Sunday, 31 May 2009

A wonderfully simple pudding

This is another recipe from In the Mood for Food by Jo Pratt called Orange Caramel Yoghurt.  However if peeling and slicing an orange is too much trouble you can substitute it with some chopped strawberries and blueberries, as I did today, or raspberries or pretty much anything you like.

Orange Caramel Yoghurt 
(adapted from In the Mood for Food by Jo Pratt)

2 large juicy oranges
250-350ml greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons dark or light brown sugar or muscovado sugar

1) Using a sharp knife cut of the skin and pith from the oranges and thinly slice.

2)  Place in the base of two dishes and spoon over.

3) Scatter over the sugar and leave for just a few minutes for the sugar to dissolve and create a caramel syrup.  The longer you leave it, the more the caramel dissolves into the yoghurt.

Serves 2

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Daring Bakers - May Challenge

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caf├ęs of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

I must confess that I almost skipped the challenge this month. Partly because I've been a bit short of time but also because I was bit nervous about this one! I've never made any sort of pastry other than than a basic shortcrust and usually buy filo or puff pastry ready made. However, as this month we are blessed with two bank holidays I managed to find myself a window and told myself that the whole point of the Daring Bakers was that it was supposed to be challenging!

The first part was very straightforward. I needed to add a little more water to the dough than the recipe suggested but it came together very nicely and, after a few minutes kneading, I ended up with a very soft, pliable dough. I left it for a few hours to settle as suggested before coming back to roll it out.

This part proved to be my downfall! The instructions advised me that a few holes in the pastry wouldn't be a problem, however the large holes that appeared in mine certainly were. When I came to roll it up some of my apples fell out of the big gaps on one side and I had to hastily take some of the filling out and do a bit of a patch up job. I eventually managed to make sure all of the gaps were covered and manoeuvre it on to a baking tray.

It seems I wasn't entirely successful however, as a little of the filling leaked out where I had tried to cover up the holes. But still, the finished result didn't look bad on the whole, although looking at some of the other Daring Bakers' pictures I clearly could have done a lot better! I mostly used my hands to stretch the dough but I think I might have had more success if I'd stuck to the rolling pin.

Taste-wise I have to say I didn't love it. It tasted quite nice but that almost entirely thanks to the apple filling. The pastry was a bit chewy rather than light and crisp as I would have expected. In hindsight I'm now sure that I didn't roll the pastry out thin enough and therefore didn't have enough layers.

When recipes don't turn out too well I'm usually too disheartened to try again but I'm determined to give this one another go when I get the chance, just to prove that I can do it.

The recipe and instructions can be found here.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Lunch Challenge - Part 4

Well, the sun is shining and summer is definitely on the way. I always know we're nearly there when the Wisteria flowers appear (see above!).

So, my fourth, and probably final lunch recipe for now, is another from Jo Pratt's In the Mood for Food. I really wanted to try out a couscous recipe as part of my lunch challenge and so I made Meditterranean Vegetable Couscous.

This was another lovely recipe and easy to put together. It's not quite an "all in one bowl" recipe as you do of course have to roast the veggies in the oven, but that wasn't too much of a hardship and worth it for the end result.

Mediterranean Vegetable Couscous
(adapted from In the Mood for Food by Jo Pratt)

1 small red pepper
1 large or 2 small courgettes
1 small aubergine (I got a regular sized one - they were all the same price and I wanted to get my money's-worth!)
2 red onions
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
about 20 cherry tomatoes
200g couscous
1 1/2 tablespoons green pesto
1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
a handful of stoned black olives
a few torn basil leaves or some rocket leaves

1) Preheat the oven to 200c, gas 6

2) Chop up the pepper, courgette, aubergine and onions and toss in a roasting tray with a tablespoon of olive oil. Season and roast for 25 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes (I left mine a bit longer - I like my veg well roasted). Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

3) Put the couscous in a large bowl and pour over 350ml boiling water. Stir, cover with cling film and leave for 10 minutes. Fluff up with a fork and leave to cool.

4) Mix together the remaining tablespoon of oil with the pesto and balsamic vinegar. Add this to the vegetables then toss it all together with the couscous. Mix in the basil or rocket leaves.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Lunch Challenge - Part 3

This next recipe was a real hit with me. Easy to put together, tasty and healthy - a real winner all round. As part of my lunch challenge I decided to try the Bulgar Wheat Salad with Feta, Pomegranate and Lots of Herbs from In The Mood for Food by Jo Pratt.

This book must surely be a contender for the prettiest cookbook award. Call me shallow but I do particularly like cookbooks that look nice, with lots of enticing pictures, and this book definitely falls into that category!

I had never tried Bulgar Wheat before as it just didn't sound very appealing and I nearly substituted it for couscous. I was worried that it would be a bit like brown rice, which I find a bit of a chore to eat, but I'm pleased to say that my fears were unfounded. It just tasted like a slightly larger version of couscous and, mixed with all of the other ingredients, was a pleasure to eat. I'll definitely be making this salad again.

Bulgar Wheat Salad with Feta, Pomegranate and Lots of Herbs
(adapted from In the Mood for Food by Jo Pratt)

100g bulgar wheat
125g feta cheese, finely crumbled
seeds from 1/2 pomegranate (I used half a tub of seeds from the fresh fruit section of the supermarket)
1 large handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 large handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1/2 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) Cook the bulgar wheat according to the packet instructions and the rinse under the cold tap to cool it down. Drain really well and tip into a large bowl

2) Add the remaining ingredients and mix together well. Serve straight away or keep in the fridge overnight. I found this tasted nicer when it was closer to room temperature so you might want to take it out of the fridge half an hour before you plan to eat it.

Serves 2

Sometimes only macaroni cheese will do...


Pasta, cheese sauce, a bit of salty bacon - what more could you ask for?

(and yes I know it's not actually macaroni!)

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Lunch Challenge - Part 2

The second recipe I chose to try out as part of my lunch challenge was the Spanish Omelette from Nigella Express.  It took a little while (compared to making a sandwich anyway) to gather all the ingredients together, boil the potatoes, mix it all together and cook it but on the whole it was all pretty straightforward.  Plus it can be made the night before and stored in the fridge until needed.  The end result was really good and I've been left with three more good sized portions, so enough for a few days of lunches!  As you can see I served it with a bit of salad on the side and it all went down very nicely.  

(My light box is coming in useful already!)

Spanish Omelette
(adapted from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson)

225g baby new potatoes (Jersey Royals please, if at all possible!), halved
4 eggs
75g chopped caramelized or flame-roasted peppers from a jar (I used a handful of ready-chopped and roasted frozen peppers, defrosted first of course)
3 spring onions, finely sliced
75g grated Manchego or cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon butter
drop of oil
salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat the grill.  Cook the potatoes in a pan of boiling water for about 15 minutes until cooked through.

2) Whisk up the eggs and then add the peppers, spring onions, cheese and season with S & P to taste.  Mix in the potatoes.

3) Heat the butter and oil in a small frying pan and then pour in the egg mix and cook gently for 5 minutes.

4)  By this time the bottom of the omelette should be set, but if not just leave a little longer. Then sit the pan under the grill for a few minutes to set the top.

5) Turn the omelette upside down on to a plate and leave to cool to room temperature before eating.  Don't worry if it feels a bit wobbly in the middle - it will continue to cook as it cools.

Serves 4 or more, depending on what else is available.

What a difference a light box makes....

Since I started up my blog and while reading the some of the many other amazing blogs out there it has become more and more apparent that one of the secrets of a good food blog is good photography.  I've come to the conclusion that some of my earlier efforts were really pretty poor and that I Must Try Harder!  So I've been playing around with different angles, close-ups etc and I think I have made some improvements however it has also become clear that the three most important elements of a good food photograph are lighting, Lighting and, of course, LIGHTING!  

Unfortunately I don't have the funds to invest in a lot of new photographic equipment (a proper DSLR camera will have to wait until another day!) so I have no option but to just do the best I can with my little point-and-shoot.  Luckily, there is a lot of good advice out there in www land and I recently happened across a step-by-step guide to making your own light box.  So, make my own light box is what I did and I have to say I'm pretty pleased with the results.  

Regular counter-top shot

Light box shot (with a little bit of editing)

It's not perfect, but it's a start.  Plus it will give me a lot more scope to play around with different coloured backgrounds etc.

The DIY light box instructions can be found here.

Friday, 1 May 2009

My next challenge - lunches!

I have been set another challenge!  This time I need to find some easy packed lunch solutions - another task which I am more than willing to undertake.  Lunches, and particularly ones I need to take to work with me, are a bit of a bugbear with me. I spend so much time thinking about dinner, what to feed the children, the next cake I want to make that lunches don't tend to get much of look in.  Homemade sandwiches can be a bit uninspiring and more often than not I don't even bother to make one and instead opt for a slice of bread and an egg to scramble in the breakout room microwave.  Cheap and simple no doubt, but interesting? Hardly.

So, the criteria are - easy to prepare, ideally the night before (fine by me), suitable for taking to work or out and about, healthy if possible and vegetarian or easy to convert (or my friend who suggested this challenge won't be very impressed!)

My first port of call was Nigella's recent book Nigella Express (I do use other author's books I promise....maybe my next challenge should be "No Nigella for a Month"!) as there is a whole chapter dedicated to just this sort of thing.  I have earmarked a few recipes from the book, the first one being Peanut Sesame Noodles.

This certainly filled the criteria mentioned above.  It was very easy to make (just mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl) and can be prepared in advance.  I think it's pretty healthy too - I know peanut butter is quite high in fat but there's only a small amount in each portion.  

Due to larder limitations I made a few tweaks to the recipe.  I only had crunchy peanut butter but figured this probably wouldn't make much difference (it didn't) and, instead of using raw pepper which I'm not very fond of, I used a handful of ready chopped and roasted pepper from a  bag in the freezer.  Oh, and I didn't add the chopped coriander at the end because, frankly, I think it's the work of the devil.  

The recipe apparently serves eight so I thought I'd make half the amount to start with.  However, the portion sizes weren't particularly generous (the picture below shows one portion).  For those of you who have the book, I reckon the three very well filled tubs in the picture probably contain the full eight portions.  I think next time I might add more beansprouts and peppers.  Nevertheless I really liked the end result and will definitely be making it again.

The recipe can be found here on the BBC website.