Thursday, 11 June 2015

Bacon-chocolate cupcakes

Pete likes bacon.  It was Pete's birthday last week.  I made cupcakes.  They had bacon in them.

The recipe in its original format is here; because I'm in the UK and couldn't get hold of some of it (and because I use weights rather than cups), here is my version.

Approx 200g smoked, streaky bacon chopped up finely
225g unsalted butter
50g Bournville Cocoa
180ml water
500g caster sugar
2 large eggs
120ml well-shaken buttermilk
2 T vanilla
200g plain flour
1/2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 350 F/170. 

Frazzle the bacon til it's crispy and then drain it well on some kitchen towel.  Pat as much off as possible.

The method cited is so easy - just melt the butter over a low heat, and whisk in the cocoa, before adding the water and mixing until it' smooth.

Take it off the heat and add all the other ingredients, finishing with the bacon.

Fill your cake cases about 2/3 full - they rise really well.

In my oven these take precisely 13 minutes per batch to cake - the original recipe explains that they are very moist (I can vouch for this) and they firm up as they cool.

Makes 36 fairy cake sized cakes.  These are rich so I made them in a smaller size - you can always go back for more!

Dark Chocolate Frosting

110g unsalted butter
70g Bournville Cocoa
300g icing sugar 
80ml milk
1 t vanilla extract

Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa, then take it off the heat and add the sifted icing sugar and milk a little at a time, mixing until it's a soft spreading consistency, before finishing with the vanilla.  It will dry out if you leave it to stand so do get to it straight away!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Roast cauliflower and lamb curry

Sometimes I just want something different.  I don't have lamb very often but it's something I really like.  What makes this extra specially nice is roasting the cauliflower first; if you've never roasted cauliflower (or broccoli for that matter) you're missing a good thing.

Ingredients (makes four portions).

1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets
approx 400g lamb - I used a pack of two generously sized leg steaks which I cut up and trimmed
1 large onion
1 can chickpeas, drained
A large handful of small-diced butternut squash (I was making the pork and squash casserole in the slow cooker at the same time and physically couldn't fit any more in)
Fine green beans, chopped into small bite sized pieces
1 yellow or orange (or just sweet!) pepper
1 can light coconut milk
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp green chili paste
Mango chutney - approx 1 tbsp.

Your favourite curry powder or paste, to your taste.

You also need, for roasting purposes:
A baking dish or tray big enough for your broken  up cauliflower
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
half tsp cinnamon
half tsp paprika
pinch of chili flakes (optional)

Very easy - pre heat the oven to 180ish and in the roasting tray, combine the caulflower, oil and spices, turning it all around so it's evenly coated.  Stick it in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes, take it out and turn it/check it, and back in for another 15-20.

In a large pan, cook the onions and lamb together til the onions are soft and the lamb is sealed.  Add the garlic and allow it to soften, before adding in the pepper, beans and squash, coconut milk, chili paste and curry powder or paste.  Allow it all to come together til the veggies are soft.  Add the chickpeas and the roasted cauliflower and stir it all together.

Finally add a large tbsp of mango chutney to finish it and stir it through.

Turkey and white bean chili

I'm not going to lie, I am the person who likes turkey at times other than Christmas.  This is a current favourite and I've made it every month for the past few months.  I just like it and it's a change if you've already got another beef-based batch of food in the freezer (like a pasta sauce for example) - essentially, when I started doing the batch cooking, the first month I made a regular chili and a bolognese sauce and I felt like all I ate was ground beef for about three weeks and I really got bored.

Anyway here's the recipe:

1 spicy chorizo sausage ring
1 pack of minced turkey
2 green bell peppers
1 large onion
2 large courgettes
green jalapenos (the kind that come in sweet vinegar like you'd put on your salad) - to taste
1 small jar of salsa (mild or hot - to taste)
1 carton of tomatoes with chili and peppers (or plain - your call)
2 fat cloves of garlic
1 can of haricot beans, drained
1 can of cannelini beans, drained
2 cans of pinto beans, drained
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp dried oregano

Same old same old, honestly - get the chorizo chopped up small and into the pan and frazzle it off, then add the turkey mince and onions and break them up so it all cooks down together.

Add the garlic and let it soften before putting everything else in except for the beans.  Let it all cook together on a gentle heat for about half an hour or so til everything is soft and cooked down, then add the drained beans.

Stir it all together and portion it up :)

Epic Weekend Batch Cooking

Since there's only me here (apart from Halo the kitten, who pretty much just eats crunchy kibbly stuff and drinks kitten milk), and work is often hideously busy, I have got into the habit of having a big session of batch cooking every few weeks, usually after payday.  It helps me to budget for the month and cuts down enormously on waste as I essentially just shop to make specific things.  I will admit that it takes a little getting into as there is the risk of living on one thing for weeks on end, but once you're into the swing of it (or maybe do it with a friend so you can swap some dishes) it makes a lot of sense and - for me anyway - gave me a lot of the pleasure of cooking what I want at weekends back, because it took all the effort out of the weekday food preparation.

This weekend I have made the following:

A turkey chili with white beans
Roasted cauliflower and lamb curry
Huge pot of homemade tomato sauce for pasta (which can be used from frozen as a base for quick meals in the week)
Pork with mushrooms, white beans and celery which is a variation on this recipe
Chicken with black beans and broccoli
Spicy pork and squash casserole
Italian style tomato soup with turkey sausage, white beans, pasta etc.

I've also got ingredients to make sweet potato and butter bean bake but need to pop out and get some foil containers so when it's ready I can spoon it into those and freeze them ready to cook in the oven.

Honestly, all you need is an afternoon set aside. What I tend to do is set out mixing bowls and sort of chop all the veg for everything all at once, just putting it aside for each dish with the other ingredients.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Butternut squash and feta salad with lemon, mint and honey dressing

I realise that I seem to have been eating an awful lot of butternut squash and chickpeas recently.  I would counter this by noting that it's all in the interests of economy and that both of these ingredients are awesome so I think it's okay.

This is another recipe that I've made up myself having been inspired by something  else I tried - in this case, it was a Tesco salad thing that I bought en route to work once morning for lunch; I ate it and thought, hmm.  You know who could do a better version of this?  Haha.  I made it a couple of times and tweaked it and then finally tried it on other people (Sarah and Sunita) last night.  It went down well and I can also say confidently that although I enjoy it hot it's also one that you can take and eat cold for lunch (leftovers woohoo!).  It's very easy and very much a construction job, so don't be put off by the ingredient list.  I find this is easier if you do all the component parts separately, let everything cool down, and then stir it all together before putting it back into the oven to heat through which also lets the feta melt slightly.  So in theory although it's dead easy it's probably one to make while you're pottering about doing other stuff.

Ingredients to make one respectable bake, feeding 4 people as a main with salad etc:

1 butternut squash - average sized, peeled and diced into bite sized cubes
1 can of chickpeas, drained
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
Generous shake of garlic powder or granules - just for ease, really; you want it to coat everything but not to have to use loads of fresh, or it will overpower everything
Good seasoning of salt

1 large sweet pepper - red, yellow, orange - sliced
1 large onion - sliced
Oil for sautee-ing and roasting

2-3 cooked, pickled beetroot, blotted dryish and diced finely
bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped finely
1 package of feta
Handful of pumpkin seeds
1 package of spicy flavoured couscous - harissa, Moroccan style, etc.  I think I used an Ainsley Harriot 'Spice Sensation' one, but they are all good.
1 pouch of cooked, mixed grains; the Merchant Gourmet ones are good but equally so are the Sainsbury's own version...I mean this kind of thing:

For the dressing:
Juice of one large lemon
1 bunch of fresh mint
2 tbsp honey
Approx 100ml EV olive oil

I use my trusty stick blender and beaker to make the dressing, if you haven't got a stick blender they are about a tenner from ASDA etc and you don't need an expensive one - I have had mine for years.  I use it for soup, sauce, etc.  

Heat the oven up to about 180-190 degrees.
Into your roasting/baking dish, put the cinnamon, cumin, paprika, salt and garlic, along with a generous slosh of oil, and stir it about.  Add the diced squash and the drained, blotted-in-a-tea towel chickpeas, stir it so it's all coated, and put it in the oven.

In the meantime, in a big mixing bowl, just over the couscous with boiling water, and then put a clean tea towel over the bowl so the heat stays in. 

Finally, on the hob, saute off the onion and pepper til it's soft and golden.

Keep an eye on the squash and chickpeas - you want them to look quite well roasted, a bit dark etc.  Once they are done, take them out of the oven and set aside to cool a bit.  Likewise, set the onions and peppers aside to cool, too.

Check the couscous.  If it's done, add the mixed grains, making sure to crumble/separate them in.  Stir the couscous and grains in together gently, being sure to mix them up well.

Then, layer; add the cooled pepper and onion, the chickpeas and squash, the parsley, the beetroot, the feta.  Using a large spoon, gently fold it all together and then put it into a baking dish; I actually use the same one I bake the chickpeas and squash in to save on washing up but it's just because it's a good size.  Pack it in reasonably tightly.  That's ready to go now, and you can bake it straight away or whenever really - you could probably even make it a day in advance.

The dressing is super easy - just blend the ingredients together with a stick blender in a cup or whatever and put it into a jug, to be poured over the warm bake when it comes out of the oven.  Depending on taste you might add more or less honey, mint, or lemon - it's up to you.  I like it sharp and fresh and a little bit sweet.

Squash and chickpea curry

I made a vast pot of this earlier in the month and portioned it off.  It freezes really well and it's one of those 'just keep adding stuff to it' dishes.

1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
1-2 peppers, I prefer sweeter for this, so red/yellow/orange, diced
1-2 onions
1-2 courgettes
2 cans of chickpeas, drained
1 can or carton of tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Chili, chopped (as much as you liked; I used one big red one for this recipe)
Some medium curry powder - it's not necessarily a bad thing to use a blend. I like Sharwood's
Extra cumin - 1 tsp
Ground coriander - 1 tsp
Paprika - half a tsp
Cinnamon - half a tsp
Salt to taste

Directions: Saute the onions til the are soft and golden brown, then add all the other ingredients.  Bring it up to a good bubble, then turn it down to simmer and leave it to do its thing.

You can serve it with brown rice, a boiled egg, mango chutney and Loxley's delicious cottage cheese like Shelley and I did on Monday.

Beetroot and pearl barley risotto, two ways

This recipe is one I made up after going to a lovely training venue in the centre of Birmingham with some colleagues from Brook (the venue is The Studio on Canon Street, if you're interested) where we were served a delicious lunch, and this was part of it.

The first time I made it was the next day, and I tried to replicate it as closely as I could working to what I could identify from the flavours.  This version has feta cheese and was served with thick, creamy yogurt as part of a selection of different complementary hot dishes.

I have still not quite conquered the fine art of working out exactly how much pearl barley you need to go with how much liquid, given that this is a one-pot, absorption method dish, but I feel quite heartened by the fact that apparently the formidable Jack Monroe's carrot and pearl barley risotto also takes longer than expected to cook (and she's amazing) so...let's roll with it.

Version 1: Vegetarian, with feta; serves 3-4, with some salad etc, and keeps nicely for lunch.

1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into bite sized pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 small pack of cooked and pickled beetroot, dipped in vinegar, from the salad section at the supermarket, chopped
1 large or 2 small courgettes, diced
1 carton or can of tomatoes (about 400g - a standard sized one)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Smoked paprika, to taste (1 tsp for me)
Cumin, to taste (up to 1 level tsp)
1 pack of feta, drained and chopped into smallish cubes
Roughly 100g of pearl barley
1 vegetable stock cube or a level tsp of Marigold bouillon powder
Enough boiling water to just submerge everything, and then more as you need

Method: saute off the onions, and add all the other ingredients except the feta, pearl barley and boiling water.  Cover and leave it all to cook down gently together.

When the vegetables are nearly tender, add the pearl barley and stir it through, then the boiling water to just cover.  Leave it to simmer, covered, and keep coming back to check regularly.  I'm not sure if this is how you're supposed to cook pearl barley, but it's how I do it and it worked fine.

When it's soft to your liking, stir the feta through, give it a few minutes to melt slightly, and serve with a thick dollop of plain tangy yogurt.  NICE.

The second version includes meat and was inspired partly by my lovely dinner guest ("What do you like to eat?" "Bacon!" "Anything else?" "Beef!" ...okay then!)

Version 2: with thyme, honey, chocolate and slow-cooked beef

1 large onion, chopped
About 300-400ish grams of lean, trimmed, stewing beef (1 smallish pack, basically), cut into small, bite sized pieces
2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped finely
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 small pack of cooked and pickled beetroot, dipped in vinegar, from the salad section at the supermarket, chopped
1 carton or can of tomatoes (about 400g - a standard sized one)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 can of chickpeas, drained
Smoked paprika, about half a teaspoon
Cumin, to taste (up to 1 level tsp)
Cinnamon to taste (i love cinnamon but you might want to start with a scant teaspoon)
Thyme - or rosemary; I made mine with thyme this time
Splash of sweet balsamic vinegar
About 1 tbsp semisweet or dark chocolate chips (what I had to hand - some broken up dark chocolate would be fine obviously)
1 tsp honey (and then taste it as you go)
Roughly 100g of pearl barley
Enough boiling water to just submerge everything, and then more as you need

This one needs a bit more love and attention because there's meat in it and because you want to get the seasoning to how you like it.

Start by frazzling the bacon and onions together with a tiny splash of balsamic vinegar, and add the beef, along with the garlic and cinnamon.  Let the meat seal, and then add the pepper, paprika and cumin,  Stick a lid on and give it about ten minutes at a moderate heat before adding the tomatoes, beetroot, cumin and thyme.  Lid back on, and let everything come together for another ten minutes or so before adding the honey and chocolate.  Then really you need to let it cook slowly (for the beef) for as long as you can.  I haven't tried but I will have a go in the slow cooker next time.

When the meat is tender, add the pearl barley and boiling water as for the other version, and again just keep an eye on things until the pearl barley is cooked.

Good with a splotch of soured cream, a la goulash!

Again, this was good the next day reheated.