Hairy Dieters: Fast Food

No, that’s not a contradiction! The ‘fast’ in the title refers to the speediness of the recipes — done right, they should be make-able in half an hour or less.

This is certainly borne out by my experience with the brunch muffin recipe I tried for supper today — 20 minutes start to finish, even with my parallel-processing difficulties slowing things down πŸ˜€

This bodes very well indeed for future suppers, because the volume of work I’ve been getting recently has been more in line with what I’d expect to get during November and December — doesn’t leave a lot of time for cooking…

I’m particularly looking forward to trying out the soup recipes — especially the spicy sweetcorn soup with bacon garnish (I can probably use some fierce garlic pickle in place of chipotle paste) and the nicely colourful pea-and-ham fritters with mustard sauce — they look delicious!

There are a few recipes — mostly sauces and so on — which look interesting but which are inaccessible to me because I don’t have a pressure cooker (no room, and they scare me a bit even though I know modern ones have all sorts of safety features and very rarely explode when used properly). 😦 I’ll see if I can think of some workarounds though πŸ™‚

All in all, another triumph from Si King and Dave Myers!

The Hairy Dieters: Good Eating

Just started working my way through this book πŸ™‚

It’s as appetisingly illustrated as their other recipe books, with a photograph for every recipe — no complaints there!

Same sort of division of recipes as the preceding diet books — breakfast, favourites, suppers, treats, desserts — with the same sort of chatty, informal tone to the instructions for each recipe, which nevertheless gets the necessary information across clearly and concisely. Also present and correct are calorie counts per portion of each dish, estimates for prep time and cooking time, and informative little introductory paragraphs for each recipe giving backstory, tips or comments as appropriate, which is a nice little addition.

In re: the recipes, I’ll be focussing a little more on the supper-type stuff, given that the breakfast section doesn’t have much that matches to my personal tastes (with the exception of the smoked haddock omelette — which, with a little tweaking, works pretty well as a scrambled egg recipe. This is good, because I’m rubbish at omelettes.) Therefore, among the other delicious things I have to look forward to are low-cal pasta puttanesca, various pizzas, a couple of meatball recipes, fancy low-cal fish fingers, an interesting little pasta recipe which calls itself ‘smashed-up chicken’ (there are a lot of really good-looking pasta recipes in this book! A major plus point ^_^) and ginger biscuits. Yum yum!

Overall, just as well worth reading as the other Hairy Dieters books πŸ˜€

Keeping it simple

After a short break, I’m back on the Hairy Dieters routine. I’ve started working from the second Hairy Dieters book, Eat For Life. I intend to do a full review of the book when I’ve finished working through it, rather than when I’m starting out — it seems more sensible, given that I’ll have more practical experience with the recipes therein.

There are three recipes — chicken and vegetable pot-pies, all-in-one spicy pork and rice, beef goulash — which I passed over on my initial recipe-marking run through the book, but which on second reading looked appetising enough that I plan to give them a go. I’m sure they’ll be delicious!

I’ve had the poached egg with smoked salmon recipe so far. The main difference between the egg poaching technique given in the previous HD book and this one is that this book recommends putting the unbroken egg in the boiling water in the poaching pan for precisely 20 seconds before turning the water down to a gentle simmer and breaking the egg in then. It definitely works — the eggs hold together much better with this method. It’s certainly something to remember!

Bolognese

I’m afraid I’m completely at a loss as regards good bolognese puns… the low-cal bolognese sauce I made yesterday was brilliant, though! Another triumph for the Hairy Dieters πŸ™‚ I’m almost to the end of ‘Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight’, and I can definitely say that it’s been great πŸ˜€ For budgetary reasons, next week’s recipe won’t be from that book, but it’ll still be good — I’ll be adapting the tartiflette recipe on the BBC site to make croziflette (which is basically the same but with pasta instead of potatoes). I’m really looking forward to it because it means I have an iron-clad excuse to raid the fancy cheese section at my local Sainsburys! πŸ˜€

Speaking of Hairy Dieters, I recently received my copy of their last diet recipe book, Fast Food, which contains recipes that can be prepared in half an hour or less. It’s fascinating stuff and I look forward to trying bits of it out ^^

Another good book that I’ve been reading is Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness, the behind-the-scenes art-book-type-thing for Guillermo del Toro’s masterful Gothic romance piece (it’s *not* a horror film, whatever the marketing tried to say — it’s a Gothic romance with horror in it). I loved the visuals of the movie, with the symbolic use of colour and the detailed sets and the magnificent desolation of Allerdale Hall. Reading AoD, I found out many things that I’d missed on first viewing the movie, such as the meanings behind Edith’s various costumes and just how deeply embedded in the design the moth/butterfly visual symbolism is. The book also contains abridged versions of the biographies which del Toro provided for the four main characters (Edith, Alan and the Sharpe siblings) which provided interesting new angles from which to view them. I was also able to really appreciate the time and skill and passion which went into building the world of the story — quite, quite fascinating!

The Hairy Dieters: How To Love Food and Lose Weight

I realise that there is a certain irony in my choice of recipe book to write about this close to Christmas, but that’s how things have turned out ^^

I was recently alerted to the fact that it was medically necessary for me to lose a bit of weight; being a fan of the Hairy Bikers, and having their diet recipe books in my possession, I took the most obvious course of action.

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The Hairy Bikers’ Meat Feasts, by Si King and Dave Myers (published August 2015)

This book is a marvel! I know that I tend to say that a lot when it comes to Si and Dave’s culinary publications, but it is always a justified assessment, especially here. Lavishly illustrated with delicious-looking photographs, as always, this book will get your digestive juices flowing before you even enter the kitchen!

As the title suggests, this is the perfect book for unapologetic carnivores like me. There are starters, salads, roasts (of course!), soups, many glorious ways to encase meat in pastry, curries… The possibilities are endless! I particularly liked the inclusion of a whole section on the uses of offal (liver, kidneys, pigs’ trotters, heart, tongue, bone marrow, and sweetbreads – the thymus glands of a calf or lamb). These parts of an animal tend to be overlooked, possibly out of a knee-jerk ‘Ew! Internal organs!’ response, or a cultural association of offal-eating with poverty/low social status[1]. This is an unjustified slight on parts of an animal that are flavoursome and full of nutrients; liver’n’onions and steak’n’kidney pie are classics for a reason!

There’s also a drool-worthy chapter on uses for leftovers – I really liked the look of the ‘croquetas’ recipe (good for using up leftover pork or ham), and the inclusion of a method for oven-baked pork scratchings made me smile. I have a weakness for these crunchy, tasty little morsels.

At the back of the book is a section on side dishes, pickles, and sauces to go with various different meat dishes. There are tips on stock and consommΓ©, guacamole, herb jellies to use as condiments or extra bursts of flavour in a sauce, coleslaw, the many wonderful things that can be done with the humble potato… yum! This section should give you plenty of ideas for making your meat dishes that bit more special.

The final chapter contains some sage (ahaha…) information and advice from a farmer who rears animals for meat. Topic include the best places to buy meat, methods of curing, the differences between types of meat (especially differences caused by the age of the animal and how it was reared – this has very important effects on the flavour), what to look for when buying, and proper storage once you’ve brought your meat home. There are also annotated diagrams showing which parts of a cow, lamb, and pig different cuts come from, as well as which cuts work best in which dishes (as a general rule of thumb, the tougher the meat, the better it is for slow-cooked stews – this is not a guarantee, though, so always ask an experienced butcher for advice).

The only real gripe I have is the inclusion of salt in recipes where it is simply not necessary; this is a fairly minor point, as I can simply omit the salt without adversely affecting the final product.

All in all, I can safely say that this book is well worth investing in, especially if you make meat dishes on a regular basis.

[1] This was certainly the case in medieval times – this is where the expression ‘to eat humble pie’ comes from. ‘Umble’ pie was made with offal, so if someone of high status had to eat this, rather than the cuts enjoyed by their erstwhile peers, then they had taken a serious social tumble and been ‘knocked off their perch’, so to speak.

The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure by Si King and Dave Myers (published in 2014)

I was really happy to be able to catch this series on its initial broadcast last year; I’ve liked sushi for a while now (my parents tell me that my home-made stuff is pretty good) and I wanted to learn more about the variety of food that comes under the heading of ‘Asian cuisine’. That made the purchase of this glorious recipe book an absolute no-brainer!

The book is divided up in more-or-less the same way as the series; after an introductory section, the recipes are organised by country of origin (following the broadcast order of the episodes): Hong Kong, Bangkok and Central Thailand, North and South Thailand, Tokyo, Kyoto and Rural Japan, South Korea. After these sections, which are by and large savoury/main dishes, there is a section titled ‘Puddings and Cakes’; these sweet dishes did not really appear in the programme, but they were gathered and composed to complement the other recipes. Some of these sweets are fairly uncontroversial (such as the ginger cookies or the poached plums), but some — like the fried ice cream with butterscotch sauce (I kid you not!) — are surprising, to say the least. After this section, you find a detailed A-Z list of ingredients used in the book that might not be immediately familiar to Western tastes, as well as a comprehensive list of the best suppliers of Asian food and ingredients in the UK.

As with all Hairy Bikers recipe books, Asian Adventure is lavishly illustrated. Most recipes are accompanied by a colour photograph of the finished dish; where this is not the case, there is usually a picture of the Bikers preparing ingredients or getting into the local culture and enjoying themselves immensely. Between recipes and sections, there are stills from the series, pictures of food being prepared, hunger-inducing shots of multiple dishes laid out as for a buffet… Wow. This book is a work of art.

Constraints of time and budget mean that I have not had a great deal of time to experiment with recipes. Furthermore, quite a few of the Thai and Korean recipes have a sufficiently powerful spice component that I would have to think carefully about how to modify them. However, I have successfully made tonkatsu pork (the link leads to the recipe on the BBC Food website). It turned out very well! I used a small bottle of shōchΕ« (the acquisition of which inspired me to try this recipe) instead of sake in the tonkatsu sauce, and substituted sherry for mirin, the latter ingredient being difficult to find. The sauce was very flavoursome. Once I’d breadcrumbed the pork loin steaks, I baked them at 180C for 25 minutes, rather than frying them according to the recipe — I was reluctant to add more grease to the dish than was absolutely necessary. The steaks and sauce were served with cucumber and spring onions, and went down a treat! Next time I work from this book, I’d like to try doing okonomiyaki, the authentic chashu pork ramen (in the show, the Bikers did this one at the base of Mt Fuji itself!) or one of the katsu burger recipes — beef or prawn, it doesn’t matter which. It all looks so good!

I only have a couple of real gripes:

  1. A lot of the recipes contain instructions to add salt where salt is not strictly necessary. These recipes can be made without the excess salt at all, without adversely affecting the outcome in any way. There are only one or two recipes in the whole book where salt is, strictly speaking, necessary; in these cases, salt is used to remove excess moisture from certain types of leaf used in the recipe, and is not added to the dish itself in any great quantity.
  2. Quite a few of the recipes call for deep-frying; apart possibly from the fried ice cream recipe (I am really not joking about that!), it should be possible to use shallow-frying, oven-baking or steaming instead (with a little ingenuity).
  3. A fairly minor personal thing — the variety and quantity of recipes in the book mean that the section on sushi is a bit thin. This is strictly a personal thing, though, because I’ve been a bit spoiled on the sushi recipe front by Sushi for Dummies — detailed and fascinating!

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Asian cuisine. It covers all the bases and then some!

The Hairy Bikers’ Perfect Pies, by Si King and Dave Myers (published 2011)

I love the Hairy Bikers. They’re my favourite TV foodies, with their cheerful, friendly manner, their wonderful and very real friendship, their skills and knowledge in the kitchen, and their great and genuine passion for their subject. These qualities come through in their Perfect Pies recipe book, which (as the post title indicates) is the subject of my rambling today.

I don’t need to say what this book is about, do I? Heh heh heh… Ok, I’ll say this much: it is a heartfelt love letter to the many faces of pie, from sweet to savoury, from meaty to veggie, from single crust to double crust, shortcrust to suet to puff pastry to raised hot-water crusts. It is beautiful!

There’s so much stuff in there that a comprehensive description would involve reproducing most of the book (which would annoy the copyright holders) and, as tends to happen if I don’t restrain myself when talking about something I like a lot, be semi-coherent at best (which would annoy blog readers). I’ll just say that if you can think of it, it’s probably in here. Classic steak and kidney pie? Check. Chicken and mushroom? Check. Apple pie? Yup. Summer fruit tart? Ooooh yes. Suet-crust steak and kidney pudding? I’m running out of affirmatives πŸ˜€ I was a little surprised to find recipes for pasties, calzone, baklava, and canapΓ©s, as I hadn’t thought that any of these counted as pies, but they are there and they look delicious.

I haven’t had much of a chance to try out any of the recipes yet (that will have to wait until I have my own place). However, I would very much like to have a bash at calzones, which look like they might be a good ‘make multiple meals’ worth and put them in the fridge or freezer’ dish, and one of the recipes that uses a raised hot-water crust. This looks like it would be rather fiddly, but the effort will undoubtedly be worth it.

Apart from the delicious variety of pies described, there are also sections on such tasty topics as side dishes, salads, condiments, and stuff to make with leftover bits of pastry. There’s also a fairly comprehensive section at the end of the book, which talks about kitchen tools for pie-making, the basics of pastry-wrangling, and some more advanced ideas for putting a bit of variety into one’s pastry.

The book is liberally illustrated with photographs of every dish described within its pages. These serve a dual purpose: displaying what each finished dish should look like, and making the viewer hungry enough to rush to the kitchen and start cooking. I’m not sure how far that second effect was actually intended, but it happens nonetheless. Even without the ingredients for any of the recipes, I could look at the pictures for hours.

I do have a few minor criticisms:

  1. Many of the recipes contain added salt; flaked sea salt (or some other variant) is listed in the ingredients list, and the recipe itself instructs something along the lines of ‘add salt to taste’ at some point, even when the dish is already quite salty due to the other ingredients. This seems a bit excessive, and is not good for the heart. The extra salt can easily be omitted altogether in the vast majority of cases, especially when it comes to the pastry, without having any adverse effect on the final dish.
  2. The method given for making vol-au-vent cases seems prima facie to be a bit wasteful. It involves cooking squares of puff pastry and then removing a smaller square from the centre of each of them. No further instruction is given regarding the removed pastry, so the assumption seems to be that it is discarded. This seems absurdly wasteful. I can think of two ways to use up this removed pastry: mix it in with excess filling as a sustaining nibble for the chef, or cut it into small pieces and stir it into the filling to make it stretch further. Delicious!
  3. This is more of a personal thing, but one or two of the recipes for side dishes involve deep-frying. For health reasons, I prefer to shallow fry or, ideally, grill/oven-bake instead.
  4. Another personal thing: most of the recipes, when it comes to pastry, instruct the cook to mix the pastry in a blender or food processor. I prefer to mix pastry by hand where possible. This is partly for the sheer tactile pleasure of it, and partly because the pastry always seems to come out better if made using this method. It also makes the washing-up considerably less complicated. Thankfully, the section on pastry-wrangling (though the book doesn’t call it that!) has some good tips on hand-making pastry.

Apart from these points, I have no complaints about the book at all. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wanted to know more about the noble art of pies!