Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Cancer Research Race for Life

Just in case anyone is passing by and feels like doing a good deed, I am taking part in the Cancer Research Race for Life on the 10th May in Delamere Forest. This will be the third year I have taken part in memory of two very very special people. My nana Doreen Law, and Dorothy Eglon who was her best friend.

I am very passionate about doing all I can to support any form of cancer charity. In the past I have done an abseil off Wearmouth Bridge in Sunderland, organised a cake bake at work, and am organising another one for the end of this month.

Please give as much as you can. I know its the credit crunch, but even £1 would help.


Monday, 16 February 2009

Kashmiri Butter Chicken

Well I kept to my promise and made the first thing from the Slow Cooker book I blogged about earlier. However it sort of happened by accident! Hubby said he was going to do it and therefore it had to be done ASAP. We had spent the weekend in Newcastle visiting friends and arrived home at about 1:20.....which funnily enough was just in time for the football. Weird how that happens isn't it?! Anyway we went from hubby wanting to make this, to hubby wanting to watch the football and jodgirls being forced to make it instead. Not that I had a massive problem with that. I love nothing better to potter whilst he is watching the footie. I stick Heart FM on really loud and just get on with it.

So off I went.

Kashmiri Butter Chicken
(Ultimate Slow Cooker - Sara Lewis)

2 onions
3 garlic cloves
4cm of root ginger, peeled
1 large red chilli, halved and seeds discarded
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tbs sunflower oil
25g of butter
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground tumeric
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
300ml chicken stock
1 tbs of light muscavado sugar
2 tbs of tomato puree
5 tbs of double cream
pinch of salt

to garnish
2 tbs of flaked almonds
sprigs of coriander

1) Blend the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli in a food processor
2) Cut each chicken thigh into 4 pieces. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add chicken until all the meat is evenly browned. Lift pieces out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate
3) Add butter to the pan and when it has melted add the onion paste. Cook until just beginning to colour. Stir in all the crushed seeds and spices. Cook for 1 minutes and then add the stock, sugar, tomato puree and salt. Bring to the boil
4) Transfer chicken to slow cooker, pour onion mixture over the top and make sure the chicken is pressed below the surface. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours.
6) To serve, stir in the cream and garnish with almonds and corriander.

N.B I halved this and only made it for two, and there wasn't an awful lot in the slow cooker, so it cooked quite a bit quicker than suggested. In the future I would make the full quantity and freeze before adding the cream. Speaking of cream, I dont think it really needs it. I used less than half the amount of Alpro Soya cream, and to be honest I preffered the taste beforehand, but this could be beacuse it was soya cream. The picture was taken before the cream was added, and we served it with plain boiled brown rice.

Valentines Day

What with the credit crunch and all we made the decision not to go overboard this year, not that we ever do! We decided we would just spend the day together, doing what we wanted to do, followed by a DVD, lovely meal and a bottle of bubbly.

There had been much to-ing and fro-ing over what we fancied. We decided on the starters fairly early on and actually stuck to it. We had scallops (big massive ones) wrapped in Black Forest ham from Lidl, pan fried and served on a minted pea puree. Now I know that sounds VERY Masterchefy but I like it so there! To be honest I gave hubby one of my scallops and went back for seconds on the pea puree, which he thought very strange!

For mains we couldn't make our minds up. First of all I fancied Cheese Fondue, and found a great recipe where you end up with a crispy disc of cheese at the bottom. Now this might sound a bit odd as I am lactose intolerant, but to be honest cheese doesn't seem to affect me, and certainly not as much as milk or sour cream. Anyway hubby decided that fondue would be a bit heavy, considering our plans for later that evening(!) so I trawled through my recipes and came up with alternatives. First we thought about lamb Wellington. There was a recipe in last months Easy Cook magazine which looked lovely and used neck fillet so economical too. But then he decided he didn't fancy that. So back to the drawing board.

We ended up choosing a recipe I have had for ages and never got round to cooking.

My lovely sister got me a pasta machine for Christmas and we bravely made our first batch a couple of weeks ago. It was definitely trial and error! However this time, we perfected it. We were a smooth, well oiled, pasta making machine! The pasta came out perfectly and was duly hung over the oven door handle whilst we tidied up.

The recipe is from Sainsburys 2008 calendar which came free with the Christmas magazine. Hubby isn't keen on watercress so I substituted basil instead. It worked really really well, and is perfect served with a chilled Pinot Grigio.

Open Salmon Lasagne with Watercress and Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

3 x 75g of watercress

3 tbs of capers

juice of 1 lemon, plus wedges for serving

6 tbs of olive oil

4 salmon fillets

1 250g pack of fresh lasagne sheets, halved

4 vine tomatoes, finely chopped

N.B. The recipe advises that you roast the salmon fillets, but I steamed them for 10-12 minutes. Also used 4 vine tomatoes for 2 people as I didn't feel there were enough. And as mentioned above I used a packet of basil rather than the watercress.

1)In a food processor whiz the watercress, 2 tbs of the capers, lemon juices and 4 tbs of the oil until the watercress and capers are finely chopped. Season and set aside

2) Lay the salmon fillets on an oiled baking sheet, season with black pepper and bake for 15 minutes.

3) Meanwhile in a pan of salted boiling water cook lasgane for 6-7 minutes until al dente. Drain and toil with 1/2 tbs of olive oil

4) Once salmon is cooked, roughly flake into a bowl and 3/4 of the chopped tomatoes and 3/4 of the watercress mixture and stir

5) Lay one piece of lasgane on 4 plates and spoon a little of the salmon mixture on top of each, repeat until you have two layers of fish and lasagne. Then top each pile with another piece of lasagne

6) Thin the remaining watercress mixture with a tablespoon of oil, then spoon over the lasganes. Scatter with the rest of the capers and chopped tomatoes, season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve at room temperature with lemon wedges.

Spicy Thai Spinach Soup

In between the stresses of last week, I realised there was a big bag of spinach that needed using. We used to eat spinach a lot, but for some reason haven't been doing so in recent months.

So I had this bag that needed using, I didnt want to spend any more money and in my continuing quest to drop another half stone in time for my holiday I decided that I should make soup.

Thai Spicy Spinach Soup

1 bag of spinach - washed

1 large potato - skin left on

2 tbsp of green Thai curry paste

1 1/2 pints of chicken or veggie stock

1 onion

Finely chop the onion and fry in a little oil with the curry paste for 5 minutes

Finely dice the potato and add to the onion mix. Cook for a further 5 minutes

Add the stock and the bag of spinach and bring to the boil

Remove from the heat and blitz with hand blender

Season with S&P if needed and serve hot

I added the swirl of soya cream for the photo, but it doesn't really need it. The potato adds enough creaminess to the finished dish.

The colour does go a slightly sludgy green, but don't let it put you off. The curry paste adds just enough zing to make your nose run, and you get all that goodness and iron from the spinach. Perfect for these cold days.

Sweet Treats

Well I have been very busy lately what with one thing and another, but have remembered to take photos of most things so should be a fair few posts to update you all with.

First things first. My company had to make 3 people redundant this week. Being a Senior Manager meant that I was quite involved and it was one of the most horrid experiences of my life. So I did what I do best in stressful situations...lock myself in the kitchen.
I had taken hubby off to the pub to watch the footy, stocked up on baking essentials, and turned on Heart FM. I was ready to go. I decided on sweet treats for the office rather than going down my normal savoury route. I find one of the most relaxing things to potter about making in the kitchen is a big batch of my homemade tomato sauce.

So anyway - out came my little baking book "The Cook's Encyclopedia of Cookies, Biscuits & Bars - Hilaire Walden" and I duly decided on two things. Apple Muffins, in the hope that they were vaguely healthy, and then Peanut Butter cookies to hit that sweet/salty craving.
Apple and Cinnamon Muffins
Makes 6 (or in my case 8)
1 beaten egg
40g of caster sugar
120ml of milk
50g of melted butter
150g of plain flour
1 1/2tsp of baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2tsp of cinnamon
2 eating apples, peeled and cored and finely chopped (I did mine in the food processor)
for the topping (this is the only bit I changed to my own idea)
50g of pecan nuts
dessert spoon of dark brown sugar
dessert spoon of oats
1) Pre-heat oven to 200 degC. Line muffin tin with papercases. Mix egg, sugar, milk and melted butter in large bowl. Sift in flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add chopped apple and mix roughly
2) Spoon mixture into cases. Blitz topping ingredients in food processor and sprinkle over uncooked muffins.
3) Bake for 30-35 minutes until well risen and golden. Transfer to wire rack to cool

The muffins worked really well, and I even got to use one of my Christmas presents. My sister got me some silicone moulds and they were great. I did however get very greedy and ate one pretty much as soon as it came out of the oven. I ended up with one of those lovely blisters on the roof of my mouth, that make you gag every time your tongue touches it! The next day when cooled they were equally as great. The apple had created a slightly gooey texture in the centre which wasn't too heavy, and they certainly tasted of apple. I'm still persevering with muffins. I just cant seem to get the texture right. I suppose I am thinking of those horrid muffins you get in supermarkets that are quite light and fluffy, whereas mine are always that bit denser. I thought I had perfected the not stirring too much, but I obviously need to try harder.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 24 (but be prepared for more!)
115g of plain flour
1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
115g of butter
125g of light brown sugar
1 egg
1tsp of vanilla essence
225g of crunchy peanut butter
1)Sift together flour, bicarb and salt and set aside
2)Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
3)In another bowl mix the egg and vanilla essence, than gradually beat into the butter mixture
4)Stir peanut butter into butter mix and blend thoroughly. Stir in dry ingredients. Chill for at least 30 minutes until firm
5) Pre-heat oven to 180degC. Grease two baking sheets (at this point I used my big round pizza tray and a non-stick silicon baking mat. I just had to keep doing another batch after one came out of the oven)
6) Spoon out rounded teaspoonfuls of the dough and roll into balls
7) Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets and press flat with a fork (apparently they should be about 6cm in diameter, this could be where I went wrong as mine were about 2cm! - hence why I had hundreds!). Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly coloured. Transfer to wire rack to cool
The peanut cookies were a resounding success, apart from the fact that they had similar characteristics to Gremlins and seemed to multiply. The recipe was supposed to make 24, but I ended up with hundreds of the things! I ended up doing 4 batches and sending some into work with hubby, and some off to my sister. Hubby kept updating me throughout the day with how many people had eaten, and at my work they didn't even make it to afternoon tea. Definitely one to make again.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Greek Food

Right, I have finally figured out how to upload photos, ALL BY MYSELF, which is quite a feat.

However this does mean you have to come back in time with me. Let me explain. When I first thought about doing a blog on my favourite subject I happened to be on holiday with hubby. Two idyllic weeks in Pefkos Rhodes, in a self catering apartment about 15 minutes walk from the main town. Relatively quiet with enough restaurants for one every night, and a couple of decent bars. I explained my plan to hubby, and enlisted his assistance in taking pictures of the food we ate over the fortnight. He wasn't really as up for it as I was, and occasionally cringed behind the carafe of wine as I happily snapped pictures of Greek delicacies, although he does feature as an unwilling subject in a couple of the snaps!

The photo above is Lamb Gastras. The Gastra is apparently the ceramic pot that the lamb is cooked in, and came complete with a number of cracks and chipped edges. Certainly not something that would be allowed in this country! The lamb was cooked with rosemary, mustard, wine, fresh spices and potatoes and was so incredibly filling and delicious. The mustard added a slight heat, and the rosemary some wonderful fragrance. This was our first night meal and a perfect start to the holiday.

The image on the left is a filo and feta parcel. We first had this dish a couple of years ago on another Greek island and it was a combination of flavours that really blew us away. The salty feta is encased in a crisp parcel of filo pastry and baked in the oven. They drizzle huge amounts of honey over the top and sprinkle with black or white sesame seeds. Now I am not a fan of feta, far to salty for me, but combined with the crispy pastry and the sweet honey that cuts through that saltiness, it really is good.

Lamb chops are synonymous with Greece for me, and always remind me of story my mum tells of when she and my sister went away for a week to one of the Islands. The village where they were staying only had about 4 restaurants and was situated on the harbour. One night they were out for dinner and ate at this tiny little place. They ordered lamb chops and were pleasantly surprised when the hugest mound of them arrived on their table. They sat and used their fingers to pick them up and get every last little scrap of meat off what were by all accounts the nicest lamb chops either of them had ever had. As they were leaving the restaurant there as a minor car accident in the lane outside. Being the post exciting thing to happen in this small village for a while everyone came rushing out, including the chef of this establishment. Who turned out to be one of those quintessential older Greek women, straight from a postcard...., complete with the most disgustingly dirty apron you have ever seen in your life. Both my mum and sister said if they had seen the apron before they ate, it would have really put them off, but they were still happy to declare them the best lamb chops in the world! The above lamb chops couldn't compete with that accolade but were still damn good. Juicy but well cooked (no pink bits for me) with plenty of seasoning and a nice accompaniment of tomatoes, onion, tatziki and some rather good chips.

One of the best bits of any holiday to Greece has to be the Gyros. Nothing like those horrid kebabs that so often seem to end peoples nights out in the UK. The shop that sold these was a tiny little thing, with maybe 4 or 5 little tables out the front. A proper Greek version of a fast food joint, but proper home cooked fast food!

There were three choices of meat available, chicken, pork and lamb. Whilst the lamb looked
something like the standard donner meat you get in this country, the chicken and pork were basically chunks of proper meat pushed through the spike and left to rotate until crispy and glistening with good old fashioned grease. You could have a mixture of meat, which hubby decided to go for, but I stuck to the pork. Highly seasoned, with some good spices in there to add a little heat, chips, tatziki, tomatoe, onion, all wrapped in a soft flat bread and presented in some greaseproof paper. Heaven! And all for the bargain price of €3. Hubby went for the man sized option for €5 which had all three meats, plus the chips and salady bits but all served on a big wooden board. Personally I could have eaten there every night and after one too many fruity cocktails I had serious thoughts about opening a PROPER Gyros shop back in our home town.

Cant go to a Greek Island and not eat fresh fish! When I was younger and far far less adventurous than I am now I always used to order half a roast chicken and chips when we were abroad. I know I know, sacrilege. And then when I got it, I used to make my mum sit and de-bone it before she could eat her tea. Thankfully I have now grown out of this, and can even de-bone my own fishes. think the waiter was a tad surprised though when I asked for it on the bone instead of filleted. Delicious soft, white flesh, with a buttery lemon sauce. mmmmmm

On our penultimate night we were sat having a drink after our meal and were deciding where to go on our last night. We finally decided on the place we went to on our first night and on a wander past we had a quick look at the menu. We had been fairly adventurous on our holiday, and had tried a number of local dishes that we hadnt seen before on our travels of the Greek Islands. And then something caught my eye. Tsoukalato Fournisto. Lamb shoulder marinated for 12 hrs in a white Grenache with mountain herbs. Then cooked in an air tight ceramic dish in a wood oven for 12hrs with potatoes, onions, garlic and parsley. mmmm. It had to be ordered 24hrs in advance and was for two persons, so with hubbys agreement we went in, booked a table and ordered what was to be known as THE PIE! When we arrived the next evening we did the whole "we have pre-ordered" thing, and were shown to lovely table upstairs on the balcony. Starters were ordered and devoured, and then we waited for this culinary masterpiece to arrive. And when it did arrive we almost died. From a distance, and from the angle we saw it, when the waiter carried it in it looked like a pie! All I could see was this 6inch deep ceramic pot with what appeared to be a crust around the top. 6 inches of filling with a crust. OMG, how would we ever get through that! At first I thought they had messed up our order, but upon its deliverance to the table all was revealed.

What we had presumed was a pie crust, was actually a kind of dough used to seal around the edge of the pot. We were encouraged to break parts of it off and dip it in the juices inside. We started doing that, but the dough was quite stodgy and plain, made more to be useful than tasty. However what was inside was magnificent. Tender as anything lamb, with the taste of the wine and herbs. Loads of poatoes and vegetables which we weren't expecting. After the first couple of mouthfuls we both started to wish we hadn't had starters, as we wanted to do this bad boy justice. We soldiered on, and managed to finish the whole thing. Never felt so full in my life, but it was one of the best things I have ever eaten.

Its now fairly obvious to me why I put 5 pounds on in two weeks! We ate out every night, lunches were either sandwiches made in the apartment with ham and bread rolls we had brought from home, and then Asda 9p noodles when the bread ran out. So that's lunch and dinner sorted, but what about breakfast? Breakfast always bothers me when Im abroad. Im a cereal girl but I don't do dairy, and there was no way I was carrying 2 cartons of soya milk in my suitcase. Hubby doesn't usually eat breakfast, and if he does its just a piece of toast. So what to do? We all know the bread when you go abroad isn't great, but I have come up with the perfect solution. Eggy bread! Whisk a couple of eggs together with a fork and add a drop of milk if needed. Drown your bread in the mixture and then do the other side. In a pan, heat up some butter and little oil to stop it burning. Place slice of bread in the pan when the butter starts to foam. When brown on one side, sprinkle the other side with sugar and flip over. Meanwhile chop up one really really ripe peach. Sprinkle that with a little sugar as well and then throw it in the pan next to the bread to warm through. Serve the cooked eggy bread with the warmed through and slightly caramelised peaches. If you have run out of fruit, take some of those little pots of jam and smear across the eggy breaded goodness. Delicious!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Ultimate Slow Cooker

Using my slow cooker has become a bit of a regular thing at the moment, especially during these cold times. I have perfected rice pudding, and do a mean chicken and lentil casserole, but tend to cook the same things over and over again. Hubby therefore surprised me last night by bringing me home a present. Ultimate Slow Cooker by Sara Lewis. He got it from the Book People, and it has to be one of the best books I’ve looked at in a long time. Real homey style food, that’s classy enough to serve for friends. Most of the recipes have little tips as well, such as alternative ingredients, at what stage to freeze, or how to make it dairy free. All English recipes as well which I find quite refreshing. The majority of slow cooker cook books, tend to be American and refer to crock pots, with all measurements of zucchini and all purpose flour in cups.

So I sat on the sofa last night and went through it with a bunch of blue stickies and tagged all the recipes I want to try. Here is the list

Caldo Verde
Smoked gammon and mixed bean chowder
Bloody Mary soup with chilli oil
Abruzzi Lamb
Spiced pork chops with sweet potato
Pork, orange and star anise
Sun-dried tomatoe and chicken pilaf
Kashmiri butter chicken
Chilli black bean stew
Mixed mushroom and lentil braise
Mediterranean fennel with nutty crumble
Cheesy vegetable galette
Sticky toffee apple pudding
Double chocolate and sweet potato cake

So the plan is to try at least two of these a month, more if I can manage it. Providing I can work out how to upload pictures with constantly having to bug hubby, I will post photos of my efforts to accompany.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Test Post

Just testing the waters on what I hope will become my new obsession!