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Tuesday 28 September 2010

Pizza Double Bill

I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be posting a lot of ready-made stuff and a fairly paltry amount of stuff I make myself... Oh well. We can but wait and see.

Well, I could put in some more damned effort while you wait and see but, frankly, after work these days, cooking is the last thing on my mind. This last weekend, I finally got round to washing the dishes that have been stacking up for a couple of weeks.

But that's another story. This one is about Pizza. Specifically...

Dr Oetker Ristorante Pizza - Speciale:
When I said I like my pizza to feature pepperoni, I wasn't kidding... so when I saw a ready-made pizza featuring pepperoni and salami, my belly sent clear signals of a positively romantic interest.

And I really wasn't disappointed. The multi-lingual blurb on the back describes it as "Richly topped with cheese, salami, mushrooms and ham on a crisp, thin base." and this many-tongued expression is no lie. Frequently with ready-made pizza, one finds something or the other is lacking - either there's not enough tomato purée, not enough cheese, or not enough of the gosh-darned topping. This thing has to be the best-balanced ready-made pizza I've had in a long while, and the cooked end result is truly excellent.

I must admit I'm getting better at judging cooking temperatures and times in my fan-assisted oven - generally I can shave off about 10-20degrees, and about 2-5 minutes... and it always helps to keep checking on a pizza - the eye can tell better than a timer when it's ready to serve.

Had I the space, I'd stock up on Dr Oetker's Speciale.

(Dr Oetker) Chicago Town Edge to Edge Thin & Crispy California Cheese Pizza:
I find it curious that the Chicago Town folks have adopted 'Fact*' as part of their advertising slogan. I'm sure there's a bleach or detergent that's currently using it, too... and its vulgar overuse was highlighted by Ricky Gervais's character, David Brent, in The Office.

Anyway... They do actually qualify this 'Fact*' with the explanation/caveat "Product tests proved that Edge to Edge has more topping than any other frozen branded thin and crispy pizza. FACT! (products compared February 2010)" and, yes, I shit you not, "FACT!" - all upper case, and with exclamation mark - is printed on their packaging.

Thing is, this pizza is actually a fair bit smaller than other 'frozen branded thin and crispy pizzas' - something like an inch smaller by diameter. So, when they say it has 'more topping', is that average by area?

Whatever the story, I have to say that this one impressed me, as 'cheese only' pizzas go. I normally find them quite bland, but the interplay between the mozzerella, mature cheddar and provolone was quite pleasant. It all kind of merged into one fairly mild cheesy melange, but I guess that's the whole point of something like this.

It's not necessarily something I'd go looking for specifically in the future, but I may well try the others in the series... I seem to recall seeing a New Orleans Cheese Pizza in the same chiller cabinet, if not more.

Both were very quick to cook, but naturally the one featuring pepperoni was my personal preference.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Simple Salmon Lunch for a Baby / Salmon Teriyaki Stir-Fry

I had my sister round for lunch yesterday and, feeling daring, I offered to cook for her and my niece, rather than heading out anywhere. We had discussed eating out near where I work, but that would tend to be more useful if meeting her after work, during the week.

My cunning plan was to make a second attempt at a Salmon Teriyaki stir-fry recipe detailed by a friend which, on the last attempt, burnt rather badly. It's a simple enough dish to prepare, but best done without distractions of any kind, because various parts of it can burn very quickly if left unattended, and it's very easy to get the timing wrong.

Teriyaki probably isn't the best idea for a baby, though, so the niece had to make do with a small salmon steak, baked in the oven alongside a potato waffle, and a serving of peas cooked in the microwave.

I must confess that I guessed at the timing for the salmon on this one - I've baked fish before, including salmon, but it had always come from a cardboard box in my freezer which carried cooking instructions. This chunk of fish had come from the fishmonger.

Estimating that, if the waffles needed 12 minutes to cook (at 200degrees in a fan-assisted oven), I surmised that the salmon steak would need... less than that. I guessed about 8-10 minutes, thinking that the waffle could stand a minute or two extra if necessary.

So, it went something like this:
Once the oven got up to heat, a timer was set to 12 minutes, the waffle placed on a baking tray and inserted into the oven. 4 minutes elapsed, then the salmon - wrapped loosely in tin foil - was introduced to the baking tray for the remainder of the cooking time. After a further 6-7 minutes, a serving of peas was placed into a microwaveable plastic bowl, the lid left ajar, and cooked on full power for two minutes.

The waffle and salmon were removed from the oven and transferred to a plate, and the peas were strained and added before serving to a young lady of just over a year old.

Naturally, even a small salmon steak was too large, but she managed about half of it, and it was all pretty much cooked to perfection.

"Now," I said, portentously, "watch me ruin the stir-fry..."

  • Salmon Steaks (one per person, but the average frying pan can only usefully accommodate two at a time)
  • Fresh ginger (one reasonably-sized chunk)
  • Garlic (two or three cloves, depending on how much you like it, and how much you want people to know you like it)
  • Onions (these will be the bulk of the stir-fry, so either a good sized normal onion, or plenty of spring onions)
  • Butter (about a half-inch slice of the average-sized block)
  • Olive oil
  • Teriyaki sauce (I wish I'd measured... I guess 'add to taste'?)
  • Microwave rice (I used Uncle Ben's egg fried rice)

Preparation Time: Honestly, I have no idea... I couldn't concentrate very easily, despite having done so well with the baby's lunch. Not long, by any measure.

Tools Required:
  • Hob
  • Frying pan
  • Small knife
  • Spatula/egg turner

For best results, chop up the stir-fry ingredients ahead of time. Peel the ginger and chop as preferred - chunks, slices, matchsticks... it's all a matter of preference. Chop the garlic into thin slices. Chop the onion finely. Place in a covered bowl till you're ready to begin the stir-fry.

Place a frying pan on the hob (large burner preferable) and introduce the butter and oil. When it's all melted, throw in the onions, ginger and garlic. Move them constantly while frying and, when the garlic turns a nice, nutty brown, remove and place to one side.

Add the salmon to the pan and seal on all sides. Once it all looks opaque, add the Teriyaki sauce. As the salmon cooks through, the sauce and melted butter should slowly start to thicken and, hopefully, bond with the salmon. Turn the salmon so all sides are nicely coated.

As it cooks, microwave the rice. I stretched one packet between two people, but the only drawback to using a whole pack each is that you'll need more time for two packs - each one takes 2 minutes, on average.

By the time the rice is done, the salmon should be almost ready to serve, so pour the rice out onto a plate, add the stir-fry, add the salmon, and pour the remainder of the Teriyaki tar over the fish.

The Results:
Yes... well... those words turned out to be very portentous. Basically, I'd made a whole series of mistakes on this attempt. The stir-fry part went well enough, but fishing it out of the butter/olive oil was a chore and, when it came to serving it all up, I almost forgot about it. I guess the reason it burnt last time I tried this is that I left it in the pan while the salmon was going.

Then there was the salmon itself. Rather than traipse off to a supermarket, I thought I'd make use of my local fishmonger, a short walk down the road. The sign by the door, rather off-puttingly, states "Anyone Served"... surely such statements are unnecessary in this day and age? Nevertheless, the fishmonger was very helpful, saying that if there was nothing suitable in terms of size/shape out on the counters, there was plenty more salmon in the back. I've basically lucked out with my fishmonger - salmon is their speciality!

But what I hadn't factored into my calculations for cooking time was the skin. Last time I cooked this, I used supermarket-bought skinless salmon steaks. Sadly, the skin is an excellent insulator, so the fish was less ready than I'd thought when I first served it up. Both steaks had to go back into the pan for another couple of minutes before they were properly edible. By this time, the remaining Teriyaki tar was turning into a solid mass, and had separated entirely from the olive oil.

Nevertheless, no-one was poisoned... and I learned a valuable lesson in preparing this dish for next time: Remove the bloody skin. I may well give this another try during the coming week, just to improve my confidence... and using the frozen steaks I already have in my freezer, if only to just to get rid of them. I already know they're going to make life more complicated because they'll be so waterlogged having been frozen.

The Alternatives:
Egg fried rice does work very well, but plain rice, or possibly some of the other seasoned varieties (mushroom rice, perhaps? Special fried rice?) might work. Definitely do not use any of the heavily seasoned/spicy varieties, though.

The stir-fry is where the most interesting changes or additions can be made, but it's important to balance the flavour of the fish and the Teriyaki sauce with whatever you choose to add. I'd considered the remainder of my sweet pepper, but that would have been far too sweet as part of the stir-fry. Chopped up and added to the rice raw, it may have worked, but I'd forgotten to chop it beforehand, and the final stages were such a mess, I didn't get round to it. Runner beans or edamame would definitely suit, but I'd be tempted to add them in with the Teriyaki, just for a bit of extra flavour. Similarly, beansprouts and water chestnut are a stir-fry staple, and would fit in nicely, I suspect.

Another thing to consider is, rather than giant salmon steaks, what about slicing it up into more manageable chunks? That should make it quicker to cook, but would it end up making it too fussy, requiring too much attention?

My sister suggested part-baking the salmon before adding it to the frying pan and, while this would certainly increase the certainty of it being properly cooked, it would be kinda cheating.

As far as my niece's meal goes, I believe the official verdict was "it was all fine until she found a bit with jelly on it... then she just started throwing it around."

Thursday 16 September 2010

Floristán Spanish Potato Omelette

Yes, I have attained a new level in laziness, via a pre-prepared omelette. Deal with it.

Seriously, though, one of these days, I really must get round to making one of these things from scratch. It's eggs, potato, onion, olive oil and salt. You mix it up, you chuck it in a frying pan and, a few short minutes later, you have a gosh-darned tasty omelette.

This product is, according to the packaging, actually manufactured in Spain, making it a far more Spanish omelette than anything I might hope to prepare. It's a veritable Tortilla Española. So maybe that's my excuse.

Don't judge me. I've already said I'm lazy, what more do you want?

And, hey, this thing comes with Microwave instructions, but I chose to do it properly, in the frying pan, with a couple of dashes of olive oil to help it along. And some pepper. Yeah, I'm really that daring.

But it didn't stop there. I had half a sweet pepper lurking in the fridge, in danger of losing its alluring crispness, so I chopped that sucker up and threw it in the frying pan with the omelette, for a bit of stir-fry action. The instructions call for a total of about 6-8 minutes of cooking time - that's 3-4 minutes each side, since it's quite a thick product, and the heat would not properly conduct all the way through if it was only heated from one side. Adding the veg made it slightly more complicated, in that I had to wholly resist my ever-present urge to flip omelettes (is that really so unusual?) for fear of sending hot chunks of oil-smothered sweet pepper all over the place.

I'm a big fan of omelettes in general, but tend to resent all the washing up they entail (a bowl and fork for mixing, even before it starts cooking? Pur-lease!), so the convenience of a pre-made omelette that requires only re-heating is a massive bonus. It's suggested that this product can serve "3-4 as a main course, 5-6 as a snack, or makes about 25 tapas". Clearly 'tapas' means 'morsels that are tiny to the point of being insignificant', but I found this reasonably filling as a main course for one. I'd certainly buy it again, but the simplicity of its ingredients and preparation makes me feel I should at least try to make one from scratch before resorting to pre-made... and, when that day comes, I should probably add more to the stir-fry.

Or the omelette.

Y'know, one or the other.

Sunday 12 September 2010

Tesco Finest: Ham, Garlic Mushroom & Italian Marscapone Pizza

Billed as "a traditional hand stretched stonebaked base inspired from the Naples region of Italy topped with creamy white sauce, garnished with Parmesan & parsley." I would question the (lack of) punctuation in that description, but cannot argue with a full-size pizza that takes only 6-8 minutes to cook (10-12 from frozen), and tastes as good as this.

Frankly, when it comes to pizza, I'm not that imaginitive. Pepperoni is generally what I look for, followed by a decent amount of mozzarella and a fair - but not excessive - amount of tomato purée.

The presentation of this pizza is not great - with only four or five large (6-7cm square) slabs of ham, you're going to get quite a few mouthfuls that are entirely without ham unless you take the time to chop it up and redistribute prior to cooking. Strangely, though, the similarly sparse distribution of the white sauce harms the pizza very little - it melts very quickly, and just runs everywhere. Better still, it congeals very slowly - I'd more or less finished the pizza, and it was only 'thickening' rather than 'set'.

The interplay between the flavours of the main ingredients is quite well-judged: the creaminess of the Marscapone and the white sauce are not in conflict, the ham doesn't taste excessively watered-down, and the mushroom (again, large slabs of) is smooth, yet distinct. The base didn't seem particularly special to me, despite the essay on the back about its preparation, but it's certainly a cut above the likes of Pizza Hut, or the run-of-the-mill supermarket pizza.

Definitely one I'll have again. It would be advantageous to have a hotplate for something like this, to stave off the congealing of the cheese, and I probably need larger plates in general, but this is a very nice pizza.

Filet O'Fish (Fingers)

It is perhaps fitting that this, the inaugural posting in my new Blog, is nothing more than an attempt at reproducing the guilty pleasure of that late-Friday-night McDonalds. Who knows, perhaps guilty pleasures will become a running theme (*adds label*) as this Blog develops.

The idea occurred to me as I've often heard tales of fish finger sandwiches, and the McDonalds Filet O' Fish is essentially just that - a slab of battered fish (not reclaimed - possibly the only McDonald product that can make this boast), a slice of processed cheese, a dash of tartare sauce... inna bun.

So, here's where I stretch the definition of 'ingredients':
  • A Bun (any kind will do, so choose your preference. I used Kingsmill 50/50 because, you know, fibre and stuff. They're a bit small, frankly, but serviceable... and can work well if lightly toasted)
  • Fish Fingers (go for a halfway decent make, not a shop's own brand. 3-4 required, depending on the size of the bun)
  • Processed Cheese Slices (1 if it's a reasonably good make, 2 if you've gone cheapo-cheapo)
  • Tartare Sauce (any kind will do, again... but I've heard it suggested that 'home made is the best')

Preparation Time: 12 minutes
(for the fish fingers, that is. If you're dim, like me, it's worth remembering that you can actually progress the bun part of the equation while the fishy fingers are cooking, thus saving a couple of minutes at the end, during which time the fish fingers might (a) start going cold and (b) get stuck to the blasted baking tray. Damn, but I hate scraping stuff off those things.)

Tools Required (other than an oven/grill... come on, keep up!):
  • Knife (to cut the bun, unless you bought pre-cut... in which case, you're even lazier than I am for crying out loud)
  • Other Knife (with which to spread the Tartare Sauce upon the inner surface of the bun)
  • Oven Gloves
  • Spatula/Egg Turner 
  • Baking Tray

Retreive thy packet of fishy fingers from yon freezer, and read the instructions that appear thereupon. Set oven accordingly (let's assume preheating to an average of about 210degrees, with the cooking time set to about 12 minutes). Once the oven is preheated, place thy fishy fingers upon a baking tray, which can then be safely ensconced within yon furnace of food preparation.

I am assuming, by the way, that when I refer to 'fishy fingers' you're all quite aware that I'm talking about the kind that are coated in breadcrumbs or batter. If not... Ew.

With a timer set to go go off once the proper cooking time has elapsed, turn thy attention upon thy buns.

No, the ones made of bread, you fools.

Cut the bun open, to facilitate the later insertion of additional foodstuffs. Unless, again, you're using pre-cut buns. Tsk. Take one (or two) slice (or slices) of processed cheese, and lay upon the lower half of the bun. Spread a good-sized dollop of Tartare Sauce (note: one Dollop = approximately five Teaspoons, by my reckoning. Three if heaped) over the upper half of the bun. Now go off and do something else for the remaining 11 minutes of cooking time.

Upon the sounding of the alarums, retrieve the cooked, still-sizzlin' fishy fingers from the oven (this is where the oven gloves come in, folks) and collect them up with the spatula/egg turner. Transpose to bun, laying them neatly upon the processed cheese slice(s), which should begin melting in a pleasant fashion. Close bun, aiming to apply enough pressure that the Tartare Sauce bulges out the sides but does not ooze and drip. It's tricky, but you'll get there in the end. I have faith in you.

The Results:
Well, it's not exactly a Filet O' Fish, but it's a reasonable approximation. The interplay between the fish, the Tartare Sauce and the processed cheese slice(s) is subtle, depending largely on the quality of the processed cheese and, in hindsight, perhaps a firmer bun would have been preferable. Certainly tasty and quick.

The Alternatives:
I'm considering trying this with Salmon fish fingers and a Dill Sauce... but I'm not sure the processed cheese slice would still be an appropriate accompaniment. Naturally, the subject of 'salad' will come up sooner or later, and a slice of lettuce would probably work well with the Cod/Haddock varieties. Other cheeses could be used, but I'd caution against even the likes of Cheddar... Something fairly plain like Edam or Emmenthal might be agreeable.