Saturday, 28 February 2009

Homemade Peanut Butter

I am going through a peanut butter phase at the moment, eating it all the time spread on toast, bagels, with jam or bananas, even in pancakes or even in my morning smoothie. It is a really healthy whole food, full of protein, good oils, and also low in sugar.

It is not a cheap food though! A jar of Sun Pat smooth (340 g) costs about £1.60 at the moment. Near where I work, there is are lots of Asian grocers which sell nuts and spices by the sackload (well, smallish 1 kg sacks). A kilo of peanuts from there costs £1.99, and that is the main ingredient of peanut butter. A look at the ingredients on the back of a jar usually shows about 95% peanuts, then the rest made up with some oil, sugar and salt.

I went for redskin peanuts, with the skin still on, but any nuts will do, with or without skins! Peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, or any combination of these will work well! Normally the bought stuff is made with either vegetable, sunflower or nut oil. I didn't have any of these in the cupboard today, so I used some light-flavoured olive oil, at about 2 teaspoons per 100 g of nuts. Honey was added to sweeten it a little bit, and salt to preserve and bring out the flavours.

Ingredients

  • 500 g peanuts - or any other nuts
  • ~10 teaspoons oil - oilve or nut oils will work well
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons honey - you could use brown sugar, or even go crazy and have unsweetened butter
Adjust any of the above ingredients to your own tastes, experiment with the combinations - that is what I plan to do!!

Get some nuts...
Place in a food processor, like my Magimix 4200.

Blend until you get a fine powder of nuts, as shown below. This took around 2-3 minutes for me. You will see the mixture become a bit more oily as the nut oils are pressed out, although it still remains quite powdery.

Add the honey and salt to the mix, place the lid back on your food processor and blend again. Slowly add the oil to the mix, keeping an eye on the consistency. It will start to clump together and look more like peanut butter at this stage. Add oil until you are happy with the consistency - for me this was about 10 teaspoons of olive oil, or about 2 per 100 g of nuts.

Have a taste to check it is to your liking. Add more salt, honey or oil as appropriate.


Store in a sealed jar in the fridge.

This is really easy to make, probably took less than 15 minutes in total. And it works out at not much more expensive than £1 for 500 g of peanut butter. A bargain!

I think that I will try roasting the nuts before making them into butter next time, as I have read that this makes a stronger flavoured butter. I am also planning on experimenting with different nuts - although peanuts are the cheapest you can get, I reckon almond butter would be pretty good.

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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Best of 2008 - The first year of Ryan's Recipe Blog

I started this blog a year ago today with this post, intending to write about recipes that I have made. A year on, and the blog has gone well so far. Although my posting frequency has gone down, it has grown to include more or less anything about food - from restaurants to food festivals, gardening and kitchen gadgets. Surprisingly enough (to me anyway), people have actually read it, some have even commented that they liked the food!

Inspired by some posts on blogs in my feed reader - namely Drew over at How to Cook Like Your Grandmother and Ruth from Ruth's Kitchen Experiments - I thought that now would be a good time to point out some of the more popular pages on my blog.

So, here is a top 20 of the most read pages from 2008:

20 - Martin Heap of Smithfield market's Simply Sausages demonstrating Sausage making at the Taste of London Festival in June.
19 - "Vegetarian" shepherds pie made with some fungal protein (Quorn, that is).
18 - Prawn and mushroom bhuna.
17 - Pear, stilton and walnut salad
16 - A deliciously light and healthy lemon drizzle cake.
15 - Stilton, leek and bacon pasta.
14 - Broccoli and blue cheese pasta.
13 - American pancakes - my first (and so far only) entry to the Bookmarked Recipes blog event.
12 - Kitchen gadget fun with the Magimix 4200.
11 - Controversial use of fruit in a savoury dish with coconut, pineapple and chicken curry.
10 - A recipe from my friend R for spicy chicken drumsticks. Actually, he said to use wings but I couldn't get any that day.
9 - All kinds of spellings turn up in the search results for Jamaican tilapia.
8 - Everyone likes a quick and easy chicken chaat.
7 - The rather exotically titled Roast chicken in a bag.
6 - An easy-to-make roasted pepper, tomato and aubergine pasta sauce.
5 - Keeping it simple at number five is the ever-popular tuna mayonnaise sandwich.
4 - Traditional Pakistani style minced beef and potato cury.
3 - Spicy meatballs in tomato sauce.
2 - Carrot and coriander soup.
1 - The winner and the most viewed recipe of 2008 was spicy tuna fishcakes!

Hopefully you will keep reading in 2009 and beyond, and I will keep cooking, eating and writing about it!

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Sunday, 15 February 2009

Some Valentines Food Things

Did you happen to notice that it was Valentine's Day this weekend? You can hardly escape it, but even with all the commercialism associated with Valentine's, it is still a good excuse to do something romantic for your loved ones. So, on Saturday morning I got up early (well, earlyish) and baked a cake for my fiancée. A simple sponge cake recipe and finally a use for the heart shaped cake tin which, for some reason, we own.

After a breakfast of cake, we headed into London for the weekend. I had reserved a table for us at the Oxo Tower Brasserie on the South Bank of the Thames. This is a great setting, just around the corner from the London Eye, overlooking St Paul's cathedral, the famous Gherkin building and the London skyline.

Inside the brasserie was packed, every one of the closely packed tables were full, mainly with couples enjoying romantic lunches. A few too many public displays of affection for me, but I suppose on Valentine's day you have to put up with seeing such things. It was a buzzing atmosphere, very lively and with a live singer and guitarist playing to create the true bustling brasserie experience.

Strangely enough the tower was not as high as I remembered from walking past before, but the brasserie was on the eighth floor and had some remarkable views over the river and beyond to the rest of the city.

Anyway, enough of the views and on to the important business of the day - food! The menu was quite eclectic, with food from all over the world, although there was a dominant North African presence on the menu. For starters I had the sticky chilli pork belly - it was sticky and very tasty, but I must admit that it wasn't as spicy as the "chilli" bit led me to believe. This dish was really popular as I noticed the four other tables in our row (I told you they were closely packed) were all tucking into this.


My fiancée had merguez with cous cous for her starter and she loved it. Merguez are delicious spicy lamb sausages and the yogurt served underneath them complimented the spice perfectly. The cous cous was a gorgeous mix of textures, including pommegranite and courgette.

My main course was meltingly tender Harissa roast lamb served with chick peas.

My fiancee opted for the salmon with puy lentils and yes, you are right, those are cubes of jelly on the plate. It was som kind of chilli jelly which added an interesting aspect of texture to the meal! The main courses were both delightful, but because the starters were do good neither of us could remember much about the mains, they were slightly eclipsed by the first course.

I was pretty stuffed by this point so I just had an Irish coffee to finish, whilst my lady had dessert of chocolate brownies with ice cream. The brownies were done perfectly, crispy around the edges yet moist in the middle, with the chunks of nuts providing some added crunch.


After lunch we wandered around the South Bank for a while and happened upon a slow food market. Slow Food is a great concept and the market equally good. Unfortunately, after a three course lunch neither of us were all that hungry, but I did pick up a horseradish root which has since been planted out in the garden - more on that later in the year, it should be harvested around October or November time once we get the first frost.

The final food item of the day was a visit to a Japanese restaurant in Camden, London. I can't remember the name of it now, but when it comes back to me, or I am next in Camden, I will check it out - I can remember exactly where it is!

My fiancee and I went to Japan on holiday a few years ago and had a fantastic time. My fiancee was not a big fish eater before this trip, but as that is one of the staple foods over there she was soon coverted and got into eating sushi, sashimi, fresh fish, crabs and some even more exotic things like squid liver in squid ink. I had no idea how to eat with chopsticks before we went, but I quickly realised that it was either eat with chopsticks or starve (the Japanese are too polite to eat with their fingers).

We took advantage of the bargainous 7 day tourist pass and travelled around on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and as we were on a tight budget, we often picked up bento boxes to have for lunch on the train. These were available from loads of convenience stores at bargain prices and are really great, balanced and interesting meals.

At the Japanese in Camden we tucked into some bento boxes for a bit of reminisence. Here is my one...

The centre part contains some pickles, then going clockwise from top right we have Teriyaki chicken with stir fried vegetables, assorted dumplings, steamed rice and finally some salad vegetables with a sesame oil dressing.

All-in-all, we had a great romantic day! A combination of high class eating at the brasserie, a nice food market to browse around and then a trip down memory lane with some Japanese grub!

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Thursday, 5 February 2009

Venison Steak and Chocolate Sauce (from Ready Steady Cook)

This week in Tesco, there were some reduced-to-clear venison steaks. I have never bought these before since I think they are a bit too expensive, but at £2.95 for two steaks it was a bargain not to be missed. Venison is a really healthy meat, high in protein (~30-40 g/per steak) and low in fat (~2 g per steak). I searched around for a recipe, or some tips on what to do with it. The flavours that seem to be matched with venison usually include chocolate, red wine or red berries of some kind. Even in a book I own, "The Wild Gourmets", where the authors focus on hunting and cooking wild food, they recommend braised venison shoulder with chocolate. So, I thought, this must be the way to go. I have never had chocolate in a savoury dish before, and it just so happens that there was a bar of Green and Blacks 70% in the cupboard. So, I went ahead and prepared something based very closely on this recipe that I found from Ready Steady Cook by Lesley Walters.


Ingredients

2 venison steaks

4 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
freshly ground black pepper

1 red onion, chopped
60 g/2 oz butter
200 ml red wine
dried red chilli, crushed
30 g melted chocolate

Marinade the steaks in the olive oil, garlic and black pepper.


Melt the butter in a small pan, then fry the red onion until soft. Add the red onion and dried chilli, and simmer on a low heat until reduced by half (this took about 15-20 minutes).


Melt the chocolate, either in a bain Marie, or in a dish in the microwave. Remove the sauce from the heat, add the chocolate and stir well.

Heat up a griddle pan or large frying pan to a high heat. Take the steaks, season with a little salt and pepper and place in your hot griddle pan. Cook the steaks for 3-4 minutes on each side, and don't wiggle the steaks around whilst cooking - they will build up a nice kind of "crust" in this way.

Remove from the griddle pan and leave to rest for 5 minutes or so. This allows all the juices to redistribute themselves throughout the meat and so making it more juicy.

Serve at once with the chocolate sauce (you can add any meat juices to the pan as well if you wish - I didn't get much juice out of the meat though).

As you can see, it looks a little bit like meat with some poo on the plate.


The venison itself was very nice, moist and juicy meat and felt lighter in texture than a beef steak. This was farmed venision, so I imagine that wild hunted venison would be even nicer.

The sauce was not so nice. It did go ok with the venison, but the chocolate flavour was a little bit too overpowering. There was a chocolately bitterness that was not balanced out by the other tastes - perhaps next time I will use less (or no) chocolate!

This is what we ended up with leftover... lots of sauce in the pan and a fair amount on the plate too.

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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Jamie Oliver's Moroccan Lamb Stew

This is a great recipe from Jimmy O, really pukka. The Moroccan spices are perfect for this wintry weather and it also uses a fairly cheap but tender cut of meat - neck of lamb. I modified his original recipe, missing out the plaiting of the neck and adding in some chickpeas and yellow peppers for some extra veg. This recipe is enough for about 6 portions, so great for a big family meal or saving for leftovers.

Ingredients

• 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 3-4 small dried chillies
• a small bunch of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
• 2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger, peeled
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• olive oil
• 3 large neck of lamb fillets
• 4 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2.5 cm/1 inch dice
• 2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
• 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
• 4 ripe plum tomatoes, each cut into 8 pieces
• 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
• 1 stick of cinnamon (or ground cinnamon)
• 2 bay leaves
• a handful of dried apricots
• 400 g tin chick peas
• 1 yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced

For serving

• couscous - as much as you like
• 1 large bunch of fresh coriander
• natural yoghurt

Line up all the spices (you don't have to do this, but it's fun to look at them. Ok, maybe it isn't).


Bosh up the spices, chillies, rosemary, ginger, garlic and some salt and pepper in a pestle and mortar. Add some olive oil to loosen up the mixture.


Get your necks of lamb and cut into suitable portion sizes (I found that about half a neck was enough for one portion, although the more observant reader will see that there are seven pieces here, well one of the sheep had a very long neck).


Put half of the spice paste into a bowl with the lamb, then rub the spices well into the meat.


With the other half of the spices, do the same with the prepared vegetables.


In a hot frying pan, brown the lamb fillets all over. Transfer to a large roasting tin.



Fry the vegetables in the spice paste for about 5 minutes then add them to the roasting tin, along with the tinned and fresh tomatoes, bay leaves, apricots and cinnamon stick (or ground cinnamon). I mixed it around and then placed the lamb on the top, so that it would brown in the oven.

Now bang the roasting dish in the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes at 190C (170C in a fan oven). After 45 minutes, take the dish out, add the chick peas and mix in with the stew. Arrange the sliced orange peppers on the top of the dish, and turn over the lamb.


Serve with couscous, fresh coriander and yoghurt.


We lived off the leftovers of this for the next two nights and it got tastier! Nice one Jamie.

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Sunday, 1 February 2009

A new oven & Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding

I have written about my old oven and hob before, and how absolutely useless they are. Well, with some Christmas present money and a bit of savings, we bought ourselves a replacement - the Neff oven and Hotpoint ceramic hob. We bought them from Comet in the end as they had a sale on and they were cheaper than in Currys. Being quite tight, I didn't want to pay for the installation. I thought, "that is an easy job, just take out the old one, slip the new one in, job done". Start after lunch, ready to do some baking by dinner time.

Eight hours later, I finally cleared up the mess that seemed to have enveloped the whole kitchen, and was exhausted from hours of hard work. It wasn't such an easy job after all. I was so tired that, rather than start cooking, we just got a takeaway.

Now, this is the oven and hob combo - pretty sleek hey!? Check out the double oven action, with a grill/ standard oven on the top and a circotherm (Neff's special type of fan oven) on the bottom. The fan oven is great, seems to work at about 10-20 C lower than a conventional one for the same foods.

This is my favourite feature (after the improved cooking ability that is)...

Dials that, when not in use, can be pushed in flush with the oven for a smooth look.

And a timer too... very handy!

So to test out the oven, I opted for a roast dinner. The dudes at Neff handily supplied a recipe book with the oven, so I went straight to the "Entertaining" section at the back with step-by-step guides on how to cook meals. They have a recipe for roast beef dinner, with all the timings as well. This is for a 1.30 pm meal, so adjust the timings depending on when you want to eat and the size of your meat joint. I found this to be really easy to follow, and it resulted in a lovely moist beef joint, crispy roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings, and fluffy roasted parsnips.

Ingredients
  • 1 kg joint beef
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Plain flour
For the Yorkshire puddings....
  • 110 g plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 100 ml water
  • 100 ml milk
11.30 am - Place the beef directly on the wire grid above the roasting pan, with a cup of water placed in the roasting pan (this seemed to help keep the meat moist, as well as adding to the meat juices for some gravy). Now peel and prepare the vegetables.

12.00 pm Put the potatoes and parsnips in seperate large pans and boil in salted water for 3-4 minutes.

12.15 pm Drain the potatoes and parsnips, saving the water for gravy. Toss in a little oil and place directly onto the wire roasting grid.

Have a look at it in the oven - mmm nicely lined up potatoes, perfect for OCD sufferers.

12.40 pm Turn the temperature up to 190 c.

12.50 pm Remove the beef from the oven... it will be medium rare now. Cover with foil and leave to relax for a bit. This lets all the juices run back through the meat, making it nice and moist.
12.52 pm Grease the Yorkshire pudding tins with a little oil and place on the top shelf of the oven. Whisk all the pudding ingredients together, ensuring that it is really well mixed and aerated.
1.05 pm Take the hot Yorkshire pudding tin out of the oven and place onto a hot stove top, keeping it warm all the time (I always thought Yorkshire puddings were quite difficult to make right, involving some kind of black magic, however it seems the secret is hot oven, hot oil, keep it hot).
Whisk the pudding mixture again then pour it into the pan dividing equally. You should get a nice sizzling sound as you do so, similar to when making pancakes in a hot frying pan. Return to the oven.
1.10 pm Make the gravy. Add a small amount of parsnip water to the roasting tin to loosen off all the tasty burnt bits.
Tip it into a sauce pan and add a tablespoon of plain flour. Bring to the boil, add a little bit more parsnip water and then leave to simmer gently for about 5 minutes or so. Skim the fat off the top (if you are a healthy sort, otherwise leave it for flavour).


1.20 pm Carve the beef, microwave any green vegetables (peas or broccoli or similar), and you should be just about ready to serve for 1.30 pm.... dish up all the veg, Yorkshires and plenty of gravy.
1.30 pm Sit down and enjoy your meal! And don't forget the essential ingredient, Horseradish sauce.



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