Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A nice surprise in a HUGE box!

I love it when I get a parcel in the post, it's so much fun tearing off the paper to reveal what goodies are inside. It's even more exciting when the parcel is unexpected and you have no idea what it could possibly be.

A couple of weeks parcel arrived for me, it was a huge box, "that's funny" I thought, as I hadn't ordered anything. Inside the box was a wooden crate of the kind that zoos might transport deadly poisonous snakes in. I tentatively opened the crate and then it became clear, what was inside wasn't snakes (which was a relief!) it was something far more useful, and tasty. Muesli.
I ate all my muesli before I realised it might be a good idea to take a photo! This picture is courtesy of Kelloggs.

Kellogg's had contacted me a few weeks earlier to ask if I would like to try their new muesli range, of course I said yes and then promptly forgot all about it. The crate contained all four flavours of their new Nature's Pleasure range for me to try, they even sent me a bowl and a spoon!

The flavours were:

Almond, pecan and cashews: A bit dull and bland but a good basic muesli with plenty of crunch. If you like you breakfast quite plain or your not keen on fruit in your muesli then this is the one for you.

Almond, pecan and raisins: This one is very similar to the almond, pecan and cashew version but with raisins!

Apple and blackcurrant: I really liked this one, just as crunchy as the others but with big pieces of freeze-dried apples and blackcurrants and a hint of cinnamon, delicious.

Raspberry and cherry: The overall winner for me by a country mile, oaty crunchy goodness with tangy flavourful raspberries and cherries, this is as close to my idea of perfect muesli as I'm ever likely to find in a box!

One thing that really impressed me about these was that there was nothing strange or artificial in the ingredients list, in fact I think I have almost everything I need to make my own in my cupboards right now!

Nature's pleasure should be in the shops sometime around April so if you want to try some for yourself look out for it!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Spinach and ricotta lasagne

When I was younger their were few things I hated more than spinach. my Dad tried to encourage me to eat it by telling me it would make me strong like Popeye. I wasn't that easily convinced so I found ways to dispose of any spinach that appeared on my plate, usually by shovelling it down the side of the table when no one was looking.I can't remember when I willingly tried spinach again all I know is that now I can't get enough of it, I've been adding it to all sorts of things recently. Spinach is a perfect partner to fish, it makes a fantastic addition to soups and is delicious cooked with eggs in a Spanish tortilla.

One of my Favourite ways to use spinach is mixed with ricotta cheese as a stuffing for pasta. The first time I tried it was when I stuffed cannelloni with the spinach and ricotta mixture and baked it with tomato sauce. I loved the recipe but as stuffing cannelloni is very time consuming I've converted the recipe into a lasagne, it tastes just as good but takes a fraction of the time to make. By happy coincidence the green spinach, white ricotta and red tomato sauce are the colours of the Italian flag.Recipe:

For the tomato sauce:

Olive oil
A medium onion, finely chopped
Two cloves of garlic finely chopped
Two 400g tins of tomatoes
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar ( you could use balsamic or any other vinegar you have to hand)
salt and pepper

For the ricotta mixture:
500g fresh ricotta cheese
300g fresh spinach (substitute frozen)
A handful of Parmesan cheese (optional)
A grating of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

You will also need:
250g oven ready lasagne sheets or the equivalent of fresh lasgane
1 ball (125g) Mozzarella chopped into large chunks (if you can use buffalo mozzarella otherwise ordinary is fine)
Parmesan cheese
A bunch of fresh basil
A 9x13 inch baking dish
Tin foil

To make the tomato sauce:
  • In a large frying pan on a medium heat fry the onion until it begins to soften (around 5 minutes) then add the garlic and fry for a minute more.
  • Tip both cans of tomatoes into the pan along with the dried basil.
  • Taste the sauce to see how sweet it is, if it isn't sweet enough add the sugar and vinegar. You may not need to use it all, keep tasting the sauce until you get it right.
  • Add the salt and pepper to taste and simmer for five minutes more before taking off the heat.
  • Set aside while you make the ricotta mixture.
To make the ricotta layer:
  • First prepare the spinach. wash the spinach and put it all into a large pan, add a splash of water (you don't need a lot) and cook on the hob on a medium heat until all the spinach has wilted down, it will shrink a lot.
  • Take the spinach off the heat and immediately immerse it in cold water, this will preserve it's bright green colour.
  • Drain the spinach way and squeeze through a sieve or between your hands to remove as much water a possible.
  • Finely chop the spinach and place in a large bowl along with all the ricotta, the Parmesan (if using) a grating of nutmeg ( use only a very small amount it is strong!) and the salt and pepper.
  • Mix everything together well.
To assemble:
  • First spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce over the base of the baking dish.
  • Cover the sauce with a layer of lasagne sheets then spread over a layer of the ricotta mixture.
  • Spread some tomato sauce over the ricotta layer then add more lasgane sheets.
  • Continue building up the layers until all the mixture has gone.
  • Cover with tin foil and bake at 350f/180c/gas 4 for 25 minutes.
  • Remove the foil scatter with the mozzarella and grate over some Parmesan.
  • Return the dish to the oven for another 25 minutes.
  • Scatter the fresh basil over the top and Serve.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Baked onions with Camembert and thyme

Onions are one of the most useful and versatile of all vegetables, they form the base of so many recipes and are an essential ingredient in most kitchens. What you might not have realised is that onions are really good as a vegetable in their own right. When baked onions become soft and tender, they release their natural sweetness and are transformed into something that's just plain delicious!For this dish I roasted onions with white wine and thyme until they were incredibly soft almost melting in texture. The finishing touch -and what made these really good- was a piece of Camembert cheese which I stuffed inside each onion and left until it was oozy and melting. Trust me when I say this was really good!Baked onions would make a perfect side dish to go with roast pork, chicken or anything else really!Recipe: (serves 4)

  • 12 small onions
  • White wine, 1 glass
  • Dried thyme or fresh if you have it
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil
  • Camembert cheese chopped into cubes (You could use any other cheese that melts easily)
  • Peel the onions, trim the roots but lave the base intact and cut in quarters almost to the bottom but not right through.
  • Pack the onions into a baking dish -it should be a tight fit- Pour over the white wine, sprinkle with the thyme and sea salt and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Cover with tin foil and bake at around gas 4/350f/180c for 60-90 minutes, until the onions are very soft and tender
  • Finally push a piece of Camembert inside each onion and return to the oven for a minute until the cheese has melted.
  • Serve.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

St Patrick's day with Miele

Yesterday I had a very early start, and when I say early I mean early, 4:45am. Now I'm not accustomed to getting up at that time of day -as far as I'm concerned it's a time no one should have to see- but I had a train to catch, I was going to Didcot to meet up with four other food bloggers for a day of Irish inspired St Patrick's day cooking, courtesy of Miele.

We were going to Miele's experience centre, an amazing place where potential customers can get hands on with Miele appliances to test them for themselves. As we walked in it was clear who the food bloggers were, the first thing we all noticed was the heavenly smell of pastries baking!
After a warm welcome we were served drinks. A perfect double espresso for me - just what I needed to wake me up before we headed upstairs to the kitchen, and into the very capable hands of Elspeth, the Miele home economist.
Picture taken from miele.co.uk
Working in four groups we prepared an Irish feast, and what a feast it was. There was far too much good food to list it all here but some of the highlights were a beef and Guinness casserole, roast gammon, salmon kedgeree and goats' cheese and tomato tarts. I was working with Joanna from Joanna's food, together we prepared,
  • Roast chicken with lemon and thyme
  • Irish soda bread
  • stir fried cabbage
  • Quiche with caramelised red onions and Cashel blue cheese
The quiche was a exceptionally good, the onions were sweet, caramelised and perfectly cooked while the Cashel Blue was mild and creamy, surprisingly didn't have that strong overpowering in your face flavour that blue cheese can have. It was delicious!I was really impressed with all the Miele kitchen appliances we tried, but there were two that particularly stood out. The first being the combination microwave/conventional oven which could roast a whole raw chicken in an amazing 35 minutes whilst keeping the skin crisp and golden. The other was an oven that heats from the base and uses a fan, removing the need to blind bake pastry.We ended the day with a tour around the centre where I was thrilled to discover Miele used to make bikes, very appropriate I thought for The Cycling Cook! Unfortunately I couldn't ride it as it was dangling from the ceiling but it was still nice to see it there. We were shown countless kitchen appliances everyone one of them ingenious and innovative. From a dishwasher that automatically opens when it's finished to let the steam out to an oven the plays a welcoming jingle when you turn it on, everything here amazed me.The journey home was a long one, I fell asleep on the train and almost missed my stop, but that's another story...

My thanks go to everyone at Miele and Steph from 1000 Heads for a great day.

The bloggers who were there were:

Joy of Almanzos Belly
Alex of Just cook it
Joanna of Joannas food
Alexandra of The Princess and the Recipe

Cooking in the Miele kitchens
Stir fried cabbage with garlic and pine nutsPreparing onions for the quicheIrish soda breadVegetables waiting to be cooked on the charcoal grillGoats cheese and tomato tartsSalmon kedgereeLunch!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Hot Cross Buns

Q: What do you get if you pour hot water down a rabbit hole?
A: Hot cross bunnies!

Sorry, I couldn't resist!

As Easter is now fast approaching I thought I would share with you the recipe for one my favourite Easter treats, hot cross buns.

So what are hot cross buns? They are spicy, fruity bread buns which are made and sold for Easter. They have a cross marked on top, usually made of flour dough but sometimes icing or pastry is used. Traditionally they were made for Good Friday but these days they are available throughout Easter, some supermarkets have even started selling them year round.Hot cross buns are fantastic toasted, spread with melting butter they are just sublime, in fact I wouldn't eat them any other way.

Of course you can just buy them from any good bakery and I'm sure they would be fine but there's something special about making them yourself, homemade just tastes that bit better. Making your own also means you're free to tinker with the recipe, you can choose your favourite fruits and spices, and you get them at their freshest, straight from the oven. I've adapted my recipe from this one, it's a good recipe, the buns were spicy, fruity and delicious!

They do take a lot longer to rise than the original recipe stated, I left mine for a good 90 minutes before baking. You may also need to add a little more flour than is listed, your looking for a dough that is slightly sticky but you should be able to handle it without it clinging to your hands.

Hot cross buns recipe

  • 2 oz Caster sugar
  • 1 sachet (7g) of easy blend yeast
  • 1 lb plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 oz Raisins, sultanas or other dried fruit
  • The finely grated zest of an orange
  • 2 oz mixed peel
  • 4 fl. oz. Water
  • 4 fl. oz milk
  • 2 oz melted butter
  • 1 beaten egg
For the Cross (optional)
Mix these together to form the paste that is piped into the buns
  • 4 tablespoons plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons water
  • In a large bowl add the sugar, yeast, flour, salt and spices. Mix well
  • Add the dried fruit, zest and peel to the bowl and mix
  • Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and add the water, milk, butter and egg, bring the mixture together with your hands to form a dough. If it feels too sticky add more flour now.
  • Knead the dough on a hard surface for 10 minutes until it fells smooth and elastic.
  • Put the dough back in the mixing bowl and cover, leave to rise until it has doubled in size, up to 2 hours.
  • Knock the dough back until it is the original size and split into 12 pieces.
  • Roll the pieces into buns and place on an oiled baking tray, cover and leave to rise for around 90 minutes or until they have doubled in size.
  • To make the cross mix the flour sugar and water together in a bowl, put the mixture into a small plastic bag. Snip the corner off the bag and pipe the mixture in a cross shape onto the buns.
  • Bake in a preheated oven at gas mark 7/220c/425f for 15-20 minutes.
  • To glaze warm some honey or golden syrup and brush over you buns with a pastry brush

Monday, 9 March 2009

Crema Catalana

A lot of countries lay claim to the invention of crème brûlée, the French claim it as their own while the English say they got there first with the Cambridge burnt cream, and the Spanish? well they say it was their creation in the form of crema catalana.

Although I perhaps should have been patriotic and made the English version I just couldn't resist the charms of the Spanish crema catalana which is delicately flavoured with orange, lemon and cinnamon. Unlike it's French and English counterparts which are baked in a bain marie, crema catalana is cooked on the stove and set in the fridge.
The caramel topping is made using a blow torch, if you don't have a blow torch you can use a very hot grill, it just won't be as fun! It is crucial here that you don't do this more than half an hour before you serve if you want the caramel to stay hard and crack satisfyingly as you break in.
I used a recipe by Rick Stein, taken from his book, Mediterranean Escapes. I've recommended this book before and I'll do it again, it's one of my favourite cookbooks, if your at all interested in Mediterranean cookery this book is a must.
Crema catalana recipe

Serves 4

  • 10fl oz/300ml single cream
  • 10fl oz/300ml full-cream milk
  • Finely grated zest 1/2 orange
  • Finely grated zest 1/2 large lemon
  • 3in/7.5cm cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 24oz/75g caster sugar, plus 4 tbsp 2 tbsp cornflour

Bring the cream, milk, orange zest, lemon zest and the cinnamon stick halves to the boil in a non-stick pan. Set aside for one hour for the milk to become infused with the flavourings.

Put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the 2½oz/75g sugar and beat with a hand-held electric mixer until pale and creamy. Beat in the cornflour. Bring the milk back to the boil and strain into a jug. Mix a few tablespoons into the egg yolk mixture to loosen it slightly, then stir in the remainder.

Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over a low heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring all the time, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of the wooden spoon. But don't let the mixture boil.

Pour the mixture into four wide shallow dishes (terracotta if possible), measuring about 5in/12cm across. Leave to cool, then chill for 4-6 hours, or overnight. Shortly before serving, sprinkle the surface of each custard with 1 tablespoon of the remaining sugar and caramelise under a hot grill. Serve immediately - the sugar will stay hard for only about 30 minutes.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Chicken Kiev

Until recently my only experience of Chicken Kiev was the frozen supermarket variety, I loved them when I was younger but the thought of eating one now makes me shudder. If that's your only experience of chicken Kiev or if (gasp!) you've never tried one at all then you really are missing out on a treat. The real thing freshly made is a joy to eat, crispy crumbed chicken with a garlic butter centre, cut into one and the butter oozes out and floods your plate. Food heaven!
Made fresh with good ingredients the Kiev is a winner and a sure fire crowd pleaser.

Ingredients: (serves 4)
  • 4 Large chicken breasts,
  • 120g butter,
  • 2 Cloves of garlic crushed to a paste,
  • 2 tsp Parsley, finely chopped,
  • 1 tsp Tarragon, finely chopped (optional),
  • 1 egg lightly beaten,
  • Plain flour for dusting,
  • 2 Cups of breadcrumbs.
  • First make the filling my mixing the butter, garlic, parsley and tarragon (if using) together in a bowl season to your liking and set aside.
  • Preheat your oven to Gas 5/190c/375f
  • Slice through the chicken breasts horizontally about 3/4 of the way through and open them out.
  • Place a sheet of cling film over each breast and bash them out gently with a rolling pin. You don't want to make them really thin so be gentle!
  • Pack 1/4 of the butter mixture into the centre of each chicken breast then roll them tightly around the filling. Make sure the butter is well secured inside, you don't want your lovely butter to leak out!
  • Finally the Kievs need to be breadcrumbed, take one of your chicken breasted and dust it with flour, then dip it in the beaten egg and finally in the breadcrumbs making sure it is well coated.
  • Repeat with the rest, place them on an oven proof tray and bake until golden brown and the meat feels firm to the touch (around 45mins)
  • Serve!