Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Career Choices

I'm going for a career change. My job has been, at times, fun but for the most part, its been exceedly stressful. So, I've found something new that will take me back to my beloved Bristol and my lovely family. My job hunt was a rather scary process but leafing through yesterday's copy of the London Evening Standard this morning, I found this article. Now, baring in mind the survey was by Waitrose it might've skewed the results some what. Still, its heartening to know that we're not just interested in becoming glamour models and pop stars anymore!

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Monday, 7 December 2009

Lunchables Follow Up

Well, the lunches continue to trickle in. Thanks to all of those that took the trouble to pick up their camera (or increasingly their mobile) and send me copies of their lunch. It's been an interesting week of culinary conversations. These have partly centred around my colleagues bemusement surrounding my lunch-time photo habit which has sparked questions and giggles.

Today I've been sent a rather belated photo by the boy.

Monday's Lunch for the Boy: mixed salad (from salad bar) and a jacket potato
Location: Power Station, South West
Price: 94p
The Boy is always singing the praises of his work canteen. He works in a power station (just call him Homer) and, understandably, it's miles from anywhere so his employer provides the whole site with food at a cut-rate price. One of his favourites is a medium sized salad box from an abundant salad bar which costs only 51p. Bargain!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Lunchables Day 5 - Suburban lunchbox

A sneaky peek into the lunchbox of a friend of mine who's a Marketing Assistant in Farnham (I think... though it might be another F-town...)

Friday's Lunch for MC: sandwich, banana (non-doodled variety), kettle chips and chocolate.
Location: Office
Cost: ?

'I usually have sandwich fillers or leftover meat from previous meals with chutney or mayo.' says he. 'Today I'm having my usual combo of sandwich, fruit, crisps and something chocolately. I would like to have some salad in my sandwich too but we only seem to have mixed rocket salad which isn't sandwichy enough in my opinion - more crunch please!'

I'm all for floppy salad personally but I guess a little iceberg doesn't go a miss now and again!

Lunchables Day 5 - Salad!

Friday's lunch: baby spinach salad with peppers, tomatoes and cheese
Location: UK office
Cost: less than £1 all in. Bargain!

And so my week of reporting comes to an end. To finish, I'm having a little salad prepared this morning (bar the dressing). The chopped tomato really adds to the satisfaction factor in this lunch. My trick is to keep a jar of home-made salad dressing in the fridge at work so that my salad doesn't go soggy. Easy!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Lunchables Day 4 - Brie and Grapes

Thursday's Lunch: brie and grapes on wholegrain ryvita and blueberries for pudding
Location: UK office
Cost: About £2 - the luxury of blueberries!
Today's lunch was soft smooth (value) brie on crispy ryvita sweetened up with grapes. Eaten during a conference call! Busy busy busy...

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Lunchables Day 3 - Local Government

To make up for my lack of lunch and therefore lack of posting, I thought I would give you a snapshot of local government cuisine. A friend works in the transport department of our home towns council offices and here she guides us through (with very helpful annotations) her lunch today.

Thank you, little Miss LG!

Lunchables Day 3 - Famished

If you're waiting for an update on what I've eaten today, I'm afraid you might be waiting awhile... The Boy really won't be pleased with me but I haven't actually had lunch so far today. I've been caught up in meetings then travelling then more meetings and I've had no time or opportunity to eat. Terrible. My sustenance so far today has been in the form of a box of carrot sticks.

It seems that skipping lunch is becoming a depressingly common trend.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Lunchables Day 2 - Posh sarnies

Tuesday's Lunch: Tasty sandwiches from our local deli, Hampers
Location: MD's home in a cute Cotswold cottage
Cost: Free! Yay! The wonder of expenses....

Today, I got a treat... I organised a big (scary) meeting with some important clients and for that I got to order some delicious baguettes and sandwiches. I had a one with smoked salmon, dill sauce, lemon juice and black pepper and another with brie, bacon and chilli jam. Very tasty!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Lunchables Day 1 - Doodl'nana

Who says romance is dead!? Me? Well, woops. I've just had a very cute BBM (Blackberry Messenger, don't you know) message from a friend of mine who's opened his lunchbox to find his girlfriend has doodled all over his lunch banana. Sounds dodgy, photo's prove it's kosher.


(Unzip me, baby)

Lunchables Day 1 - Falafel & Houmous Pitta

Monday's Lunch: Falafel, Houmous and baby spinach filled brown pitta bread with a few herby Queen olives and whole cherry tomatoes on the side
Location: UK Office
Cost: £1.64 when totted up... bargain!

I like things that are healthy and tasty. It just so happens that this is pretty good for both. Falafel can be easily bought from most supermarkets now. They're good value, healthy and a good source of fibre. A good option if you're vegetarian! Serve in a warmed pitta bread (so that it opens up) with baby spinach smothered in houmous for moisture. The olives were a real treat; going cheap on the deli counter at Sainsbury's so I couldn't resist. A little salty but tasty nether the less.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Fun on the 9 - 5

These days it's all about the 9 'til 5. I was very lucky to buck the trend set my many of peers by starting my graduate career only a week after my graduation ceremony. When I'm in the UK office - which seems to be about 50% of my time on average at the moment - I am based in the deepest Cotswolds working from a converted stables on a farm in a teensy hamlet. This is very different to the working environments I've experienced in the past. It's rural! There isn't a sandwich shop just the road where I can grab a roll when I forget my roll or a corner shop to pop to when I get a handy bar of chocolate. It's all very strange!

The world of business is getting busier, more competitive. There's more cost-cutting involved due to the infamous credit crunch so with jobs under threat and time at a premium, employees are working crazier and crazier hours. We continue to burn the candle at both ends; we don't want to compromise on our evening activities but we're having to get up earlier to satisfy our employers expectations. We skip breakfast in haste, grab a skinny latte during rush hour and sweat it out until lunchtime. We deserve a break! Don't work through it! Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day but lunch is a little salvation from the working day.

Now, with my working location, I can't get away with running out the door five minutes late only to grab a quick sandwich somewhere in town when the time comes. I have to be prepared. And it's annoying. But it got me thinking... how do we keep the 9 - 5 grind interesting? Food can improve a miserable day. What do you eat? And where? I'm wondering how many people eat at their desks or just skip a lunchbreak altogether.

So next week, you can expect a picture a day of my office lunches to inspire (I hope!).

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Waffles!

The Boy delves into a cupboard, roots around and produces a well-loved waffle iron. "We could makes waffles?" he says, rapidly suggesting that we do so the very next morn. This doesn't happen. Sunday mornings, when we are together, tend to be more about cuddles and cups of tea though the Boy is a breakfast King.

So this morning, it's just me and waffle iron. My beloved is at work - yes on a Sunday, not fair! - so I have time to experiment. Things like sandwich toasters and waffle irons seem to be the kinds of things that are bought as a cool idea but end up languishing in the depths of a dusty cupboard. If you have one, give this a try! My recipe is a variation of one found in an ancient Good Housekeeping Cookery Book (1976).

Waffles



Makes: a crispy on the outside, soft on the inside breakfast treat. Nice as a desert too.

Ingredients: (Makes about 4 waffles)
125g self raising flour
15ml/1 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg, separated
30ml/2 tbsp butter, melted
150ml milk
Equipment:
Waffle Iron (Needless to say, these get very hot. Be careful - use oven gloves or a tea towel to protect your hands if in doubt. Cleaning can be tricky. Wipe with a damp cloth while still warm to dislodge any cooked on batter. Then wipe with kitchen towel.)

Method:
- Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Add the egg yolk, melted butter and milk then beat into a smooth batter.
- Whisk the egg white until it becomes slightly stiff and fold into the batter.
- Heat the waffle iron. Open and brush with butter.
- Spoon about a serving spoon of batter into the iron (the iron I was using needed slightly more than this but see how you go). The batter should coat the bottom but shouldn't completely fill the iron
- Close the iron and. cook for 2 - 3 minutes. You can open it about half way through to see how the waffle is doing - you want it to be golden brown but not too dark.
- When it is done, remove carefully using a plastic spatula. Serve with a little butter and some maple syrup or honey.
Variations:
Serve with fresh fruit of any kind; great, of course, with blueberries or strawberries. Ice or whipped cream or chocolate sauce can work well too. You can also add a tea spoon of cinnamon or mixed spice to the dry ingredients to give the batter a bit of a kick.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Roasted Skate with cherry tomatoes

I return home on Friday the 13th to find the boy has conjured up a beautiful meal for the two of us. A feast of steamed artichoke with garlic butter to start followed by skate and scallops for main. Yum! Underestimating the size of skate wings, we had some left over so I decided to try my hand this time. I haven't tried to cook skate before and I must confess - I don't think I've eaten it before. It's a strange, slippery piece of fish with a fine lacy edge. Be sure to cook yours when it fresh from the fishmonger otherwise it adopts a nasty taste. It also has some slightly strange cartiledge in the middle of the wing to look out for. Not a major hazard but could get stuck between your teeth!

Roasted Skate with Cherry Tomatoes and Parsnip Mash


Makes: a delicious and fresh fish-based main in less than half an hour

Ingredients: (for two)
2 Skate wings (has cartiledge in the middle - watch out!)
Generous handful of cherry tomatoes (or normal ones if you have none)
One red pepper
3 Parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
Small piece of Parmesan cheese
Milk
Butter
Basil

For the dressing:
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp (red wine) vinegar
2 tsp Dill & Mustard Sauce (or dijon mustard
5 capers, chopped
seasoning

Method:
- Heat oven to 180C, boil half a kettle of water.
- Deseed and chop pepper. (If using normal tomatoes, quarter.) Mix in a bowl with tomatoes and drizzle with oil.
- Place on a baking tray, spread out nicely and roast for 10 minutes, stiring gently and occasionally.
- Heat a frying pan on a high heat with some oil. When smoking, add each skate wing and brown for a minute on both sides. It may stick slightly, don't worry if this happens.
- Move the vegetables to one side on the baking tray and place the skate wings on the tray. Roast for a further 10 - 12 minutes.
- While this is cooking, boil parsnips in just enough water to cover on a medium heat for around 10 minutes or until soft.
- While you wait, mix together all of the dressing ingredients and set to one side.
- Remove the baking tray from the oven and put to one side, covered. Bung plates in the still warm oven now, if you wish.
- Drain and mash the parsnips. They will not become as smooth as potato but keep mashing until you've minimised lumps. Add a knob of butter and stir in with a spoon. Add a dash of milk to bring together and grate a little Parmesan into the mash. Season and stir well.
- Plate the skate with a dollop of mash next to it. Drizzle the roasted veg with dressing and ripped basil. Stir well and pile on top of the fish.

Variations:
This could be done with any firm while fish. Haddock would also work well. If you don't have Parmesan, a little mature cheddar cheese might be nice or simply add a grating of nutmeg. Can be a starter by simply using one skate wing cut in two and two parsnips for the mash.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Macaroni Cheese!

Another tiring day of work over and I head home to cook dinner. The dilemma hits me that I the cupboard is relatively bare... what to do? Well, here we go!



Macaroni Cheese with Bacon and Mushrooms



Makes: a quick and easy supper

Ingredients: (enough for two people)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp plain flour
1 cup milk
50g grated cheddar cheese, plus more to top
150g macaroni, dried
50g smoked bacon, trimmed and sliced
50g mushrooms, sliced


Method:
- Preheat oven to 190c.
- Boil macaroni for 10 minutes until just tender.
- Meanwhile, fry bacon and mushrooms over a medium heat in a saucepan until bacon is browned and mushrooms soften.
- Remove from pan and set aside.
- In the same pan, melt butter over a low heat then add flour.
- Stir vigourously until combined into a smooth paste.
- Add milk little by little and up the heat to medium low, still stiring.
- Keep adding milk gradually until all is added and the sauce begins to thicken.
- Add grated cheese, bacon and mushrooms and stir until combined.
- Mix macaroni and sauce together and put into an oven proof dish.
- Top with grated cheese and bake for 10 - 15 minutes until golden brown
- Serve with a fresh mixed salad


Variations:
Instead of bacon and mushrooms, use leftover roasted vegetables stirred into sauce. A little pesto in the sauce and a topping of Parmesan is nice with this option.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Peter's Yard

So we'd had a chilled out morning. I'd left the boy to snooze while I popped into to work (yes, on a Saturday) to get everything started. I came back to my cute little borrowed flat to find him watching one of our lazy Saturday favourites, Saturday Kitchen. It's a nice foodie way to start the weekend and normally inspires us out of bed for breakfast.

Now it was a question of lunch. I'm living extremely close to the Quarter Mile project which is home to, amongst other establishments, a fantastic Swedish bakery called Peter's Yard. Again, its a place that people have waxed lyrical about so a late lunch seemed like a good enough excuse for a visit.
I haven't mentioned the weather yet, have I? It definitely deserves an honorable mention. It's been beautiful. Clear and sunny every day, such a treat! It's almost as if it knew I would be having a special visitor and made a real effort to be nice for us. Self-centred, eh? Anyway, it seemed natural to gravitate to the Yard's outside seating area out front. But first, we had to go in and take our picks... Peter's Yard is quietly cool inside. It's a huge dose of Scandinavian simplicity with a hint of Ikea chic. Very stylish. The food has the wow factor too. Baguettes and sandwiches laid generously thick with fillings and the most amazing cakes. I dithered. I couldn't help it! Predictably, we chose pudding first. Blueberry 'Mousse' for him and Tiramisu for I. Then the savories... hrm. I go for a turkey sandwich while the Boy goes for a cheese baguette. We managed to resist the mouth-watering smoked salmon open sandwich but only because we had a fishy dinner to look forward to. Our meal was accompanied by our usual beverage - hot chocolate!

The real revelation for me was the beautiful freshness than was obvious in everything we ate. Our lunch wasn't cheap - £10 a head for two courses - but the quality and generosity of ingredients blew me away. My sandwich contained about four thick slices of fresh turkey while the Boy's baguette was stuffed with three delicious cheeses and the bread... well, it was all fantastic. Our cakes were also marvellous.

The Blueberry M0usse (above) was in fact a very handsome cake with blueberries and cream squidged between nutmeggy sponge. Quite a revelation. The only disappointment was the hot chocolate; not sweet enough for my taste.

Quote of the Day

"Let's face it; chocolate is a mysterious, seductive yet confusing world."
The Hairy Bikers, 'The Hairy Bakers' BBC One

Friday, 16 October 2009

..and a lovely evening

One of the things I have been at pains to organise for the Boy's visit was a lovely meal. He's travelled all this way on a train so he definitely deserves it. Another star of the city that I had been told about was The Tower restaurant. On our way into Edinburgh, my colleague (who is an Edin alumna) pointed out a hotel called the Prestonfield, which is apparently renown for it's amazing food and astronomical prices. The owner, Jason Thomson, also runs The Tower which conveniently is about a three minute casual stroll from my attic flat in the old city. With the same fantastic food and price-tag, they also have a very reasonable pre-theatre supper for £13.95 per person for two courses. With the bill sorted in my financial brain, I must emphasize the beauty of its location a little more. Yes, it's close to where I'm living which is useful but more so, it's situated on top of the National Museum of Scotland, a strange and disjointed modern building. Now, I don't know if I'm completely sold on the architecture but being perched on top of such a building gives visitors lovely views of the city.

Without further ado, I booked a 6:30 table. I was a bit canny on this one - it was the latest table we could get to make the most of the reduced price menu but late enough so that we could watch the sun go down as we ate. You enter the museum and are greeted by a security guard to checks your reservation and takes you up to the restaurant. You're then greeted by name (a nice touch) and taken to your table. I knew immediately that this had been a good choice - the atmosphere was lovely with dimmed lights and soft music. The view was rather spectacular too. We started with some drinks and complimentary olives which were very good. Beer men out there will be happy to hear that they serve Budvar though they did so in a glass which made me feel really rather grown-up!! I had a Hendricks and tonic with a lovely slice of cucumber. Very nice indeed! We mulled over the menu, which was limited for the pre-theatre supper but looked very good. I had a glance at the wine list, which also looked very comprehensive indeed but decided against it to save my pennies. We were offered a selection of yummy breads first - a choice of white, tomato or walnut. I went for a lyonnaise salad to start, while he had the parsnip and cauliflower soup, which were both fantastic. The salad was surprisingly summery while the soup was a real winner; warming and sweet and delicious. The service was very prompt and no sooner had we finished our starter, our mains were placed in front of us. He had deep fried 'fish' - slightly ominously named but nether the less, delicious served with mushy peas and some pretty salad. I enjoyed a meatball and barley stew which again was surprisingly summery despite being warm and filling. We also went for a side order of chips which we took as a bit of a flop. Don't get me wrong, I like chunky chips but these were peeled quartered potatoes which didn't really ring my bell. We also didn't really need them as his main seemed to have the mushy peas supplimented with mash and my stew was quite carb-filled with the barley. Our waitress was lovely and a very sweet character who kept us comfortable. It was nice, also, that having asked for a glass of tap water, they continued to fill our glasses whenever they started to look empty from a large jug. Our plates were cleared and we were offered desert but we'd had a very elegant sufficiency already so I decided to try, surprise surprise, their hot chocolate (picture above). All in the name of research, of course. It was fab!!

We then went on to enjoy an evenings company with The Improverts at the Bedlam Theatre, care of a member of the team I have working for me here in the city. The players provide improvised comedy from suggestions from the audience. My favourite was probably "Should've Said" but they were all great fun. A real laugh and well worth the teensy entrance fee.

A heavenly day...

We have been out exploring Edinburgh. Among our wanderings around the Castle and the Royal Mile, we have also searched for Plasir du Chocolat - a chocolate shop who's reputation preceeds itself. When I mentioned I'd be visiting the fair city, the first thing that was mentioned to me was this amazing little place that does amazing hot chocolates. After wandering around Thistle Street and the surrounding lanes, I asked after this fantastical place and found out from a passing helpful person that Plasir du Chocolat has actually closed down. In it's place is a very fetching kilt shop. Sadly they don't do hot chocolate. We weren't upset for long though as we found ourselves outside Henderson's Deli. It was rather busy as it was lunchtime so the place was full of zippy professionals "just grabbing some lunch and a skinny latte" before getting back to the 9 til 5 grind. Henderson's is another of the organic+hippy=good breed of café delicatessens. This isn't necessarily a bad thing however as it seems like Hendersons have done good with the concept. Everything looked incredibly fresh and healthy - along with sandwiches and caffeine hits on sale, they offer fresh bread and organic produce too.

We chose two hot chocolates (naturellement), a piece of almond chocolate cake (gluten free - tempted to buy a whole one and send it home to ma mere) and a peach danish. The hot chocolate was mundane and nothing to write posts about though I'm happy to rave about the chocolate cake (incredibly moreish and flour-free) and danish of delights (actually the best I've tried yet)!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Elephant and Bagels

I have been lucky enough to get the chance to travel to Edinburgh for work. My job takes up a lot of my time and comes with its own stresses but one of the perks is that I get to travel. So here I am, in beautiful Edinburgh. I managed to escape the confines of my sweet little top floor flat for a lunch break today and skipped my way to Nicholson Street. I did a little food shopping, including popping into a great butchers, to prepare for the arrival of the Boy. He's coming all the way up to Scotland from near Bristol to see little old me so I've planned a weekend of treats. Can't give the game away just yet though; you'll have to wait to hear all about it soon.

So, with my bags bulging with various goodies, I traipsed my way homeward. This is of course the moment that I a) feel like I should've limited my purchases to spare my digits and b) begin to feel horrendously hungry. Making my merry way through the streets I spy a sign proclaiming the finest mexican hot chocolate. Well, this was just too tempting to resist, particularly with my chocolatey theme this week. The place, it turned out, was Elephant and Bagels. As soon as I stepped in the door, my stomach started to rumble as, not only did they offer chocolat chaud but also, (as the name suggests) a tantalising selection of bagels.

Standing in the queue, I dither. What to choose? I plump for not one but two bagels - one for me, one for my colleague. Oh, and a hot chocolate as well, of course. Then I trot back to my building and up the 91 steps - no, I haven't counted them. Someone else did it for me! Still warm, I halve the bagels to share. One 'deli-style pastrami' with peppered pastrami, cream cheese, dill pickles and mustard. The other filled with brie, bacon and sweet pickle. Mm-mm!

And the hot chocolate? Well, I might need to try another to be sure!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Hotel Chocolat Treats

I was a very lucky girl on my birthday this year. A good friend of mine sent me a rather mysterious looking package; three little boxes taped together came through the post with my name on causing much speculation amongst my family as I was away. With shaking (with excitement!) hands, I tore open the wrappings to reveal three cylindrical vessels bearing the Hotel Chocolat name. A good start! On closer inspection, I discover that these are filled with various alcohol soaked, chocolate coated fruits. Now I'm not normally mad for fruity-chocolately-ness - take it or leave it - however these are VERY different.

One box was filled with drops of pure sunshine, namely beautifully plump rum-soaked raisins coated in white or milk chocolate. They melted on the tongue then gave off a delicious, and remarkably strong, rum hit. There wasn't too much of a boozy tang because they were so small. Very very moreish!

Another pot held strips of dried mango soaked in schnapps then enveloped in dark chocolate. These were quite a surprise with the initial bittersweet bite of cocoa followed swiftly by a sweet fruity flavour. It wasn't until you chewed that you got a hint of alcohol that tempted you back for more. These were a little more work as they'd been dried and then rehydrated but this actually worked really well and made them all the more satisfying.

The final vessel was home to firm kirsch infused cherries enrobed in dark chocolate. A truly classic combination which proved very successful. They were surprisingly filling but were a real treat nether the less.

All in all, Hotel Chocolat are on to another winner. Even if you're not normally a fan of chocolate combined with fruit, this is definitely one to try.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Monday, 12 October 2009

Green & Blacks

I have recently converted to dark chocolate. I didn't used to like it but I'm now a real fan of the its intense chocolately hit and slight tangy bitterness. I was awarded a taster pack of Green & Blacks after doing well at work and when I got around to trying the various flavours, my immediate favourite was a surprise. It was their cherry version - a bar of dark (60% cocoa) chocolate with whole dried cherries scattered throughout. The sweet and sourness of the cherries mixes with the chocolate as soon as you start to chew a piece and it compliments the smooth, bold flavour of the cocoa. Amazingly tasty! An eating chocolate rather than one to cook with.

National Chocolate Week!

I'm not usually one for the multitude of 'National Wash Behind Your Ears' Day however I have found one in particular that I can be confident and passionate about. This week is officially National Chocolate Week! I hope you don't need an excuse to enjoy chocolate however it's nice to be able to say that I'm doing it in the interests of "research". Awesome! I will be enjoying and celebrating this week of sweet treats with daily posts on the subject. In the meantime, check out the chocolate week website and get munching!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Rice Salad

We've squirreled ourselves away to a microscopic and ever so lovely cottage for a week near Monmouth on the Welsh border. Apart from a touch of extreme relaxation, we've also been looking forward to getting a chance to cook together. The produce around here is good. Our closest supermarket is a Waitrose which is a treat though there are lovely butchers and greengrocers dotted about. Our home for the week is surprisingly well equiped for a holiday let with Le Creuset pans and good knives (though the Boy brought his own). As an evening off, we got the obligatory Indian take-away with fluffy naan bread, crispy poppadoms (a favourite of my boyfriend) and fragrant pilau rice as well as a few colourful curries.

The next day, faced with leftover rice (cardamom pods and cumin seeds buried like jewels within), I felt inspired. A very easy recipe - barely a recipe even!

Rice Salad

Makes: a tasty way to use up left-overs - an easy and fresh salad.

Ingredients: (enough for two)
a take-away tub (or thereabouts) of cooked pilau rice
2 peppers (one yello, one green)
1 red onion
2 or 3 tomatoes
1 carrot, peeled and grated
handful of raisins, soaked in apple juice
Fresh corriander

Method:
- Finely chop all of the vegetables and the corriander, removing the stalks from the peppers, etc
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with hands
- Serve with a burger, eat in the sun

Variations:
This could be done with any kind of leftover rice - could go with a thai theme and add grated coconut.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Free!

Aaah, I'm free at last from the blasted cast! No more crutches too, which means that I can actually get back to proper cooking without hindrance. I never realised how much fetching and carrying is done when I cook. Being crutch-bound (Crutch-ful? Crutch-able? Crutch-some?), your hands are pretty much out of bounds when it comes to carrying. Very problematic. I've actually lost a lot of weigh in the last six weeks through not eating very much, decreased appetite due to the pain and the additional effort I've had to put in to getting about. I'm quite liking the new stream-lined me though I'm sure my loved ones will have something to say about it.

Now... what shall I cook first?

Friday, 12 June 2009

Best Before...

How much attention to you pay to 'Sell-by' and 'Best Before' dates? I tend to use them as more of a guide rather than a deadline, I'll admit. Some things are perfectly edible for weeks past their stated 'Use By' date while other things seem to have gone off before you've even left the supermarket so the whole thing is a pretty grey area. The whole subject has been brought to the fore-front of my mind by this article by the Telegraph. Hilary Benn, our environmental minister, would like to scrap the current 'Sell-by' date system to minimise food waste as she believes it creates confusion, meaning that usable food is being thrown away when it's still perfectly good to eat. Indeed, the figures used, quoted from the Food Standards Agency, make pretty shocking reading. An average UK home throws away about £400-worth of edible food a year, while everyday "five million potatoes, 4.4 million whole apples, one million loaves of bread and one million slices of ham" are disposed of when they could've actually been eaten.

That's a lot of waste. Boo and hiss to these nasty little numbers says Hilary. But they must be useful for something, right? It's all to do with shelf-life and I could go into all the different terms and their meanings but that'd bore us both and we can't have that. Needless to say, different kinds of products have different lifespans and while some merely aren't as tasty when they're getting on a bit, some become hazardous to eat. This is usually reflected by the relevant "Display Until" term on the packaging. The main thing is that products are stamped with a Sell-by/Display Until/Best Before/etc because it supposedly benefits both the retailer (or Supermarket) and the consumer (that's you!). Under European law, all products sold in supermarkets and the like need an indication of lifespan. This means that you can fill your basket knowing that the products you choose aren't past their best as the supermarket can tell for definite what is good and what is getting a bit Grandad. Once you get home, you can ensure that your food will be a certain standard when you eat it if you follow the advised date and the retailer has an expiry date on their own liability. The difficulty lies with the date itself - how accurate are they? I tend to eat things that are a little out of date but I'm careful to smell/look at them closely first. If something is going to be cooked all the way through, it should kill all the bacteria in it anyway. Still, I'm an impoverished and unemployed graduate (as of two weeks time!) and I hate waste...

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

French Toast Dilemma

French toast, as my family call it, has been a bit of a treat breakfast since I was little. I remember sitting in my kitchen at home swinging my stubby legs and grasping the sticky maple syrup bottle while watching my Dad dip slices of bread into the creamy egg mixture before transferring them to the hot pan. We would eat them sweet with honey or syrup and a generous shake of cinnamon. However this entire academic year, it's been a topic of contention and ongoing research between my housemate and myself. He insists that "eggy bread" is savory and as such, should only be eaten with ketchup. Being the competitive types that we are, it's prompted random polling of our friends and relatives to establish exactly who is right.

Not one to be outdone, I've done a bit of research via t'internet and I can conclude that (drumroll please...) we're both right! Disappointingly. This is mainly because, it seems, that 'french toast' or pain perdu (en Francais) is usually sweet and is served with jam, butter, syrup, etc. Meanwhile, the more English 'eggy bread' is more often savory and eaten with marmite (yuck) or tomato sauce. If you're curious, give it a try!

French Toast, Gypsy Toast, Eggy Bread, Pain Perdu...

Ingredients: (enough for a hungry two)
3 medium eggs
a splash of milk or cream
1tsp caster sugar or a pinch of salt
5 slices of white bread
Cinnamon
Maple Syrup
Tomato Sauce

Method:
- Whisk together the eggs, milk and sugar/salt. Add cinnamon if making a sweet mix. Pour mixture into a deep dish or large bowl.
- Dip each slice of bread into the bowl in turn until each side is covered and has soaked up a little of the mix.
- Fry in a pan with a little oil over a medium heat until golden brown and cooked all the way through
- Serve with your choice of condiment.

Variations:
You can also use slice of baguette instead of bread. Slice thinly (about 1.5cm) on the diagonal. I tend to use white bread as it soaks up more mixture but you can use wholemeal if you wish.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Rosti!

I have spent the last twenty-two years of my life without having experienced the comforting stodge of rosti until my housemate kindly decided to educate me. He'd been waxing lyrical and looked up a few recipes so this is a result of mixing several. It's very simple though grating and squeezing the potatoes can be a bit tiresome and messy too but well worth while for the end result. We didn't have a spare tea towel to hand so we used kitchen roll (with limited success, don't bother!) and, eventually, a collander!

Rosti

(A smaller more individual size!)

Makes:
A tasty and rather stodgy carb-heavy main course - ideal for brunch! Deliciously crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.

Ingredients: (enough for two)
3 Potatoes, chilled from the fridge
1 White Onion
3 rashers of smoked bacon, trimmed of fat and chopped
Duck fat
Seasoning

Method:
- Heat about a tablespoon of duck fat in the pan on a low heat until it melts
- Finely chop the onion and add to the pan
- Sweat the onions until soft then add the bacon until cooked through
- While you wait, peel and coursely grate the potatoes.
- Put the grated potato into a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much moisture as you can
- Add this to the pan, season and press down to form a cake
- Turn the heat to medium and cook for five or so minutes until the underside is crispy
- Turn the rosti (we found the easiest way to do this is to turn it onto a plate and then slide it back into the pan), adding a little more fat and cooking the other side until crispy.
- Serve with a fried egg on top

Variations:
I think this would be really tasty with mushrooms added with the bacon. Leeks could also be added with the onion to bulk out the mixture for more people.

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Verdict

Two or three weeks, the doctor told me! That was bad enough in my mind but the nice doctor (who introduced himself by bursting into the examination room booming "NOW! What have you been doing to yourself, eh?!") at the Trauma Unit tells me I'm to wait at least six weeks. Six weeks! Don't they realise I have stuff to be doing? Tutt. Looks like the next month or so is going to be a test. Not sure how much cooking I'll be doing as a) the pain means I'm struggling to be hungry (yes, you read rightly - this must be serious) and b) I can't really carry things when I'm on crutches which makes cooking rather difficult. Time will tell!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Mashed!

Lesson one in Successful Bicycle Riding: Don't fall off. Amateur mistake on my part then, it seems, as I've managed to topple off my bike and force a pretty little fracture into my fifth metatarsal (easier to say than spell!). "Well, I can see from the x-ray that it's broken," states the doctor helpfully, having made me endure five or so minutes of painful poking and prodding and "Does this hurt?". Raving sadist. "It'll take two or three weeks to heal," he tells me.


A broken foot and a few bruises aside, I'm fine thankfully. Kudos to my long suffering housemate who applied peas, supplied sympathy and kindly ran me to A&E. So here I am, popped in a temporary cast and told to show my face at the Trauma Unit (not a promising name if ever I saw one) first thing tomorrow.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Calorie Confusion

Although diets are pretty popular, it's sometimes difficult to work out where your calorie intake will get you. If you're confuzzled, take a peek at this website.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Beetroot is back!

Since being a student and being freer to cook for myself (without the restraints of younger - pickier - siblings), I've been able to experiment. Beetroot is now something I buy quite regularly, particularly fresh from farmers markets. With the help of my other half, we've found the best way to cook it is to pop it in a bowl with a few inches of water, cover with a plate and zap in the microwave for about ten minutes (or longer for a large beetroot). Don't bother with peeling it as the skin sloughs off easily once it's been cooked. It's so easy and very tasty! On one of his internet trawls, the boy came across this amusing website. Just to ram the point home if you needed some persuation?

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Chewy Flapjacks

I like flapjacks - they feel all wholesome and good for you. Which I guess they are, if you ignore the copious amounts of butter that go into making them. Not a biscuit, not a cake; they fall into that undefinable weird snack group. My grandmother makes lovely crunchy flapjacks which is what first inspired me to look into a recipe but I must admit that I'm more of a soft and chewy person myself. Hence, when I tried some of a friend's yummy batch, I was quick to nick the recipe and modify it to make my perfect flapjack experience. Just so you know, porridge oats are really cheap - you can buy 1kg of Tesco Value Oats for a mere 58p which will make four batches of flaps.

Soft & Moreish, Ultra Tasty Flapjacks
(with thanks to Dan for the initial inspiration!)

Makes:

Soft and chewy flapjacks with a sweet and buttery taste. A great way to use up over ripe bananas.


Ingredients:

80g demarera sugar
110g (unsalted) butter
250g oats
1 banana (ideally really ripe)
2 tbsp golden syrup or runny honey


Method:

- Preheat oven to 220c
- Melt butter on a low heat
- Remove from heat and stir in sugar and syrup/honey for a few minutes (it won't all combine into a smooth mixture so don't worry too much!)
- Add oats to wet mixture and mix well until all the oats have a thin coating of buttery sugar-ness
- Mash up the banana with a fork until it's smooth and gooey
- Fold banana into oats
- Spread evenly into a non-stick tray so that it's about 2.5cm thick
- Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until golden brown on top
- Leave to cool for 5 minutes and then score into pieces with a knife

Variations:

Add dried banana chips, chocolate chunks or soaked raisins to the mixture before you bake for more flavour.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Kitchen Diaries

One of my (numerous, undoubtedly strange) habits is singing. I love it. I like to sing while driving (I'm now a master of harmonising with the radio), while banging out my uni work if it's something creative and most of all, while I cook. Ideally, my kitchen of the future will have an intergrated speaker system and music library. With this in mind, I was linked to this rather hilarious kitchen noise-maker...

Friday, 27 March 2009

Foccacia

(not as rude as it sounds!)

I have the task of creating some appealing party nibbles for a friends cocktail party and being on a budget, I didn't want to buy a ton of pre-packed gumph. I already had flour, yeast and oil in the cupboad and a ready supply of water from the tap so I thought I'd give homemade bread a go. It's really easy so don't be daunted! Here's my take on the Italian classic...

Focaccia

Ingredients:
250g strong white flour
tsp salt
7g (sachet) yeast
Olive oil

- Combine flour, salt, yeast and a tbsp of olive oil in a bowl
- Add about 150ml of tepid water, mixing as you go. This can be very messy! Different flour will absorb varying amounts of water so add a little at a time and be prepared to use a little more or less each time. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more water. If it's still very sticky, add more flour. You're looking for a solid consistency that isn't sticky and doesn't coat your fingers as you agitate it.
- Spend about ten minutes kneading the dough on a floured surface; stretch it, then work it back over itself. You can really pound it! Work out some of your aggression until its smooth. Add drizzles of oil as you go a long to add to the elasticity.
- Prepare a baking tray with parchment and a little olive oil.
- Stretch out dough until it's about 2cm thick. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for at least thirty minutes to an hour.
- Preheat oven to 220c
- Bake for 15 minutes

Notes: I used plain flour as I didn't have any strong flour, which worked well. It's not ideal but will work if it's all you have.

Additions: A little minced garlic, finely chopped green olives and/or dried or fresh rosemary would work a treat with this. Mix them in at the dry stage for added flavour.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Ickky Slop




I've been trying my bestest recently to eat more live yogurt. This is mainly because I've been having some tummy problems, which are probably stress-induced but nevertheless it seems like a good idea to get some "friendly bacteria" into me. Most of me really detests the yogurt drinks that are bandied about so much on TV and especially a certain yoghurt brand whose adverts seem to have found a group of women who prefer to discuss their bowel movements rather than gossip about men... Active yogurt, which should do potentially the same thing, is cheap, easy and much more versatile. So, when I took my usual trip to the supermarket, I picked up a big tub of Yeo Valley yogurt to try. It was on offer (only £1!), organic and hails from Blagdon, less than ten miles from the village I call home. Pleased with my purchase, I generously dolloped it onto my morning cereal to sweeten it up... and then recoiled in disgust when I actually put the spoon in my mouth. It was grim! I would guess that the problem lies with it being fat free as it had a taste to it that I associate with low fat/calorie desserts (proving that if you want pudding, you can't do it by halves). It tasted chalky and bitter though it definitely wasn't off. It's a real shame because Yeo Valley is a great brand but I would definitely leave this one on the shelf. The only photo I could find is of the plain fat free organic tub rather than the Strawberry flavour that I tried though I think I'll be sticking with full fat yogurt from now on!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Review: The Trout, Oxford

I was lucky enough today to be treated to a fantastic lunchtime meal at a pub that I didn't even know existed (quite a crime). The sunny weather had inspired my friend to take us along to the Trout which is in Lower Wolvercote, Oxford. It has a gorgeous riverside terrace and it was his intention for us to enjoy our meal in the sunshine. Sadly, this was everyone else's idea too so we had to make do with a sunny table inside which was no hardship.

The Trout was refurbished in recent years and like many pubs has been done up in the contemporary eclectic gastro-pub style with mix-matched chairs, exposed floorboards and inflated prices. It has its charm for certain and a rather sumptuous menu too. I had the Baked Goats Cheese and Roasted Fig salad with rocket and interestingly, balsamic pickled onions which were a real treat! It was pointed out by the waiter as it's not made clear on the menu that the 'Salads' section of the menu were more like starters... slightly strange in my opinion, why not just have starters and mains? Anyway, it was a bit small though very tasty. My friend enjoyed one of their pizzas which looked very good. It wasn't horrendously expensive either with two of us eating two courses and coffee for less than £30.

The ambience and setting to this pub are fantastic. Ample parking is available which is useful. The menu is nice enough; up to the minute with flavour combinations but not too complicated and not pocket achingly expensive either. Definitely worth a try or even a special visit to Oxford.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Cape of Good Hope

In search of an early lunch with friends visiting from London and were originally looking for somewhere we could sit outside and enjoy the unexpected sunshine. The Cape was recommended, ironically, by a barman from another pub (which was experiencing technical difficulties with their kitchen).

The Cape of Good Hope public house used to be part of the 'Scream' student-friendly chain offering discounts and deals to the most impoverished and needy (if you're an architecture student, anyway!). It was refirbished in 2006 when it was reverted back to its original name after several years incognito for 'Scream'. It's definitely changed since then!

The decor is typical modern gastro pub; an eclectic mix of warm colours, exposed floorboards and mis-matching chairs. It was quiet at the time and we took our time to choose from their extensive menu. Eventually, I chose a falafel sandwich with tomatoes and peppers and added some of their 'Maris Piper' chips on the side, which came to a square (or should that be rectangular?) fiver - not too bad really. They also do a mean cranberry juice for future reference. The service was polite and quick (as you'd expect, with a sandwich!) and the verdict from my party was good.

Worth a try if you're in the Oxford area! You can find them at 1 Iffley Road, Oxford - right on The Plains.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Innocent until proven...?

I don't know about you but from time to time, as a healthy treat, I can sometimes be seen enjoying a small bottle of Innocent smoothie (usually the mango and passion fruit variety... yum!). Taste aside (though it is very good), I like Innocent. They're cute and friendly and their packaging is witty - you'll find, if you up end their small plastic bottles, that there's a message embossed into the plastic, the funniest I've seen has been "Don't stare at my bottom"! Smoothies are undoubtedly 'hip' and healthy, especially as they're advertised as one of your essential 'Five A Day'.
While watching The F-Word, I watched Janet Street-Porter (who isn't my favourite person, I must admit) take a closer look at smoothie products. Many sources brand smoothies as an all-round good food stuff - a great way to start your day, supplement your usual meals with an extra shot of nutrition, an easy on-the-go snack or smuggle more fruit into childrens diet. They are all fruit, after all, aren't they? So they can't be bad... Janet S-P found that many smoothie products (not just Innocent branded, I must add) have a surprisingly high sugar content - sometimes comparible with some soft drinks. "Ah but these are natural sugars!" I hear you cry and yes they are but they are sugar, none the less. Although smoothies do contribute to your 'Five a day' fruit and vegetable quota but one expert that was interviewed claimed that you would be better off eating the fruit itself as it is actually absorbed slower. When you drink a smoothie, the liquid is easily absorbed from the stomach and into the blood stream which can create a peak in blood sugar levels and then, quite quickly, a trough again as the body processes it easily. When I thought about my favourite Innocent 'Mangoes and Passion Fruits', each small bottle contains (according to the maker): 2 and 1/2 apples, 1/2 a crushed mango, 1/2 a banana, 1/2 a squeezed orange, 1/2 a crushed passionfruit and a squeeze of lime. If I ate that in one sitting, I'd struggle and I'd be stuffed but I can happily enjoy one of those in a flash. I'm not saying Innocent or any other company are doing a bad job but what I will say is, be careful with your smoothie in-take. They're yummy and easy but they're also high in sugar so take care.
I got talking to my housemates after seeing the programme and it prompted a really interesting conversation about sugar content in foods and drinks. We were all struggling to understand how our recommended daily allowance of sugars and fat actually affect our own diets.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Mackerel Fishcakes

I decided to treat myself while on my weekly trip to the supermarket. In order to keep my running costs down and force myself to buy from local producers, I've been limiting the meat and fish that I allow myself to buy during my regular trip to a certain out-of-town retailer. Meat is expensive so, although I'd never describe myself as a vegetarian, I tend to live off vegetables and pulses which the odd big of bacon thrown in for good measure. When my budget allows and my cravings get too much, I'll try to buy from the most local butcher to me. However, this week some smoked mackerel caught my eye during my usual trolley race so in it went! More often than not, smoked mackerel, for me, is a summer purchase that is eaten with salads so I was a bit lost for ideas after my first meal. Then it occurred to me: fishcakes! Here's my concoction for you to try:

Mackerel Fishcakes

Ingredients (to make eight fishcakes):
250g smoked mackerel
250g potatoes
1 beaten egg
1 tbsp plain flour
breadcrumbs

- Peel, quarter and boil potatoes until cooked through and mash.

- While this is cooking, flake the mackerel taking care to remove any bones.

- Mix the mackerel, mashed potato and about 1tbsp of beaten egg (to bind) in a bowl and form into small patties. You can do this by dividing the mixture, rolling it into balls and then flattening them slightly.

- It is probably best, at this stage, to refrigerate your fishcakes for at least half an hour to firm them up which makes the next step easier. However, if you're in a hurry, you can always skip this.

- Prepare three large plates or bowls with: a sprinkling of plain flour, the remaining beaten egg and another with breadcrumbs.

- Sparsely coat each cake with a little flour on each side, then with egg wash and then with breadcrumbs.

- Fry the fishcakes in a little oil over a medium heat for three to four minutes, turning every so often to cook evenly. The outer breadcrumbs with brown slightly. If they start to burn, lower the temperature.


Variations:
This, of course, would work with tinned tuna or salmon if you don't have mackerel. I chopped up some peppadew peppers and added them to the mixture to add some spice. You could also try a touch of dried or fresh chilli. A teaspoon of ready-made thai green or red curry paste and/or some finely chopped lemon grass or corriander would give a pleasing thai flavour. Red or green pesto could also work well.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Review: Rococo, Oxford

Today, I was lucky enough to lunch with two friends to nourish us before an afternoon of dancing; perfecting our ceroc skills. One of the aforementioned had booked us a table at a little place called Rococo, which wasn't far from his home but is situated on the other side of Oxford to my usual stamping ground. It was nice to see a part of Oxford I'm not familiar with.
Rococo can be found tucked away in the Westway Shopping Centre in Botley and isn't a particularly assuming place. The clientelle was mixed and it was busy enough for us to sink into a corner and discuss politics to our hearts content. The service was satisfactory but not particularly attentive though this suited our needs. It was relaxed and friendly with a nice enough menu - specials were mainly crepe/pancake based and a member of our party enjoyed a delicious looking savory crepe with mushrooms, cream and ham. I went for a Reine pizza with arrived topped with mushrooms, ham and wonderfully fat green and black olives which went down a treat while supping their take on a St Clements - orange juice, lime cordial and bitter lemon over ice. We all finished with puddings and coffee. I went for my staple - tiramisu - which was very good though not the best I've ever had. I didn't get a chance to see the bill but it seemed, from the menu, that everything was reasonably priced. Would definitely return if I was in the area - doubtless I'll be getting a craving for their pizzas simply because of the olives in the not so distance future!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Culinary Valentine

In a slight break from tradition, we decided to spend our pennies on ingredients rather than a meal out. Our (admittedly somewhat limited) experience of the hospitality trade around this time of year is not exactly positive and can be summed up in three words; expensive, contrived and unromantic. .


Consequently, Valentine's Day saw us crammed into Oxford's bustling and popular Covered Market. We collected fresh mussels and shell-on prawns from the fishmonger; shallots, apricots, an avocado and vine tomatoes from the greengrocer; a camembere from the cheese shop; olives, paté and a selection of cured meats from the deli and semi-dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, fresh anchovies (a particular weakness of my Valentine) and yet more olives from Fasta Pasta. This was supplimented by a bottle of white wine and a loaf of ciabatta (as the entire market had been cleaned out of bread that morning!) from the local supermarket.

This was deftly crafted into a delicious anti-pasto of cured meats, olives and bits and pieces to nibble on while I roasted the camembere and caramelised shallots to drizzle on top. This was intended to be a starter but we were so full and wanted to do full justice to our seafood main course that we skipped straight to pudding. Heavenly!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Chocolate Pudding for Two

In need of a naughty chocolate fix for Valentines Day? This makes enough delicious mixture for two but not to worry if you're single; all the more for you! It's not too expensive (especially if you buy your chocolate from somewhere like Lidl) and you can always leave out the alcohol if you're really strapped for cash.

Chocolate pudding

Ingredients:
160g dark (70%) chocolate
130ml single cream
50ml (if desired, or to taste) Baileys (or similar)
2 tbsp sugar syrup

- Melt chocolate in a bain marie, a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water until smooth. Remove from heat.
- Add cream (ideally at room temperature) and stir thoroughly to combine.
- Add Baileys or similar alcohol and sugar syrup to the mix and stir well again.
- Allow to cool slightly for a few minutes until less liquid then pour into two glasses (or one big one!).
- Refrigerate until needed.

This can be made a few days in advance and can then be heated up slightly (in the microwave or in boiling water) for a tasty, naughty chocolate sauce or serve from the fridge with fresh fruit.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Review: The Mission, Oxford

I'm no expert but I've liked most things labelled "Mexican" that have been wafted under my eager nose. I'm not sure if it's the spices or the richness but it's always a winner with me. Since I was small, my Mum has made the best guacamole ever (much better than the pre-made stuff, I shall have to dig out the recipe!). Now I'm at uni, one of my 'signature dishes' is nachos which are easy, tasty and a great sharing food (another recipe post sometime!). So when my housemate suggested we try out The Mission in central Oxford, I thought it was worth the bus ride in.

I've passed by their warm doorway several times since they opened but there's always been a sizeable queue, often out the door. Obviously, this is a great sign but not conducive to me stopping in. We arrived at about 7.30pm and although there was something of a queue, we joined the throng. A chicken burrito with lots in it costs less than £5, which can't be argued with considering how full it leaves you. Definite value for money! Plus, it's delicious and tastes nice and fresh. They do several different wrap options with different fillings, which are mainly meat based but they do a vegetarian option too. Seating can be a bit of a problem as it's only a small establishment and you just have to sit where you can but this adds to the casual social feel.

All in all, a great place to eat. Worth popping in even if it's busy, especially if you're in need of a quick takeaway fix. Good value, lots of options to keep everyone happy and very tasty.

Walking home that evening, it was suggested that burrito soup could be a tasty addition to my recipe book so that's something that I might need to experiment with in the future!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Roasted Peppers with Goat's Cheese

On my recent excursion to the Covered Market in Oxford, I bought some rather lovely peppers. I picked them out of the green grocers basket, choosing only the plumpest, cutest (can capsicums be "cute"? I hear you ask. Well, yes. Yes they can.). Here's one easy recipe...
(See? Aren't they cute?!)

Roasted Stuffed Pepper's with Goats Cheese and Pinenuts
Serves 2

2 large bell (capsicum) peppers
1 handful (cherry) tomatoes (or a can of chopped tomatoes)
1 red onion
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp (dried) rosemary
100g goats cheese
50g pinenuts
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Half each pepper long-ways through the stem and carefully cut out the seeds.
- Rub with a little olive oil, season and roast for about twenty minutes or until softened and crispy on the edges.
- Meanwhile, finely chop onion and garlic. Sweat in a pan with a little olive oil.
- Quarter cherry tomatoes and add to the pan with half a teaspoon of rosemary.
- Allow to cook through and soften. If this becomes ready before the peppers, simply put to oneside.
- Remove peppers from the oven and fill with the tomato mixture topping with crumbled goats cheese and a sprinkling of pinenuts.
- Return to oven for a further ten minutes to melt the cheese. Serve with salad or vegetable rice.
Alternatives:
Subsitute goats cheese and pinenuts for:
- mozzarella and fresh basil. Add oregano to the tomato mix
- feta cheese topping and chopped olives in the filling

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Further Seasonal Eating

After my rant just the other day, I wanted to pass on another link. If you're in need of some inspiration about seasonal produce, you can find lots of ideas and information on the BBC's In Season website. You can look at what is naturally available this month but also look to the year ahead to plan. There is also a bit about each seasonal ingredient with half a dozen or so recipes for each one. Useful!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Potato Wedges

In need of an easy snack for an evening in front of the box? Try these out. They actually couldn't be simpler and I can almost guarantee that you have all the ingredients you could need in your cupboards right now.

Potato Wedges

Ingredients
Potatoes (one per person with one or two on top for luck)
Sunflower oil
Cajun Spice Mix
Cumin
Paprika
...or any herbs or spices you fancy!

- Preheat oven 180C
- Cut potatoes into wedges; don't worry about peeling them just cut in half then into segments by cutting each into quarters longways. Put them into a bowl.
- Drizzle with two or three tablespoons of oil. You don't need much, just enough to thinly coat the potatoes.
- Add a teaspoon of each spice and mix everything around (ideally with your hands).
- Spread the wedges out on a baking tray and bake for about thirty minutes (turning halfway through) or until soft and crispy around the edges.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Eat Local

With the newspapers full of doom and gloom with recession talk, it got me thinking about the knock-on effects for food. You know that lovely little restaurant that does everything just how you like it? The one-off ever-so-special unique eatery that you love? Chances are, if it's not part of a franchise (or, lets face it, even if it is) it might well be feeling the pinch at the mo. There are an awful lot of people out there who are out of work at the moment but the reality is that there's also a large proportion of the population that is managing just fine. If you're solvent, consider your local businesses. I'm not suggesting going out and ordering huge meals but do your bit to help Britain's smaller businesses. If you're finding times hard, why not recommend your favourite restaurant, café or supplier to friends and family? You could even have a look to see if they're listed on any review sites and take a few minutes to write a short review.

On this subject, now is a time to eat seasonal local goods if you can. Yes, it's great to eat what you want when you fancy it but consider where the produce is coming from. Tomatoes from the Canary Islands? Not great for your food miles. Now, bear with me. I'm honestly not a raving hippy. It makes sense to be more conscious of what you're buying at times like this. It'll make your food bill cheaper too as seasonal (ideally locally grown or produced) foods are abundant so they're easy to get hold of. Not sure what's in season? I don't blame you. I'm not much of a gardener myself so I rely on Eat the Seasons, who kindly send me a weekly email to tell me whats in season with lovely recipe ideas too. You get one email a week and they don't clog up your inbox with junk. What are you waiting for, eh?

And one more thing... Tesco. They're not going to go out of business in a million years. They have their grip filmly in our highstreets and out-of-town developments. Tesco are happy bunnies. While I wouldn't be able to get all my shopping away from the main supermarket brands, I am trying to buy as much from smaller outlets and markets as I can. They appreciate it, the quality is good and they're real people just like me and you. Yes it's a bit of a gamble but try them out even if it's just for one week.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Venison Steak

Ever tried venison? If not, don't be scared. You don't have to build up the courage to go into your local butcher and ask for it (though I'd recommend that you do!) as the supermarkets are stocking it at the moment. It's a really delicious meat. Grab yourself some venison steak and add a little glug of balsamic vinegar about an hour before hand to tenderise it then heat a pan with a little ground nut oil until it's good and hot. Add a little butter and place your steak into the pan having quickly seasoned it (don't do this too far in advance or the salt will draw the moisture out of the meat). Let it cook for a few minutes then turn to let the other side cook. Cooking time depends how you like your steak (if you haven't tried venison, treat it like a beef steak) and how big each steak is. Try not to turn it too often as I've heard chefs say it makes the meat tough. Serve with veg and some mash for a hearty winter warmer!
Thanks to Dave for inspiration on this one!
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