Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Home-made Italian BMT

If you ask my boyfriend, he would tell you that I have two vices. No, not drinking or smoking. Not drugs. Not even shopping. My two vices are: 

  • Red Bull
  • Subway

I have a pretty strong addiction to both these things, and I try to limit my intake to 1 per week. I know how bad both of these things are, so I make sure they are treats and not daily habits. However.... if I made the Subway at home it wouldn't be so bad right? Especially if I made the bread rolls myself, right? Right!

Homemade Italian BMT

9 inch whole wheat roll (I made these myself, but you could buy from the supermarket)
Sliced cheese
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Sliced tomato
Sliced cucumber
Sweetcorn kernels
Sliced pitted black olives
Honey mustard dressing

Slice and assemble. Best made on the same day.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Ginger Crunch

Whilst wondering how to use up the last of some ground ginger in my cupboard I remembered a treat which is sold in every bakery in New Zealand, and seemingly no-where else! It's a relic from the legendary Edmond's Cookbook and like all the classic Edmond's recipes it uses simple cupboard ingredients to make something utterly delicious. 

Makes 24 slices

For the dough:
125 g butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups standard plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the icing:
75 g butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup (I didn't have this so I used 2 tablespoons of dark brown soft sugar instead and it worked fine)
3 teaspoons ground ginger (I didn't have this either! So I used 3 teaspoons of chopped fresh ginger. And it was amazing.)

1) Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift flour, baking powder and ginger together. Mix into creamed mixture. After mixing thoroughly my "dough" resembled breadcrumbs and would not stick together one bit. So I added 2 tablespoons of cold water, one at a time, until the mixture could hold together.
2) Press dough into a greased 20x30cm sponge roll tin. Bake at 190C (375F) for 20-25 minutes or until light brown.
3) When there are about 5 minutes of cooking time left, combine butter, icing sugar, golden syrup and ginger. Heat until butter is melted, stirring constantly. Pour hot ginger icing over base while hot and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Best enjoyed by eating slice after slice while watching HBO's Girls.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Mum's Banana Birthday Cake

So.... today is my birthday! And even though I'm on the other side of the world, I will follow my family's birthday tradition. Every year mum would ask me the same question, though we both always knew the answer: "What kind of birthday cake would you like Amber?" "Banana cake!" Every year until I left home mum would make me a banana birthday cake filled with whipped cream and sliced bananas, and covered with cream cheese icing.
7 simple ingredients...
My mum's banana cake recipe is the easiest recipe you could imagine. I've been making it for years and have got the prep time down to 30 minutes, so from start until it comes out of the oven is 75 minutes. It's also fool-proof, which makes it a great stress-free cake to make for family and friends.

I use the same cake mixture to make my banana and chocolate chip muffins. When the cake mixture is complete, just add a cup of chocolate chips, and divide into greased muffin tins and bake at 180 degrees for about 10-12 minute, or until medium brown on top. This mixture will make about 16 muffins.

Mum's Banana Birthday Cake
Makes 1x23cm/9inch cake

For the cake:
115 grams (4 oz) butter
170 grams (6 oz) caster sugar
230 grams (8 oz) flour
2 eggs
2 large bananas
1 level teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons hot milk

For the icing:
250grams cream cheese
4 tablespoons icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

300ml double cream for whipping
1 large banana, sliced

1) In a large mixing bowl microwave butter for 20-30 seconds to soften. Add sugar and beat butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Fold in eggs. Mash bananas thoroughly and add. Mix the baking soda with the warm milk into a froth and beat into mixture. Sieve flour into mixture and mix.
Cream the sugar and butter until white and fluffy...
2) Bake at 180C (350F) for at least half an hour (mine took 45 minutes), or until knife comes out clean. Leave to cool completely, then refrigerate. You can freeze the cake at this point and it will defrost fine.

3) In a bowl beat the cream cheese until it's soft and smooth. Add the icing sugar one tablespoon at a time and keep tasting it to check. Stop adding icing sugar when it's just sweet enough - too much sugar and it will turn into syrup! Add the vanilla essence last. Whip the cream until quite stiff- as it will hold up the top half of the cake.
Finish with whipped cream, sliced banana and cream cheese icing
4) Slice your cake in two horizontally. Onto the bottom layer arrange sliced bananas, then cover evenly with whipped cream. Onto the top half evenly spread the cream cheese icing. Assemble the cake and serve immediately! It will last for 2-3 days in the fridge.
Another slice? Don't mind if I do....
My birthday treats: Recipe for the Ultimate Chocolate Cake coming soon!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Lunch Box - Ham Salad a la Pret

Main: Ham Salad a la Pret
Fruit: Apple slices and blueberries with yogurt

I snapped this photo of our lunch box assembly line last night. I just love all the colours and knowing that everything in our lunch-boxes is fresh and healthy. After the success of the Chicken Salad a la Pret I thought of doing a ham salad. It would be great with a bit of potato salad, but in the interests of expediency I decided to keep all the ingredients fuss-free.

Ham Salad a la Pret
Yeild: 4 lunch boxes

150 grams salad leaves
1/2 cucumber, sliced
4 pickled beetroot, sliced
4 large gherkins, sliced
1 punnet cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
8 slices deli ham
4 teaspoons horseradish sauce

1) Evenly divide all ingredients into 4 portions and assemble. 

2) Enjoy, knowing that you're enjoying a delicious healthy lunch without the hefty price tag.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Meringue Disaster (or, Eton Mess)

I've never told anyone this, but I have a problem which is quite embarrassing for a New Zealander. I can't make pavlova. Every time I try, my egg whites bypass the stiff peak phase and turn straight into a sloppy, gloopy mess. I know it can't be a genetic problem, as my mum can make perfect pavlovas* - all wonderfully risen and light. I've tried every solution - I clean the bowl and whisk with vinegar or lemon juice to rid the bowl of grease; I crack each egg with careful precision so as not to get a speck of yolk in the bowl, then I add the sugar a spoonful at a time - but all to no avail. I end up with meringues that are as flat as a pancake.

The only thing to do in such an instance is make an Eton Mess! I believe that the Eton Mess must have been created by someone as unfortunate as myself - after years of trying to perfect the meringue and failing, they thought " Stuff this, I'll just mash it up with some cream and fruit and pretend it was meant to be like that". And so the Eton Mess was born.

Eton Mess
Serves 4-6

You can use any of the following to make your Eton Mess:

1 disastrous meringue
1 perfect meringue (though if you can make this, why not make a pretty pavlova?)
A packet of store bought mini meringues

1 pint of double cream
450 g strawberries, cleaned and halved
1 tablespoons icing sugar

1) Whip your cream until soft peak stage. Place the strawberries and icing sugarplace in a blender. Whiz them into a purée and then pass through a sieve for extra smoothness.

2) Break up the meringue into largish chunks and fold into the whipped cream with the strawberry purée. Do not over-mix, as you want a nice marbled effect.

3) Dollop the mixture into 4-6 serving bowls and finish with the rest of the strawberries on top.

* Incidentally, Wikipedia states that the origin of pavlova is New Zealand! It was created by a hotel chef in Wellington in 1926 to celebrate the ballerina Anna Pavlova's tour of New Zealand and Australia, and the soft white meringue is said to have been inspired by the tutu Pavlova wore in Swan Lake - her most famous role.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Lunch Box - Moroccan Cous cous

Main: Moroccan Cous cous
Fruit: Tinned peaches
Treat: Banana choc chip muffin

The couscous salad made by my eternally patient boyfriend. It's delicious, healthy and vege.

Moroccan Cous cous
Yield: 4 lunch boxes

2 cups uncooked cous cous
1 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup sultanas
2 cups boiling hot vegetable stock
400g can of chickpeas, drained (or 400g cooked chickpeas)
1 red onion, finely diced
2 large carrots, grated
1 can sweetcorn, drained
1 red capsicum, diced
Handful of mint, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil

1) Combine the spices, sultanas and cous cous in a large heatproof bowl and mix well. Pour in your boiling hot vegetable stock and quickly seal with plastic wrap. Leave to absorb for 5 minutes.

2) In a small bowl combine the garlic with the lemon juice and olive oil to make a dressing. When the cous cous is ready, fluff it up with a fork and add dressing. Mix well.

3) Add all other ingredients, mix, and refrigerate before serving.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

To Cook Or Not To Cook?

Last night a familiar scenario played out in our house. I got home from work and started making dinner, which according to the meal plan was risotto. Cursing myself for choosing a dish which involved both extensive prep and standing over a stove for eternity on a week-night, I crushed, diced, sliced, chopped and stirred. Luckily my boyfriend got home pretty soon after me so I got him on lunch box duty - Moroccan Couscous Salad.
Couscous is pretty much the easiest thing to make, however you should never underestimate these things. With a huge list of ingredients it wasn't quick work, and by the time we were both finished it was pretty late and the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it. We ate our risotto, saving half for tomorrow's dinner (I always make a double portion), packed up our lunch boxes for the next two days, and cleaned up the kitchen before watching an hour of TV and heading to bed.

Was it worth it?

We could have done what the majority of people here in the UK do - bought a freezer meal, or a chilled ready meal, a packet of pre-cut vegetables and a jar of sauce or ordered take-away. Many of the people I work with don't seem to factor cooking into their daily schedule which makes me think "What on earth do they eat?".
A mixture of the above, I can only assume, with a few restaurant meals thrown in. But we can't eat that way, and not just because of the cost. After returning home from a holiday in Europe when we eat out at least twice a day, we are always so glad to be back in our kitchen, eating food we have prepared from scratch. It's the combination of knowing exactly what you're eating, and being able to eat exactly what you want, when you want it which I love. If you are in Barcelona you can't walk into a restaurant or cafe and ask for tuna and sweetcorn soup the way your mum used to make. But in your kitchen you can whip it up in 15 minutes flat.

It feels to me that knowing how to cook, and making the time for it, is going out of fashion. Certainly in London, and I would assume in many large cities, the infrastructure is such that huge trucks can deliver freshly made ready meals and pre-made sandwiches to hundreds of thousands of supermarkets and shops every day, and at a low cost to the customer. Whereas "back home" (in New Zealand) we simply don't have the population to support such an economy. I was shocked when I first arrived in the UK, by the amount of ready-made meals available. And according to Food Market Research (UK)  their popularity continues to grow; "[Ready meal sales have] grown ahead of grocery, driven... by both increases in frequency and weight of purchase." This means that we are buying more ready meals than previously, and buying them more often. Children are being bought up in households where cooking simply isn't a necessity, as you can just buy everything ready-made from the supermarket. 

Although I find this terrifying, I'm not completely against it. After all, if the technology and infrastructure are there to make our lives easier, why not let it? Use the extra time we have saved by not cooking to relax more or spend more time with friends or family. Or just watch more TV, whatever - the point is that certain technologies have saved us a lot of time in the past. Pre-1950s women had to spend hours scrubbing and wringing, rinsing and squeezing every day just to get their family's laundry done. And we hardly bemoan that change. "If only all our laundry were done by pounding it on rocks, it's better for the environment and doesn't use so many chemicals..." is not a refrain you hear often. 

So: to cook or not to cook? Of course I cook for many reasons; I enjoy it, I find it calming (when it goes well) and it satisfies a creative urge in me - the most basic creative urge really, to create something to be enjoyed by your loved ones. Also I'm interested in nutrition and it's important to me that I know what I'm eating, even if it's just a variation on sugar and butter! But I don't want my life to be dominated by food preparation - I already have a full time job and I don't need another one! So that's why Friday night is take-away night. Back in NZ it would be fish and chips, here in South East London it's some jerk pork from our local Caribbean shop. It's a treat, and a time to not worry what's in our food, just enjoy it and enjoy the fact there's no washing up! I still feel that ready meals are an absolute last resort. We make our own by cooking up a huge pot of stew or curry every few weeks and freezing it on single portions, ready for a quick mid week meal.

What do you think? Is cooking going out of fashion? Should we be worried for the new generation of "microwave oven" children? Or should we embrace the ever changing technology of food production and just get on with it? Thoughts, please!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Lunch Box - Summer Pasta Salad

Main: Summer Pasta Salad
Fruit: Apple slices
Treat: World's Best Brownie

Today's lunch is a hasty assortment of whatever was in my fridge and cupboard on the weekend, but I'm quite pleased with how colourful it turned out. I had wanted to buy tropical fruit this week as summer is finally on it's way, but a small cash-flow problem made me settle for boring (cheap!) apples instead.

Summer Pasta Salad
Makes 4 lunch-box servings

4 cups of uncooked pasta
1 small red onion finely sliced
200 grams Greek feta
Cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 large roasted red pepper, chopped (I used the jarred variety, but you could roast the pepper or use raw pepper if you wanted)
Pepper to season

Cook the pasta, cool, then mix all ingredients. You can use a little extra oil from the sun-dried tomatoes as a dressing, but with so many flavours going on in this salad that's all you'll need.

*Olives or fresh torn basil would be a wonderful addition if you have it!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Meaty Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie with Pumpkin Mash

Cheesy goodness
When my boyfriend gets home from a weekend away I like to make him a pie...

Meaty Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie with Pumpkin Mash
Serves 4

For the pie filling:
2 small onions or 1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
25 grams butter
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 small butternut pumpkin, peeled and diced
100 grams mushrooms, diced
1 cup of green lentils
1 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup of beef (or vegetable) stock
1 cup of boiled water (or red wine if you prefer)
1 teaspoon tomato purée
1 teaspoon of gravy granules (or cornflour if you don't have gravy granules)

For the mash:
4 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 small butternut pumpkin, peeled and quartered
25 grams butter
1/4 cup milk
Large handful grated cheese
Dinner for the week!
 1) In a large pan melt the butter and gently fry the onions and garlic until soft. Add the carrots and pumpkin and fry for 15 minutes. Add the mushroom and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the lentils and mix well. Add the herbs, then pour in the stock and water, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

2) Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

3) Bring a large pot of water to boil with a big pinch of salt and add the potatoes and pumpkin. Boil for 10-15 minutes or until a fork easily pierces the flesh of the potato. Drain all the water and add the butter and milk. Mash thoroughly until creamy. Add salt to taste.

4) Once the lentils are fully cooked add the tomato purée and gravy granules and mix through. The mixture will quickly thicken. Take out the bay leaf and check for seasoning.

5) To assemble your pie, pour the lentil mixture into a casserole dish, and layer the mash on top. Finish with a generous handful of grated cheese and put in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown around the edges.

It's not pretty, but it's delicious!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Meal For One - Pasta Cabonara

When my boyfriend's away I make pasta cabonara. It's easy, quick and delicious.

Pasta Cabonara
Yield: 1 serving

100 grams pasta
1 egg
A small handful of grated parmesan
2 rashers of bacon, chopped into bits

1) Cook the pasta.

2) While pasta is cooking fry the bacon.

3) In a bowl, whisk the egg and add the grated parmesan.

4) When your pasta is done, strain it reserving a little of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the bacon, then take the pan off the heat and quickly add the egg mixture, stirring to evenly coat the pasta with the sauce. If you need to, add some of the pasta water to loosen the mixture. Don't put the pan back onto the heat, as you will scramble your egg (I speak from experience).

5) Eat immediately. Best enjoyed sitting on the couch watching Inspector Morse.