Sunday 31 October 2010

alice’s Cook Book - review

Some cookbooks are really just for looking at: browsing through whilst snuggled up in the front of the fire on an autumn afternoon. Alice’s, however, despite having many beautiful photographs and a casual, retro, arty layout, is all about the recipes. Each new chapter is introduced with a photograph and there are a couple more strewn throughout, but the real focus is food for friends.

With 5 chapters, including ideas for Sunday lunch, Camping and Open Fire cooking and Supper ideas to share, the recipes themselves are grouped into whole meal ideas for up to 6 people. Each idea also has a ‘hands-on’ time, making it easy to flick through and find something you can do in the time you have. Many of the smaller ingredients that create the flavour, however, aren’t the regular run-of-the-mill store cupboard options you might have in all the time and I feel a specific ‘shop’ to ensure you have everything you need would be in order before attempting some of these. Examples you might not have (certainly I don’t) include mustard seeds, elderflower blossoms, curry leaves, tahini, and chick-pea flour. And although I have red and white wine vinegar, I’d also need to add sherry, cider and rice vinegar to my collection.

Feeling peckish later in the evening after a Sunday dinner of ‘Very Garlicky Roast Chicken’ , a very moist and easy to prepare garlic and lemon chicken, I decided to use up some leftover roasties to make the Woodland Hash from the Picnics and Happy Camping chapter. This really simple recipe didn’t need an extra shop and said it would only take 10 minutes. I was very tempted by the Stickiest Gingerbread on the next page, but not having any stem ginger in syrup, I made the choice to stick with savoury rather than sweet.

The ingredients are simply potatoes, mushrooms, eggs and a flavoured oil, the preparation of which isn’t included in the 'hands-on’ time, but also, could be done much more quickly and simply if you were in a hurry, or, as Alice suggests, adding a few sprigs of thyme and cloves or garlic to the mushroom pan will do the job. The idea is to cube and gently fry the potatoes, turning up the heat to brown off when they’re cooked through. Use the same pan to fry the mushrooms, then move to the side of the pan and fry your eggs. I was asked to use ‘very fresh free range’ so used the last two laid earlier today from the hens! Plate up the fried eggs then pop the potatoes back in with the mushrooms to heat through.

The recipes are presented simply and are very easy to follow, written in short paragraphs so you can do one thing at a time without becoming confused as to what you’re meant to be concentrating on! There are also ‘short cut’ ideas throughout, from breakfast to tips for making life easier as you cook.

And the taste of our Woodland Hash? Well, I sat in front of the wood burner, not in a wood, with a plate of hot, warming and tasty food that I’d whipped up using leftovers, and a tasty recipe: Simple yet flavoursome. Thanks Alice!

Post Script: As a full-time teacher in my ‘real life’, I do think that your ‘sense of advanture’ (Page 53) when playing with the quantities for Damper Bread Sticks, should perhaps read ‘adventure’, but I know what she means!

Saturday 30 October 2010

Cooking made Easy–well, easier!

Having recently adopted three rather lovely hens, I’ve, I’m ashamed to say, been a bit lax with the cooking, and especially the writing about food that I so loved. Well, now the hens are settled in their purpose built run, I can, one again, continue with the cooking and writing that I so enjoy! I began with trialling a ‘basil burst’ pizza, but the recent star of the show has been the OH, who has discovered a liking for cooking Sunday Lunch.

Pizza Toppings – I didn’t chop the pepperoni – Tesco’s did that for me!pizza toppings

Now, this is something we don’t usually have, well, not in terms of a sit down roast dinner, normally opting for a bacon buttie and coffee, or similar. So this has been quite a treat, with him insisting he do all the work: He even cleans the kitchen after!


I must say though, that his life (and, therefore, mine too!) has been made a little easier with the recent present of a Jamie Oliver Knife block set, and all-purpose peeler from his new ‘Kitchen Kit’ range of all those basic tools that speed up the preparation tasks. The knives, in particular, are brilliant! They’re weighted just right and have a comfy grip you can really hold onto if needed, although the sharpness of them will mean that little effort is needed to cut through most things! Whilst preparing the roast, the OH used the paring knife to prep. small veg, then the utility knife for larger potatoes and parsnips. When the chicken was cooked (free range only in celebration of our new girls!), he even used the carving knife to serve up! As of yet, we’ve only used the basic peeling blade on the peeler as we haven’t found a need to peel tomatoes or julienne carrots and the suchlike! I’m sure there’ll come a time though.

For the real ‘knife’ fans amongst you, I’ve taken the details below from the Jamie website:

“This knife block set includes five knives: 11cm/4” Paring knife, 15cm/6” Utility knife, 19cm/7 ½” Chefs knife, 22cm/8 ½” Bread knife, 20cm/8” Carving knife. Each knife has a stainless steel blade and chunky bolster that provide superb balance and extra weight for easy chopping and slicing. Each knife is named at the handle so they can be easily identified in the knife block. Full tang MoV stainless steel blade.”

The one other feature that is so useful and often forgotten is that each knife is named on the end of it’s handle so that when they are in the block, you know which one to take without having to remember or guess!


Last night I had mum over and she took one of my old serrated knives to slice an onion. Since her eyes were watering, I took over the task and couldn’t believe how much effort was required to simply chop it up! Now all I need to remember is to keep them sharp – I’ll be needing one of his  ‘Really Sharp Knife Tools’ then!

Tuesday 26 October 2010

As good as Domino’s Basil Burst Double Decadence?

I’m afraid, since ‘tasting’ through the wireless waves hasn’t yet been invented, you’ll have to take my word for it when I have firstly, made my own version to see how easy it might be, and secondly, ordered an online pizza from Domino’s!

I was asked if I’d like to take on the challenge to make my own version, and who am I to turn down a culinary opportunity?

I began by hunting out one of the only pizza base recipes that I’ve felt actually turned out as I like it – Gino D’Acampo’s from his ‘Fantastico’ book. It really is simple:

Add a teaspoon of dried yeast to 140ml warm water. Pour into 180 g strong bread flour, along with a tablespoon of olive oil, and combine. Work for 5 minutes until stretchy and smooth then cover with a tea-towel and leave to rest for at least 45 minutes.

When rested, split into two balls and push outwards to form thin circles.

Now to make the pesto. Toast some pine nuts in a dry pan. Meanwhile, add basil leaves, salt, pepper and a drizzle or two of olive oil to a ‘whizzer’ (baby food processor!). Once the pine nuts are beginning to brown, remove from the heat and leave to cool. Add to the processor and blitz until smooth. Taste and add more of whatever you think it needs!


Now, this is the part where I wasn’t sure what to try. Should I aim to create an exact copy of the Domino’s version, sandwiching a homemade pesto between two thin bases? Erm…no. The reason? 1 – Worry over whether the base would be thin and crispy enough once layered, 2 – the oil from the pesto might leak into the dough and make it oily and sticky, not crispy, 3 – too messy!

So, option number two was to work the pesto into the dough itself, but I wasn’t honestly sure if people would like to eat green dough that might go that mushy brown colour once cooked. I decided anyway that one of the bases would have the pesto mixed into things, if only a little so the above didn’t happen!



There was one more option, however, which was a stuffed crust. This seemed a good compromise between the two: I might still get a crispy bottom, so to speak, and have the pesto combined with the dough in some way.

Before you begin topping your pizza, ensure everyone is nearly ready to eat so the toppings don’t make the base soggy, and that your oven is heated to at least 200 oC. Next, move the bases onto oiled baking trays because (and take it from me) if you try and move them after you’ve topped them, you’ll cry. Spoon a little of the mixture around the edge of each pizza and fold the crust over on itself – you can ‘stick’ down with a little milk if you’re worried about it coming undone!



Ensure the oven is up to temperature, top with a tomato salsa, mozzarella and whatever else you fancy. To make the tomato sauce, combine a can of chopped tomatoes, dried herbs, a pinch of sugar, a splash of red wine and seasoning, then bubble until it’s thickened.


Gino says to cook for 20-25 minutes, but use your common sense and remove before it’s burnt!

You should end up with something along these lines:



And the taste? Well, it depends upon what you’ve topped your pizza with, but speaking solely for the ‘basil burst’ part of it…with pizza 1, you could taste the herbs but only mildly and not when coated with tomato, cheese and pepperoni! Pizza 2’s stuffed crust was much tastier, although could have done with more oil in the pesto as it dried out in the heat of the oven. I was pleased that both of the bases cooked through well and were crispy underneath as well as at the edges, and that the herby pesto addition was not wasted and could actually be tasted! I do think it would work better with a more moist crust as mine was rather dry, but overall, I was quite pleased with the result, especially since I don’t often make pizza and was really keen on completing ‘the challenge’!

Friday 8 October 2010

Mushroom Loaves



These were what I wanted my bread rolls for: based on a recipe from Elizabeth Raffald's recipe for Mushroom Loaves from The Experienced English Housekeeper. Luckily, after asking my foodie Twitter friends, GoodShoeDay (whom I have discovered, has a vast collection of cookery books!) came up trumps with the recipe from the 1769 edition, as re-printed by Southover Press in 1997. It’s from the ‘Little Savoury Dishes’ section. You can also find it here, from Google’s library, P264!

I, however, didn’t use that recipe as I didn’t have button mushrooms or cream, and wanted to do it right the first time. So instead, I used tips from my River Cottage mushroom course and simply fried torn mixed mushrooms with olive oil and butter, and a little garlic and thyme tipped in towards the end. Leave the heat as high as you can stand without shaking the pan, then, as they start to brown, you can start to move them around a bit more! Take off the heat and add some crème fraiche. Season, scoop out the rolls (the recipe for which you’ll find here), and dollop the mixture inside. Top with the ‘lid’ and a few fresh herbs and tuck in! 

Monday 4 October 2010

Seeded Bread Rolls

First of all, can I apologise? It seems to have been nearly a month since I last posted, and I can only blame this on my sudden addiction to hens. Let me explain:

Over the last year I’ve hinted, cajoled, mentioned, left reminders about and, basically, begged to keep chickens, well hens. And for this birthday, all my hard work finally paid off…I’ve been allowed them, providing, they are "all my responsibility!” With this in mind, I’ve made quick work of acquiring said hens. Three, or possibly four, are arriving on the 16th, and we were completely unprepared. So, I’ve been ordering Eglus, runs, feed, woodchips, and all the equipment for a walk-in run so we can leave the little darlings outside during the day and they can have a bit more space! To hear more about it, have a look at The Cabbage Patch!

Anyway, apart from becoming slight obsessed, I think we’re virtually ready so I can, once again, pick up where I left off and continue my writing!

I had some spelt flour that I’d bought to make yummy rolls in the cupboard and also wanted to try out a ‘mushrooms in bread’ type recipe, so began. I looked and a couple of recipes: Hugh FW’s and Nigel Slater’s to be precise, then made up my own, using 500g flour to 300ml water, give or take a splosh.



The problem I find with bread-making in the Autumn is that the conservatory isn’t hot or sunny enough for the proving, and it’s not quite time to light the woodburner. So, to cut a long story short, the dough didn’t really rise, but I went ahead anyway…leaving to prove again after making the rolls.


Before baking, I sprinkled them with mixed seeds, although should have brushed them with beaten egg first to act as a glue, then baked for about 20 minutes until done!


They were, unsurprisingly, very heavy, but also tasty, and served their purpose of holding a mushroomy stroganoff well!

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