Sunday, 25 November 2007

Too Daring?

I have nothing but endless respect for all those people out there who manage to have a full time job, study, look after a house, live and still post a blog more than once a month. If my track record is anything to go by I can't. I have also discovered that taking attractive photos of the food you wan to put on your blog is a lot harder than so many others make it seem.

I think organisation may be the key and the harsh truth is I am not an organised person. I wish I was, I buy lots of really nice notebooks from Paperchase along with the fab pink and violet pens full of organised intent; then I forget the notebook. The point of all this is I have joined the Daring Bakers, an incredibly organised group of like minded people who love to cook and eat. I see now I was hasty, they all practice the monthly recipe, they all make changes where they are allowed to (probably planning them well in advance), they all write brilliantly funny posts and take mouth watering pictures. I must practice.

This month Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups gave us Tender Potato Bread as our challenge. Now I can make cinnamon buns like a pro, well maybe not quite, I can rustle up no knead bread which everyone loves but apparently I am a failure at tender potato bread. It takes a lot for me to admit that I wanted it to be perfect for my first challenge so anyone that happened to stop by and take a peak would think how marvelous I must come by again to see what beautiful photos and food this clever girl has on offer. That is not going to happen, my blog will fail to gain even one comment, I will never write a cook book and there will be no TV show from my houses in Vail, Cornwall and New York. Damn.

I was so excited when I got the secret blog that all Daring Bakers can log on to and I had planned to practice with the bread until it was perfect however 3 friends birthdays all demanding cakes & cupcakes put paid to most weekend baking. There was no practice.

I started the bread late on Sunday - yesterday - and managed to mash my spuds, cool and then add the yeast and flour fine. It was mushy but I was primed by Tanna's descriptive recipe so I was not shocked, I was all out of whole wheat flour so soldiered on with plain adding as required. Just as I was about to start kneading (by hand if you please) the dog walked in with poopy feet (yes feet covered in poo), stomped the length of the lounge and hopped on the sofa. I was torn between kneading and scrubbing, the smell won out and I scrubbed foolishly leaving my dough on the counter. It stuck all gooey and sticky and almost unmanageable like some icky alien, I scrapped and pulled got some stuck in my hair, swore and emptied nearly a bag of flour all over myself, the dough and the floor.

I composed myself and kneaded for England, it was saved (ish). It rose like a down pillow in the morning once my fat head has been lifted. I shaped it as best I could in to lovely rolls and thought I was being clever by bunging some in heart shaped casserole dish. I wanted to add Parmesan and caramelised onions or garlic but I had started too late. However I was happyish with the results and had high hopes...

I daringly baked the bread as instructed, forgot about it, remembered it, took it out and forgot to put it on a rack. In short my rolls had soggy bottoms and my heart got stuck and had to be scrapped out in chunks.

Daring Bakers, I promise I will do better next time. Please come back and check!

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

An Entrance to Satisfaction

Monday, I can tell you why I hate Mondays it will be for the same reasons everyone else does however there is one bright spot to the dank dark misery that is Monday - Left Overs.

I love left overs almost more than the main event, unless you are talking lamb in which case not so keen. We always have a roast chicken in the fridge in case of sandwich or supper emergencies any left over left overs (if there is such a thing) go into Harry's bowl along with the jelly stuff at the bottom of the tin. The carcass is always boiled up into stock and again Harry gets the all the bits I can pick off the carcass and the carrots from the stock. Not a thing ever goes to waste which is quite rare in our house!

The chicken we buy is always free range and organic as well as being processed on the farm they live on. The chickens are stress free and as happy as a chicken can be and although they are not £5.00 for 2 turkey sized monsters they aren't a huge expense when you think that they will last us for at least three meals. For example:

1 x £11.00 chicken makes
Roast chicken
Lunch time sandwiches for one day for 2
Cous cous salad with chicken
Stock which makes - Thai ish noodle soup and Lobby

Looked at that way a chicken is an investment for the week as well as a real luxury when they are as tasty as the ones we eat.

Lobby - A staffordshire treat

I had never heard of Lobby before shacking up with a Stoke bloke now I love it although it is a winter dish and is probably more of a thick soup than the traditional stew type dish. It is a peasants dish and gets its name from the lobbing in of ingredients - I kid you not. Basically you lob in left over meat, bones, veg and water however I skip the bones part by using my lovely chicken stock.

I could give you a recipe but it really depends on how much chicken stock you have and what veg you like but feel free to use the below is a guideline for a large pot...

2 pints chicken stock - fat skimmed off
Left over chicken
2 x carrots
1 x onion
1 x leek
1/2 a swede
1 sweet potato
2 x sticks celery
Herbs - I use dried Provence herbs however I have also used thyme, parsley, rosemary etc
Salt & pepper

Chop everything up so that you have nice chunks of veg lob it all into a pot and cook covered for about 15 - 20 mins until everything is soft. Eat safe in the knowledge that this is low fat, high protein and contains more veg than you can throw a stick at if you care about that sort of thing...

Ps Sorry about the lack of picture but it is not that pretty and we ate it all before we remembered!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Bowl That Soothes

Soup has been around since 6000BC when the main ingredient was delicious hippopotamus - mmm blubbery. The modern word soup originates from sop which was a stewish soup served on a hunk of bread. Interestingly enough we also get the word restaurant from soup, French street vendors used to sell soup called restaurer and in 1765 in Paris a shop opened selling soup and it became known as a restaurant. Isn't Wikipedia a great thing!

The French restaurer was a highly concentrated soup that was sold as an antidote to physical exhaustion and funnily enough soup is something I turn to when I am too tired to eat anything or cook anything.

Yesterday after a trip to my home office in the morning a train ride to London and an afternoon trying to make sense of all things environmental I finally got home at 20:50 tired, hungry and grumpy. My wonderful boyfriend not only picked me up from the train station but when we got back had also made soup for me!

Not only was it as yummy as it looks but it was also really low fat and stuffed to the gills with veg, virtuous and soothing what a heavenly combination.
Butternut Soup
1 Large butternut squash peel and chopped into chunks
2 Onions chopped
3 Sticks celery
5 Small carrots
1 Chili
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 - 2 Tsp cumin depending on taste
1 Pint organic chicken stock
1 Pint water
Heat up the oil, add the veg and sweat for 10 - 15 mins until onions are translucent, put in the cumin and stir round for a min or two then add the stock and water. Cook until the veg is tender and blend. Add more water if it is thick or even better if you aren't a porker like me add a tin of coconut milk.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Monday, 1 October 2007

Pie, Glorious Pie

Rob is sick. Not quite sick enough for Harry to make his move in an attempt to take Rob's place in the pecking order but sick enough for him to bully Rob mercilessly yesterday, stealing his food and lying on top of him. Dogs can sense weakness and will take advantage of it.

Today Rob feels a little better and instead of the Toblerone, crisps and wine gum fest of yesterday he has demanded sustenance. Pie. Cottage pie with gravy. Mmmmmm comfort of the highest level, creamy mashed potato covering savoury oniony, carroty minced beef.

I love pie made from left over Sunday roast using all the left over veg to make a sort of bubble and squeak topping but this version is the one my mum wouldn't approve of. It has Bisto in it. My Mum thinks the devil and all his minions make Bisto along with microwaves, frozen burgers and fast food restaurants - she may well be right but it tastes good in this.

Rob's Cottage Pie

2 Carrots diced
2 Stalks celery diced
1 Large onion diced
1 Clove garlic minced
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Lb Mince beef - organic rare breed if you can it will taste better
1 Slosh Madeira - optional
1-2 Tbs mushroom ketchup
1 Tbs anchovy essence
1 Beef stock cube
1 Glass red wine
1.5 Pints hot water
2 heaped tsp bisto powder
Salt and pepper to taste
About 1Kg potato - maris piper or some other fluffy potato
2-3 Heaped tbs creme fraiche
Large blob butter

Peel and put the spuds on to boil in salted water that just covers them. I start checking after about 20 mins if they are large chunks and you are looking for a knife to slide in easily but you already know that...

Heat up the olive oil in a large frying pan, pop in all the veg bits and cook for about 10 mins until softish. Turn up the heat and add the mince bodging it around to break it up and brown it all. Once it is brown slosh in some Madeira if you are using it if not add the mushroom ketchup, anchovy essence, stock cube, red wine and hot water. Cook all this together for half an hour then mix the bisto with some cold water and then add to the mince mix stirring all the time to prevent lumps. Let it bubble away for another 10 mins taste and season if you think it needs it. Mash up your spuds with the creme fraiche and butter and taste to check seasoning.

I then sieve some of the gravy off the meat and pop it into the dish you want to cook it in, top with mashed spuds and cook in the oven until brown and bubbling. You could have peas with this but I think for comfort it is easier to shovel in without.