Saturday, 20 December 2008

Birthday cake and a moan about my kitchen

Whilst I am waiting in the Post Office so send some Christmas bits - bloody queues - I thought I would take the opportunity to write up this blog post.

This picture is a birthday cake I prepared for my fiancee a week or two ago. She is of the school of thought that the amount of food colouring and icing is directly proportional to the tastiness and symbolism of the cake. Hence the Mr Men candles, sprinkles and so on! Not to my taste, but she liked it!

What you can't see in this picture is the first iteration of the cake which ended its life in the bin and closely resembled a large flat burnt biscuit! I stand by the fact that the tools are to blame, and not the chef. We have possibly the worst oven in the world, its main design feature as far as I can tell being the ability to cook as unevenly as possible! The thermostat seems particularly ineffective, and I think bears no similarities to the actual oven cooking temperature. I will get round to posting up some pictures of the offending oven, and the slightly worse hob at some point! I wonder what santa will bring me this year... Lets hope!!

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Saturday, 13 December 2008

Black pudding

Last night was a crazy beer, scrabble and chess extravaganza. As such, a hearty breakfast was required. I was staying at my friends house last night, and he was lucky enough to have been given some top quality black pudding from Scotland, via Lancashire. Its a long story and I won't bore you with the details.

For those of you that don't know what black pudding is, its a sausage made from animal blood so sometimes better known as blood sausage. There are many variations throughout the world, the best of which is undoubtably of British origin (that is my very unbiased opinion). It seems that the Scots in particular make a good black pudding. They are traditionally part of the full English breakfast, a truly artery blocking meal.

We skipped the majority of the breakfast and just went for the pudding with a bit of toast, and what a treat it was! The sausage was juicy, yet without being greasy, and also had a fry crumbly texture at the same time. The perfect accompaniment to a hangover... And a good dollop of brown sauce (HP obviously).

For those of you put off by the idea of blood sausage, not the most appetising of names admittedly, I urge you to give it a try. Best go for some quality butchers sausage for your first taste, as the ones found in a greasy spoon will most likely put you off it for good if you are uninitiated into the black pudding circle.

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Friday, 28 November 2008

Tuna, spring onion and cheese on toast

This is such a simple dish that the title pretty much explains all that you need to know. Nonetheless, I will help you out and give you some instructions on how to make the perfect one.

Take two slices of bread.

Toast under a hot grill on one side.

Take out from under the grill. Now turn the grill to a low/medium heat.

Spread half a tin of tuna onto each slice, on the un-toasted side.

Sprinkle with finely chopped spring onions.

Place slices of cheese on the top of the tuna and onion mixture.

Place under the grill, which should now be on a low-ish heat.

Watch it carefully until done to your liking, The cheese should be melted, bubbling and just starting to brown a tiny bit.


This post has been bought to you via my mobile phone from a packed commuter train, so that is why you only get one picture today!

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Friday, 21 November 2008

Tomato and Mozzarella Tart

Just in case anybody is wondering, I am still here! I am having trouble finding the time to do any blogging of late, what with going away at weekends (Paris and Leeds recently, if you are interested), working a lot, and just being generally busy doing "stuff".

Anyway, today's recipe is a very easy tomato and mozzarella tart. It is made all the more easy if you buy some ready made pastry - a god send for people like me who are rubbish at making pastry (something to do with being impatient and not having cold enough hands I suspect).

There is enough of this tart to make about 6 portions, or 4 if you have big appetites.

  • Olive oil
  • 450 g onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage
  • 1 x sheet frozen ready rolled puff pastry (I think it is about 200 g)
  • 450 g ripe and juicy tomatoes
  • 125 g mozzarella, drained and thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper
Heat a large pan and then add the olive oil, onions and garlic. Cook for 1 minute, then add the fresh sage.

Stir fry for another 10 minutes over a medium/low heat, until the onions have caramelised slightly. Remove from the heat and place to one side. You might find that the onions are a bit wet as they seep out some juices, so drain off some of this juice else it will make your pastry wet.

Now take the pastry out of the packet (or if you are feeling fancy, make some yourself, but don't ask for my advice).

Now I forgot to take a picture of this bit, but next thing to do is roll out the pastry onto a baking tray, covered with baking parchment or greaseproof paper, and fold a little bit of the edge over to make a crust, then spread the cooked onions evenly over the top.

Thinly slice the tomatoes and layer evenly on top of the onions. Thinly slice the mozzarella and then place evenly over the top. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Bake for 15-20 minutes at 200C, until the cheese is melted and slightly browned, and the pastry looks a light golden colour.

This is great served with some green salad.

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Friday, 14 November 2008

Spinach and Chilli Pasta

This is a recipe that I just knocked up from a few ingredients we had in the cupboards today. It was quite tasty and ready in about 15 minutes, which is pretty good at the end of a long day at work.

First of all, take some fancy pasta - something like this spinach and ricotta one would be perfect. Cook it as per the pack instructions. It will probably require some sort of hot salty water in which you will immerse the pasta for a certain length of time. But still, best to check before you start.

Next up, take a couple of briquettes of frozen spinach and place them in a bowl (not bowel which is something completely different).

Heat in the microwave for 2 minutes, until defrosted - don't cook it too much else it will be all soggy and mushy.
Now heat some olive oil in a frying pan, and fry 2 cloves of garlic and 1 chilli (chopped finely) for about 30 seconds, before adding the spinach. A handful of pinenuts went into the pan at this point as well.

Mix it around well and stir fry for about a minute.

Now you need a small pot of natural yoghurt, for example something like this:

Remove the frying pan from the heat, and add the pot of yoghurt. The heat from the pan will warm the yoghurt through, but you don't want it too hot.

About now, the pasta should be ready. Drain off the water and mix with the sauce.

Serve immediately, topped with lots of black pepper and plenty of grated parmesan.

Not the most appetising looking of meals, but it was certainly very tasty.

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Sunday, 12 October 2008

Chicken tagine with lemon couscous

A tagine originates from North Africa. In actual fact, it is the type of dish that the food is cooked in. It looks bit like an upside down funnel. Because water is at a shortage in North Africa, this dish enables them to cook nice moist stews using minimal water. The funnel leaves room for the steam to cool and condense, dripping back onto the meat or vegetables and keeping them juicy. Normally, tagines have some sort of meat, spices and some fruit like apricots or prunes. If you don't have a tagine - like I don't - then you can use a casserole dish or similar lidded sauce pan.

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • Low fat cooking spray
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 2 onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 500 ml chicken stock
  • 1 x 400 g tin apricots in juice
Spray some of that tasty low fat cooking spray into your tagine (or casserole dish). Heat the pan and then brown the chicken breasts for about 1.5 minutes each side. Remove from the pan and place to one side.

Add a bit more cooking spray to the pan, and stir fry the chopped peppers and onions for 5 minutes. Next, add the garlic (chopped) and spices and keep stirring for another minute.

Put the chicken back into the pan along with the chicken stock and chopped tomatoes. Stir well, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Drain the apricots and add to the pot, and cook for another 5 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Meanwhile, prepare the lemon couscous ...


  • 250 g couscous
  • 300 ml chicken stock
  • 75 g green beans
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper
Cover the couscous with the hot chicken stock in a bowl, and then cover the bowl. Leave for ten minutes. Meanwhile, steam the green beans and chop into ~1/5 cm lengths. After the couscous has been standing for 10 minutes, add the green beans, the lemon juice and zest. Fluff it up with a fork.

Serve the chicken tagine wit plenty of couscous on the side.

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Thursday, 9 October 2008

"Vegetarian" Shepherd's Pie

Why is this "vegetarian" and not vegetarian? Well, it uses Quorn which is not meat admittedly, but it is certainly not a vegetable and it is designed to taste like meat. In fact, I once went for a job interview at the company that makes Quorn (I didn't get the job by the way), and it is grown from some fungus. The management at Quorn took a wise decision to not call it "Fungal protein" but instead, the far tastier sounding "mycoprotein" which means protein grown from fungus.

I have probably put you off eating quorn now as well. Anyway, if you want to be a vegetarian why eat meat tasting substitutes? That was my point! Well, we ate it because it is low in fat compared to beef! It does taste different to meat, but its a good enough substitute for me. I think you can get chicken breast shapes, chicken nuggets and so on as well.


  • Low fat cooking spray
  • 2 leeks, finely sliced
  • 2 carrots - peeled and chopped
  • 1 can sweet corn (200 g)
  • 500 g passata
  • 300 g Quorn mince (frozen or fresh)
  • 2 teaspoons Marmite (or other yeast extract)
  • 200 g baked beans (half a tin)
  • 600 g potatoes peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 300 g parsnips peeled and sliced thickly
  • Salt and pepper
  • Nob of butter
  • Splash of milk

The potatoes I used were from my future father-in-laws allotment and were desiree. They have a dark red skin, and score a 5 on the waxy/floury scale - I just discovered this scale today at this website - so I will try and drop it into conversation whenever I can. That will sure make for some exciting chats.

Anyway, this one caught my eye, as it had a red colouring right the way through. You can just make it out in the picture below, although it is somewhat disappointing compared to what it looked like in real life.

Right, anyway, put the peeled and chopped potatoes and parsnips into a pan of boiling water and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until soft and ready for mashing. Now, add the butter, a splash of milk and salt and pepper and mash until nice and smooth.

Meanwhile, heat a large pan with a lid, and spray with low fat cooking spray. Add the leek and onions and stir fry for about 5 minutes.

Now add all the other ingredients - quorn, passata, sweet corn, baked beans. You will need a bit more liquid, so get the passata container and rinse it out with about 200 ml of water and tip that into the pan.

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 10 minutes with a lid on.

This is where things started to go a bit wrong for me. I realised that not only did I have too much filling for one dish to be able to top with mash, I also had too much filling for two dishes of shepherd's pie filling topped with mash.

It was a somehwat tricky operation to balance the mash on top of the filling, but it worked out ok (as long as you are not too into presentation).

I put cheese on one half (my half, since the missus is on a diet) and then under a hot grill for 5 minutes or so, until it just starts to brown, and if you are lucky enough to put cheese on the top, the cheese will start to bubble.

That's it! Pretty tasty actually, despite my complaining about Quorn earlier!

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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Jacket Potato in Pictures

A humble potato...

Stab it all over with a fork.

Wet the potato.
Sprinkle liberally with salt (makes for a crispy skin).

Get the oven nice and hot - 220 C is about as hot as mine will go.
Place the potato on a baking tray, and bake for ~1 hour, turning over half way through.

Remove from the oven.

Now this is the good bit - what makes it really tasty!

Hold the potato in a clean tea towel, and give it a good, firm whack on the work top. This breaks up the skin a bit, and somehow makes it go all fluffy and light inside.

Split the potato - split it along the top, then press from either end of the split to spread it out and up.
Add a generous knob of butter.

And finish with your favourite topping! Here is the classic beans and cheese. Yum!

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Sunday, 5 October 2008

Beef Rogan Josh Curry

OK, so this is yet another low calorie recipe and again, not too bad at all!


  • 500 g lean beef steak, cubed
  • 2 onions - sliced
  • 2 peppers (I used yellow) - sliced
  • 2 carrots - made into "sticks"
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic - chopped finely
  • 4 dried red chillies - chopped finely
  • 4 tsp dried cumin
  • 4 tsp dried turmeric
  • 4 tsp dried ground coriander
  • ~250 g yoghurt (low fat)
  • 2 x 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • Low fat cooking spray
Spray a large pan with low fat cooking spray, then brown the beef. Remove and place on a plate.

Spray the pan again with the low fat cooking spray, and stir fry the onions, carrots and peppers for about 5 minutes, until slightly browned.

Now add the spices, chillies and garlic and stir fry for another minute or two.

Add the yoghurt and tinned tomatoes, stir well, and then add the meat back to the pan. The recipe called for 200 ml water to be added at this point, which I did, but I recommend that you don't as it makes for a very watery sauce! Not good.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently for an hour.

And then it is ready! We served it with jacket potatoes (more on those later) and sprinkled with fresh coriander. As you can see, the sauce is a bit watery!

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Saturday, 4 October 2008

Gnocchi and pumpkin gratin

As my lady mentioned in an earlier post, she is trying to lose weight prior to our wedding next year. This means diet food, good for her, but not so good for me as I will waste away!

Anyway, this is a recipe from Weight Watchers again, and despite using that weird tasting low fat cooking spray, it was actually not bad! It was quite filling, but that is because we ended up doubling the recipe and the portion sizes! Whoops! Still, apparently it came in at 5 points a portion, and if you know what that means, then well done!! I don't!


  • 800 g butternut squash
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 large red onion
  • Handful fresh sage roughly chopped
  • Low fat cooking spray
  • 1 kg gnocchi
  • 500 g passata
  • Parmesan to grate on the top - not too much, mind, you're on a diet!
Heat the oven to 200C. Peel and chop the squash into ~1cm cubes. This is hard work! If anyone knows a good easy way to peel squash, I would love to hear about it!

Place in a roasting dish with the garlic (skin on), onion (roughly chopped), salt and pepper, and a misting of low fat cooking spray. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, until the garlic is soft and the butternut squash is nearly cooked.

Now get your gnocchi out. And also, have a look at the passata (not sure why this warranted a picture now). It looks good. But better if you cook it...

So, cook the gnocchi in some hot water - so hot it is boiling. The pack will probably tell you the best way to do this but I would reckon on about 5 minutes maximum.

Squeeze the garlic out of its skin now and mash up with a fork. Place back in the roasting dish with the squash and onions. Now mix in the cooked and drained gnocchi and the passata. Top it all with some grated parmesan. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling, and the squash is nice and soft.

It should look a bit like this:

Now eat it at once!

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