Monthly Archives: October 2010

Happy Hallowe’en!

Anyone else suffering from pumpkin carving injuries? I managed to slip a tiny bit while stabbing a pumpkin and managed to nick myself!  I can say that the knife was indeed incredibly sharp, as it promised (not sure it can really claim to be the “world’s sharpest knife” but definite points for effort!  Given the difficulty I went through getting it it was worth it! (2 supermarkets, 40 miles driven, the last pumpkin in Christendom I swear!)  Let the moral be: Always buy your pumpkin early and certainly not at 9pm the night before Hallowe’en!

I also decided to give parsnip carving a go.  I tried once, many years ago, to do this but it was next to impossible and I injured myself that time too.  This year I cooked the parsnip first and then scooped out his innards, still very difficult but I managed it! And, with the help of an electric tea light, I managed to get him lit up too.  (A regular tea light wouldn’t have fitted in but I could turn the electric one on and place it in upsidedown.)  I call him FrankenParsnip:

Unlike last year I haven’t been doing anything Hallowe’en related in the kitchen other than butchering vegetables (and myself).  I just haven’t had the time!  This evening I ditched the Trick or Treaters to go with my Gran on a drive through Fountains Abbey, a National Trust property near our houses.  They floodlit it and opened it up to vehicles so that those less able to get about could see it, it’s a lovely site, one of my favourite places in the whole world, so it was fantastic to be able to go and enjoy it with both my Gran, who just isn’t capable of walking so far these days, and my Mum, who is once again on crutches having managed to fracture a metatarsal lengthways!  (She’s talented, you have to give her that.)  Hopefully I’ll be getting my act together more over Christmassy things, not long now!!!  I’ll leave you with this spooky looking pic of Fountains Hall, didn’t quite mean to take it like this but I like it!

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Purchases and Outings

First of all I’m afraid I simply have to show off my latest kitchen purchase.  I finally found a pine dresser!!!!  I’m rather in love with it.  It’s really brought the kitchen together and all that extra storage space is very handy, finally I’ll have somewhere for my tea sets!

Speaking of tea sets last weekend I went along to The Secret Tea Room.  Quite by chance a few weeks ago I saw a retweet about there being tickets left for The Secret Tea Room’s road trip to York while I was on the bus.  The concept seemed simple enough and I was feeling adventurous so, knowing nothing more about it, within five minutes of arriving at the office I had booked myself a spot!  I’m so glad I did!

I turned up, not knowing at all what to expect, (other than tea!), and had a lovely afternoon sitting chatting to complete strangers, drinking more tea than ever before in my life (and rediscovering Oolong) and nibbling on delightful little sandwiches and delicious cakes.  All in all my idea of a great afternoon!  I deliberately went on my own, it was to be an adventure! And it was, I met some lovely people and had a lovely time. 

Lynn obviously puts a lot of effort into these events, (even more so when having to cart everything to York and back!) and it really showed.  You can read more about the whole thing over on her blog Bakelady as I am just not doing it justice!  Also present was Sophie of Little Pretty Things who provided us all with little bags of her divine chocolates.  They were sublime, although I don’t think I’m going to be a convert to the blue cheese one!  It was great to chat to her, she’s obviously so passionate about what she does, who wouldn’t be about chocolate?!

I’ve been rather busy recently so I hope you’ll all pardon the lack of posts recently.  On Monday night I made my annual pilgimage to see John Barrowman on tour.  He was as fantastic as ever, it’s always such a good show, it gives me such a buzz but thenthe innevitable comedown takes some getting over.  I hope to be up and at it in the kitchen again soon though so look out for more!

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Banana Muffins

I never thought I would like banana bread, or muffins, or any cooked banana thing.  I always assumed it would be like eating an over ripe banana, which you are, furthermore, a warm over ripe banana!  However, what else is one supposed to do with the seriously over ripe bananas that innevitably languish in the fruit bowl at some point?  There is only one thing!  And so, I decided to try it as a muffin.  I won’t deny I thought “Oh well, if I don’t like them then I can always take them into work.” 

I did, in the end, take these into work, but this was in order to share the joy not to get rid of them!  So win win!  I have made these both with chocolate chips and without.  If you are being healthy, then they are delightful without… however, if you are a sweet stuff junkie, like myself, then you may eat the whole thing going “I wish there was chocolate in this… it’s delicious, but I wish there was chocolate!”  They are delicious and moist and not at all slimy in the least.*  I was shocked!  Furthermore the banana flavour changes to something rather delightful, still banana but… different.  All in all I’m rather glad I tried these. 

Makes 6

125ml milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
2 very ripe bananas
3 tbsp sunflower oil
50g dark muscoavdo sugar
150g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
(~180g bag chocolate chips
demerera sugar for sprinkling)

– Heat the oven to gas mark 6 and prepare 6 holes of a muffin tin. 
– Peel, slice and then mash up the bananas in a large jug or small bowl using a fork.  Reserve a few slices of banana for decoration.*  You don’t need to puree them, some small lumps are fine. 
– Add the milk, egg, vanilla essence and oil and beat together. 
– In a separate bowl mix the sugar,  flour, baking powder and salt together. 
– Pour in the banana mixture and stir until the mixture is just combined.  You don’t want a smooth mixture, lumps are good!
(- Add the chocolate chips and quickly stir thorough.  )
– Divide the mixture evenly between the cases. 
– Garnish with banana slices if using. 
(- Sprinkle a bit of demerera sugar on top of the muffin for a delightful crunch on top.) 
– Bake for 20-25 minutes.
– Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little in the tin then place on a wire rack to cool completely or serve warm. 

* I put banana slices on the top of mine for aesthetic purposes.  If you are going to eat these fairly quickly (a day or may be two, max) then keep the decorative slices, simply reserve a few slives when chopping up your bananas and pop them on top before baking.  If, however, you want to keep these around for longer then don’t put the banana on it as it will go slimey and may even develop mould spots!

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Pasta a la Genovese

I was served this while visiting Italy and really enjoyed it.  Out hostess had made fresh pesto for it but I have yet to give that a go, I can never keep my basil alive in sufficient quantity for long enough!  I would never have seen a recipe for this and made it, or ordered it in a restaurant, which is a shame.  I would have been put off by the potato/pasta combo (carbalicious!) and also, I keep telling myself I don’t like green pesto… clearly, I don’t know what I’m talking about!

It’s really nice and filling, totally hits a spot and gets some much needed vegetable into my diet.  I’m starting to notice that I’m not eating many varieties of vegetables.  Mostly because it’s hard keeping them in stock when there’s just one of me as they go off too quickly.  I try to buy fresh from the market at lunch for that evening’s meal but that requires me to be organised and actually plan what I’m having ahead of time, which is not a strong point! Recently I have stocked my freezer with green vegetables, which I am usually lacking on hand.  I now have an ample sufficiency of spinach, green beans, edamame, sweetcorn (yellow I know, but still present!) and peas.  Now I can throw a few handfuls of these things in whenever I want them and hopefully get some much needed vitamins back in my diet!

Serves 2 – however many, really, just scale it up as needed.

2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 handfuls of green beans, frozen
~200g pasta
3 tbsp green pesto
fresh basil, roughly chopped*
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped**
~2 tbsp olive oil

– Bring to the boil a large, deep pan of salted water. 
– Add the potatoes and cook for 10 minutes. 
– Add the green beans and pasta and cook for the recommended time for your particular pasta, usually 10 minutes. 
– Reserve about 100ml of the pasta water. 
– Drain the rest of the water and return to the pan. 
– Add the pesto, basil, garlic, oil and reserved water. 
– Stir until well coated. 
– Serve with parmesan. 

*if using homemade pesto these are unneccessary but I find that no matter how good your bought pest it’s never that good!

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Late Night Noodles

This dish came about because it was late and I had absolutely nothing planned for dinner and, further more, nothing in the fridge either.  I cobbled this together from what I had lying about in the freezer and the pantry and it was incredibly delicious!

I drew it together from 3 or so sources.  A Nigella chicken noodle thing I saw on tv the night before, my Spicy Butternut Squash Soup and my Malaysian Chicken.  All brought together by desperation and hunger and, my goodness, it was delicious! Vary the ingredients as to what you can drag up from your stash or follow it to the letter, it’s incredibly versatile. 

ETA: I forgot the vital ingredient! Fish sauce!  Without it the shrimp, lime and butternut present a rather sweet front, it needs the tang to cut through that and make it a savoury whole.

Serves 2

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried chilli
~ 1″ fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tin coconut milk
1 pint chicken stock
1 tbsp turmeric
a few handfuls chopped butternut squash (mine was frozen, possibly since the last ice age)
1 small tin bamboo shoots
~250g king prawns (again, frozen)
2-3 sheets/blocks of noodles (I used ramen but egg, soba, vermicelli or, in fact, any noodles will do)
2-3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp dried corriander (or 1 tbsp fresh if you have it)

– Heat some oil in a deep pan then chuck in the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger along with a good pinch of salt. 
– Gently fry until soft. 
– Add the coconut milk, stock and turmeric. 
– Add the butternut squash. 
– Simmer for 20 mins or so, until the squash is cooked.  I like to mash it a tiny but with the spoon so you get a good variety of sizes and textures. 
– Add the bamboo shoots and prawns and simmer for another 10 minutes. 
– Add the noodles and simmer for 5 minutes, breaking up the noodles when they get soft enough. 
– Add the fish sauce and corriander  and stir thorough. 
– Serve in big bowls and enjoy!

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Microwave Poached Egg

I admit that this technique is a little but hit and miss… but it’s far less miss than my efforts at poaching an egg properly, you may note I didn’t refer to a hit with regard to the proper poaching of eggs, that is because I’ve never managed it.  This technique, however, is much more reliable.  If you like your yolk really runny, however, this technique is not for you.  The microwave cooks from the inside out so the yolk can set solid very quickly if you’re not careful. 

First things first: get at least 12 eggs in when you start this.  Every microwave is different and even every egg is different.  Whether the water is particularly warm or chilled will also affect exactly how this works for you.  Experimentation is the key.  All I can do is give you the gist of it and then it’s up to you to work out the specifics.  Yes, you will explode at least one egg while doing this.  Clean it off straight away and you shouldn’t have too many problems.  Leave it at your peril!!!

Right, nervous yet? Excellent…

Makes 1

1 egg
1/3 cup water

– First you need to find a small bowl with, if possible a rounded bottom.  THis vessel is going to give your egg its shape so go for the closest to a poached egg shape as possible.  I use a chinese rice bowl. 
– Crack your egg into the bowl. 
– Add the water. 
– Put a small plate over the top of the bowl. 
– Put them both in the microwave. 
– Using 1/3 – 80% power NO HIGHER cook for 60 seconds. 
– Check your egg to see if the white is properly cooked to your liking. 
– If it isn’t cooked give it another 10-20 seconds.  Keep checking it.  and repeat if necessary. 
– Once the white is set remove from the microwave and fish out your egg with a slotted spoon.  Drain the excess water and serve however you want it.  (I went with Mushroom Risotto from the night before with spring onion and a good pinch of salt.)

Start with these times as guidelines and adjust it to your individual circumstances.  May be your egg will be perfect with 50 seconds then 20 seconds (not the same thing at all as 70 seconds) or may be it’ll be perfect at 60 seconds, you just won’t know until you mess about with it!

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Flammekueche

Also called Tarte Flambée.  It’s a variation on pizza but with creme fraiche rather than tomato sauce as the base.  Toppings are similarly diverse but I always go for a ‘Campagnard’ or ‘Reine’ as I’ve shown here.  This is one of the things I always enjoy when I’m in northern France or Alsace.  Just so happens I came back from there a week and a bit ago, doing the annual trip to Italy with my mum. 

Last year I picked up a tea towel with a recipe for Flammekueche in Obernai in northern Alsace.  I love collecting tea towels whenever I travel somewhere, especially ones with regional recipes on.  My favourite bit about this towel is that not only does it have the recipe on there (such as it is) but it also has wine suggestions!  Having the thought of flammekueche fresh in my mind I decided to give it a try at home. 

Makes 2 Flammekueche

250g white bread dough prepared to the end of the first rise and knock down. *
300ml creme fraiche 
1 onion, halved and finely sliced
3oog lardons, cooked (or you could use bacon or ham)
6-8 mushrooms (dependant on size & preference) sliced
Grated cheese (optional, I’ve had it with and without in France)

– Heat your oven as hot as it will go.  Have two large baking trays ready. 
– Take your dough and split it into two. 
– On a lightly floured worksurface roll out the dough until it is just a few mm thick, you’re aiming for a rough rectangle. 
– Pick up the rolled dough and transfer to the baking sheet.  Press and stretch it out to the edges of the tray. 
– Repeat with the other portion of dough. 
– Divide the creme fraiche over each and spread out to near the edges. 
– Evenly distribute the toppings over the flammekueche. 
– Put in the oven and cook until just starting to catch at the edges and the dough is cooked through.  Can be as little as 10-15 minutes dependant on how hot your oven goes, could take around 20-25 minutes. 
– Serve, as the tea towel recommends, with a Pinot Blanc or Riesling et Bon Apetit!

*I made a full 500g batch then just continued on to make bread with the rest of the dough.

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