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.
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