March 30, 2010

Easy Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns
MUNCH RATING: 4/5

Although I've made Chelsea Buns using James Martin’s Hot Cross Bun recipe, I’ve never actually made Hot Cross Buns.

This recipe is from the April 2009 issue of BBC Good Food magazine and it prompted me to try as it was hailed as easy. They were quick and easy to make as no kneading was involved, but I’ve just read the comments on the website (they’ve been missing for such a long time and I didn’t realise they were back before making this recipe!) and most people said the buns were too heavy because of the lack of kneading.

They were mainly heavy because they are so big! The amount of dough could easily of made 12 ample sized buns (as the good folk say, more than a handful is too much). We found them a bit dry, even when spread with butter. But they were ten times better when toasted, hence the 4/5 munch rating. We couldn’t really taste the mixed spice either, so I would add more next time.

Some of the comments stated they thought the crosses on the buns were horrible. We had no problem with them, but I did add more water to the flour paste than the recipe suggested as I thought it was far too thick for piping. I added just enough extra water so that the paste could easily drop off the spoon and into my piping bag, which I made from greaseproof paper made into a small cone.

I would make this recipe again as it was so easy to make, but next time I might knead the dough for a few minutes. I would also try baking it in a loaf tin and then it would be easier to slice and then toast.

Happy Easter everyone!

  • Makes: 8 buns (but better off making 10-12)
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 7/425°F/220°C
  • Oven shelf: middle

Ingredients:
FOR THE BUNS:
  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • ½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 heaped teaspoons mixed spice (needs more!)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g butter, chopped into cubes
  • 200g mixed dried fruits (I used ½ currants and ½ raisins)
  • 7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
  • 200ml milk
  • 2 eggs
FOR THE CROSSES & GLAZE:
  • 3 Tablespoons plain flour
  • 2-3 Tablespoons water
  • honey or golden syrup, for brushing

Directions:
  1. Tip the flour into a bowl and stir in the salt, mixed spice and sugar.
  2. Rub in the butter with your fingertips. Stir in the dried fruit, then sprinkle over the yeast and stir in. Gently warm the milk so it is hot (30-45 secs in the microwave), but still cool enough to put your finger in for a couple of seconds. Beat with the eggs, then pour into the dried ingredients.
  3. Using a blunt knife, mix the ingredients to a moist dough, then leave to soak for 5 mins. Take out of the bowl and cut the dough into 8 equal pieces (this was about 140g per bun).
  4. Shape the dough into buns on a floured surface. Space apart on a baking sheet, cover loosely with cling film, then leave in a warm place until half again in size. This will take 45 mins-1 hr 15 mins, depending on how warm the room is.
  5. When the buns are risen, heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Mix the flour with 2-3 Tablespoons water to make a paste. Pour into a plastic food bag and make a nick in one of the corners. Pipe crosses on top of each bun.
  6. Bake for 12-15 mins until risen and golden then brush all over with honey or golden syrup (whilst the buns are still warm). The buns will keep fresh for a day. After that they are best toasted and served with butter.

March 29, 2010

Chocolate French Macaroons a.k.a. Mandy Macs

macarons filled

MUNCH RATING: 5/5

 

OK, the picture above doesn’t look like French macaroons and that’s because they went a bit wrong! I used the recipe from the April issue of Delicious magazine and I did a bit of research online for some hints and tips, but I still failed.

 

meringueOne of the tips was to use old egg whites. I had a load stashed in the freezer which I defrosted in the fridge overnight and then left out on the counter to come to room temperature. This apparently helps to whisk them more stiffly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

macaron mixtureMy main downfall was that I missed out the step of sifting the ground almonds and icing sugar. So the mixture was really thick and I must have over-mixed as I was trying to get the “ribbon-like consistency as it falls from the spatula”. I knew that the mixture wasn’t right, but I proceeded anyway as I didn’t think I could save this mess! It’s funny because I did consider only using 100g instead of 125g of ground almonds as I didn’t really want to open another packet. If I’d done this, then maybe the mixture wouldn’t have been so thick.

 

macaron piped 1 I used a 1cm plain nozzle inserted into a food bag and it was quite hard to pipe out the mixture. As you can see they don’t look particularly appealing and it looks like I should have got busy with a pooper scooper! I did tap the baking trays on the counter to give them a ‘foot’ but the mixture was so thick that it made no difference.

 

 

 

macarons baked Another tip I read online was to bake them with the door propped open. So I baked one batch with the door slightly ajar, and the second batch with the door closed. They all came out exactly the same: domed and cracked!

 

 

 

 

 

 

macaron filled inside copySo they looked nothing like they should, but I filled some anyway with Nutella and tried them. They actually tasted really nice and had a lovely chewy texture, like a brownie. Steve preferred to eat them as singles with Nutella spread on them. He declared this new type of macaroon should be called Mandy Macs (quite fitting as his surname is Macfarlane, so when we marry I will be Mandy Macfarlane). Steve’s sister is the only one of us who’s actually tried a proper French macaroon and she said they were nothing like what I’d made, but she thought they were very nice anyway!

 

I will have another go at making French macaroons, but I will probably try a different recipe. But my Mandy Macs will also be made again and hopefully I will be able to recreate this new sweet treat! So here’s my recipe for Mandy Macs:

 

  • Makes: about 32 singles
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 3/325°F/170°C
  • Oven shelf: middle

 

Ingredients:

  • 110g icing sugar
  • 65g cocoa powder (I used Bournville)
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 3 large free-range egg whites
  • 75g caster sugar
  • Nutella to fill or spread

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 3/325°F/170°C. Whizz the icing sugar, cocoa and ground almonds in a food processor to a very fine mixture.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar until thick and glossy.
  3. Fold half the almond, cocoa and icing sugar mixture into the meringue and mix well. Add the remaining half and mix for a few minutes until well incorporated.
  4. Spoon into a piping/food bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle (tip: place the bag in a glass so you have both hands free).
  5. Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. Pipe small rounds of the macaroon mixture, about 3cm across, onto the baking sheets. Leave to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to form a slight skin then bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
  6. Use the Nutella to sandwich the macs together or just spread on single ones.

Creamy Chicken Hotpot

Creamy chicken hotpot

 

MUNCH RATING: 4/5

 

This recipe is from an old issue of Waitrose magazine and you can find the original recipe on the Waitrose website.

 

CHANGES TO THE RECIPE:

I’ve made it quite a few times now, but I’ve adapted it as I found the pearl barley took quite a long time to cook. So I give it a head start by cooking it in the stock whilst I prepare all the other ingredients (de-bone the chicken, cut up the squash and leeks). I prefer to use crème fraîche rather than cream cheese as I find it a bit too tangy. I’ve also decreased the quantities for some of the ingredients so it will comfortably feed 2 if served on its own, or 4 people if served with something like mash.

 

TASTE TEST:

I really like this dish as I love butternut squash and the chicken is really tender. The pearl barley releases starch which thickens the sauce and the crème fraîche/cream cheese gives a lovely creaminess.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 500g chicken thigh meat (roughly 4 large thighs)
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 500g butternut squash (about ½ of a large one), peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
  • 1 large leek, washed and thickly sliced
  • 750ml hot chicken stock (I used 3 teaspoons of Knorr Chicken Stock granules)
  • 75g pearl barley
  • 2 heaped Tablespoons ½ fat crème fraîche

 

Directions:

  1. Place the pearl barley in a small saucepan with the hot stock and simmer whilst you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan. Cut each chicken thigh fillet into 4, dust in the flour and brown in the hot oil for 4-5 minutes. Add the squash and leeks, and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
  3. Pour in the hot stock and the parboiled barley. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 10 minutes until the sauce has reduced slightly, the chicken is cooked and the barley is tender.
  4. Stir in the crème fraîche and mix until melted.

March 21, 2010

Anzac Biscuits

Anzac biscuits 1

 

MUNCH RATING: 4/5

 

These biscuits were traditionally baked by wives and mothers during the First World War and sent packed in food parcels to the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). They don’t contain any eggs so they survived the long journey. ANZAC Day is celebrated on 25th April.

 

They are delightfully chewy and the coconut provides a lovely toasty nutty tropical flavour and texture. They contain rolled oats so they are sort of in-keeping with our healthy eating regime, providing valuable fibre! Unfortunately, although coconut is actually part of a fruit, it's nutritionally classified as a nut so it doesn't count towards fruit and veg portions, but at least it contains similar nutrients to nuts!

 

CHANGES TO THE RECIPE:

For my first batch I followed the recipe and used teaspoons of the biscuit mixture, but these turned out quite small and very thin. So for the second and third batch I made the balls about the size of a walnut and they were a better size and thickness (on the left of the photo). I increased the cooking time by a couple of minutes.

 

TASTE TEST:

They were incredibly easy to make and got big thumbs up from everyone. Steve’s Mum said she’d heard of Anzac biscuits from watching Home & Away and Neighbours! Steve said they’d be even nicer topped with melted chocolate.

 

Anzac biscuits

 

  • Makes: 24-28
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 3/325°F/170°C
  • Oven shelf: middle
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes per batch

 

Ingredients:

  • 100g rolled oats
  • 60g plain flour
  • 45g desiccated coconut (I used Waitrose)
  • 95g light brown sugar
  • 75g butter
  • 2 Tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 Tablespoon boiling water

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 3/325°F/170°C.
  2. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper/Magic liner.
  3. Combine the oats, flour, coconut and sugar in a large bowl.
  4. Place the butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan and melt over a medium heat, stirring until well mixed, then remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
  5. Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the Tablespoon of boiling water in a small cup, then add this to the melted butter and syrup. Tip the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well.
  6. Place teaspoons of the biscuit mixture onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 5cm space between them so they can spread. Bake for 10 minutes for the smaller biscuits and 12 minutes for the larger ones, or until they are evenly golden brown.
  7. Use a fish slice to lift the biscuits onto a wire rack to cool - they will be very soft but they will firm up as they cool down.

March 19, 2010

Keema Pie with rosti topping

Keema Pie

MUNCH RATING: 3/5

 

I’ve had a keema pie recipe from a really old issue of Delicious magazine sitting in my recipe folder for quite a while, but never got around to making it. It’s basically an Indian version of shepherds/cottage pie. What prompted me to try it was seeing another recipe in the April issue of Delicious which had a rosti topping instead of mash. Steve isn’t a huge fan of potatoes, so I consulted him on what his preference was and he decided that the rosti topping would be the lesser of two evils!

 

CHANGES TO THE RECIPE:

The new recipe uses lamb mince, but the old recipe uses beef mince, so it seems that they’re interchangeable. I used beef mince as that’s what I had available, but I only had 500g instead of the 750g the recipe said to use. I also substituted the 5 large skinned vine tomatoes for a tin of plum tomatoes as it was more convenient.

 

I only used about 1½ green chilies as they were really hot when I tasted a sample, so I also omitted the ½ teaspoon of hot chili powder as I have a tendency to make food too hot! But the finished dish wasn’t all that hot and I think using all the chili and the powder would have been OK.

 

MY SKIN IS ON FIRE!

I suffered really badly from the chili burning the skin on my hands, so I did a search on Google and I found the solution of rubbing salt onto my hands. I used coarse sea salt and I rubbed it on dry, which worked quite well and removed the really stinging burning sensation. But I discovered there was still some chili on my skin when I went to take my contact lenses out and my eyeballs started burning! So I used the salt again using wet hands and it seemed to have worked as it didn’t hurt when I put my contacts in this morning. So next time I will chop the garlic, ginger and chilies in my mini chopper to avoid so much contact with my skin!

 

TASTE TEST:

We both really liked the flavour of the mince as the spices were really nice, but it was a bit too watery. Next time I will leave the lid off the pan when simmering. I would also leave out the spinach, as even though I squeezed out the water I’m sure it released more water when baking. The old keema pie recipe uses peas instead, which is a much better idea and actually more traditional.

 

We were both disappointed with the rosti topping as it didn’t go very crispy, even though I’d also shoved the pie under the grill. Steve thinks the sweet potato was to blame. Making this topping was sooooo much extra work and totally not worth the effort! So next time I would just use a mash potato topping, or even just serve the mince with some rice.

 

The recipe below is how I made it and not the actual recipe from the magazine.

  • Serves: 4
  • Takes: 1 hour 45 minutes to make
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Knob of fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 long green chilies, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon hot chili powder
  • 500g beef mince
  • 300ml beef stock (I used Knorr Touch of Taste)
  • 400g tin peeled plum tomatoes, discard the juice
  • 200g spinach
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 medium potato, coarsely grated
  • 1 medium sweet potato, coarsely grated
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced

 

Directions:

  1. Heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion, season well and fry until softened. Add the finely garlic, ginger and green chilies and fry for a couple of minutes.
  2. In a separate pan, dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant, then crush in a pestle and mortar with the turmeric and chili powder until finely ground. Add to the onion mixture and fry for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the mince, increase the heat and fry for about 10 minutes until the meat is brown, Drain off the excess fat, then add the stock and tomatoes, breaking them up as you mix them in. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the meat is cooked and the sauce has thickened slightly (remove the lid if it’s too watery).
  4. Put the spinach in a colander over a large saucepan and pour over a kettle of boiling water, then refresh in cold water. Squeeze out the excess water. Stir through the curry with the lemon juice and garam masala and season to taste.
  5. Put the pan of hot water that you used to wilt the spinach on the heat and bring back to the boil, then place the potato, sweet potato and onion into it and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain, then tip into a clean tea towel and squeeze out all the excess liquid. Place in a bowl and toss with the remaining oil and season.
  6. Tip the keema into a large ovenproof dish and top with the blanched rosti topping.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes at Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C until the rosti is golden on top – place under a hot grill for 5 minutes if it’s still not brown enough!

 

COOK’S NOTES:

  • This dish can be frozen at stage 6. Bake for 40 minutes from frozen at Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C.

March 18, 2010

Making fresh pasta – wide ribbons

Wide pasta held

 

MUNCH RATING: 5/5

 

So far I’ve used my pasta machine to make spaghetti and taglioni (thin ribbon pasta) and ravioli and tortellini (filled pasta) and you can see my efforts here.

 

For my birthday Steve’s sister cooked us a dish of meatballs and pappardelle pasta, which we really enjoyed as it was thick and wide. So we decided to have a go at making something similar using the lasagnette cutter on the pasta machine which is 12mm wide.

 

I made some pasta dough using 200g of ‘00’ flour and 2 large eggs, plus about ½ tablespoon of olive oil. I just mixed it all in a large bowl and then kneaded the dough on a board until it was smooth and elastic. Then I wrapped the dough in cling film and chilled until I was ready to cut the pasta (a couple of hours).

 

Steve helped me to roll the pasta through the machine and cut the pasta:

  1. We split the dough into 3 balls.
  2. We rolled each ball into a sheet up to the 3rd thinnest setting as we wanted it quite thick.
  3. We dusted the sheets with flour on both sides and then left them, covered loosely with a dry cloth, to dry out a little before cutting into ribbons. We’d learned from our previous attempts that you need to dust with flour quite a lot to prevent the pasta from sticking together.
  4. We cut the pasta into ribbons and then dusted with a bit more flour before laying them out onto the board, covered loosely with a dry cloth, to dry out before cooking. 

Wide Pasta on board

To cook the pasta:
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add salt.
  2. Add the fresh pasta and when the water comes back to the boil, put a timer on for 2 minutes.
  3. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water to add to the sauce.

 

Here’s the dish I created using some leftover sauce from a Beef and Ale Stew I’d made and stashed in the freezer. I’m naughty and don’t tend to label what I put in the freezer, so it ends up being “mystery food” and I thought the sauce had some beef left in it but it was just sauce. Luckily Steve’s Mum had got some steak out of the freezer so I used that!

 

Wide pasta dish

Unfortunately I slightly overcooked the steak as I added it back to the pan too early.

 

Here’s what I should have done:

  1. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan. Fry the steak on both sides for a couple of minutes until the meat is rare. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add sliced mushrooms to the pan and fry until soft and golden.
  3. Add the sauce and a dash of double cream, then add the cooked pasta and blanched sugar snap peas. Mix thoroughly, season with salt and pepper and add any pasta water if necessary to create a nice sauce.
  4. Slice the steak and add to the pan just before serving.

 

It was still a really good meal and we really enjoyed our home-made fresh pasta! We’ll definitely be making it again.

 

This amount of pasta made enough for 2 servings plus seconds.

March 17, 2010

Minced soy pork with noodles

Minced-soy-pork-and-noodles

MUNCH RATING: 5/5

 

In the April issue of BBC Good Food magazine there was a recipe by Ching-He Huang for this noodle dish. It looked really tasty, but what tempted me most was that it was quite healthy at around 500 calories and 12g fat per serving. I thought this would be the perfect dish to start our healthy eating plan as it’s quick and easy to prepare and cook.

 

I do make quite a few stir-fries so I already had most of the ingredients, but there are some ingredients that I had to get from the Chinese supermarket, such as the dried mushrooms. Steve was a little dubious about the dried mushrooms as he didn’t have very fond memories of them from dishes he’d eaten in restaurants. But once he saw that I’d chopped them up into small pieces he cheered up and after tasting them in the dish he declared that they were actually quite nice as he couldn’t really taste them, but they added a depth of flavour to the dish. He’s even suggested we try putting them in Bolognese and Massaman curry!

 

CHANGES TO THE RECIPE: 

I also used some chow mein noodles (Lion Brand) that I’d bought instead of the rice noodles that Ching used, as we prefer this type of noodle. Ching added noodles that were already cooked, whereas I added mine when they were just rehydrated as I preferred to finish cooking them in the pan so that they could absorb more flavour.  I used 2½ blocks of the dried noodles and this made quite a lot when rehydrated, so I added a bit more soy sauce than the recipe suggested and I also added some oyster sauce for extra flavour. Ching added dried shrimps, spring onions and coriander to her dish, but we ran out of spring onions and I can’t stand dried shrimps and coriander so I left them out. Instead I added some mange tout for some colour and one of our 5-a-day!

 

TASTE TEST:

I haven’t really used pork mince much before, which is funny because the Chinese love to use pork! But we both really liked the texture of the meat and it wasn’t greasy like lamb or beef mince. I will definitely be using more pork mince in future, especially as it was so nice in the Potsticker Dumplings we made!

 

  • Serves: 2 generously

 

Ingredients:

  • 2½ blocks dried chow mein noodles rehydrated (see notes below)
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Tablespoon grated ginger
  • 3 dried Chinese mushrooms, rehydrated and finely chopped (see notes below)
  • 250g lean pork mince
  • 1 Tablespoon Shaoshing rice wine
  • 1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chicken stock powder (I used Knorr granules)
  • 100ml water
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 big handfuls of mange tout

 

Directions:

  1. Heat a wok over a high heat and add the oil. When it’s really hot add the garlic, ginger and finely chopped mushrooms. Stir well for a few seconds, then add the mince and stir-fry. When the meat starts to turn brown, add the rice wine, both soy sauces, oyster sauce, stock powder and the water and bring to the boil.
  2. Add the rehydrated noodles and mix thoroughly, allow to cook for 2 minutes, then add the mange tout and cook for another 2 minutes until they’re cooked but still a bit crunchy.
  3. Add the sesame oil, mix well and serve immediately.

 

COOK’S NOTES:

  • To rehydrate the noodles: place them in a deep bowl or saucepan and pour over enough boiling water to cover them. Allow them to soften for a couple of minutes and then loosen with a pair of chopsticks until they’re all separated. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  • To rehydrate the mushrooms: place them in a bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover them. Leave them to soak for 45 minutes, then drain.

Grow your own Herbs

August 11th 2009:
Rosemary and Thyme 11 Aug
Inspired by using an abundance of fresh herbs during my cooking course, I decided to buy some Rosemary, Thyme and Parsley. I bought a bog standard Rosemary plant, a Common Thyme plant, a Lemon Thyme plant and a Curly Parsley.
The herbs I bought from garden centre were quite small at only 13cm (5ins) tall, but I decided to buy these because they were only £1.49 each. The bigger ones were more expensive and I didn’t think it was necessary because I’m quite confident the small plants will grow at a good rate.

Steve’s Mum found me a massive pot which is 37cm (14.5ins) in diameter at the top and 28cm (11ins) deep, but it is tapered so it didn’t take too much soil to fill.
I’d kept an article from a magazine about planting herbs and I found it really useful, so I thought I’d share it with you:
  • Mediterranean plants such as sage, oregano, basil, tarragon, thyme and rosemary prefer lots of sun, whilst chives, mint, sorrel, parsley and fennel don’t mind a semi-shaded spot. Grow one plant per container or create combinations; mint is a monster though so grow on its own.
  • Select a suitable pot – the wider the better, but at least 20cm deep. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom.
  • Add a two-inch layer of terracotta chunks or coarse gravel to the bottom of the pot to aid drainage. For those gardening on balconies, use pieces of polystyrene.
  • Now half-fill the pot with compost. For semi-permanent plantings like this, you can use 50:50 John Innes No.3 and peat-free multipurpose, as it holds onto water and nutrients, but drains well. Mix in a small handful of pelleted chicken manure or seaweed meal. You can also add Broadleaf P4 or SwellGel which are special gels that hold water like a sponge.
  • Now take the plastic pots off your plants; check the roots and gently tease out those that have wound themselves around the rootball, then dunk them in a bucket of water.
  • Arrange your plants in the pot so the top of the roots is about an inch below the rim; add more compost to the bottom if need be. Place tall herbs like bay, sorrel or garlic at the back and shorter ones at the front.
  • Now fill in the gaps with compost. Only slightly cover the rootball, but ensure no roots are visible or the plant will dry out in double-quick time.
  • Leave a 3cm gap between the top of the compost and the rim of the pot so water won’t gush off the top. Water well.
  • Position your pots by the back door so you can grab fistfuls when you like. To keep herbs bushy, pick regularly and remove any flowers.
Rosemary Thyme 11 Aug defence
I had quite a bit of space around each plant and I thought this would be quite tempting for pesky squirrels to have a dig around, so I’ve put some defences in to deter them!
Parsley Chives 11 Aug
Steve’s Mum had a set of small pots that sit in a tray, so I decided to plant the Curly Parsley in one of these pots and the same with the Chives that I’ve been growing. This way I can easily take them indoors in the winter as they’re not as hardy as Rosemary and Thyme. I will probably put some basil in the third pot.
I bought the herbs today and I have already used the Parsley and Thyme in my cooking as part of a bouquet garni in a Beef Carbonnade recipe. The smell of fresh herbs is amazing!
September 5th 2009:
Herb pot 5 Sept Well the herbs have really filled out the pot since I bought and planted them at the beginning of August. I removed the green plastic and chicken wire to give them more space, but I left the bamboo sticks in as they seem to be a very good deterrent for anything trying to dig up plants.
Lemon thyme 5 SeptThe Lemon Thyme (above) has a very different fragrance to the Common Thyme (below) which I would say has a stronger smell, but I’m not sure if I can really tell the difference in flavour. It’s still nice to have the choice and they are both growing really well. They look incredibly similar, but I think I could tell the difference if tested, just by the smell.
Common thyme 5 Sept
rosemary 5 Sept My Rosemary looks rather sad in this photo, but it has been growing very well and I’ve just chopped off a huge sprig to use in cooking!
September 27th 2009:
Rosemary 27 Sept 09As you can see my rosemary hasn’t grown at all over the last couple of weeks and I’ve found out why. I was reading a book I borrowed from the library, The Container Kitchen Garden’ by Antony Atha, and it says that rosemary will not regenerate if it is cut back into the hard wood. Well now I can plainly see that is the mistake I have made! There’s a detailed section in the book about taking cuttings to grow more plants, but to be honest it was so cheap to buy the rosemary plant that I will probably just get another one if this one doesn’t grow anymore!
It’s quite a good book as there are lots of detailed photos and instructions on how to grow things in containers. It doesn’t appear to be available to buy online, but even if it was I probably wouldn’t bother buying it and just borrow it from the library again.
November 3rd 2009:
Rosemary 3 Nov 09I didn’t think the rosemary had grown at all, but comparing the picture taken in September it does look a little bigger (that’s real optimism for you!).
Thyme 3 Nov 09Both thyme plants are looking very sad indeed. Most of the leaves have all fallen off, but I’m guessing that is natural for this time of year.
I’m not going to do anything special to my herbs over the winter, like re-pot them to bring them indoors as it’s too much effort and I’ve not really got anywhere to put them (I don’t think Steve’s Mum will appreciate me clogging up the kitchen windowsill with all my herbs!). So I’m just going to put a large fleece over the whole pot and that should protect them from any frost.
March 17th 2010:
After a very cold winter I wasn’t expecting my herbs to be in any great shape. So when I took the fleece off my herb pot a couple of weeks ago I was surprised to see that the parsley was looking very healthy, probably even healthier than when I first planted it!
17-03-parsleyIt looks a bit yellow in the picture, but it’s actually a very healthy green colour and looks like it will continue to grow quite steadily this year.
17-03-chivesLikewise the chives are starting to come through again after a winter sleep. I have quite a few of these little clumps in the herb pot and they’re all about this size.
17-03-rosemaryI wasn’t surprised that the rosemary hadn’t improved after I’d cut it too short. I’m hoping to replace this with a new plant if my seeds ever germinate!
17-03-Common-thyme 17-03-lemon-thyme What I am surprised about is how awful both my thyme plants look. I thought they were supposed to be really hardy plants, but they both look dead. I’ve read that they don’t like too much water and it’s possible I did overwater them or they got too wet over the winter. I’m going to just leave them in the pot and hope that they make some sort of recovery!

March 15, 2010

Work experience at Delicious Magazine Website

delicious mag

 

Last week I had the pleasure of working on the Delicious Magazine website. I got to upload recipes from past issues of the magazine and this involved obtaining copy from InDesign files, re-sizing images using Photoshop and then uploading recipes using their bespoke CMS (content management system). I’d already spent a couple of weeks working on the new Tesco Real Food website so I had some idea of how to use CMS, but the Delicious one was fully working and much easier to use.

 

I really enjoyed writing the standfirsts (line of text after the headline that gives more information about the article)for the recipes as it allowed some creativity, but I had to keep in mind to use certain key words that would be picked up in search engines. I got praised for my standfirsts so I was really chuffed!

 

I got to work very closely with Debra the web editor and she showed me how the website worked and introduced me to Google analytics, which I will look into using for my own blog.

It was an absolutely brilliant experience and the people were so lovely I wish I could have stayed longer! But I have been given the opportunity to attend some cookery classes in the future in return for reviewing them, so I’m really looking forward to that.

 

I was also given the April issue of the magazine and there are loads of great recipes that I want to try. French macaroons/macarons (the kind made with almonds and not coconut) are the new cupcakes, so I’m going to give them a go very soon as I have loads of egg whites stashed in my freezer.

 

When I was uploading the recipes onto the website I had to classify recipes according to whether they were low calorie, low fat etc. for the metadata:

  • low calorie = less than 400 calories
  • low fat = less than 10g
  • low carbs = less than 10g
  • low salt = less than 0.5g

It made me more aware of what is considered healthy and since Steve is on a bit of a health kick at the moment, I will be trying out all the healthy recipes from the magazine – so watch this space!

March 6, 2010

Pork Potsticker Dumplings

Potstickers

 

MUNCH RATING: 5/5

 

A while ago I tried to make potstickers completely from scratch using my Gran’s recipe for the dough. I added too much water and it was a bit of a disaster, so this time I cheated and used ready-made gyoza wrappers that I bought from a Chinese supermarket. So these dumplings were actually very quick and easy to make, especially when I had Steve to help me.

 

For the filling I adapted a Ken Hom recipe and I made the mistake of substituting Chinese leaves for bamboo shoots as they contributed a funny smell which wasn’t too pleasant! But other than that they tasted really good!

 

I have another recipe for the filling which uses beef mince, so I’ll try that next time. I will also have another try at making the dough from scratch!

 

  • Makes: 22-25 dumplings

 

Ingredients:

  • 22-25 gyoza wrappers
  • a little water for sealing the dumplings
  • 1 Tablespoon oil for cooking the dumplings
  • 60ml water for cooking the dumplings
FOR THE FILLING:
  • 250g minced pork
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, finely grated
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated
  • ½ Tablespoon Shaoshing rice wine
  • ½ Tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • ½ Tablespoon light soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon sugar

 

Directions:

Preparation:

  1. Put all the filling ingredients into a bowl and mix together well. Allow to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.

To make the dumplings:

  1. Place a large teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each gyoza wrapper and moisten the edges with water.
  2. Fold over the dough to create a semi-circle and pinch together with your fingers to seal. You can add pleats if you like. Place your completed dumplings onto a lightly floured tray and keep covered whilst you make the rest.

To cook the dumplings (in batches):

  1. Heat a large lidded frying pan until it is very hot. Add half the oil so that the base of the pan is covered. Place half the dumplings in the pan flat side down, reduce the heat and cook for about 2 minutes or until they are lightly browned.
  2. Add 30ml of water, cover the pan tightly and simmer gently for 5-7 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  3. Uncover the pan and continue to cook the dumplings for 2 more minutes – the dumplings should look wrinkled. Remove from the pan and keep warm whilst you repeat with the other half of the dumplings.

 

COOK’S NOTES:

  • The dumplings will keep in the fridge overnight as long as they are tightly covered.

Chelsea Buns

Chelsea Buns BBC - inside

 

MUNCH RATING: 3/5

 

CHANGES TO THE RECIPE:

I made these using the dough from James Martin’s Hot Cross Buns recipe (April issue of BBC Good Food magazine), but I used a different filling as I didn’t fancy the apricots and almonds that he used. These were better than my last attempt as they were big and soft, but they did taste a tiny bit too yeasty. This recipe used twice as much yeast as most other dough recipes, which would explain the yeasty flavour and also why the dough rose at an accelerated rate and resembled a B-movie blob monster!

 

Chelsea Buns BBCI had a hard time fitting all the buns into the tin and after the second proving they were even more squashed and attempting to make a break for space and freedom.

 

Chelsea Buns BBC - baked After the 10 minutes baking at Gas 6 they were very golden brown and on the verge of burning and I was afraid they would become rock hard like my last attempt. So I kept a careful eye on them for the 10 minutes baking at Gas 4. I’ll admit that I did open the oven door a few too many times to keep checking and therefore I did need to bake them for another 5 or so minutes as they weren’t cooked properly. Even though I’d checked with a skewer to see if it came out clean, the middle bun was a bit underdone but the others were fine.

 

TASTE TEST:

The buns were incredibly large, so I would make them smaller if I used this recipe again. I think there was too much yeast which gave them a slightly funny taste, so we weren’t that keen on the flavour. They were also quite a lot of hard work and the reward wasn’t really justified! So I’m still on the hunt for the perfect Chelsea Bun recipe.

 

  • Makes: 8 very large buns
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C then reduced to Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • Oven shelf: middle
  • You will need: a deep 21 or 23cm cake tin, greased

 

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 450g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 x 7g sachets easy-blend yeast
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 150ml warm milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 50g unsalted butter, melted
  • 50ml warm water
FOR THE FILLING:
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 100g mixed dried fruit (I used currants and sultanas)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 25g butter, melted
GLAZE:
  • 1 Tablespoon apricot jam
  • ½ Tablespoon water
  • caster sugar for sprinkling

 

Directions:

  1. Put the flour, yeast, caster sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl and mix well. Make a well in the centre and pour in the warm milk, warm water, beaten egg and melted butter. Mix everything together to form a dough – start with a wooden spoon and finish with your hands.
  2. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and springy. Transfer to a clean, lightly greased bowl and cover. Leave in a warm place to rise until roughly doubled in size – this will take about 1 hour depending on how warm the room is.
  3. Meanwhile make the filling by mixing all the filling ingredients together.
  4. Top the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few seconds. Roll out the dough to a rough 20 x 30cm rectangle. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, then roll it up firmly like a Swiss roll from one of the long sides – dampening the open edge to help it stick if necessary. Cut into 8 even slices with a sharp knife, shape into 8 round pinwheels, then arrange in the tin, cut-side up. Cover and leave to prove in a warm place for 20 minutes until roughly doubled in size.
  5. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C. Bake the buns for 10 minutes, then lower the oven to Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C and cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  6. Melt the jam with the water and brush all over the buns, then sprinkle with a little more caster sugar.

March 4, 2010

Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken Cacciatore

MUNCH RATING: 3/5

I was talking to Steve’s sister about this dish as I was disappointed with the Giada De Laurentiis recipe I’d tried. She said she uses a Nigella Lawson recipe which uses pancetta and cannellini beans. I doubt these are traditional ingredients for this Italian dish, but they add good flavour and texture.

CHANGES TO THE RECIPE:
I did adapt Nigella’s recipe by adding more herbs and I just used normal garlic as a substitute for the garlic oil. I also omitted the celery salt as I didn’t have any. I also added some spinach at the last minute for colour and because it needed to be used up!

TASTE TEST:
It’s a nice one-pot dish for an everyday meal, but it’s nothing really special so I will tweak it until I think “Wow!”. I think I will add some chilli next time as I think it would benefit from some heat.

  • Serves: 4 (or 2 very greedy people!)

Ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 75g pancetta cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 6 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 450g (approx. 4-5) chicken thighs, skinned, deboned and cut into bite size pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • ½ - 1 teaspoon sugar (depends on your tomatoes)
  • 400g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Directions:
  1. Put the oil into a pan with the pancetta, garlic, spring onions and the herbs and fry for a couple of minutes.
  2. Add the chicken pieces, stirring well, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Pour in the wine and let it come to a bubble before adding the tomatoes and sugar.
  4. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the chicken is cooked and the sauce has thickened.
  5. Add the cannellini beans and when they have warmed through serve immediately.
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