Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Pecan Pie

Like Christmas (and most other times of the year, especially those that involve some kind of celebration), Easter at my home is a time for food. And I imagine we're very much not alone in this. Chocolate eggs for breakfast, pace egg smashing, hot cross buns, a a big family dinner on Easter Sunday involving some kind of roast lamb- sound familiar? Thought so.
This year, I put myself in charge of pudding. And for some unknown reason I chose to make a pecan pie. I don't recall ever eating pecan pie before (there is a fuzzy memory in my brain somewhere but I have no idea if I'm just making it up- fantasising about pudding does sound like the kind of thing I would do), but somehow I knew I liked it, which considering I never used to like nuts in things, is a tad confusing. But hey ho. Like anything I decide to make, once I have the idea in my head, I then obsess about it slightly until it is on a plate in front of me, and so I went in search of a recipe. 

After a lot of internet and cookbook scouring (I didn't have an awful lot else to do over Easter- procrastinating aside), I came to the conclusion that all the recipes were essentially the same. Time well spent I'm sure you'll agree (although time spent looking for/at food is never time wasted, so it's all good). So I did what I always seem to do in a baking situation, and turned to The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. I've read reviews where people complain that the recipes aren't tested enough, and the quantities are wrong etc, but as far as I can tell, everything in it seems to come out of the oven damn tasty, and that's all I want from cake.
And so I made my pecan pie, and as always when I make something (especially when I plan to feed it to others) I got far too over excited and proud of myself. It was, I think, my first time making pastry- at least making it on my own as a grown up- and after only one very small minor hissy fit when I couldn't roll it out properly I somehow managed to get flaky deliciousness that just melted on your tongue. My Dad couldn't stop eating the off-cuts, and he is a massive pastry fiend, so that can only be a good sign. The filling wasn't difficult to make either, and was obviously the epitome of healthy food- at one point what I had in front of me was what appeared to be a pan full of molten sugar. In fact I'm pretty sure that it was a pan of molten sugar. Luscious, sticky, maple-y, rum-y molten sugar (unable to find corn syrup in West Cumbria- although honestly I didn't even waste energy even attempting to find it- I used half golden syrup and half maple golden syrup, and I added a splash of rum because, well, just because). All that was left to do was add it to the eggs, careful not to scramble them (which I managed, and although I didn't scramble my eggs, I did nearly set my sugar/syrup combo in one big hard lump- oops), and the pecans. A slightly OCD arrangement of pecan nuts and stint in the oven later, we were following our roasted lamb (and homemade mint sauce, courtesy of moi- told you I get overly proud) with slices of pecany, syrupy, pie-y goodness.

It's one I'll definitely be making again, and one that I recommend you do if you have the Hummingbird Bakery book. Add a slosh of dark rum, eat, and enjoy. Just don't tell your dentist.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Bad habits and holiday food

So technically I haven't blogged since the 8th of January. And by technically I of course mean that you can technically remove the word 'technically' from that sentence. Confused? Good, hopefully that means you'll forget about my disgraceful blogging habits and we can all move on quickly with our lives onto better and more delicious things.
In all honestly though, I do apologise. I would blame it on an ever-increasing, stress-inducing, time-consuming university workload, a loss of enthusiasm for cooking for one, and a general lack of inspiration/ motivation- a combination of writer's block and cooking block, if you will (although the latter term just makes me fantasise about huge rustic slabs of olive wood on which I can both prepare and serve food, Jamie Oliver-style- just me? Ok then...), but that's really just me making excuses. 
In the past few months I've actually had a few things that I could have blogged about, or 'blog-worthy' (if that's not already a term then it should be and I am now creating it as one), the main one of is that I went for my first proper holiday in a few years (and by 'proper' I mean one that didn't involve dressing up as a dalmatian and drinking cartons of warm sangria with the rest of the country's university sports teams in Salou), and spent the first week of my Easter holidays in Malta. And of course I explored the place I'd never been before, through the food. Something I'm pretty sure I inherited from my parents, and one that I didn't even realise that I did until I noticed that a large proportion of all my holiday photos were either of food or me eating said food, and that the memories I have of childhood holidays are mainly concerned with platefuls of paella with a cacophony (my new favourite word) of seafood, much of which I had no idea of what it was; crispy, tender fried squid drowned in lemon juice and enough aioli to ensure that the rest of humanity avoids you for the rest of the evening; French baguettes- fresh and warm from the oven, and always with one end missing- and pastries- fruit, frangipan, chocolate, etc etc (I'm not fussy when it comes to cake, especially good cake). I have now completely come to a point of acceptance with my food obsession and very knowingly spent the whole week eating super thin-based, crispy pizzas; freshly caught fish; pastizzi-warm little filo pasties stuffed with ricotta (the eating of which I was informed by one random local man would make me happy); and bread and pastries to rival the French- all washed down with pints suitably feminine sized glasses of the local brew, Cisk. I could keep rambling on for ages about all the delicious things my holiday consisted of, but I'm in danger of running out of adjectives (that, and I have made myself hungry just thinking about it, so now need to go and find some food-and eat it with the full knowledge that it will not be as good as what I had in Malta, and that makes me sad), so I am going to leave you now with two things.
The first is this picture of a sandwich. 

There was goat's cheese involved; there were sundried tomatoes and pickled onions; there was a caramel frappe latte on the side. You're welcome.
The second is the promise to not be such a pathetic excuse for a blogger in the future. Pinky-swear and everything.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Microwave dinner

Yes, you read that right. But trust me, this was not one of your average 'remove sleeve, pierce film' types (I'm not quite that bad), but rather a full on home-cooked delicious meal delivered to me in various plastic boxes by my mum when she came to visit yesterday. The meal in question was a recipe that she used from Jamie's Great Britain- Guinness Lamb Shank, complete with celeriac and potato mash and even a little minty oily drizzle stuff. Not your average student dinner, ey? Although I did notice that the mint and spring onion sprinkle thing that Mr Oliver defiantly stated on his programme that 'if you weren't going to add then you shouldn't bother making the dish' was missing- tut tut (but then again, I don't think it would have had quite the same freshening 'lift' effect after a few minutes in the microwave- so I'll forgive).
My mum warned me that she found it to be a little sweet (which is no wonder when the list of ingredients includes raisins, red onions, marmalade, ketchup and celeriac), but I really really enjoyed it. Tender, fall off the bone, succulent meat, rich sticky sweet gravy and warm, comforting mash, with just a hint of mint (complete with glass of wine and followed by some of my mum's ridiculously good tiramisu)- and all I had to do was bung it in the microwave and wait for the beep. I feel very spoiled (and very very full) right now.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Well hello there strangers! Or rather, should you be the one saying that to me? I know, I know, I disappeared for a bit, but with work to do before the end of term and then a Christmas holidays spent travelling the length of the country (and generally just vegging on the sofa and eating copious amounts of food before I had chance to photograph it) meant I haven't had the time to blog for all you beautiful people, but I promise that I'll try my best to start posting a bit more regularly now 2012 is upon us. 
I spent Christmas at my brother's flat in Bournemouth with our parents and Bruce the border terrier, and it was lovely (thankfully having my mum there meant that Christmas dinner wasn't left to my brother to prepare- although he did do a good job of carving the turkey with his brand new knife, I'll give him that). I shall now leave you with some obligatory photos of delicious Christmas food that makes me drool over my keyboard and long for next December and the days when it is acceptable to put cranberry sauce on everything and drink wine at any time of the day. It's fine, me and my flask of coffee and clingfilmed sandwich are getting by alright. I don't even like chestnut stuffing and Christmas pudding. Much.
Starter of smoked salmon and prawns- which is my main responsibility for Christmas dinner every year (one I take far too much pride in).
The main event (and my bother tucking in). Delicious turkey. All the trimmings. Standard.
 Italian meal we made a few days after Christmas, inspired by the new cookbook I got as a gift- Jamie's Italy, and the hamper of Italian food goodies that my parents received as a gift. Crostini with various toppings, including a cannellini bean and garlic affair that I made using a recipe in the book; antipasti with mixed meats, buffalo mozzarella, roasted peppers, olives, semi-dried tomatoes and bread, and pasta with homemade pesto. Not quite Christmas food but made using Christmas pressies so I thought I would include it. Plus it was too delicious not to.

So there you go, a snippet of my Christmas. I hope you all had a lovely one and ate far too much amazing food. Now onto 2012 and the culinary adventures that await!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Tomato, spinach and mozzarella gnocchi

There are few things more comforting to come home to after a long day in the (underheated) library and a walk home in the rain than a pasta bake. Oozy cheese, stodgy filling pasta, hot sauce and those delicious almost burnt bits that I love so much. However, I've been on a bit of pasta overkill session at the moment, working my way through a pack of eggs and some pancetta by making carbonara (one of my absolute favourite dinners) rather repetitively over the past week. So I decided to mix things up (a little), and bought some gnocchi. I was inspired by this recipe, but to be honest I didn't really use it, I just used the same kind of idea- sometimes you really don't need a recipe. 
I would love to tell you that I made my own tomato sauce (which I would usually do, I promise), but there are times when the soothing sound of a popping jar is called for. Last night was one of them, as I just really couldn't be bothered- I blame that end of term feeling. So I heated some of my (Tesco discount brand- I really am a classy lady. You won't find any food snobbery over here) jarred sauce, mixed it with some boiled gnocchi, threw some spinach in for a bit of greenery (and to generally make me feel better about the insane amount of comfort food I seem to have consumed lately), dotted ripped up mozzarella and a sprinkle of parmesan over the top and threw it under the grill. And within minutes I was in warm, carby (is that a word?), stodgy, cheesy, comforting heaven. So blissful that I shall be repeating the process in a couple of hours. 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Dim Sum

I made dim sum! Sorry, I don't mean to sound overly proud of myself but I was quite chuffed at how they turned out. They were delicious, if a touch greasy (I blame the pork. That and my over generous-ness with the sesame oil- but it just smelled so good!), and aren't they adorable? Perhaps that's just me, but I found them very cute- they're like baby Cornish pasties!. There's something about mini food that just gets me far too over excited. Put me in front of a buffet full of 'party food' and I'll hop around like a kid on Christmas Eve (I'm very easily pleased- I know). 
I've been planning on making these little Chinese dumplings for a while (when I see something I fancy making, I tend to not stop thinking about it until I've done it) and after a trip to Manchester's China town (which is incredible) for ingredients, I finally got round to it last night- and I was amazed by how quick and easy they were to do! I was completely expecting a bit of a fiddly production line of ripped dumpling wrappers, soggy uncooked filling and burnt bottoms, but everything went right and I was tucking into my potstickers before I knew it (which is even more surprising when you consider that I made them after having had 3 mugs of mulled wine at the Christmas market). I first saw this recipe on Cook Yourself Thin, but having since flipped through my copy of Chinese Food Made Easy, there is an almost identical version in there, so I'm going to assume that no one has claim to it and go ahead and share it with you all, as you have to try them! This recipe serves 1 quite generously, but can easily be doubled up. Also- feel free to play around with different fillings- I certainly intend to.

Pork Potstickers 

100g pork mince
A couple of spring onions, finely sliced
1 tsp grated ginger
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp shaosing wine
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cornflour
Gyozo wrappers, defrosted

Mix all the ingredients, minus the wrappers, together in a bowl. 
Take a wrapper, place a generous tsp of filling in the middle, wet the edges of the wrapper and fold together (forming a shape like a mini pasty). 
Repeat until you have used all the filling.
Heat a pan on a medium-high heat with a tbsp of oil (any flavourless will be fine) and add the dumplings, flat side down, covering with a lid. 
After a few minutes, when the bottoms are browning, lower the heat, add 50ml of water and quickly replace the lid.
Steam until all the water has evaporated.
Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice, if you fancy, and tuck in!

I love cooking 'proper' Asian food, as, due to it commonly being eaten only as a take away treat, it is mainly seen as quite calorific and bad for you, whereas cooking authentic recipes from scratch shows you that this needn't be the case, and that you can get more flavour in similar things and be absolutely free of any guilt (and copious amounts of MSG). I fear that my success last night may have sparked a bit of a Chinese cooking phase- oh well, there are deinitely worse things that could happen. Any excuse to get my wok out.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Sweet potato and spinach daal

I am by no means a vegetarian- give me a plate full of ribs, a whole fish or a spatchcocked chicken any day (preferably peri-peri) and I will be a very happy bunny- but I quite often eat like one. I don't need meat on my plate for my meal to be satisfying, it's quite nice (with the risk of sounded a bit Hugh FW) to make the most of lovely fruit, vegetables, grains and the like for a change (and it's often a fair bit cheaper to do so). I do tend to gravitate a lot towards cooking and eating quite a lot of what my brother would call 'hippy food'- things like lentils, bran, brown rice and beans. Don't get me wrong, I am rather partial to the odd disgustingly processed McDonald's burger or two, complete with rubbery orange perfectly square 'cheese' and worryingly uniform salty fries (word of warning- never squeeze a Maccy D's chip between your fingers), it's just nice to feel like at least some of the time you are cooking 'real food', making delicious grub from scratch from natural ingredients from the earth. I'm getting a little too zen-like now. Don't worry, I will not be moving to a self sufficient commune anytime soon- I doubt they have skinny toffee nut lattes.
Anyway, back to the point, how could you see this bunch of ingredients and not want to cook something wholesome and delicious, guaranteed to put a halo on your head and no inches on your waist? You can't. Or I can't anyway (ahem, I definitely didn't buy these ingredients to cook with the night before and end up going back to the shop for a frozen pizza because I couldn't be bothered). So I threw together- literally, it's that easy- one of my favourite Indian style dishes to make, which always warms and fills me up properly- a sweet potato and spinach daal. I got the recipe here on the BBC Good Food website (God bless that website), and it is almost unbelievably simple- the only bit of relatively strenuous activity involved is a bit of peeling and chopping. 
Granted, it does sound like a bit of a side dish, and many the meat-eater reading this will be picturing it on the table alongside a large lamb balti, and I imagine it would be delicious as such- but it's absolutely delicious and filling as it is. Served with sliced toasted pittas (wholemeal of course) for dunking in, it leaves you warmed through and satisfied, with a hint of chili tingling your tongue, and, with the amount of vegetables in it (and not a lot else), feeling absolutely guilt free (or with room for pudding- whichever way you want to look at it). 
Right, I had best go, before I give you all a brackets overdose (I would apologise for my brackets addiction- but I refuse to acknowledge that it is a problem, and therefore won't be attending brackets anonymous anytime soon). Yes, I am aware that I am hilarious. Lots of lentilly love,