Sunday, 9 September 2012

French Vinaigrette

I've always eaten a lot of salad. This isn't because I'm particularly healthy nor is it because I'm on a diet. As a child I was always confused when I heard people moaning about boring salad and what a chore it was to just have salad for dinner. I thought everyone had delicious homemade salad dressings. In fact as much as I enjoy crisp lettuce and juicy tomatoes, the best bit about a salad is definitely sopping up the dressing with some crunchy French bread.
I always have some of this french vinaigrette lying around, it's much tastier and cheaper than buying the ready made dressings from shops. I love it on all types of salads, I love dipping crunchy radishes into it and most of all I love drizzling it on a tuna salad sandwich instead of using butter or mayo.
The ratio of vinegar to olive oil is really up to you. My dad has always said 1 part of vinegar to 3 parts of olive oil, but I like mine a bit more tart (no tart jokes please!)... so I put roughly 1 part vinegar
Wholegrain or dijon mustard
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar (can use raspberry or tarragon etc)
I tend to make this in a glass bottle because it looks nice, but if you just have a smidge of mustard left in a jar you can make it in that.

How to...
1. Put a generous blob of mustard in your bottle/jar/bowl.
2. Fill your jar/bottle/bowl 1/3 full of vinegar. Add salt and pepper.
3. Top up with olive oil.
4. Shake.
5. Pour.
This keeps for absolutely ages, but you'll end up using it all within 2 weeks.

While cooking I was listening to... Ready for the Floor by Hot Chip.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Creamy Thyme, Mushroom and Bacon Smothered Crumpets.

I've just moved house and started a new job. I've finally got a kitchen which is easy to use (although it will take me a while to get used to where everything is) and I've unpacked all my bags. As anyone who has ever moved house will relate to, moving is one of the most stressful things. To make life a little more stressful I finished work on a Tuesday evening and had to move my stuff 150 miles across the country ready to start work at 8am the next morning.

I survived my first 2 days at work on a diet of soup cooked by my lovely new housemate, cereal and lots of salads in my packed lunch box. I promised myself a proper dinner today. Today I got up at a reasonable time (considering I finished work at almost 3am) and headed to town to stock up on the last little bits I needed. I lugged my shopping back which made me break a sweat and then continued to slog away unpacking the last of the bits I had sitting in a suitcase.

By the time I flumped myself on to the sofa I fancied something packed full of flavour but quick and easy to cook. I was tempted by another salad, but then I remembered how much I was looking forward to something hot and tasty.

I really love mushrooms on toast for supper but I felt that I deserved something a little more luxurious for my supper since I'd had such a busy week.

Ingredients (serves 1... just multiply up if you want more)

5-6 Chestnut mushrooms (you could use others, but these are tasty!)
Half a small onion sliced thinly
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
Small handful of diced smoked bacon
Creme Fraiche (I used 1/2 fat - my Dad would disown me if he knew)
Fresh thyme
Olive oil
2 crumpets

How to...

1. Slowly fry the finely sliced onions in a little drop of olive oil.
2. While those are frying slice up your mushrooms, like them best in little wedges.
3. When the onions are soft and starting to colour add the smoked bacon.
4. Once the bacon is beginning to cook throw in the garlic and 30 seconds later the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Add a generous pinch or two of fresh thyme. I like to just scrunch a bunch of thyme a couple of times and lots of leaves fall off.
6. When the mushrooms are cooked as much as you enjoy them add a big spoon of creme fraiche. Make sure your crumpets are in the toaster.

7. Heap the creamy mushrooms and bacon on hot crumpets and tuck in.

Whilst cooking I was listening to... You're Gorgeous by Babybird

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Banana and Nutella Bread

I am a self confessed cake addict. The first thing I did after my final exams last year as a reward was to go and buy myself a nice cupcake. Unfortunately others don't recognise cake as a food group and once an ex-boyfriend through out my 2 drawers full of mini-rolls as he was worried that I would become malnourished. It was a traumatic experience. In an effort to avoid that ever happening again I had to disguise my love of cake with fruit and vegetables. Carrot cake was my first love until a friend made me a banana bread.

It was moist, bananaey and just 100% cakey goodness. She used the Hummingbird Bakery recipe and it was pretty close to perfection. Unfortunately pretty close to perfection is just not enough for me, so I tweaked it... then I added nutella because the only thing that is better than perfection is perfection with nutella.

Ingredients (makes a whole loaf)

5-6 very ripe bananas
Jar of nutella
2 eggs
270g soft brown sugar
280g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1" grated ginger
1 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon
Half a clove of grated nutmeg
150g unsalted butter

How to...
1. Mush the bananas in a big mixing bowl.
2. Melt the butter and preheat the oven to 170C (gas mark 3).
3. Put all the other ingredients except the nutella in with the bananas and mix well. There is no need to be delicate about this and add things in any order, just mix it up.
4. Grease a loaf tin with some butter and dust with flour.
5. Scoop all the mixture into the loaf tin.
6. Use a teaspoon to drop blobs of nutella throughout the mixture. This gives lovely gooey blobs of nutella in the baked loaf. Remember the rule; 1 spoon in cake, 1 spoon in face.
7. Bake for around an hr (it might need 10 mins more or less). When its cooked if you stab it with skewer it will come out clean.
8. Allow the cake to cool and either eat it all yourself or cut it into little squares and share.

Whilst baking I was listening to... Vanilla Twilight by Owl City

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Frying-Pan Raspberry, Raisin and Oat Cookies.

Last year the oven in my flat broke. I've been away on placements for university and then otherwise so busy that I've just coped without it. All my cooking has been on the hob, and that's been pretty much OK. I've missed roasts and pies... so I just demand them when I go home.

The main downside is that I haven't been able to bake anything sweet. I find it so calming to bake a big batch of cupcakes or cookies when I'm feeling stressed out, and then I can distribute the yummies to all my equally as stressed out friends. It really is spreading the food love.

Now that Finals are over and I'm waiting for results I got around to ordering a new oven. It was being delivered today. In anticipation (and to kill the time while I waited), I made a massive bowl of cookie dough ready to bake as soon as the oven was installed.

It wasn't to be.

The nice man arrived with my new ELECTRIC oven. The old one was gas. Even though the lady on the phone said he'd be able to uninstall the gas oven he wasn't.

Depression almost set in. I couldn't imagine waiting 2 days to cook my cookies, not while the batch of cookie dough was staring at me.

I had 3 options;
1. Keep the dough in the fridge and wait. Er. No.
2. Eat it all raw... but even I'm not that piggy.
3. Find another way to cook the cookies.

So I put my mind to work and decided to try and cook the cookies in a frying pan. It was time consuming, but a big success...

Ingredients (makes 25+ small cookies)
2 eggs
250g unsalted butter
155g dark soft brown sugar
155g caster sugar
375g plain flour
pinch of salt
Tsp baking powder
120g porridge oats
200g raisins
2 handfuls of fresh raspberries
Butter to grease the pan.

How to...
1. Mix together butter and sugars. This is easiest with clean fingers.

2. Add eggs and give it all a good whisk.

3. Add flour, oats, salt, baking powder and raisins, then get your fingers back in there and give it another good mix. Break up the raspberries with your fingers so bits of raspberry are all the way through the mixture.
4. At this point if you want to you can just cover the mixture and pop it in the fridge until you want to cook the cookies. If you want to cook them in an oven put them on a greased baking tray at 170 for about 12-15 minutes... if you'd rather cook them in a pan read on..
5. Grease a pan with a little bit of butter. Put the pan on the lowest heat you can.
6. Splodge some of the cookie dough in the pan and try to get it a bit flat and cookie shaped. I find it easiest to cook maximum of 4 cookies at a time.
7. Cover the pan with something like a baking tray and leave for 4-5 minutes.
8. Flip cookie over and cook for another 4 or so minutes on the other side.
9. Put cookies to cool and try to resist eating them all at once. If you're generous you can wrap them up in little cellophane parcels and give them to people. If you're not just enjoy them with a cup of tea.
Whilst cooking I was listening to... Moon Chavs by Jay Foreman

Creamy Smoked Salmon and Mushroom Pasta

It's easy to think of smoked salmon as a luxury food stuff. In my last couple of weeks of being a student I had a double dilemma. I craved a treat to get me through exams, but my student loan was running low. This is where supermarket value smoked salmon trimmings come into their own. They're perfect for stirring into pasta or putting in a fish pie.

The trimmings don't look as attractive as nice slices, but when you're just cooking for yourself does it really matter? To be honest I quite often mix the trimmings with cream cheese and use them in sandwiches and on bagels with freshly cracked black pepper. I must get through a packet a week... but at less than £1 a packet, which is enough for 2 meals, that's pretty bargaintastic.

Ingredients (serves 2)
2 servings of pasta
1 packet of smoked salmon trimmings
2 big dollops of cream cheese
Clove of garlic
Half an onion
Little drop of olive oil
8-10 mushrooms
Chopped parsley

How to...
1. Cook pasta according to packet instructions
2. Slice onion and fry in a pan with a drop of olive oil until the onion is soft.

3. Finely chop garlic and cut mushrooms into segments.

4. Add garlic and mushrooms to pan, cook for 5-10 or so minutes until the mushrooms begin to get soft and the garlic is fragrant.

5. Stir in 2 generous dollops of cream cheese and the packet of smoked salmon trimmings. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Finish with a handful of freshly chopped parsley. (To keep herbs you can freeze them into ice cubes and use them in cooking later.)
7. Stir in the pasta and split into two bowls. Enjoy!

Whilst cooking I was listening to... A-team by Ed Sheeran

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Chocolate Chilli Con Carne

There's something comforting about anything with beans or with mince, so when the two come together along with some chilli it really makes my tummy happy. This is usually something I'd cook in winter, but I needed some hearty revision food and this really filled a hole.

The good thing about chilli is that you can get a lot of mince (good quality lean mince though, as fatty cheap mince is just tasteless and greasy), and make a big batch to freeze. This means a freezer full of scrummy home-made ready meals. Adding beans to anything with meat not only gets in more fibre and healthy stuff, but also cuts down the cost as pulses really bulk things up. Sometimes I like to add a handful of red lentils as well as the kidney beans, or even a tin of baked beans... useful tips if extra unexpected people turn up for dinner and you have to stretch things that bit further.

I can't decide my favourite way to eat chilli. Whether it is heaped on top of nachos and covered with cheese, dolloped on a baked potato, served next to a steaming pile of rice or simply in a bowl with a crusty baguette to mop up all the juices.

I think the dark chocolate in the recipe really makes it taste special, but even without the chocolate the chilli is good. Please don't waste your money buying expensive chilli-con-carne spice mix packets though, as the flavour is so easy to achieve with some basic spices you should have at home anyway.

Ingredients (serves 4 generously)
500g lean beef mince
1/2 an onion
Tin of red kidney beans (in water or spicy sauce, your choice)
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Clove of garlic
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
Ground cumin
Ground corriander
Fresh or dried chillis
Dark chocolate (4-6 big squares)
Vegetable oil
Salt (or a blob of bovril)

How to...
1. Finely chop onions and garlic, soften in a pan for 5 mins with the vegetable oil.
2. Chop peppers into little cubes and add to frying pan. Cook for another 5 minutes or so.

3. Add mince to pan along with as much chilli as you want, a teaspoon or 2 of cumin and a teaspoon or 2 of ground coriander. Remember you can have this as spiced as you want, I tend to put in about a tablespoon of cumin and half as much coriander.
4. Add tin of chopped tomatoes and kidney beans once the mince is browned. Season with salt or a spoon of bovril if you fancy adding a bit of extra beefyness. Cook for 15ish minutes.
5. Add chocolate and cook for another 5-10 minutes.
6. Serve with rice, a jacket potato, crusty bread or on nachos... with or without a dollop of sour cream on top.

Whilst cooking I was listening to... The Bird and The Worm by Owl City

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Swedish-Style Pork Meatballs

I've only just gone and done it again. Given a probably highly unauthentic dish a nationality. OK, so the closest I've got to Sweden is Ikea. Needless to say these meatballs are much better than their Ikea cousins (but I must admit, I have a soft spot for Ikea meatballs....).

This is another dish I remember really fondly from when I was little. My Mum and I used to make a little production line. We'd get our hands nice and messy squishing the meatball mixture between our fingers and then one of us would roll the meatballs, while the other one would dust them in flour. Needless to say if I was in charge of dusting the meatballs it would be like an explosion in a flour factory.

This version of the recipe I use sausage meat for ease. I have been known to make these meatballs using a mixture of pork mince and bacon. They're even nice with turkey mince if pork isn't your cup of tea. If I can get my hands on fresh tarragon I like to substitute it for the thyme for a different but yummy flavour.

Ingredients (serves 3)
Packet of 8 good quality pork sausages
White wine
Chicken stock
Vegetable oil
Plain flour

How to...
1. Finely dice the onions and garlic and soften in a pan with some vegetable oil.
2. Slice open the sausages and empty the meat into a bowl. Grind pepper and salt into the sausage meat. Add a generous sprinkling of thyme and the onions and garlic.
3. Make sure your hands are clean and stick them in the sausage meat and mix it all up.
4. Roll the pork mixture into small balls and coat them in a dusting of plain flour.
5. Brown the meatballs in a pan with some vegetable oil. Drain off the excess oil once they're brown.
6. Slosh about a glass of wine into the pan, pour the same into a glass for yourself and enjoy it.
7. Pour enough chicken stock in the pan to almost cover the meatballs, for me this was about 1 pint.
8. Leave to simmer for half an hour. The sauce should reduce and become as thick as gravy.

9. Serve with boiled rice and spinach, or just in a bowl with a hunk of fresh bread to mop up the sauce.
Whilst cooking I was listening to... The Buena Vista Social Club