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Saturday, 29 September 2012

True Snacks: Llama's Whole Wheat Baked Bites

Because, let's face it, calling the blog snacks & the single man and then not featuring many snacks is just foolish.

These turned up in my local Tesco quite recently and their striking packaging fulfilled its function perfectly. Two flavours - BBQ and Sweet Chilli - were on offer, and both mysteriously appeared in my basket at the checkout.

Ahem.

While the blurb proclaims that these are part of "one mammal's mission to rid the world of boring snacks", there's actually nothing really new about them other than the flavours. In their simplest form, these are nothing more than small, llama-shaped wheat crackers. Shaped crackers and/or biscuits have been a stable of the kids' snacks aisle since time immemorial so, straight away, they're not as original and ground-breaking as they might like to present. It's no surprised that the cheesy option wasn't available - other than size and shape, they'd be little different from any other cheesy cracker, and there are at least a billion varieties of those already on the market.

BBQ is probably my favourite of the other two flavours - it's not like the usual barbecue flavour you'd find on crisps and the like, but it is exceptionally moreish. Sweet Chilli is probably a bit too heavy on 'sweet' and a bit too light on 'chilli' for my liking - only very mildly spicy, really - but still quite pleasant.

Worth picking up for those occasions where you're getting together with mates for booze, bad movies and bar snacks... or for kids' parties.

And the website is fun...

Friday, 28 September 2012

Another Version of the Truth Cupcake

OK, it's not as if I'm trying to prove a point here... I merely found myself with a bag of Wright's Chocolate Cake mix, and an intense desire to make cupcakes.

It could happen to anyone.

Of course, cake mix alone does not make a cupcake. I had to go shopping for the extras. This isn't going to be a proper recipe because everything was ready made - all I did was mix it together and stick it in the oven - but I shall nevertheless list the extras that were acquired specifically for this experiment:
  • Chocolate Chunks (I used Dr. Oetker milk chocolate - 100g bag, of which about half was added to the cake mix
  • Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Rich & Creamy Icing
  • Cupcake Cases (also Dr. Oetker, in my case)
  • Chocolate Pieces (for topping the cakes - I used Fiddes Payne Chocoholic's Delight - "a selection of chocolate and chocolate flavoured pieces for ice cream, cakes and desserts")
Essentially, this is just like any of my 7 Days of Baking challenges, such as the chocolate cake, but with the mix spooned into the cupcake cases, sitting in a muffin tray. Smaller cakes don't need the same time in the oven - I found a tray of six was nicely done in about half an hour... rather longer than expected, but since one bag of the Wright's cake mix is enough for approximately 12 decent-sized cakes, and I only have one tray of six, it evens out to an hour's cooking time for the whole lot... Coincidence, or another fine example of how precise things can be, when it comes to cooking?

Once each batch was done, I allowed them to cool for rather longer than necessary because I was distracted. Ahem. When I got back to it, the cakes had cooled sufficiently, and the icing was suitably soft and easy to apply with a knife. That done, I had to choose how to top the cakes.

The selection offered by Chocoholic's Delight is: milk chocolate drops, white chocolate drops, chocolate flavour flakes and chocolate flavour strands. Since the cakes all contained milk chocolate chunks, adding milk chocolate drops to the icing would seem like gratuitous cupcake-encapsulated tautology, so those remain unused (for the moment - chocolate rarely stays that way for long in my possession!). Throwing caution to the wind (and a few chocolate pieces all over my kitchen) I lined up the cakes on a baking tray and simply sprinkled the drops, flakes and strands each over a row of four cakes, then slapped the tray into my (hastily reorganised) fridge overnight.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are what one calls 'cupcakes':
Admit it, you feel your arteries clogging just looking at these puppies, don't you?

I must confess that the cake mix I used was five months beyond its Use By date, so it was rather past its prime... but the resultant cakes are nevertheless moist and tasty.

And also kind of chocolate overload.

I'd hoped to take some of these into work today, but I didn't have a clean container large enough to accommodate more than three... which is pretty crap... So, here I am, stuck with nine cupcakes (no, your eyes do not deceive you: the photo above was taken before dinner today), and no-one to share 'em with.

Oh, my the hardship...

Fear not, gentle reader... somehow, I shall manage...

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Last Course: The Fabulous Bakin' Boys Choccy Cupcakes & Triple Choccy King Cupcakes

I recently had a conversation with a friend about cupcakes. It had always been my understanding that 'cupcake' was a rather more neutral name for 'fairy cake'... Apparently this was an erroneous belief. 'Cupcakes', I learned, are defined by the extravagance of their topping. No mere plain icing, or chocolate, or fruit-slice-shaped jelly pieces. Cupcakes are larger than the average fairy cake (though not as large as the average muffin), and topped with positively opulent quantities of rich, buttercream icing and embellished with all kinds of interesting fancies... One look at a good cupcake should induce diabetes.

...Or at least, that's the general idea.

I must confess my complete ignorance of The Fabulous Bakin' Boys before seeing these two boxes on the shelves at my local Tesco. The packaging is certainly eye-catching, decked out largely in purple with magenta and white accents, and photos depicting what look to be fairly large chocolate cakes with an incredibly deep layer of chocolate-flavoured topping (Triple Choccy King Cupcakes), and light, fluffy plain sponge cakes with a suitable depth of the same chocolate-flavoured topping (Choccy Cupcakes). They both look really good in the package.

Then you open the box...

...And realise that the photos on the outside are basically 'actual size'.

The so-called 'King Cupcakes' are barely larger than the standard cupcakes, and those are pretty small. Closer, in fact, to the size of a traditional, modest fairy cake. Perhaps a little wider at the base, but otherwise nothing special. The depth of the topping doesn't compare favourably either - it may look deep (not as deep as the photos, but still acceptable), but the tops of the cakes have a shallow taper, so it's actually only deep around the circumference.

If that weren't disappointing enough, there's really nothing special about the sponges. The plain sponge easily lives up to its description, but the chocolate sponge is either similarly bland, or just not chocolatey enough to stand out against the topping.

To be honest, I'm a little confused by these products... They're 'cupcake' neither in terms of size nor presentation, almost as if they're just intended as a foundation on which one should build, rather than being a finished product in their own right. The packaging also spends a fair amount of ink expounding about its "new & improved design"... Really, who gives a monkeys about the packaging (other than the designers and the folks who paid them to design it)? OK, fine, trumpet about the cakes being packaged in a "recyclable carton"... but surely even that's redundant in this day and age..? Doesn't everyone know that cardboard is recyclable now, whether they make use of that feature or not?

Sadly this is one product whose only triumph is making me consider using my muffin tin to bake something sweet...

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Saucy Fish Co. Sea Bass Fillet with Beurre Blanc & Dill Sauce

When I picked up a couple of The Saucy Fish Co. options at my local supermarket, I managed to write up the smoked haddock fairly quickly. It had always been my intention to write about this one soon after but, for whatever reason, I kept putting it off. So long, in fact, that I had to buy another just to remind myself what it actually tasted like... and even then, I've left it a good two or three weeks after eating it before buckling down... I wonder if that's a subconscious review, in itself...

What you get for your money in this package is a decent portion of sea bass and a fairly large sachet of the Beurre Blanc and sill sauce. This sauce, says the packaging, can be served hot or cold... though, since it's being added to hot fish, it's not as if it's going to stay cold for long, even if you choose not to actively heat it (1 minute in a cup of boiling water) beforehand.

Interestingly, this particular product can be pan fried, oven baked or grilled, making it a very adaptable bit of fish. Even better, the slowest method - oven baking - still only takes about 15 minutes at most, so you're assured of a very quick meal. However you choose to cook it, the fish is light and tasty.

The sauce was rather a surprise to me... since it's called 'beurre blanc', I was expecting something plain and buttery, with the dill adding most of the flavour. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the ingredients list... What I actually got was a piquant sauce that very much had a flavour of its own - so much so, that I barely noticed the presence of dill. Most of the sharpness, I'd guess, came from the combination of white wine vinegar and lemon juice. Definitely a pleasant surprise, when one is expecting a mouthful fish and mostly bland, creamy sauce.

The only significant downside is that, considering the three suggested preparation methods, and The Saucy Fish Co.'s raison d'être - matching fish to its most complementary sauce - it's somewhat disappointing that they don't also offer serving suggestions. By default, I tend to add mixed (frozen) veg and either chips or potato waffles to my dinners to round them out... somehow that just didn't seem appropriate to this fish, though, and couldn't be bothered to trawl though the interwebs for ideas (tip: new potatoes, mash, roasted tomatoes and/or green beans seem to be popular choices).

Around my area, The Saucy Fish Co.'s products tend to be on a permanent '2 for £5' offer, when I can actually find them, so I tend to pick up one of these and one of the haddock option every time I see them. They're a good product, well-priced and those I've seen tend to be of a reasonable size for the money (except the salmon - that really is miserly!)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Iceland Rising Dough Double Pepperoni Pizza

Call me cynical, but when it comes to shop-bought pizzas, I rarely believe the claims of the packaging beyond the description of the topping, and even that's often subject to some lively internal debate.

So when Iceland present me with a new pizza option - this so-called 'Rising Dough' product, with a photograph on the box which depicts something not dissimilar in appearance to any other Iceland pizza - I'm naturally going to be a little sceptical...

...and yet...
This is probably not the most effective photograph for demonstrating exactly how much this dough rose, but let me be clear:
This dough really rises. A lot.

Naturally, due to the vagaries of dough manufacture and cooking by fan assisted convection, to say it doesn't rise evenly would be a massive understatement. On the left of the photo, you may be able to discern a particularly mountainous region from which the toppings have toppled. Before the pizza went into the oven (straight from the freezer, for a mere 20-ish minutes), the toppings were fairly evenly distributed. Such was no longer the case when cooking had finished... in fact, it looked very much as though some of the toppings had simply disappeared. Obviously 2 different kinds of pepperoni don't just evaporate in the oven, so they've just collected into the troughs of the pizza.

What's rather impressive about this rising dough - aside from the extent to which it rises - is that it doesn't rise by creating massive bubbles. So... it rises unevenly without, yet evenly within. Just the kind of weirdness I like in my food. Or something. The base is, perhaps, a little excessive for my preference (very much a thin'n'crispy kinda guy), but the flavour is better than a lot of other shop-bought pizzas I've tried (and I've tried a lot).

In other respects, this is a pretty typical shop-bought pizza - scant cheese scattered unevenly, a stingy smear of tomato purée, greasy pepperoni that makes the experience of eating it slightly more acidic than it need be... weirdly, though, I didn't get that scuffing on the roof of my mouth that I usually get when I have a pepperoni pizza (seriously, folks, is that just me, or is it a common phenomenon?).

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised - yet another Iceland product for which my expectations were low, which turned out to actually be rather good... and all this for a mere £2. That may well be slightly more expensive than some of their other own-brand products, and largely for the sake of a gimmick, but it certainly makes a change from the usual soggy, slimy things that come out of cardboard boxes.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Tuna Melt (The Cheaty Way)

Yes, gentle reader, if there's one thing you can be sure of with this blog, it's that whenever you're in the kitchen, slaving over the simplest of dishes and thinking "there has to be an easier way of doing this!"...
I know that feel, bro
.

So when you get a hankering for a tuna melt, for example, but can't face the idea of cracking open a tin of tuna, risking that so-close-to-its-use-by-date mayonnaise, chucking it all together with some chopped veg, slapping it on some toast, and then chucking it under the grill, know that I have been there (apart from the mayonnaise bit - I never buy the stuff because I'd never get round to using it!)... and now I have a workable solution.

This might as well be a follow-up to my cheese'n'leftovers on toast post, because this is basically cheese'n'leftovers on toast... but with the added fun of shop-bought, ready-made tuna and sweetcorn sandwich filler separating the toasted slices of bread from that noble Cheddar.

I've been trying to think up a pun about capers, because I added some of them, but I guess I'm just too tired...

On with the 'recipe'...

Ingredients:
  • 1 tub of Tuna and Sweetcorn sandwich filler (of the sort that can be found in Tesco, Sainsbury's, Iceland, etc. Generally around 170g, permanently on special offer)
  • Half a Small Onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Capers (I used Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients 'A Spoonful of Nonparielle Capers in Brine', which I washed off prior to use)
  • A Decent Amount of Cheddar, sliced, diced or grated, as per your preference
  • Black Pepper, ground as a topping.
Preparation Time: about 10 minutes

Tools Required:
  • Really?
  • Seriously, I cheated the hell out of this one
  • Erm, OK... How about... a Toaster? (or you can just toast the bread under the grill)
  • Small, Sharp Kitchen Knife
  • A Teaspoon maybe?
The Process:
First off, toast the bread to your preferred level of burnt. If you're using a grill to toast your bread, keep it going once it's done. If not, pre-heat the grill to about 150C. While that's happening, crack open the tub of Tuna and Sweetcorn sandwich filler. Make ready your cheese by whatever method you prefer... for this experiment, since I had no ready-grated cheese, I decided to cut a few slices, then chop them up into little bricks - a knife is far easier to clean than a grater, after all. Chop up the half onion as per your preference, then dump into the tub and stir in. Take your teaspoon of capers (washing if necessary) and add them to the mix. By the time it's all churned up nicely, the toast should be done.

Spread the embellished sandwich filling upon your golden slices. Sprinkle your bits of Cheddar atop the melange, then grind some pepper on top of that before sticking it under the grill for five or so minutes.

Results:
Since you may wish to assume a bias in my writing herein, I must confess a particular fondness for two things related to the topic at hand:
  • Tuna Melts
  • Finding easier, more efficient ways of doing things
This satisfied on both counts and, additionally, in that it was a really tasty snack dinner this evening. I know onions are pretty much a mainstay in a good tuna melt, but I'd never have thought to add capers.

Largely, this is because I have no idea how to use capers in cooking, and only bought them in the first place because they're listed in a recipe in that Rachel Khoo book I got for my birthday.

Not quite sure what they added to this... their flavour is noticeable... kind of like a very mild olive, only not. Whatever it was, the capers and the pepper added a certain amount of bite, and the overall effect was a nice change from my usual cheese on toast. It'd be just as easy to do this as a 'proper' tuna melt - that is, a toasted sandwich - but I fancied the 'two-halves' approach on this occasion.

What's really good about this is that it's another, slightly off-the-wall use for those tubs of Tuna and Sweetcorn sandwich filling, which tend to have ridiculously short shelf-lives, even refrigerated. The furthest Use By date I've ever seen was only about two days from the date of purchase, which seems even more strange when you consider that the Egg and Bacon sandwich fillings are labelled as lasting anything up to a full week.


Time for some cheesy, fishy capers, I'll warrant...
(got there in the end...)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Tesco Grill BBQ Glazed Succulent Slow Cooked Pork Rib Rack

I've already mentioned that ribs and I don't have a particularly good relationship (in the UK, at least - in the US, bring 'em on!), so this will have to be put down to "one of my whims". Just to make this seem even more bizarre, I've frequently been warned off Tesco for any meat products with various horror stories. Personally, my experience has been pretty good thusfar, so perhaps that contributed to my decision to pick up this box.

Also, hey, let's face it, we've had a bit of a late summer this year, and what's summer without a barbecue?

Pardon me, not quite sure what came over me just then... I don't even like barbecue.

What I do like, though, is the freakishly delightful concoction that is 'barbecue flavour'. I don't know what it really is, but it tickles my tastebuds in just the right way so, even on those all-too-frequent occasions where the meat on ribs fails to impress, a good, flavoursome barbecue sauce can make all the difference. Shame that doesn't happen very often either...

So, when Tesco tells you you're picking up "a full rack of slow cooked pork ribs smothered in a sticky BBQ sauce" that's "great for sharing", what can one expect?

Well, this product by Tesco was a surprise to me on three counts:
  • The meat actually lived up to the description
  • The ratio of meat-to-bone came out in favour of the meat, just for a change
  • The barbecue sauce was pretty phenomenal
To expand upon these points, in the posting linked above, I described succulent and tender meat that fell off the bone, but Tesco's version surpasses Waitrose's easily. It may not have separated from the bone quite so readily - and, to be honest, in some cases it was rather reluctant to part - but most of the meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The very ends were slightly tougher (not to mention a little burnt), but that's to be expected. It was far tastier than the ribs from Waitrose, though that's not saying much. To be specific, the meat had a flavour, and it tasted like good pork. Score one to Tesco.

The most common problem with shop-bought ribs is that they seem to be more bone than meat. Considering it's basically a chunk of a pig's ribcage, that probably shouldn't be surprising - the whole point of a ribcage is to protect the delicate organs housed within. Large bones with small gaps between are the most efficient way to accomplish this. Nevertheless, these Tesco ribs actually had a decent span of meat between each rib and, even more unusually, the meat extended quite a way above and below the bones. Each rib probably only had about one mouthful of meat to it, but that's at least half a mouthful more than Waitrose. Score two to Tesco. And I'm not even going to dock points for the slimy, fatty, tissue on the underside because I just have to learn to expect that 'meat on the bone' is going to include some of the icky stuff that I'd rather not stuff into my gob. Nor am I going to dock points for the gristly bits or the bone fragments because (a) they merely prove that this was actually once part of an animal, and that it took some effort to remove and (b) they were few and far between.

The sauce is where even the best meat products can sometimes disappoint, but this so-called "BBQ sauce" should have a "+1 of awsomesauce" appended. It wasn't just barbecue sauce - that sweet, smoky flavour that properly barbecued food rarely attains - it was pleasantly spicy. Not eye-watering by any means, but far more appealing than the average barbecue sauce, and that's coming from someone who really likes the average barbecue sauce. Score three for Tesco.

What really impresses me, though, is that Tesco aren't claiming this is something it's not - they're not even trumpeting it as something special, and it's my considered opinion that they probably should. Then again, it's fairly common for supermarkets to undersell their own brands. Sure, they have their extra special, 'premium' own brands but, more often than not, it's those that disappoint and the 'standard' products that shine. This is one such case.

If I had to quibble anything, it's that Tesco, too, are referring to something as "a full rack" which, in the US, would be "a half rack" (so I had no trouble polishing it off by myself), and that this product is labelled as part of the Tesco Grill line, but it's either for barbecues (which would be very messy, given that the sauce is covering the ribs in the package, and would probably end up mostly dripping off) or for oven baking.

But surely that's just being pedantic?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Mini Toad in the Hole

Considering how regularly I pig out on Iceland's £1 wonder, their 'Meal for One' Toad in the Hole, it's quite amazing that I've never tried to make it myself.

Let's face it, you just take a bunch of sausages, mix up some flour, egg and milk, then chuck it all together in a deep baking tray for about 25 minutes, and you're all set for a satisfying evening meal. The Iceland version - sausages frozen in batter in a foil tray, that literally just needs to be chucked into the oven - is my go-to product for something quick and filling after a hard day, when I can't be bothered to do anything requiring effort. I have noticed, however, that their sausages became substantially smaller some months ago. That's generally the point at which I'll start thinking "time to make my own!"

And it is ridiculously easy, according to any of the recipes you might find online. The batter is essentially the same as you'd use for Yorkshire Puddings and, believe it or not, pancakes. Proportions of ingredients may vary, but the principle is the same. Of course, being me, I wasn't about to put my toads in the plain and basic hole, so I chucked in some parsley and chopped onion - because both happened to be lying around - and then, for fun, wrapped some of my sausages in bacon.

You are aware, are you not, that it's been scientifically proven that bacon makes everything better?

And then, rather than make one large thing, I decided to make more use of my new muffin tray and make six small toads in holes.

So, here's how it goes:

Ingredients:
  • 100g Plain Flour
  • 1 Egg
  • Approx 200-300ml Milk (depending how thick you want your batter, and how many/much you're intending to make)
  • Chopped Parsley (I used Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients 'Organic A Generous Pinch of Flat Leaf Parsley')
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Half a Small Onion, chopped
  • Bacon of Choice (I used Waitrose Unsmoked Wiltshire Cure Back Bacon)
  • Sausages of Choice (I used Richmond Skinless)
  • Cooking Oil
  • Dijon Mustard
Preparation Time: About 40 minutes total

Tools Required:
  • Small Mixing Bowl
  • Whisk
  • Small, Sharp Kitchen Knife
  • Muffin Tray
The Process:
While I said this was ridiculously easy - and it really is - the instructions I found online were rather deceptive... or just plain wrong. Or maybe my technique was wrong. Whatever it was, my first attempt at the batter was hopeless. The method is generally given as sifting the flour into a bowl, making a well in the middle, cracking an egg into the well, then beating it together and gradually adding the milk (occasionally a milk/water mixture).

The first time I followed these instructions, the end result was a lump of flour-encrusted egg which stuck to the whisk and didn't want to become part of the batter. While the remainder of the flour mixed in to the milk quite nicely, it left me with a very thin not-quite-batter with large clumps of useless gunk swimming around.

After a brief consultation with my mother on the subject of batter (in which I learned of the amazing multi-purpose nature of this batter, as mentioned above) I tried it again, this time whisking the egg a little before pouring it into the flour, and adding some milk before starting the beat it all together.

Another interesting point that came out in that conversation was about standing the batter. Some recipes recommend letting it stand, others say refrigerate, still others say there's absolutely no advantage to letting it stand... but here's the thing: for Yorkshire Puddings (and Toad in the Hole), you want the mixture to be fluffy and full of air, because that's how you get the right texture once it's cooked. For pancakes, however, bubbles in the mixture will make for holes in the pancakes, and standing will allow most of the air to escape. So now you know.

But anyway...

Once the batter was ready, I sprinkled in some of the parsley and ground in some pepper. Salt can be added as well, but I tend not to bother. The other embellishment I added was some chopped onion. I have a whole bunch of small onions stuck in my fridge, and am basically just trying not to waste them, so I'll stick them in almost anything I can think of. This recipe didn't have room for a whole onion, though, so half of a small one did end up going to waste.

Preheating the oven to 200C, I made a start on my sausages. Since I planned to make small, muffin-sized Toads in the Holes, my full-size sausages had to be cut in half. The bacon was likewise cut, so it could be easily wrapped around the sausages without too much excess but, just to keep it all together, a dab of Dijon mustard was applied to the sausage and the end of the bacon, acting as a sort of glue.

Being lazy, I ended up only doing two sausages this way. Since I only had four sausages anyway, I was going to be left with two Yorkshire Puds without any sausage, so I convinced myself there was a logical reason for this: 2 wrapped sausages, 2 plain and 2 holes without toads.

A small amount of cooking oil was poured into the bottom of each pit in the muffin tray, and the sausages placed within. They were cooked for about ten minutes before the batter was added in, then they were stuck back into the oven for another 25 minutes to cook thoroughly.

See? Easy.

Results:
Well, if there's one thing I know about Yorkshire Puddings and most Toad in the Hole, it's that they're made largely of empty space - they puff up with a small number of large bubbles, rather than fluffing up like a cake or a loaf of bread. These were no different. From the outside, they looked brilliant - though I may try a lower temperature next time. At first glance, I was honestly very pleasantly surprised.

Something else I know about Toad in the Hole is that the sausages actively interfere with the batter's ability to fluff up at all - frequently it peels away from the sausages entirely. That didn't happen as much as I was expecting with the plain sausages, but with the bacon-wrapped sausages, the batter barely rose. Not entirely sure of the mechanics of this, but I suspect either the fat or the salt (or both) were the cause of the problem, because the two onion-y Yorkshire Puds looked great.

Of course, the proof of even a Yorkshire Pudding is in the eating...

All three kinds were as full of air as I'd expect, but the plain sausage ones turned out the best over all - golden brown and reasonably fluffy. The two Yorkshire Puds, while similarly golden brown, seemed extremely undercooked on the insides, and yet were basically giant bubbles. The two with the bacon-wrapped sausages looked like a complete disaster, however. The batter had almost entirely retreated from the meat, and they weren't so much golden brown as slightly burnt.

The bacon cooked very well, but the sausages in both types didn't fare quite so well - they were fully cooked, just not to the degree that I'd normally do them and obviously not as burnt on the outsides.

Gotta say, though, all of 'em tasted great.


Mmmmm... Nom nom nom...

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Saucy Fish Co. Smoked Haddock with Davidstow Cheddar & Chive Sauce

Regular readers may recall that, while this is the first time I'm trying an actual Saucy Fish Co. product, their advertising gave me an idea way back in January of this year. At that time, they were advertising quite prolifically, but their products weren't widely available in my neck of the woods.

More recently, a meagre selection of their fish-and-sauce packages have turned up on local shelves, so I figured it was only fair to give them a try. One observation I'd make straight off the bat is that the so-called 'salmon steak' that comes with their chilli, ginger and lime sauce is basically the size of a fish finger. I know good salmon is expensive, but that's just insulting, even as part of a 2 for £5 deal at Sainsbury's.

I picked up both of the other options on offer, this smoked haddock (an old family favourite that I haven't had in quite some time) and a sea bass fillet with another, similarly cheesy sauce. Their concept is just that simple, in their own words: "When you fancy a nice bit of fish, you want the right sauce to go with it. So we've matched our top-quality fillets with a delicious sauce inside an oven-ready bag - for a lip-smacking fish-dish that's ready before you know it."

Ignoring the way my teeth grated at a sentence begun with a redundant and superfluous "so", this particular package is somewhat like the Birds Eye "Bake to Perfection" range in that everything is contained within a bag that you literally just stick in the oven for about a quarter of an hour. They even go so far as to add a serving suggestions - creamy mash and peas, in this case - to make things easier still. Allergens are listed alongside the ingredients, though I'm tempted to suggest that 'fish' is a somewhat superfluous addition to that list. Then again, this is the age in which a fast-food restaurant can be sued for not warning a customer that it's fresh coffee was hot, so perhaps they're being prudent.

While their portion of salmon was miserly, the haddock fillet in this was a normal-sized thing, so I have no complaints there. In fact, the fillet was larger than the bag, and so had been folded over itself. Not ideal for something being cooked in a bag, but it worked well enough. The sauce in this isn't so much a sauce as it is a herb-y butter and, where supermarket own-brands and the likes of Birds Eye would tend to give you just one medium-sized 'knob' of their butter, The Saucy Fish Co. pull out all the stops and add four or five smaller servings which rattle about the fish in the bag. The end result seems to be more than the usual amount of sauce, but its appearance is nothing like the photograph on the packaging.

What the photo shows is a smoked haddock fillet topped with a thick, opaque sauce, something akin to the Mornay sauce used for Croque Madame Muffins. What you actually get - pretty much as I expected - is a runny, mostly transparent melted-butter-with-herbs affair. Some of the Davidstow Cheddar seems to stick to the bag and is rather difficult to remove while it's hot.

So, ultimately, this saucy fish was a bit of a let-down. Make no mistake, the fish is excellent, and the sauce does taste good... but the end result is not dissimilar enough to a regular smoked haddock fillet that's been slathered with butter and topped with herbs - the cheese component is barely there.

That having been said, once again, The Saucy Fish Co. has inspired me to try making something from scratch, adapting the Mornay sauce recipe to use Cheddar and the herbs, etc. listed in the ingredients, hopefully resulting in something that looks much more like the photo on the packaging.

I guess that's a success of a kind...

Friday, 20 July 2012

False (Home) Economy

After my recent experiments into frittata, it became quite obvious that I needed to invest in a new frying pan of a smaller circumference, but retaining the same depth. While the frying/grilling system for making a frittata has been reasonably successful in my home set-up (ignoring the fact that I always seem to miss something in the ingredients...Foreshadowing...), the outward spread of the mixture has always greatly diminished the potential depth of the frittata, and everyone knows that they're mean to be deep-pan omelettes.

So, on a recent trip to a local supermarket, I had look in their kitchen utensils section, and found something rather odd.

There are such things as 'omelette pans', which fit the bill: 20cm diameter, 4cm deep... they're basically designed for making frittatas, rather than omelettes. At least, I've always thought of omelettes as being large and fairly flat, the idea being to fold them in half - the only way you could accomplish that with such a small, deep frying pan would be to make a 2-egg omelette... but that's hardly worth the effort, right?

So, here was this small, deep pan that not only seemed purpose built for my needs, but was even named an 'omelette pan', just to hammer the point home. Perfect, right?

Wrong.

Because, just a short distance away on the same shelf was a 20cm diameter frying pan. It, too, was 4cm deep. It, too, seemed purpose built for my needs.

So, gentle reader, what do you suppose the difference was?

Well, for starters, there were cosmetic differences, such as the steepness of the curve toward the rim, the size/shape of the handle and also the composition of the handle.

The most important difference, though, was the price: the 'basic' frying pan was a whole £2 cheaper than the 'purpose built' omelette pan (£10 vs £12). That represents almost a 17% price hike between two pans which, for all intents and purposes, are the same, except cosmetically.

Being on a bit of a budget at the moment, I'm sure you can guess which one I ended up choosing.

 
The new pan (left) and old vs new (right). Not as broad, maybe, but every bit as deep... leading to...


Oh, mercy yes, that's a nice, deep-pan frittata, alright!


Sits neatly in the central recess of the plate (though it would be a better fit if I'd got it out the right way up, rather than dumping it out by holding the pan upside-down over the plate)


Doesn't that look good?
(You may notice a distinct lack of Dill - yes, I forgot it... and all the seasoning, to be perfectly honest... but I ended up solving that little gaffe by serving it with mustard and dill sauce, normally reserved for plain salmon steaks and the Filet o'Salmon Fish Fingers)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

S&M Rodeo #9: Waitrose Succulent and Meaty British Beef Sausages with Dijon Mustard Mash

I've tried plenty of Waitrose's premium sausages for this ongoing S&M Rodeo of mine, but all of them so far have been comprised largely of some kind of pork.

Not so, this time. The moment I set eyes upon a pack of eight beef sausages, I knew they were something I'd have to try, not least to further my experimentation with beef.

To accompany this sausage, I decided to do my usual thing of playing about with instant mash, but had trouble deciding how to embellish it this time round. My first thought was to mix in some grated cheese and make a proper cheesy mash, but I'm not a massive cheese fan, and wasn't sure what I had in my fridge that would suit. The second idea was to make use of some of the large tub of crème fraîche I recently picked up for another purpose... But then, creamy mash is still just mash, so I still needed to pick something to add a bit of kick to it.

Rightly or wrongly, I chose the latter option and added two tablespoons of crème fraîche followed by one teaspoon of Dijon mustard.

In retrospect, I think maybe a wholegrain mustard would have been a better fit, but Dijon worked well enough... and, thinking about it, even getting grated cheese to melt in with instant mash could have been a bit of a stretch, so it was certainly the easier and surer option.

The sausages come packaged in some kind of faux waxed paper, as you might expect with Choicest Cuts of Beef from a butcher. Also just like choice cuts of beef from a butcher, it has that authentic gory seepage of a good steak. Undeterred by this, I planned to use my usual sausage-cooking method - grill at about 180C for a total of 24 minutes, rotating every 6 minutes (half turn, quarter turn, half turn), but completely failed because I forgot to start the timer after the first turn.

And then got distracted.

Because, y'know, if I'm cooking on a timer, I can happily get on and do other stuff until the alarm goes off.

Assuming the alarm goes off.

Thankfully, 6 minutes on one side, followed by who knows how long on the other, followed by another couple of minutes back on the first side seemed to do the job fairly well. The skin wasn't quite so evenly browned and crisped, but the sausages were thoroughly cooked.

What they weren't was particularly tasty. Succulent, yes. Meaty, certainly... but minced beef in sausage form seemed to have about as much flavour of its own as the average junk food burger. Granted, most of their flavour tends to come from the salt rather than the meat, but that just makes it all the more perplexing that beef sausages, particularly from Waitrose, should taste like generic dark meat of uncertain origin.

Perhaps it's one of those situations where some kind of herb addition to the meat would bring out the flavour better, but I was certainly glad that I hadn't decided to keep the mash plain and simple on this occasion. I may take the remaining sausages and fashion burgers out of them... Then, at least, I could add a slice of cheese (processed, natch), or some kind of pickle and slap the result in a bun.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Croque Madame Muffins (à la Khoo)

It's ever so slightly shameful that it's taken me a full month since I got Rachel Khoo's The Little Paris Kitchen recipe book to actually get round to trying one of the recipes. Of course, the distance between "I'd like to try some of these recipes" and actually getting off my arse and doing one has been somewhat magnified of late by real-world responsibilities... except that's a terrible excuse because of my habit of wasting time when I have it.

But anyway.

Over the weekend, I went out food shopping with the deliberate intention of buying some supplies for trying one of the simpler recipes from the book, which comes with so many already-cut-corners it appealed to my laziness. The only actual cooking part of this recipe sounded quite simple - melting, mixing, reducing and more mixing in a pan on the hob. After that, it's just a case of bunging it all together into a muffin tray and baking it for about a quarter of an hour.

So... A really simple recipe... How did it go?

The first point to consider is that the instructions aren't necessarily written in chronological order. That is to say, the beginning concentrates on the cheesy sauce and completely neglects the prep-work for the later stages. Maybe it's just me and my kitchen panic (one of these days, I will actually get over it and begin cooking with confidence), but I like to get as much as possible ready ahead of time... Perhaps it would have made more sense for me to re-read the instructions thoroughly before starting, but part of the point of this exercise - and, in fact, every one of my attempts at 'cooking to a recipe' - was to follow the recipe as written, or as near as dammit.

The net result of this is that I was frantically preparing the slices of bread while the sauce was still on the hob because I didn't want it to cool and congeal before I'd filled the 'muffin' cases with their dose of ham and egg. Naturally, delicate timing being what it is, I ended up trying to stir the sauce with a metal spoon held in buttery hands, and I now have a slight burn on one finger

Note to self #1 - in future, use the right tools for the job.

By the time I was done cutting up ham and cracking eggs, the sauce had come off the hob and had become quite gluey, but was still easy enough to scoop on. Even so, I really wish I'd dealt with the 'muffin' cases first of all, and had them ready before even starting the sauce.

And, in the spirit of not-being-in-a-sensible-chronological-order, my main problem with the sauce was the nutmeg. When I went out shopping, one of the things I needed to buy was nutmeg. I had one of those bizarre and unbelievable events where I could have sworn I'd picked up a box of ground nutmeg but, when I opened it up to add the half-teaspoon the recipe demands, I discovered I'd actually bought a box of nutmeg pods.

Whole pods.

Pods that needed grinding.

Oh well, it means I've made use of my mortar and pestle... I was beginning to think I'd wasted a few quid, there...

There's a point in the recipe that gives and example of the sort of consistency the sauce should take when it's almost ready and, to be honest, mine got to that stage after the cheese was added, not before. Other than that, it probably went a lot better than I thought it was going at the time.

I must also add that nutmeg smells completely amazing. Must find additional uses for that stuff...

They turned out pretty well... the contrast between the heavy, pungent Gruyère and the light, fragrant nutmeg was quite curious... I'm really not a cheese kind of person, generally (my main exceptions being the occasional cheese on toast with very mild Cheddar, processed cheese slices in my filet o'fish fingers and as many bacon and brie sandwiches as I can possibly stuff into my gob without breaching propriety) and Gruyère isn't a cheese that I would ever consider normally, but it really suited this particular dish. Of the six I made, four got polished off... I'm not sure if I'll try to eat the remaining two for lunch tomorrow, or just throw them out for safety's sake, but this is certainly something I'd try again if I was having company.

 
Are they not gloriously cock-eyed?
Just be glad I didn't take a close up of my gob as I was eating one.

Yeah... I'll leave you with that image. You're welcome.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

S&M Rodeo #8: Wall's Microwave Sausages with Iceland Cheesy Mash

Well, if you thought Sausage & Mash couldn't get any easier, think again.

Quite some time ago, my mother introduced me to Wall's Microwave Sausages. It sounds like a terrible idea - everyone knows that microwaves are quick, but don't really cook anything in the traditional sense, none of the pleasant browning or crisping - but the good news is that Wall's have sensibly pre-cooked these freezable sausages, so it's really just a case of reheating them. Microwaves are ideally suited to that task, so the only concerns are whether or not it can sufficiently reheat sausages from frozen, and whether or not it can do so without drying out the sausages.

Same with the mash, really... It comes in a plastic sachet not unlike Uncle Ben's microwave rice but, very much unlike the rice, you're required to decant the contents into a microwave-safe bowl, which is then to be covered over with cling-film. Strangely, the film - which is there to trap as much moisture as possible to prevent the mash drying out - must be pierced so, naturally, what starts as fork-prick holes inevitably widen into gaping tears. I did wonder if it could be made to work by opening the sachet by about the same amount as an Uncle Ben's rice (2cm), but the instructions suggest stirring the mash halfway through, which would make leaving it in the sachet rather impractical.

Still, I hadn't actually read that part of the instructions, and so blasted my mash for the full 5-ish minutes in one hit.

The end result of all this fiesta of irradiation?

Well, my experience of the microwave sausages has always been good... I mean, they're Wall's, and they're good, simple pork sausages of the sort you'll have in your local greasy spoon's All-Day Breakfast. They are succulent, with a skin that's tough enough to hold together, without being overly chewy and rubbery. Also, the advantage to microwaving is that you don't have to time it all perfectly to get them cooked without burning the skin. They're exactly the kind of sausage I really like, and yet have a really hard time finding. My mother initially found them in her local Iceland, and tried to keep a good stock in her freezer. Some time ago, they suddenly disappeared from the shelves and, as far as I know, that local branch has never had them since. They've appeared elsewhere, so she's been able to get more once in a while, but it was only this last week that I found Wall's Microwave Sausages in my local Iceland, when they'd never been there before... it's almost as if Iceland is trialling them by rolling them out in different territories for a few months at a time.

The mash was a bit of a let-down. The quantity is good - probably enough for two, but I quite like lots of mash with my sausages, so I did use the whole lot in one go - but, for something described as 'Cheesy Mash', it really isn't very cheesy. I detected a subtly Cheddar-y note, but it's more 'creamy and smooth' than properly cheesy.

I'm no stranger to the concept of microwave mash - my mother regularly uses one that's frozen in little discs that you just load into a bowl and blast for a few minutes - and it's certainly far easier (not to mention less wasteful) than making it from scratch, though possibly not as good as mixing up some instant mash to one's own preferred consistency (and adding butter, milk, cream, etc. as required).

And considering my usual S&M Rodeo would have a sausage with added herbs, spices, veg or even other kinds of meat, the whole idea of this was to have completely plain sausages with a mash that was interesting and yet easy to prepare...

Still, for a quick S&M fix (we're talking under five minutes for four sausages, without any turning or fussing of any kind), this is probably ideal if you have easy access to a microwave, but no kettle and/or no inclination to go to the 'effort' of making up some instant mash, even though that might actually be quicker.
Is it just food... or is it a work of art? You decide...

On Merchandise

Absolutely ages ago, I was planning to do a T-shirt for this blog, featuring my little feline mascot and a range of terribly witty captions. That particular plan hit a bump in the road, but is still going to happen... eventually...

For the moment, though, I'm working on an alternative...
The idea behind this is that far too many supermarkets were describing Key Lime Pie as a cheesecake, rather than what it really is. I can understand supermarkets being reluctant to stock a product that essentially contains raw egg yolks (particularly considering my experience of many supermarket custard tarts, but that's another story), but it wasn't just the supermarkets getting it wrong.

When I first went looking for recipes for Key Lime Pie, virtually every UK-based foodie website said Key Lime Pie was made with cream, marscapone and all the other things you'd associate with cheesecake. It seems this has now changed (I wonder how many of these changes came as a result of people finding this very blog, probably while searching for someone in particular) but my point, expressed here in cartoon form, still stands.

In lieu of a 'proper' snacks & the single man T-shirt, I think this one would work out nicely... and the QR code leads to my recipe for 'Off-Key Lime Pie', so it gets people here one way or another. Feedback always appreciated - either here, or on Facebook, or even on deviantART.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Recipe Books

And so it came to pass that, for my most recent birthday, I received The Little Paris Kitchen in book form.

I can confirm that it includes the recipe for the Chocolate Lava Cake (including the one with the salted caramel filling). In fact, it has all the recipes demonstrated in the TV show and loads more, broken down under well-thought out section titles (apart from one of the later ones: "My Paris addresses" is more correctly called "My favourite Paris addresses".

With any luck, I'll find the time and the inclination to try out a selection of the recipes for this 'ere blog but, out of respect for the chef/writer, I shall not be reproducing the recipes here.

I can further confirm that, yes, it does contain many, many glorious photos of Rachel Khoo.

Gentlemen, I have a feeling we'll be improving the sales figures for this particular recipe book no end.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

JPw/ Cucumber & Onion in Minty Cream Cheese

The funny thing is - and I should stress there's no particular reason for this - I've never baked potatoes.

I guess, in a way, it's just too much hassle for only a small part of a dinner. Maybe if I was already doing a roast, it'd make sense... but it's honestly taken me this long to think "Hey... I could do a jacket potato and give it a topping... That's a great snack meal!"

And so, we have the first post in what may become a new series: JPw/


I'm sure it'll be just like Last Course, in that I only do a couple...

Naturally, I had to research how to bake a potato (and, yes, that became just as ridiculous as it sounds once I'd looked it up - it really is quite simple... if time consuming). Turns out, you just kind of whack them in the oven. Who'd have thought?

The complicated part - and I use the word 'complicated' loosely - is deciding what to put on it, and how to go about preparing that. This is where I tend to lose interest: give me something I can just dump onto the potato, or I'll have something else. That's why I normally go with the all-time classic, butter. Back when I lived with my folks, and the Sunday roast was a lamb joint, I would occasionally embellish my humble baked, buttered spud with mint sauce.

So... It seems that, merely by searching for 'potato baking', one can now find recipes for toppings as well. Being me, I had neither the ingredients nor the inclination to try anything precisely as I found it, so here's what happened for the inaugural JPw/ post:

Ingredients:
  • 2 Large Baking Potatoes
  • Olive Oil
  • Cream Cheese (150g - about half an average tub)
  • 1 Small Onion, chopped
  • Cucumber - only about an inch worth, diced
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)
  • Mint (fresh is best, but <movie_ref="Spaceballs">I used the Schwartz</movie_ref>
  • Butter (as much as you like, basically)
Preparation Time: 1.5 hours baking time, plus a couple of minutes preparation either end

Tools Required:
  • Sharp Kitchen Knife
  • Bowl
  • Spoon, for to scoop the cheese and stir
The Process:
Preheat your oven to 200C. Wash your spuds, dry them, and prick the skin a few times. One trick I learned from the interwebs was slathering the surface with olive oil all, then scattering over some salt. The theory is that it should stick to the oil but I'm sure you all know that salt likes to spread itself everywhere. Do the best you can, then just stick them directly onto an oven shelf for an hour and a half. While that's going, make a start on the topping...

First, cut a piece of cucumber, about an inch long, and dice it. I realise that's a tall order unless you're some kind of kitchen ninja - basically, all I mean is chop it into small, roughly cubic chunks. Maybe I should have just said that to start with... Next up, chop your onion. I should mention that this particular recipe is dealing with raw onion. If you have any objections, feel free to substitute with something else (peppers, maybe?), but it does work out, honest!

Scoop about 150g of cream cheese into your bowl. Full fat is always preferable and, just to make things easier, the average tub I found was 300g, so that's roughly half a tub used here. Dump in some salt and pepper, add some mint (I'm being deliberately vague with quantities here - I believe the common phrase is "to taste") and stir it all up. Add in your chopped veg and stir that in. Since this stage takes far less than an hour and a half, stick the mixture back into the fridge until the potato is ready.

Results:
First things first: Topped, baked jacket potatoes are not a quick snack. They take an hour and a half. Think carefully about making yourself a baked jacket potato if, like me, yesterday, you're only making a start on dinner after 7pm. I did this the stupid way, and made the topping up before even starting the potatoes, so I sat down to eat around 9pm. This also accounts for why there are no photos of this little dish either... I was just too darned hungry by the time the potatoes were ready.

I have to confess also that I was a little dubious of my choice to use chopped raw onion - it tends to have rather too much bite. Thankfully, the minty cream cheese and the cucumber took the edge off that quite nicely, giving the potatoes a cool, smooth-yet-crunchy topping that complemented both the crusty skin and the hot, light, fluffy innards.

Along with cheese on toast, baked jacket potatoes are a great way to make use of any silly leftovers you might have lurking in your fridge.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Classic Braised Steak with Mash by Sainsbury's

So here's the thing. Having discovered that I can actually digest beef without my stomach exacting a terrible revenge upon me, I've remained fairly cautious of which beef products I consume. Far too many of the cheap-and-cheerful options fail to meet 50% of the requirement, even those from higher-end stores. Sainsbury's Classic line impressed me with it's Bangers & Mash so, as part of one of their meal deals, I decided to pick up something different... Something with beef...

The problem with many beef dishes is that you end up with something tough and somewhat rubbery and, I'll be honest here, I wasn't expecting much from this. The packaging proclaims it "British braised steak in gravy with carrots, served with mashed potato" which, let's face it, covers everything you might want to know about the product. The image on the front is nothing special - frankly, it could feature just about any kind of meat, and it really doesn't 'sell' the contents. Based on my (still limited) experience of beef-in-gravy (largely pies, really), I predicted that the meat would be fairly chewy, and probably a little musty.

Also, let's face it, there were bound to be fatty bits.

And gristle.

At least.

Oh, gentle reader, how wrong I was.

For, you see, this doesn't use just any gravy... nor is it yer average beef gravy. Unless my taste-buds deceive me this is, in fact, something similar (though certainly not identical, going by the ingredients) to the onion gravy that featured with the aforementioned Classic Bangers & Mash... only with added chunky slices of carrot.

And the meat? Well, I'm clearly a terrible cynic when it comes to beef, because this was as close to melt-in-your-mouth as one would have any right to expect for the price. Moist and tender, I barely needed to use a knife because it basically fell apart at the merest touch from my fork... and there wasn't even a hint of mustiness.

To be honest, though, there wasn't a great deal of any flavour to the beef... it just seemed to have absorbed the flavour of the gravy. I'm sure there's meant to be a bit of give-and-take in the flavourings - the gravy picking up some of the beef flavour (it's actually made with beef stock, not that you'd notice), and the beef picking up some of the oniony goodness of the gravy. It's not all bad, though... since I'm not necessarily a big fan of the flavour of beef, it just meant I enjoyed this particular product all the more.

On the downside, it wasn't entirely wrong about the fatty bits though, in the whole meal, I only found a couple, and they were very small. There was a notable absence of gristle... which can only be a good thing.

Sainsbury's are also onto a serious winner with their mash. I'm not sure I noticed it so much with the Bangers & Mash, but the mash in this package is extremely buttery (also, it's made with double cream - "From Cows' Milk", no less), and the salt and pepper component is pitched just right for me.

The quantity is pretty much spot on for a single serving - while it's probably no more than equivalent to their Bangers & Mash (and probably less purely in terms of mass), the portion size feels sufficient: I wasn't left thinking "Y'know... I could do another round of that..." which is actually quite a common thought with me and ready meals.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Adventures in Omelette #5: Salmon, Dill & Feta Frittata

Basically the same as the last one, except slightly bodged, so I won't go into great detail.

The biggest mistake was the choice of tinned salmon... It was vile-looking and oily. By the looks of it, a large chunk of meat, skin, bone and all, was cut out of a salmon, rolled up, cooked and shoved into a tin. Whole vertibrae were in there, let alone the spiky bones. About a third of the volume of a small tin was cast aside for looking nasty. It seems, perhaps, that I should have done a bit more research, as the packager in question has "tinned salmon" and "skinless and boneless tinned salmon". Next time I shall endeavour to find the latter... or use the ready-flaked salmon one can find in plastic trays.

Next up was the omission of onion and pepper... The former led to a rather flat frittata simply because there wasn't enough bulk in the mixture. The latter left some mouthfuls tasting a little bland.

Finally, I was a bit crap with the hob - since I cooked this one at my parents' place, and I'm not as familiar with their hob as I am with my own, I ended up setting it far too high. The first clue I got to this mistake was the loud hiss and almost instant cooking of the mixture as it hit the base of the pan.

Still, it wasn't an unmitigated disaster, and my parents said they liked it.

Oh, and I remembered to take photos of this one...

Turned out a little flat in the centre... but that might have been either the frying pan or the hob. The grill certainly did a good job, though.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Adventures in Omelette #4 - Tuna, Onion & Feta Frittata

After the flagrant underachievement of my last post, I figured I'd try something a bit more complicated this time. I'm not going to get drawn into a discussion about whether or not this counts as an omelette. Sure, the preparation method is a little different (unless you commonly put your omelette, half-fried, under the grill to finish it off), but this is basically an omelette by any other name... Or, more specifically, an other name: Frittata.

In many cases, the only differences between an omelette and a frittata are the thickness of the finished product, and the fact that some people seem to assume an omelette gets folded... Weird...

This is one of those fine examples of finding an interesting recipe in a book, and then basically shoehorning in the contents of my fridge rather than buying the precise ingredients. So...

Ingredients:
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 Onion, chopped
  • 80g Feta (approximately), crumbled
  • 1 Small Tin of Tuna, drained and flaked
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Preparation Time: A little over 10 minutes

Tools Required:
  • Bowl for mixing
  • Fork, also for mixing
  • Knife, for to chop onion
  • Hob & Grill
  • Frying pan
The Process:
Start up the hob on a medium-low heat and pour in a tablespoon of olive oil. Also start up your grill, set to about 180C.

Beat the four eggs together in the bowl, chop your onion as finely as your preference dictates, then add to the eggs. Open and drain the tuna, flaking it into the mixture with the fork. Crumble in the Feta, stir thoroughly, then add salt and pepper to taste. It's worth noting that Feta is quite a salty cheese so, unless you're a massive fan of salty foods (and have no fear of hypertension), you could probably do without any extra. Stir it all in, then pour into the frying pan which should be up to temperature by this point. Leave to fry for about 4 minutes.

When the frittata is mostly set, take it off the hob and slam it under the grill for another 4 minutes, by which time it should have fluffed up nicely.

The Results:
According to the recipe I started with, this should serve two (albeit with added salad) but, being a complete porker, I finished the whole thing myself. The main problem here is that the average small tin of tuna contains rather too much tuna. The next problem is that my frying pan is just too darned huge to make a decent, thick frittata.

On the whole, though, this turned out pretty good. I do kind of wonder if perhaps I should have fried the onions on their own for a short while before adding the rest of the mixture to the pan. They weren't completely raw, and their crunch was quite a welcome addition to the medley of textures, but they did seem a little underdone. While I was preparing this, I had an impulsive whim to add some dried chilli, but decided against... and kind of regret it because, even when I got a mouthful with a decent pepper hit, it didn't really have much impact.

The good thing about finishing this off under the grill was that it gave the Feta more of an opportunity to melt and blend into the egg. It also really does make the whole thing fluff up nicely - which will be a strange experience for anyone like me, who had never before grilled a half-cooked omelette.

Apologies for the lack of photos this time - I really have been trying to get a shot of everything (interesting) I cook but, this time, I was just too hungry...

Friday, 27 April 2012

Fromage sur Du Pain Grille avec Des Restes

Oh, the perils of becoming addicted to a TV show about French cookery. Yes, that title is just a poncy way of saying "Cheese on Toast with Leftovers" but, admit it, you were impressed, right?

Let's just say that I figured it was time I dealt with a snack meal that literally anyone should be able to handle, and which doesn't need a recipe.

Cheese on Toast is another great British staple food. As quick and simple lunchtime snacks go, sliced or grated cheese on a couple of slices of toasted bread, slammed under the grill for a few short minutes just can't be beaten. It can be eaten 'just so' or embellished with Worcestershire sauce, Branston, even that strange home-made onion chutney you got from your neighbours that's been sitting in your cupboard for months because you couldn't think what to use it for. One of the key strength of cheese on toast is this very adaptability, which makes it the ideal recipient of any leftovers - be they meat or veg - to reduce food wastage, and alter the nutritional properties of the dish.

If you think about it, the humble Cheddar gets added to sauces used with many meals, and is often applied by itself as a topping. The thought of embellishing your cheese on toast becomes even less weird when you consider what gets paired with cheese with things like baked potatoes and omelettes. And, of course, there's that strange for'n food called 'pizza'. Granted, some of these things call for milder cheeses but, hey, Cheddar tends to be the go-to cheese for we Brits. 'The Big Cheese', even.

Ahem.

So, if you find yourself with a couple of slices of bread, a hunk of cheese, and a fridge full of leftovers, chuck it all together, and let me know what you come up with.


Fromage sur Du Pain Grille avec Poivron Verts et Oignons. De rien, gentil lecteur.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Devilled Mushrooms

OK, so I've been in a bit of a rut lately, relying on frozen food perhaps a bit too much. I'm keen to try out a few recipes from a certain TV show (the merest mention of which has already bumped my monthly pageviews up considerably, but I'm not one to cash in by gratuitously mentioning it again) but even the quickest and simplest of those recipes seem like a bit too much effort when it's just for me.

Except the Caramel Chocolate Lava Cake.

Hey, they don't call me 'Two-Puds' for nothing.

But this isn't about French-style foods, more yer classic English snack. Typically, there are many different interpretations of this recipe. Some feature tomato purée, some don't. Some use lemon juice, some don't. Some even feature my bête noire, cream (double, sour and fraîche varieties, depending where you look), so there are no shortage of options to fit your palette. There's even a variety of opinions on what type of mushrooms to use - some recommend the larger, flatter kind, some say that the more usual smaller, rounded kind are fine. Not only do I not have a preference, I don't consider myself 'foodie' enough to make a recommendation. Hell, I picked up a bag of ready-sliced mushrooms, just to save myself some time.

Ingredients:
  • 250g Sliced Mushrooms
  • 1 Tablespoon Wholegrain Mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon Tomato Purée
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • Garlic (1 crushed clove)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Paprika
Preparation Time: about 15-20 minutes

Tools Required:
  • Tablespoon (both for measuring and mixing!)
  • Medium Bowl
  • Baking Tray
  • Foil
The Process:
Preheat your oven to 180C (200C if not fan-assisted). Mix together the mustard, tomato purée, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic in the bowl, then add salt and pepper to taste. Add the mushrooms in small portions to ensure good coverage with the mixture. For a stronger flavour, leave to marinade for about an hour, otherwise cover your baking tray with foil and decant the contents of the bowl onto the tray. Sprinkle over some paprika, then put the mushrooms into the oven for about ten minutes and serve on toast, or with a leafy salad... or both.

Y'know, whatever tickles your fancy.

The Results:
As quick snack lunches go, this is a nice, light, piquant dish. I probably went a bit heavy on the tomato purée, but I used all that was left in a tube - too much for this, but not enough to be worth keeping what was left if I didn't use all of it. As far as the possibility of adding cream goes, I cannot understand why one would want to use any kind... But I guess some folks really like their cream.


Effort in presentation? Moi?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

A Cautionary Tale...

...About Molding Your Truffles

Over the recent Easter Bank Holiday, I decided to make some more truffles, intending to take a stock to my parents' home to share them out. There were a couple of things I did differently this time, though. Some by choice, and some out of necessity and/or pig-headedness.

To take the latter points first, my original recipe calls for runny honey to sweeten the chocolate. Sometime since then, however, I've used my runny honey for other things, didn't restock my cupboards, and so I no longer had sufficient for the mixture as specified, and in any case wanted to increase the honey content to better counter the extreme bitterness of the 100% Javan Cacao chocolate I'd picked up for this batch. I didn't want to resort to sugar, because that would introduce the risk of graininess, should the crystals not dissolve thoroughly. Sure, there's plenty of icing sugar, but I wasn't sure how that would affect the consistency, and I didn't want to be too experimental with this batch. My eyes alighted next on a tin of Lyle's Golden Syrup. Problem solved. On this occasion, I added something more than 100ml.

Other than the different origin of the cacao, the only deliberate change was the use of ice-cube molds to create a batch of neatly shaped and consistent truffles, to go along with my gloriously cock-eyed, hand-molded blobs... and therein, the problems began...

Initially, I was looking for either soft plastic or rubber confectionary molds, and preferably as shallow as possible. Sadly, my local shops had nothing suitable, and I didn't fancy traipsing off to one of the bigger shopping centres because I'd left everything to the last minute (which, facing facts, is the only way to do truffles of this recipe, since it involves raw egg yolk), so I grabbed a set of three ice-cube molds from a local pound shop.

The increased liquid content of the mixture led to a rather runnier final product, which made it all the easier to pour it into the molds, but it had struck me that getting them out again might well be a problem. With a more viscous mixture, oil or cocoa power could have been applied to the mold. As it stood, either would just have been absorbed and become useless.

And, as it turned out, I was right to worry. When I pulled the trays out of the fridge later on, the truffles were very much stuck inside the molds, and the rigidity of the plastic meant that they weren't easily displaced. The obvious next step was to stick them in the freezer, and use the old 'warm water' trick to get them out once they were rather more solid.

Only they didn't become more solid. Something about the truffle mixture resists proper freezing and just stops at the 'properly set' state. Thus, even after leaving the three trays in the freezer for a few days and then running warm water over the backs, the truffles still didn't want to come out.

In the end, I figured I might as well give in and just use a spoon to extract them...
Very much a work in progress. Two trays to go...
Oh my, the hardship...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Iceland Ultimate Snacks Beef Burrito

Considering that I've tried a Findus Chicken Fajita Wrap and was not exactly impressed, and that I've tried Iceland's Ultimate Snacks Beef Yorkshire Pudding Wrap to similar effect, the odds of this being any good were on the slim side. Frankly, I'm surprised I bothered to try it.

But I did. And I'm glad I did.

Here's the thing: My biggest beef (har har) with the U.S. Yorkshire Pud wrap was the singular lack of beef. Based on my experience of this beef burrito, that would be because it's all in here. There must be a great store of shredded beef, and the Yorkshire Pud wrap ended up pulling the short straw and got what little was left over at the end.

Here, on the other hand, you have a wrap which is almost literally bursting with shredded beef. It's actually rather strange when you consider the other ingredients: green peppers, red peppers, spicy beans and rice could all - and, in many cases, would all - be used as fillers to reduce the amount of beef involved. In fact, since the packaging actually lists the percentages of each of these ingredients, it's surprising to see that the beans and rice are the primary component. Each mouthful I took really wanted to tell me a very different story.

That's not to say it's all good. In spite of the funky plastic wrapper that expands as its contents are cooked (clearly some super-scientific material that aids the cooking process by ensuring an even distribution of the microwave radiation), the wrap itself tends to dry out where it's bunched up and go soggy and tear at its thinnest points. Furthermore, the beef, while plentiful, is exceptionally plain. It clearly has not been marinaded in any way (despite the ingredients listing it as 'Cooked Mexican Style Shredded Beef' which would tend to imply different), and Iceland are expecting their 'Chipotle Chilli Salsa (8%)' to provide flavour where the spicy beans and rice are not sufficient. Sadly - though, let's face it, predictably - this tactic fails.

It's almost as if the salsa - which isn't really a salsa anyway, since it has the consistency of HP Sauce - is just squeezed on top of the fillings, from a tube or bottle, once the burrito is assembled and before it's folded into a wrap. Had it been mixed up, just a little, the flavour of the salsa would have been more prevalent. As it is, you're only going to get a very slight salsa hit on the beef alone, and the rice and beans are often overwhelmed by the plainness of the beef otherwise.

Still, for a mere £1.50, this has to rank as one of the better products in the Ultimate Snacks line, if not right alongside their Sausage and Egg Muffin, then certainly not too far behind.

(Addendum 19/4: Also in this line is a chicken burrito which is just as good in terms of the meat-to-filler ratio, but the chicken seems properly seasoned, and tastes far better than the rather weak beef in this version.)

Sunday, 1 April 2012

S&M Rodeo #7: Waitrose Succulent and Tasty Pork Sausages with Fresh Leeks & Chives

One thing I've been doing almost invariably in my exploration of S&M is adding some herbs to the mash. Generally just a little Basil, or whatever else is close at hand. Partly, this has been because I've been using cheap-and-cheerful (or not-so-cheerful) instant mash rather than mashing fresh potatoes. Another part of it is that many of the sausages - embellished as they may be with their interesting herb/fruit/veg additives - are still predominantly pork and, as such, end up on the bland side unless you're really, really into the taste of pork.

Furthermore, when presented with sausages which contain added leeks and chives, I was expecting something quite boring.

And, considering some of the other Waitrose sausage 6-pack have been, while not disappointing, rather lighter on flavour than I might have expected, one could easily be forgiven for predicting much the same from these.

However, I'm pleased (and surprised) to report that the additional flavour of the leeks - if not the chives, which I'm not sure I'd recognise anyway - is quite a powerful note in these bangers. Rather than being a slight hint of leek in each mouthful of sausage, it's almost as if it's a helping of sausage and a helping of leek... just without the crunchiness of the latter. Considering the ingredients list the leek content at a mere 10%, that's quite an achievement. Even some of the most heavily seasoned sausages I've tried recently pale beside the well-balanced meaty/leeky flavour of these, so my personal recommendation would be to serve them with plain, buttery mash and, if gravy is a requirement in your own S&M journey, make it as light as possible.

As an aside, I'm also continuing to improve my sausage-grilling technique/timing, so I can almost always get a nice, crisp, browned skin (that hasn't split) while leaving the innards as succulent and juicy as the name of this particular product suggests it should be.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Celebrity Crush/What The Hell, BBC?

I have to admit that, despite my vague culinary inclinations, I tend to avoid any and all food programming on television. There's just something dull about watching someone - heavily edited - preparing food that I'd probably never even think to order in a restaurant, let alone try to make myself.

So surely there has to be a scurrilous ulterior motive to my new fascination with BBC2's 'The Little Paris Kitchen'?

I shall not attempt to disabuse you, my dearest reader, of your churlish notions on that subject, but know this:
  • Rachel Khoo's kitchen is smaller than mine, so it gives me a clearer sense of effective use of the space I have
  • Each week, she effectively does a full, three course meal, often with extra little treats thrown in
  • Most of it, so far, looks easy enough for me to try
  • She puts her own spin on traditional French dishes, as only a Croydon-born cook-and-writer living in Paris would dare
  • She does everything unashamedly full fat. Gotta respect that, in this day and age
  • She's clearly not afraid to show things not going perfectly according to plan
  • She even shows the washing up
OK, it doesn't hurt to have all those casually erotic, lingering close-ups of her gob as she shovels down a helping of whatever she's just cooked, but the format of the show is quite refreshing, and it's amazingly cool that she's turned her tiny Paris home into a 2-seater restaurant.

But of course, the BBC website lets the show down as only the BBC could. Each show features three or four recipes... but the website has so far only put up two recipes from each show.

When Ms. Khoo assured me, her rapt viewer, that I could look up her recipes at bee-bee-see-dot-koh-dot-you-kay-forward-slash-food, I was keen to look into the molten-cored chocolate cakey-thing she demonstrated on Monday's show... But that is not one of the recipes currently available.

...I guess this means I'll be buying the book..?

Nice one, BBC.

(Addendum 18/4: It is amusing to see that the most frequently asked questions on Ms. Khoo's Twitter are actually nothing to do with food. The pattern is this:
  • Men are frequently asking "Can I work in your restaurant?"
  • Women are frequently asking "What's that lipstick you're wearing?"
I'm not kidding - look through her Twitter feed yourself, every ten lines or so she answers one question or the other. Frequently both. She should add an FAQs section to her website...)

Sunday, 18 March 2012

S&M Rodeo #6: Waitrose Fruity and Warming Pork Sausages with Apricot, Ginger and Thyme

Using a different kind of instant mash this time - that old family favourite, Smash. I can remember the ads that ran for Smash in my distant youth... or, more accurately, I can remember the saucer-headed robots that featured in those ads. I also remember that they eventually turned those robots into toys, and I believe I had one... or my sister did... or maybe we had one each. They were wind-up toys that would dash forward, mouths opening and closing all the while.

They have nothing to do with this write-up, though.

It's worth mentioning that, while eating anything - whether it's something I've had before or not - I have a nasty habit of stalling if I find something in my mouth of an unexpected texture. Frequently, with sausages, that would just be an extra-tough or extra-rubbery skin on the sausages, that proves impossible to adequately chew, and so forms a nasty mass that I end up spitting out. With other things, it can be lumps of bone or gristle.

And yet, even though I was expecting apricot in these sausages, I was surprised to find it appearing as fairly large lumps within each mouthful. My first instinct, upon detecting these strange, rather tough lumps, was that I'd managed to pick up a duff pack, and that there were lumps of something nasty in my sausages... but no. While Waitrose Tolouse sausages and Tesco's Pork & Caramelised Red Onion sausages contained very thoroughly mangled pieces of not-sausage, blended in with the meat, the pieces of (dried) apricot in these are very substantial, and rather crunchy, despite a fair amount of time under the grill.

I'm not certain they add a great deal to the flavour of the sausages and I certainly didn't detect even a hint of ginger, but then this could be one of those times when the mashed potato dulled the flavour. Taken on its own, a chunk of apricot had the sort of flavour I'd expect from a chunk of dried apricot that had been cooked alongside large amounts of pork, but it's never going to be the strongest of flavours in that situation. However, the pork is good quality stuff, and the sausages are very tasty. The overall effect is not necessarily 'warming', but these will certainly be added to my list of Waitrose sausages to buy again.

Turkish Delight (made in Harrow)

Wherein I opine that, while certainly decadent, home-made Turkish Delight cannot be considered self-indulgent if it's a Mothers' Day gift.

Of course since I'm only writing it up today, it's a bit late for anyone else to try for Mothers' Day but, let's face it, if you haven't already sorted out your Mothers' Day gift, you're just a bad person.

So, here we are, buoyed by the success of home-made truffles (and conveniently ignoring the dismal failure of home-made cream soda) making Turkish Delight from scratch. Like truffles, it's a very simple recipe in terms of its ingredients. The process is a rather more complicated three-stage system, where two mixtures are made up separately, then mixed together. Also like truffles, it's one of those recipes that varies wildly wherever you go looking for it. There is a great tendency, these days, to go for convenience, and use gelatin... this, however, is not the favourite option because there are those who cannot or will not eat gelatin - those who have allergies and vegetarians will tend to steer well clear.

Thankfully, mine is going to be a more old-fashioned, allergen-free (I hope! Someone please tell me I'm ignoring any!) version that should be perfectly edible to one and all.

Apart from those strange people who don't like Turkish Delight. But, being fair, there is something a little sinister about a jelly-like confectionary that tastes like roses.

Nevertheless, let us begin...

Ingredients:
  • 800g Granulated/Caster Sugar 
  • 120g Cornflour
  • 1 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice (Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients 'A Dash of Sicilian Lemon Juice')
  • 2 Tablespoons Rosewater (Star Kay White's)
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Dusting: approx 360g Icing Sugar + 90g Cornflour
Preparation Time: About 30 minutes mixing, 1 hour simmering, plus cooling/setting time (overnight - 12+ hours)

Tools Required:
  • 2 Medium/Large Saucepans
  • Jam-makers' Thermometer
  • Large Plastic/Wooden Spoon or Spatula (for stirring)
  • 20cm Baking Pan
  • Grease-Proof Paper
  • Medium Mixing Bowl
  • Long, Sharp Knife
The Process:
Pour approx 300ml water into a medium/large saucepan and add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and approx 800g sugar. Yes, that's a lot of sugar. I actually made the mistake of thinking "wow, 300ml isn't a lot of water... I should be able to make do with a small saucepan for this part." By the time this mixture was bubbling away, my saucepan very nearly overfloweth. Let my folly be a warning to you, gentle reader, to ensure your saucepans are larger. Stir on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then reduce to a low heat and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, aiming to hit a tempertature of about 120C on your thermometer. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the second saucepan, heat approximately 700ml water, again on medium. mix together about 120g cornflour and a teaspoon of cream of tartar, then add to the water gradually, stirring all the while to avoid lumps. Keeps stirring as the mixture begins to boil, only stopping when the whole lot thickens and becomes gummy.

Add the previously-prepared lemony sugar-water mixture and stir in thoroughly for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and allow to simmer for a full hour, stirring every so often.

While that's going, prepare your baking tin by pouring in a small amount of vegetable oil and spreading it around the inner surfaces. Line the tin with grease-proof paper, and oil that in the same way.

After an hour, the mixture should become a smooth, mostly transparent golden slime, possibly with a faintly lemon scent (or maybe that was my imagination). Take off the heat and thoroughly stir in 2 tablespoons of rosewater. Pour the mixture into the lined baking tin, and allow to cool before putting into the fridge overnight.

Mix together 4 parts icing sugar to 1 part cornflour in a bowl. When it's ready, tip the brick of Turkish Delight out onto a clean surface (might be worth dusting the surface slightly with the icing sugar/cornflour mix, or just put down a fresh layer of greaseproof paper). Lightly oil a sharp knife and cut the brick into even chunks. Shake them in the icing sugar/cornstarch mixture and set aside. Serve immediately or refrigerate with layers separated by greaseproof paper, and all the remaining sugar/cornflour mix dumped in to prevent sticking.

The Results:
I must confess that I sneakily tasted the mixture after pouring it out into the tin. It's extremely sticky, and even going at it with a spoon left a fair among of the slimy stuff in the saucepan, so my tasting was actually a measure to reduce wastage. Honest.

At this stage, while still slightly warm and sort-of liquid, the rosewater flavouring was quite subtle, much like the traditionally-made Turkish Delight you can sometimes pick up in the market that operates around London's Southbank area (close to the London Eye), rather than the over-sweetened, artificially-flavoured jelly that tends to appear in the high street shops.

Once set, it came out of the oiled grease-proof paper quite easily, but cutting it to size, even with an oiled knife, was very tricky. Whether there was something off about my mixture, or perhaps it should have remained in the fridge rather longer, I'm not sure... but I know it's supposed to be pretty sticky - which is why one coats it in the sugar/cornflour mixture - so maybe it was spot on.

The process of coating each piece didn't go very smoothly either. I couldn't quite tell if it was falling off or just soaking in to the surface of the sweet, but the power dusting seemed to fade after a few minutes. I tried re-coating a couple of pieces, but it wasn't particularly effective. The only way to keep them nice and dusted seems to be to make far more of the dusting that you need simply to coat them, and store the pieces in the dusting. Airtight containment shouldn't be an issue, because these things seem to sweat rather a lot and, as previously noted, proper Turkish Delight can be found in open-air markets.

Flavour-wise, they're still pretty subtle, but they definitely taste like Turkish Delight the rosewater is far more prominent than it was in slime-form. Perhaps it needed to 'breathe' for a while, but they turned out tasting just right (if I do say so myself). They do perhaps taste a little heavy on the sugar, so my next batch may cut down on that slightly...
The word from the folks was generally positive, though my father queried the lack of pink (believing the rosewater to be responsible for the 'usual' colour) and pointed out that I may have made a small error of judgement at the 'simmer for one hour' stage, because I put the lid on the saucepan. The point of simmering, he reckoned, is to boil away some of the water... and it seems likely that's why my Turkish Delight was sweating.
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