30 August 2012

Cumberland Sausages & juicy Burgers from Westin Gourmet - reviewed

A short while ago, Westin Gourmet - you may recall - sent us a pack of meat products to try.  Amongst the goodies were some of their Cumberland sausages and some very juicy looking 100% beef burgers.

The first of these that we put to the test were the Cumberland sausages.

Now I've got a pet peeve with sausages at the moment.  Very often it seems that flavour is forfeited for being "healthy".  Now the only thing I can deduce from this is that the majority of the flavour in a sausage, i.e. the "porky" flavour, comes from the fat.  It has to be.  So-called "healthy" sausages have the majority of their fat removed - and they are dry, tasteless and boring as all heck.  They also have a nasty hardness to them, quite unlike the soft, yielding, juicily porky mouthful of sausages of yore.

However, because (well, I assume this is the reason) of the public's predilection for "healthy" food (which is admirable, of course), even the good old sausage of yore has had its fat content reduced.  I hate this!  It has become almost impossible to find a sausage that tastes like a sausage should, or that even has the texture of a good old fashioned sausage.  A sausage, when bitten into, should burst in your mouth with a sudden rush of porky flavour carried on a small tide of meat juices, not be dry and chewy, or even worse taste like hot sawdust.

In my opinion, it is far better to have a good old unhealthy flavoursome sausage that you don't eat as often, than have one of these nasty dry old things and try eating them twice a week.  In fact, because of the parlous state of sausages these days, we've actually stopped eating them completely.

That is, until these Cumberlands hove into view from Westin Gourmet.  Hallelujah - a sausage that tastes like I remember sausages tasting when my Mum used to serve them up with a rich gravy, mashed potato and mixed vegetables, way back in the seventies.  They are soft, flavoursome and porky with that lovely "crack" of a crispy skin and the mouthwatering onrush of peppery flavour.

At £7.23 for 24 sausages - which equates to around £2.41 for a pack of 8, they aren't devastatingly expensive either.  Long may it continue, Westin Gourmet - you're onto a winner!

Thanks to the success of the sausages, we were by now fairly hopeful about the burgers.

The price made our eyes water a little at £36.53 for 10 x 4oz burgers, which equates to around £3.65 per burger.  I reckoned that at that price, they had to be good.   Because of the way in which they are packaged, however, they start off life not looking so good at all.  They appear grey and unappealing - that is until you tear back the covering and let some air into them.  Very quickly they plump up and return back to the very appealing lush red that a good burger should be.

Cheered by that, we placed them on the grill (it was raining again - so we ate them indoors) and set to with the cooking.  Each burger was very definitely a good size, so we were watching closely to see if they shrank significantly during the cooking process.  Never has a humble burger been more observed.

Because of the beef content, we were happy to leave the burgers a little pink (not bloody, just a little blush of pink) in the middle, for added flavour and juiciness.  My goodness, but these burgers are great!

I'm not sure I'd be able to afford to buy enough to supply a whole barbecue for friends, but as a special barbecue for the family they are just perfect.

The flavour is just wonderful, as the beef is 100% steak mince that caramelises beautifully and gives that genuine burger flavour.  There are no great hunks of onion to otherwise spoil the flavour and the seasoning is harmonious and unobtrusive.  The shrinkage is minimal and for all that they reduced in circumference, they seemed to gain in depth!  Put into a normal sized burger bun, they did the job beautifully.

We treated the burgers absolutely classically, with a small amount of lettuce, some tomato and a good helping of cheese, along with some French's hotdog mustard and a great tomato relish.  Oh boy, but they were good.

As a "special" burger for a special occasion, I'd very definitely come back for more.

Knorr send us two Poussin to tangle with ... and get in a tangle we did!

I've never cooked a Poussin before, much less two.  Still, how difficult could it be?  After all, a Poussin is only a baby chicken - surely you just reduce everything and add some "awww!".  No?  Oh.

Well, Knorr very kindly sent us the aforesaid two little Poussin, along with some Knorr chicken stock pots, a lemon, some herbs and an odd selection of picnic bits and pieces including two burgers.  They also sent a variety of recipes - one of which was specifically for the Poussin and involved the stock, lemon and herbs (although I have to say, that the lemon and parsley only came into play as garnish).

Now I have got a bit nervous about good old Marco Pierre White's recipes after our complete disaster with his last one (Chicken Chasseur) where the type of chicken did not match the type of recipe.  Although, having said that, this recipe (Spatchcocked Chicken with Chipolatas) seemed simple enough.

We had one problem, though, in that this recipe was for two people - and there are three of us.  So, we decided to split the goodies up and add some bits, cooking the Poussin on the barbecue along with some burgers and with a bowl of couscous and a home made salsa to accompany them.  The remainder of the picnic goodies, we decided to turn into a proper picnic to be enjoyed out on the New Forest somewhere.

At least, that's how it all started.  Somehow - and I'm really not sure how, except for the intervention of bad weather - it didn't finish up that way.

Chipolatas (left) and Burgers (right) - re-invented as meatballs!
The Spatchcocked Poussin wound up being cooked in the oven and son & heir had sausages, plus the burgers which came in the box wound up being made into meatballs along with the chipolatas, to fill some subs for the picnic.

It's quite a long way from the original intention, isn't it.  ~scratches head~  Oh well - it was all very nice, even so!

So, dealing with the picnic first - which shall henceforth be known as the indoor picnic as already mentioned - the star of the show was two foot-long subs made with meatballs from the two burgers and the chipolatas, Maasdam cheese slices and salad - with copious quantities of tomato relish.

Try getting those into your face without losing a meatball!

The burger meat (Welsh beef) was mixed with a Chipotle paste and simply formed into small meatballs.  The chipolatas were taken out of their jackets and the sausagemeat was mixed with a small amount of Mic's Chilli El Loco BBQ Sauce before also being formed into small meatballs.  The two types were then baked in the oven until cooked.

All cheesed up and ready for their lids

Hopefully it is needless to say, that we cut the subs in half before trying to manoeuvre them into our faces!  The two types of meatball were great in the sandwich and each had a very definite character of its own - although my favourite has to be the sausagemeat ones.

Knorr had also sent us two little Roasted White Onion Tartlets from Foreman & Field, which at £4.95 for 2 seemed utterly outrageous to me.  Especially considering how soggy and pallid they were - but the flavours were extremely yummy, so I forgave them their price just a little bit.  I'm sure a brief trip through the oven would have cheered up their floppiness, if we'd have had the time.

A really quite superb Scotch egg

The handmade Scotch Eggs purported to be "still soft in the middle" and I can quite categorically confirm that the egg was indeed just that little bit delightfully squishy in the middle.  Mind you, at the brain-fuddling price of £5.95 for the two, I was looking for some gold leaf at least!  Son & heir commented that although he quite liked them, the Scotch Eggs tasted like "posh versions" of themselves, which about says it other than to add that they were one of the nicest Scotch Eggs I've had in a very long time.  But for just short of £3 each?  *snort*  I so don't think so!

I would be so hopeless in Harrods food store.  I'd probably get dragged out of there, crying "HOW MUCH?" and looking aghast.

Just look at the Pimms and the fruit salad - fair makes your mouth water!
Anyway, aside from all that, I made a wonderful fresh fruit salad for dessert using Canteloupe melon, strawberries, mango and pineapple.  With a dash of cream it was juicy lusciousness.

We washed it all down with a beautiful big jug full of Pimms with all the requisite amount of fruit, cucumber and fresh mint floating about amongst many ice cubes.  Mmmmmn, delicious!

Lemon and Herb .......... and Barbecue
So the next day dawned and in the course of the day, the method of cooking for our two Poussin must have changed around three or four times.  Successive changes in the weather and my frame of mind (largely caused by everything we'd tried to do that weekend being blown out the window) meant that by dinnertime, I had had about enough and really didn't care what happened to the blinking Poussin.

Lemon & Herb Poussin - with parsley & rosemary
Earlier in the day, I'd made up the Green Couscous (which is ordinarily gorgeous, but I discovered on this day that it doesn't like being made in advance) and spatchcocked the Poussin, marinading one in the lemon and herbs along with a dash of rapeseed oil and some seasoning - and the other in the aforesaid Mic's Chilli El Loco BBQ Sauce so they were all ready to be wrapped in tinfoil and oven baked for 10 minutes or so, before finishing on the barbecue.  Well, the rain took care of the barbecue, so they stayed in the oven.

Consequently, they are a little under coloured but were nice enough.  I don't think I could choose between them as to which one was my favourite, as they were both very different and very nice in their own way.

I was a little disappointed in them though, as I expected the meat to be so much softer, or sweeter, than an ordinary chicken - which it wasn't.  There really wasn't much difference, which makes me wonder why anyone goes to the bother of utilising baby chickens.

However, one thing I will pay attention to - and that is that I won't be cooking Poussin again in a hurry.  Those little rib bones just completely creeped me out!  Who knew they would do that?  Bizarre.

So, you've probably read Chefs saying how cooking can really challenge a person?  Yup.  See above.

Before I go, a quick thank you to Knorr for providing all the above goodies and apologies for not making use of the Knorr Stockpots!  Still, I'm sure they will show up in recipes to come!


28 August 2012

Tom Yum Paste from Sainsbury's new "Speciality Ingredients" Range

Sainsbury's have introduced a range of "Speciality Ingredients" to their product line, including such interesting things as Porcini Mushroom Paste, Umami Paste, Tom Yum Paste, Mirrin and Tempura Batter Mix, amongst many others.

When I was asked whether I'd be interested in receiving a selection of these new products, it didn't take me long to say "yes please!".

So, I've been sent the following to try out :

-  Mirrin;
-  Porcini Mushroom Paste;
-  Harissa Paste;
-  Tom Yum Paste, and
-  Chipotle Chilli Paste.

These products all range from around £1.18 to £2.99 and aren't so desperately expensive as you might imagine.  In fact, I'd say they are well worth the money to be able to "play" with them and find out whether a) you like the flavours and b) whether you like what you can do with the ingredients.  All this goes towards whether you'd be prepared to go one step further and create the same thing from scratch at home, or whether you'd be happy to let Sainsbury's do that bit for you!

At the moment, we're still considering what to do with the Harissa, Porcini and Chipotle pastes - so watch this space.  Where the Mirrin is concerned, that has a certain future as we often use it and I was just running out in my current bottle - so fortuitous timing, Sainsbury's!

The one I was exceptionally keen to try, was the Tom Yum Soup Paste.

Now I'm continually looking for a low calorie lunch option.  I have discovered in later life that I do, contrary to popular belief, love soup (who knew?) and I am happy to drink broth type soups, or eat thick hearty soups - and anything in between.

I went through a phase of eating Ramen noodles - the pre-packaged, just-add-water-and-your-own-ingredients version.  However, I had to back off on those because the degree of salt was just too much for my blood pressure and the degree of chilli was too much for my ... well, you know, "digestion", let's call it.

So I could see a happy future for this Tom Yum Paste, so long as it wasn't too chilli hot and equally, wasn't flavoured with lemongrass and that's it.  Today, being shopping day, I laid in the requirements for an acceptable soup i.e. some fresh beansprouts, a few mushrooms and a cheapo bag of prawns.

The instructions on the label are simple to follow and gave me an opportunity to try out some of the Essential Cuisine Fish Stock that I had also been sent to try.  I have to apologise to Essential Cuisine, for it has taken me an unfeasibly long time to try any of their stocks (they sent me six - beef, veal, vegetable, fish, chicken and pork), but summer intervened and I stopped using stock!).

I was jolly impressed by how the plain old water changed as soon as I sprinkled in less than a teaspoonful of the Essential Cuisine stock powder and a wonderful aroma immediately rose from the pot.  There was no stirring and stirring, waiting for the powder to dissolve - it was gone as soon as it hit the water.  Excellent, when you're whipping up a quick lunch!  I had a quick taste before I added anything else and the flavour was really lovely.  Now bear in mind that this is fish stock - you would be forgiven for thinking "yeuk!" at the idea of supping a spoonful.  However, the flavour is really lovely - rounded and full flavoured, reminiscent of creamy shellfish and meaty cod.

Next to be added was supposed to be a tablespoonful of the paste, but as I was cautious of the chilli heat - it IS very red! - I used a little less.

Immediately, the kitchen filled with those lovely Thai aromas of lemongrass, coriander and chilli.  The paste seemed to separate a bit, in that the oil floated to the top of the stock and stayed there - but I could forgive it that if the flavour was good!

End result - first try-out!  Mmmn, nice!

I chose to add the prescribed prawns and mushrooms, but opted to include an additional handful of beansprouts.  I was glad I did, as they made for an interesting crunch which gave what was basically a broth-type soup, some welcome texture.

Plus, I was agreeably surprised at the flavour.  Immediately I realised that the chilli heat wasn't oppressive but in fact is well balanced against the other spices involved.  The paste isn't salty and in fact is absolutely perfect for my favoured low calorie lunch.

It is very possible to ring the changes with this soup, as it all depends what flavour stock you use - and the additional ingredients you include - as to how the final bowlful tastes.

As the first of Sainsbury's Speciality Ingredients, I'd say this one is a big hit!  I shall have to investigate what else is in the range, next time I'm in the shop.


24 August 2012

Kenco Caff Free Millicano Coffee - and Coffee Kisses!

That's a jolly weak cup of coffee! (Sssh, don't tell, it's tea!)
The whole subject of coffee is almost as complicated as wine, it seems to me.  People apparently make a career out of coffee in differing ways - not least of which is serving what is (in my opinion, obviously) the best coffee in the world, from Macdonalds.  ~shrug~  Don't look at me like that - have you tried it?  No?  Well then.  Don't diss what you haven't tried.  Those of you have discovered Macdonalds coffee will undoubtedly be nodding and salivating at the very thought.

We have, I admit, driven to Macdonalds just for a coffee, it's that good.

Aaaah, coffee - that's better!
So, when I was offered some of Kenco's new Millicano Caff Free coffee to try, I was initially reluctant but then knowing that the original Millicano wasn't half bad, decided to give it a go.

You know, it's really very good!  ~surprise~  Not bad at all.  I've found that having a caffeine free coffee in the house is a good thing for those moments when you want a coffee but don't want the caffeine hit (like just before bed, for instance).  It's also great for teenagers who decide they'd like a coffee just before bed, too.

Puts a new perspective on the idea of a "cup of coffee" ...
Hubby reckons he can detect a flavour that separates the Caff Free version apart from the original, but I'll be darned if I can.  It's a perfectly acceptable, tastier than your average type of coffee, that I'd be perfectly content to drink.  I wish I'd had this available when I worked in the high pressure environment of a marketing department!  Maybe I wouldn't have suffered so many coffee headaches and palpitations.

The great thing about Kenco Millicano is the combination of instant coffee with finely milled coffee beans, which gives it that "fresh coffee" flavour that isn't quite as good as the "brewed from the bean" stuff, but that gets a lot closer than many.  Amazingly, this quality has been retained in the Caff Free version, which makes it one of the best decaffeinated coffees I've had in a long, long time.

You can find out more about it on its Facebook page, at http://www.facebook.com/kencomillicano.

Hopefully, by now, you know what I'm like and would know that having a tin of coffee would get me to thinking what else I could use it for.

Enter the Coffee Kisses - a small spherical coffee flavoured biscuit/cookie hybrid that is bi-sected by a helping of coffee buttercream and is absolutely gorgeous.

Empty kisses - bring on the buttercream!
Now I can remember my Mum making Coffee Kisses waaaay back when I was a child, probably when we lived in Germany and when she would have used Camp liquid coffee in the baking.

I know I made them once, probably around ten years or so ago.  I can remember this occasion because half way through the process it dawned on me that I didn't have the ingredients to make the buttercream - and we couldn't afford to go out and get them.  So we ate the dry biscuits, which were nice, but not the same.

It occurred to me that we were due to go visit my parents at the weekend and it would be nice to take some of the Kisses with me for them, so that they could have a blast from the past too.

I had forgotten just how easy they are to make (if you've got a food processor, that is!).  Just bung the ingredients for the buttercream in the processor, whizz it a bit and bingo, out comes buttercream.  Next, whizz up the ingredients for the biscuits, portion them out onto a baking tray and bake.

Does it get any easier than that?  I don't think so.

I used the Kenco Millicano Caff Free as flavouring in both biscuit and buttercream - just put the granules into a cup and wet them down with a tablespoonful of hot water.  The flavour was wonderful and the granules dissolved perfectly.  Couldn't have asked for better.

I can confirm that I took a bag of Coffee Kisses to my parents' house - but I didn't bring any back, so I assume that means they went down acceptably well!

The recipe for Coffee Kisses is available from the Be-Ro website here : http://www.be-ro.co.uk/f_insp.htm and I won't reproduce it on the blog as I didn't change it in any way.  If you have any problems accessing the Be-Ro website, let me know and I'll be happy to fetch the recipe for you.


23 August 2012

Bacon, pear & aubergine risotto - comfort food goes upmarket!

I've been very remiss just lately in not giving you a run-down on what we've got on the menu for the week, so you won't have any idea of the context for this risotto.

So, let me explain a little.  It's currently the school summer holidays and, not surprisingly, we've been alternately busy ferrying the lad to and from social engagements, trying to get up early enough to avoid the crowds in the supermarket when we're shopping and sitting around the house wishing we were somewhere else.  The weather has been extremely hot (but just for a few days, thank goodness!) and we've been a bit bored with everything.

The weather forecast for the week was of increasing temperatures, culminating in a blisteringly hot 30+degrees.  Now those of you who live in Florida or somewhere equally hot or worse, might look at that temperature, snort and call that a balmy day.  Me?  I call that a "stay under a cool shower for the whole day and hope it will go away" day.

I really should live in Alaska or somewhere.

So, as a consequence, the menu for the week was headed towards salads, through an "easy" meal or two.  One of hubby's excellent risottos is definitely classed as an "easy" meal as he claims that once you've done the chopping and a-peeling, it's just a matter of putting stuff into a pot and stirring a lot.  Personally, I think it involves rather more than just that, but I see where he's coming from with it.

Now hubby has had a thing about cooking with pears and pineapple, for ages.  Every time we begin to consider menu's, he starts suggesting pineapply things, or stuff with pears.  Now the pears I can happily consider as a fairly wide-ranging ingredient in savoury dishes, but the pineapple?  That has a rather restricted appeal, for me.  So I was happy when he started considering what would go with pear in a risotto.

We had already settled on a bacon joint for dinner the previous day, which left the other half of the meat "buckshee" (meaning "something extra or left over, obtained for free"), as my Dad would say.  It was easy then, to match up the leftover bacon with pear as good risotto ammunition - but what else?  It definitely needed something else to round out the flavour, we felt.

Hubby suggested one of his current favourites, which was aubergine.  I greeted this suggestion with some doubt, until he clarified it by specifying chargrilled aubergine.  Now that made lots more sense, as while plain old aubergine has its uses, I felt it would be too bland as another flavour for a risotto.  However, knowing how chargrilling transforms your humble aubergine, that made a very acceptable trinity.  Pear for sweetness and texture, lovely salty, soft textured bacon and earthy, smoky aubergine.  Yum!

The end result was very definitely one of his best risottos yet.  Along similar lines to the Bramley Apple, Bacon & Black Pudding Risotto, this one is rather less challenging, yet with every bit as much flavour and satisfaction in the eating.

If the black pudding put you off the Bramley Apple one - do try this one.  You don't need to use half a bacon joint, any type of bacon would do just as well.  However, you do need to buy a fresh aubergine, slice it, sprinkle with a little oil and seasoning and cook it on a griddle pan or under the grill (or barbecue, if you've got one going at the time!).  The aubergine can be done in the morning and left under cling film until required, which will reduce the amount of fiddling around you need to do once you get cracking on the risotto.

Anyway, here are your instructions, written by hubby, along with a few Rizzology tips from the Master ...


Ingredients :

1 medium onion - very finely chopped
40g butter
half a tsp Herbes du Provence
half a tsp dried Basil
1.5 ltr Ham Stock (from a cube is fine)
350g Arborio Rice
glug of Rapeseed oil
400g cooked bacon/gammon joint
1 aubergine, sliced, griddled and then cut to 1cm dice
1 pear, peeled cut to 1cm dice (I used a Conference)
50g finely grated (microplaned) Parmesan Cheese.

Method :

1.  Cut the aubergine into 1cm slices, sprinkle with a little oil and season very lightly before cooking on a very hot griddle pan. Make sure that plenty of griddle marks make it onto the aubergine as this creates a fantastic smokey flavour.  Once cooled, cut the aubergine to a 1cm dice.

2.  Peel the pear and cut to a 1cm dice before placing into a bowl of acidulated water (simply put some water into a bowl and then squeeze in some lemon juice) to prevent the flesh from oxidising and turning brown.

3.  Cut the cooked ham to a 1cm dice and set aside.

4.  Finally, cut the onion to as fine a dice as you can possibly manage.

5.  In a saucepan, make up the stock and heat to a lively simmer.

6.  Pour a good glug of rapeseed oil into a large pan and then melt the butter into this.  Add the finely diced onion and allow to sweat over a low heat until the onion is soft but not coloured.

7.  Now turn the heat up to a good sizzle before adding the rice.  Stir vigorously, ensuring each grain of rice is well coated in the oils, taking care not to let the rice stick to the pan.

8.  Once the rice is hot, pour in a ladleful of stock and stir like crazy while it is sucked up into the rice.  Add another ladleful of stock, the dried herbs, all of the ham and about a quarter of the aubergine whilst keeping the whole mixture moving.  Keep adding the stock, whenever the mixture starts to get too stiff.

9.  After around ten minutes of this process, drain the pear pieces and add them to the pan along with the remaining aubergine.  Keep adding stock and stirring until the rice is cooked through, which should take another ten or fifteen minutes.  Once the rice is tender, stir in the parmesan and remove the pan from the heat.  Leave the risotto to rest for two to three minutes before serving onto warmed plates.

Rizzology :  There are a few central principles to making a good risotto and these are as follows ..


Regardless of the ingredients being used in your risotto, the absolute cornerstone is the stock.  The better the stock being used, the better your risotto is going to be.  Conversely, if you use a chicken Oxo then don't expect miracles!

Don't worry if you have some stock left over.  Rice seems to vary from packet to packet with some needing more liquid and some needing less.  Use as much stock as is required to get the rice tender but absolutely no more .... unless you're keen on rice soup.  (See "The Finish" below for notes on the final texture).

The "Gasp!"

The process of frying the dry rice in the oils is to break down its outer layer and open the 'pores' of the rice.  There is a very fine balance to be struck in deciding when to add that first ladle of stock but my advice to you is to be brave!  Get the pan and the rice as hot as you dare before sloshing in that stock (carefully now) and you should hear every grain of rice gasp in relief!

When the gasp happens, whatever flavours are in the oil will be sucked into the rice so flavouring the oil with spices can yield great results.  For this reason, if you're using spiced meats such as chorizo, it's better to add them right at the beginning, before the rice goes in, to allow its flavours to permeate the oils.

Some risottos call for the first ladle of stock to be replaced by a glass of wine, which is lovely when the recipe needs it.  When wine is used though, make sure to cook out the majority of the alcohol to prevent the stock from becoming bitter.

The Finish

There are a huge variety of opinions as to what the consistency of a finished risotto should be.  Some like it so loose that it immediately swims to the edges of the plate.  Some restaurants serve it so stiff that it can be placed into a ring or dariol mould and will then hold that shape on the plate.  My own feeling is that it should be served 'oozy'.  Think Sophia Loren on a chaise longue and you'll be on the right track.  One practice that I strongly disagree with however, is the use of cheese as a binding agent.  I almost always put a handful of grated parmesan into my risotto right at the end of cooking but always as a flavouring.  Before I add the cheese, my risotto is already at the consistency that I want.

So there you are - go on, have a go.  You know you want to!

Printable version


15 August 2012

Sirloin Steak & Broad Bean Salad - just jaw-droppingly good

I have to own up and say that this meal is seriously jumping the queue where blogging about various dinners is concerned.

The reason for this is the fact that these two steaks - both Westin Gourmet, one Hereford Sirloin steak and one Aberdeen Angus Sirloin steak - were just divine and went so well with the salad I had devised for them.  When a meal is so good that you're day dreaming about it for days afterwards, it demands to be shared.

The two steaks were part of the One Time Offer pack that I had received from Westin Gourmet to trial for them.  They were both just 5-6oz each, but their steak sizes include an 8-9 oz if you're after one a little bigger.

The steaks arrived vacuum packed, which always presents them in a not terribly flattering light as they tend to look a bit pulverised and grey.  They are obviously gasping for breath, as within fifteen minutes of being let out of their bag, they are re-inflating and looking a lot healthier as a rosy blush spreads across the meat.  By the time they were ready to be cooked, they looked as mouthwatering as any steak could.

Hubby isn't terribly keen on steak, so he opted for some peppered mackerel with an identical salad to the one accompanying the beef, which worked perfectly.

In the interests of taste testing, son and heir and I had half a steak each - which was quite convenient. It meant I could cut the fatty end off for me and leave the leaner end for son & heir, who has followed his father in not liking fat on his meat.  We were both bowled over by these steaks - and the look on son & heir's face when he heard it was steak for tea, was a picture.  He even ate every little bit of his salad!

The base salad, prior to including steak
The salad I devised comprised a nest of lamb's lettuce, liberally sprinkled with hulled broad beans (partly cooked, then cooled and taken from their leathery jackets), quickly cooked and chilled peas, chargrilled baby sweetcorn, chargrilled asparagus, baby Sweetfire chilli infused beetroot and some of those completely gorgeously adorable little Tomberry tomatoes.

With the addition of the Mary Berry (yes, THAT Mary Berry) and Daughter's Caesar Salad Dressing - which is our current favourite, the salad was perfect in substance and flavour to accompany something as strong as steak.

I do try to put some carbohydrate or another on the plate, as I find that unless I have some kind of carbs, I'm looking for something else to eat within an hour of dinner.  In this instance, I had found some baby Apache potatoes which I cooked in their jackets then tossed in butter and a small teaspoonful of mint sauce.  This is my method of choice for small potatoes (new potatoes included) when I don't have fresh mint to hand.  Apache potatoes are very jolly in their look, as they are a kind of skewbald colour (red and white) on the outside (well, dark red and light brown, in truth!) and the pinkness travels through to the inside of the potato.  The only negative I could find with these little lovelies was that the pinkness inside tends to translate to grey once cooked, but their flavour is very mild and goes well with more highly flavoured accompaniments.

The Aberdeen Angus side of the salad

So - getting back to the steak, both these steaks were utterly gorgeous in flavour and texture.  I cooked them both on a blisteringly hot griddle pan, having sprinkled one side with a little seasoning and a few drips of rapeseed oil.  They had probably around 3-4 minutes on one side, then 2-3 minutes on the other, which rendered them a perfect medium rare.

I rested them both for some 5-10 minutes while I assembled the salad, then sliced them and served.

The Hereford Steak side of the salad
There was a time that I could no more have eaten a medium rare steak than fly to the moon.  In those days, unless the steak was utterly ruined (also known as cooked all the way through - "well done" and then some) it wasn't going anywhere my mouth.  These days, I have learnt to appreciate both the flavour and the tenderness of a steak which has been treated a little better.  As time goes on and the ole teeth aren't what they used to be (and probably the jaw muscles, too!), a tender steak is a must.  These weren't quite butter-soft, but they weren't far away from that.

I began my taste test with the Hereford, which had the kind of beefy flavour that you have come to expect from a steak and that - for those meat eaters amongst us - renders you with half closed eyes and a beatific smile on your face while you chew appreciatively.  I really didn't think that the Aberdeen Angus could trump that - but it did.  My first taste was very definitely an "ohmagawd!" moment, with accompanying wide eyes of surprise.  I just wanted that steak to last for ever, it was THAT good.

Currently, the price on the Westin Gourmet website for the 5-6oz Aberdeen Angus steaks - two to a pack, is £13.17 for the two.  Not the cheapest of prices, but then not the most expensive I've seen, either.  As a treat - and boy, are they a treat - I'd say they were worth it - and don't forget, if you've someone in the family who isn't keen on steak, just serve them something else like the peppered mackerel, or maybe some sausages.  It all depends what you'd prefer.


Ingredients :

2 x 5-6oz Sirloin steaks
a drizzle of rapeseed or olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
a bag of Lamb's Lettuce leaves or salad leaves of choice
a small cupful of frozen or fresh broad beans
a smaller cupful of frozen or fresh peas
9 or so baby sweetcorn (fresh)
6 asparagus spears (fresh)
a pack of Sweetfire beetroot, or baby beetroot of your choice
a pack of Tomberry tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes.

Method :

1.  Boil some salted water in a medium sized pan and add the broad beans.  Cook for some 3-4 minutes, then remove from the water with a slotted spoon into a colander and run under the cold tap to stop the cooking process.  Set aside.

2.  Add the peas to the water and cook them for 3 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon, run under cold water in the same way as the broad beans, and reserve in a separate bowl to the broad beans.

3.  Add the baby corn to the water and cook for some 3-4 minutes.  Drain, discarding the water, and set the corn aside to cool.

4.  Take the broad beans and, pinching out an end of each bean's jacket, pinch the inner green bean from the jacket.  Keep the inner green bean and discard the leathery jacket.  This process does take time and will make your arms ache - but it's worth it!

5.  Heat a griddle pan on a high heat and, while it is heating, cut the baby sweetcorn into two longways.  Drizzle a little rapeseed oil over them and season lightly.

6.  Place the sweetcorn pieces onto the griddle pan once up to temperature and char-grill until well marked.  Reserve onto a plate to cool.

7.  Take the asparagus spears and place them onto the griddle pan.  Cook until well marked on all sides and soft in the middle, then remove to a plate and leave to cool.

7.  Take your steaks (which should be at room temperature) and, using some kitchen paper pat them dry.  Season with a little salt and pepper on one side, then drizzle with a little rapeseed oil on both sides.

8.  Place the steaks onto the griddle pan and leave them where they fall for around 4-5 minutes.  They should be fairly easy to remove from the griddle pan (without sticking) if they are done sufficiently, in which case turn them and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes for a medium rare steak.  Don't be turning them this way and that - just place them and leave them to cook.  Obviously, if you prefer your steak more cooked, them leave them for longer on each turn - and less for a more rare steak.

9.  When the steaks are done to your satisfaction, put them onto a warmed plate and reserve somewhere warm (under the grill or a warm oven) to rest until ready to serve.

10.  Assemble your salad on the plate however you prefer, then take the steaks and slice into attractive looking slices and lay on top of the salad.

Serve with minted new potatoes.

Printable version

.Westin Gourmet

13 August 2012

Rhubarb & Ginger Jam - well it was about time!

Long overdue, I'd say!

Having occurred to me that I had yet to blog anything Rhubarb & Ginger flavoured - if ever there was a missed opportunity, it's that one - I resolved to do something about that.

Now Ruby is, as ever, on a mission to take over our little garden - so I had no shortage of rhubarb.  In fact, we've had to crop her once and there was so much of it we gave rhubarb to all the neighbours whether they wanted it or not.

Sugary rhubarby promise of jam
Ruby 2 has yet to be cropped, but she's now in "young adult" stage and I can see that we're going to have to take a crop from her very soon - if we want to be able to see down the garden, that is.

I had taken the pinkest and prettiest stems from the crop to make jam with.  It's worth being colour-ist in this way if you're going to be making jam, because it's so much nicer to have a pretty pink jam, than a slightly muddy greenish jam.  Save the greenish stems for a nice pie, or maybe a crumble.

It had been a while since I'd made any Small Batch Jam and I'd completely forgotten the details as to how, but the trusty blog came to the rescue and here I give details on what to do.

Hotter than Eva Longoria modelling lingerie
I set to and washed the rhubarb, then cut it into jam-sized pieces.  I knew that I wanted the jam to retain some of the tartness of the rhubarb, plus I wanted to use some of the stem ginger syrup from the jar, so reduced the amount of sugar by around a quarter.  It always seems to me to be such a waste to throw away that beautiful gingery syrup that stem ginger comes with - and including it in jam is a perfect way of using it.

I was also aware of the fact that I didn't want the heat of the jam's cooking process to affect the flavour of the ginger pieces.  They would be cut so small, I felt it would be easy for them to become overcooked in the process if I added them from the beginning.  I'm not sure if ginger's flavour does change if it is overcooked, but imagine it would do.  Most things taste different if overcooked!  So, although I added the syrup at the beginning, I opted not to add the ginger pieces until the very end.  It was a bit of a gamble, I will admit - but one which happily paid off as the ginger flavour was pronounced but not overpowering to the rhubarb.  Gorgeous!

I've just passed some of this jam on to my Mum & Dad (as ever, I made too much!) and are waiting to hear how they like it.  I'm hoping they'll enjoy it, as we like it a lot.  I have to admit that we've even used it like a compote and added a couple of teaspoonfuls to a bowl of vanilla ice cream.  Now that really was delicious.

As ever with small batch jam, you can't keep it out of the fridge as the pots aren't sterilised.  However, if you want to sterilise your pots, you would be able to keep it sealed for as long as any jam can be kept.

It's undoubtedly the season for jam, plus scones - and maybe hot buttered toast and jam with a cup of steaming tea on those rainy days.  Personally, I think the satisfaction of knowing that I made the jam is very definitely worth every second of the short time it takes to make.


Ingredients :

sticks of the pinkest rhubarb you can find - I used 8 or 9 large sticks
granulated sugar
stem ginger pieces - I used 5 walnut sized pieces (from a jar, not fresh)
3-4 tbsp ginger syrup from the jar.

Method :

1.  Wash and slice your rhubarb into smallish chunks.

2.  Weigh the rhubarb and take note of its weight.

3.  Place the rhubarb into a suitably sized non-reactive saucepan add 1tbsp of water and begin to heat on a high heat.

4.  Weigh out slightly less than the weight of the rhubarb, in sugar.  For instance, if you have 400g of rhubarb, I'd use around 310g of sugar.

5.  Once the rhubarb has begun to sizzle, is looking juicy and like it is beginning to soften, add the sugar and the ginger syrup.  It is worthwhile not adding the sugar until the fruit has begun to soften, as if there is a lack of liquid in the saucepan you can wind up with caramel beginning to happen, which can taint the flavour of the jam.  If your rhubarb appears dry, simply add a little more water.

6.  As the rhubarb cooks and the sugar dissolves, stir regularly to prevent it catching on the bottom of the pan.  Burnt rhubarb isn't very nice.

7.  Quickly chop the stem ginger pieces into a mixture of sizes - the largest of which should be no bigger than a quarter of a teaspoon.

8.  The jam will boil, at which point you need to take care not to connect with it as it is hotter than the surface of the sun (or seems like it) at this moment.  A long handled wooden spoon is to be recommended, for stirring with.

9.  Allow the jam to boil, as you need to cook off the majority of the water from the fruit.  How long this process takes depends entirely upon how much jam you're making.  For the ingredients I used, above, it took around 15-20 minutes.  You'll know when you are getting close to "jam", as the feel of the stirring will change.  Each pass of the spoon will become easier as the mixture changes from slightly granular to smooth glossiness.

10.  At this stage, get ready a metal spoon and a saucer of cold water.

11.  Once the jam has reached your preferred thickness - and is feeling glossy - drip a little into the metal spoon and see how easily it runs.  If you're doubtful still, drip a little into the water on the saucer.  Does it set quickly?  Can you run a finger through it without it dispersing into the water?

12.  Once the jam is demonstrating that it is setting well, remove from the heat and stir in the ginger pieces.  Set aside and allow to cool.

13.  Once at a safer temperature, decant into your pot of choice and put some bread into the toaster.  Well, you have to taste test your recipe, don't you?

Printable version

5 August 2012

You can't keep a good blogger down!

Well, I'm not so sure about the "good" bit, perhaps it should have read "prolific" instead.

After a particularly uncomfortable bout of rotten old Shingles (don't ask, it's horrid and my particular bete noir), I think I might be back in the blogging seat again.  Hurrah!

I've such a lot to tell you about - sausages, burgers, chicken pie, some gorgeous wine, braised veal, rhubarb & ginger jam, the Cocoa Boutique chocolates, butter chicken curry, a new way of serving new potatoes, some fab gammon ham, an orange & lemon drizzle marble cake and a steak with broad bean salad meal that was just divine!

Good old hubby has been brilliant while I've been laid up, he's been doing all the cooking and hasn't complained about cabin fever once.

Steak & Broad Bean salad - so good!
There was at least a bit of a silver lining to this cloud, as it meant I got to watch nearly all of the Olympic 3-day Event (Dressage being my "thing" - and I worked in an Eventing Yard a long, looong time ago) and we've at least been sidetracked by all the Olympic coverage in general, which has been just outstanding.

So, hopefully, I'll be back to bend your ear about all those lovely things I mentioned above - and quite probably some more, as we go along!

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