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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sautéed Potatoes with Tomato and Bacon

Most of the time I follow a recipe, as I've said before I alter them slightly to suit our tastes, but sometimes I get the urge to just throw stuff together. The problem is I tend to think of everything in portion size, my portion and Glen's portion and I forget to write down exactly what I have done - how much of what and as for why? I have no idea. This next recipe was one of the few occasions I knew exactly what I did. Two potatoes - one each, four rashers of bacon (slices) - two each, three tomatoes - one and a half each, dash of hot sauce - mostly because hot sauce was my new thing at the time, 1 tsp minced garlic - Americans have it definitly right when it comes to grocery shopping, you can buy massive jars of minced garlic, and none of that rubbish in vinegar that you get in England, nope this stuff is preserved in like a brine type stuff. One teaspoon of savoury - the sprinkle lid was broken so I stuck in a teaspoon, three tablespoons of red onion. I keep saying I'm not very creative, that my artistic vision is circumscribed by my own negativity, when in truth if I was really that uncreative I wouldn't be able to cook at all, neither would I be able to put pen to paper. I find that if I break things down into pieces, rather than looking at things as a whole, it makes things easier for me to find, the inspiration I need, to develope my idea into the final product whether that's a meal or one of my pieces of writing.

Sautéed Potatoes with Tomato and Bacon

2 potatoes, chopped into bite sized pieces
4 rashers of bacon, diced
3 tomatoes, diced
dash hot pepper sauce
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp savoury
3 tbsp red onions, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. Par boil the potatoes, meanwhile gently fry the bacon and red onion, when the potatoes are done pat dry and add to the bacon along with the remaining ingredients, fry until the potatoes are lightly browned.

I like this for it's simplicity, great for lunches, or light suppers!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mussels Steamed in White Wine

This recipe a friend gave me, back in 2010. He lives in Portugal and from what he tells me fresh fish is in abundance. I would love to live near the coast, a small fishing village. I can see myself deliberately going down to the local pub for lunch or dinner, with the sole purpose of making friends with the local fishermen. What could be better than meeting your mate Frank, off the boat in the morning and getting first pick of his catch? I would be perfectly happy eating fresh fish two or three times a week - failing that I am going to need a decent fish monger - which to be honest with my bone phobia is probably more practical than "my mate Frank." Still I can see myself living in a cottage on the coast, with my modern rustic looking kitchen, over looking the veiw, I'd enjoy doing the dishes while watch my sea views!

Fresh Mussels Steamed in White Wine

1lb fresh mussels
1 sliced leek
2-3 finely chopped scallions
2 cloves minced garlic
dash tabasco sauce
100g sliced mushrooms
1 tomato seeded and finely chopped
2 large glasses of wine (try not to drink any)
olive oil

1. In a frying pan, gently sauté the leek, garlic and mushrooms once the vegetables have softened add the scallions and tomato, mix well.
2. Transfer the vegetable mix to a large pot, add the tobasco sauce and two glasses of wine.

3. Add the mussels, cover and simmer until the wine is reduced by half and the shells havee opened.

I served this with crusty bread.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

In England there is this really good chocolate shop called Thorntons, the chocolate is exquisite, I'm not a massive chocolate eater, but I can easily work my way through a box of Thorntons continental, they also do these chocolate caramel shortbread which I also love and can eat a whole packet of, I'll admit to being sick afterwards. There's nothing better in my opinion than chocolate and biscuit - add caramel to the mix and you have the ultimate indulgence - why are you still reading? Go on get going and make these!!!

Ooooh before you go here is the Thorntons website....

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread


100g margarine
50g caster sugar
175g plain flour


30ml/2tbsp golden syrup
175ml condensed milk
100g butter
75g caster sugar


175g milk chocolate

1. To make the shortbread, beat together the margarine and sugar, until well blended, then stir in the flour and mix to a firm dough. Knead lightly with your hands until smooth.

2. Press the dough into the base of a greased, shallow cake tin. Using the palms of your hands and then the back of a spoon, level it out until smooth, bake in the oven at 180C/350F for 20-25 minutes until pale golden, take out of the oven and allow to cool.

3. Place all the ingredients for the caramel into a heavy based saucepan, and heat gently until the ingredients have melt, bring to a boil and using a wooden stir continuously for about 5-10 minutes until the mixture is a golden caramel colour and slightly thickened.

4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then pour over the top of the shortbread and allow to cool completely.

5. Melt the chocolate and spread it over the cooled caramel leave until set, then cut into slices using a sharp knife.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Potato Salad

There are so many varients of this recipe you could easily write a book just on potato salad alone. This one is slightly different from the one I make, this one was passed on to me by my American Aunty. They are equally nice and I couldn't and wouldn't put a finger on which one I prefer.

Kathleen's Potato Salad

3 large baking potatoes
2 thinly sliced celery stalks
2 thinly sliced scallions (whites and a little green)
2/3 cup light sour cream
1 cup light mayonnaise
salt and pepper
fresh dill
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 hard boiled eggs (optional)

1. Boil the potatoes in their skins, once cooked through, peel whilst hot then drizzle with the rice wine vinegar.

2. Mix the light sour cream and the mayonnaise with salt and pepper, add the celery, scallions and dill (I'm not too keen so only add a little sprig or two) Once the potatoes are cooled chop into bite sized bits, then add the sour cream mixture, gently mix to coat the potatoes. I cut the boiled eggs in half and use to decorate the top of the salad as not everyone like egg in their potato salad.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kitchen Items Old and New

Still about the food and kitchen but a little different to my usual type of entry. I recently read the start of a cookbook I downloaded onto my iPad, that was first printed in 1852. I was fascinated by the huge difference in kitchen gadgets and utensils that are modern day kitchen necessities! Usually when you buy a cookbook, although not all, right at the front of the book there are a couple of pages dedicated to the kitchen equipment you will need. (Normally items which will be featured somewhere within the book) This list will include small things like utensils all the way up to and including larger gadgets like a mixer, in some cases I have even seen a microwave mentioned.

Here is a list of kitchen items which are supposed necessaries, taken from several books admittedly but all items on the list are items each book claims to be essential kitchen utensils/gadgets. All items with a star in front of them are items I have.

1. *Three pans of various sizes, aprox. sizes, 2 litre, 3-4 litre and 6-8 litre
2. *Two frying pans os skillet, 20cm and 30cm
3. *One griddle pan
4. *Basic set of knives, paring knife, cooks knife, boning knife
5. *Honing steel
6. Blowtorch
7. *Digital scales
8. *Food processor
9. *Blender
10. Ice cream maker
11. *Mandolin
12. Microplane
13. *Pestle and mortar
14. Potato ricer
15. *Probe thermometer
16. *Oven thermometer
17. Sugar thermometer
18. Deep frying thermometer
19. *Sieve
20. *Vegetable peeler
21. *Whisk
22. *Cast iron casserole dish
23. *Roasting tin
24. Wok
25. *Bakeware, 12 bun muffin tin, 900g loaf tin, two 20cm sandwich tins, 23cm springform cake tin, bundt pan, flan tin with removable base and a pie dish.
26. *Carving fork, depends on your knife set, mine came with one
27. *Oven gloves
28. Mezzaluna
29. *Stick blender
30. *Scissors
31. Plastic clips
32. *Timer
33. Rice cooker
34. *Nest of mixing bowls
35. *Metal tongs
36. *Wooden spoons
37. *Potato masher
38. *Ladle
39. *Slotted spoon
40. Fish slice
41. *Plastic spatula
42. Speed peeler
43. *Wooden and plastic chopping boards
44.* Salad spinner
45. *Colander
46.*Measuring jug
47. *Box grater
48. *Rolling pin
49. *Tin opener
50. *Salt and pepper mills
51. *Citrus press
52. Dredgers
53. Forks, large wooden and metal
54. *Set of measuring spoons
55. *Measuring cups
56. *Brushes
57. *Pastry and cookie cutters
58. *Baking trays
59.*Cooling racks
60. Lattice cutter
61. Pasta tongs
62. Garlic press
63. *Apple corer
64. Melon baller
65. *Ice cream scoop
66. Bean slicer
67. *Skewers
68. *Dish cloths, a damp dish cloth under a chopping board will stop it from slipping
69. Olive oil for wooden items in the kitchen prevents mould and warping
70. Shallow swiss roll tin
71. Traybake tin
72. Oval pie dish
73. *fluted tin
74. Soufflé dish
75. *Gratin and baking dishes
76. Re-usable baking mats
77. electric grinder
78. *Flexible spatulas, for folding and scrapping bowls clean
79. Palette knife
80. Gravy separator
81. *Pastry scrapper
82. *piping bag and nozzles
83.*Corkscrew, bottle opener and bottle stopper
84. *Ice cube tray
85. *Egg separator
86. Egg slicer
87. Meat mallet
88. Pancake turners
89. *Electric grill
90. Bread maker
91. Jam maker
92. Electric cheese maker
93. *Slow cooker
94. Sauce maker
95. Waffle maker
96. Soup making super blender
97. Electric juicer
98. Yogurt maker
99. Electric carving knife
100. Deep fat fryer
101. Steamer
102. *Microwave
103. *Toaster
104. *Kettle

I could keep going! When I first started cooking, I started out with about 21 of those items.

Now for the nineteenth century cookbook list:

1. Cooking stove with oven and boiler
2. Tin saucepan and lid, 1 gallon
3. Tin saucepan and lid, 2 quart
4. Potato steamer
5. Oval frying pan
6. Grid iron
7. Copper for washing and brewing 12 gallons
8. Two cooling tubs
9. Tub or trough capable of working a bushel or two of flour

That's it, all that was on the list I am assuming that it's assumed that you'll have utensils! Including jugs and scales.

I have to say I was both amazed at the amount of Items on the modern day list and surprised, I know that I have taken the list from several books and therefore several different cooks with different cooking styles but still the amount of items is massive compared to what used to be "necessary." I wonder how the modern day cook would cope now, back then?

Crock Pot Lamb Stew

The lamb stew - hot pot thing I did was really good and then I started using my crock pot a little bit more. By this time we had moved into the huge house in Mclean (I'm going back abit now, my notebooks are a little mixed up, as I started both in the States my orginal plan a little different back then) although I had massive amounts of time on my hands I was totally enjoying my "free time" more. I didn't want to be spending hours and hours cleaning and then cooking. We lived in a beautiful house in a beautiful area and whilst cooking and being in the kitchen is a massive part of my life. Sometimes I would rather have been out at the creek with the dog or browsing through the books in barns and noble or Books-A-Million or taking a visit to Michaels for scrapbook bits. My hobbies are rife and a priority in my life, so much of who I am and what I loved got lost when I was with the father of my children, that now I can do what I want, with no one telling me what I can and can't do, I take full advantage of it, there is no way that I am ever going to let anything or anyone force me into loosing sight of myself again. On chore days and days where hosework needed to be done I would sometimes, not always put cooking on a back burner and opt for something a little less intense - which is why crockpotting is so great, toss in all the ingredients in the morning switch it on and Bob's your uncle a delicious meal without any faff and all day on my hands to do chores first thing and then a whole load of just me time.

Crockpot Lamb Stew

2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

1/4 cabbage

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 litre vegetable stock

1/4 lb of lamb chunks

1. Brown the lamb in a skillet, then place all the ingredients in the crockpot and leave on low for about 8 hours.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Stupid Little Mistakes - Farmers Bacon

This is a classic example of why reading a recipe is important before you even take the meat out of the freezer, unless you are a veggie in which case you won't be taking meat out, but you get the idea. The night before I made this recipe when I took the piece of bacon out of the freezer, I was thinking, nice, quick, hassle free meal for the next day... You can imagine therefore my complete horror, when I discovered that it was going to take about two and a half hours - Argh! It's well worth the effort and leaves you with enough leftovers, so it wasn't a complete disaster. As it turned out on this occasion it worked in my favour as something unexpected came up the next day, and leftovers came in handy.

Farmers Bacon

750g slab of lean bacon
a few parsley stalks
6 black pepper corns
1 bay leaf
4 potatoes cut into chunks
4 carrots coursely chopped
chopped parsley to garnish

Cheese Sauce

3tbsp butter
45g flour
200ml milk
90g grated cheddar cheese (or your favourite)
salt and pepper

1. Put the bacon into a large sauce pan and cover with cold water, put the saucepan on a high heat and bring to a boil. Once it's at boiling point, take it off the heat and drain away the hot water, (you're getting rid of some of the saltiness) rinse under running cold water, then place back in the saucepan with fresh cold water. Add the parsley, pepper and bay leaf, bring to a boil again, then turn down the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

2. Now add the potatoes and carrots and return to a boil again. Cover, turn down the heat and simmer again gently until the meat and vegetables are tender, this should take about 20 minutes or so. Once it's all nice and tender, drain the water, keeping the cooking liquid. Let the bacon cool slightly.

3. Remove all the fat from the bacon and cut it into bite sized pieces, place it and the vegetables into a shallow oven proof dish and keep warm.

4. In a small saucepan melt the butter, mix the flour with a little of the milk, pouring the rest of the milk into the saucepan, once it starts to boil gently add the milk with the flour continuously stirring, remove from the heat and stir in 250ml of the cooking liquid you kept, bring back to a boil and then add 3/4 of the cheese stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Pour the cheese sauce over the meat and vegetables, top with the remaining cheese and bake at 180C/350F until the cheese has melted and it's bubbling, about 30 minutes in total. Garnish with the remaining parsley.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pork In Bean Sauce

Pork is for sure my least favourite thing to eat. A rare commodity in our house but not entirely non-existant (we do eat smoked and cured porks) but all the pork recipes are carefully selected - chosen for maximum flavour. I find pork particularlly bland, boring etc...... In fact any negative word for food you can think of that is how I feel about it, but I've far from written it off - after all I'll eeat ham, bacon and sausages. The rest is a slow process of trial and error, I refuse to give up on it just because my previous experience was so negative.

Pork In Bean Sauce

1lb boneless pork (pork strips if you can buy them)
1 tbsp oyster Sauce
1/2 tsp Sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornflour/cornstarch
2 tbsp black bean sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp chinese rice wine
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp evoo
1/4 tsp chilli paste
A few broccoli florrets

1. If they aren't already, cut the pork into thin strips, place the pork in a bowl, add the oyster sauce, sugar and cornflour/cornstarch, mix and leave to marinate for half an hour.

2. Mix together the black bean sauce, dark soy sauce, rice wine, if rice wine is unavailable use a good quality, pale dry sherry instead, sugar, salt, water and sesame oil, then set aside.

3. Preheat your wok or skillet if you don't own a wok, then add the oil, when the oil is very hot, add the chilli paste and stir-fry for a few seconds, it should become aromatic, now add your pork stir-fry until it is almost cooked through.

4. Move the pork around the edges of the wok or skillet, and pour your sauce into the middle of the wok. Bring to a boil and then mix with the pork, then add the broccoli. Cover with a lid and then simmer until the pork is cooked through, the broccoli should be hot but crunchy.

Serve with rice or chinese noodles

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Little Time For Breakfast

Before I begin with the recipe and my usual quick bit about it. I want to say that I have sort of had an epiphany. A lot has happened and the stress of the last six months, has taken it's toll on my mental health. As a consequence everything that makes me, ME, has suffered, cookbooks have remained on the shelf, collecting dust, recipe apps have sat on the iPad unused and taking up memory. Dinners have been a hotch potch of thrown together food with none of the structure and forethought, that I used to put into my meals and my life. Some people probably think that's quite sad, that I sit at the weekends trawlling through recipe books, reading and picking out monthly recipes, researching the dishes and ingredients. Maybe it is, but nothing gives me greater pleasure than relaxing on my couch, with a glass of vodka and cranberry juice, Glen playing on his Xbox and me doing my thing! My blog is also important to me, I don't always get it right, but it's mine and I put a lot of thought into each post. I try not to go on a raving tangent too much because given the chance I could write for hours about each and every individual blog, but that's not what I want, I don't want to bore people, I want to share what I love, in a fairly concise format. I also haven't done any of my writing course since I got here, not because I haven't wanted to but for the same reasons as everything else it too has taken a back-burner. I've hit rock bottom, worried about everything all of the time. Like I said to a friend the other day I am waiting for that rope to come down so I can climb back out, I guess the fact that I am writing my blog again that rope has been dropped and I am beginning to climb back out already.

So where does this leave my epiphany? Well I'm going to start organising my time better, again, write lists of things to get done and I'm going to set goals and achievements, so I have something to aim for. I'm going to post at least one blog a day, start working on my coursework again. I am also sick to death of my own joke, "Rubbish at baking" hahaha! My cake sunk, the edges burnt, my scones and biscuits/cookies are rock hard, it was funny for awhile, but it's not anymore, I want to be good, I want to bake something people want to eat, I want to be able to make pretty/cool cakes that several of my friends can do, in particular I am thinking of two women, behind some really cool cake businesses, Goff's Goodie Galore and Loopy's Cakes, both women are absolutely amazing and you can find them on Facebook.. I want to be that good, but I realise you only get that good by practice... So to begin with I am going to bake 2-3 times a week maybe four there by getting in the practice I clearly need. Hopefully one day I will be able to eat more of my baking than goes in the bin.

So now onto the recipe part, of this blog. The joys of work leave little in the mornings for a decent breakfast - I rarely eat breakfast during the week, unless I'm on painkillers which require eating first. Every morning though, when we were in America and Germany, I would get up and make Glen two slices of toast sometimes scrambled eggs, when time allowed. At the weekends though, when time was on my side, I liked to make Glen something a little more special. Whether it was a full English, American Pancakes, a nice big bowl of warm filling porridge with a big glug of sweetened condensed milk, or this, French Toast with Cinnamon Apples, I try to make sure that weekend breakfasts are always delicious and hot.

French Toast With Maple and Cinnamon Apples

For The Apple Topping

1 medium sized apple, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp butter

French toast

1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 slices of bread
1 tbsp butter
maple syrup

1. In a small skillet, sauté the apple, brown sugar and cinnamon in the tablespoon of butter, until the apple is tender.

2. In a bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla, pour into a shallow bowl.(You can whisk in the shallow bowl, rather than making two bowls messy, but I would rather whisk in a deeper bowl as I can be a bit messy when whisking) Dip both sides of the bread in the egg mixture.

3 In a large skillet, melt the butter over a medium heat, cook the bread on both sides until golden brown. Serve with the apple mixture and lots of maple syrup.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Corned Beef Hash

I'd been meaning to make this for ages. When I moved out to America I found a can of it in our pantry that Glen had bought. Personally I'm not too keen on corned beef, but Glen is, and my opinion is that fresh is better, why it took me so long to get round to it, is anyones guess. I can only assume, it's one of those subconscious things, I don't like it so I will put it off for as long as possible. Well that's just selfish isn't it?

I don't know what it was about this recipe that I liked but I did like it. Minimal fuss, the original recipe said to use four large potatoes - it makes four servings - this suggested to me that it was one potato per person, so I only used two - it was also raw potatoes, peeled and diced, I didn't think the recipe allowed enough time to cook the potatoes. Anyway I put a little fore thought into this for a change and cooked a couple of extra potatoes the night before. Meaning I cooked with day old potatoes instead - wow because I needed to explain that.

I suppose you could par-boil the potatoes to lower cooking time, but my logic was that I wanted a relatively no fuss meal, par-boiling would have meant using an extra saucepan. Lazy? Absolutely - but every now and again never hurt anyone... Besides despite my love of all things kitchen, if you aren't in the right frame of mind, you won't enjoy the cooking experience but more to the point less likely to produce something really good. Better to have a night off and either get a take out, or stick to a no fuss dinner.

Corned Beef Hash
serves 2
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1/2 large chopped onion
2 large, cooked day old potatoes, finely diced
1/2 can of corned beef, diced
200g of baked beans
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp brown table sauce
salt and pepper
served with crusty bread and green salad

1. In a large skillet heat the oil, add the onions and potatoes and cook, over a fairly high heat, continuously stirring for a couple minutes, cover the skillet with a lid and turn the heat down to a low setting and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring every now and again.

2 Add the remaining ingredients and whilst continuously stirring, cook for 5 minutes, press down the hash down into the skillet, cooking until crispy and golden underneath, this should take about 5 minutes or so. Prepare the salad and crusty bread.

3. Serve the hash straight from the pan with the crusty bread and the salad.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Cornish Pasties

Right, before anyone chews my ear off over this recipe, let me just say two things A) I'm not cornish and B) As with most of 'my' recipes it's out of a recipe book. So not my fault.... Now that's out of the way, I can move on to what I really want to say about this recipe, the story more than anything interests me, it's also a very traditional English recipe according to my notes dating back to the 13th century..... Note worthy for a decent blog on it's history. I should say! Apparently it wasn't until the 18th - 19th century though, that the cornish pasty came into it's own, and all to do with the tin and copper miners. The story goes and I have no reason to believe it's not true, pasties were the ideal food for miners as they could take these pastry filled delights into the pits. It's said they were made with really thick pastry, so they were easy to carry - so they wouldn't break - but also the pastry would act as a kind of thermos - keeping it's contents warm, I suppose with the long days, hard work, the men would need something hearty to eat to keep their strength up.

True Cornish pasties have a really thick crimped edge so that the miners with their dirty hands could eat their lunch without it getting dirty or indeed in the tin mines, the miners may have had traces of arsenic on their hands. These "handles" would then get discarded. Some of the mines would have ovens to keep the pasties warm, but when no oven was available, the miners would simply stick the pasty on their shovel and heat it over an open flame. Traditionally the pasty would have been made with a shortcrust pastry, don't forget the shell would have had to have been really sturdy so that it didn't break or leak, whilst getting bashed about during the day.

Original Cornish pasties would have been filled with meat, potatoes, onion and swede, sometimes and this is the really cool bit that I have always found interesting, one end would have a savoury filling while the other end would have a sweet filling, dinner and pudding in one!!

Ok now the problem with this recipe, is the carrots, the mince/ground meat, the finely chopped vegetables - infact the article I read to ensure my facts were correct described this recipe as "Sacrilege" so in respect for the "Cornish Pasty" I'm changing the name of this recipe to simply a meat and veg pasty, because beside the fact this is NOT traditional and can't be passed off as being so, it is rather tasty.

Meat and Veggie Pasty (poor excuse for a Cornish Pasty)

1 finely chopped carrot (The offending ingredient)
1 finely chopped potato
1/4 finely chopped swede
1 small finely diced onion
100g cooked minced lamb or beef
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs
350g shortcrust pastry
a little oil for greasing
egg for glazing
Baked beans and brown sauce to serve

1. Preheat your oven to 200C/400F. Mix the prepared veggies with the meat some salt, pepper and the mixed herbs.

2. Roll out the pastry and cut into four 18cm (approx) squares or circles, which ever you prefer.

3. Spoon the filling into the centre of each, pastry square or circle, brush the edges with milk and draw up over the middle. Press the edges well together to seal, crimp the edge by squeezing between your forefinger and thumb.

4. Lightly grease a baking tray and then transfer the pasties to it, brush them with the egg to glaze.

5. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 180C/350F and bake for another 30 minutes.

Serve with the baked beans and brown sauce.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


It's really easy to get stuck in a rut, cooking and eating the same thing over and over again. I try to avoid this by carefully selecting my recipes each month, and keeping a log/journal of the ones that I have done. This is all very well, but there is only my husband and I, so when I pick recipes, I have to carefully check that although the recipes are different, the ingredients are either something I will have in my pantry or are the same, after all I have a budget to stick to. I suppose as with most places it's cheaper to buy in bulk, the problem is the waste there's little point in buying a pre-packaged container of 6 tomatoes, because it's cheaper than buying say 3, unless you are going to use them. So I tend to try and pick several recipes with tomatoes (I'm using tomatoes as an example). The other thing I do, more for my own sense of need than anything else is, research recipes I am unsure of. Gumbo, I knew it came from, New Orleans - Louisiana, way. Creole food, but I wasn't sure what that meant? Turns out it has several meanings, or means different things to different people. For example in the west indies and Latin America Creole would imply you are of mixed European and African descent, and in the Gulf coast of the U.S, French descent. Then of course food - I'm still Okra though is what really started my research for this recipe, I was none the wiser as to what it was, what it tastes like or what it is used for. I've since found out it's a vegetable. African slaves, smuggled the Okra seeds on their bodies when they came to America, and then planted them. Okra is used as a natural thickener in Gumbo, which by the way is a stew type soup thing, *no offence intended by the use of the word thing.* Okra worried me slightly because although you can find it in abundance in America, I have yet to see it here and Okra goes in Gumbo - I wanted to make gumbo but could I call it Gumbo without the authenticity of Okra? Turns out I can because you can also use a roux to thicken it. So here's Gumbo.... As always I am open to any suggestions, in which I can improve the recipe!

Chicken Gumbo

15g Butter
450g Chicken breast, cubed
12 button onions
1 Rasher bacon, diced
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp corriander
1/2 tsp chilli powder
225g Okra or a roux can be used, or simply use cornflour/cornstarch with water (this last one won't add any flavour to the dish)
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 green pepper, roughly chopped
225g canned tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 large bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried oregano
600ml chicken stock
salt and pepper
225g long grain rice
1 tbsp fresh parsley

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan (dutch oven if you have one, I don't). Add the chicken and brown, stirring continuously over a high heat for about 3 minutes. Next add the onions, bacon, turmeric, coriander, and chilli powder. Still stirring cook for another minute.

2. Except for the rice and parsley add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cover and very gently simmer for an hour. Cook the rice according to package directions (allowing the hour for the gumbo to cook).

3. Remove the bay leaf. Taste the gumbo and season if necessary. Serve in warm bowls on top of the rice and a sprinkling of parsley.

I served mine with naan bread, only because I had some which needed using up, and I thought it would be nice to mop the sauce up with!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Learning Something New..... Bisque

Every now and again, I like to cook something that sounds a little extra ordinary. This will give you an idea of how truly uneducated I am in the kitchen, "Bisque" sounded exotic to me - to be honest it still does, a little. At the end of each month I pick 3-4 recipe books (well I used to, I haven't done this for awhile, but I'm going to start again soon) then I choose up to 20 new recipes, then I make my shopping list accordingly. The method, procedure and cooking instructions are less important at this stage, because I am pretty certain that any kitchen equipment I may need to make it, I'll either have or can just about manage without. This makes me at times a little non the wiser to what I am cooking through out the month - I live on the edge you see? A daily tight rope walk, without the safety net, ooooh the excitement and adventure. Ok so perhaps my tight rope walk analogy was a little dramatic, sarcastic even, but I do consider my "kitchen antics" as a bit of an adventure. So bisque, I had to google, what was this strange and exotic dish, I was about to cook? It's a thick French soup, so soup... Woo wee! It's nice though and I can honestly say that I have dabbled with some more French cuisine now that is "kinda cool."

Crab Bisque

2 tbsp Butter
1 large grated potato
1 grated carrot
1 small finely diced onion
40gm can of dressed crab
3 tbsp plain/all purpose flour
900ml stock
1 tbsp brandy
150ml milk
150ml single cream
170gm can of crab
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1. Over a medium heat, melt the butter in a large saucepan.

2. Add the potato, carrot and onion. Give it a good stir, turn down the heat, cover with a lid and gently cook for a couple of minutes, until softened.

3. Add the dressed crab and the flour to the saucepan, cook for a further minute, continuously stirring.

4. Remove from the heat, add the stock a little bit at a time, whilst stirring.

5. Return to a high heat and continuosly stir until boiling, turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every now and again.

6. Add the brandy, milk, cream and remaining crab meat, heat through, taste for seasoning. Serve with a sprinkling of parsley on top.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Savoury Pastries Always A Comfort Food Winner

Pastry and savoury, in my opinion always make a good combination. I'm not really fussed if it's chicken and mushroom, steak and ale, ham and cheese, pork pie, sausage rolls, or cornish pasties, which ironically is up in the next blog. Pie is GOOD - so this recipe was already going to be a winner in my book. To be honest the technique if that's what you call it, that I took away from this recipe was to brush the inside of the pastry, I assumed (in my opinion) that this was to make sure the sides adhered a little better. I have to say though if I'm wrong and this isn't the reason, I have noticed that when I do this little extra procedure the pastry does stick together better.

I am certain that learning new things, even silly little things like buttering the inside of your pastry to make it stick better, is a good thing, for two reasons, firstly in the future it will avoid that predetermined time spent trying to get those edges to stick together, and getting irratable because there's always that one annoyingly elusive bit that just won't have any of it. Secondly in the unlikely event that you should be discussing pie/pastry and someone says "Ooh but I can never get those pesky sides to stick properly" - you can turn around and say "Have you tried using butter as a kind of glue?" I don't know about you, but there's something about being knowledgeable that makes me feel good and not in a smug way - usually - I think everyone needs an ego boost every now and again, it's nice to know that we are good at something, or to be told we are beautiful, or kind, or good at our job. I'm not very good at accepting compliments. So for me subtle situations like that one are ideal for my ego. A way to impart a little of what I know without demoralising anyone.

Salmon Parcels

4 small salmon tail fillets
4 large sheets of filo pastry
50g butter, melted
4 cups sliced mushrooms
1 large tomato chopped
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper
120ml sieved tomatoes

New potatoes and green beans to serve

1. Preheat your oven to 190C/375F

2. Put a sheet of filo pastry on a board and brush with a little of the melted butter, fold in half and brush again.

3. Top one half of the pastry with a 1/4 of the mushroom slices and chopped tomato and sprinkle with some of the oregano. Add a portion of the salmon and season well with salt and pepper.

4. Bring the other side of the pastry up and over the salmon, pinching all around the edges to seal the contents. Repeat the process for the remaining pastry sheets and filling. Lightly grease a baking sheet with the leftover butter and put your Salmon parcels on the baking sheet.

5. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

6. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes and beans. Heat the sieved tomatoes in a small saucepan, then spoon onto the plates top with the parcels and serve with potatoes and beans.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Garden Dream

In someways this is an utterly ridiculous dream of mine, but life is made of dreams right? Something to aim for. It gives you hope! Right now I have the perfect sized garden for what I want to do, but it's not mine and digging up plots and sticking in a chicken coop isn't allowed. Even if it was my mother often says to me when I am walking around her garden "Shut your eyes Beckey, you're my plants medusa." I have not got a green thumb and manage to kill most plants, eventually.

My dream is big though and I've been reading books and trawlling the internet, to educate myself because eventually, someday I am going to have my garden and it's going to be beautiful. I see my garden having lots of raised vegetable plots, growing an abundant varitey all year round, giving new meaning to the words "fresh, seasonal vegetables" not to mention I would also doing my bit for the environment, mind you we could all do just that little bit more for the environment.

Buying fresh organic fruit and vegetables can be a simple way to do that. By buying we keep growers in business, so they can keep growing. My research says that organic fruit and vegetables store high levels of carbon dioxide, this helps to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Without getting into the debate as to whether or not organic is better for you or not, just imagine the difference we could make, if we all bought only organically grown produce, but even better than that what if we all dabbled just a little bit with home grown produce as well? It's not practical to imagine we can be totally self-sufficient as far as our own produce is concerned, you're like to sow far more than you reap, but surely if we all grew just a little it would make a difference? I think it would, maybe I am a little naive.

So my dream garden? Arch trellises with beautiful roses growing over them separating my garden into several areas, the front closest to the house will be a quaint little area for entertaining guests, not too many flowers, just a few attractive plants, maybe some miniature Willows in some large pots, my husband gets really bad hay-fever, so my "entertaining" area can't have too many flowers that will make him sick. I'm going to have an area for my vegetables, I want some fruit trees, (trees are good for the environment) and fruit bushes.

It's going to take time and planning, I am going to have my chicken coop and chickens, in the course of my research, because I already knew about different types of soil being suitable for different plants, I have discovered the beauty of compost, and how relatively easy it is to do. You can recycle your food scraps, vegetable peelings, leaves, grass but you can also put in newspaper, eggshells, dust from your vacuum cleaner, hair. I read somewhere that you can also put poop in it as well. Lots can go in there. The end result of your compost will do wonders for your garden, helping plants grow - by which reducing carbon dioxide, also by using your waste in this fashion will produce less methane gas, than if it was to be sent to the local landfill. Chicken manure is also good for your garden, along with the bedding, you have to compost it first, though, the acid in the chicken poop can destroy the delicate roots of some plants. As soon as it turns to a black soil looking substance, you can dig it into your garden. Recycling your own waste, in a bid to grow your own plants - fruits and vegetables, there by reducing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, it's got to be good.

I've always recycled for as long as I can remember, Germany is very "clean and green," forcing the public to recycle by refusing to take refuse which isn't correctly sorted, but also at times issuing fines. There're bins for everything, paper and cardboard, plastics and tins, glass, garden rubbish, normal household rubbish, drop off points for batteries and special collections for bulk rubbish, because recycling was forced upon us, it's not something you really think about, seperating it all was second nature. Now I am not recycling as much I feel as though I am not doing my bit. Maybe with my garden (eventually when I have my garden) I will feel a little better about myself .

For those of us who genuinely love cooking, I can only imagine the love and pride you would feel, by using your own home grown produce in your meals.

A friend of mine already, grows her own, the unique thing about her "garden" is that everything is grown in somekind of pot, she lives in an RV on a concrete plot, now if she can make it work then surely none of us have an excuse for not trying. Even if all you do is grow a few of your own herbs. Every little helps so to speak.

So between my chickens, vegetable patch, fruit plot and my herb garden, I'm going to be busy. I have several books on growing your own produce and gardening, theroetically I am all set. What to grow though? Well Chillies are a must, I quite like the thought of having several large pots right outside my kitchen back door filled with chillies and herbs ready for plucking. I want to grow Okra because I haven't seen any since America, and I want to grow courgettes for the flowers as well, garlic so I can have fresh plump cloves on tap, runner beans growing up the trellis and hanging down, fresh tomatoes, peas, carrots, spinach, salads. I want an olive tree, and to grow my own apples, plums, cherries, maybe! Raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, blackberries and rhubarb are a must for my fruit pies, my husband wants to grow potatoes, I quite fancy a grape vine or two and a greenhouse, chillies maybe a little difficult to grow in this climate. It would also mean that I could grow from seeds. I love the idea of watching my food grow nurturing it, then picking it preparing and cooking it. I'm going to walk round my garden, with a big straw hat on, flowerey welly boots, wicker basket hooked over one arm and secateurs in hand, plucking herbs, picking and possibly munching on a few raspberries as I go. Of course at the rate, in which I am mentally munching on my fresh fruit and vegetables, I'll have nothing left by the time I get back to the kitchen...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cookbooks Waste Of Money Or A Logical Investment

As I have said before I'm a rather naive cook. I have had very little experience in the kitchen, and now that I am liberated, I'm always on the look out for new recipe books and new things to try. I'm not too fussed if it's intended as a starter or a main. I'm just trying out new things, practicing in the kitchen all the time. I'm allowed to now and I can. Although I add to my collection of books by one or two a month, occasionally more, I still have my favourites which I go back to time and time again. Glen and I were talking, someone said to me that I was wasting my money continuously buying new books. (I have easily spent hundreds of pounds over the last three and half years) As an example they said "If you pick up 10 of your cookbooks, you'll have at least 9 shepherds pie recipes, what's the point?" This person isprobably right and don't dispute that fact - I could probably find just as many chicken pie, lasagne, roast beef and taco recipes and as my collection expands so will my amount of shepherds pie recipes. However I have conducted a little experiment, research if you will, this is the part about blogging that I like the most, doing the research to ensure my blogs are as acurate as I can possibly make them, although I am bound to make mistakes at times. First I looked in all my cookbooks, little magazine types too, I've included cottage pie recipes also because whilst some will say they are not the same, in the course of my experiment I have discovered what I thought seperated the two - one being mince (ground) beef and the other with lamb. It turns out that this is not the case, so with that in mind I included both. So in total I own 73 and counting recipe books, (now actually over 100). So according to this persons logic I should have 67 give or take a few, shepherds pie recipes, when infact I have 7 - no two are alike either - some use beef, lamb, venison, veal. Some have mushrooms some don't, some use Worcestershire sauce, some don't, some use swede, some have cheese in the potato.... All but one were called shepherds pie. So the conclusion to my research? My books aren't a waste of money and infact continue to serve a very important role in my expansion as a cook. They teach me different techniques, about food and possible combinations of flavours. They inspire me to try new things.. So poo poo to the person who clearly has no idea - while we are at it, here is the Shepherds Pie, recipe I did use.

Shepherds Pie

1/2 tsp Olive Oil
750g Minced (Ground) Lamb
2 Diced Carrots
125g Sliced Mushrooms
1 Crushed Garlic Clove
1 Roughly Chopped Large Onion
1 Heaped tbsp Flour (mixed with a little water)
300ml Vegetable Stock
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Black Pepper (for seasoning to taste)
3 Large Peeled and cut Potatoes
60ml Hot milk
2 tbsp Butter
1 Egg
1/2 tsp Nutmeg

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Heat a large skillet on a medium heat, add the oil. Gently cook the lamb until the fat from the meat starts to run. Increase the heat and cook, using your spatula or spoon breaking it up as it cooks, once it has browned, remove the lamb from the skillet and place to one side.Pour away anyway excess fat, leaving a little in the pan.

2. To your skillet, add the mushrooms, carrots, onions and garlic. Cook gently, occasionally stirring until the vegetables have softened slightly.

3. Add the lamb to the vegetables and warm through again.

4. Pour in your stock, worcestershire sauce, season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil and add your flour mixture continuously stirring, until thickened. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. (basically while you prepare the potatoes).

5. Cook your potatoes until soft (not so water logged they are mushy) drain in a colander/seive, leave for about 5 minutes, just until they stop steaming, return the potatoes to the saucepan and over a low heat gently stir, you're heating the potatoes through but also "drying" them out a little, you don't want them to brown so keeping stirring and upturning them.

6. Add a little of the hot milk, butter and the egg. Mashing until soft and smooth. If need be you can add more milk. Season with salt, pepper and the nutmeg.

7. Taste your lamb mixture for seasoning, add salt and pepper according. Spoon the mixture into an ovenproof dish and top with the mashed potato. Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the mashed potato is nice and golden.

Top tip: It's really tasty if you sprinkle a little grated cheddar over the top of the mash!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Duck Breast

Out of some sense of fluke, or my old brain coming to it's senses, waking up possibly and remembering some rubbish. It occurred to me that Aldi a shop I normally avoid like the plague - I'm a snob, don't you know - sells duck breast, frozen and sold in air tight bags, gold on the back and clear plastic on the front. Real the shop I used to go shopping in, in Germany, only sold duck on the bone - and we all know how I feel about bones. On the off chance Aldi still sold them, I took the plunge and went in the store to have a look - and low and behold, duck breast is still sold in Aldi €6.00 for two maybe on the little expensive side, I'm not sure, I guess sometimes though choice isn't always on our side and you have to pay for whats available..... Who knows maybe this country (England) will offer a better choice? So far I haven't seen it, but then again I haven't properly looked either, my heart just hasn't been in it as of late. Anyway it's probably been done before but this is one of my own, by that I mean from scratch my own, not a doctored recipe from a recipe book!

Duck Breast With Port And Mushrooms

20g Butter (or margarine, personally I'm now against the use of margarine, after an article I read, but feel free to use it)
2 large duck breasts
Salt and black pepper
150ml chicken stock
3 tbsp port, maybe a splash extra ;o)
1tbsp cornflour/cornstarch
1tbsp water
50g Mushrooms

New Potatoes and green beans to serve

1. Season the duck breasts on both sides with salt and pepper, heat the butter in a skillet, add the duck and cook over a fairly high heat for 8 minutes.

2. Turn the duck breasts over and cook for a further 7 minutes, remove from the pan and keep warm.

3. Pour some of the fat from the skillet away, you want just enough to fry the mushrooms, but you don't want your sauce over loaded with fat. Fry the mushrooms, in the duck fat. Add the chicken stock, mix together the port and the cornflour, until there are no lumps then add that to the stock, stirring continuously bring to a boil, stirring until thickened, season to taste.

4. Cut the duck breasts into slices and arrange onto four warm plates, spoon over the sauce and serve with new potatoes and green beans.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Back To The Chinese Food

Right so we go back to Chinese food and Chicken Lo Mein. Lo Mein, Chow Mein, what's the difference? To be honest I had no idea and had to use google to find out. You've got to love google, you can find out almost anything on there! Turns out Lo Mein is "tossed" noodle while with Chow Mein, the noodles are fried, I'm sure all you foodie types out there knew that already, right? I didn't and now I feel as though I have learnt something new, expanded my foodie knowledge and can now impart that on the world..... Because that news to shout home about (yet more sarcasm).

Chicken Lo Mein

1 cup cooked chicken
8oz egg noodles
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 cup water
2-3 tbsp EVOO
4 cabbage leaves shredded
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts

1. Cut the chicken into thin slices, boil the noodle according to package directions and drain thoroughly.

2. In a bowl, mix together the oyster sauce, soy, sugar, rice wine and water, set aside for later.

3. In a preheat wok or skillet add 2 tbsp of oil, when the oil is hot but not smoking, add the cabbage, stir-fry until they are a vibrant green colour and tender.

4. Next put the mushrooms in the wok, stir then add the bean sprouts, and the sauce, bring to a boil and turn down the heat a little, next add the chicken and the noodles, mix thoroughly and serve piping hot.

Pheasant Or Peasant

Ok I'll admit that sometimes my all out desire to try and cook,eat and need to stick my middle finger up at certain things/people - see I can do it, attitude, far out weighs my ability to keep my feet on the ground and remain sensible.

Now I am certainly not going to say this is a silly thing to cook, it was delicious, and I enjoyed preparing and cooking it, but like duck there seems to be more bones than meat, scraps practically. For me it's better to by pre-cut breasts of poultry (aside from my aversion to bones) than the whole bird. As usual though my urgency to try out something new, exciting and different far out weighed my common sense. I had spontaneously bought the bird because I saw it in the shop.

So I think we have established, this recipe was good enough to make it into our "flavarites" but that equally it will be awhile before it gets cooked again. Unless I can just buy the breasts in which case I would do it again with some cooking method adjustments.

Roast Pheasant

2 oven ready Pheasants, with giblets
90g softened butter
salt and pepper
4 rashers/slices of bacon
1 tbsp flour
300ml Pheasant stock (which you will make, recipe included)
1 tsp red currant jelly
watercress sprigs to garnish

To Serve

Fried breadcrumbs (recipe included further down the page)
Cottage Fries (recipe included further down the page)

1. Rub the pheasants all over with the butter and season with the salt and pepper, lay two pieces of bacon across each of the pheasants.

2. Put the pheasants into a roasting pan and cook in the oven at 400F/200C, baste during cooking time once, for an hour or until the birds are tender. You'll know when they are cooked by inserting a skewer into the thickest part of the bird, if the juices run clear they are cooked, the usual method basically for checking doneness of the bird.

3. Put the birds onto a warmed serving platter or plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of the fat from the roasting pan. Keeping the juices. Put the pan on the stove, add the flour and cook, stirring continuously for about a minute.

4. Slowly add the stock and red currant jelly stirring continuously bring to a boil until slightly thickened, simmer for a few minutes, taste for seasoning and make any adjustments needed.

5. Garnish the birds with watercress sprigs and serve with fried bread crumbs, cottage fries and the gravy. (option extra is also bread sauce to serve, recipe not included)

Pheasant Stock (excluding the liver)

1-2 onions
1 chopped carrot
1 celery stalk
1 bouquet garni
black whole pepper corns

1. In a large stockpot or saucepan, cook the giblets until lightly browned. Stir in about a litre of water, bring to a boil, skimming off all the scum that forms.

2. Add the onions, carrots, celery, bouquet garni, black pepper corns. Simmer for about an hour. Strain before use.

You can keep this stock covered for up to three days in the fridge and you can freeze it for three months.

Fried Bread Crumbs

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs

In a fry pan/skillet, melt the butter with the oil, when the butter starts to foam add the bread crumbs and cook stirring for about 5 minutes, until golden.

Cottage Fries

2 large baking potatoes
Sunflower or corn oil

Using the finest blade on your food processor, slice the potatoes. Pat them dry with kitchen roll. Next heat the oil in a deep fryer, or a deep saucepan/chip pan, carefully add the potato slices, a bit at a time if need be, and fry until crisp and golden, drain off an excess oil, kitchen roll is good for this and then season with salt.

Triple Potential To Fail Brownie

Okay I'll be honest, this is another one of those recipes with way too much potential for me to fail - It's the dreaded word - baking, again. Now it was okay, and we ate it all so - not too bad. Which would suggest to me that this really is quite good if you can bake. So good luck and enjoy.
Triple Layer Brownie Cake

1 1/2 Cups Butter
6oz Unsweetened Chocolate
3 cups Sugar
5 eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups All purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt

16 oz Semisweet baking Chocolate
3 cups heavy whipping cream
2 bars of grated milk chocolate

1. In a heavy saucepan or microwave, melt butter and chocolate, stir until smooth. Stir in the sugar, then stir in the sugar. Transfer into a large mixing bowl, add your eggs one at a time, beating after each one, next add the vanilla and mix well. Mix together the flour and the salt and then combine with the chocolate mixture.

2. Pour the batter into three prepared 9" tins, bake at 350F/180C for about 25 mins or until a toothpick comes out clean, allow to cool for 10 mins before putting on a wire rack to cool completely.

3. For the frosting, melt your semisweet chocolate in another heavy based saucepan over a medium heat. Slowly stir in the cream, until well combined, heat gently to a boil (stirring), once it is boiling keep stirring for 1 min. Then transfer to a boil and place in the fridge for 2-3 hours, stir occasionally, it should reach a pudding consistency. Beat until soft peaks form, it is now ready to use, spread between the layers of each cake and then over the top and sides. To finish, sprinkle the grated chocolate on top.

This cake needs to be stored in the fridge.