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Thursday, 31 May 2018

Experiments with Gousto #8: Wholesome Haddock & Apricot Tagine with Bulgur

And so we come to the penultimate post in this new round of Gousto recipes... and if there was a duffer in the selection, this would be it. Not that it was bad, just not as outstandingly good (or fun to prepare) as the others. This recipe also featured a couple of tasks that had to be kept on the go at the same time, which isn't something I find particularly easy in the kitchen. The daftest part, for me, was the opening instruction, which breaks down into three separate tasks: boil a kettle (the quantity of water isn't specified, but is more than my kettle can handle, for reasons I'll explain shortly), peel and chop the onion, peel and dice the carrot. Since I knew that peeling and chopping/dicing the veg would take more time that the boiling of a kettle, I did that - along with pretty much all the other chopping - before even filling the kettle, and feel that's the safest option. It's not as if step 2 (actually steps 4 and 5, if we're being fussy) makes use of the boiled water, and step 3 (AKA steps 6 and 7) doesn't start with "Meanwhile...", yet the actions in step 2 take 5-8 minutes. Thus, following the recipe to the letter would result in the water cooling off during that stage, throwing off the timing for the rest of the recipe.

Going from memory, I think I also prepared the vegetable stock before starting to cook the carrot and onion pieces, because step 4 (steps 8-11) includes making the stock as its last instruction before switching back to working on the onions and carrots in the pan.

I did, for a while, have the bulgur wheat and the early stages of the tagine cooking simultaneously, but the alarm going off for the wheat pretty much shattered my concentration. I also found that the full kettle of water I started out with wasn't sufficient for the 10-15 minutes cooking time... Not sure whether that means I cooked it for too long, or just that I need a bigger kettle (or to boil the water in the pan rather than using the kettle at all), but I had to boil the kettle again to top up the pan at about the halfway point, because it looked as though it would boil dry otherwise.

Like the previous recipe, the instructions say to add a lot of dry stuff to the pan ahead of the stock and, again, I find this counterintuitive. Not to say I didn't do it that way, or that I don't think it works, just that it doesn't make sense to me to add three lots of ground spices, chopped garlic and ginger and a relatively small quantity of tomato paste to a pan of onion and carrot, cooked in a drizzle of olive oil. Granted, the onions will start to sweat some of their fluids out, but it's still a fairy dry pan, and the spices will tend to clump. The next instruction is to cook "until fragrant"... which is tricky to follow, as I'm not sure I trust my nose in the kitchen... particularly with allergy season in full swing, and not long after chopping the onions...

Nevertheless, from here on, the recipe became much easier to follow, except inasmuch as I really need to figure out what constitutes 'low heat', 'medium heat' and 'high heat' on my hob... Its highest setting always seems a little too aggressive, but the general idea at this stage was to boil off some of the water to thicken up the sauce. That said, the instruction to aim for "a curry-like consistency" isn't especially helpful to one who doesn't tend to eat a lot of curry. I had a broad idea of what was meant, and did a fair job, I think, but still wasn't convinced by the finished product.

Probably the hardest part came when the fish was added, because ensuring white fish is cooked through when it's in a strongly-coloured sauce is a bit of a fine art - it needs to get to the stage where it flakes easily, but not so far along that it starts drying out. Since the instructions say to chop the coriander and mint at this late stage, I made sure to do it in advance to avoid any last-minute stress, or the risk of over-cooking the tagine.

Curiously, while the instructions say to "serve the haddock & apricot tagine over the bulgur wheat", all the photos show the two served side-by-side and very separately. The problem with following the instruction rather than the images is that the sauce is inclined to soak down into the wheat, so what I served up looks much less impressive... and not just because of my haphazard chopping of the coriander and the mint. It also seemed very anaemic - the photos depict a tagine that's bold and warm-looking, all browns and reds... mine ended up more beige and orange.

Now, I described this as the duffer of the set and should explain why. I liked this meal - as did my girlfriend, who actually had her share when she got back home late that evening - but the flavour wasn't as captivating as some of the other recipes. By comparison, I have to say I found it a little bland. It's worth noting that the recipe describes "diced apricots", but what was supplied was a bag of diced, dried apricot, so it's possible that working with fresh fruit would yield better results. Haddock doesn't have a particularly strong flavour of its own, but it didn't really pick up as much from the sauce as I'd hoped... and then the wheat was extremely plain. My girlfriend suggested some kind of seasoning for the wheat, so perhaps cooking it in another batch of vegetable stock would improve it... or, at the very least, adding more than just salt to the water.

With the end result of this being so underwhelming, I'm somewhat keen to try it again sometime - perhaps I missed something, perhaps the incredients weren't quite ideal in some way, perhaps I needed to chop the onion and carrot a little more finely. I'd also argue that, going by the photos on the recipe card, the quanity of mint and coriander supplied for the garnish was far in excess of requirement.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Experiments with Gousto #7: Crispy Baked Tacos, Refried Beans & Pineapple Salsa

Apologies for the delay in following up the continuing experiments with Gousto - it's been a good couple of weeks since I cooked the last of this latest batch (and ate all of it myself, as my girlfriend was away for the weekend). There's no particular reason for the delay, I just haven't felt like writing about my cooking efforts lately.

Not that they went badly (until the last one - but more on that when I get to it), just that I've been trying and failing to get all kinds of things done, and I wanted to give this the attention it deserved, rather than bashing out three perfunctory posts. This was, I think, the first recipe for the relevant week that my girlfriend and I flagged as a definite choice. Everything on offer looked great, but we're both big taco fans, and we'll often make the fillings from scratch anyway, so this wasn't a massive departure from the sort of thing we've made in the past, just a specific recipe we hadn't tried yet.

The first thing I need to say about this recipe is that it really needs some way of ensuring the tortillas keep their shape during the baking. I spent quite some time trying to even up the distribution of the tortillas in the dish, and ensure they were as close to U-shaped as possible, only for them to curl up, flop over and basically do their own thing in the oven. This led to several of the tortilla/tacos being very difficult to fill when the time came, and at least one had to be cracked to get it open far enough to drop in the refried beans. The salsa, being quite chunky, proved even more tricky.

On the whole, preparing this one went smoothly and was fairly easy - the 30 minute estimate is probably quite accurate though, as usual, I did a lot of prep work ahead of time. The salsa was the first thing I made up, since it required only chopping, mixing and then keeping aside until it was time to dish up. The cherry tomatoes and pineapple rings only needed to be chopped roughly, which is always a good thing in my books, as chopping finely is something I have still yet to master. Next time I do this, I'll probably quarter them as halves are a little too chunky... and, to be honest, I'm not sure cherry tomatoes were necessary, as normal tomatoes could be more easily chopped into smaller pieces while remaining suitably chunky. I'd also query the necessity of adding a teaspoon of juice from the tin of pineapple because, unless the chunks are fully drained, they come soaked with quite enough juice for a reasonable salsa, and deliberately adding more just seemed to leave me with way too much fluid in my salsa - it includes a tablespoon of olive oil as well, after all.

The only really substantial task in this recipe is making up the refried beans, which is surprisingly simple... So much so, in fact, that I may take to doing it more often, since my girlfriend and I both like refried beans. The specifics of the process, as dictated by Gousto, seem a little strange to me - adding the dry stuff (smoked paprika, ground cumin and chilli flakes) before the chipotle paste, tomato frito and the hundred millilitres of water was more than a little counterintuitive as the powders tended to clump rather than properly mixing in with the beans. I think I ended up cooking the beans for longer than the 5-8 minutes suggested, but I'm still not entirely sure what constitutes "a medium heat" on my hob, and probably spent too long adjusting it up and down, according to how it seemed to be going. The final stage - adding in the lime juice, seasoning and following the instruction to "gently crush a few of the beans" - is very much a personal taste thing. When ordering refried beans in a restaurant, you can expect anything from a full-on bean mash to something where the individual beans are still easily discernible... The photos on the recipe card seemed to suggest a middle ground, slightly beyond the "gentle" crushing of "a few of the beans" the text described, so I just aimed to mash them up to the exteny that I, personally, prefer.

I do feel obliged to quibble the quantities, as a single tin of beans (plus the other stuff) ended up equating to approximately half the quanity of refried beans I would want to divide between six tortilla/taco shells... perhaps that just proves what a porker I can be but, like I said, I really like refried beans. Put it like this: The first three tacos each received a heaped tablespoon of beans... after that, I had to start getting stingy and, by the last taco, I was literally scraping the bottom of the pan for a decent portion.

As mentioned, actually transferring the beans into the part-cooked tortillas was troublesome, and I think what's really needed is a sort of toasting rack, where the tortillas can be wrapped around a framework to ensure they keep the optimal U-shaped-ness for the 5-minute initial bake. Once done, these can be transferred to the oven-proof dish to be (ahem) filled with the refried beans, and returned to the oven for the final 5-minute bake.

Given that - as mentioned at the start - the salsa was rather more fluid than it needed to be, the finished and garnished tacos were somewhat flooded, and really didn't need any additional lime juice to be drizzled over. Portion-size aside, though, the tacos were very tasty, and I'll definitely be giving this recipe another try at some point.

One huge advantage to this sort of thing is that the recipe for refried beans is so easy to embellish - more or less of the herbs or the chilli flakes, dark chocolate could be added, pinto and/or kidney beans could be used along with the black beans, etc - so the possibilities in that alone are virtually endless. I'll certainly double the quantity of beans next time, even if I don't add another variety. I'll likely chop the pineapple a little more, use normal tomatoes rather than cherry, and absolutely not add any additional juice. A standard onion - brown or red - could be used in place of, or as well as the shallot, too... so, really, this whole recipe encourages experimentation.

Aside from the frustrations caused by the uncooperative tacos, this was great fun to prepare and, being very simple, could easily become a go-to, either in and of itself for a quick veggie meal, or as a component of a more diverse, Mexican-themed dinner, since both the refried beans and the salsa could be served on the side.

One sidenote is that, where a recipe card states, for example, "this is your pineapple salsa", I've previously been inclined to read an emphasis on "your", because it's often come straight after the bit about seasoning... Looking at this particular recipe card, I suspect I have done so in error, as this seems to be more matter-of-factly stating "this is your x" by way of saying "this portion of the recipe is concluded".


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Experiments with Gousto #6: Sweet Mixed Pepper & Chive Risotto

Of all the Gousto recipes I've tried so far (cooking myself, that is), this is probably my favourite so far. It turned out to be pretty much as quick and easy as the recipe suggests, but there were still a couple of things I didn't get quite right...

For starters, I've got into the habit of doing as much chopping as possible in advance, since I can never be sure I'll be able to keep to the timings if I have to chop on the fly. For this one, I also put the sweet tomato stock together in advance. This almost came a-cropper before I'd started, as my usual jug is far smaller than the 700ml required, so I had to resort to a crappy (but larger) plastic jug from my Ikea kitchenware set. I don't particularly like using it - especially for hot things - but there's really no rational reason for that... I just prefer working with glass/Pyrex jugs where available.

I got my girlfriend to explain how she would go about dicing onion, because my 'method' invaribly ends up making a lot of mess and leaving me with streaming eyes. In fact, in a previous recipe (not one I've documented, as far as I can remember) I diced an onion using our mandoline with the additional blades intended for slicing potatoes into French Fries. This time, I just used a standard kitchen knife, though I did have to sharpen it beforehand.

I was a little concerned by step 4 of this recipe, where smoked paprika, ground turmeric and chopped garlic are added in along with the dry arborio rice, as I don't feel especially confident about adding dry rice to anything where there's not much liquid available. One of these days, I'm sure I'll just end up with Rice Krispies... Not this day, though... thankfully...

Also, to be honest, it's only in the pan for about a minute before the stock is gradually added in, and this stage takes about 15-20 minutes for it to be absorbed by the rice, while the sliced peppers are being roasted in the oven. I think I started this stage a little too late - with only about 17 minutes remaining on the peppers' cooking time - so I ended up switching the oven off for the last few minutes of the risotto's cooking time.

The fact that almost everything for this recipe comes together in a single frying pan is a huge bonus. It means less to keep an eye on, and less to wash up at the end. I do have a few objections to the act of adding cheese to something that's already a hot, sticky mess in a frying pan, because I know from previous experience how troublesome that sort of combination will be to clean afterward. I also found the cheese supplied to be extremely crumbly, which made grating it an absolute chore, and I came dangerously close to grating my fingertips whenever a chunk broke off.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not certain whether or not any pepper was added for seasoning, along with the cheese and chives, but I'm pretty confident - having tasted the end results - that it would work well enough without. The final stage was a bit of a rush, as I had to dish out the risotto, add the remaining peppers, cheese and chives, drizzle on a bit of olive oil (also, I strongly suspect, surplus to requirement), and take some photos before announcing that dinner was ready... and I hadn't even brought the camera into the kitchen in advance this time...

This is the first of the new batch of Gousto recipes that arrived yesterday, so the rest have a hard act to follow now. The next few will be interesting as, after tonight's, I'll actually be cooking for myself for a couple of nights, as Courtney's out for the evenings, then away for the weekend... and I'm not sure keeping some of the ingredients till she's back - even keeping them in the fridge - will be viable. Chances are, I'll be cooking up the whole recipe as usual, but keeping a portion in the fridge (or the freezer) till she's back.