Thursday, 29 January 2009

5 Benefits of Cast Iron Cooking

When you come across an amazing meal, your first reaction is to ask for the recipe. While ingredients and detailed cooking instructions are necessary to emulate the delicious plate in front of you, you’d be surprised how much the type of cookware used can affect the overall taste. Cast iron cookware can either be categorized as traditional or enamelled depending on whether the cookware surface has been “seasoned” or not.
    1. Easy to Clean: Enamelled cast iron cookware comes with a surface that is already coated with a porcelain enamel, preventing it from reacting with any foods that you choose to brown, sauté, or bake. “Seasoning” eliminates the chance for flavours from last night’s dinner to mix with what you’re planning on serving tonight. It also gives you the peace of mind that your cookware is easy to clean and prepared for your next healthy meal.

    2. Retains Heat: Cast iron cookware is well known for retaining and distributing heat evenly to ensure a thorough cooking process. Not only will a balanced amount of heat help cook your meals thoroughly but it will cut down on overall cooking time, giving you a chance to start on another dish or perhaps entertain your dinner guests!

    3. Versatility & Durability: Between cookware sets, baking dishes, and every cooking tool in between, it’s easy to fill up on cabinet or pantry space quickly. One of the greatest benefits of having cast iron cookware is that it can be used on a stovetop surface and in the oven. In addition, cast iron becomes stronger as you use it while most other cookware set materials tend to experience normal wear and tear after the first few years of use.

    4. Healthy Cookware: When cooking with acidic ingredients, it’s common for iron traces from the pan or pot to release into your dish. This can be very beneficial as this essential mineral helps circulate oxygen throughout the blood stream and prevents common symptoms of an iron deficiency such as fatigue, headaches, and nausea.

    5. Nonstick Surface: Cut down on the amount of oil or butter in your next dish by cooking with a nonstick cast iron surface. This material makes life easier for any meal during the day. Whether you’re frying eggs for Saturday morning breakfast or baking a hearty casserole to warm your family up after a chilly day, there’s no need to worry about a horrible cleanup at the end of the meal.
When looking to expand on your kitchenware set or are interested in trying something new, cast iron cooking is a great option for a healthy meal any day of the week. Serve up your creations on your favourite dinnerware and enjoy!

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Sunday, 25 January 2009

My rubbish oven


Just take a look at this hob and oven combo. It truly is dire. The hob is of the type that takes around 45 minutes to reach temperature, then immediately becomes too hot. This is ok for boiling water, but anything more complex such as simmer or reduce heat is way too advanced for this baby. As for the oven, that has a similar capacity for getting hot as the hob... I.e very slowly. It heats so unevenly that most things are either burnt on the top nr the bottom, but not cooked in the middle! Truly awful.

We have just got a replacement for both of these, and once I have got round to fitting them and testing them out I will write something about it.

What have you got in your kitchen that is completely useless? Have you got any exciting new gadgets, maybe for Christmas?

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Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Big Chef Takes on Little Chef

I am just watching this on Channel 4 now - Heston Blumenthal is trying to revamp the rather tired and unfashionable Little Chef. Some amusing, expected and rather unexpected results. It is on all this week. The Managing Director of Little Chef is just a complete idiot - he has no idea about anything and is completely out of touch with what his customers want.

Anyway, watch it all this week and we will discuss it later!

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Thursday, 15 January 2009

What I Got For Christmas

I hope that all my readers had a good Christmas and New Year, and wishing you all the best for 2009! I had a great Christmas break, very busy but got good nonetheless. I spent Christmas day with my fiancées family, the first time that I haven't spent it with my family and it was great getting to know all their family customs and especially the food! We had a traditional turkey roast dinner with all the trimmings - and some more! There was roast and mashed potatoes, parsnips, sage and onion stuffing, chestnut stuffing, pigs in blankets, brussel sprouts (despite their bad reputation, I am partial to a sprout) cauliflower cheese, carrots and mushy peas! The last one was a new one on me for Christmas dinner, and a great addition!! Obviously plenty of wine was drunk, puddings, sweets and chocolates eaten! The rest of the holiday was spent drinking, eating and visiting my family and friends.

Its difficult to do this without sounding like I am boasting, but I wanted to show some of the presents that I got for Christmas!! My family and friends obviously know how much I like food and cooking, so I was lucky to receive loads of foodie presents.

I got a couple of good books, which I will be reading throughout January. Raymond Blanc's autobiography, "A Taste of My Life" which is also signed by the author!

Another good book from my fiancée was "The Burger Book" by Gina Steer. There are loads of great burger recipes here and most of them are not beef burgers - there are all kinds of fish burgers and fish cakes, pork burgers, vege burgers... I will be making some of these soon - my regular readers will know that I have got a taste for burgers.



A selection of chocolate - once this is finished, it might be time to go on a diet.

And some more chocolate - a well packaged gift set from Green and Blacks.

I have been after one of these griddle pans for ages. I was unsure whether a cast iron or a non stick one would be better, but this is what I got! I think that this is better actually since I am a bit lazy with seasoning it after cooking so it will last longer. The downside is that, not being cast iron, it seems to be difficult to get those griddle lines in the meat.

Here is a picture of my lovely Tefal griddle pan...


A little stocking filler, some scorpion vodka. Alcohol infused with scorpions, the bottle claims, is said to remove toxins from the body. I don't know what it does about the toxins from the booze, but perhaps it cancels them out and eliminates any hangovers! The scorpion is edible as well, so when I get round to trying this I will be sure to eat the scorpion too. I have never eaten insects before, so it must be worth a try.

... and if the scorpion vodka gives me a craving for scorpions, then never fear - here is an edible toffee scorpion candy! Yummy! Both of these delights are from www.edible.com.


This next present is one that I am particularly pleased with - a microwave egg poacher. I often have poached eggs on toast for breakfast, so this will get used plenty. You crack one egg into it, add a little water, pierce the yolk then microwave for ~45 seconds, depending on the size of the egg. Our microwave at home has a dial rather than a digital timer, so setting 45 seconds when the smallest increment on the timer is 1 minute can be a little tricky - I have had several overcooked eggs this week - but I am going to take it to work to use in the microwave there, and I should be able to get precision timed poached eggs done there.

These bright blue things are interesting. The big square one is a heat proof mat for resting pans on, resistant to something like 300C (I don't know where the packet is now, but it was pretty hot anyway). The tubey looking one is a garlic peeler. I haven't tested this out yet, but what you do is place the garlic clove in the tube, roll between your hands and then easily peel off the skin. The idea is that i
A few assorted baking bits and pieces including a loaf tin, with sexy pink spatula, and a Yorkshire pudding tin. We have needed one of these for some time, hopefully I will now be able to perfect my Yorkshire puddings.

Next up is something I have been after for a while. Luckily my fiancee listens to me and puts this to good use in her present buying! I have mentioned in earlier posts (like in this one for spicy chicken drumsticks) how much I would love a really heavy granite, non porous pestle and mortar for making curry pastes, grinding up spices and just generally mashing things up. And this is the one that I received - perfect!!

The final cooking realted present, well almost anyway, is this fantastic tagine. This one came with a packet of couscous as well, so I am now ready to start making some tasty North African style dishes in the traditonal style. I have made tagine type meals before, like this chicken tagine with lemon couscous, but now I don't have to use a casserole dish, it will be (almost) like the genuine article.

Finally, we also got given a bit of money for Christmas from parents and other family members. This has been put to good culinary use, and we are going to replace the absolutely awful oven and hob that was in our house when we moved in. The make of the old hob and oven is something like "New World" and whilst it looks reasonably ok, this is not the case. The hob is completely uncontrollable - it takes forever to reach the temperature, and then when you have to reduce the heat, say to a low simmer, you have to allow another half an hour or so for this to actually happen. The old oven, likewise, is completely impractical. It seems to heat as unevenly as is imaginable, ensuring that at some times everything is burnt on the bottom yet pretty much uncooked on the top, whilst at other times everything is burnt on the top and uncooked underneath. The oven also takes between 4-5 hours (I exaggerate, but only slightly) to heat up. So with the Christmas money, we have ordered a Neff double fan oven and a Hotpoint ceramic hob. The oven is pretty amazing, according to the reviews I have read, and the hob should be good as well. Obviously gas is the ultimate for hobs, but the amount of work involved in installing gas to the kitchen would make it far too expensive. This ceramic hob should be far superior to what we have now, and that will be good enough for me!

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Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Manx Inspirations - January - Beef Tea


My fiancees family originate from the Isle of Man. For those of you who have not heard of it, it's an island between Liverpool and Ireland, part of the British Isles but with its own parliament, laws, culture and food. They also have their own language, I think it is of Celtic origin.

For Christmas, we received this delightful calendar from on e of my fiancees Manx relatives. It is a "Traditional Manx Cookery Calendar" with each month containing a recipe from "My Grandmothers Cookery Book" by Sue Woolley. They are a collection of traditional recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. You can, if you so desire, purchase it from http://manxinspirations.com by searching for calendars.

I will try and post a recipe from the calendar every month, although to be quite honest some of them (most of them) will not be cooked as, so far, none have got me excited.


January's recipe is beef tea. In case you can't read it in the picture above, I will reproduce the recipe here:

Beef Tea

Beef tea makes a good nourishing drink, especially for invalids.

1/2 lb lean beef
3/4 pint water
Pinch of salt

Method

Shred the meat and remove all the fat. Pour the water into an earthenware jar and add the salt. Place the meat in the water and let it stand for an hour if possible. Then put the jar into a pan of boiling water and keep the water bubbling for two hours. Remove the jar from the pan. Strain the beef liquid to remove remaining fat. Before serving, add more salt if necessary.

I will not be cooking this recipe any time soon, but if anyone does please let me know how you get on... and if it is in any way worth while making. If I do get a hankering for a beefy drink, I will just buy some Bovril. I am not sure what happens to the beef afterwards, I reckon it would be pretty tender after all that stewing and might be good enough to eat.

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Sunday, 11 January 2009

The Original Suffolk Country Tea-Pot


I have a habit of browsing the many charity shops in the vicinity of my work during my lunch breaks. I don't often buy anything, but this caught my eye today. In case you can't read it clearly this is what it says:

The Original Suffolk Country Tea-Pot
Ideal for use at home or on Safari
Made by Henry Watson Pottery

It's not as antique as you might think from its appearance, as they are available at Amazon. But let's just think about what it says on there. "For use at home, or on safari". I remember when we were on safari in the baking oppressive heat of south Africa, nothing would have been more welcome than a piping hot brew. Yes indeedy, that would cooled us down a treat. Sadly, my mum had failed to check whether our regular teapot was suitable for safari. Needless to say it wasn’t and we were forced to rely on mere bottled water for our hydration. An Englishman should never have to stoop so low.

It is a real worry to me, what you would do for tea if you weren't either at home or on safari. I imagine that this pot simply stops working outside of its normal environs. I would recommend that you purchase a back-up teapot just in case!

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Thai Chicken Noodle Curry Soup

This recipe is based on a recipe for Thai curry in the "How to Cook the Weight Watchers Way" recipe book, by Becky Johnson and Joy Skipper. I read the recipe and thought it was for a Thai green curry in lots of sauce, but as I actually made it realised I had misread the recipe and it was more of a dry curry. I fixed this by increasing the amount of stock and Thai curry paste, and added some noodles to make more of a Thai noodle soup. The end result was a very filling and aromatic soup with an array of different textures.

Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (sunflower / ground nut oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 inch fresh root ginger, peeled and grated finely
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 2-3 tablespoons Thai green curry paste (add more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Grated zest and juice of one lime
  • 500 mL chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 head broccoli chopped into florets, slice the stalk
  • 100 g watercress
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander roughly torn/chopped
  • 4 blocks of dried noodles
  • Dry roasted peanuts for garnish
Admire all the many ingredients now that you have assembled them all. If cooking in Blue Peter style, you will need individual bowls to put each ingredient into. If not, just do as I did and pile them all up on the work top.

Heat a large wok and add the oil. Fry the onions, garlic and ginger until golden brown.


Add the chicken breasts (chopped into small bite sized pieces) and stir fry until browned all over (around 5 minutes or so).


Add the Thai curry paste to the pan and stir fry for 2 minutes, ensuring that all the chicken is well coated with paste. Add more or less paste depending on how spicy you like it.


Zest and juice the lime.


Add the lime juice and zest to the chicken stock, sugar and soy sauce. Have a smell of that! Rather aromatic.


Add the stock mixture to the pan, and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 5 minutes.


Add the broccoli next. I like to add the stalks, sliced up thinly, as it gives some nice textures to the dish.


Simmer gently until the broccoli is just cooked - this won't take very long, maybe 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile (as demonstrated below) cook some noodles to go with the soup.


Remove the wok from the heat and add the watercress and roughly torn/chopped coriander (remember to save a bit of coriander for the garnish). Stir through. The residual heat from the soup is enough to cook the watercress.


Place some noodles into the bottom of 4 large bowls.



Now, serve the soup on top of the noodles, garnishing with peanuts and some sprigs of coriander.


We had kind of made a resolution to be healthier - doing lots of exercise, eating well and not drinking. The first two are going well, but the last one has gone out the window already, only 10 days into January. We did have good reason to be boozing though, as yesterday we booked our honeymoon. We are going to fly to Dubai for two night of 5 star luxury then on to New Zealand, where we will spend the first night in a lush hotel where we have upgraded to "Club Class" which includes personal butler service and canapes and drinks. Very luxurious, but that will set us up for the next 3 weeks of roughing it as we travel round New Zealand in a camper van. Its going to be their winter, but it shouldn't be too cold we hope! We haven't planned out exact route yet, but we certainly want to go skiing in Queenstown, down to Milford Sound or another of the fjords. If anyone has any suggestions of things to do there, fire away! O yes, we also hope to visit some of the vineyards after recently falling in love with some Marlborough wines!


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Saturday, 3 January 2009

Soya sauce and honey salmon



I had this in a restaurant a while back and it seems to be quite a popular flavour at the moment. I tried to recreate it at home just following the name of the dish to determine the ingredients. I am not sure that it tasted exactly like the restaurant version but it was still pretty tasty.

Ingredients

  • 2 salmon steaks
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon dark soya sauce

Pre heat your grill to a high heat.

Combine the honey and soya sauce and mix well. It helps if the honey is slightly warmed to make it softer. I did this by holding the jar of honey under the hot tap ... With the lid on of course... Until it is a little bit softer.

Put the salmon steaks onto the grill pan and coat the top side with the sauce mix. Grill this side until done to your liking then turn over and do the same with the other side.

Serve at once. I served this with an orange and beetroot salad.


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