Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Curry in a hurry

There are some recipes I turn to time and time again, reliable standbys that I can depend on. This recipe for chicken curry is one of them. What I like about this recipe is it's simplicity, the fact that I always have the ingredients to hand, and best of all it's sheer deliciousness. It takes very little time to prepare and, unlike a lot of curries is also quite healthy making this a perfect weekday meal.
The original recipe is from The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr, an excellent book for learning cookery basics.
I served my curry with fragrant rice, simply add cardamom, a couple of cloves and turmeric to the rice before cooking.

Simple chicken curry

A simple recipe for a great curry.

See Simple chicken curry on Key Ingredient.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Boston Baked Beans

Although not a British invention, baked beans are perhaps more popular here than anywhere else in the world. Invented in America, the upmarket grocer Fortnum and Mason was first to introduce them as a luxury item back in 1901. Baked beans have since become a British institution and are universally popular. It's hard to believe baked beans were ever considered a luxury, they are now one of the cheapest foods around.

I find canned beans an unexciting food, these Boston baked beans on the other hand were in a different league altogether. Far better than the bland cans of beans that line the supermarket shelves.
Big chunks of bacon and generous spoonfuls of molasses and brown sugar gave these beans an amazing richness and depth of flavour. I served my beans in the traditional British way, on toast, they would also make a delicious filling for a baked potato.

Not only are they cheap but apparently eating beans can help you to live longer, what more reason do you need to get cooking!

I used this recipe taken from the River Cottage meat book, I highly recommend this book, it can everything you could ever want to know about meat, and has great recipes too.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Eccles cakes

As soon as I was old enough to leave the house on my own it became my job to buy the bread for the weekend. Every Saturday I would take the trip to Gordon's bakery to buy one of their fantastic loaves, still warm from the oven. As well as their delicious bread Gordon's also sold cakes. If I was lucky I would be allowed a cake as a treat, my favourite was, and still is the Eccles cake.

They may not be as glamorous as Danish pastries or French croissants but when it comes to flavour Eccles cakes can compete with the best of them. A delicious combination of juicy currants and candied peel wrapped in flaky pastry, they have remained incredibly popular for over 200 years.

I tried making my own Eccles cakes last night and they were a big hit, I've already had demands for more! Here's the recipe I used, based on the recipe from the Be-Ro cookbook.

Recipe for Eccles cakes

250g (8oz) puff pastry
50g (2oz) unsalted butter
100g (4oz) currants
25g (1oz) brown sugar
25g (1oz) cut mixed peel

1 Heat oven to 230ºC, 450ºF, Gas Mark 8.
2 Melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave, add the fruit, sugar and peel. Mix together.
3 Turn mixture into a basin and allow to cool.
4 Roll out pastry 0.5 cm (¼ inch) thick, cut into large rounds with a plain cutter.
5 Place a spoonful of filling on each round, dampen the edges of pastry and draw them together to enclose filling.
6 Turn smooth side up and roll lightly to flatten.
7 Cut tops to show filling, brush with milk. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

The quest for the perfect peanut butter cookie

Years ago I made some fantastic peanut butter cookies. They were everything a peanut butter cookie should be, crumbly, peanutty and delicious. I would love to make them again but I have no idea where the recipe came from!
So now I'm on a quest to find the perfect recipe, these cookies from Serious Eats are my first attempt.Unfortunately these aren't 'The cookies', don't get me wrong they are really good but these are soft and chewy, not crumbly like the cookies I remember. So the quest continues...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Steak pie

I am a huge fan of pies of every type, from shepherds pie to apple pie and everything in between, you name it I love it! There is nothing like the smell of a pie baking, or the satisfaction that comes from breaking through the crust to reveal the delicious filling.

I don't tend to eat pies during the summer, but when the weather turns cooler pies are exactly the kind of food I crave, warming, comforting and tasty!

I am always disappointed with ready made pies, normally the filling consists of masses of gravy and hardly any meat. What meat there is is in tiny pathetic little pieces, I like big chunks of meat in mine, the only way to get that is to do it myself.

So I made my all-time favourite pie, steak and kidney. At least it was going to be steak and kidney except, it turned out that the kidneys that I had in the freezer weren't in the freezer. after a long search empying the freezer, my hands going blue I gave up! I think someone must have stolen them!

So here it is kidney-less steak and kidney pie AKA "Cow Pie"This pie is made in two stages, the first stage is basically a casserole, braising steak is perfect for this but it needs long slow cooking. I prepared it in the morning and left it to simmer for hours on a very low light. the next stage is when it becomes a pie, the meat gets a pastry lid and is baked until golden delicious.

Steak pie

I was planning to make steak and kidney pie but ...

See Steak pie on Key Ingredient.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Italian chicken

Don't you just love it when you have an idea that comes off really really well? That's what happened when I invented this chicken dish, it combines all my favourite ingredients into one so I expected it to be good, but it turned out better than good it was fantastic!
Once again I've used the all time classic combination of tomato and basil, only this time for making a tomato, basil and red wine sauce which I used to top some bacon wrapped chicken thighs. Sounds good doesn't it?
After an hour in the oven I had a seriously tasty dinner! it just needed a sprinkling of parmesan cheese to finish.

Italian Chicken

Italian style chicken baked with basil, tomatoes and bacon, finished ...

See Italian Chicken on Key Ingredient.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


There are few meals I like more than a good Risotto, it's rich, creamy, comforting and altogether delicious. I find it amazing that a dish requiring so few ingredients can taste so good, of course once you've mastered the basic recipe it can be varied with any number of additions.

The most important part of a risotto is unsurprisingly the rice! It is very important that you use proper risotto rice, either Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano. You are most likely to come across Arborio, although if you are lucky enough to find one of the others you should snap it up!
Risotto rice differs from other rice as it is much shorter and fatter, the stubby little grains can absorb far more water that regular rice, they also contain a large amount of starch, which is what gives risotto it wonderful creaminess.

Last night I used the last of my oven dried tomatoes to make a tomato and basil risotto. The combination of tomato and basil is a classic that's always a winner, needless to say it was good, very good!
Perhaps not the most photogenic of foods, but it tasted good!

This is the basic recipe, once you've mastered this anything goes! To make my tomato risotto I added tomato purée, Italian herbs, fresh basil and oven dried tomatoes, I also added a yellow pepper which is why it is such a bright colour!
A particular favourite of mine is mushroom risotto, simply add fried mushrooms to the basic recipe, easy!

Basic risotto recipe

  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 3-4 sticks of celery finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • Butter and oil for frying
  • 300g risotto rice
  • Roughly 1-1/2 pints of hot stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • A glass of white wine
  • Parmesan
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Put a large saucepan on the heat with a knob of butter and a splash of oil.
  • Toss in the vegetables and fry until softened.
  • Add all the rice to the pan and stir until every grain is coated in the butter and everything is well mixed.
  • Pour in the wine and stir until it has all been absorbed.
  • Keeping the stock hot begin to add it to the pan one ladle-full at a time, wait until all the liquid has been absorbed before adding more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked to your liking.
  • Finish by stirring in butter and grated parmesan, season well and serve.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A day at a food festival

Yesterday was the first day of the East Midlands Food And Drink Festival and I was lucky enough to be there. The event marks the culmination of British Food fortnight and is a showcase for local producers to show off there food. Amongst the hundreds of stalls was Sparkenhoe Red Leicester, a company that makes traditional Red Leicester cheese selling it in huge wheels weighing a whopping 20kg, I considered buying a whole wheel but reluctantly had to settle for a small piece instead! Almost every stall had samples to try and there was plenty to tempt me, the apple and blackberry brandy was a particular hit although the chocolate truffles came a close second, they were extremely tasty!

There was so much to see including breads, cakes, jams, fruit, veg and meat. Of the more unusual products on offer were ostrich meat, smoked garlic and purple cauliflowers all of which looked great but I resisted the urge to buy.
I spent the day eating my way around the halls as there were so many samples on offer! All in all it was a brilliant event and I will definitely be going again, it's just a shame I have to wait a whole year!

Enormous wheels of Lincolnshire Poacher cheese
A more sensible sized piece?
Fantastic bread. The breadsticks in the background are flavoured with olives and fennel and were delicious
An impressive display of pastries, these were huge!
A very colourful display!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Oven dried tomatoes

I absolutely love sun dried tomatoes, come to think of it I love tomatoes of any description. When I was at school I used to fill my lunch box with them, at break time other people ate crisps or chocolate, I ate tomatoes! So when I first heard that it was possible to make oven dried tomatoes at home it instantly appealed to me, I had plans for them, in pasta, on pizza or for making amazing sandwiches.
That was over a year ago and until today I still hadn't made them, as the last of this years summer fruits and vegetables disappear from the shelves it was a case of do it now or wait another year. Although tomatoes are available all year round it's only really worth making these during the summer when tomatoes are at their sweetest and tastiest.
I used regular tomatoes but if you can get them the more unusual varieties would be well worth trying, yellow tomatoes would look fantastic while I imagine cherry tomatoes would be deliciously sweet.

Oven dried tomatoes are a breeze to make but do require patience as they take around six hours to make, so set them going and forget about them, watch a film read a book and do the shopping. By the time you get back they should be done and they will have been well worth the wait.

I didn't follow a recipe but used different bits of lots of recipes and kind of worked it out as I went along, this is what I did...

Take 1 1/2 lbs of good tomatoes, slice them in half and place cut side up on a lightly oiled baking tray, sprinkle with salt and if you want some dried herbs.Light your oven set as low as it will go, you just want it to be warm. Put your tray of tomatoes in the oven on the middle shelf. at this point put your jars in the oven to sterilise.
How long it takes now will depend on the size of tomato and heat of the oven, mine were medium sized tomatoes and took just under six hours, obviously the smaller the tomato the quicker it will be. When done they should look like this....Now take the tomatoes and jars out of the oven and pack the tomatoes into your sterilised jars, pour olive oil over the tomatoes until completely covered and seal.These should keep for quite a long time in the fridge and will make a delicious addition to pasta dishes or they would be great in a ciabatta sandwich with parma ham.