Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

The Indian GP – Indian Street Food

November 7, 2011

On the 30th October the inaugural Indian GP took place.  Unfortunately I was away with work and unable to watch it live.  After two days of desperately trying to avoid news on the race (largely succeeding, but I did find out about Hamilton’s and Massa’s crash!) I managed to watch a recording of it on the Tuesday evening once I was back home.

In terms of what to cook I didn’t want to go for the obvious choice of a curry, plus there are so many varieties of curry that I wouldn’t have been sure where to start.  Instead I thought it would be interesting to try and recreate some of the wonderful street food that is so prevalent and popular throughout the sub continent.

Trying to get a list of some good street food to cook proved to be more of a challenge than I expected.  The majority of Indian food sites I found just had food to cook at home; no one had any lists of street food.  Then I remembered, back in Cardiff there is a restaurant that specializes in Indian street food – Chai Street, and so in the end I looked at the food on their menu and found some recipes based on that.

The dishes I decided to cook were Poricha Kozhi (fried spiced chicken) and stuffed bread pakoras (a kind of deep fried potato sandwich).

The first thing I needed to do was to marinate my chicken legs for the Poricha Kozhi.  The marinade for 2 persons (4 chicken legs) was:

  • A small onion
  • 2 inches of fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 125ml of yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon of chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of ground fennel seeds.

The onion, ginger and garlic all went into my mini chopper and were blitzed till almost a paste.   They then were added to the rest of the ingredients to make the marinade.  I scored the chicken legs and smothered them in the marinade and left everything for a couple of hours.To cook the chicken they went into a nice heavy bottomed pan with 125ml of water.  The water was brought to a simmer and the chicken cooked uncovered for about 20 minutes till the water had evaporated. With the water gone and the chicken nice and tender I added some oil to the pan to crisp the chicken up and that was it – done!The bread pakoras would be stuffed with mash potato and so the mash was the first thing I needed to make.  To 4 medium potatoes worth of mash I added:

  • A sliced green chilli
  • Half a bunch of chopped coriander (stalks included)
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon of black onion seedsThe batter for the pakoras were made from:
  • A cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • A pinch of salt

To this I added enough water to create a very thick batter.To make the pakoras I took 6 slices of bread and removed the crust.  I spread the mash potato on three of the slices giving a layer about 1cm think.  I then put the other pieces of bread on top and cut the ‘sandwiches’ to get 6 triangles. Each triangle was coated in the batter and fried in some oil for around 5 minutes till all the batter was  cooked.I served up two pieces of chicken and three stuffed break pakoras each.The chicken was delicious.  There was a gentle heat but the overall flavour was more fragrant than spicy, it had also penetrated right into the meat which was great.  The meat was soft and came easily away from the bone.  The pakoras were a lot spicier, particularly if you got a bit of the sliced chilli! For me, I felt the texture of the pakoras was a bit soft.  The batter had crisped as it cooked, but the bread and the mash were very soft and this made them a little hard to eat overall.  There were still pretty tasty though!

So, the race.  Well once again Vettel had pole position and comfortably led the race from start to finish, pinching Nigel Mansells record for most laps led in a season in the process (and with 2 races to go!).  The result of this was that we saw very little of Vettel all race as he cruised round by himself.  Behind him there was a bit racing to watch.  The usual first corner carnage resulted in 4 cars needing to pit, but the big talking point of the race was Massa and Hamiltons coming together, something that has happened too many time this season.  The feud between these two is really heating up.  This time it was Massa who turned into Hamilton as he tried to pass.  Both cars managed to carry on but Massa received a penalty and then had to retire later in the race after breaking his suspension on a monster curb.  All in all this race was not as exciting as I would have hoped.  The track looks great, but the dusty conditions meant that it was hard to go offline and so there wasn’t as much overtaking as I would have liked.


The Korean GP – Bulgogi (BBQ Beef!)

October 20, 2011

Before looking for dishes for this GP I didn’t really have much of an idea of what Korean food was.  A quick search revealed a nation that loves its BBQ and its beef so Bulgogi seemed the quintessential meal to make.  Bulgogi actually means ‘fire meat’ and refers to the method of cooking since the chicken, beef and pork versions each have a different marinade.

The beef version consists of sirloin or rump steaks marinated for several hours and then grilled or BBQ’ed.  It was recently voted number 23 in CNN’s 50 most delicious foods, so even though I had never heard of it before it must be pretty popular!

I was making enough marinade for two bits of meat, although seeing what it made I think it would also coat 3 very well and 4 at a push!  The marinade consisted of:

  • 2 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • Approximately 1 inch cubed of ginger – grated
  • 1 very large spring onion (2/3 normal spring onions) finely chopped
  • 50ml of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • ½ tablespoon of sesame seed oil
  • 1 tablespoon of coarsely crushed black peppercorns.

    the ingredients for the marinade

These were all mixed in a bowl.  I then scored my steaks (a little too thickly if I’m honest – I made more of a slash than a score!) and placed them in the marinade where they stayed for 3 hours.  They went in the fridge for 3 hours but I got the mix out half an hour before cooking so it could get to room temperature.

the beef in the marinade

To cook the meat I used a very hot grill pan as I don’t have a BBQ (plus it wasn’t really the weather for cooking outide!).  Most pictures I’ve seen of this dish have the meat cooked through, but personally I hate fully cooked beef unless it’s been stewed for several hours, so my steaks were cooked for ¾ minutes each side so that they were caramelized on the outside and pink in the middle.

starting to cook the beef

the beef nearly done

After cooking I let the steaks rest for a little while and then sliced them up.  I served the steak with some Thai jasmine rice and poured the cooking juices from the resting plate over the top to give a little sauce.

the finished dish

This was another really fragrant dish.  I was worried from the colour of the marinade that the say sauce might be overpowering but in the end it was quite mild.  There was no chilli but the black pepper gave everything a nice mellow heat.  The grill pan had cooked the meat nicely, but you could tell that the smokeyness of a real BBQ would have really enhanced the flavours that were there.

Now that the World Championship is over, it was thought that Vettel might give everyone a chance at winning. The young German champion, however, had no intention of doing so. The out of form Lewis Hamilton, who has struggled for at least half the season, raised his game and managed to put the Mclaren on pole, closely followed by Vettel and then team-mate Jenson Button.

Vettel blew past Hamilton on the first lap and then was unassailable in the lead. Lewis and Red Bull’s Mark Webber then joined a great race-long battle for second place, including through the pit-stops, which Lewis won by holding Mark off for at least fifty laps. Both drivers, despite a gripping battle, looked upset at the their lack of success at the race’s end.

Meanwhile, the unfancied Torro Rosso team managed to get both cars in the points, beating one of the Mercedes cars on pace. Michael Schumacher once more got taken out, this time by Visaly Petrov who missed his braking point down into turn seven and destroyed his own car as well. All in all, a surprisingly hard fought race. No rain like last year though…

The Japanese GP – home made Sushi!

October 15, 2011

Last Sunday was the Japanese GP and there was never any doubt in my mind as to what I would make.  I love sushi, but have never really given it a go at home so this seemed like the perfect excuse to try.  Sushi seems to be quite popular over here as well, there are an awful lot of sushi bars around.  You can also buy the rice and nori sheets in the supermarket.  The one thing you can’t get though is rice vinegar, which is a little frustrating as sushi is vingared rice, the plain stuff just doesn’t cut it!

Before starting my sushi I took to the web looking for tips.  The one I found most useful was Ian & Sue Mitchell’s How to Make Sushi site.  It was their advice that I followed for the tricky part – cooking the rice!

I used a cup of rice (this made enough sushi for 2 with some spare) and washed the rice until the water ran clear.  I then placed the rice in a heavy pan with 1 and a half cups of cold water and brought everything to the boil.  Once the water was boiling the heat was turned down low, a lid put on the pan and everything was left for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes I turned the heat off  but didn’t take the lid off, leaving the pan for a further 10 nerve racking minutes.

Finally after this time as up I could look at the rice.  It was perfectly cooked.  The rice was soft and the grains separated easily.  It hadn’t caught to the bottom and it wasn’t too glutinous!  I was very relieved!

While the rice was cooking I had made my vinegar mixture.  For this quantity of rice I heated two tablespoons of white wine vinegar (instead of the proper rice vinegar) with two tablespoons of caster sugar and half a teaspoon of salt.  Once the sugar and salt has dissolved (and the room smelt of vinegar!) I turned off the heat and let the mix cool.

With the rice ready it went into a large plastic bowl along with the vinegar mix and I ‘fluffed’ and cooled the rice moving it around with a pair of chopsticks.  After about 5 minutes of fluffing and fanning the rice with some paper I then left it to cool by itself for an hour or so.With the rice cool I began to make my sushi.  I started off with some Nigiri.  This involved making some small sausages of rice which would then be topped with tuna or salmon.  On first picking up the rice I quickly discovered just how stick the vinegar/sugar mix had made it.  By wetting my hands first I was able to handle and shape the rice without the majority of it sticking to my palms.

I made 10 little sausages and then cut my toppings, 5 tuna and 5 salmon.  My fish was raw and so you have to be careful.  I’m quite lucky in that although I’m pretty far from the sea, salmon tartare is very popular in this region and so you can still get very fresh fish.  A Migros 15 minutes away from me has a very good fish counter where the quality is very high and so I felt confident enough in the fish I had to happily eat it uncooked.  I cut five slices each approximately 2 cm by 5cm from my salmon and my tuna and placed them on top of the rice along with a little wasabi.  I then cut some small strips of nori to secure the toppings to the rice.Next I had a go at  making maki rolls.  The amount of rice I had let me try two varieties and so I made some avocado and salmon ones and some tuna and fresh red and yellow pepper one.  To make the maki I placed a sheet of nori onto a bamboo place mat (you can get proper sushi mats, but my place mat worked just fine) and spread my rice over ¾ of a nori sheet.  I then placed my toppings along what would be the length of the roll and added some daubes of wasabi before proceeding to try and roll everything.  This is not as easy as it sounds and as when making a roulade or swiss roll, taking things slowly seemed the way forward.  I carefully rolled things trying to keep everything tucked in and tight and eventually I was left with a large green sausage of sushi.The next challenge was trying to cut the sushi.  I had a very sharp knife, but it obviously wasn’t sharp enough as it just pulled and torn the sushi.  In the end the best thing I found was a serrated bread knife.  This did flatten the circle slightly (something I could kind of fix one the sushi was in bits), but at least I was able to get bite size pieces.  From my two rolls of nori I made about 12 individual pieces (plus the ends which were just as tasty but not as pretty) and these went onto my plate with the nigiri.I finished things off by cutting some slices of salmon sashimi for my partner and I and then we were ready to tuck in.  I have to say I was pretty impressed.  For a first attempt everything looks pretty professional when it was all together on a plate.  When I tried the rice by itself I felt it was maybe a little sweet, but with the toppings/filings and the wasabi it was just right.  Aside from preparing the rice I was surprised how straight forward actually making the sushi was.  I had always thought that sushi must be quite difficult and, I’m not saying it was easy peasy, but I feel I could do this again once evening for tea rather than needing to set aside a whole afternoon to prepare everything.  All in all I was very pleased with how things went!

The race was a triumph for the two fastest men within it. The championship is really a two horse race, with Vettel needing one point in the rest of the season to clinch his second world title, while Jenson Button needs victories in every single race.

Button did his job but Vettel singly failed to read the script, driving the Red Bull home safely in third. Despite losing his momentary pole to Vettel who drove him off the track, Button came back using tire strategy and jumped the Red Bull in the pits stops. From there he was unstoppable, bring the car home with over two seconds in hand.

Singapore GP – Laksa

September 30, 2011

Sunday was the Singapore GP and for the first time I have had difficulty deciding what to cook.  The cuisine of Singapore is a mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indian all cooked with their own local twist, but I struggled to find a dish that was native to Singapore (please let me know if you have a suggestion for a dish that is!).  In the end I settled on cooking Laksa because it’s really popular!

Laksa is a noodle curry/soup that comes in many variations.  As a fusion of Chinese and Malay styles of cooking it is a regular street food in Singapore.  I decided to create my own prawn and chicken version inspired by the recipes I found on the internet.

The first thing I needed to make was my paste.  For this I needed 5cm of fresh ginger, 3 shallots, 1 clove of garlic, 3 macadamia nuts, 1 red chilli, half a bunch of coriander and ¼ teaspoon of turmeric (as usual this is for 2).  All this went into my mini chopper with a little water and was blitzed to form a paste.  My mini chopper isn’t the best in the world and although everything came out very small, it wasn’t really paste like.  I decided to try and fix this by pounding it in my pestle and mortar but this didn’t really make much of a different either.

Making the Paste

With the paste as ready as it was ever going to be, I got on with preparing the rest of my ingredients.  I defrosted my prawns and took the meat off two chicken thighs.  The skin, bones and other assorted bit’s of the chicken were browned in a pan and then covered with 200ml of water to form a stock that would later go in my sauce.  I then sliced up two (rather large) spring onions, fished 50g of beansprouts out of the jar (I couldn’t get fresh) and I was ready to cook.

Preparing the chicken and making stock

The first thing to do was to cook my paste.  It went into a thick bottomed pan with some groundnut oil and cooked gently for 10 minutes.  I then drained my chicken stock and added this to the pan to create the beginnings of the sauce/soup.  This was allowed to simmer for another 7-8 minutes before I added the final bit of the sauce – 200ml of coconut milk.  The soup/sauce was then left on a gentle heat while I cooked everything else.

Making the sauce/soup

I started cooking the chicken in a pan and after a couple of minutes added the spring onions.  Two more minutes and it was time for the beansprouts to go in as well.  Finally, with everything else nearly done I added the prawn.  While the meat and veg were cooking I also cooked my noodles.  I had been unable to find rice noodles as suggested by the recipes I had found and had to settle for soya noodles, something I hadn’t used before.  These cooked in a couple of minutes and looked quite gelatinous!Cooking the other bits!

With everything cooked I assembled my dish.  In two bowls I placed some of the noodles and then topped them with the meat and veg.  The sauce/soup was then ladled on top and everything was ready.

Assembling the dish

I haven’t ever eaten Laksa so I have no idea how authentic mine tasted, however I really enjoyed it.  There as a nice warm hit of chilli that was strong without being overpowering.  The whole dish was fragrant and very light.  The coconut made it rich and creamy and took away any harshness that could have come from the chilli or the ginger.  I had my reservations about the noodles I used when I saw them cooked, but with the sauce they were delicious.  This is defiantly something I would make again; I think I might try it when I have guests sometime as a lot of it can be prepared ahead and you can pull the dish together in about 5 minutes when people are ready to eat.

As for the race, well, the result was never in doubt. A shining blue and red car owned by a certain energy drinks company had blitzed the field in qualifying, and the rapidly maturing Vettel barely saw the rest of the race as he took a unchallengeable lights to flag victory. Mathematically the German  had the chance of wrapping up his championship for the second year in a row at this race. But it wasn’t to be as the rest of the field conspired to make sure the contest was dragged out to at least the race in Japan.

However, like any race with twenty four high speed participants, there was plenty to keep the audience attention. Michael Schumacher, decided that he obviously preferred flying to driving that day, attempted to launch his appropriately named silver arrow off the back of the unwilling Sergie Perez  in an effort, moth like, to reach the lights surrounding the track of this night race. Failing this, he merely smashed the car against the barriers. Not an overtake the old master will ever be proud off.

Lewis Hamilton, seeing red in the form of Felipe Massa’s scarlet Ferrari, then smashed off his front wing against the rear right hand tyre of the other car. Having returned to the pits to have a new nose fitted by his mechanics, he then returned once more to serve a penalty metted out by the stewards. His Maclaren, having started the day 4th, ended up in 15th and was only helped by the safety car being deployed for Schumacher’s crash landing. He recovered, slicing his way through the field, to a respectable fifth, one place down from where he started.

Jenson Button, finding the Maclaren the second quickest car in the field, drove a lonely race against Vettel whom he only saw vanishing around corners ahead of him. After holding his position at the start, tyre choice allowed him to maintain this and his consistent lap times led him to a well deserved second place, his second of two races. The pressure is now one at Maclaren for Hamilton to prove he is still their best driver.

German GP – A great race and some not so great food.

July 28, 2011

When I thought about German food and what to cook for the German GP the first thing that came to mind was sausages! After a moments consideration I decided that I wasn’t really equipped to make my own sausages and so I tried to think again.  The next thing that sprang into my mind was the ever kitsch and wonderful Black Forest Gateau.  I also wanted to cook something savory, and after a little bit of internet research I decided up spatzle (with some rather less German roast chicken and Madeira sauce).

The first thing I made was the Black Forest Gateau.   I had made my own version of this a university without the benefit of a recipe by making a basic chocolate sponge and smothering it with cherries, whipped cream, booze and chocolate.  This time I thought I’d try and go for something a bit more authentic and spent a while looking up recipes.  It turns out that Black Forest Gateau is actually a torte and subsequently the recipes contain very little flour and the batter is extremely runny!

The recipe I used required me to beat 150g of caster sugar into 6 eggs (no double yokers this week!) for 5 minutes until I had a light fluffy mixture.  I then added 125g of self raising flour and two tablespoons of cocoa powder to the mix ending up with something that looked like a thin chocolate soup.  This mixture then needed to be split between three greased and buttered tins.  Rummaging through my cupboards the best I could manage was two identical tins and one a little larger – not a great start.  I divided up the mixture as instructed and was disappointed to find that this resulted in only a very thin layer in each.  The mixture barely covered the bottom of the tins!

Making the Black Forest cake batter

The cakes went into the oven at 180C for about 30 minutes.  When they came out of the oven I could see straight away that I had a problem.  Completely ignoring the fact that one layer was about an inch wider in diameter than the other two I could see that although the cakes had risen a bit in the middle (although nowhere near as much as I would have liked), the edges were extremely thin – about 1/2cm thick at best!

While my little ‘pancakes’ were cooling I whipped up 150 ml of double cream, de-stoned and halved my cherries and combined about 4 tablespoons of the cherry syrup with 4 tablespoons of kirsch.  I then poured the syrup/kirsch mixture over the cakes slowly allowing it to soak in (and making a bit of a mess!).  Finally I set to work assembling my cake.  I placed the first layer on a large plate and spread 1 third of the cream over it.  I then placed ½ my cherries around, put the second layer on top of this and repeated the process.  Finally I added the top layer of my cake, spread with the remaining cream and grated chocolate on top to finish everything.

Assembling the cake

The result was not the sumptuous looking tower of chocolate cherries and cream that I had envisaged but more a rather sparse biscuity looking cake.  Cutting a slice things did improve a bit, at least towards the middle where the cake had risen things were a little thicker and less gappy, however overall I found that cake far too dense, not sweet enough and heavy.  The cherry syrup and liquor helped to give a soft moistness to the cake, but overall it was a bit dry and cloying in the mouth.  Defiantly not a triumph!  I think next time I want to make a Black Forest Gateau I’ll stick my less authentic conversion of a basic chocolate sponge!

A slice of gateau

Later on, with my cake hidden in the corner, I cooked my savoury meal.  The first thing I had to get on was my roast chicken.  My chicken was only little and so took about an hour to cook through.  I tucked some cloves of garlic and springs of thyme (from my balcony!) between the legs and the body to give a bit of flavour then put salt and pepper on the skin before pouring over some olive oil and putting the bird in the oven.

When the chicken was nearly done I started on my sauce.  I sautéed two finely chopped shallots in some olive oil for 5 minutes until they were translucent.  I then added 100ml of Madeira, a sprig of thyme and a bay leaf and let the mixture reduce for another 5 minutes or so.  Next I added the roasting juices from my chicken, topped up with a little bit of chicken stock (from a cube) so that it came to 150ml and once again reduced the mixture.  The final addition to the sauce was 150ml of double cream and once this was in I left the sauce to simmer gently for another 5 minutes of so.

While the sauce was reducing and simmering I prepared my spatzle.  This was the one German element of my main course and the bit that gave me the most trouble!  Things started easily enough.  I mixed 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks with 500g of plain flour, 35 ml of olive oil and 100mls of water.  This was supposed to give a “firm paste” but I found that a lot of my mixture hadn’t even come together.  I added some more water (another 50ml or so) until it came together as a, rather sticky, dough.  This dough then needed to be put through some sort of hole and boiled to cook the spatzle.  The recipe I used recommended a piping bag, but after struggling to get my mixture into the bag I found that the dough was for too dense to squeeze through the nozzle.  After much struggling I gave up and scraped as much of the mixture as I could out of the piping bag (I think that kit may need to go in the bin, this mixture did not want to come off!).

Attempting to make spaztle

Not giving up I decided to have a go with a potato ricer.  This was slightly more successful, but did require a strong man and an awful lot of effort to get the dough through the holes.  When we had strings of about 2 inches we cut them from the holes with a knife, but this caused the stings to clump together!  In the water I mixed things vigorously and poked at the clumps to try to get them to separate.  In fairness, about 2/3rds of the strands did come apart and I thought things were finally going in the right direction.  To finish the spatzle you are supposed to fry them in some oil and butter and so I drained them, dried the pan and attempted to do this.  Unfortunately, despite the addition of plenty of oil and butter (about 2 tablespoons of each) the spatzle did not crisp of turn a lovely golden brown but instead stuck to the bottom of the pan!  Giving up at that point I went ahead and served my meal.

Continuing to try and make spatzle

This turned out to be a rather beige and rather unappetizing looking meal, however it tasted okay.  The spatzle themselves had an okay texture despite not crisping, but not a lot of flavour, however I wasn;t expecting them to taste great on their own.  The chicken was lovely, still moist and with plenty of flavour.  The star of the show (and indeed the whole day) was the non-German Madeira sauce!  This was rich and sweet and absolutely divine.  It lifted the chicken and the spatzle and made the whole dish delicious, in the end it saved my day!

A meal that tasted much better than it looks!

The race itself was easily the best of the season.  Hamilton snuck into the lead at the start and the top three then proceeded to tussle for places for the rest of the race!  Much shouting and cheering at the happened throughout the race as the drivers fought with one another.  Hamilton eventually won the GP and for the first time this season Vettel was missing from the Podium!

British GP – A little bit of Britain a little bit late.

July 20, 2011

The injuries from my bike accident have now healed enough so that I can cook and eat (provided my food is chopped into little squares – it will be a while until I bite again!) This meant that, a little bit later than originally planned I finally got round to cooking my British food.  I cooked two dishes from very different ends of British society – A lovely greasy fried breakfast and an afternoon tea!

My two dishes

The first thing we had was our lovely fried breakfast.  This involved consuming the first baked beans I have had since relocation.  Being a huge fan of baked beans I was extremely excited about this breakfast.  The other ingredients were: some pork and apple sausages, some smoked bacon, some mushrooms and some fried potatoes.

As much as I enjoy eating a cooked breakfast, I find that making one can be rather taxing.  Trying to have everything cooked just right at the same time, and serving it all hot is a logistical nightmare. I usually end up using the majority of the pans that I own in cooking all the ingredients, meaning rather a lot of washing up to do later.  This, combined with the huge calorific intake, means that although a meal I very much enjoy, it’s not one I indulge in too often.

Over here in France I found I had another impediment to add to my list of difficulties – sourcing the ingredients!  Finding British style sausages and bacon (along with self raising flour, baked beans and other stables of my food cupboard) is very hard to do.  Luckily for me I discovered that not too far away from me was a “British Market” selling imported foods (at a rather high mark-up) and it was here that I was able to obtain my foreign fare.

Armed with my little taste of home I proceeded to turn my kitchen into a bombsite.  The sausages were cooked in the oven (as there was no room on the hob), the potatoes fried in a saucepan.  The mushrooms went into the microwave and the bacon was grilled on a grill pan.  Finally the eggs were fried in lashings of oil.

Three double yokers!

Something odd has been happening with the eggs I have been getting in France.  After years of hearing of double yokers and thinking they were a myth I see to have stumbled upon a brand of eggs in which 50% of the eggs have double yokes!  I have no idea why, but for now the novelty is enough to keep me amused.  In cooking for this meal, three out of the four eggs I used had a double yoke!

Anyway, mutant eggs aside, this was just the taste of home that I needed after a week subsisting on soup!  Beans had never tasted so good, and the rest was pretty damn tasty as well!

Later in the day it was time for the afternoon tea.  Although able to cook, I was up to anything too strenuous so I decided to scale back my plans slightly and stay very traditional with a Victoria Sponge, some scones and four types of finger sandwiches.

For a Victoria sponge I usually go for some ratio of the 4-4-4-2 recipe( 4 ounces of flour, sugar and butter to two medium eggs).  However on this occasion I thought I’d give the Women Institute weigh your eggs method a try.  I wanted to make a large cake and so I went for four eggs.  These weighed 269g.  I therefore creamed together 269g of butter and 269g of sugar before adding my eggs one at a time.  These were still from my mutant pack and so of the four two were double yokers which I hoped would just add richness to the cake rather than ruin everything!  Finally I slowly added 269g of self raising flour and beat everything with my electric whisk to get the mixture nice and smooth.

Making the sponge batter

I spread the mixture between lined two 8 inch pans and placed them in the oven on about 200C for around 30 minutes (I didn’t time it exactly but kept an eye on them and got them out when they looked done).  Once the cakes had cooled I sandwiches the two halves together with raspberry jam and whipped cream.  The Victoria Sponge was done!

Cooking and assembling the sponge

Next up were the scones.  I used to make scones all the time when I was younger and it was a lovely trip down memory lane to be making them again.  Scones are lovely, straight forward to make and delicious to eat when topped with jam and clotted cream (which I also from the British store).

To make my scones I rubbed 40g of butter into 225g until it resembled breadcrumbs.  I then added just enough milk to bind the mixture into a dough (around 150ml).  The dough was rolled out, scones were cut using fluted cutters and placed them on a greased baking tray.  According to the recipe this should make 12, however their scones must be tiny – I got 5!

Maing the scones

The final thing to prepare was my finger sandwiches.  My four fillings were: ham and mustard, egg mayonnaise, brie and plum chutney and smoked salmon with lemon crème fraiche.  To ensure that these looked proper I cut all the crusts off and cut each round of sandwiches into 3.  After that I set a pot of tea onto brew and arranged the food on the cake stand.

My afternoon tea

The food was lovely and the meal elegant.  I enjoyed everything evening if it did have to be cut into little squares.  I have had very little British food since I moved out to France/Geneva and it was a lovely treat to indulge in some food from home.  As for the British GP, from what I’ve read and from what my partner says it was a very good race (and Seb Vettel didn’t win for once!).  However, although I did watch it, I really wasn’t in the mood after my fall and so I can’t say I enjoyed it and I don’t really remember that much of it.  Never mind – Germany next!

The European GP – Interesting food courtesy of “On a Stick” and a boring race!

June 28, 2011

This weekend was the European GP at Valencia.  It was also my first GP in my new flat!  It’s so good to have all my cooking equipment again!  The European grand prix is unusual in that it travels around but we are part way through Valencia’s 7 year term for hosting it.  Rather than try and create one dish which summed up European cuisine, I decided to make several from different countries.

Not long after arriving abroad I received a copy of the cookbook “On a Stick”, by Matt Armendariz, which contains 80 different recipes each involving, as you may have guessed, food on a stick.  The book is split into two sections, savoury and sweet, and contains recipes from all around the world.  I picked a few European ones to make.

The dishes I decided to cook were: Souvlaki, Pinchos de Gambas, Suppli and Sangria Pops.  2 Spanish, 1 Italian and 1 Greek – Not quite the European Song Contest but a fair spread I think.

My on a stick fare

On a stick food served up

The first thing I needed to get one with was my Sangria pops as these would need several hours to freeze.  The book gives recipes for both red and white Sangria pops, but I decided to just go for the red.

Ingredients for Sangria on a stick!

I cut up some melon, lime and grapes and placed them into small (rather unlollyish) plastic tubs.  I then poured over a mixture of red wine, orange juice and sugar.  To finish them off they needed a stick. However I had not been able to find lollypop sticks in the shop and so resorted to plastic spoons placed in at jaunty angles.  I hope Matt will forgive me for this transgression.    The whole lot then went into the freezer.

Making the Sangria Pops

We ate these later on after everything else.  They may have looked a little unusual due to my choice of equipment, but they tasted great.  By this point we had eaten quite a lot, however the sangria pops were light and not overly sweet – just very refreshing.

The next thing I had to start preparing was my Suppli which are Italian fried risotto balls.

Ingredients for making Suppli

To make these I started by cooking a basic chicken stock risotto.  This then went into the fridge for a couple of hours to chill and set.  Once it was cold and hard I could handle the risotto and start to make the balls in a very similar fashion to making scotch eggs, gently easing the rice around the filling. The filling recommended was just mozzarella cheese, however I added some sundried tomato paste to jazz them up a little.

I had used up all the risotto I had 11 balls.  These were then floured, egged and bread crumbed (well crumbled brioche toast again!) before being deep fried for a couple of minutes.

Making the Suppli

Off all the dishes I cooked these were my least favourite.  There was nothing overly wrong with them, and I think if I had had them by themselves I would have thought they were okay. But in comparison to the other dishes they tasted quite bland and they really needed some extra flavour as what was there was very mild.

The third dish I started to prepare was the souvlaki.  The recipe called for lamb, however I had to settle for pork as that was all that was available.  They still tasted great though.

The ingredients for Souvlaki

The pork was cubed and, together with some tomato halves, marinated in oregano, thyme, lemon, garlic and shallot.  I also made a sauce to go with the dish consisting of Greek yoghurt, mint, lemon, cumin, honey and paprika.

Making the Souvlaki

When the pork was sufficiently marinated it went onto the skewers and then into the griddle pan.  The meat took about 5/6 minutes to cook and was very moist.  I served the meat off the skewers in wraps topped with the sauce, a bit like a kebab or gyros.  The flavours worked well despite the change of meat and the sauce was delicious.  I think with some more vegetables or maybe some lettuce this would be a great lunch or evening meal.

The final dish I cooked was my Pinchos de Gambas, wonderful big juicy prawns coated in a sweet paprika marinade (sweet paprika, lime, cumin and garlic).  I added a little cayenne pepper to my marinade mike to give a little heat and this worked really well with the sweet smokiness of the Spanish paprika.  The prawns sat in the marinade for an hour or so before going onto the sticks.  The cooked in minutes and were extremely morish!

The ingredients for Pinchos de Gambas

Making the Pinchos de Gambas

“On a Stick” is a really interesting book, and there is a lot in there that I still want to try.  It’s a good range from the usual stick fare of corn dogs and chicken satay through to the slightly wacky fish and chips or spaghetti and meatballs on a stick.  Matt is clearly a person who has a passion and it shows through.  Personally I feel that the savoury section is a lot stronger than the sweet, there was far more that caught my eye.  I did find some of the recipes a little lazy as well such as the cinnamon rolls which involves putting ready to bake cinnamon rolls on a stick, however others were a lot more complex with everything being made from scratch.

The race itself was very boring.  Vettel won again and other than that not much happened.  The most exciting part of the race was when four cars had a scrap over 13th place, but that didn’t last for long.  All in all I’m glad I had some food to distract me!

The Canadian Grand Prix – Some very unhealthy dishes and an exciting race

June 13, 2011

Last night was the Canadian GP and, due to there being rather a lot of rain there, it didn’t finish till gone 11pm French time! So my post is a little late coming up..  Before this race the only Canadian food I was aware of was maple syrup.  Not wanting to cook something as obvious as pancakes I decided to do a little research.  What I found was that an awful lot of Canadian dishes are very unhealthy!

Most Canadian cuisine is imported from elsewhere, brought along by the various settlers.  The national dish (after maple syrup) is something called Poutine; this consists of chips with fresh curd cheese and gravy.  Other delicacies include butter tarts, donair (a Canadian take on a donner kebab) and Pierogis (boiled baked or fired dumplings).

The race was held in Montreal so I decided to try two dishes originating in Quebec; the poutine and some Monte Cristo sandwiches (a sort of deep fried croque monsieur).

Poutine and Monte Cristo Sandwiches

I made the poutine for our lunch.  The cheddar cheese curdsI should have used need to be obtained and used within 24 hours of their manufacture or else their characteristic “squeak” is lost.  As fresh curds were not available I substituted them for small mozzeralla balls.

The ingredients for poutine

This was a very simple dish to make.  I peeled and chopped my potatoes to make chips and wrapped them in a tea-towel to absorb some of the moisture.  While the chips were drying slightly I made a roux in my little saucepan to which I added chicken stock slowly to create a gravy (no measurements I’m afraid as I’m still in the little kitchen with no equipment!).

making the gravy

With the gravy bubbling away I placed my pan of oil (a thick bottomed frying pan!) onto the heat to warm through and when this was hot added the potatoes.

Making chips

After about 10 minutes the chips were cooked through.  They weren’t crisp as the oil was not hot enough (despite being on the highest setting), but I figured that as they were soon going to be covered in gravy this was not a huge issue.  With the chips cooked I fished them out of the pan with a dessert spoon (the only slotted spoon we have is plastic!) and divided them up over two plates.  I then tore my little mozzarella balls and scattered the cheese and poured over my gravy.

The finished Poutine

Because I used chicken stock and didn’t have any browning to hand my gravy was quite light in colour (it looked more like a butter sauce) but it tasted great.  I have to admit that I was quite sceptical about the gravy and cheese mix but they actually worked together pretty well.  The whole thing was very moorish (I blame the salt and the fat!) and I can see why it’s become so popular!  If I ever get the chance to visit Canada I can’t wait to try an authentic version made with the proper  cheese.

After our lunch of poutine we had a stroll to try and work off some of the calories before digging into our monte cristo sandwiches.  These seem to be eaten all over America, but a version originating from Quebeccaught my eye.  I altered this slightly (I used pre-made mustard mayo, skipped the egg whites and made the batter by sight!) but stuck largely to what was written.

Ingredients for the Monte Cristo sandwiches

I had to do a little bit of improvising in that I was unable to find ready-made breadcrumbs.  Lacking my mini chopper I wasn’t sure how to make my own, but after eating a brioche toast with some pate on I realised I had stumbled across a product which nice and crispy and just loved to turn to crumbs (they got everywhere!).  Therefore I started proceedings by gently crushing three brioche toasts into crumbs and they broke up in much the same way as an oxo cube!

My improvised breadcrumbs

I then proceeded to make my batter.  For this I used about half a tub of crème fraiche (I’d guess about 100mls) an egg and a splash of milk all whisked up together.

The batter mix

I then assembled my sandwiches, starting by slathering each piece of bread in mustard mayo.  Onto this I added a slice of ham, a slice of turkey and some gruyere cheese, topping everything off with the other slice. Then I cut the sandwiches in half ready to fry.

Assembling the sandwiches

The sandwich halves went first into the batter, then into the breadcrumbs and finally into a pan of hot oil (recycled from making the chips for poutine).  This was another quick dish, the sandwiches needed less than a minute each side before they were ready to eat.

Coating and cooking the sandwiches

The sandwiches ready to eat!

The result looked like a weird hybrid between a croque monsieur and a chicken cordon blu.  The outside had a deliciously crisp texture and the inside was gooey from the mayo and the melted cheese.  I have to say that, as with the poutine, this dish was delicious.  It was very rich and two triangles proved to be a little too much for me to eat, but I enjoyed every bite (I won’t fancy getting on the scales tomorrow mind!)

The race itself was very exciting.  It was the first wet race of the season and there was plenty of action!  The race started under the safety car and after a few mad laps in which Lewis Hamilton managed to collide with his teammate and put himself out of the race the red flag came out after 25 laps halting the action for two hours.  By the time action finally re-started later French TV had given up and was showing Taxi 2 so I had to rely on the radio to know what was going on.

After the re-start Button had a collision with Alonso which resulted in Alonso retiring and Button limping back to the pits with a puncture.  He eventually re-emerged in last place and then proceeded to drive the race of his life carving his way up the field.  By the time of the last lap he had made it all the way to second place and a uncharacteristic mistake from Vettel saw Button cruise to his first win of the season and possible the best race of his life!

A thoroughly thrilling race which the French TV completely failed to capture.  I will have to start investigating alternative options for the future races!

The Monaco GP – Salt Cod and Champagne (well , a sparkling white!)

May 31, 2011

So this weekend was the “Blue Riband” event of the F1 season: the Monaco GP.  Given that I’m still in temporary accommodation a full on glamour Monaco party compete was out of the question (maybe next year….) and I had to settle for watching the race on the Citadines big screen in the foyer with some British commentary streaming off our laptop.  It may not have been A-list or exclusive, but it was a great race and I enjoyed it all the same.

In the evening after I cooked my traditional dish from the region.  I struggled to find a recipe to cook for Monaco, the few websites that described Monegasque cuisine all said the same thing (I wonder which wrote it first…) without giving details of how to cook the dishes they described.  After much searching I eventually discovered a great site in French with quite a lot of dishes.  From this site I decided to cook the Morue rôtie à la sauce tomate (Roast cod with tomato sauce).

I ate once salt cod about 15 years ago when on holiday in Portugal, and remembered it as unusual but not unpleasant.  Although it seems to be present in most of the supermarkets around here I had not, however, tried to cook with it. Mentioning the recipe at work showed that no one there had attempted it either, so I can only assume that it is used by a very select group of locals.

Salting cod is an ancient way of preserving the fish.  Unfortunately the salt cod itself was quite off-putting.  It was hard as a board, encrusted in salt and it didn’t smell overly pleasant (I thought it wasn’t that nice, but my partner wouldn’t go near it because of the smell).

The salt cod

Before it could be rendered edible the salt cod needed to be soaked for 24 hours + (I did mine for close to 48 hours) in water that is changed every few hours.  This helps to each out much (but not all) of the salt as well as re-hydrating the flesh leaving you with something a lot closer to a fresh fillet than you would expect from first looking at the dried salted version.

The salt cod at the beginning of the saoking (left) and after 48 hours (right)

If I’m completely honest the salt cod smelt pretty bad while it was soaking as well.  About 6 pints of water was not sufficient to cover that smell! When the fillet was finally ready to use my next challenge was to try and turn it into fillets.  I have never filleted a fish before and this turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be.  The salt cod I was using was quite thin and bony and the slightly rubbery texture didn’t help matters.  In the end I managed to get off 5 (rather small) pieces before I gave up.  These were patted dry and coated in flour ready to be fried later on.

The reults of my poor attempt at filleting

The next thing to crack on with was the tomato sauce.  I peeled and finely chopped a carrot and an onion and chopped some garlic.  I then put crosses on the bottom of 6 tomatoes and plunged them into boiling water for a minute before draining them and rinsing them in cold water (all measurements are an approximation of the recipe since I don’t have the means to weight anything).  This enabled me to peel the skin from the tomatoes easily before quartering them and removing the seeds.  I cut the remaining flesh into smallish pieces.

Preparing the tomatoes

To make the sauce I fired off the onion, carrot and garlic in plenty of olive oil for about 5 minutes till they started to colour.  I then added the tomato flesh and a sprig of time giving everything a good mix before leaving it over a low heat for half an hour to combine.  After this time the components were still separate but held together by the wonderfully flavoured oil and finished with the addition of some chopped parsley.

Making the sauce

With the sauce finished it was time to cook my salt cod “filets”.  These went into a hot pan of oil for about 5 minutes to get some colour and cook through, after days of preparation the cooking didn’t take long at all!

Frying the salt cod

I served the salt cod and sauce with some simple boiled potatoes, there were plenty of flavours happening already and I didn’t want to overpower the dish.

All served up

After the rather pungent smell of the cod in its uncooked smell I didn’t have the highest hopes for this dish, however I was very happily surprised. For sure it was rather unusual and there was a distinct saltiness and a taste of the sea that was very strong. However that wasn’t unpleasant, just different.  The sauce turned out to be very sweet despite me not having added any sugar and this was a nice contrast to the cod, if slightly overpowering at times (maybe I shouldn’t have served up the whole sauce!) .

Despite being in France I couldn’t quite stretch to a bottle of real champagne.  Wanting to try and maintain a bit of glamour I still decide to accompany this dish with a bottle of sparkling white, however I resorted to a perfectly pleasant, if slightly sweet, bottle of €2 Muscador.

Our "Champagne"

Overall this dish was nice, but it was not nice enough when you consider the amount of prep involved.  Yes, this is only soaking, but the water does need to be changed every few hours and by having the salt cod in one pan for so long I drastically reduced my cooking equipment!

The race itself was amazing. The final part of qualifying had to be stopped after Perez crashed heavily into the barriers leading to a concussion which prevented him racing.  After the session restarted no one was able to beat the time that had been set by Vettel giving him his fifth P1 of the season.  He went on to make it his 5th win as well, after a crash involving a large selection of the mid field resulted in the race being red flagged in order for Petrov to be extracted from his car (he luckily escaped uninjured).

Before the red flag Vettel’s, who tyres were just about shot, was being closely chased by both Button and Alonso.  However under the red flag conditions the racers were for some reason able to change their tyres meaning that after the restart a sense of equilibrium was restored and even Hamilton barging Maldonado out of the way couldn’t upset the order of the top three.

The Spanish Grand Prix – A taste of Catalonia

May 22, 2011

I have to start off with a couple of apologies.  The first is for having been so quit in the last few weeks.  Although I have the best of intentions, and plenty that I want to say, I have been struggling to find them time to put my thoughts into words.  Moving has been great fun so far, and I’m enjoying myself very much, however I seem to be a lot more busy than I used to, I expect once things settle down a bit more I shall be able to write more regularly.

My second apology is to my local Carrefore as it seems I did it a dis-service.  Having had the time now to properly explore the aisles, I was amazed to discover in their local food section (which, alongside the halal meat and Japanese pot noodles, contains such delicacies as Colmans mustard) the shredded filo pastry I should have used for my künefe!  I now can’t wait to give this another go!

Anyway, onto the purpose of this post, what I cooked for the Spanish GP.  For the past week and a half I have been staying in a hotel with no kitchen (just a kettle!), but luckily I moved back in the Citadine on Friday so I have been able to cook again.  I’ll be here for the next four weeks, and although the kitchen is small and poorly equipped, after not having a kitchen at all I’m very grateful! The race was held in Barcelona and so I wanted to cook something Catalan rather than something generically Spanish.

What I decided on was the bruchetta like Pa amb tomàquet and a Catalan Sauté of Calamari in Onion Marmalade both fairly simple dishes that should contain a lot of flavour.

I started with the calamari and onion marmalade as this would take the longest.  The dish only had 4 ingredients: squid, onions, olive oil and a dried chilli (or cayenne pepper in my case!).  I had to guess all the measurements and went for 5 tubes of squid (of varying size!) and four small to medium onions.

The ingredients for my squid dish!

The cooking was equally straight forward.  I chopped my onions and cut my squid into rings.  I then cooked the squid rings for about a minute before setting them aside.  Next into the pan went some olive oil and a sprinkling of cayenne pepper (probably half a teaspoon if I had to guess).  Once the pepper had fried a little I added my onions and turned the heat down. To begin the slow process of cooking and caramelizing them.  This took place over the next 40 minutes.

Cooking the onions for 40 minutes

When the onions were finally ready I retuned the squid to the pan and heated it through before serving.

I then quickly made the pa amb tomàquet.  I cut two large slices of bread and toasted them lightly to give a crisp surface.  I then rubbed the surface with garlic and then with half a tomato each.

Rubbing with garlic and tomato

To finish them off I sprinkled over salt and olive oil and mixed everything together with the end of my loaf of bread and my second dish was finished.

The finished breads

My Catalan food all served up

I enjoyed both dishes a lot, although I’m not entirely sure they went that well together.  I had thought that the cool tomato would complement the spicy heat of the onions, but in the end I found the raw garlic taste on the bread overpowered both!  The squid dish was unusual but I really liked it.  Given its simplicity the flavours really shone for me and the sweet spicy onions were a great foil in texture and flavour to the salty yet sweet squid.  The amount I cooked proved to be more than enough for two so I shall be eating it again, although I do have slight misgivings over how well squid will re-heat!

Onto the race.  This was once again a thrilling race with an electric start involving home star Fernando Alonso coming through from 4th on the grid to claim 1st place in the 1st corner.  Unfortunately for him his car wasn’t up to the task and although he held everyone off till the first round of pit stops he then lost his lead and eventually finished 5th.  There were plenty of different strategies  being used and Jenson Button used his three stop strategy to claim 3rd after a horrible time getting off the line.  Vettle won once again, but for once he also had to work for it.  He not only making some good overtaking manoeuvres for once, but he responded well to being under pressure from 2nd place finisher Lewis Hamilton for the majority of the race.  A word of congratulations for Nick Heidfeld, who finished 8th after starting 24th due to his car dramatically catching fire in practice three.

One final foodie note, for our evening meal we decided to stick with the Spanish theme and give Carrefours paella in a box a go (I don’t normally go for this sort of thing but having spent a lot of time cooking earlier I didn’t feel like anything complicated!).  The box, it turns out, contains a tin of meat seafood, vegetables and juice, a packet of rice and a sachet of spices.

Paella in a box

This was all shoved in a pan together with some water and actually produced a pretty credible meal.  I was genuinely surprised to find chicken legs and real pieces of meat and fish in there.  Not bad at all for meals in a tin!

The finished box paella