Tag Archives: Cooking

Cook Book Challenge 3: Nigella Express

27 Jan

Title: Nigella Express

Author: Nigella Lawson

Stats: paperback, pages 390

Blurb:  “The domestic goddess is back and this time it’s instant”, “Once you’ve seen what Nigella can do for you in 20 minutes, you’ll never want anything else”.

Cooked from it before? Yes, fewer than 5 times.

Recipe:  Lazy Loaf.

Nigella Express

This is Nigella’s first appearance here, I have several of her books so I’ll try and space them out a little. As you’d expect from the Domestic Goddess the book is a stylish affair with luscious photography, and Lawson’s trademark style of writing, which I personally really enjoy. Recipes are grouped into themes such as “retro rapido” for classic dishes and “on the run” for packed lunches.

Lazy Loaf 1

The majority of recipes don’t have long lists of ingredients which are easily available but for some reason this book just hasn’t grabbed me. This may be because although the ingredients are easily available they aren’t the sort of thing I have in the house, and don’t see the point of going out to buy them for a supposedly quick dinner. So, finding us low on bread and the shops closed I thought I’d try the lazy loaf recipe, which as well as promising fabulous bread with minimal effort also uses ingredients we actually had, yeast, muesli, bread flour and milk.

Lazy Loaf Ingredients

With no kneading, and no proving time the mixing stage is very simple; everything in a bowl and stir.

Lazy Loaf 4

The cooking is slightly more complex, needing a temperature change part way through but otherwise it does live up to its promised ease. Here is the finished loaf…

Lazy Loaf 2

The recipe does say the loaf will be dense and it is, but in a similar way to a non yeasted bread. Also despite containing yeast it doesn’t rise much. The loaf goes into a cold oven which I may be to give it a little time to rise but don’t expect a loaf with lots of oomph. The muesli gave added texture and the occasional nugget of dried fruit was a welcome addition. The loaf was really tasty, it lasted well and toasted nicely, we mainly ate it for breakfast but I think it would have gone well with cheese too making it a good all rounder too.

Cook it again? Yes but I’m still not sure anything else has caught my eye.

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Cook Book Challenge 2: Russian Polish and German Cooking

20 Jan

Title: Russian German and Polish Cooking

Author: various contributing editor Lesley Chamberlain

Stats: paperback, 256 pages

Blurb: “The first full-colour, truly comprehensive collection of Eastern European recipes”.

Cooked from it before? No

Recipe: Hungarian Goulash

Polish book

I’ll be honest I’m not sure why I bought this book! It was a random purchase from a garden centre. It may have been the promise of Romanian recipes, I taught English there for two summers and have very fond memories, but it turns out there are only really two recipes from Romania. The rest have very little information about their heritage, although it is spilt into chapters for each country or area. That said it is a book about cooking not culture, history or anthropology and a £4.99 maybe you get what you pay for.

Polish book inside

Disappointed, less than enamoured by the dated looking photography and falling into the trap of assuming everything would be heavy and potato based this book languished on the shelf. It has been cold this week and The Man said he would like something hearty and warming so this book finally had it’s chance to impress with Hungarian Goulash.

Goulash ingredients

The recipe has a simple list of ingredients, only specifying that beef should be used, Lamb makes it a different type of goulash and flour should not be used so the finished dish is a thin stew and any thickness coming from the potato breaking down. The recipe instructions were clear and simple but didn’t give too much guidance e.g chopped onions leaves a lot of room for interpretation but equally creativity and is in keeping with the no frills theme of the rest of the book.

The goulash was simple to cook, and didn’t require much attention or stirring etc; although I did fail to judge how much it would make and switched pans.

Given my initial scepticism about this book and it’s potential I was really surprised by how tasty this was.

Goulash Finished

Rich, warming and flavoursome, perfect in cold weather and I’d imagine very welcome in the depths of a Hungarian winter. The Man was surprised and impressed too. The only let down for me were the dumplings, yes that’s what you can see floating in there. I raised my eyebrows at these from the start as they only contain plain flour and egg, no seasoning or additional flavour. I found them chewy and gluey and lacking in flavour. Rib sticking? Yes, tasty ? No! Perhaps if I’d made them smaller, like very small pasta it would have been better but I’d leave them out next time.

Cook it again: Yes and there are a couple of puddings I’d like to make including sweet cheese dumplings but I have a feeling it will be a while before I do.

Cook Book Challenge 1: The Italian Cookery Course

13 Jan

Title: The Italian Cookery Course

caldesi book

Author: Katie Caldesi

Stats: hardback, 511 pages.

Blurb “the definitive guide to discovering and cooking Italy’s many gastronomic treasures”

Cooked from it before? Yes but fewer than 5 times.

Recipe: Ragu alla Bolognese

I picked this off the shelf because the first response I got from a friend on facebook was that I should cook Spag Bol and this seemed the most obvious choice from a number of contenders!*

I think this is a gorgeous book, very stylishly presented with beautiful photography but full of detail and quality recipes.

caldesi pages

Each recipe is prefaced with some background, tips about key ingredients or an anecdote giving the book a more conversational style and means you learn something extra as well as how to cook the dish.

Caldesi Bolognese

As you can see Caldesi’s recipe has a relatively small number of ingredients which are all easy to get hold of. It also includes chicken livers (the dark red mass to the right of the picture) and milk both more traditional ingredients in Bologna but which certainly weren’t in the versions of this my mum used to make!

I wouldn’t say the book as a whole it is aimed at completely novice cooks, the recipes do assume some knowledge and confidence especially for more technical procedures like butterflying a leg of lamb but Katie Caldesi takes you through everything in clear steps. This recipe would be a great way into the book as it is straight forward, but delivers a depth of flavour (I think thanks to the chicken livers and milk) which sets it apart from other versions.

caldesi meat

For offal-phobes the liver is chopped very finely cooks down so you can’t taste it as an individual element but it gives an underlying richness and deeper flavour to the dish as does the milk. It does take a while to cook, around 2 hours, but it doesn’t need to be watched closely so you aren’t tied to the hob keeping an eye on it.

This is the final result.

Caldesi Bolognese finishes

A lovely, rich ragu, impressive given the lack of herbs and garlic I would normally put in. The meat is really the star of this recipe which is relatively light on tomato which doesn’t dominate here as they can in other versions.

Would I cook from it again? Yes and then some. There’s a recipe for an Oxtail dish from Rome which I will be trying very soon.

*Further book choices will be made in a similarly random manner.

The Hungry Sparrow is back!

23 Sep

Things have been quiet around here for a long time but it’s been a bit of a busy year, I’ve got a new job, got engaged, moved house and had to give up the allotment (because of the move) I’ve also started running again in a half-hearted way and have started a diet. I may have stopped blogging but definitely didn’t stop eating!

Food wise the past few months have looked a bit like this.

Home made mozzarella

Cola Ham

campfire cooking in Suffolk

Smoked trout, asparagus and eggy bread cook on the campfire.

Then there was my biggest and probably most important food project so far, a cake for the wedding of my closest friends. In the end I was really pleased with the way it turned out but that may have been more luck than skill.

On display with some gorgeous lemon curd friands made a super talented friend who can pipe icing beautifully.

So there we go ; I’m still cooking away, and we have been growing a few things in our little court-yard hopefully now I’ve got some balance back in life I’ll blog a bit more.

Treacle flapjacks

17 Nov

For the past few years I’ve make my own Christmas Cake…but this post isn’t about that, it focuses on an annual problem; what to do with the left over ingredients from making the Christmas Cake. Which ever recipe I use there are always a few things left over.

Glace cherries tend not to hang around for very long as both The Man and I will happily eat them from the packet, raisins etc are also eaten swiftly. Candied peel usually lurks in the cupboard until some time in the summer, and this year there is treacle too. Trying to cut down on food waste I don’t want to throw these things out if I can help it so I am on a quest to use them up. First up, treacle flapjacks.

I used to hate treacle with a passion, Mum would make treacle toffee every bonfire night and watch as her ungrateful daughter spat it out or turned my nose up at it. I have since made my peace with treacle, good job as there is the rest of a large tin in the kitchen; and this recipe is quick, easy and delicious.

Ingredients

  • 150g butter
  • 75g dark brown soft sugar
  • 75g dried fruit of choice (I used sultanas)
  • 75g  black treacle
  • 225g porridge oats
  • pinch salt

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas mark 5.
  • Melt the butter, sugar and syrup or treacle in a saucepan, but be careful not to let it boil. Stir in the porridge oats and the salt and mix thoroughly.
  • Press the mixture into a 20cm (8 in) round baking tin and bake for 25 minutes, don’t be tempted to leave them in the oven for longer or they will set solid and be really difficult to get out of the tin!
  • Remove from the oven and mark into slices. Lift from the tin and leave to cool before cutting. Store in an airtight container.

TA DA! Not the best picture in the world, but they are much darker than standard flapjacks too. You could replace the treacle with golden syrup, but these had a very comforting old-fashioned taste too them. They aren’t very healthy either, with all that butter and sugar; but as a treat or an energy boost I don’t think you can beat a good flapjack. Luckily there is plenty of treacle left so I think we will get through plenty of these.

Seasonal Supper

28 Sep

After what has felt like ages of preparation, and a little bit stress about whether people would come, would people get it, would there be enough food and a hundred other scenarios the first Seasonal Supper was a success. People came, we ate, swapped recipes had a good time and people seemed keen on running something similar at different times of year with different produce.

There were 13 of us in the end (re-branded as a lucky number for the evening) not a huge number but for a first run it as a good number, not too few but not more than I could cope with and make sure everyone was interacting and enjoying themselves.

As expected courgettes featured pretty heavily with everyone apart from us having a bumper year. The Man made these mini pies with a cheese, potato and herb filling.

I made a tarte tatin with our apples, the only thing which has had a really good year this year, for which I can’t really take credit! My other favourites included some gorgeous onion bhajis which arrived warm and this tomato, olive, caper and feta dish which I made sure I took a copy of the recipe for.

I’m really glad I took the plunge with the Seasonal Supper, now that I’ve got one under my belt I’ll be having a think about how else and where else it might work and all the seasonal recipes people could be sharing. Hopefully it’s onwards and upward, watch this space.

fig and prosciutto pizza

7 Aug

Making our own pizza dough is a bit of an indulgence, and I don’t think it will replace shop bought pizzas totally in our lives but some times I like to take a bit longer over things. In truth most of the time this recipe takes is letting the dough rise, and you can do something else while the yeast is doing its thing.

I have made pizza dough using the bread maker, and while this recipe means getting your hands and work top dirty is actually quicker. It also means I don’t hit the wrong button and end up cooking my dough on the boiling hot jam cycle, this does not end well!

This is a great recipe and I’d urge you to give it a go, actually it is a combination of Lorraine Pascale’s pizza topping and pizza dough from Katie Caldesi made using half strong bread flour, half 00 pasta flour.

I halved the recipe using 125g bread flour, 125g 00 flour, 160 ml luke warm water, 2.5 g (ish) fast action dried yeast and 1 tsp yeast, and just made 1 large pizza for The Man and I.

After kneading the ingredients for 10 minutes I finally got something approaching the soft, smooth, stretchy dough you see on TV. This is a first for me. I left it to rise for about an hour, till it was double its original size and then swapped over to Lorraine Pascale’s recipe; heating the oven and topping the pizza rather than letting it rise for a second time.

I used less tomato puree than Lorraine suggests, 3 tbsp rather than a tube, a ball on mozzarella, 6 slices of san daniele ham and 3 figs, I may have not rolled the dough out enough but the amount I used seemed appropriate to the size of the pizza I ended up with. This is what it looked like after 30 min in a 230°C oven and scattered with torn basil.

I used to be very sceptical about the combination of meat and fruit, but I’m getting used to the idea now and this is a combination that proves that the union can be a great one. The figs smelled almost christmassy, and had stayed juicy and sweet. Thanks to the hot oven the ham had crisped and it’s saltyness intensified with the creamy mozzarella balancing the two flavours and tying them together.

The base was light a crispy, but would have been better if I could master sliding the topped pizza from a chopping board on onto an over hot tray. I can’t do it, and I worry too much about dropping the whole thing on the floor; but I think we ended up with something pretty authentic, and very very tasty.

tofu sloppy joes…sloppy toes???

21 Jul

This recipe marked a return to my American food obsession but with an attempt at being healthy. I also quite like picking up recipes from other food bloggers around the world, taking a chance on other people’s recipes can be an easy way of picking up new ideas, and it is cheaper than buying cookery books. In fact here is a challenge, get out there, get Googling and see whatother people are cooking!

Sloppy Joes are VERY American and not common on menus over here. This recipe comes from Iowa Girl Eats with a quick cross-reference with Sheila Lukins USA Cookbook to make sure I was on the right track.

I don’t own a tofu press ( I’ve no idea where you would buy one) so I might not have achieved the dry crumbly texture of Iowa Girl’s tofu but squeezing it with my hand. I’m also not sure how you are supposed to eat them, knife and fork feels too formal, but attempting to eat them with our hands was incredibly messy.

I think the texture and taste might be improved by using meat, or maybe it is because I’m used to burgers in buns, but both The Man and I found them a bit odd, in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. I could get used to them, and I think if I’d grown up eating them they would probably fit the bill as comfort food really well, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have the constituent parts made into a burger. I have a feeling I have missed the point somewhere with sloppy joes somehow.

sausage, broad bean and potato casserole

17 Jul

The other day, after two very busy weeks The Man booked us a table at Caldesi in Campagna in Bray. Since buying The Italian Cookery Course by Katie Calsesi, (one half of the husband and wife duo behind the restaurant), we had been promising ourselves a visit as a treat so it was lovely to finally go. This isn’t a review site, but the food was wonderful and the staff charming and easy-going; our meal was not cheap but a fabulous treat and one that was much-needed!

The meal also inspired me to go back to the book and try some more recipes. I was keen to use something from the allotment so looked up broad beans in the index and found Stufato di salsicce, fave e patate a much more elegant way of saying; sausage, broad bean and potato casserole.

For a recipe with a fairly simple list of ingredients (sausage, potato, beans, tomato, chilli & garlic) it was a really rich, tasty stew, with a good kick of heat. Perhaps better suited to winter or autumn eating, but with fresh ingredients picked and dug up earlier in the afternoon on the allotment it made sense. The Man pronounced it ” a triumph” so it must have been good.

We ate it with a slice of home-made rye bread to soak up the sauce, (the bread maker has really been earning its keep), and a glass of italian red. I’ve got a feeling this recipe will become a regular fixture even if visits to the restaurant don’t.

home made take away favourite

27 Jun

When I was growing up we hardly ever had takeaways; in rural areas takeaway meals aren’t the convenience food they are sometimes seen as. Our nearest take away anything was a half hour round trip, so we tended not to bother. With the exception of my first year at university, when  I really went to town, I still don’t indulge too often. I can’t begin to  explain my youthful excitement when I realised that not only was I surrounded by different options but I could RING THEM AND THEY WOULD DELIVER MY FOOD TO MY DOOR!!!!!

A couple of stone and a good chunk of my student loan later I realised something had to change! However; I still believe that sometimes, when you can’t be bothered to cook ( yep it does happen); a good takeaway ( or a deliciously bad one) is a thing of beauty. One of my favourite dishes is Singapore Noodles. The Man and I have a Chinese takeaway about once a month but because the place we go to does amazing salt and chilli chips I don’t order it in case I slip into a carbohydrate coma.

I use this Nigella recipe minus the chicken stock (too wet) and the dried shrimp (a bugger to find round here) and use an assortment of whatever vegetables we have in. It’s very easy, quick and tasty. Even living in the centre of town it’s almost as quicker to make than walking to the Chinese. To save time I put the noodles in a bowl of boiling water and leave them there while I’m cooking the rest and they are cooked by the time the rest is done. Voila!

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