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.

Thursday, 11 September 2014


I think mince dishes are always better after 24 or 48 hours of making.  The sauce soaks into the meat, the flavours intermingle and develop.  For that reason I'm making the lasagne bolognese today to put it all together tomorrow.

I can tell you how I make mine, bolognese that is, but the thing about that is that almost EVERYONE has their own version, their own preferences.  And I doubt that many of them resemble what an italian from Bologna would describe.  Then again, what's the betting that the same holds true for the Bologneese.  Yes, that's definitely a made up word but it's cool huh?

So, my version is very tomato biased, with sweetness and lots of red wine.  I do cheat - I use a jar of Ragu per every 500g of lean minced beef.  It speeds up the process significantly and provides a good foundation.  As with most things I do, I adulterate it to my own tastes with lots of wine, mushrooms, onions, extra chopped tomatoes, a sprinkling of sugar and black pepper.

Tomorrow will be the day to put the lasagne together to give time for the flavours to soak into the pasta sheets, and to make the tiramisu.  Both will be easier to cut and serve for making ahead, which makes them ideal dinner party foods.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A Tast of Brazil - cheese breads, not football

I've had a mix for Brazilian Cheese breads (Pao de Queijo) in my cupboard for a long (very long, cough, cough) time.  As per normal for me, these have languished in their lonely spot due to my anxiety at trying new recipes but from their description they seemed to be the perfect thing to serve as garlic dough balls, of the gluten free variety.

And oh my god they're gorgeous!!!

The pack made 24 balls, which have a light, crisp shell and a really doughy interior.  I didn't measure out the cheese, I just put a couple of handfulls of medium mature cheddar into the dough.  It was enough, these were sufficiently cheesy.  They were very quick to get into the oven, though if I were making them from scratch they'd have taken a bit longer to do.  They're so good and the ingredients are so cheap that I'll be making my own next time.

One other marvellous thing about this recipe is that the other 20 I didn't bake?  You can freeze them and then bake direct from frozen.  This makes them excellent make ahead party snacks.  I'll be serving them hot from the oven, tossed in garlic and oregano butter.

Looking again at the picture, I've realised something.  That's no moon, that's a pao de queijo.  Yeah, I'm never going to be a Photographer or a Comedienne.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Savoiardi and late night baking

Saturday night this week is Italian Night for me and the girls. I love cooking for people, and throwing dinner parties that are about more than just the food on the table. The menu for this weekend is a dish of antipasti, followed by garlic bread/dough balls, lasagne, green salad and then a hazelnut tiramisu.

I used to buy Schar Savoiardi when I saw them but they haven't popped up on my shopping circuit for a long time.  Whilst I could buy them online, the postage costs were more than the price of the biscuits themselves so I started looking around for a recipe.

It turns out they are very easy to do. What put me off and made it more daunting was the fact you had to pipe the biscuits. Piping isn't something I'm particularly practiced at or familiar with so I prevaricated about making them, until late last night where, after feeling like I'd not really achieved much I decided to get off the fence and just do it.

This is the recipe I used this recipe but just in case it disappears I'm posting the details here too.

Savoiardi sponge fingers (aka. Ladyfingers)

Recipe from Le Cordon Bleu at Home, via The Daring Kitchen.
Makes around 35 2cm x 8cm fingers

3 eggs, separated
75g sugar
95g gluten-free plain flour
50g icing sugar
Preheat oven to 175C. Line 2 baking trays with paper.
In a clean, grease-free bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and keep beating until the egg whites become stiff, glossy and smooth.  In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks with a fork. Fold the egg yolks into the egg white.

  • Sift over the flour and fold in gently until just combined.
  • Fill a piping bag/ziploc bag with the batter and snip off the end to create a 2cm wide nozzle. Pipe 8-10cm strips, leaving about 2cm of space in between each strip to allow for the fingers to expand.
  • Dust half of the icing sugar over the strips, wait for 5 minutes (the sugar will become moist and glisten) then dust with the remaining sugar.
  • Bake the biscuits for 10 minutes, rotate the trays, then bake for another 5 minutes or until the fingers have puffed up and become light brown.
  • Take the fingers out of the oven and cool on tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack. The cooled biscuits can keep in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks.
  • (Note: This makes soft biscuits. If you want the crispier sort, turn the oven down to 120C after the 15 minutes and bake for a further10-20 minutes until hard and crispy.)

When is a hate page, not a hate page?

My favourite TV cookery programs are anything with Nigella Lawson, Ina Garten and my latest cooking crush, Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman.  I like her friendly, accessible style of presenting and pragmatic approach in the kitchen.

Whilst googling around to find more information about her books which aren't that readily available in the UK, I found a site that's all about 'telling the truth about the Pioneer Woman' and how awful she is.  That's the sole purpose of the site.  Someone has spent time, effort and some cash to register the domain to do this.  Now, I appreciate that she might not be everyone's cup of tea - or iced coffee in her case, but to take it to this extreme seems rather sad and bitter to me.  You don't like her shows?  Moooooove along, there's plenty more to see.

Fortunately though it's not a hate site.  Phew, that's a relief.  How do I know this?  How do I know that this site, solely dedicated to snide personal remarks and negativity isn't a hate site?  Well, because the author of the site says it's not.  So that's ok then.  In other news, chocolate isn't fattening, the word nigger isn't racist and the sky is a fabulous shade of cerise.  I said so, so it must be true.

In other kitchen news, it's been a quiet one.  It's too early to do much for the weekend dinner yet and I really can't justify baking anything more (things will change when I get my chest freezer I can tell you).  All I've done is grate loads of cheese (cheddar and grano padano) and put away the big shop.  Tomorrow is garlic butter and having a go at making these little beauties.  I'm planning to bake off 3 or 4 from the mix to see if they work, and if they do I'll be baking the rest on Saturday and tossing them in garlic and oregano butter.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Gluten Free Bore

It's official, I'm a gluten free bore.  As a foodie, being diagnosed with coeliac disease and discovering that I'd never be able to eat 'normally' again without serious, painful and eventually life threatening repercussions, sucked the big one.

Every single thing that goes into your mouth has to be checked.  You do of course learn what's gluten free and safe, and the bulk of your diet is managed accordingly but sometimes a company will change their recipe and you can get caught out.  And of course, if like me you like variety in your diet, you're always on the look out for new fun things.

This means I talk about gluten and gluten free foods, eating out, suppliers and recipes.  A lot.  I'm also a research geek so I've got a lot to say.  So, if you're looking for that elusive gluten free pork pie, pineapple tart, ditali, afternoon tea or recipe for best ever brownies, I'm probably a good place to start.  You know.  If you know who I am.

And, well, if you don't want to know any of those things, you'll probably end up finding them out if you spend any time in my company.  I'm going to try and reduce the boredom impact on non gluten free friends by posting information here about recipes, suppliers and places to eat out (or not as the case may be).

This is one of my current favourite things to make.  According to non GFers, they can't tell that they're gluten free and they were impressed, they're also easy to make, and if you wrap them individually they can be frozen well.  Just remove from the freezer, micro for 20 seconds or so and serve with butter melting into the cheesy lushness.

Cheese Scones
(Makes approx 8 square scones)

225g gluten free plain flour
1 ¼ tsp gluten free baking powder
½ tsp english mustard powder (not the made up version, that's likely to have wheat in it)
55g butter
55g mature cheddar cheese – finely grated plus extra for topping
160ml milk
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 220c/200c fan
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl
Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs
Stir in the cheese
Mix in enough milk to make a dough that's not wet or crumbly, you may not need all of it
Knead slightly on a floured surface
Flatten to 3/4 of an inch thick either with your hands or a rolling pin.
Cut into 2" rounds or shape the dough into a rectangle and cut into 8 pieces
Arrange on a greased baking sheet and brush the tops with milk
Top with a little cheese - or, frankly a lot and bake for 12 mins