Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Great gnocchi

I've only (before today) tried gnocchi once.  I ordered it in a restaurant in Paris whilst living there as part of my degree course because I was feeling adventurous.  I'd expected a pasta, not really understanding that gnocchi is a pasta, but it's predominantly potato based.  Safe to say I wasn't very impressed and have avoided them ever since.

Nigella, my BFF (apart from the fact we've never met, she doesn't know who I am and I'm even too lazy to stalk her in RL, I just netstalk), does what she called a Rapid Roastini.  She described them as being like mini roast potatoes in minutes.  Now that's a description that works for me.

Ocado recently sent me a voucher for 20% off a shop with them, and they sell a couple of different brands of GF gnocchi as, though potato makes up a significant portion of the ingredients there's normally also wheat flour in them.  I digress.  Bionita make three flavours, plain, spinach and tomato and come in at about £1.50 a pack.  Positively cheap by GF standards.  So I added a couple of packs of plain and a spinach one to the shop.

If you've not tried gnocchi like this, do.  Do it now.  Run out and buy yourself packs of this stuff, and fry them gently in a pan - 4 mins per side as per her royal hotness, Lady Nige's recipe. They're lovely, crispy, slightly resistent centres totally unlike fake mash potato patties you get in every supermarkets freezer section which never come out as crispy as I want.  I served mine with spinach and pine nuts and leftover roast chicken from yesterday.  Sorry I didn't take a pic of my dinner, it kinda vanished.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Entertaining the Bro

I'm having my Brother and Sister in Law over for lunch on Saturday, he's recently received his Civil Engineering Degree after years of working on it part time whilst still working.  I'm so very proud!  It's an amazing achievement.  It now means of course he's got more free time too so all in all it's a good time to celebrate.  Without actually mentioning it of course, he's not exactly what you'd called effusive and demonstrative is my little brother.

He loves lasagne and a roast, both of which I've made recently.  Watching the Pioneer Woman today she did a recipe for pulled pork.  I LOVE pulled pork, but I've struggled to get it right - it's been tough and difficult to pull apart.  Hardly the fork tender deliciousness I was trying to achieve.  Long, slow cooking seems to be the answer, and given that I'm doing this for other people I'm going to have a go at it today - it'll give me time to come up with an alternative if needs be.  Of course I'm not going to follow the recipe exactly - there's a huge shock huh?  Firstly, I want mine to be finished off in bbq sauce.  Secondly, where the hell do you find canned chipotle peppers in the UK short of amazon (Morrisons just made me a liar, they have chipotle paste)?

So, there's a pork shoulder in the slow cooker, with some chilli powder, a quartered onion, some maple syrup and coke.  Check back for the results!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Boeuf Bourginon - kinda

As the weather turns chilly my mind wanders to big old posts of comfort food.  So when I did the shopping earlier this week I picked up some cubed beef to make a warming casserole of some description.  Then the temperature rose to the high 20's.  Typical.

It's cooled down today, after some absolutely fantastic storms the last few days.  The kind that wake you up, light up the sky for seconds and then the subsequent thunder that you can 'feel'.  And apocalyptic rain.  This means some time in the kitchen making a Beef Bourginon.  Ok well my version it.  Alright.  It's a beef stew with wine.

Starting off I browned a red onion (brown, red, oh you know what I mean) and a load of quartered mushrooms.  But I've gotten ahead of myself.  I really started last night by marinating the beef cubes with two whole cloves of garlic that I'd leaned on and a couple of bay leaves, covering the lot with red wine and leaving overnight in the fridge.

Once the onions are sweet and translucent, and the mushrooms have given up some of their water, I tipped them into my slow cooker set on low.  I then browned the meat cubes in some oil and butter after draining them, retaining the wine.

Once the cubes are browned, I tossed in another knob of butter and returned the wine to the pan making sure to scrape up all the nice bits on the bottom from the meat juices and onion sugars.  That goes into the pot with 5 carrots cut into chunks.  I've tried to keep the mushrooms and carrots a similar size to the beef cubes for aesthetics.

A teaspoon full of dried thyme, a new bay leaf and a sprig of fresh rosemary and it gets left to cook for about 4 hours.  This type of food though is incredibly tolerant though.  I'm making it for tomorrow for a relaxed chill out with the girls.  When it was ready, I added a couple of handfulls of frozen silverskin onions and a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly.  Casseroles and stews are always better the day after (as long as you store them appropriately of course).  The flavours of the ingredients meld together making the whole greater than the sum of it's parts.

Sunday I put the casserole back in the slow cooker, brought it up to a simmer and stirred in a little Bisto Best beef gravy granules to thicken the sauce.  I could have used a roux but I hadn't added stock so this gave the dish a bit more of a beefy kick.

It was delicious, served with extra crispy roast potatoes.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Pao de Queijo from scratch

When I made the pao de queijo (or bazilian cheese breads) for the dinner party the other day I used a mix made by a company - Isabels.  You can get it at Ocado, some branches of Asda and Amazon.  It was the first time I'd tried them and they were absolutely gorgeous.

Given I can't just pop out and buy a pack, and cassava flour, the main ingredient is available in my local Asda I thought I'd try and teach myself how to make them from scratch.

I used this recipe.  The results tasted right, but they weren't nearly as light and round as the mix buns, and looked more the shape of rock cakes.  Lots of googling around indicates that this isn't uncommon, but I want to make the more rubbery dough that can be shaped with your hands into balls, and then those balls frozen.

I used the butter option, but next time I'm going to try it with sunflower oil, add the flour directly to the hot liquid in the sauce pan and mix in the pan until it's combined as you would do with a choux pastry and see how that works.  If it's still a little soft, I'm going to have a go using an icecream scoop to put it onto the baking sheet.

Even so, despite their visual imperfections these still tasted fantastic.  Seriously.  Even if you're not gluten free give these little babies a go.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Today can just do one

Today and I are not friends.  Frankly, today can go f*ck itself royally.  Not for any major catastrophe for which I would be due sympathetic understanding, no, for a series of not serious irritations and let downs.  Firstly I was to meet old work friends for lunch.  I turned up, after an hour long drive and search for a parking space at the restaurant I thought we were to meet up only to sit for 10 minutes with no sign of them.  Did I have the wrong Nandos?  I checked the facebook message, and the postcodes of where I was and where we'd said to meet didn't match.  Bugger.

I get back to the car, and drive around for 20 minutes looking for a Nandos at that postcode.  Nothing.  Then I realise despite the fact we were going to Nandos said friend had given me the address for where she works.  Once I gleaned this bit of info I was able to find her office.  But no one was outside waiting.  So I rang, phone unavailable, facebooked, no response, so rang another of my colleagues only to find out that lunch had been cancelled.  Oh, had no one told me?


By this point, I'd not eaten and needed the loo.  So I stopped into a supermarket to use the facilities after negotiating people driving like aimless sheep (isn't that always the way when you're in a hurry).  One problem solved, I headed back to Lakeside to do the list of things I had planned for this afternoon.  Starving.  The two granola bars I'd had didn't hit the spot and were a bit nasty.  Thanks Udi's.  Off to McD's for a fruit smoothie and some fries to help fill the gap.  They got my drink order wrong.

A fruitless tour round Homebargains I realised that i wasn't going to get this list of jobs done today.  I was too tired and too irritated.  I just wasn't happening, so I trundled off to click and collect my groceries from Tesco.  But there was no one in the little hut.  So I waited.  I checked for a little note to give me info on a problem.  Nothing.  Time to ring the store and negotiate through the automated phone system to speak to a human being, who goes off to find out what's happening.  Oh, she says.  Can you not see someone coming towards you? They couldn't find the keys.  Nope.  Nary a soul.  So I wait another few minutes and at last, someone turns up.

Groceries loaded I took myself home.  And after a sandwich, I feel sleepy but more human.  I'll try again tomorrow.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Ta da!

So it was the Italian Night last night and it was a really fun evening.

I do get what Ina Garten says, that she doesn't feel like it's a party unless the table is set. Having it done allows me to relax and I was pleased with the look achieved with just a couple of candles in bottles, a tablecloth and simple mats and napkins.

So a reminder of what the menu was, for those who managed to escape my previous blogs on the subject.

Antipasti - a selection of italian salamis, parma ham, stuffed cherry peppers, artichoke hearts and olives with breadsticks

Main - Lasagne, green salad with a lemon oil dressing and pao de queijo (brazilian cheese breads, lovely, doughy and totes amaze balls) tossed in garlic and oregano butter with tiny jam jars of extra butter for dipping.

Dessert - Hazelnut tiramisu.

Yes, I did coordinate the butter pots with the tablecloth.  I know.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Preparation, preparation, preparation

For me, the key to giving a dinner party, and being able to enjoy it, is to make as much ahead as possible.  It makes for a relaxing, stress free evening and then I also get to enjoy the process of cooking as I can do it at my own pace, with no time pressure.  Also, as mentioned on a previous blog there are things that have a better taste and texture when allowed to sit in marinades, gravies and sauces.

Today, I've made a hazelnut tiramisu from a Nigella recipe.  I'm not a huge fan of tiramisu when it's too bitter so the sweet, hazelnut liqueur that I bought on my last trip to Calais should be perfect.  I'm also substituting the cocoa powder dusting on the top with toasted chopped nuts and grated chocolate.  It'll get it's topping tomorrow before I serve so for now it doesn't look that impressive but should taste blooming gorgeous.

Next up is the lasagne.  The bolognese is chilled, the cheese sauce is cooling.  If you're making this ahead you want everything to be at the same temperature when you put it together.  As you also shouldn't reheat things more than once, everything is going to be cold.  This way a hot cheese sauce won't warm up the meat sauce, risking bacterial growth.  Food poisoning, never a good look at a get together.

Oops, it would help if I'd actually posted this blog.