Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas 2013

My first crack at a proper Christmas dinner :)

I decided on pork as I love crackling, so I ordered a roast from the local butcher as I know their meat is far better quality than the supermarket's. I didn't specify what cut but it looked like loin and there was plenty of it (I ordered for "3-4 plus leftovers") so I cut the smaller end off and it's in the freezer for another week.

Good old Delia came up trumps for a recipe: roast pork with crackling. All I had to do was dry the skin and salt it, and place the meat on a topped, tailed and halved onion. I adjusted the oven temperatures down slightly for our fan oven, and did 25 mins at 220° and then another 2h at 180°. This was a bit of a mistake as I calculated the time on the original weight and not after I'd cut a bit off. Still, the pork was well done rather than overcooked, with perfect crackling and very tender meat.

What did perhaps suffer a bit was the meat juices. Although they were supposed to go to make gravy, it was entirely fat in the tin. I poured it off, and what was left was very dark - not tempting crusty bits so much as blackened. The outer layers of the onion had also burned, so I binned those before deglazing the pan with cider and making up gravy with that, stock (~150ml each) and flour (1 tbsp plain), with water to taste later - there was a definite dark tang to it but I had no other means to make gravy so had to make it work! Straining the finished product removed the onion bits before serving, and the verdict was fairly good but by no means perfect.

Of course, it's not just the meat - alongside it we had apricot stuffing, roast potatoes, red cabbage, brussels sprouts and parsnips. Oh, and sausages in bacon, but they negate the point about the meat :)

Apricot stuffing: a fairly random recipe pick, it's American style stuffing involving an onion and 2 cloves garlic, cooked in butter with thyme, then adding chopped dried apricots, bread, and cream. It turned out rather sweet, and a dash of worcester sauce evened it out. Next time I'd use the suggested variation of subbing some of the cream for stock as it was quite rich.

Potatoes: large King Edwards, parboiled (or rather boiled, since I forgot them) and then tossed about a bit in vegetable oil and a dash of salt, and roasted in the oven for a good 30 minutes.

Red cabbage: braised with cider and apples. I used 600g cabbage, made necessity-based substitutions of a bramley apple, white wine vinegar, and tangerines, and used half of all the other ingredients except the sugar which I reduced a bit further. An hour's cooking time was fine.

Brussels sprouts: peeled, halved, and stir fried/braised with streaky bacon trimmings from the sausages in bacon. Several splashes of water, and a lid on the pan, kept things moist and helped them to steam as well as fry in about 20 minutes.

Parsnips: peeled, chopped, roasted in oil, honey and wholegrain mustard with a dash of black pepper. I didn't really roast them for long enough, so next time would pop them in for 45 mins to an hour.

Dessert wasn't my responsibility, so that's it for this year :)

Friday, 20 December 2013

More Christmassy goodies

I'm not a big one for "stuff" (ornaments, keepsakes and that sort of thing) and consequently have no eye whatsoever for what "stuff" (if any) might appeal to other people. This, along with the fact I enjoy cooking and baking, means I tend to gravitate towards food gifts for Christmas. I've blogged Christmas Spice Cookies and white chocolate and cranberry cookies before, so here are some other recipes I've used  more recently.

Pretzel bites (pictured, right) are ridiculously easy and almost as ridiculously moreish, if you are into the sweet-salty thing. The verdict from my brother and his clan was that the bag barely made it home! The basics are:

150g salted pretzels, broken but not crushed to smithereens.
250g chocolate - white, dark, plain, any flavour you like
50-75g 'extras' - dried fruit or other goodies.

Melt the chocolate and stir in the pretzels and any other goodies. Dollop into bite-size mounds on foil, clingfilm or a silicon cookie mat, and refrigerate until set.

The original recipe uses white chocolate and sultanas, which I then varied to white chocolate and dried cranberries for extra Christmassy pep. Candied peel would also work, I think. This year's variation is dark mint chocolate (I used Green & Black's), and crushed candy canes sprinkled on top of the bites before they set. I will say that candy canes, if they are of the chewy variety, are harder to smash than you think! I conceded defeat with the rolling pin and had to blitz the last few big bits.

Peppermint creams are an old favourite - this recipe was good but a bit wetter than ideal. Given that just a little more or less liquid can really make a difference to icing sugar I'm surprised at the use of the naturally variable amounts of egg white and lemon in the recipe. Next time I'll measure, and not add all the lemon at once. I'd also hold back just a bit on the mint, as it was more extra-strong than candy cane!

1 free-range egg white
½ lemon, juice only
1 tsp peppermint flavouring
425g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
(optional - tiny drop of food colouring if you want)
175 dark chocolate, for dipping/piping

Whisk egg white to stiff peaks and fold in everything else except the chocolate. Work until smooth on a surface dusted with sugar - if you want to use colour for only part of the mixture, divide it here and work in the colour to one half. Roll out to pound coin thickness and use cutters of your choice to cut out shapes, then chill until set. Melt the chocolate and dip, pipe, drizzle, or use some other inventive method to get it on the creams.

The Rocky Road to Christmas Excess (pictured above, left) - adapted from this Nigella recipe. Like a normal Rocky Road, but with festive goodies. Indulgent, and serves several people as a present since it's so rich it's able to be cut into very small pieces!

400g dark chocolate - I used 200g plain and 200g of Green & Black's Maya Gold
175g butter
4tbsp golden syrup
Moderate handfuls of Christmassy inclusions - I used:
Gingerbread pieces (mix of lumps/crumbs)
Shortbread pieces (ditto)
Mini marshmallows
Glace cherries (halved or whole)
Candied peel
Sultanas soaked overnight in Cointreau (sherry, brandy, whatever... or tea for a non-alcoholic option)

Nigella says you can melt the chocolate directly over a gentle heat with the butter and syrup, but I don't trust my electric hob to be gentle so I used the double boiler method for the chocolate and stirred in the separately-melted-then-cooled-a-bit butter and syrup. Then add that mix to the goodies in a mixing bowl, and stir gently until well combined (the marshmallows will melt and mix in if you are too rough). Pour into a clingfilm-lined deep tray and refrigerate overnight. Turn out, chop into bite-size cubes and dust with icing sugar and maybe edible glitter or lustre if you're feeling sparkly.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Feeding the five thousand, or, chilli for a large number

A local charity I volunteer with, Wherry Yacht Charter, has an annual quiz and supper evening in November. With an eye to winter-warmer-type food, not to mention the practicalities of catering for 40-60 people in a church hall, we usually serve beef or mixed bean chilli over tortilla chips, with cheese and other toppings. A few people opt for baked potatoes through preference or dietary need, but generally we find ourselves with a lot of chilli to cook.

For future reference, and for the possible benefit of others, here's a rundown of what we do, based on this year. It's set out with prices and amounts in terms of shopping for bulk items at a wholesaler such as Makro, although fresh ingredients were bought at local independent shops and some smaller items were purchased at a supermarket (noted as such in the list).

Serves 40
(Approx 32 meat eaters and 8 vegetarians; allows for a handful of tortillas and a ladle and a half of chilli per person; there will be some for seconds/leftovers)

Ingredients - chilli
2 x 2.5kg tins tomatoes (total £3)
1 x 2.5kg tin kidney beans (£2)
8* large spanish onions (£3.60, local greengrocer)
8* large courgettes (£5.30, local greengrocer)
8* large red and orange peppers (£6.30, local greengrocer)
2/3 wholesale box* mushrooms (£3.50, local greengrocer)
5 tbsp hot chilli powder **
5 tbsp ground cumin **
5 tsp chipotle chilli paste **
5 stock cubes (veggie or beef, as appropriate)**
vegetable oil**

For veggie: 2 x 0.8kg tins spicy mixed bean salad (£4)
For meat: 2kg minced beef (£13, local butcher, lean steak mince)
(For comparison, cheapest supermarket minced beef is about £4/kg and supermarket lean steak mince is about £7/kg)

Ingredients - to serve
3 x 750g bags mild/plain tortillas (£6)
2kg grated cheese (£8.50)
4  x 300g soured cream (£4.40, supermarket)
2 x 300g guacamole (£4, supermarket) - squeezy bottles as found with taco kits etc.
1 x 480g jar jalapenos (£1, supermarket) - large jars in world foods section of Tesco (Caribbean, Polish, etc.) much cheaper than small jars found with taco kits etc.

Weights given for tinned and jarred ingredients are as purchased, not drained.
* Vegetables were sold by number rather than weight.
** Taken from my store cupboard. To buy from scratch in a supermarket: £1 chilli powder, £1 ground cumin, £1.90 chipotle paste, £1.20 stock cubes, £1.50 oil, total £6.60 but buys more of all items than is needed for this recipe. Naturally you can add more or less spice depending on who you are catering for!

Total price for 40: about £64, not including anything for store cupboard items. Of this, about £24 is for the tortillas and toppings. This makes a total of £1 per head for the chilli, and 50p for the other items which could be seen as optional. The meat and veggie options differ by only a few pence per head using the spicy mixed beans as above; if you used plain beans and your own spices the vegetarian one would likely be a little cheaper.

What you need
We used 5 very large saucepans (pressure cooker size) plus a large saucepan and large frying pan. We also used a very large cooker! For a normal sized home hob and fewer pans, pre-cook the mushrooms and meat first, and perhaps cook the veggie chilli separately, but of course increase the time needed. Miscellaneous kitchen equipment included bowls, colanders, spoons, etc. You will also need large plastic boxes and a lots of fridge or freezer space for storage.

Allow 2.5-3 hours for 2 people to chop the veg and do all the 'interactive' cooking, i.e. everything except simmering. Allow another half hour at the very least for simmering, but if you can do longer at a low heat, so much the better. If you're not using the chilli straight away, don't forget to allow significant cooling time before you can refrigerate or freeze it (possibly 2-3 hours, although see below for suggestions to speed this up).

Chop all vegetables into 1-2cm chunks/thick slices for mushrooms.
Drain kidney beans and rinse.
Drain mixed beans and reserve spicy sauce.
Drain tomatoes and reserve juice.

Using one separate large pan for vegetarian chilli (1/5 of vegetables and tomatoes, plus mixed beans), and as many other large pans as you need for the meat chilli (rest of ingredients), gently cook the onions in a little oil until translucent. To reduce the amount of oil, start with only a little and top up with tomato liquid as needed to stop the onions sticking. Add the chilli powder, cumin, chilli paste and stock cubes to the onions while cooking.

When the onions are translucent, add the courgettes and peppers, and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften. Add a little further tomato liquid to help things along if needed (or spicy sauce, for the veg version), but remember the vegetables will release more moisture as they cook.

Meanwhile, brown and break up the mince in batches, draining any excess fat. Optionally, you can add more chilli powder and/or cumin to the meat at this point. When done, you can deglaze the pan with a little of the tomato juice if there is lots of good stuff left in it. Add the mince and any juices evenly to the meat chilli pans. Add the spicy beans to the vegetable chilli pan.

Divide the drained tomatoes between the various pans. Add some tomato liquid to the meat pans, and spicy bean sauce to the veggie pan, to get the texture you wish. Stir well and leave to simmer and reduce, stirring occasionally.

Cook the mushrooms separately, as they will cook more quickly and retain their flavour. Heat in a lidded pan with a splash of water and a crumbled vegetable stock cube (or simply a pinch of salt), then divide between the large pans.

If you find you have too much liquid, you can try one or more of the following: simmer to reduce; use a ladle to remove liquid and discard it or use for other purposes e.g. soup; add gravy granules to thicken; add flour to thicken. To use flour or gravy granules, mix evenly with a little cold water first, then add some of the hot pan liquid, then return all to the pan and mix well.

Serve the chilli with the listed accompaniments on a help-yourself basis. Await compliments!

Storage and food safety notes
If not using the chilli straight away: When cooked, pour the chilli into large plastic containers or similar. Cool as quickly as possible, e.g. place container in a cool room or in a sink of cold water, or bury freezer packs (inside clean plastic bags) inside. In terms of food safety, the cooling down period is when the food is at optimum bug-breeding temperature, so make it as short as possible. Then chill or freeze depending when you need to serve the chilli. Needless to say, you should then also defrost it evenly and reheat the food until piping hot. These suggestions stem from common sense and are not written from any position of authority on food hygiene.

Note: I detest food waste, but when catering for a large number there can be quite a margin of error, especially when you are keen not to short change people or run out. Personally I would happily save and thoroughly reheat leftovers for myself one more time, including freezing them beforehand if the chilli had not previously been frozen, and I an other volunteers have done this before with no problem. This may not tally with official food hygiene advice but I think everyone should decide on their own level of risk when feeding themselves and their immediate family. Clearly, when feeding others, more caution is needed and risk should be minimised - hence the above suggestions. If in doubt, consult relevant food hygiene regulations or ask someone with a food safety qualification.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Fast fish pie

Happy to report another success - a quick and easy meal that's turned out delicious and, this time, healthy. BBC Good Food's Fast Fish Pie lived up to its name.

The recipe starts with celery and garlic, adds fresh cherry tomatoes, then stock (or wine) and tomato puree along with the fish, plus tarragon to finish. I used mixed fish (hake, smoked haddock, salmon) rather than the white fish plus prawns in the recipe, and dill rather than tarragon as I had none in the cupboard. My stock is baby-friendly (low salt) Heinz but with the smoked fish it was fine. A good grinding of fresh black pepper finished things off beautifully.

I made cheesy mash without spring onions (again, none in and not worth buying just for one recipe), and served it with the fish mixture rather than making a pie. It means forgoing the crispy top, but you get your dinner quicker and have one less dish to wash up, so that's a win in my book.

I have to say that the 10 mins prep was a bit optimistic for me. Chopping celery, garlic and tomatoes, making stock, and prepping potatoes were just about quick enough, but skinning the fish and checking for bones was time consuming for a non-expert.

Update: to make it even faster I used fish pie mix and a tin of tomatoes, and swapped the normal tomato puree for a sun dried one (Sacla). I also chuck in some frozen peas.

In general it's a pretty healthy and diet-friendly dish. I didn't use as much oil as suggested, but braised the celery with some of the stock, and I could easily have omitted the cheese from the mash - in fact I mashed in some leftover cheese sauce from another dish, giving it good anti-food-waste credentials too. On that note, as the tomatoes and celery are cooked, you can use up ones that might be a bit too past their best to eat raw, and other veg such as carrots or broccoli stems could go in too. To give it a trio of haloes, it's also pretty budget-friendly as you can eke out the fish with more veg, and/or choose cheaper fish or even offcuts.

Overall, an extremely tasty dish, and one that can easily be batch cooked into larger portions. Definitely a keeper in our menu rotation!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013


Time for a bit of fun! I just could not resist this for my Whovian husband's (WH) birthday - when friends got a Dalek cake mould and said I could borrow it, it had to be done. I did a bit of Googling to see what I was up against, found a couple of blog posts, and Operation Secret Dalek Cake was on (hat tip to the second of those for the blog post title...)

Now, I'm the first to admit that a detailed silicone cake mould is not exactly the stuff of Great British Bake Off dreams, but with a 9 month old in tow, practicality wins every time. For the same reason, I was not planning to go all-out on decoration either! I'd seen my friends' results and hoped that the cake mould would give me a recognisable chunk of sponge that was also edible, and anything else would be a bonus.

Right. WH went to work, Small went down for a nap, and with the possibility of only 40 minutes to get the beast into the oven, I rolled into cake baking action and turned on the oven at 180°C then greased the cake mould liberally with butter using a pastry brush. The back of the cake mould box said to use an 8-egg sponge mix so I turned to my much-used Hannah Miles book and chose a 4-egg mix to double. The quantities were: 2 x (4 eggs + 225g each of  butter, sugar, self raising flour) - a pretty consistent ratio in her book.

Rather than struggle with a massive bowl of mixture, I decided to make two separate mixtures (mint and chocolate) and create a marbled Dalek, so prepped two mixing bowls with butter and sugar, cracked and beat two lots of eggs, and weighed out and sieved two amounts of flour. I then replaced 2 tbsp of one lot of flour with about 4 tbsp of cocoa, or maybe more - there was only a smidge left in the tub after that so I chucked it all in :)

The method was the usual creaming method - beat the butter and sugar to pale creamy fluffiness, add eggs gradually, then fold in flour. For the mint sponge I added green colouring and mint flavour to the butter/sugar mix with the eggs, so I could blend them in evenly before carefully folding in the flour.

I then had a brainwave and decided to use an icing bag to pipe some of the mint sponge into the details on the cake mould. This is where I fail any kind of Whoviometer test, and say the mint batter went into the blobs, the ears, and the grille bits on the head. Geeks, please correct me in the comments. (I do know the flashing things are not ears, but you knew what I meant :)  It went in fairly well, and stayed, but I then found I had to spread chocolate sponge mix up the sides of the mold behind the details, which was trickier. Of course, the mixture doesn't fill the mould before baking, but rises up in the oven, so if you decide to try this method then focus on the details that are lowest in the mould and let the top ones take care of themselves - they'll be at the back/bottom of the finished cake, depending whether you let it stand or lie. I finished off by scooping the rest of the mint sponge into the centre of the mould, and tried to make an indentation with the spoon to allow for more rising at the centre of the cake.

The big unknown was the baking time. After much skewer testing, it seemed to be done, taking 40 mins at 180°C plus another 40-50 turned down to 150°C (fan oven) when I was worried about it burning on the outside before the inside was baked. Although I'd made an indentation over the fattest bit it still rose too much there at the expense of elsewhere. So my Dalek had a fat arse and I was forced to cut that bit off and eat it for quality control. Shame... I heeded the various warnings and let the cake cool completely before trying to turn it out, and it came out like a dream. A slightly greasy, crispy-at-the-corners dream, but hey.

The idea of piping the second cake mix into the blobs and other bits kind of worked - the head bits were good and the blobs less so, as it looks like it oozed down before it baked. I'm 50/50 as to whether it was worth it, especially as the cake baked so long they are just slightly different shades of brown! However, the green came out well when cut.

With the cake cool, it was time to decorate during afternoon nap time. No time for fancy fondant and complicated marzipan here! I brushed on blue lustre powder to highlight the low-contrast minty details. Lurking in the cupboard I also had chocolate icing in a tube, so added some freestyle detailing with that. The 'ears' had shrunk to tiny crispy blobs, during baking, so I augmented those with icing. The weapony bits (sorry...) are all made from tinfoil and toothpicks, augmented with a sharpie pen, black writing icing (since I already had some of that too), and a solitary blue mini Smartie. I had to buy a Smartie-filled chocolate Hallowe'en pumpkin to get the one blue one, and was then stuck with chocolate I didn't need for the cake. Another shame...

With only about half an hour to go before WH was due home, I took the cake upstairs and hid it in a big box with a 'keep out' sign on it. It worked :) The big reveal was done at work after I took the cake in as a surprise tea-break delivery, and the cake seemed to go down very well with the assembled company of geeks. It was even done in the middle. Hurrah!

All in all, a fun and interesting adventure in cake making, although it would be more fun without the time pressure and surprise element! Hopefully the above may be useful to someone else as well as jogging my memory if there is a next time. If you find any of the info helpful, please leave a comment!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Spinach and coconut dal

I have found a new blog I love - Tinned Tomatoes. On name alone it should appeal, since I use a lot of said ingredient, but there are over 500 vegetarian and vegan recipes on there, many of which I am very keen to try. And they don't all feature tinned tomatoes... like this one:

Spinach and coconut dal is the easiest thing I have cooked in ages. And one of the tastiest! At 600 cals per portion (using the whole lot as 4 portions) it's not the lightest, but once in a while does no harm. It would also be great as part of a thali-type mixed meal.

First wilt 200g fresh spinach: wash, then in the colander pour over boiling water, then cold water. Squeeze out the excess moisture (keep it - see below) and then chop. Or use frozen spinach :)

Put 400g red lentils, 400ml coconut cream, 600ml stock and spices (1 tsp each coriander, ginger, tumeric and chilli powder, 2tsp cumin) together in a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 mins, stirring occasionally. Add the spinach and simmer 5-10 mins more. Serve seasoned with black pepper, accompanied by breads or rice.

I didn't keep the spinach liquid, and wished I had. It looked like I was pouring good stuff away, and then I needed to add more liquid to the dal. Sigh. Also I used some coriander I had previously blitzed and frozen, rather than fresh (must do that more often), and there was some extra water in that, so if using fresh you'd almost certainly need to add water.

I had mine with rice and mango chutney, but to be honest some chapattis would have suited it better. Later this week I might try blitzing it down with more stock to make a soup, as suggested on the blog - I think it would work really well. Finally, I might also freeze a portion and then make more before too long, but use less-calorific coconut milk instead of cream. Then I can do a taste test!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Chickpeas and spinach with ginger

Another veggie (vegan, in this case) one-pot recipe, chickpeas and spinach with ginger is very similar to the spinach and chickpea curry that we already do, pretty much just swapping curry paste for ginger. I don't think I've blogged the curry, since it hardly counts as a recipe, so this post covers both.

The ginger recipe is from Serious Eats, and part of a whole series of vegan recipes. Since it took a bit of searching to confirm the can sizes for chick peas and tomatoes, I'll just add that I used 2 of each, normal sized cans (~400g, or ~240g drained in the case of the chickpeas). Needless to say, I did not use the massive amounts of oil called for, but if your diet allows, by all means leave a comment to tell me what I am missing...

Fundamentally the recipe blends half the tomatoes with a good amount of fresh ginger, and adds it to cooked onions and garlic, then adds spinach, and finally chickpeas. Bay leaves, salt and soy sauce ramp up the flavour, although I omitted the suggested vinegar and oil for serving. I will say that I simmered mine for a lot longer to further soften the chickpeas, and ended up with beautifully silky spinach and a richer sauce. There wasn't really enough spinach as I thought the large bag I bought was big enough, but it really could take more. I didn't use the can liquid from the chick peas as suggested, and I think it would have been too runny if I had.

I served this on its own, and we demolished the whole lot in a greedy-pig-portion each, with some left over for Small. Next time I'll do it with rice or another grain, or possibly some sort of bread, plus more spinach, and make it last two meals. The flavour was excellent with the ginger, something I never would have thought of adding to tomatoes, and I can see it becoming a regular on our menu.

The curry we already do is very similar, without the blending. Cook the onions slowly in curry paste and some of the juice from the tomatoes. Add the rest of the tomatoes, chickpeas, and spinach, and simmer for as long as you want to. Butternut squash is another common addition if I have some already cooked (I often roast a squash, just cut in half, to use in various recipes through the week such as risotto, macaroni cheese, cous cous, etc.), but it takes too long to cook from raw in this recipe.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Hairy Bikers' lean lamb hotpot

I find the Hairy Bikers quite entertaining, and have seen some of the buzz around their Hairy Dieters series and the inevitable book(s) that sprang from it. As part of my effort to do more batch cooking, I fancied lamb hotpot this week, and their lean version came up in a search so I thought I'd give it a go.

As a special bonus, this time I even remembered to take photographs of the finished dish. Alex will be proud.

It was easy enough. Brown the meat, cook the onions and carrots a bit, add flour, herbs and stock, then cover with sliced potatoes and slow cook in the oven.

My main difficulty with this was the lack of a hob-to-oven casserole dish. I should have used a deep pan for the stove bits, so as to be able to combine the meat, veg and stock with the flour before transferring to an oven dish, but in a minor brain fade moment I didn't. So they didn't really get well mixed.

This may have been why the dish was disappointingly runny once its allotted time (and more) was up. I wanted thick and unctuous, and got what was more like a very chunky broth. The potatoes were a bit lacking as well, just a bit sad and limp - probably should have whacked the oven over to grill for a bit for a crispier top. Perhaps it's also down to the type of potato, which in this case I don't know as we bought a bag of unnamed ones from the greengrocer. I have a feeling they were waxy and probably should have been floury. We didn't peel them as the recipe said, but (a) I'm lazy and (b) that's where the goodness is anyway.

Another omission, this time on my part, was lamb stock - I thought I had some, but it turned out to be vegetable, which I combined with beef to try and get a darker, meatier flavour. The lamby flavour was therefore not as good as it might have been. Fresh thyme was a good call, though, and next time I might sneak out for a walk around the block, past a couple of houses that happen to have a big bay bush and rambling rosemary in the front garden (whistles innocently)...

I used lamb neck fillet instead of leg steaks, although I am not sure it made much difference to the taste. The meat was lovely and tender, although perhaps there was more fat from the neck than the suggested leg cuts, and I did find this made the potatoes quite greasy. Finally, in the absence of leaf greens (kale or savoy cabbage would be ideal), we had ours with peas, which added greenery but wasn't quite right taste and texture wise.

(Yes, you can see potatoes in the casseroley bit as well as the slices - I chopped up the ends into chunks so I could just have neat middle slices on the top!)

I know it's sacrilege, and apologies to any Lancastrians out there (sorry, Rob!), but next time I would not only mix the veg, meat, flour and stock more thoroughly but probably omit the potato topping as well, letting the hotpot bubble and reduce a bit more, and serve it with mash or even pop some dumplings in. Would be interesting to see if a proper lovely casserole dish a la Le Creuset would make a difference, but I don't think my blog is popular enough for me to start getting sent freebies :)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A taste of HFW's Veg Everyday

Continuing my journey to find more meat-free meals, I borrowed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Veg Everyday! (exclamation mark is his) from the library. It's a hefty tome, and despite good recommendations from a couple of friends I thought I'd take a look before I thought about buying. He also has a Baby & Toddler cookbook which isn't in the library, so out of the two I'd be more likely to buy that one, I think - pending a sneaky flick through in a bookshop first of course.

Anyway. Digression alert.

The first recipe I tried was Spiced Carrot and Chickpea Pitta Pockets. The full recipe is here on the Guardian site, along with some others from the book but it really is pretty simple. Soften some thinly sliced carrots in butter along with cumin seeds and smoked paprika, add chickpeas, garlic and lemon juice, and serve in a pitta. Job done - healthy (depending on the amount of butter, perhaps), tasty and meatless.

Of course I can't leave well enough alone. I know from experience that the smoked paprika I have is hot, despite not being labelled as such, so I used sweet paprika with a dash of smoked, and added some ground cumin for luck. Next time I would allow a bit more heat, then cook for longer and add a bit more liquid (maybe water and a blob of tomato puree, or low-salt stock), as I found it all still a bit al dente when it would have been fabulous if it had been softer - and our 8 month old daughter would have been able to eat it more easily too.

So far, HFW's book looks good, and it's as well the library reservation slip was very long as I've torn it into several temporary bookmarks. Sweet potato and peanut gratin (another one on the Guardian preview), carrot houmous, most of the soups (reimagined as stews), and most of the curries. There might be a few renewals before we get through all of them!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Jerk sweet potato & black bean curry

I am always on the lookout for easy, interesting, and preferably cheap meat-free meals. As well as making our budget go further, I think it's a good idea to eat less meat for environmental reasons too, but as much as anything I think it's good to mix things up and try a wide variety of foods.

This is (guess what) another BBC Good Food recipe. It caught my eye in the magazine as part of a "cook for a group of 10" article, but I usually halve it and make four decent portions. It sounded good to me as a combination of things we already eat often (sweet potato, pulses), things we're less familiar with (jerk seasoning, ready roasted peppers), all in an easy one-pot recipe. It's become a firm favourite!

  • 2 onions, 1 diced, 1 roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 50g ginger, roughly chopped
  • small bunch coriander, leaves and stalks separated
  • 3 tbsp jerk seasoning (I'd use less the first time you make it, until you find a balance between the brand of jerk you use and your own taste/tolerance - I found it pretty intense first time)
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes (I use a whole can, less some of the juice, even if halving the recipe)
  • 4 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp demerara sugar
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes, made up with 600ml water
  • 1kg sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 x 400g cans black beans, rinsed and drained (in some supermarkets these are in the "world foods" section (Jamaican), for some reason, rather than with the other canned pulses)
  • 450g jar roasted red peppers, cut into thick slices (these freeze well if halving the recipe. Of course, you can roast and skin your own if you have time!)
Whizz together the roughly chopped onion, the ginger, coriander stalks and jerk seasoning, and set aside. In a jug, combine the vinegar, sugar and stock.
Soften  the diced onion in oil, and when it starts to become translucent add the jerk mix. Fry "until fragrant", about 2-3 minutes, and then add the stock mix, tomatoes and thyme. Bring to a simmer and then leave bubbling for about 10 minutes to get the flavours well combined.

Drop in the sweet potato and simmer for 10 minutes or until the chunks are starting to become tender (might be longer - you don't want them crunchy!). Add the peppers and beans, and simmer for 5 minutes more. Chop the coriander and stir in just before serving, saving a few leaves for garnish.

We serve it with rice or tortilla wraps, or just a larger portion with no accompaniment, and plain yogurt on the side. I've slipped a few chopped green beans in when there have been some to use up, and they're a good addition. Butternut squash also works in place of sweet potato, but needs to be simmered for longer than 10 mins. Black beans work very well but you could probably substitute any pulses if you can't find them - I haven't tried others yet. This is one of those "even better the next day" recipes as the flavours really do their thing overnight in the fridge.