31 January 2012

What to do with some ageing bananas? Why, Banana Bread, of course!

I'll tell you what, I reckon that for every banana I've ever bought, there have been at least one or two that have lingered on in the fruit bowl, until being heaved into the bin.

This is because of several factors.

The first is that, although I like bananas, I also know that son & heir and hubby also enjoy bananas - so I don't eat them because I can eat other things like oranges (which they don't enjoy so much).

The second is that as soon as a banana shows the slightest blemish on its skin, son & heir won't touch it as he's convinced the blemish goes right through to the fruit.  I don't know how many times we've demonstrated that this is not the case, but he still won't touch a banana that has even tiny black spots.

Lastly, hubby reckons that I'm hosting a retirement home for aged and infirm bananas, in which they can moulder away in peace.

Now bananas have taken on a new importance in our house since hubby has been diagnosed with diabetes.  They are a good "emergency breakfast" for him, in circumstances where true breakfast might be a few hours away.  Being portable, they are perfect for grabbing on the run and eating when on the move.

This is why they are now appearing with more regularity in the Rest Home (a.k.a. the fruit bowl).

I hate to lose a good banana, although I can't eat them when they are very old and winey as they have a habit of repeating on me for the remainder of the day.  This has then, of necessity, meant that I have needed to investigate ways of making use of our elderly yellow friends.

I mentioned making Banana Bread to hubby some months ago, but the bananas then deteriorated so rapidly that they had to be virtually poured into the bin.  This time, when two vaguely mangy-looking fruit appeared to be languishing in the fruit bowl, he struck - and made Banana Bread.

The recipe is his very own, in that he did some research beforehand and the end recipe is an amalgamation of little bits of other recipes.  You could say that he's taken other recipe authors' advice, and come up with a recipe of his own.

Either way, I've got to say that this Banana Bread was extremely yummy!  Quite fine textured, it has a lovely strong banana flavour that leaves you in no doubt as to its main ingredient.  The end result is almost as soft as a sponge cake, but is definitely robust enough to sustain a little butter being spread across it, or accompanying some custard as a dessert.

He'll have to watch out, or I'll be hiding bananas away with the intent of not eating them before planting them in the fruit bowl - all ready for conversion to Banana Bread!

Oh, and because all his best recipes he claims to have been "made with love", his recipe is written so that you, too, can make your Banana Bread for your family "with love".  I take no responsibility for the terms in which it is couched.  *chuckle*


Ingredients :
3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
75g melted butter
200g granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
200g of plain flour.

For dusting :

1 tsp Cinnamon powder mixed into 4 tsp caster sugar.

Method :

1.  In a large bowl, mingle the melted butter and the mashed bananas.

2.  Amalgamate the mixture with sugar, egg, mixed spice and vanilla extract before wafting in the baking soda and the salt.

3.  Finally, with a smile on your face, a contented sigh and using a wooden spoon, massage the sieved flour into the gloop before dolloping into a well buttered but neat little 8 by 4 inch loaf tin.

4.  Thrust into an oven, pre-heated to 350f (175c), and bake for one hour.

5.  Poof the top with the cinnamon sugar and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Demonstrating a very well poofed top.  Oh yes.
(I particularly enjoyed the "poofing" of the cinnamon sugar - Jenny E.)


A new risotto through to meatballs and Yorkshire Pudding day - the meal plan

I have made a new resolution.

Yes, I know it's not the right day for new resolutions, but I figure it's better late than never.

My new resolution is to knuckle down to telling you all about what's on the menu plan for the coming week, on a Tuesday - the beginning of that week.  Now obviously, it's not going to happen that way every week, because my life just doesn't allow things to be that organised.  However, the intention is there - and it's a good place to start.

So, here's what's on the list :

Tues : Pizza (spot the cop-out!)
Weds : Bramley apple, black pudding & bacon risotto
Thurs : Turkey & chorizo meatballs with pesto spaghetti
Fri : Minced beef, mashed potato & vegetables
Sat : Spicy chicken wraps, mexican hash browns & coleslaw
Sun : Toad in the hole with vegetables
Mon : Chilli-con-healthy with soda bread rolls.

Yes, tonight's dinner of Pizza is a total cop-out - but sometimes you just want to have a break from all the preparation and the washing up.  As much as I enjoy creating dishes, cooking them and most importantly, eating them, sometimes you just have to have a day off.
We're back in harness again on Wednesday, or more to the point, hubby is back in harness.  He's cooking a new risotto, one which we dreamt up in honour of Bramley Apple Week.  We devised the ingredients and contemplated the cooking method and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, came up with this recipe for Bramley apple, black pudding & bacon risotto.  I think it sounds completely delicious, but you'll just have to wait for the blog post to find out whether it was or not!

Thursday is another of our dreamt up recipes, which evolved from wondering what to do with two chicken breasts - and wound up with turkey mince and two chorizo sausages that are lurking in the fridge.  The obvious answer was to make them into meatballs and serve them with pesto coated spaghetti.  Simple - except we've still got the two chicken breasts hiding out in the freezer.
Now I do try to schedule in at least a couple of meals that son & heir is guaranteed to like, per week.  Poor soul, as a bit of a picky teenager (one of the worst times for food likes & dislikes, I think), he is often faced with his worst nightmare where food is concerned but will generally give it a go.  This is why I try to schedule in a couple of his favourites.  This week, the first of these is good old minced beef, mashed potato and vegetables.  He would, of course, prefer to abandon the vegetables part of the meal altogether, but my insistence on his not being 99% carnivorous, 1% mashed potato-ist, ensures that at least a few veggies disappear down his gullet occasionally.

The next son & heir friendly meal is the Spicy Chicken Wraps.  These consist of shop-bought chicken in a spicy coating which is oven baked then sliced and put in a wrap along with some lettuce, salsa and sour cream.  Hubby has had an idea where the current favourite of hash browns are concerned and is intending on Mexican-ing them up with the addition of a sprinkling of chilli powder, cumin and salt.  I shall be abstaining from this delicacy and going for the coleslaw option.

Sunday, believe it or not, is Yorkshire Pudding Day.  Now I'm not guaranteeing that we stay with this plan, but currently we're intending on having a Toad in the Hole, which hubby has agreed to make as his Yorkshire is a whole lot more reliable than ever mine has been.  There is an outside possibility that we might flip this to one side in favour of a different incarnation of Yorkshire Pudding meal, but at the moment, the Toad is a goer.

Monday brings the re-submission of the Chilli con healthy from last week.  Because of a sudden yearning for a Doner Kebab, this got bumped from last week's menu list - but not before I'd bought all the ingredients for it.  I'm looking forward to it, as although it has an anxiety inducing name, the method is exactly how we'd produce a chilli - except the spicing is slightly different.  Should not only be interesting, but nice!
I've a number of extra cooking projects in mind, too.  Because of Bramley Apple Week, I'm intending on making an apple cake - maybe the Dorset Apple Slab, which I've been intending to make ever since we arrived in Dorset and found out about it!  I've also got a recipe for Maple Apple Muffins formulating in the back of my head.  We'll see whether it makes it to daylight or not!

National Dairy Week is supposed to kick off on the 3rd February (Friday).  Currently, I can't see that anyone (the Dairy Council, National Cheese Board - always makes me smile, that one) is doing very much in relation to that, but I've got ideas for a Greek Yoghurt and Passion Fruit dessert, plus some yummy Cheese Scones, at the very least!

Oh - and don't forget, Valentine's Day is trotting into view!  I've got some recipes up my sleeve with this in mind, but maybe it's too early to reveal, just yet.

I just have to share something, before I go, which is that Sainsbury's (following on from their featuring Rhubarb & Ginger on their Family Finance Blog) have invited me to be a member of the Sainsbury’s Finance Family Blogger Network!
The network is an informal network of family friendly bloggers that they think share Sainsbury’s values.  Apparently, this will mean I'll have an entry to their Best Family Blog Award and an opportunity to guest blog on their Finance blog, Money Matters.

I'm currently quite ridiculously excited by this - and am very much looking forward to finding out more!

30 January 2012

Sainsbury's "Money Matters" Blog likes Rhubarb & Ginger!

How exciting!

Rhubarb & Ginger has been selected as one of Sainsbury's "Money Matters" blog's twenty Fantastic Family Food Blogs.

I notice that we're in fine company there, too!

27 January 2012

Another quick Soda Bread post for Farmhouse Breakfast Week : with Mackerel & Horseradish

Now, I know I've already blogged about having Mackerel & Horseradish on toast for breakfast once.  However, this incarnation of same could definitely bear passing on as it was pretty darned good, plus the fact that it's still Farmhouse Breakfast Week - and it definitely qualifies.

I do agree, that having an oily fish like Mackerel for breakfast isn't everyone's idea of worth getting out of bed for.  For those of you who enjoy a good Kipper - or are buckling down to getting some more Omega 3 into your system - why not give it a go.

Mind you - it just occurs to me - that this could be used as a light lunch or a light supper!  Although I wouldn't be eating Mackerel just before bed, not if I was expecting company therein.  If you know what I mean.  ~taps side of nose, knowingly~  Say no more.

So, getting back to business (phnarrr! .. oh, stop it!), having made that lovely loaf of soda bread, needless to say, it was being used for every occasion that toast would have been.  Hence, when I was contemplating breakfast and pondered on the fact that I was a bit behind in my quota of Mackerel, the idea of putting some on gorgeous soda bread was too good an opportunity to miss.

So, here's what you do.  It's not difficult and anyone should be able to achieve the same results, given the same ingredients :

1.  Take a slice of soda bread.  Try not to slather it with butter and strawberry jam and then eat it.  If you've managed to avoid that pitfall (or if you're still hungry), place your slice in a toaster until toasted to how you like it, or toast it under the grill.

2.  Once toasted, butter lightly.  No, LIGHTLY, I said!  *sigh*

3.  Quickly grab a jar of Creamed Horseradish Sauce, and smooth on a layer.  How much you use, is up to how much you like the stuff.

4.  Next, take a tin of Mackerel fillets in tomato sauce (or plain ones, if you don't like the tomato sauce version).  Open it carefully - you don't want to lose a fingertip, not right at the moment.  Using a fork, break up the fillets gently whilst in the tin and fork out on top of the horseradish layer, until you've covered the slice evenly.

5.  If you've any tomato sauce left in the can, you can feed that to the dog.  They'll thank you for it.

6.  Take some freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle over.

7.  If you want to impress your friends, add a couple of Basil leaves.

8.  Sit somewhere comfy and eat.  It's yours. All yours.  Yum.


Stuffed Marrow - a blast from the past

Is it me, or do The Hairy Bikers appear to be all over the place at the moment?

Every time I turn the t.v. on, there seems to be a programme on one or the other channel that stars the hirsute lads, with their quirky humour and yummy recipes.  They're almost as omnipresent as Jamie Oliver used to be.

So, the other day, there I was doing a bit of channel-surfing when I spot the Bikers in the company of a marrow.  Being a bit partial to a chunk of marrow or two, I stopped and was treated to their rendition of a Stuffed Marrow.

Now I've looked extensively online for this recipe and I'm darned if I can find it.  For sure I can find various Hairy Bikers recipes for stuffed marrow, but not the one I saw them create.  If anyone knows where to find the recipe I'm after, let me know where and I'll link to it.  (Thanks to "Anonymous", who directed me here : http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/italian-style_stuffed_63676).

Anyway, all this got me to thinking about the stuffed marrows I used to make when we were living in Chatham and things were particularly hard.  You could always guarantee a good feed for very little cash, with one of those.

With the boys' recipe in mind, I decided to have a little go down memory lane and update my version.

Ooooh, hand me a knife and fork, quick!
I know that hubby likes to have a marrow with highly flavoured stuffing, so that gave me a guideline upon which to work.  I also remembered various problems with getting the marrow itself to cook, so made sure there was plenty of room in the roasting pan and that I had plenty of time in which to cook it.

I wanted to use mushrooms in the stuffing, but am aware of son & heir's likes and dislikes - which very definitely include the texture of mushroom.  Now, because I'd be using minced beef, I figured that if I chopped the mushroom finely enough (very much how you would for a mushroom duxelle), then the chances were that he wouldn't detect it.  Which he didn't.

I was impressed by the Hairy Bikers' idea of making the cheese coating in the form of a thick cheese sauce, rather than just grated cheese sprinkled over which then bakes to an impermeable crust.  Making the roux-based sauce is simplicity itself and son & heir was very happy to do his part in the washing up of the cheese sauce saucepan, although that didn't go as far as involving washing up liquid, rather more of some serious work with a finger and his tongue.  Ah well.  If he hadn't have, I would have.

Garlic mushroom couscous - a very acceptable accompaniment
I served the marrow with mashed potato for son & heir and a garlic mushroom couscous for hubby and I.  In fact, hubby had a bit of both!

We each wound up with two-thirds of each half of marrow on our plate, which was a gargantuan portion and I was glad I hadn't made more vegetables to go with it.  I figured that what with the carrot and celery in the stuffing mix, plus the marrow itself, we'd probably got sufficient vegetable matter to satisfy the veggie police, should they have decided to show.

All three of us left a small amount of marrow, as there's only so much marrow one can send stomach-wards at one time.  The cheese sauce worked beautifully and I felt that the stuffing followed along particularly British lines in its flavours.  Hubby could have done with it being a little more highly flavoured and less "juicy".  However, I do feel that the "juiciness" originated from the marrow itself, rather than the stuffing - which was virtually dry by the time it went into the marrow.

We were each happy with the meal in varying degrees.  Son & heir would have liked less marrow, hubby would have liked more flavour, I would have liked more of the "overflow" (the bits that landed up on the roasting tin).  As an occasional dish - i.e. I wouldn't want to make it regularly - it was a lovely blast from the past.

STUFFED MARROW  (feeds 3-4)

Ingredients :

A marrow
1 tbsp olive or sunflower oil
500g beef mince
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 celery stick, de-strung and diced finely
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced finely
3 chestnut mushrooms, chopped finely
1 beef oxo cube, made up with 200ml hot water
1 tsp bovril
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp horseradish sauce
half a tsp of dried sage
1 tsp English mustard powder (or half a tsp ready-made mustard)
a good shake or two of Worcestershire sauce.

For the cheese sauce :

25g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
1 pint milk
strong cheddar, grated, to taste
half a tsp English mustard powder.

Method :

Pre-heat your oven to 180deg F/350deg C/Gas 4.  Be aware of how long your oven takes to heat up and don't turn it on before you need to - saves energy!

Take the marrow and cut it equally down its long length into two halves.  Shave off a slice from the underside, so that the marrow will sit without rocking and remove the pips by scraping them out with a spoon, and discard.

Heat a frying pan and dry-fry the mince until brown, just beginning to caramelise, and the fat has rendered out.  Remove the mince with a slotted spoon to a bowl and reserve to keep warm.  Discard the remaining fat in the pan.

Add the oil and the onion.  Cook on a medium heat for around 5-10 minutes or until soft and golden.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then the celery and carrot and cook until heated through, then add the mushroom and stir through.

Replace the mince back into the pan and stir through.

Add all the remaining ingredients then stir through and leave to cook for some 10 minutes or so, or until the "gravy" has reduced down to almost nothing.  Taste to check the seasoning and correct if necessary with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.   Place to one side, whilst you make the cheese sauce.

In a small pan, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir through.  Cook over a gentle heat for a minute or two.  Add a small amount of the milk and stir furiously, repeating as necessary until you have as thick a sauce as you can bear.  Remember, it's going to have to sit on top of the stuffed marrow and not run everywhere!  Add the cheese and stir gently until it has melted.

Next, assemble the dish.

Place the marrow pieces into a large roasting dish that will allow plenty of room around them - and leave a gap in between the two halves.

Fill the marrow pieces with the mince mixture - if your diners aren't too keen on marrow, you can always scrape a little bit more away, thus leaving more room for the mince mixture.

Spoon the cheese sauce over the top of each marrow half and place into the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and bubbling.  Check the marrow is cooked by inserting a vegetable knife into the thickest part.  If it needs a bit longer in the oven, you can always form a "hat" out of silver foil to go over the top and stop the cheese sauce from burning.  Don't be tempted to serve until the marrow is completely cooked, as uncooked marrow is yuk!

Serve with mashed potato or your favourite couscous dish.

Printable version

26 January 2012

From Chinese New Year to Chilli - we travel the globe in this week's menu plan!

I certainly didn't put it together with that in mind, but as it turns out, we are very definitely doing some nation-hopping in this week's menu plan.

Hubby is very nearly recovered from his tummy malaise, so the field has opened up again on types of recipe to choose from.  Two meals were already fairly mapped out by the calendar - Chinese New Year and Burns Night.  The rest?  Well, just call us culinary globe trotters.

Apart from Friday's trip to the Golden Arches, every dish has been planned with a very definite eye towards it being low fat.  I think I'm going to have to get better at planning in some low sugar/low GI meals, though.  To be honest, in between my low fat & carbohydrate/anti-inflammatory requirements, hubby's low sugar/low GI and son & heir's high vitamins & minerals/low fat requirements, it's a wonder I can ever think of anything to eat in the first place!  Mind you, chilli-con-water, or coq au H2O, or Ice Pie don't really sound terribly appetising (although the Ice Pie has potential!).

So what did I come up with for this week, then?  Here's how it's looking :

Tues : Broccoli Chicken with rice
Weds : Haggis, clapshot, carrots & green beans
Thurs : Pasta Amatriciana
Fri : Macdonalds
Sat : Chicken in Almond Sauce, rice and green salad
Sun : Slow cooker beef stew
Mon : Chilli con carne with rice.

Yes, I do know that Chinese New Year was on the Monday, not the Tuesday, but our financial situation, shopping days and the menu plan meant that we just had to celebrate it a day late.  Better late than never, that's what I say!

I made Ken Hom's Broccoli Chicken and unfortunately it was more than a little disappointing, which was odd when you consider that we liked it so much the first time.  I have to admit that I stayed fairly close to the original recipe this time, only deviating from it to add some bean sprouts and water chestnuts.

I do think, however, that the biggest problem with it was the Oyster Sauce that I used.  In the past, I'd had a lovely big bottle of some Chinese make of Oyster Sauce, but that had run out so I got the only one available to me when I did the online ordering, which was an own-brand.  Well, I won't be doing that again as it was a pale travesty of the original.

Quite apart from remembering how the dish tasted when I made it the first time, I could tell that this version had got potential - it was just watery-tasting and insubstantial.  Ah well, I'll make sure to get another bottle of the Chinese version of Oyster Sauce when next I'm in that shop!

Burns Night struck last night - and very happy I was about it, too.

A couple of days beforehand, we'd been out and held a great Haggis hunt which had netted us a dinky little Lancashire Haggis, made by Brown Bros Butchers.  Now I recall last year's Haggis - which I liked, but it did have a very strong flavour of clove, which I hate.  It is testament to the flavour of the remainder of the ingredients that I managed to like the Haggis overall.  This Lancashire Haggis, however, was streets apart from that.   With no particularly dominant flavour - other than "Haggis" - it was able to take on that highly seasoned, intensely savoury characteristic that says "Haggis" as soon as you catch a whiff of it.  In texture, the oatmeal component was really quite obvious but I liked that as it gave you something to bite upon.  The most pleasantly surprising part about the Haggis was its creaminess.  Now don't ask me how the Butchers managed to get that creamy flavour in there, but it was completely delicious and I defy anyone (who isn't a teenager, anyway) to dislike it.  Son and heir did eat part of his portion of Haggis, but was far keener on the backup sausages that I'd also prepared.  Hubby agreed with me that the Haggis was very good - the best he'd tried in years - but did say that it "needed whisky".  Ah well, I've got until next year to invest in some.
The Clapshot (mashed potato with swede, chives & butter) was spoiled rather by the swede's resistance to being cooked.  I had put the potatoes and swede together in the same pan and the potatoes were tender long before the swede - which resulted in the potatoes being rather overcooked.  I often find with swede that it either cooks in a trice, or takes for EVER to cook.  I suspect it has something to do with how old the swede is in the first place.  Ours had been hanging around since last week's shopping delivery when Asda left me twice the amount I asked for, so it had had a chance to dry out a little.  I was beginning to consider its use as bulletproofing for official cars, when it finally decided to cook - but not before I'd reduced the size of the pieces considerably.

With lashings of lovely gravy, I thoroughly enjoyed our Burns Night dinner.
Tonight, we're off to Italy for some Pasta Alla Amatriciana.  I was looking for something that didn't involve a side dish of vegetables or the use of rice, when I remembered this one.  Fingers crossed it won't go the same way as the Broccoli Chicken, in that the first go at it was considerably better than the second!

On Friday, son & heir's school has decided to take his year to the Science Museum in London for the day.  Talk about lucky!  Wish I was going!  It's been decades since I went and I can still remember how great it was - so hopefully he'll have a brilliant time.  He loves anything to do with Science or Physics, so I'm sure it'll be right up his street.

Because we are never sure what time the coaches will be getting back from trips like these, we've decided to round of his day with a trip to Macdonalds.  Well, it's on our way home, he'll enjoy it and it saves me cooking.  Can't argue with that.

Hotel Los Berchules - doesn't it look glorious, there?
I'll be able to use Friday as time in which to gird my loins before making Pollo en Salsa de Alemendras - or Chicken in Almond Sauce, to you.  This is a recipe that was recommended to me by the lovely person behind the Twitter name @LosBerchules - which is a Hotel in Spain.

They recommended it following my posting about the Coq au vin and, having had a look at the recipe, it looks just exactly the kind of interesting recipe that always has me curious.

I love almonds and have always got some in the house for healthy snacking purposes, not to mention for baking use.  In this recipe, you fry the almonds with a little bread and then blitz them along with garlic and white wine to form the sauce.  That appeals to me, even though I can't quite envisage how it's going to turn out.

But then, that's part of the magic of cooking - finding out how these flavours can go together and how well they do it!

Not sure about the dumplings, this time.
I've put the Slow Cooker Beef Stew back on the menu for Sunday, so we're back to England where that one's concerned.  I really love a gorgeous, glossy, shin of beef stew with loads of veggies and a gloriously deep flavoured gravy.  It's the ultimate in comfort food and I can think of little nicer than a big bowl of stew, a spoon, a comfy chair and a warm radiator (if not a crackling fire) on a cold night.  It'll also be lovely to not have to be so taken up with that night's dinner all day, as often happens on a Sunday.

We're off to Mexico on Monday, for Chilli con carne - or "Chilli con healthy", as the recipe is billed.
Having read the recipe, it doesn't differ very much at all from our usual chilli recipe's method, it just contains a slightly different spicing than our normal.  So it will be interesting to have a chilli that is flavoured a little differently.

So there we are.

I dare say a few extra bits of cooking will appear throughout the week.  Hubby is still yearning to create a Sourdough starter, although "The Fabulous Baker Boys" on t.v. last night has slightly put him off, as we can't think where the heck we could put the eventual dough to rise for 8-12 hours, that'd be warm all that time!  Unfortunately, we don't have anything useful like an airing cupboard, which would be perfect.

Oh, and a quick word for all of us here in the U.K. - it's the "Big Garden Birdwatch" this weekend, so if you have bird feeders in your garden or just enjoy watching the birds, why not go and download the bird identification checksheet and set aside an hour in which to join in.  I'm crossing my fingers that my little flock of 11 goldfinches turn up on the day!


25 January 2012

Cooking eggs the Heston way - eventually!

Fair makes my mouth water ..
Because it's currently Farmhouse Breakfast Week, here's another treatise on the subject of breakfast.

Those of us who are based in the U.K. will know the t.v. programme to which the title of this blog post refers.  However, for those who aren't as familiar with our t.v. scheduling, it refers to Heston Blumenthal's latest t.v. series "How to cook like Heston" in which he shares some of his techniques.

The first programme was about eggs, the second was beef, then chocolate and this week's is all about chicken.

Now I have a long-standing passion for the humble egg.  Quite apart from the belief that you'll never go hungry all the time you've an egg in the house, I have to admit that it's tricky to keep an egg in this house because no sooner have they arrived than they are eaten - in one form or another.

We were watching Masterchef on t.v. last night and one of the contestants moved a tray of eggs from point A to point B - and I thought "phwooaaar!", much in the same way as you would if you'd spotted a juicy steak, or a delicious oozy pudding.  So, you can see, an appreciation of the many forms of egg is fairly fundamental to my being.

I was recently lucky enough to receive a copy of Michel Roux's cook book, "Eggs", as one of the runners up in a competition held by the lovely Clarence Court eggs.  In this book, he details just about every method of cooking eggs known to man - including the good old boiled egg.  His method was well known and is how, ordinarily, I would cook a boiled egg.

In cold water, ready to go!
Heston's method, however, is somewhat different.  He recommends that you place the eggs in the smallest pan available and only add enough cold water to cover them.

Boiling!  Quick .....

Then put the lid on the pan and place over the highest heat possible.  When the water comes to the boil, remove the pan from the heat and wait for 6 minutes.

..... remove it from the heat and now, wait.
After the time has elapsed, remove the lid and carefully remove each egg.

By all accounts, this method of cooking an egg will result in a less rubbery, more tender egg white - and a beautifully soft yolk - owing to the gentleness with which it has been cooked.

Ever the optimist and ever keen to improve my own techniques, this just had to be tested.

~cries~  No soft anything, here!

All I can say, is that Heston's cooker must be a darned sight better at getting the water to boil than ever mine is, because my first attempt was solidly hard boiled.  Nonetheless it was edible, however I couldn't detect any difference in the egg white.

Forlornly waiting for the perfect egg ...
Never one to give up after a first attempt, my second egg I left for just 5 minutes, instead of the recommended 6.

Aha!  This produced a fairly soft yolk - one which wouldn't have been out of place inside a Scotch Egg, but not really dipping material.  The jury is out as regards the texture of the egg white, as we couldn't really tell any difference.

The third and final attempt was left for 4½ minutes, which produced the perfect dippable yolk inside soft egg white.  I have got to admit, however, that I am still not seeing the promised difference in texture where the white is concerned.  If there is one, it has to be so minimal that as an egg lover - and as such, I really don't mind how my eggs arrive - it is "beyond my ken", as they say in Scotland.

That's the one!  Perfect!

Having conquered the Heston boiled egg, I then turned my attention to the interesting method he employed for cooking scrambled eggs.

Before I get into that, however, I must tell you about the yawning chasm of divide between scrambled egg methods that occurs in our house.  Hubby is wedded to the Escoffier method - that of lots of butter, in a pan, low heat, lots of stirring.  I, however, have evolved into scrambling my eggs in the microwave.  ~cue mass sharp intake of breath~  I know, I know, it's not the best way of doing it - but I have a well developed method that I have passed on to son & heir that is not only fairly safe (no hot cooker tops on which to burn himself or set fire to the daily newspaper) but can (I admit, the results are slightly random) result in lovely creamy eggs.  Or what I used to THINK were lovely creamy eggs - right up until I sampled scrambled eggs the Heston way.

Now I can't imagine cooking my scrambled eggs this way every day - because it takes patience and patience is at a bit of a premium, most mornings (hence the microwave method!).  However, on a morning when I'm craving a bit of indulgence, or have someone who needs a little "pampering on toast" for breakfast - this is definitely going to be right up there.

Heston (as one would expect) totally pushes the boat out on the indulgence side of things, using butter, whole milk and double cream - then finishing off with brown butter and sherry vinegar.

I however, whilst erring on the side of weight-gain caution, just went for the butter.

Nearly! Nearly there!
Heston's method involves placing a bowl above a saucepan of simmering water, then melting the butter and adding the lightly beaten eggs.

As with the boiled egg method, this method is all about being gentle and not scaring the egg into tightening up and becoming tough, but warming it through gently and cajoling it into forming a scramble.  So don't - for a second - think this is going to be done swiftly.  I would recommend you grab a chair.

Make sure you have your toast ready for the moment when the egg finally submits to the heat and, with an almost audible sigh, scrambles.  You don't want to have to leave it congealing in its bowl, while you rush around toasting bread.

Happy sigh - now THAT's what I'm talking about!

The end result - placed on top of some delicious home-made, toasted soda bread - is so deliciously creamy that it truly is the definition of Greg Wallace's favourite word, "unctuous".  Far better than the dictionary definition, that of "having an oily or soapy feel".  To my mind, the milk and cream just aren't necessary as the egg itself forms so beautifully smoothly that the creaminess is all there.  Mind you, as I say, I didn't try the eggs with the cream - maybe it'd pass from sublime to "totally off the scale".  Hmmmn, maybe I'll give it a go, the next time I've some cream sitting looking for a home to go to!


24 January 2012

Soda bread with tomato, bacon, black pudding & an egg - breakfast of champions!

Well, if it isn't the breakfast of champions, then it jolly well ought to be!

I was invited to participate in the Breakfasts of the World Challenge from VeryGoodRecipes.com - you can see what it's all about on the challenge page there.

Naturally, my thoughts about making soda bread got roped in at the same time, along with the fact that it is, after all, Farmhouse Breakfast Week.  You can also find the original recipe for the soda bread on BakingMad.com

I was pondering on what would comprise a great Farmhouse Breakfast in England - and immediately the ubiquitous Full English Breakfast came to mind.  It would have been too easy to have gone down that route though, so I contemplated how I could use those ingredients to create a breakfast that both represented the current trends in both presentation and creation, whilst still channelling Ma Larkin from the t.v. programme "The Darling Buds of May" (who is quintessentially "farmhouse kitchen", to me).

I pondered on omelettes, and wraps, and maybe even pancakes - but nothing really spoke to me until I considered the Italian Bruschetta.


So here, for your undoubted delight, is an English breakfast on Irish bread, after the style of the Italian.

Hmmmn .. ~scratches head~ .. well, it tastes pretty darned good, so who cares where it came from - it's my contribution to the Breakfasts of the World!

The soda bread is toasted, which helps to bring out the nutty butteriness of it and makes it rather more robustly able to support its toppings.

The cherry tomatoes are sliced twice and then fried in olive oil (with ever an eye to health).  Make sure to leave them alone - don't keep poking them and moving them about, or they won't take on the lovely caramelisation that you're looking for, to maximise the flavour.

The bacon is grilled (again, with an eye to health and to maximise the crispiness of the fat) and cut into small strips.

The black pudding, as you can see, is cut into small squares which take just seconds in the frying pan, to crisp up and become deliciously savoury and flavoursome.

Fry the egg gently in extra virgin olive oil, which adds that touch of luxury and singular flavour that the olive oil brings.

With a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, another of sea salt and a sprinkling of chopped parsley for colour, you'll be wanting to take a photograph of it just so that you can eat it again with your eyes.

I resolved, approximately two forkfuls into this masterpiece, that if ever I achieved a restaurant or cafe of my own, this would be on the menu.  Ooooh yes.

Edited to say : this recipe achieved third place in the Breakfasts of the World Challenge!  Yay!  ~does happy dance~


Ingredients :

2 rashers of smoked back bacon

1 tbsp olive oil
5 cherry tomatoes, each sliced twice
1 slice of soda bread
a 1-2" piece of black pudding, diced small
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
an egg
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of chopped parsley.

Method :

1.  Place a suitably sized plate to warm up under the grill, or in an oven.

2.  Grill the bacon rashers until the fat has rendered and is golden and crispy.  Using a sharp knife or some scissors, cut into small strips, then reserve and keep warm.

3.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on a medium heat and add the tomatoes.  Do not move them until they have taken on a good colour underneath, whereupon you should flip them over and cook the other side in the same way.  When they're all done, carefully reserve onto a warmed plate, to keep warm.

4.  In the meantime, once the bacon is done, grill the soda bread until toasted on both sides and reserve to keep warm.

5.  Using the pan the tomatoes have come out of, cook the black pudding - just seconds - until it has darkened and become crispy on the outside.

6.  Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a small frying pan and add the egg.  Cook on a low to medium heat until the white is solidified yet the yolk is still runny.

7.  It is now time to assemble the dish.  Take the warmed plate and place the soda bread onto it.

8.  Lay on the tomato slices until the bread is completely covered, then sprinkle on the slices of bacon.  Next, place the black pudding cubes across the surface of the bacon and carefully lay the egg over the top.

9.  All that's left is to add a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of sea salt (not too much - don't forget the bacon might be salty) and a light sprinkle of parsley.

10.  Stand back and admire, whilst your hand blindly reaches for the nearest knife and fork.


It's Farmhouse Breakfast Week, so let's make Soda Bread!

Isn't that what everyone is thinking?

Well, it's what sprang to my mind - but then, I've been wanting to make some soda bread for quite a long time now.  

This week is Farmhouse Breakfast Week, which is being promoted by the Home Grown Cereals Association.  You can find out all about it on their website and Facebook page, if you're as much of a fan of breakfast as I am!

Breakfast is one of my favourite meals of the day.  I've been known to have some (supposedly) odd things for breakfast - but then I can't see that they're any odder than cold pizza, or last night's kebab, or leftover Chinese takeaway, which seems to be the breakfast choice of many.  For sure, I had a phase of having things like a Mars Bar and a can of coke for breakfast - but then that's not recommended and I was just 18 at the time.  For years, my breakfast of choice was a couple of pieces of buttered toast, eaten as I drove to the stables.  I can also remember going through a number of years when breakfast became later and I would have a coffee and a "Paddington Sandwich" (orange marmalade) once I'd reached work, having walked the dogs and done the horses.

However, more recently, breakfast has become rather more formulaic, as in tea, toast, porridge or cereal, swallowed in a hurry in between tending to one or other of son & heir's wants.

As son & heir has grown up and I have become aware of the anti-inflammatory diet, breakfast has changed.  Nowadays, during the week I have my breakfast once I've taken son & heir to school and we've walked the dogs.  Because of the new information regarding protein keeping you fuller for longer, along with the positive news of the egg -v- cholesterol situation, I've found that eggs - and now oily fish - have taken up star billing.

Getting back to the soda bread, the problem with it you see, is that being on the Anti-inflammatory diet, most carbohydrates are off the menu - and that includes soda bread.  Looking on the Nutrition Facts analysis for it however, it appears that 100g represents a negative score of -235 (moderately inflammatory).  This isn't terrible, but it's not good.  However, if you're choosy about what you're putting onto the bread - and perhaps what you eat for the remaining two meals of the day, then you can cut down the inflammatory effect.

Strawberry jam won't help make it anti-inflammatory - but it's jolly nice!
For instance, if I was to take a slice - approx 20g - and put some mackerel on board, then the total score becomes in the positive, such is the effect of the mackerel!

The next job, having decided that I'd throw caution to the winds and make some, was to find a recipe.  My usual resource was particularly unhelpful in this instance so I went further afield and discovered www.BakingMad.com.  They have one or two recipes for soda bread (and some wicked cupcake making ideas, plus a great section on baking tips so I'll be back there for more), some with flavourings, some without - and one recipe which seemed particularly user-friendly in that it combined white flour with wholemeal, which suited me just fine.  I was a little concerned that 100% wholemeal might wind up like a brick, as opposed to a loaf, you see.

An exciting aside, is that the making of this loaf of soda bread enabled me to - ceremonially, you understand - use my new Mason Cash mixing bowl that I'd received as a gift at Christmas.  My Mum always (or it felt like always) had a Mason Cash mixing bowl and you'll have seen them gracing the worktops during programmes like The Great British Bake Off.  For as long as I could remember, I've wanted a genuine Mason Cash mixing bowl.  Mine is now one of my kitchen children, such is its status in my eyes.

You can only imagine the frisson of excitement in my heart as I sifted in that first instalment of flour.  A Mason Cash bowl - and I'm using it to make bread.  My cup runneth over.

The recipe itself is really ludicrously easy.  Of course, it's not essential to have a Mason Cash bowl for the production of soda bread - any old bowl that'll handle the quantity of its contents will do.

The bonus as regards soda bread in comparison with any other kind of bread, is that without the use of yeast - it uses bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar to rise - there is no need to go through the laborious and labour intensive kneading/proving routine.  My loaf was put together in around 20 minutes and was on the cooling rack following 35 minutes in the oven!

As such, I can see that whenever - in future - we'll be requiring "crusty bread" to accompany a main course soup dish, it'll be a fairly easy matter to quickly knock up some soda bread rolls.  How lovely!

I had no problem sourcing buttermilk for the recipe either.  Our local Asda very obligingly had plenty in stock - although it is possible to use plain yoghurt and a dash of lemon juice which apparently will do the trick perfectly, if all else fails.

The loaf came out of the oven looking like the archetypal "Rustic Loaf".  We managed to keep our paws off of it for as long as it took for it to cool - although I will admit that it was still a little warm when we cut that first slice and reached for the butter.  The flavour is surprising, when you consider that there is no yeast there to help the flavour along.  You could taste the nuttiness of the wholemeal flour but the bread has a flavour all its own.  I can see that this loaf stands every chance of becoming a favourite.

SODA BREAD  (makes 1 loaf)  Recipe taken from www.BakingMad.com

Ingredients :

250g wholemeal plain flour
250g plain white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1½ tsp cream of tartar
25g butter
335ml buttermilk
60ml warm water.

Method :

1.  Preheat your oven to 200deg C/fan 180deg C/400deg F/Gas 6.

2.  Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt into a large bowl.  You will probably find that the bran is left behind in the sieve, so just make sure there are no large lumps of flour hiding under it and tip it into the bowl.

3.  Lightly rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

4.  Stir in the buttermilk and sufficient water to bring everything together into a non sticky dough.

5.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly, then shape into a 20cm round and place on a baking sheet.

6.  Using a sharp, floured knife, cut a large X into the top of the dough.

7.  Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes or until risen and golden brown.

8.  Cool on a wire rack.

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