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Sunday, 30 January 2011

I CAN HAZ MASCOT?

It has been my plan, almost since the very first post on this blog, to do some small measure of promotion for it, with it, around it. One of the certainties in this vague plan was the creation of a t-shirt, or range of t-shirts, relating to the blog and its contents. I'm also not entirely sure I actually want my mug plastered all over these pages...

So, what do I need? A mascot, that's what!

And, being a big fan of the whole Lolcats phenomena, what better place to start than 'I can haz cheezburger'?

Well, naturally this cat would want something slightly more impressive...


There's this version... and a super-huge 300dpi version that I'm hoping - sometime soon - to turn into a t-shirt (though I suspect I should add the full, proper URL in there somewhere)... if not for public consumption, then very much for myself.

Anyone care to suggest a name for the fussy little fellow?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Higgidy Spinach, Feta and Roasted Red Pepper Quiche

By now, I think I've had at least two of these things - one eaten cold, the other having passed through the oven just to see what difference it makes.

In the main, it seems that the only noticeable difference - temperature at the point of serving aside - is in the Feta.

But let's start from the beginning. Higgidy is one of these companies that produce quality, hand-made foodstuffs to be sold wherever fine foods are sold. This particular quiche is described as "Seeded shortcrust pastry stuffed with leaf spinach, mature cheddar and sautéed onions in a creamy free range egg filling topped with crumbled feta and roasted red peppers", and a better description for the contents would be hard to come by.

The packaging is decorated with all kinds of cute sketches, and a nice little rhyme running round two sides of the box. There's even a short mention of the 1838 Pastry War which, while it may sound implausible, is actually quite true. Even before you open the box and sample the quiche, there's a sense of enthusiasm about the product that's not very common with us Brits...

And it's the contents that you're really interested in, isn't it?

Well, I can only say good things about this quiche, and I'm not necessarily a great fan of spinach or feta. Granted, the sharp yet creamy cheese is mellowed somewhat when the quiche is served warm so, having tried it both ways, I favour the idea of popping it in the oven for a while. The spinach manages to taste fresh, and the roasted peppers are the perfect, sweet and light counterpoint to the otherwise dairy-heavy content. Either way, the bulk of the quiche is soft, light and generally delicious, and the pastry is nicely judged - not too light, not too heavy.

They even go so far as to offer serving suggestions, should one choose to serve the quiche to several diners, by slice, rather than wolfing down the whole thing by oneself.

And, as if this all this were not enough, they have an offer whereby sending them 10 'use by' dates from a 4-month period, cut from the packaging of their product range, yields a voucher towards your next pie/quiche.

Higgidy products are not stocked in my local shops, so I have to go a bit further afield to find them but, based on the quality of the products and the obvious passion with which they are made, I am certainly inclined to make the effort!

Adventures in Omelette #3 - Pepperoni and Gruyere

OK, I confess. This was not planned, by any stretch of the imagination. I had another one of my famous "Hmm, I'm feeling a little peckish... Oh, crap, it's after 2pm and I didn't have breakfast!" moments, and so rushed into the kitchen to prepare myself a quick sandwich.

Yes, you read that correctly. I said 'sandwich', not 'omelette'.

"But surely, Mr Snacks-and-the-Single-Man, you know the difference?" you enquire. "We have been enthralled whenever you have regaled us with your Adventures in Omelette, but you have not yet graced us with a single sandwich."

Well, yes... So here's the thing. I'm terrible at keeping track of bread. I buy only 400g loaves when I can, because I don't use a great deal, nor do I even tend to keep much by way of sandwich fixin's in my cupboards or fridge. Inevitably, some goes to waste.

Today, most of an entire 400g loaf and two bagels, to be precise.

So what, other than the traditional self-deprecation, comes next?

Eggs are slightly easier to keep track of, and I had four in the fridge. There was also some bacon ("Aha! Bacon sandw... oh, shit..."), ham, cheese, and miscellaneous other things that might have been great in a sandwich. Sure, I could have gone out to get some more, but what's the point if I've just thrown one loaf away. I mean, damn, when did I buy that one anyway?

Omelette, then. And using some of the potential fillings-ovva-sandwich.

Long-term readers may have picked up on the fact that my method of preparation for omelettes has been somewhat flawed from the beginning, so I started this one by taking into account as many previous lessons as I could remember. The hob was set to medium heat, rather than supernova. The pepperoni slices were laid out on the bottom of the frying pan, and the three freshly-beaten eggs were poured over the top.

And, gentle reader, medium heat was a success. Nothing burnt, nor even singed. Once the omelette was cooked - and, OK, I admit it, flipped - the heat was turned off, a slice of Gruyere was added on one side, and the whole thing folded over for serving.

The cheese melted in quite nicely but I confess I barely noticed its "sweet and nutty" flavour over the eggs (Sainsbury's are generally pretty good, though not as good as those I've had from farm shops once in a while) and, of course, the pepperoni.

Definitely a good snack lunch... which is probably all I'll need, since I'm having dinner with my folks this evening.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Thought for the Day

I really must stop buying ready-made Spaghetti Carbonara from shops and actually attempt to make my own with some halfway decent bacon.

For whatever reason, whichever the shop, whatever the 'high quality' subline, the one common factor in any and all ready-made Carbonara recipe is that the bacon chunks tend toward 70% fat, 30% meat... and the problem with a Carbonara is that the bacon never cooks to the point where the fat is crispy, and thereby palatable to me.

I'm sure there are many people out there who don't mind bacon fat... I just find it too chewy.. and chewy isn't good. It's entirely the wrong texture for something like a Spaghetti Carbonara.

Being entirely honest, I'm sure I've been to restaurants who serve Spaghetti Carbonara with bacon that's not much better... but at least it tends to be cooked a little more thoroughly than any of these ready-meal varieties.

But, let's face it, it's just spaghetti, bacon chunks, and a mild cheese sauce (or, occasionally a Béchamel sauce with cheese). I should be able to make one myself. Make the sauce, grab some thick-sliced bacon, probably cook it briefly on its own, do the spaghetti, add the bacon, add the sauce, stir it together...

How hard could it be?

Charlie Bigham's Breton Chicken

I can't say I was aware of the name Charlie Bigham before I happened to see this in a shop with a big '1/3 OFF' sticker on it. It's a pre-packaged centrepiece for a meal for two ("Perfect for two," it says, "Serve with a wink") described thusly:
"Fresh chicken breast in a handmade creamy mornay sauce with cheese leeks, lardons, Dijon mustard and fresh parsley. Perfect!"

It comes in two sachets - one, the chicken, bacon, leek, etc., the other being the creamy sauce. The first step is to stir-fry the meat and veg for about ten minutes, then the sauce is added, brought to the boil, and then simmered for a couple of minutes before serving. The packaging additionally suggests that this can be served with "new potatoes, mash, or even rice", but I must confess that I added nothing - it had been sitting in my fridge for a while, and I was eating alone, so I figured any additions would just increase wastage. It's a fairly large portion, after all.

It's certainly easy to cook, though... with the chicken and bacon pieces sizzling nicely as the leeks, etc. slowly brown. I did find the chicken had clubbed together in the packaging, and needed a lot of work to separate it all so it would cook properly, but it wasn't a great deal of hassle. Once the sauce went in, and I caught the scent of the meal to come, I was really counting the seconds till it was ready.

And the flavour fully lives up to the smell. It's a little sharp - perhaps the Cheddar was stronger than I'd normally choose, not being a fan of cheese, particularly - but it all comes together very well. The fact that it's stir-fried together, rather than baked together, or cooked entirely separately, with the sauce added at the end, serves to intermingle the flavours very well - the chicken picks up on the sauce, and the sauce picks up on just about everything else. The chicken remained tender, the leek managed to stay reasonably crisp and, while the bacon lardons suffered from the usual malaise - rather too much fat for my liking - it made a nice addition to the meal.

I did find the whole thing rather too rich, personally, but I suppose that's why you're not supposed to serve it without some addition, and I can see why potato of some form or another would be preferable. That said, plain rice would certainly work quite well. Either would help to soak up the sauce and, served as intended - as a meal for two - this would probably be fantastic. Eating it all on my own, I regret to say there was a fair bit of wastage... though it wasn't through want of trying to finish. Good stuff, but too much and too rich for my palate.

Must keep an eye out for more Bigham's stuff, though... The packaging is certainly unique, but perhaps a little over-the-top - almost selling a lifestyle rather than just the food.

Waitrose Easy To Cook: Gammon Steaks with a Chunky Pineapple & Mango Salsa

Just so you know, it really was the name that attracted me: "Easy To Cook"? How could I refuse? Plus it had actually been a while since I'd last had a gammon steak, so I felt I deserved to sample it. Each pack comes with two gammon steaks and the corresponding quantity of salsa, so it's not a meal for one by any stretch of the imagination.

The blurb on the unusual packaging claims:
"Our Easy to Cook range brings you the unbeatable freshness and flavours of home cooking, but saves your valuable time shopping, chopping, cutting and peeling. We've carefully combined uncooked raw ingredients, using Waitrose meat, poultry and fish from our selected producers and dedicated farmer groups we work in partnership with, ensuring the highest standards of quality, animal welfare and traceability. You'll find a huge choice from over 70 dishes, all made with specially selected cuts of meat, poultry and fish producing full flavoured, tasty dishes. Whatever your choice, you can sit back and savour the tempting aromas, Look out for our seasonal recipes which change throughout the year. What could be simpler?"

And, you know what? For a penny shy of £4, this makes for a truly excellent centrepiece for a main course. All you'd need to add is a bit of veg and some form of potato, be it boiled, roasted or just plain old chips. The packaging suggests serving with "a crisp green salad", but that seems a little anaemic. I guess the idea is to counterpoint the good, thick gammon steak (not overly burdened with fatty parts, I might add - excellent stuff, Waitrose) with something light and healthy... I guess I'm just set in my ways, having had many a meal of gammon-and-pineapple with chips, peas and corn over over the years.

True to the instructions on the packaging, this takes a mere 20 minutes to cook - the first ten minutes being for the meat alone, the final ten are following the addition of the sachet of salsa. I was pretty much expecting the salsa to thicken up and go gummy, possibly forming a glaze over the meat, but it stays nice and liquid... possibly too liquid, in fact. While it tasted wonderful - it is essentially a chunky sweet-and-sour - the chunks didn't really stay with the sauce they were floating in... If anything, the liquid got thinner in the oven. Still, the meat was not excessively salty (as is often the case with gammon - again, well done, Waitrose), and the flavours of both the pineapple and the mango remained distinct within the salsa, along with the mild spiciness of the chilli. I would say there's even a reasonably strong undertone of ginger, thanks to the purée that forms part of the salsa. Something thicker would have been preferable, for me, but the overall effect is pretty special, and I'll certainly pick one of these up next time I'm cooking for two. The box even goes so far as to make a wine recommendation...

One suggestion I would make for cooking is that, while the instructions just say to put the steaks onto a baking tray, since you're later adding the salsa, a layer of foil is a prudent addition... that way, you're throwing away some foil rather than spending ages scrubbing your baking tray to remove remnants of the salsa.
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