Tuesday 29 April 2014

Chilli and bacon cauliflower cheese

When did cauliflower cheese become a side dish instead of a main course? Don't get me wrong, I love a spoonful of cauli cheese with a roast dinner as much as the next person, but it seems churlish to make such a delicious dish as a support act. It's also a pretty calorific and fairly time-consuming element to have in a large meal when no extra calories are really called for.

But I remember when cookery books would refer to cauliflower cheese as "a supper dish". An event of its own.

As I thought through this meal-in-itself version of cauli cheese, I originally thought about serving it with some roast potatoes on the side, but the bacon crumb topping makes it substantial enough without another starch. Of course, if an extra person or two turn up at your table, some potatoes would make the dish go further.

I made a base layer of a little spicy tomato sauce, made from 1/2 a red onion, 2 rashers of bacon and 150g of halved cherry tomatoes, sauteed together in a little butter, then thickened with a teaspoonful of tomato puree and 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle paste.

I boiled the cauliflower, broken into large florets, until just tender, then allowed it to drain really well and all the steam to evaporate before I arranged them over the tomato sauce. In the pot I'd boiled the cauliflower in, I made the cheese sauce from 30g butter, 30g flour and 300ml skim milk, stirring in 125g grated mature cheddar cheese, a sliced green chilli and a good handful of slightly sad coriander, chopped. Then I poured it evenly over the cauliflower.

The final step was to cut 3 slices of stale light rye sourdough bread into smallish chunks. I put them in the food processor along with another rasher of bacon, chopped, and 2 cloves of peeled garlic. I added a slosh of olive oil and pulsed it to coarse breadcrumbs. I piled the garlicky, bacony, oily crumbs on top of the cauliflower cheese, then baked it for about 40 minutes at 180C, until it was crunchy and brown and the cheesy sauce was bubbling up around the edges.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Tuna taco salad bowls

SouperSundays Not that you'd know it right now this minute, but the weather has been quite salady of late. Sunny, longer evenings, quite warm. All things that make a woman feel like eating sprightly vegetables with zingy dressings. Which is good, because it means something to send Deb for her Souper (soup, salad & sammy) Sunday roundup.

My two favourite salads in the world are the lettuce and herb salad at Hawksmoor and the Sonora salad from Wahaca. The Sonora salad is a delicious crisp taco bowl filled with a changing but always delicious array of grains, seeds, leaves and avocado, tossed in a delicious dressing and topped with a protein. I always get it with grilled steak strips.

The Hawksmoor salad is unimaginably delicious, but definitely a side dish, so I decided to have a look at ways of making something akin to the Sonora salad. It didn't take long for me to recognise that deep-frying my own taco bowl was not really an option, but it turns out that a baked bowl is almost as delicious and considerably easier.

What I did was take the labels off a couple of cans (one ex-chickpea, one ex-tomato) and run them through the dishwasher. Then I brushed one side of each large flour tortilla with a little pork dripping leftover from a roast (obviously not everyone has such a thing, so oil is the other possibility) and draped them, greased side up, over the cans, and pressed down a little to give them a basket shape. I baked them at 180C for about 10 minutes, watching like a hawk, until they looked toasty and brown and felt crisp.

I was sort of expecting them to open out a bit as they baked, but they didn't, so make sure you don't press down on them too much or you won't have room for your salad.

I filled the bowls with a layer of refried beans, then a big pile of leaves, avocado cubes, sliced red onion and tomatoes, dressed in a vinaigrette flavoured with a little mayonnaise and chipotle paste. Then I scattered on some pumpkin seeds and topped each bowl with a lightly fried tuna steak. I have been encouraged to make this meal again.

Thursday 24 April 2014

It's hard to have a Gaytime on your own: BSFIC


One of the things about living in a foreign country is gaining perspective on your own culture and upbringing. Cricket commentators casually referring to "Pakis" is rightly considered unacceptable in the UK. Not everyone stores jam in the fridge. And it had never really crossed my mind that having an ice cream called a Gaytime was pretty funny.

Now I just admire the fact that Streets haven't renamed them.

Anyway, after a cold weather hiatus Kavey has resurrected her Bloggers scream for ice cream challenge, and this one is a nostalgic look back at ice cream van treats.

I don't have any particularly strong childhood memories of ice cream vans. I think we were probably a bit too rural for them to be worthwhile, so our source of that sort of ice cream was Robyn's dad's milk bar. My all-time favourite was the Choc-Toff Paddlepop, which I seem to remember cost 20c. However, since I am still bitter that they were discontinued I decided to go for my second favourite, the Golden Gaytime.
The actual mechanics of making a vanilla ice cream core with toffee ice cream surrounding it, coating it in chocolate and biscuit crumbs to make an exact replica were a bit beyond me, so I just concentrated on getting a flavour that a Gaytime lover (no more giggles from the back row, please) would find familiar.

I took 250ml of premium vanilla custard and folded a can of caramel through it. Then I folded in a handful of crushed chocolate-dipped honeycomb biscuits, put it in a plastic tub and froze it. I took it out and gave it a stir after about an hour, but because of the caramel it doesn't freeze really hard.

I think if I make it again I might also make some plain vanilla ice cream and ripple the two together. The caramel flavour and the chocolate and biscuit crunch was absolutely spot on for my memory, but it's so intensely sweet that it really does need that bit of vanilla to mellow it. This makes about 750ml, so you can have a Gaytime on your own if you spread it out over a few days or a single emotional crisis.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Chicken with 34 cloves of garlic

... well, it was three heads and I wasn't prepared to start another head to get to the more traditional forty cloves!

This isn't quite the same as the other recipes I have seen, it's a hybrid of several with a bit of extra me. My input was the addition of the potatoes - why wouldn't you cook your spuds in all those delicious garlicky juices?

Chicken with 34-ish cloves of garlic (serves 4 - 6 depending on number of spuds)

3 heads of garlic, separated into individual cloves and peeled. If Martha Stewart's trick works for you, this is the perfect time to employ it. It doesn't work for me. It's a fiddle but it's so much more pleasant to eat.
75ml olive oil
1 whole chicken
150ml dry vermouth
250ml chicken stock
2-3 sprigs rosemary
2-3 sprigs thyme
2-3 small, floury potatoes per person, peeled

Pre-heat the oven to 175C.

In a large (large being big enough to hold a whole chicken and 6-12 potatoes), flameproof casserole with a lid, heat the olive oil and brown the chicken, breast side down, then turn breast side up. Add the other ingredients, the liquid should cover the potatoes but not totally submerge the chicken. Bring the liquid to the boil. Cover tightly and put in the oven for an hour or so, until the potatoes are cooked through and the chicken is tender. Serve with a green vegetable or a salad (we had some wilted spinach with a squeeze of lemon juice).

Thursday 17 April 2014

Storing egg yolks - a handy hint

Egg yolk in water
Here's one for the "you learn something new every day" file - at least, I hope I am not the last person to find this out. You can store egg yolks for a couple of days in a bit of water. Did you know that?

I was making something that needed an egg white but I didn't have a reason to use up the yolk. Separated egg whites keep quite well in the fridge but the yolks dry out and go rubbery. I googled, and came across this post, which had the half-hearted suggestion "you can probably keep the yolks whole in the water if you are careful". Well, I can be careful.

I separated my egg, being careful not to break the yolk, and slipped it gently into a ramekin half full of cold water. I covered it in cling film and popped it in the fridge. A couple of days later I was having an omelette for lunch so I gently fished the yolk out of the water to add to the other beaten eggs. It was in absolutely perfect condition - not at all dried out. I have tried this a second time, using milk instead of water because I was going to be putting the yolk in a custard, and again it worked brilliantly.

So there you go - pretty nifty, huh?

Two days later

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Ben & Jerry's Greek Style Frozen Yoghurt

I had such a good time at the launch of the Ben & Jerry's Core flavours last year that I jumped at the chance to go to another one of their events. This one was the launch of three flavours of frozen yoghurt made with Greek-style yoghurt.

This time I confess I was a little apprehensive. It was being held in a Greek restaurant in Covent Garden which gets quite negative reviews, and while I love Greek food (garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, what's not to love?) and love frozen yoghurt I did fear that crappy food would mar the experience.

However, I engineered things in my favour by arranging to meet a friend for a drink beforehand, thus ensuring that whatever else happened it wasn't a waste of tube fare. It was pretty tempting to stay drinking rosé in a quiet bar, but I did tear myself away at the appropriate time.

My heart sank as the waitress who greeted me in the restaurant stared blankly at me. Fortunately, a better-informed member of staff overheard and led me downstairs where, he said, "everyone" was waiting for me. Everyone turned out to be a small number of bloggers (several more trickled in after me) and several bottles of prosecco. The prosecco was very pleased to see me.

Generally I think the fact that we were in a windowless room that I suspect is usually used to store extra chairs put a bit of a damper on things. Certainly the atmosphere was a bit subdued.

But then the food started to come out and a bit of perkiness was restored. The food was very, very good! Some of the best tiropitakia I've had (lovely chilli kick), delicious fried halloumi, succulent meatball/kefte sort of patties and lots of good-looking (but unwieldy, so I didn't try it) aubergine.

I muscled my way into a very pleasant conversation with Dom from Cocoa Runners and Judith from Mostly About Chocolate and started to enjoy myself.

The buzz of nervous PRs gave the first indication that something had gone slightly wrong with the actual frozen yoghurt tasting. When the bowls came out it was clear what the problem was - the fro-yo wasn't fro, it was really just yo. The freezer wasn't working.

Still, it gave me enough of an idea of the flavours that I had a look online when I got home and discovered that Ocado had the Greek-style yoghurts half price. I popped two of the flavours in my shopping and prepared to do some independent "research".

Greek Strawberry Shortcake (Greek-style yoghurt, strawberries & shortcake chunks): strawberry ice cream is generally my favourite, and the Ben & Jerry strawberry cheesecake ice cream is a favourite among strawberries so I was very interested to see how this compared. This has a good, fruity flavour and subtle yoghurty tang. Unfortunately the tub I bought had too high a proportion of fairly bland shortcake pieces, although I suspect that varies a bit from tub to tub. It's a bit lower in calories than the strawberry cheesecake (190/100g instead of 250/100g) and has half the fat, so it is a slightly healthier option if you are keeping an eye on those things. I'm not sure that it is enough of a healthier option to displace the strawberry cheesecake in my affections though.

Greek Vanilla Honey Caramel (Greek-style yoghurt, vanilla & a honey caramel swirl): this looked to me like a direct competitor to the Yeo Valley organic Greek-style honey frozen yoghurt, which I really like, but I think the caramel swirl gives this one the edge (the Yeo Valley one is slightly lower in calories and fat). It has a lovely creamy texture and a bit of a tang.

Overall, I think the emphasis on these is "ice cream", not "frozen yoghurt". They don't taste particularly worthy and they avoid some of the pitfalls of some of the other supermarket brands I've tried (rock-hard, weird elastic texture, floury aftertaste). In a perfect world they'd have the really clean, pronounced tang of the softserve fro-yo from Snog or the one from Itsu, but if you don't have my taste for really tangy yoghurt this will definitely appeal.
Banana split - banana, Ben & Jerry's Greek Style frozen yoghurt and chilli-glazed nuts - these are really quite small scoops.


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