the timing wrong.

Teriyaki probably isn't the best idea for a baby, though, so the niece had to make do with a small salmon steak, baked in the oven alongside a potato waffle, and a serving of peas cooked in the microwave.

I must confess that I guessed at the timing for the salmon on this one - I've baked fish before, including salmon, but it had always come from a cardboard box in my freezer which carried cooking instructions. This chunk of fish had come from the fishmonger.

Estimating that, if the waffles needed 12 minutes to cook (at 200degrees in a fan-assisted oven), I surmised that the salmon steak would need... less than that. I guessed about 8-10 minutes, thinking that the waffle could stand a minute or two extra if necessary.

So, it went something like this:
Once the oven got up to heat, a timer was set to 12 minutes, the waffle placed on a baking tray and inserted into the oven. 4 minutes elapsed, then the salmon - wrapped loosely in tin foil - was introduced to the baking tray for the remainder of the cooking time. After a further 6-7 minutes, a serving of peas was placed into a microwaveable plastic bowl, the lid left ajar, and cooked on full power for two minutes.

The waffle and salmon were removed from the oven and transferred to a plate, and the peas were strained and added before serving to a young lady of just over a year old.

Naturally, even a small salmon steak was too large, but she managed about half of it, and it was all pretty much cooked to perfection.

"Now," I said, portentously, "watch me ruin the stir-fry..."

Ingredients:
  • Salmon Steaks (one per person, but the average frying pan can only usefully accommodate two at a time)
  • Fresh ginger (one reasonably-sized chunk)
  • Garlic (two or three cloves, depending on how much you like it, and how much you want people to know you like it)
  • Onions (these will be the bulk of the stir-fry, so either a good sized normal onion, or plenty of spring onions)
  • Butter (about a half-inch slice of the average-sized block)
  • Olive oil
  • Teriyaki sauce (I wish I'd measured... I guess 'add to taste'?)
  • Microwave rice (I used Uncle Ben's egg fried rice)

Preparation Time: Honestly, I have no idea... I couldn't concentrate very easily, despite having done so well with the baby's lunch. Not long, by any measure.

Tools Required:
  • Hob
  • Frying pan
  • Small knife
  • Spatula/egg turner


Process:
For best results, chop up the stir-fry ingredients ahead of time. Peel the ginger and chop as preferred - chunks, slices, matchsticks... it's all a matter of preference. Chop the garlic into thin slices. Chop the onion finely. Place in a covered bowl till you're ready to begin the stir-fry.

Place a frying pan on the hob (large burner preferable) and introduce the butter and oil. When it's all melted, throw in the onions, ginger and garlic. Move them constantly while frying and, when the garlic turns a nice, nutty brown, remove and place to one side.

Add the salmon to the pan and seal on all sides. Once it all looks opaque, add the Teriyaki sauce. As the salmon cooks through, the sauce and melted butter should slowly start to thicken and, hopefully, bond with the salmon. Turn the salmon so all sides are nicely coated.

As it cooks, microwave the rice. I stretched one packet between two people, but the only drawback to using a whole pack each is that you'll need more time for two packs - each one takes 2 minutes, on average.

By the time the rice is done, the salmon should be almost ready to serve, so pour the rice out onto a plate, add the stir-fry, add the salmon, and pour the remainder of the Teriyaki tar over the fish.

The Results:
Yes... well... those words turned out to be very portentous. Basically, I'd made a whole series of mistakes on this attempt. The stir-fry part went well enough, but fishing it out of the butter/olive oil was a chore and, when it came to serving it all up, I almost forgot about it. I guess the reason it burnt last time I tried this is that I left it in the pan while the salmon was going.

Then there was the salmon itself. Rather than traipse off to a supermarket, I thought I'd make use of my local fishmonger, a short walk down the road. The sign by the door, rather off-puttingly, states "Anyone Served"... surely such statements are unnecessary in this day and age? Nevertheless, the fishmonger was very helpful, saying that if there was nothing suitable in terms of size/shape out on the counters, there was plenty more salmon in the back. I've basically lucked out with my fishmonger - salmon is their speciality!

But what I hadn't factored into my calculations for cooking time was the skin. Last time I cooked this, I used supermarket-bought skinless salmon steaks. Sadly, the skin is an excellent insulator, so the fish was less ready than I'd thought when I first served it up. Both steaks had to go back into the pan for another couple of minutes before they were properly edible. By this time, the remaining Teriyaki tar was turning into a solid mass, and had separated entirely from the olive oil.

Nevertheless, no-one was poisoned... and I learned a valuable lesson in preparing this dish for next time: Remove the bloody skin. I may well give this another try during the coming week, just to improve my confidence... and using the frozen steaks I already have in my freezer, if only to just to get rid of them. I already know they're going to make life more complicated because they'll be so waterlogged having been frozen.

The Alternatives:
Egg fried rice does work very well, but plain rice, or possibly some of the other seasoned varieties (mushroom rice, perhaps? Special fried rice?) might work. Definitely do not use any of the heavily seasoned/spicy varieties, though.

The stir-fry is where the most interesting changes or additions can be made, but it's important to balance the flavour of the fish and the Teriyaki sauce with whatever you choose to add. I'd considered the remainder of my sweet pepper, but that would have been far too sweet as part of the stir-fry. Chopped up and added to the rice raw, it may have worked, but I'd forgotten to chop it beforehand, and the final stages were such a mess, I didn't get round to it. Runner beans or edamame would definitely suit, but I'd be tempted to add them in with the Teriyaki, just for a bit of extra flavour. Similarly, beansprouts and water chestnut are a stir-fry staple, and would fit in nicely, I suspect.

Another thing to consider is, rather than giant salmon steaks, what about slicing it up into more manageable chunks? That should make it quicker to cook, but would it end up making it too fussy, requiring too much attention?

My sister suggested part-baking the salmon before adding it to the frying pan and, while this would certainly increase the certainty of it being properly cooked, it would be kinda cheating.

As far as my niece's meal goes, I believe the official verdict was "it was all fine until she found a bit with jelly on it... then she just started throwing it around."

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Floristán Spanish Potato Omelette

Yes, I have attained a new level in laziness, via a pre-prepared omelette. Deal with it.

Seriously, though, one of these days, I really must get round to making one of these things from scratch. It's eggs, potato, onion, olive oil and salt. You mix it up, you chuck it in a frying pan and, a few short minutes later, you have a gosh-darned tasty omelette.

This product is, according to the packaging, actually manufactured in Spain, making it a far more Spanish omelette than anything I might hope to prepare. It's a veritable Tortilla Española. So maybe that's my excuse.

Don't judge me. I've already said I'm lazy, what more do you want?

And, hey, this thing comes with Microwave instructions, but I chose to do it properly, in the frying pan, with a couple of dashes of olive oil to help it along. And some pepper. Yeah, I'm really that daring.

But it didn't stop there. I had half a sweet pepper lurking in the fridge, in danger of losing its alluring crispness, so I chopped that sucker up and threw it in the frying pan with the omelette, for a bit of stir-fry action. The instructions call for a total of about 6-8 minutes of cooking time - that's 3-4 minutes each side, since it's quite a thick product, and the heat would not properly conduct all the way through if it was only heated from one side. Adding the veg made it slightly more complicated, in that I had to wholly resist my ever-present urge to flip omelettes (is that really so unusual?) for fear of sending hot chunks of oil-smothered sweet pepper all over the place.

I'm a big fan of omelettes in general, but tend to resent all the washing up they entail (a bowl and fork for mixing, even before it starts cooking? Pur-lease!), so the convenience of a pre-made omelette that requires only re-heating is a massive bonus. It's suggested that this product can serve "3-4 as a main course, 5-6 as a snack, or makes about 25 tapas". Clearly 'tapas' means 'morsels that are tiny to the point of being insignificant', but I found this reasonably filling as a main course for one. I'd certainly buy it again, but the simplicity of its ingredients and preparation makes me feel I should at least try to make one from scratch before resorting to pre-made... and, when that day comes, I should probably add more to the stir-fry.

Or the omelette.

Y'know, one or the other.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Tesco Finest: Ham, Garlic Mushroom & Italian Marscapone Pizza

Billed as "a traditional hand stretched stonebaked base inspired from the Naples region of Italy topped with creamy white sauce, garnished with Parmesan & parsley." I would question the (lack of) punctuation in that description, but cannot argue with a full-size pizza that takes only 6-8 minutes to cook (10-12 from frozen), and tastes as good as this.

Frankly, when it comes to pizza, I'm not that imaginitive. Pepperoni is generally what I look for, followed by a decent amount of mozzarella and a fair - but not excessive - amount of tomato purée.

The presentation of this pizza is not great - with only four or five large (6-7cm square) slabs of ham, you're going to get quite a few mouthfuls that are entirely without ham unless you take the time to chop it up and redistribute prior to cooking. Strangely, though, the similarly sparse distribution of the white sauce harms the pizza very little - it melts very quickly, and just runs everywhere. Better still, it congeals very slowly - I'd more or less finished the pizza, and it was only 'thickening' rather than 'set'.

The interplay between the flavours of the main ingredients is quite well-judged: the creaminess of the Marscapone and the white sauce are not in conflict, the ham doesn't taste excessively watered-down, and the mushroom (again, large slabs of) is smooth, yet distinct. The base didn't seem particularly special to me, despite the essay on the back about its preparation, but it's certainly a cut above the likes of Pizza Hut, or the run-of-the-mill supermarket pizza.

Definitely one I'll have again. It would be advantageous to have a hotplate for something like this, to stave off the congealing of the cheese, and I probably need larger plates in general, but this is a very nice pizza.

Filet O'Fish (Fingers)

It is perhaps fitting that this, the inaugural posting in my new Blog, is nothing more than an attempt at reproducing the guilty pleasure of that late-Friday-night McDonalds. Who knows, perhaps guilty pleasures will become a running theme (*adds label*) as this Blog develops.

The idea occurred to me as I've often heard tales of fish finger sandwiches, and the McDonalds Filet O' Fish is essentially just that - a slab of battered fish (not reclaimed - possibly the only McDonald product that can make this boast), a slice of processed cheese, a dash of tartare sauce... inna bun.

So, here's where I stretch the definition of 'ingredients':
  • A Bun (any kind will do, so choose your preference. I used Kingsmill 50/50 because, you know, fibre and stuff. They're a bit small, frankly, but serviceable... and can work well if lightly toasted)
  • Fish Fingers (go for a halfway decent make, not a shop's own brand. 3-4 required, depending on the size of the bun)
  • Processed Cheese Slices (1 if it's a reasonably good make, 2 if you've gone cheapo-cheapo)
  • Tartare Sauce (any kind will do, again... but I've heard it suggested that 'home made is the best')

Preparation Time: 12 minutes
(for the fish fingers, that is. If you're dim, like me, it's worth remembering that you can actually progress the bun part of the equation while the fishy fingers are cooking, thus saving a couple of minutes at the end, during which time the fish fingers might (a) start going cold and (b) get stuck to the blasted baking tray. Damn, but I hate scraping stuff off those things.)

Tools Required (other than an oven/grill... come on, keep up!):
  • Knife (to cut the bun, unless you bought pre-cut... in which case, you're even lazier than I am for crying out loud)
  • Other Knife (with which to spread the Tartare Sauce upon the inner surface of the bun)
  • Oven Gloves
  • Spatula/Egg Turner 
  • Baking Tray

Process:
Retreive thy packet of fishy fingers from yon freezer, and read the instructions that appear thereupon. Set oven accordingly (let's assume preheating to an average of about 210degrees, with the cooking time set to about 12 minutes). Once the oven is preheated, place thy fishy fingers upon a baking tray, which can then be safely ensconced within yon furnace of food preparation.

I am assuming, by the way, that when I refer to 'fishy fingers' you're all quite aware that I'm talking about the kind that are coated in breadcrumbs or batter. If not... Ew.

With a timer set to go go off once the proper cooking time has elapsed, turn thy attention upon thy buns.

No, the ones made of bread, you fools.

Cut the bun open, to facilitate the later insertion of additional foodstuffs. Unless, again, you're using pre-cut buns. Tsk. Take one (or two) slice (or slices) of processed cheese, and lay upon the lower half of the bun. Spread a good-sized dollop of Tartare Sauce (note: one Dollop = approximately five Teaspoons, by my reckoning. Three if heaped) over the upper half of the bun. Now go off and do something else for the remaining 11 minutes of cooking time.

Upon the sounding of the alarums, retrieve the cooked, still-sizzlin' fishy fingers from the oven (this is where the oven gloves come in, folks) and collect them up with the spatula/egg turner. Transpose to bun, laying them neatly upon the processed cheese slice(s), which should begin melting in a pleasant fashion. Close bun, aiming to apply enough pressure that the Tartare Sauce bulges out the sides but does not ooze and drip. It's tricky, but you'll get there in the end. I have faith in you.

The Results:
Well, it's not exactly a Filet O' Fish, but it's a reasonable approximation. The interplay between the fish, the Tartare Sauce and the processed cheese slice(s) is subtle, depending largely on the quality of the processed cheese and, in hindsight, perhaps a firmer bun would have been preferable. Certainly tasty and quick.

The Alternatives:
I'm considering trying this with Salmon fish fingers and a Dill Sauce... but I'm not sure the processed cheese slice would still be an appropriate accompaniment. Naturally, the subject of 'salad' will come up sooner or later, and a slice of lettuce would probably work well with the Cod/Haddock varieties. Other cheeses could be used, but I'd caution against even the likes of Cheddar... Something fairly plain like Edam or Emmenthal might be agreeable.
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