Variations

I revisited my chorizo, feta and olive pasta salad recipe (created almost a year ago) recently, testing the inclusion of toasted pine nuts — as in, plain-ordinary pine nuts toasted in a dry frying pan over medium-low heat for about 3-5 minutes, with frequent stirring. I like this method because it’s quicker and uses less electricity than roasting them in the oven at 190C/375F for about ten minutes — plus, packets of plain pine nuts seem to be a good deal cheaper than packets of pre-toasted.

This brings my list of variations on/additions to the basic recipe to:

  • garlic and/or spring onions, sliced and sautéed in the oil exuded by the chorizo
  • toast pine nuts in dry frying pan and add to the bowl before doing the chorizo
  • about 200g frozen peas, cooked according to packet instructions or allowed to defrost fully and cooked in the chorizo oil
  • cutting the chorizo into rounds per the basic procedure, then halving or quartering the rounds to make them go further (it’s better to do this with a full 225g chorizo ring, as a package of pre-diced chorizo for the same price is likely to only have about half as much meat)
  • 4-6tbsp of mayonnaise (full or light) or 0% fat Greek yoghurt stirred in once all the other ingredients have been mixed together

I’ll codify the above rambling into a coherent and hopefully definitive version of the recipe in a future post.

Saffron buns

This is a recipe that my parents have made on occasion for almost as far back as I can remember — I love it! 🙂

Top tip: This recipe involves hand-mixing, so use one hand only if possible and, when the dough sticks to your fingers, use your clean had to take a small palmful of plain flour and rub it thoroughly over your dough-y hand — this should get most of the stuck dough off.

Makes 6-8 buns

Ingredients

  • 500g/18oz plain or strong white bread flour, plus extra plain flour for kneading
  • 200ml/7 floz milk (I prefer semi-skimmed, but it’s your choice)
  • Generous pinch saffron (about half a gram or so)
  • 1 sachet fast-action dried yeast (should be about 7g)
  • 1 teaspoon golden granulated sugar (for the yeast to feed on)
  • 50-100ml/1.5-3 floz tepid water (about blood-heat)
  • Generous handful of sultanas (technically optional)

Method

  1. Put the milk in a jug and add the saffron and allow to soak at room temperature for 2 to three hours, or (if there’s a danger of the jug being knocked over and/or inquisitive kitties trying to drink the milk) for 24 hours in the fridge. Make sure the milk is allowed to come up to room temperature before adding to the dough. This helps release the saffron’s aromatic components.
  2. Mix the flour, yeast and sugar in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the saffrony milk a little at a time with one hand, mixing with the other until everything’s combined.
  3. Knead the dough mixture firmly, adding a little bit of the water at a time and pummelling thoroughly between each addition. (Tip: When your dough resembles a big lump plus lots of little bits, squish the big lump until it’s concave, put a load of the little bits into the dip and dribble the water into that, then fold it over and squash hard) Keep kneading until the dough goes into one smooth ball that feels nicely moist but isn’t very sticky, rolling it around the bowl as you go to pick up any stray little bits of flour, dough or saffron. Done right, the bowl should have no spare dough stuck to the sides and be pretty easy to clean afterwards.
  4. Keeping the dough in the bowl, put it in a warm place for half an hour to an hour to rise (supplemented with warm wheatbags if necessary). After the rising, knead in the sultanas (if using), divide into buns and place them on a greased baking tray. Stick a warm wheatbag under the tray, or put it in a warm place, and leave for half an hour or so for the second rising.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Once it’s up to temperature, put the tray of buns in for 30 mins.
  6. Once the buns are done (check by lifting the largest one and tapping the base — if you get a hollow sound, it’s properly done), leave to cool a bit.
  7. Split, maybe toast, definitely have with lashings of butter!

Final tip: Be careful about the oven temperature — too low (150C-ish) and the buns won’t cook properly in the middle, too high (200C or so) and they turn out pretty crusty — still edible, but needing a little extra jaw work.

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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Roast duck with garlic and pepper or paprika, stuffed with damsons

This is a slightly fancied-up version of a recipe that I like to make on the rare occasions when I can afford a good-quality duck; Gressingham duck is particularly good for this dish. Damsons are a small, tarter-tasting relative of the plum; if you can’t find them or don’t like them, use ordinary plums instead.

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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 consommé, 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.

Erica’s Casserole

Hi, folks! While I’m busy moving house, enjoy this little recipe! The method came down to me through my mother’s family, so far as I can remember, and I have absolutely no idea where the name came from. In any case, this is a good winter warmer dish that’s fairly quick and easy to make.

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A quick recipe

I’ve been reading the ‘Hairy Dieters’ trilogy of recipe books recently. While I’m not in a position to write a full review of them, I can at least make a post that is in the spirit of those books. Therefore, this week’s post will be my dad’s recipe for pasta carbonara.

I’m very used to carbonara made this way, so much so that I was actually surprised to find out that the authentic Italian dish contains a considerable quantity of cream and no onion. This version is considerably less calorific and just as tasty.

Serves 2 (using quantities as shown)

Ingredients:

  • 4oz/114g pasta (2oz per person — spaghetti, fusilli or trotolle seem to work best)
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 onion (red or white, depending on aesthetic preference)
  • 2 to 4 rashers back bacon (the leaner the better)
  • 1 large egg or 2 small/medium eggs
  • 2oz to 4oz/57g to 114g low-fat yoghurt or crème fraiche (optional — use only if you’re desperate to have that creamy sauce)
  • minced/chopped garlic or garlic paste (optional)
  • herbs, various (optional)
  • pepper, to garnish (optional)
  • 2oz/57g grated cheddar or parmesan, to garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. Peel and chop the onion. Put the oil in a saucepan, heat until it starts sizzling, then throw in the chopped onion, plus the garlic and/or herbs (if using). Sauté the onion gently until it becomes soft, stirring occasionally.
  2. While the onion is cooking, cut the bacon into pieces. Add the bacon pieces to the onion and stir gently. Cook until the bacon is done. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
  3. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Throw in the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions until it is done to your preferred degree of firmness.
  4. Only do this step if you are using the crème fraiche/yoghurt. While the pasta is cooking, break the egg(s) into a jug or bowl and beat together with the crème fraiche/yoghurt until well combined.
  5. Once the pasta has finished cooking, drain and return it to the pan. Add the cooked bacon and onion, then, working quickly while everything is warm, break in the egg(s) (or add the egg-and-dairy mixture from step 4) and stir thoroughly until everything is well-combined. The egg should cook in the heat from the pasta, onion and bacon.
  6. Divide the pasta equally between two plates. Sprinkle 1 oz grated cheese over each plate, if desired. Grate over some pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Bon appetit!