31 May 2012

Giving oxtail a go!

I can remember, way back into my childhood, that my Mum had a go with some oxtailI can't remember exactly what she did with it, but I am pretty sure she made a stew of some kind.  What I do know is that when it came to serving time, she was cursing having to pick the meat from the bones and swore never to touch oxtail ever again.

I also remember, quite clearly, that we all enjoyed the stew (or whatever it was) and would have eaten it again.

So it was with these mixed memories, that I decided to tackle oxtail.

You'll have to forgive me if I'm a bit naieve, but I was under the impression that oxtail was "one of the cheaper cuts of beef" that was affordable.  Now I do understand that beef isn't cheap - but I kind of expected a cow's tail to be on the cheap side of affordable.  Not £5.95 for a kilo - and a kilo of what amounts to probably 600g of bone.  We didn't even get an entire tail for our kilogram of pieces - and a considerable part of that kilogram was from the sharp end of the tail, as opposed to the meaty end!

Is it any wonder that I keep being led to the conclusion that, as a consumer, we're busily being fleeced by butchers and supermarkets alike?  Would it have killed them to have made sure that kilogram of oxtail came from the meaty end of the tail?

(There is a small voice in my head which is currently saying "I can't believe I'm talking about a cow's tail").

So, anyway, back to the cooking process.

We were having the Braised Oxtail for our Sunday dinner and, as such, hubby was in charge.  However, he finds the trimming up of meat to be a bit of a trial - and oxtail is a bit of a leery thing to have to trim.  Well, it is so obviously what it is - a cow's tail.  I, on the other hand, quite enjoy trimming up meat - so I set to with my lovely sharp knives and realised quite early on that there wasn't a great deal of meat on these pieces.  I crossed my fingers and didn't say anything - I was hoping that it might turn out to be more, when it came to taking it off of the bone.

We were using the slow cooker to do the majority of the cooking, which it did very well.

When it came to removing the meat from the bones, it was a relatively easy task as the slow cooker had worked it's magic and the meat was butter soft and tender.  We were intending on putting the meat back with the gravy, so speed wasn't so much of an issue as I can remember it being for my Mum, when she was cursing the fiddly business at dishing up time.

However, what we were left with for our £5.95, was a tea plate full of small pieces of meat, some with a jellified structure still attached (although I did my best to remove as much of that as I could) and some lovely gravy.  So this was supposed to be an economical cut?  I SO don't think so!  Especially when you consider that the same butcher was selling Silverside for £5.95 a kilogram!  Comparing what you get at the end of the cooking process highlights just how rubbish the oxtail was, value-wise.

We considered quickly grilling up a few sausages to go with the oxtail, but considered that £6 was probably quite enough to have spent on the meat for a single Sunday dinner with no hope of leftovers.

Hubby did a cracking job with the assembly of the dinner, cooking the veggies and beating the gravy into submission.  In fact, I'd say that the gravy was by far the best part of the whole oxtail experience.  I kept the leftovers of gravy and had it the following day for lunch over some fried rice.

I can tell you one thing though - we won't be buying oxtail ever again.  Not unless it goes down in price considerably - and I can't see that happening any time soon.  Especially not when you can buy 1kg of Silverside for the same amount and get two dinners out of it!

However, I have given the recipe we followed below, as if you're considering tackling oxtail and have a slow cooker, it is one of the better and more economical ways of cooking it.  Lord knows, you'll need it to be economical!

BRAISED OXTAIL  (feeds 2 although we did stretch it to 3)

Ingredients :

1 medium onion, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1kg oxtail joints, trimmed of fat
2-3 large carrots, sliced
1 bouquet garni
250ml beef stock (from a cube is fine)
25g plain flour
1 tsp redcurrant jelly
1 small glass red wine.

Method :

1.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion until light golden brown, then transfer to the slow cooker and turn it on to low.

2.  Add the oxtail to the frying pan and cook until lightly browned.  Drain on kitchen paper then add to the slow cooker.  You may need to do this in batches.

3.  Add the carrots, bouquet garni and stock to the slow cooker and turn up to High.  Cook for 6 hours.

4.  An hour before the end of cooking, mix the flour with a little water then stir into the gravy along with the redcurrant jelly and the glass of wine.

5.  Once the hour is up, serve with potatoes and vegetables.

Printable version.


30 May 2012

Russell Hobbs money off voucher offer

Are you in need of a new kettle or toaster?  Well, now's your chance.

In honour of the Queen's Jubilee, Russell Hobbs are offering a special 30% off voucher deal on their Heritage range (Kettle, 2 Slice Toaster and 4 Slice Toaster).  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Heritage range comes in red, white (cream) or blue!

As an example, if you were to choose their Heritage kettle, at £49.99, you'd qualify for around £15 off! 

The voucher details are as follows :

Voucher code is JUBILEE30

Terms and Conditions: 

> Voucher code ends 06/06/12
> Only one code per product
> On selected range while stocks last
> Enter the code at the checkout to receive the discount.


Smoked Haddock Fishcakes (by Captain Pointybeard)

For the duration of this recipe, I'd like you to think of hubby not as "hubby", but rather as "Captain Pointybeard", for such was the moniker he assumed throughout the production of these very tasty fishcakes.

However, before I start to talk about these fishcakes, I have to set the fishcake scene for you all.

You see, fishcakes have ever been a source of discontent between Captain Pointybeard and I.  The Captain has a well known dislike - nay, quite probably closer to a hatred - of all thinks involving potato (well, unless it's a chip, or a crisp) and that, of course, includes fishcakes.

I, dear reader, am the complete opposite.  I love potatoes.  In fact, the dear Captain thinks that I must have Irish in my bloodline somewhere, such is my liking for the no-legged-spawn-of-satan, as he refers to the humble spud.  As a consequence, the more potato a fishcake contains, the happier I am.

Formed up and ready for an eggy bath
Now, in the past and during a period when we were down on our luck and particularly skint, I would make fishcakes involving mashed potato (as you do) and a tin of tuna.  If we were lucky, I might include some spring onion.  If not, it would be dried parsley.  However, in those days I was pathologically frightened of frying - which is a bit of a problem when you're making fishcakes.  Except, I discovered a recipe for "healthy fishcakes" which were oven baked.

Well they were certainly healthy for hubby - sorry, Captain Pointybeard - because having sampled a forkful of his, he would bail out and claim a marmite sandwich later.  However, this wasn't really the point, as I was supposed to be feeding the family, as opposed to feeding just son & heir and myself.  (Although, thinking on, the same thing does happen with dreadful regularity these days too - except not necessarily involving potato!).

All coated and ready for the frying pan
Son & heir (who was about 4 or 5 years old then) and myself thought they were lush.  Yes, I'm afraid son & heir has followed in his mother's footsteps (for once) and is a complete mashed potato hound - even going to the point of eating cold mashed potato sandwiches for lunch.  What?  They're nice - honest!

Let's cut back to now and you'll find that Captain Pointybeard's fishcakes are serious fishcakes.  None of this "mash some spuds, mix in the fish & bits, play pat-a-cake, bung 'em in the oven" for him.  Oooh no.

You see, apparently - and I have this on good authority (I believe my informer had a pointy beard) - at the very minimum, a fishcake is not a fishcake if it hasn't been pannéd and fried, in the style of a fish & chip shop fishcake.

Chuckling in the pan
Not only that, but a fishcake truly is not a fishcake, unless it contains a lot - and I mean A LOT - of discernible fish in the mix.  None of this "so mashed up you can't see it" fish that you get in the fish & chip shop fishcakes - nope, you have to be able to pick the pieces of fish from the potato, in order for it to register on the Captain Pointybeard Fishcake Scale.

So you'll understand why he's the one making them, and not me.

In truth, I think he did admirably well.  Especially considering that he'd never pannéd (also known as "dipped in egg and breadcrumbs") a thing in his life.  The time he spent over reducing half a french bread stick to dust in the food processor was worth every minute - and the frying was spot on.  Personally, I wasn't sure about the lemon zest with smoked fish and if you feel the way I do feel free to leave that out - but the flavour of the fish was all there and the potato had very much taken a part in the chorus as opposed to centre stage.

Aye, aye, Cap'n!
As for the quantity -v- the size of the fishcakes, it was perfect.  We each had two good sized fishcakes with one left over which took care of lunch the next day.  Captain Pointybeard served them with a few oven chips and some salad, which made for an extremely acceptable dinner.

So, that's bread, cakes, alcoholic cocktails, risotto, roast dinners and fishcakes he's got on his list.  It's reminiscent of when my brother was going for his various Scout badges - I wonder what will be next?


Ingredients :

200g smoked haddock (in fact, any fish of your choice would be fine)
200g unsmoked haddock

1 tsp olive oil
400g floury mashing potatoes such as Maris Piper
200g lightly toasted breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
50g finely chopped parsley
zest of half a lemon
a pinch of cayenne pepper
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
sunflower oil, for frying.

Method :

1.  Line a shallow baking tray with foil and then place the fish fillets on it.  Rub the fish with a little olive oil and then place under a hot grill for five minutes or until just cooked.  Remove any skin and bones from the fish before placing in a bowl and covering with clingfilm.  Set the fish aside to cool.

2.  Meanwhile, peel and roughly dice the potatoes and then cook in salted boiling water until a knife passes through them easily.  Drain the potatoes and then return to the still warm pan.  Leave to dry a little before mashing with a little sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.  Place the mashed potato in a covered bowl and leave to cool.

3.  Once the potato has cooled to room temperature, combine it with the lemon zest, parsley and cayenne pepper in a large bowl.  Check the seasoning (but be careful with salt, as it is worth remembering that the fish will be quite salty), lightly fork the fish through the mix and put the whole lot in the fridge to chill for at least one hour.

4.  Now for the fun part.  Place the beaten egg into a shallow bowl and the breadcrumbs onto a shallow baking tray.  Place a sheet of greaseproof paper onto your work surface and dust well with plain flour.

5.  Take the fishcake mixture from the fridge and form into one mass - flouring your hands beforehand helps keep things clean.  Place the mixture onto the floured paper and roll to 1.5cm thick with a floured rolling pin.  Cut out rounds from the mixture using a large scone or cookie cutter.

6.  Make sure that the rounds are coated with flour on the top, bottom and around the edge and set aside until all of the mixture has been formed.   You will need to re-form the fishcake mixture and re-roll as needed.

7.  Once all of the mixture has been formed into cakes, take them one by one, dipping first into the egg and then rolling in the breadcrumbs until all surfaces and edges are covered.  A good way to keep things clean as you panné is to use one hand for the egg dipping and the other hand for the breadcrumbing.  Place the coated fishcakes onto a baking sheet covered with another sheet of greaseproof.  The fishcakes can be made well ahead of cooking and then left in the fridge until needed.

8.  Cook the fishcakes in sunflower oil in large frying pan for about five minutes on each side.  Think shallow frying - the oil should be around half a centimetre deep.  Take care not to crowd the pan by frying the cakes in batches of two or three at a time.  Serve with your choice of salad or chips or both!
Printable version

Rose veal - rant alert!

As of this morning, I am officially cross.  Now, if you know me, you know that getting me cross isn't so easy to do - as I am one of life's easygoing sorts.

However, purely by coincidence, yesterday we attempted - unsuccessfully - to lay our hands on some rose veal.  Lo and behold on the same day, there was a programme on the t.v. where Jimmy Doherty was trying to get Tesco to accept rose veal in some shape or form.

First of all, let me explain what rose veal is, for those who haven't a clue.  Rose veal is the meat of a male calf.  What happens is that because dairy cows have to have a calf from time to time to keep producing milk, naturally, male calves are born as well as female.  The females have their future already mapped out in that they simply join the milking herd.  For male calves, however, the future is bleak.  The majority - note that, the MAJORITY - of them are shot within hours of being born, because there is no market for them.  They are as much a by-product of the dairy industry, as by-catch is of the fishing trade.

Shooting a day old calf has to be one of the biggest crimes that farming isn't speaking about - and it happens every day, somewhere around the country, simply because there is no market for their meat.

Veal calves in a particularly poor, substandard situation
Yet - and get this - supermarkets like Tesco are busily importing German veal, "because the consumer wants it".  *blink*  So why the hell are we importing veal from Germany - where the welfare standards are so much lower than in Britain - when we are shooting our own veal calves?

Now I understand the reticence that people have, towards eating veal.  However, because of the improvement in the legal welfare standards in Britain over the past few years, veal calves are no longer kept in crates (which they are on the continent), in the dark, in inhumane conditions.  Rose veal calves are put out to grass for the first few weeks of their life - with a gang of other calves of the same age - then they are brought in and kept in pens (still with their little gang) with room to frolic and play while they put on the muscle required for good veal.  Yes, they have a short life - but so much better a life than being shot at birth!

Veal calves being raised for rose veal in the UK
So it seems that a number of people either haven't bothered about how their veal is produced, or alternatively, have come around to veal again in the knowledge that welfare standards have improved the lot of the veal calf.  They're probably happily buying Tesco's German veal, with no idea that they're supporting the inhumane veal production still in force on the continent.  (Yes, I accept that Tesco will have examined how their veal is produced and purport to be happy that it is produced to a good welfare standard - but you'll just have to forgive me if I'm a tad sceptical about the whole thing.  This is a supermarket, when all is said and done).

Now, the idea that these consumers are "happily" buying Tesco's German veal brings me to the price.  Are you sitting down?  Veal escalopes, in Tesco, are currently selling for an astronomical £27.99 per kilo.  That's almost thirty quid!  No, I don't think you heard me right - THIRTY quid!  Maybe you don't think that's an obscene price, I don't know.  I reckon you've probably gathered that I think it's completely outrageous.

So let's think about a hypothetical situation where Tesco have accepted the British rose veal and are selling it at about that price.  How many of you would consider using it?  I'd venture to suggest that not many could support that kind of outlay - and those who could, wouldn't use veal escalopes very often.

What's the betting that the next thing to happen isn't that Tesco extends the range of cuts of rose veal that they have available - oh no.  I'd be willing to bet that they take it off the shelves altogether.

So where does that leave the farmers, who have calves coming up through the ranks - calves that they've put money into and suddenly have no outlet for?  It's just a disaster waiting to happen for them.  I'd venture to suggest that the old saying that "you never see a farmer on a bike" is no longer true for a lot of smaller farms these days.  It seems as though farming is fast becoming a lost art.

I was quoted, yesterday from our local butcher, a price of £15 per kilo for the equivalent of braising steak, but in rose veal.  Now I thought that was bad enough - it certainly stopped us in our tracks of wanting some to make schnitzels with.

However, on the "Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket" last night, he was quoted a price of £5 per kilo for veal with which to make meatballs.

How the hell are we - ordinary punters - supposed to get behind the production of rose veal when the price is so terribly inflated?  Surely - even if it's just a welfare issue for the poor calves - there is such a huge market out there for affordable meat, that you would think the farmers would be hugely keen on producing rose veal.  I'm sure they are, in the majority, however it seems to me that the supermarkets have such a stranglehold on prices - which trickles down to your local butcher - that it is just pricing the product out of reach of us normal mortals.

The thing I keep coming back to, is that rose veal is a by-product of the dairy industry.  These calves are surplus to requirements, effectively.  So, by producing them up to an age of 35 weeks, farmers are making them viable as a meat product - and apparently, at a break-even cost to themselves.  I suppose there is a chance that by insisting on a reduction in price at the consumer's end of the trail, it pushes prices up for the farmer, resulting in the production of rose veal becoming a cost rather than break even.  I'm not sure on that point.

Anyway, now do you see why I am so cross?  I'm actually making myself crosser by the second in the writing of this piece.

I'm not going to give up on trying to find affordable rose veal - in truth I've just started.  Also, if any of my assumptions and beliefs as set out above are incorrect, do please comment and correct me.  This is something that needs to be shouted about - and I'd rather what I am shouting is correct, than perpetuate misunderstandings.

Read "Rose Veal - the continuing story" here ..

29 May 2012

Salad? Don't be silly!

*phew* No lack of salad here!
As I sit here and look at the menu plan for this week, I'm seriously hoping that the weather forecasters are right and the hot hot sunshine is going to take a bit of a back seat for a few days - because we're all out of salad, here!

Son & heir has been moaning about the amount of salad he's had to munch his way through just recently, poor dear.  Yes, I know - but he's practising to be an ungrateful teenager and is doing quite nicely at it, currently.  As a result, we've had to think of meals that don't insist on a side salad to go with them.  He probably hasn't twigged to this, but being without a side salad inevitably means that cooked vegetables will appear on his plate instead.  I won't let him get away with just pasta meals for ever, you know.

He's also - very kindly - distributed a cold germ about the place and hubby has succumbed and I'm just about to, if my throat is anything to go by.  So, personally, I'm very glad that we opted for an easy one to start the week!

Let's have a gander at what's on the menu list, then :

Tues : Pizza
Weds : Pork schnitzels, potato salad and corn on the cob
Thurs : Chicken Murry with mushroom rice
Fri : Beef in black bean stir fry
Sat : Baked trout with green couscous and parsnip crisps
Sun : Roast beef, roast potatoes & parsnips, carrots, broccoli, peas, Yorkshire puddings and creamed horseradish with gravy.
Mon : Beef & mushroom pie, new potatoes, peas and carrots.

Ssssh!  Don't shout too loud about those trout, or Asda will have sold out before we can buy two on Friday.

So, pizza tonight and we're both very happy with it.

That's not a Wienerschnitzel - that's a continent!
The Pork Schnitzels on Wednesday will be a creation from hubby's arsenal.  Having done the egg & breadcrumb thing with the fishcakes last week, he's as keen as mustard to try the same thing with an escalope.  It sounds like it's likely to be a bit of a blast from the past - and will take me back to meals in Germany when Bockwurst wasn't on the menu and I opted for Wienerschnitzel instead.

Oh and I have got to tell you about the Rose Veal thing - but that's for another blog post.  We rang our butcher to investigate getting some Rose Veal to make the schnitzels with, you see.

A Murry from the past ... ah, fond memories!
Thursday's Chicken Murry is a chicken curry - but not one made to anyone's recipe or with any particular style in mind.  It's a "Mummy Curry", i.e. one which I made up as I went along and is jolly blinking good.  I'll be giving the diced chicken from our local butcher a go with this one, crossing my fingers that it'll be a suitable substitute for the chicken breasts that we used to use when they were on special offer.  If it looks a bit ropey, then I'll have to buy a couple of legs and dice the meat up myself.

Hubby has found a use for the other half of the Silverside we bought for last week's curry, in the Beef in Black Bean stir fry.  It's going to be a noodle & broccoli stir fry, so hopefully son & heir won't do his normal downcast "oh!" when he hears it's a stir fry for tea.

Something that looks like this would be good!
Saturday's baked trout is going to be a new challenge for me. I've wanted to cook a whole fish in paper for almost as long as I can remember - and I figure that two whole trout will be enough for the three of us for a dinner.  I'll be putting it with some of Ottolenghi's Green Couscous and making up some parsnip chips - the thin ribbon kind, as opposed to the fries kind.  It seems easy enough to do, so I reckoned I'd give it a go.

Sunday's dinner is the roast beef that we moved on from last week owing to the weather.  It really was madness to think of having a roast beef dinner on such a hot day - which is this weekend's gain as we get to have it then instead.  My mouth is watering at the idea of roast beef, so I'm hoping the weather won't intervene and send it off to next week again!

We're reckoning (and hoping!) to have some leftover roast beef, which I'll incorporate into a pie with some whole shallots and mushrooms.  Served with some lovely Jersey Royals together with peas and carrots, it should be cracking!

Maybe something a bit like this?
Now, as for everything else, well I'll have to think of something to have as a dessert on Sunday, plus I can feel another cake sneaking up on me.  I'd like to make a sponge cake this time, I think.  Something lighter for the warmer weather - maybe with fresh fruit involved somewhere along the line.

I'm not sure whether hubby has any plans to make anything extra this week - so we'll just have to see what turns up!


28 May 2012

Chicken Korma & Beef Massaman Curries - review of the Spice & Sizzle Kits

This is quite a difficult post for me to write - mainly because I hate giving negative feedback on something I've been sent to review.  However, surely that's the whole point of reviewing something - to find out what's good and what's bad about it?

The lovely people at Spice & Sizzle very kindly sent me a number of their Curry Kits to try.

Now I might have got the wrong end of the stick (although I doubt it), but my understanding of these kits is that you use the contents, plus (for example) a tin of coconut milk and some chicken, cook according to the instructions and bingo, you've got a curry.

See those two compartments on the left? Turmeric.
Well, it didn't happen that way for me.

The first one we tried was the Korma curry kit - to which I added chicken and a tin of coconut milk.

Included in the kit were turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallots and chillies.  Now I wasn't sure how these few ingredients would come together to make an Indian Korma Curry, but felt confident that they wouldn't say it could, if it couldn't.  Well, it couldn't.  I'm really not sure what it did make - but it was a very long way from an acceptable Indian Korma.

Chicken plus spices
All of the ingredients in the kit can be used to make a Korma - of that I've no doubt.  Just not in the quantities (either too little - shallots - or too much - turmeric) that they were supplied.  The dominant flavour was that of the fresh turmeric, which was gritty and unpleasant because of its quantity in relation to the lack of quantity of anything else.  The shallots might as well not have been there.  The coconut milk added some sweetness, but those few spices couldn't even begin to try to produce the many layers of flavour involved in a true Indian Korma.

To say it was disappointing is doing it a favour.  In truth, I cannot see how it can ever purport to produce an Indian Korma Curry without its background chorus of onion, cardamom, cream and at the very least, fresh coriander.

The end result - just horrid and full of gritty turmeric

However, so as not to write all the kits off in one fell swoop, I decided to give the Massaman Curry one a go, using some of the lovely silverside of beef that our butcher was selling.  However, with this one, I simply used the spices included in the kit and went a bit freestyle with the ingredients and cooking process thereafter, following a recipe which purported to represent an "authentic" Massaman curry.

Please note, however, that the kit itself contained lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, shallots, chilli and garlic.  The instructions recommended you "simply add beef, coconut milk and potatoes" and it would be "ready in 19 minutes".

In addition to the above roll call, I added galangal, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, star anise, whole shallots, fish sauce, tamarind and basil.

I began by making up a massaman curry paste, which included the lemongrass, ginger, chilli and garlic, plus the galangal, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cloves, which I ground together using a pestle & mortar.  This very effectively broke the lemongrass down even further from its minced state and stopped it behaving in the way that the turmeric did with the Korma version, i.e. get in your teeth!

I then mixed the beef with the paste, the kaffir lime leaves and some peanut oil and left it to marinade for a half an hour or so.

Looks promising - but didn't deliver
I fried the beef (and curry paste) off in a pan and placed it into the slow cooker, along with the minced shallots from the kit, the whole shallots, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise which had also been fried to release their fragrance and flavour.

Next I added the coconut milk, fish sauce, some salt, pepper and a little water - until the liquid was almost covering the beef, but not quite.  I left the slow cooker to its own devices for the next 4-5 hours.

For the next phase, I spooned the meat (which was beautifully tender by then) out and poured the sauce into a pan.  I added another half a can of coconut milk, some potatoes (Jersey Royals, diced) and half the basil leaves, a hefty teaspoonful of dried chilli flakes because the chilli had completely disappeared, partly covered the pan and simmered until the potatoes were cooked and the sauce reduced a little.

The tamarind juice went in next - to taste - along with a little sugar and the remaining basil, together with the cubes of beef.  All was heated through and then served with plain white rice.

After all that, I was the only person who really enjoyed their curry.  Hubby found his bland and although he enjoyed the flavour of the beef, found the sauce to be verging on unpalatable.  Son & heir ate all his beef and potatoes and left all the sauce.

I agreed with hubby that the curry was bland - it lacked something that would make it stand up and be counted as a Massaman Curry as opposed to any other mild Thai curry.  (Oh, and by the way, do the Thai's DO "mild" curries?  I don't think so!).   I was so hoping that I would be able to say "well, okay, you can't make a good curry with just the kit, but you can use the kit's contents as components in a good curry" - but apparently not.

Such a shame.


Strawberry & Rhubarb Tipsy Jelly

The weather, having taken a turn for the summery, was responsible for turning my thoughts away from things like Rhubarb Cobbler towards cooler, more refreshing desserts.

Now I’ve not had a great deal of success in the last few years where jelly is concerned – especially jellies made with sheet gelatine.  So when I began to consider rhubarb jelly, you can understand why I opted for a good old block of strawberry jelly – which is what gave me the idea of involving strawberries.

I’m not sure what gave me the idea of using up some of the dessert wine we had left over, other than an innate desire to use up leftovers.

Hence, the Strawberry & Rhubarb Tipsy Jelly was born – and boy, was it good.

I took three good sized sticks of rhubarb and cut them into small chunks, which I put into a pan with 100ml of water and a couple of tablespoonfuls of caster sugar.  I stewed the rhubarb until it was just softened, but still holding its shape.

I then broke up the jelly into the bottom of a measuring jug and poured the rhubarb through a sieve onto the jelly.  The solids, I put into a bowl for use later.

I then made up the liquid to 300ml by adding the dessert wine, then poured it back into the pan to warm through and properly melt the jelly.  I suspect some of the alcohol evaporated during this procedure too – which was good, as it was going to feed some children!

Once the jelly cubes had dissolved, I returned the mixture back to the measuring jug and added the reserved rhubarb solids, then made up the quantity to 600ml with cold water.

I then quickly quartered some strawberries into the jelly mould and added the rhubarb jelly liquid.  Once it had cooled a little, it went into the fridge to set.

I can’t recommend this recipe enough, for a hot day that needs a light and refreshing dessert.  Just perfect!


26 May 2012

Sorrel Pesto - what a pleasant surprise!

Well!  What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be.

We have had a Sorrel plant in our garden for around two years or more now.  Last year, it got terribly broken after it was squashed by a workman's toolbox and then sat on (regularly) by a dog who decided it would make a comfy bed in which to enjoy the sun.

So, before the winter, we uprooted it and put it in a pot and hoped for the best.

This year, it came back with great vigour and was just begging to be used for something.

The obvious use for it would be as a salad leaf, but unfortunately neither son & heir nor I are particularly keen on bitter tasting leaves in our salad.  Our Sorrel, being a species known as Blood Sorrel (because it has dark red veins through the leaves) is particularly bitter, by all accounts.

When we were trying to think of a fairly easy meal for a Monday evening, hubby hit upon using gnocchi with some pesto made from the Sorrel.  What a great idea!  Well, it seemed to be a great idea ...

Hubby set to on the Monday morning and following a serious Sorrel harvest, with much whirring and stirring, made the pesto.

He appeared beside my computer desk here, with an "I'm really not sure about this" look on his face, a bowl of green - very green - pesto and a spoon.

My initial reaction to the flavour was "yeuk!", followed by "salty!", followed by a slightly more positive "oh, I dunno!", rounded off by "garlic!".

I tried again.  Same flow of reactions.

If I could just get past the initial "yeuk!" that was caused by the intensely bitter flavour, followed by the mental message of "hmmn, weeds!", I thought I could get to like it.  However, in quantity, on gnocchi?  No - I had no confidence about that.  Hubby was the same.

So we abandoned the idea of using the pesto on the gnocchi and made a cheese sauce instead.

However, we were determined not to abandon the pesto entirely and left it until the following day - when we tasted it again.  Aaah, it had lost that "weeds" taste, the garlic had mellowed and it was a lot better.

So we bought some filled pasta (gorgonzola and walnut, to be precise - which is my favourite) and had it for lunch - with the pesto.

Do you know, it was very nice indeed.  No, seriously, it was!  We both ate every little bit and following some initial suspicion, enjoyed it.  So there you have the lesson - make the pesto the day before you're going to want to use it!

Now all we've got to do is figure out a use for the other half - or get more pasta on Tuesday!


Ingredients :

50g Sorrel, washed and with the central rib removed (that's 50g ~after~ the ribs have been removed but ~before~ washing)
20g washed and finely chopped parsley
1 crushed garlic clove
30g finely grated Parmesan cheese
100 - 150ml extra virgin olive oil
25g lightly toasted pine nuts
salt and Pepper
1 lemon wedge.

Method :

1.  To a food processor, add the pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan and whizz until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.  Now add the sorrel and the parsley and continue to whizz whilst pouring the olive oil, in a thin stream, into the mix.

2.  Continue adding olive oil until you reach your desired consistency.  This is a matter of personal taste and so more or less oil may be required depending on how you like it.

Note : You will probably need to stop the whizzing periodically to scrape the sides of the whizzing bowl down.  Use this opportunity to check for and adjust seasoning as you go. Remember that Parmesan is salty stuff though so go easy on the salt.  Add a squeeze of lemon during the final whizz, just to lift the flavours a bit, before decanting into a suitable container.

Make the pesto the day before use to allow the flavours to properly develop.  The pesto should keep for about 10 - 15 days in the fridge. 


Pea & Ham Soup - so near, but yet so far!

This is one soup that I won't be passing on the recipe for.  Well, not until I find a raw ham hock, instead of a cooked one.

You see, I really should have worked out that if you use a cooked ham hock in a slow cooker soup, you stand the chance of ruining the whole thing because of the salt content.


It all started so well, too.

I actually remembered to put the split peas in to soak - and from what appeared to be just a handful of split peas, they swelled up to a quite sizeable amount!  I needed them to do that, as I was getting a little bit nervous as to whether we'd have enough for everyone at the end of it all.

I had thought to put the slow cooker on overnight, but it suddenly dawned on me that if I did that, the soup would have been cooking for a good 24 hours - which was rather more than intended.  In the recipe (from the "Prestige Book of Crock Pot Cookery"), it said to cook for some 10-12 hours on low - so I compromised and went for 8 hours on medium.

It had been smelling great and when I lifted the lid to remove the ham hock to strip the meat from the bones, I had a little taste.  Mmmmn, it was yummy - and tasted just like the canned Pea & Ham soup, except better.

I tried to mash the peas as it said in the recipe, but wasn't getting anywhere, so out came the hand-held blitzer and I blitzed probably around two-thirds of the content - leaving just enough for a bit of texture.

I'd tasted the meat and had registered that it was rather salty, but was so full of "is it the right flavour?" and "is it the right texture?" and "is it okay for hubby/son & heir", not to mention "oh flip, I've forgotten to heat up the bread rolls", that it didn't occur to me to be conservative over how much of the meat I included in the soup.  So it all went in and the longer it sat there, the saltier the soup got.

I ate all mine (didn't have any bread rolls, you see!), son & heir did a great job with his, but hubby just couldn't handle the saltiness and so baled out at an early stage.

Dammit - I quite thought I'd sussed the problem of not being able to buy a raw ham hock!


25 May 2012

Paprika Chicken with asparagus & tarragon

Ooooh, now, what a lovely meal this turned out to be!

Well chicken and tarragon is always guaranteed to be nice, in my opinion.  It's just one of those matches that are supposed to go together.  Couple it with a creamy sauce, some lovely asparagus and a sprinkle of paprika and you've taken it to another level of loveliness.

What I think the really great thing about this dish is that chicken is always in season and tarragon can (pretty much) always be found - but asparagus is very seasonal.  However, this dish would be happy with some fine beans in it, if you couldn't lay your hands on asparagus.  Using fine beans would also make it more affordable during the times that asparagus isn't in season and the supermarkets are importing it from the back of beyond and charging a mint to do so.

Supermarkets so need to be taught so many different lessons about food and seasonality - I just wish the Great British Public could see the light and enforce these lessons through their buying power, but I fear it is not to be.

Anyway, I digress.

I have had this recipe on the menu list for a couple of weeks now, but hubby had some kind of antipathy towards it and so we'd skipped around it once already.  Having quizzed him on why he didn't fancy it - and established that it was more a feeling of "meh!" than a feeling of "don't want" - I went ahead and cooked it.

Unfortunately, this is going to be one of the last - for a while - chicken breast meals I can make, as our butcher has put the prices up for chicken breasts and they're a teensy bit unaffordable now.  I think I'm going to have to use a combination of chicken legs and just the one breast - or buy an entire chicken and take it to pieces - if I want to use chicken in future.

So it was good that the recipe turned out so well.

I found the recipe in a BBC Good Food magazine, but it doesn't appear to be on their website.  In the photograph, the chicken looks quite reddish - like as though it was sprinkled with paprika along with the seasoning before being fried.  Having had a look at the ingredients list, I can't find paprika mentioned anywhere.  So I decided to add some.  I thought about using the smoked paprika but figured that would be too much, so opted for just normal sweet paprika, which went very well.  The paprika wasn't so very obvious in the sauce - but it was discernibly there to look at and helped the colour of the chicken no end.  It also added a little "something" to the flavour of the chicken in a subtle, but effective, way.

I served the chicken with some broccoli, Jersey Royal new potatoes and corn on the cob - all of which were a perfect match.

Hubby thoroughly enjoyed his dinner and had no idea why he was feeling a bit "meh!" towards it, as his verdict was - and I quote - "this is delicious!".  Son and heir liked it, but would have liked it better without any vegetables other than the corn on the cob - but I think we can put that down to his being a teenager and consequently vehemently opposed to anything that might be deemed "good for you", especially green vegetables.  I really liked the dish and although it was a perfect "chicken in sauce" dish.

I particularly liked the ease with which it came together, even though - in the magazine - it was dubbed as "looking like a lot of effort".  It certainly wasn't!


Ingredients :

1 large onion, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, crushed or grated
1 tbsp olive oil
3 skinless chicken breasts
freshly ground black pepper
a pinch or two of sweet paprika
350ml chicken stock (I used Knorr chicken stock granules)
small bunch of tarragon, chopped roughly
150g asparagus, trimmed and cut into three pieces
3 tbsp reduced fat creme fraiche.

Method :

1.  Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onion.  Fry on a gentle heat until softened and golden, then add the garlic and continue to fry for another minute or so.  Remove and reserve.

2.  Increase the heat under the pan and season the chicken breasts with pepper and paprika.

3.  Put the chicken breasts into the frying pan and cook on a medium-high heat until well browned on both sides and almost cooked through.

4.  Return the onions & garlic to the pan and reduce the heat to medium.

5.  Pour over the stock and add the tarragon.  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes or so or until the chicken appears to be just done.

6.  Turn the chicken, add the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes more - or until the asparagus is tender.

7.  Stir the creme fraiche into the pan and heat through.

Serve with new potatoes, broccoli and corn on the cob.

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24 May 2012


Which is what hubby dubbed this dish, the minute he saw its given name - that of "Franks & Beans & Bacon".

He found it, first, on Pinterest where it shone out from amongst the crowd as being something that he thought we'd all like.  The original recipe is on www.heythattastesgood.com.  It got so close to being something that we'd all like, too.

We used great ingredients for it - including our butcher's bacon, Levi Roots Reggae Reggae Sauce, Maile Cider Vinegar and our favourite Bockwurst instead of hot dogs.  Maybe we overdid the quality?

The thing was, that the flavour was great.  Really, really great.  For the first three mouthfuls.  Then, and thereafter, it got increasingly intense until - by the end of the plate - you were begging for mercy, or a bowl of custard - or something to relieve the intense tomato-bacon-mustard-sugar effect.

We came to the conclusion that we were wrong in serving potato wedges with it (which have a mildly spicy flavour) - and it would have been much better to have been served with plain white rice or a jacket potato & some sweetcorn.  Although for the rice to have worked, would have required the sauce to have been wetter than it turned out.  So there were some tweaks required - which I have taken account of in the recipe below, if you should decided to give it a go.
Prior to baking

I would like to give it another go and serve it with a jacket potato and some corn on the cob.  I think the two would give your tongue time to calm down in between each mouthful.

One thing that you definitely need to take into account, is the saltiness of your bacon.  As such it's worth having a little taste before you include it in the dish - and if it is really salty, you might want to not put quite so much in.

I have slightly reduced the amount of brown sugar involved, too.  I think this will give much more of a savoury sense to the dish, whilst still retaining its sweet and sourness.  I often find that recipes from America (which I believe this is) will use way more sugar than I would.  Of course, having a diabetic in the family helps to encourage you to reduce the amount of sugar in foods, too!

After baking and just waiting to attack your tastebuds!
The other thing to remember where the sweetness is concerned, is the chilli sauce that you are using.  So very often, these pre-prepared chilli sauces can be devilishly sweet - which is okay if you're using it on its own or as a marinade - but needs to be taken into account when used as an ingredient.

Son & heir thought the recipe was great just as it was and happily polished off the remains of his Dad's dinner.  Hubby had to stop when he was beginning to feel over-sugared, which was a shame - especially considering he'd spent all the time and effort cooking it!

It would make a great Bonfire Night dish - with potatoes cooked in the embers of a bonfire and anticipation of fireworks going off all around!  Trust us to decide to cook it in May!

FRANKENBEANS    (serves 3)

Ingredients :

8 slices back bacon
1 onion, diced finely
1 red pepper, de-seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (or grated)
three-quarters of a cup of Barbecue Sauce - hot, spicy ones are great
1 tbsp brown sugar
a quarter of a cup of cider vinegar
1.5 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 cans baked beans
a jar of bockwurst or frankfurters, sliced.

Method :

1.  Fry the bacon on low until most of the fat has rendered.  Set the bacon aside and keep just enough fat in the pan to cook the onion, pepper and garlic, which should be added next.

2.  Cook until they are softened.

3.  Add the Barbecue sauce, brown sugar, cider vinegar and mustard and stir into the onion mixture.

4.  Add the beans, stir in the bockwurst pieces and decant to a casserole dish.

5.  Lay the bacon on top and bake at 180degF/350degC/Gas4 for around an hour and a half.

6.  Serve with rice (in which case you may wish to let the sauce down a little with a touch of boiling water), or with a jacket potato and corn on the cob.

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