30 September 2013

Introducing : The Beastie! My new combi oven.

Yes, this is my kitchen.
I hope you'll all forgive my not posting anything for a little while, but I've been getting to know my new Beastie.  It's a DeLonghi AC925EFY 25L Combi Microwave/Grill/Convection oven and it's been blinding me with science.

No, I wasn't planning on buying one of these.  Not at all.  However, I got chatting to two Facebook friends (hiya Marj, hiya Charliebigcat Milkbowl!) about how using the big oven on our cooker was becoming increasingly difficult because of the pain involved with getting down to it.  They both commented that they couldn't cook without their Combi ovens - and it went on from there.

Of course, I didn't think it would be remotely possible to buy one of these in the short term as we aren't all that flush with the cash.  To have a couple of hundred pounds sitting around just waiting to be used on an oven just isn't where we're at.  However, I went along to the Argos website to have a look at just how much we'd need for one.

Lo and behold, there was the DeLonghi, reduced from £199 to £99 - and I suddenly remembered that I had £50 of birthday money sitting in a side account.  We went out the following day and bought it.

My word what a Beastie it is.  It has so many different functions!  Grill and microwave.  Convection oven and microwave.  Grill and convection oven.  Microwave on its own.  The only thing it doesn't do, is the washing up, regrettably.  Of course, we needed to have a complete re-arrangement of one side of the kitchen to get it in, but eventually we settled on a position for it - and it sits there, all shiny and new.

The funny thing is, you think you're quite a good cook right up until you have to use a new oven.  Suddenly, all the rules you've been used to go right out of the window and it's a whole new world.  A whole new, exciting, bright and shiny world.

So, I think I've got my head around microwaving.  Perhaps even cooking bacon by using the microwave and grill function.  The convection oven has taken a bit of getting used to - example a) being the batch of Bacon & Cheese Muffins that just didn't bake right because the silicone muffin "tin" is a tad too wide for the oven and I had to remove the rotating plate to stop the "tin" bumping into the walls.  Wrong!  Twirling around is apparently essential to achieving an even bake.  Well, it would have been good if the manual had have told me so, but never mind, I know now.  We ate the muffins, even so.  Well - waste not want not.

I'm a lot more comfortable with it now - here's this evening's dinner of BBQ Sausages with Baked Sweet Potatoes and corn on the cob.  The Baked Sweet Potatoes took 1 hour using just the combi oven on 200degC.  I gave them 25 minutes on their own, then put the shelf in and the sausages in over the sweet potatoes for another 35 minutes.  The corn on the cob was from the Vegibox and was just gorgeous.  I cooked that on the cooker hob in a saucepan.  No bending, no pain (other than from getting to the freezer) and happiness all round.  That's got to be worth the £45 it cost.  

14 September 2013

Pumpkin Pie!

Such an innocuous, sugar coated little confection
In this week's delivery from vegibox.com there was a gorgeous summer squash.  Now, for all that I've cooked with Butternut squash for a fair old while, because our boring old supermarkets don't stock any other squash varieties, I've not ventured out into other types.

Yes, I've bought pumpkins from them - but only for carving, never for cooking!

It's a summer squash ... that looks like a pumpkin.
Being something of a novice to the world of summer squash, I thought the best thing to do would be to make something fairly middle of the road to begin with.  Really just to gain an idea of how this squash behaves when it is cooked - and more to the point, how it tastes.  For my first go, then, I made the very lovely creamy parsnip & squash bake - which I will blog very soon.

From this, I discovered that this squash has a mild flavour, is sweet and hangs together nicely when cooked.  Perfect ammunition for a pumpkin pie, then!

Now I have tried to make a pumpkin pie in the past - with parlous results.  However, this time, I'll be using fresh pumpkin (or squash) as opposed to the nasty tinned stuff - and I was hoping it would make a difference.

Just look how gorgeous the squash/pumpkin was inside ... amazing.


Having nearly severed the end of my finger on the mandolin when I was slicing veggies a few days ago, I thought it was better not to be making pastry right now ~wince~ and so we invested in a ready made sweet pastry shell.  However, the quantity of filling was sufficient for a standard pie dish (you know, the pyrex type ones) and my pie case was half the depth.  No worries though, I simply filled up the pie case and poured the rest into a small pyrex casserole dish - and baked it like that.  Extra middles!  However, don't feel you have to use a pastry case too - by all means make your own sweet shortcrust pastry and take the pastry case to a blind baked state - then carry on from there.

So - you know what I'm like when I'm making something for the first time.  I don't stick to just one recipe, I read a dozen or so and decide to make something that uses bits from each.  In this instance, however, I think either the squash was an awful lot wetter in structure than ordinary pumpkin, or I got the quantities of the milk wrong.  Basically, once I'd added the sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, butter and eggs to the pumpkin, it was looking pretty darned wet - so I only added 25ml of the milk, as opposed to the 75ml that I'd picked up from another recipe!  Well, it seems to have worked fine - but just be aware that if your mixture appears to be too thick or too dry, just add more milk and it will be fine.

The bake was easy peasy - it made the flat smell utterly gorgeous - and the filling set up beautifully into a mousse-like texture that was light and fluffy.

Well, it looks like the real thing!  Perhaps the filling could have been deeper, but there's certainly enough in there and I have a very strong feeling that it's going to be pretty rich!

Oh my goodness though - the flavour.  Oh wow!  Now I know why the Americans go so potty over pumpkin pie.  It's only a shame that it has taken so long to find out.  The nutmeg, the cinnamon, the soft, yielding unctuousness that just coats your tongue and says "everything is okay now" in motherly tones.  I know it is a Greg Wallace-ism, but it really does give you a great big, warm, fluffy, cinnamon scented hug.  Which is odd, considering I served it cold.


To a man - and one woman - we all took our first bite and chewed for approximately three seconds before rolling our eyes heavenwards and saying "mmmnnnhhhh" in that "oh, this is gooooood!" kind of way.  In fact, it isn't good - it transcends good.  It is amazing.



Go get yourself a pumpkin or golden summer squash and make it.  You have to.  You simply just have to.


PUMPKIN PIE    (serves 6)

Ingredients :

750g pumpkin (or yellow squash), peeled and cut into chunks
140g granulated sugar
half a tsp salt
half a tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, beaten well
25g salted butter, melted
25ml milk
Icing sugar to decorate.

Method :

1.  Place the pumpkin chunks into a saucepan and cover them with boiling water.  Place onto a moderate heat and simmer until tender.  Drain and place the chunks into a large bowl.

2.  Either mash, or use a blender, to render the chunks of pumpkin down to a puree.  Set aside to cool.

3.  Pre-heat your oven to 220degC(200degC fan)/425degF/Gas 7.

4.  In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

5.  Mix in the eggs, butter and milk.

6.  Add the sugar mixture to the cooled pumpkin and stir to combine.

7.  Pour into a part baked shell of sweet shortcrust pastry and bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180degC(160degC fan)/350degF/Gas 4 and bake for another 35-40 minutes, or until the filling is set.

Allow to cool, dust with icing sugar and serve chilled, with cream or ice cream.

Printable version

12 September 2013

Tonight's dinner : I cut my finger - does that make me a cook, now?

There is a train of thought in amongst the Shamanic fraternity that it takes a near death experience (preferably with lightning) in order to make a Shaman.  So, I was wondering whether nearly taking the top of your finger off on a mandolin, qualifies you as a Cook with a capital "c"?

I'll go with a "yes", I think.


I was slicing parsnips and squash (beautiful parsnips and squash from thevegibox.com), to make this creamy parsnip & squash bake.  Poor hubby and son & heir came back from walking the dogs, to find me hyperventilating whilst holding my right hand in the air with my little finger swathed in kitchen paper.  Yes, it did leak - copiously.  However, with the addition of a dressing, a plaster and a latex glove, I soldiered on like the brave likkle Cook that I now am.

Now, this 'ere bake very definitely deserves its own recipe post - so watch this space and it shall appear.  It was utterly delicious, incredibly moreish and comfort food to the Nth degree.  Like so many of my favourite recipes, it was so easy to make too!  (Well, not counting the first aid requirement).

I partnered the bake up with some honey & mustard chicken (gorgeous) together with some  steamed young carrots and rainbow chard from thevegibox.com.  This was our first go with chard as a side veggie and combined with the cooking juices from the chicken, it was really good.  It didn't taste how I was expecting it to - it has a definite spinach quality, whereas I was expecting more of a cabbage quality.  Very nice!

The chicken was rolled around in some runny honey that I'd combined with Dijon mustard, a little dried thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper.  It baked up well and provided some lovely juices that stood in well instead of having to make a gravy or jus.



The whole family enjoyed the meal and there were clear plates all round.  Can't ask for more than that!


 

11 September 2013

Today's dessert : Strawberry & Rhubarb Pie


I first made a Strawberry and Rhubarb Pie around 3 or so years ago.  I hadn't heard of the combination prior to this and it was due to the glowing recommendations of my friends from across the pond (USA & Canada, that is) that I tried it out.


Well, since then it has become a yearly favourite.  When Ruby is at her peak (and you never know, we may even get two of them this year as RubyTwo is almost as big as her Mum now) we find a punnet of the last few English strawberries and get to it.


Hubby found one such punnet in the supermarket the other day (on special offer, so even better!) and I set to with pastry and egg wash, this morning.


The flavour from Ruby's rhubarb and gorgeous English strawberries is quite sublime, however there has been a leetle problem in the past, in that the fruit generated far too much juice.  This time, I combined a couple of spoonfuls of cornflour with the fruit and hey presto - problem solved.



I am pretty confident that this year's pie is by far the best I've ever made.  The recipe is available from http://jennyeatwellsrhubarbginger.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/strawberry-rhubarb-pie-why-havent-i.html and I have updated it to include a couple of new processes that ensure a crisp bottom layer of pastry.

Ruby in her second year - she's 6ft tall now!

If you have rhubarb growing - or know someone who does, do make this pie.  It really is something very special.
 

10 September 2013

Tonight's Dinner : An oldie - Slow Cooker Split Pea & Ham Soup

Well.  I don't think that was half bad.  We bought the gammon join for Sunday's dinner (remember?  Gammon with Piedmontese Peppers?) then we had Ham Egg & Chips last night and this evening, we finished off the £7.50 piece of gammon with a home made Split Pea and Ham Soup.  Roughly £2.50 per meal over the three days for the meat content.  Very nice too.

 

The soup was an absolute dream to make, it was so easy.  I didn't follow anyone's recipe in particular, but read several different recipes (not all of which were for Pea and Ham soup!) for inspiration and just winged it after that.  What made it so easy was the use of my slow cooker (or crockpot) - although if you don't have one of these paragons, you can easily make the same soup on the cooker top in less time with a little more stirring and watching of liquid levels.

I used my favourite Essential Cuisine stock - 1 tsp vegetable stock powder and 1.5 tsp veal stock powder in 1 litre of water.  Now Essential Cuisine stock is naturally low in salt, but if you decide to use stock cubes - do beware of the salt content and definitely use a low salt version.

Hubby declared it to be "proper gorgeous, proper delicious", which I take to be high praise.  Son and heir decided it was a little too salty for his taste (which was odd, as I hadn't used any salt at all!).  I thought it was quite the nicest pea and ham soup I'd had in a very long while.  We ate it with some nice Cheese & Pickle crusty bread from Asda.

SLOW COOKER SPLIT PEA & HAM SOUP  (serves 3)

Ingredients :

1 onion, chopped finely
2 sticks of celery and a few celery leaves, chopped finely
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthways and sliced thinly
1 medium potato, diced finely
2 rashers of back bacon, diced finely
1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh parsley
2-3 bay leaves
1 litre very hot stock of your choice (see note above)
250g dried, unsoaked, yellow split peas
freshly ground black pepper
a large knob of butter
6 slices of ham leftover from a gammon joint, cut into fine shreds.

Method : 

1.  Place all the ingredients except the pepper and the butter into the slow cooker and stir to combine.

2.  Turn the slow cooker to High and cook for 5 hours, or Medium and cook for 6-7 hours.

3.  Half way through the cooking time, remove the lid and give the contents a stir.

4.  Add a good pinch of black pepper and stir through, then replace the lid.

5.  At the end of the cooking time, mash the contents roughly with a potato masher.  Do not use a blender, as it will turn your soup into a puree.

6.  Add the shredded ham and stir through.

7.  Remove any bay leaves you can find and add the butter.  Allow it to melt and stir it through, then taste for seasoning and add more freshly ground black pepper if necessary.

Serve, with a little of the shredded ham and some freshly ground black pepper on top for garnish and crusty bread for dipping.

Printable version 

8 September 2013

Tonight's dinner : Simon Hopkinson I might love you ...

Why this sudden devotion to Simon Hopkinson (he of "Simon Hopkinson Cooks" on the t.v.)?  Two words : Piedmontese Peppers.  I'd seen him make them on his t.v. programme and saw how much he enjoyed them and was attracted to the idea from way back then.  So when I had tomatoes and peppers in the same space, both looking for a job to do, I remembered the recipe.

This evening's dinner consisted of a gammon joint, pot roasted slowly in apple juice with a bouquet garni and black pepper, along with Piedmontese Peppers (half a capsicum pepper, with slices of garlic, half a tomato, salt & pepper and rapeseed - or olive - oil), almondy green beans, steamed carrots and potatoes, with gravy.



Those Piedmontese Peppers.  Well, I can't remember the last time I ate something that so rattled my cage with delight in the way these did.  The only trouble was - I was the only one!  Hubby wasn't keen on the skins of either the peppers or the tomatoes, although he liked the flavours apart from too much garlic.  He felt the garlic clashed terribly with the gammon.  Son & heir didn't even try his pepper, having had a little taste of the anchovy on top.  I was SO disappointed about that.

So.  The next capsicum pepper I get, is going to be made into Piedmontese Peppers and I'm going to eat them on a socking great chunk of toasted ciabatta for a totally awesome and amazing lunch.  Then I'll blog them - and try not to go on .. and on .. and on .. about how gorgeous they are.

Aside from that, the meat was tender and luscious - just so juicy, from being slow cooked in the apple juice.

It was the first time I'd made the almondy green beans, too.  It's a bit of a shame that I chose the same day to make the peppers, as without them overshadowing the beans, I'd have been waxing lyrical about how gorgeous the beans were!  Cooked normally (in boiling salted water), when you drain them, you melt a big old knob of butter in the hot pan then add the toasted almonds (I toasted them first in the same pan), put the beans back and warm them through over a low heat.  Gosh but they were good!



With the Vegibox's fabulous carrots which are so mild and sweet and their lovely robust potatoes, everything about this evening's meal just hit the spot with me.  It's just as well somebody liked it all!

7 September 2013

Tonight's dinner : BBQ Sausages, cornbread and salad


I haven't made cornbread for ages - but suddenly had a mad fancy for it.  Hence when The Vegibox delivered a couple of lovely chunky cobs of corn, it seemed like the perfect time.

Along with the corn, this week, they also delivered a bag of delicious salad leaves and some deep scarlet salad tomatoes.


Well, the menu just wrote itself after that.  Lovely chunky pork sausages coated in our favourite Mic's Chilli El Loco BBQ sauce.  Happy days!

So, the corn went into the cornbread which son & heir loved.  The salad leaves and tomato went into a little side salad (and really were a cut above anything you'll ever get from a supermarket) - and the gorgeous sausages were basted regularly with the BBQ sauce .. a match made in heaven.


3 September 2013

Today's dinner : Medicinal Shepherd's Pie

I've said before - many times, I suspect - that Shepherd's Pie is, to me, more of a medicinal thing than simply a comfort food thing.

I've been hankering after a Shepherd's Pie for a little while but the weather has just been wrong for the making, not to mention the eating, of one.  So when things cooled down a few degrees and I found myself with a pack of lamb mince (because the Pilaff should have been lamb instead of chicken - I took the wrong thing out of the freezer!) and both hubby and I had tender tummies, it was an easy choice.

Not just any old Shepherd's Pie, though.  If I was going to go to all the time and effort of making one, I was going to make my Really Lamby Shepherd's Pie.  Click on the name there and it'll take you to the recipe - for me, it's the ultimate in Shepherd's Pie recipes.

Just look at that beautifully baked top. Mmmmn.

Now I will admit that the whole recipe lives or dies on what stock you use.  Because the big gravy granule producers (Knorr, Bisto etc.) haven't seen fit to produce a lamb version, (or if they have, I haven't found it) the gravy for this production has to be based on a lamb stock.  Now Knorr do make a lamb stock cube, but it is frightfully salty.  A far better idea is to use Essential Cuisine's utterly fabulous Lamb Stock powder.  Nowhere near as salty as standard stock cubes, it has a rich deep lamb flavour and leaves you to add how much or how little salt you want/need.


I served mine with Vegibox's gorgeous carrots, along with some broccoli and peas.  Don't forget to use the broccoli stem - it's just as nice as the fluffy bit!


You know, there's no hope for me.  Because, as I have been tidying up the photographs for this blog post, my mouth has been watering.  I only stopped eating dinner about an hour ago!  I'm not hungry (not at all), it's just that it looks so good!  Mind you, I wasn't feeling so chipper by the time the veggies were in the steamer and I'd spent the previous two hours cooking the Shepherd's Pie.  I looked rather like this .... worn out and ready for a nap!

1 September 2013

Today's dinner : a creation borne of a too-full vegetable drawer!

I decided to call this evening's dinner Chicken & Vegetable Pilaff, but it really - strictly speaking - is more of a "rice'n'stuff" than ever it is a pilaff.

It was all because our vegetable drawer in the fridge was beginning to groan under the weight of so many veggies.  This weekly veggie box delivery malarky is forcing us to use many more veggies than we would normally.  Now you might think that this is no bad thing, but I'm already getting grumbles about the personal veggie quota having been exceeded.

This dish involved a lot of cutting up of various veggies, but the cooking of it was fairly uncomplicated and went really rather well.



Start off by cutting up all your veggies into the correct size and shape, then put them on plates in order of appearance in the pan.

In a big old wok, heat some groundnut (or any oil really) oil to seriously hot, then slip in a couple of finely sliced skinless chicken breasts.  Add a grind or two of black pepper and cook until golden and just cooked through.  Remove to a good sized bowl.   Immediately add diced courgette and aubergine to the pan and cook that also until it is golden on at least two sides and softened.  Remove that to the bowl with the chicken.  A slotted spoon is great for this, as it leaves the oil in the pan.  Add a little more oil if you need to, then add chopped red onion and finely sliced chilli.  Cook until softened, then add two sticks of celery and half a yellow pepper, also finely sliced.  You don't want to be waiting hours for them to soften, you see, so the more finely you slice them, the better it is.  Cook until softened.  Then add 2 tsp of ground cumin, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, half a tsp ground allspice and 1 tsp of caraway seeds.  Stir this lot in and cook for a minute or two, then add four chopped good sized tomatoes, three cloves of finely chopped garlic and a whole heap of button mushrooms.  Add a good half teaspoonful of sea salt.  The tomatoes will cook down into a sauce-like consistency, whereupon you can add the contents of your bowl back into the mix.  Add a small handful of flaked almonds and allow the mix to simmer while the flavours combine and the tomatoes cook down.  After around 10 minutes, test for seasoning and add a little more salt if necessary.  Add a handful of thawed garden peas and some cooked rice.  Stir through and allow to heat up, then serve.

Well, the veggie drawer is a lot lighter now!
 
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