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Thursday 21 June 2012

Recipe Books

And so it came to pass that, for my most recent birthday, I received The Little Paris Kitchen in book form.

I can confirm that it includes the recipe for the Chocolate Lava Cake (including the one with the salted caramel filling). In fact, it has all the recipes demonstrated in the TV show and loads more, broken down under well-thought out section titles (apart from one of the later ones: "My Paris addresses" is more correctly called "My favourite Paris addresses".

With any luck, I'll find the time and the inclination to try out a selection of the recipes for this 'ere blog but, out of respect for the chef/writer, I shall not be reproducing the recipes here.

I can further confirm that, yes, it does contain many, many glorious photos of Rachel Khoo.

Gentlemen, I have a feeling we'll be improving the sales figures for this particular recipe book no end.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

JPw/ Cucumber & Onion in Minty Cream Cheese

The funny thing is - and I should stress there's no particular reason for this - I've never baked potatoes.

I guess, in a way, it's just too much hassle for only a small part of a dinner. Maybe if I was already doing a roast, it'd make sense... but it's honestly taken me this long to think "Hey... I could do a jacket potato and give it a topping... That's a great snack meal!"

And so, we have the first post in what may become a new series: JPw/

I'm sure it'll be just like Last Course, in that I only do a couple...

Naturally, I had to research how to bake a potato (and, yes, that became just as ridiculous as it sounds once I'd looked it up - it really is quite simple... if time consuming). Turns out, you just kind of whack them in the oven. Who'd have thought?

The complicated part - and I use the word 'complicated' loosely - is deciding what to put on it, and how to go about preparing that. This is where I tend to lose interest: give me something I can just dump onto the potato, or I'll have something else. That's why I normally go with the all-time classic, butter. Back when I lived with my folks, and the Sunday roast was a lamb joint, I would occasionally embellish my humble baked, buttered spud with mint sauce.

So... It seems that, merely by searching for 'potato baking', one can now find recipes for toppings as well. Being me, I had neither the ingredients nor the inclination to try anything precisely as I found it, so here's what happened for the inaugural JPw/ post:

  • 2 Large Baking Potatoes
  • Olive Oil
  • Cream Cheese (150g - about half an average tub)
  • 1 Small Onion, chopped
  • Cucumber - only about an inch worth, diced
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)
  • Mint (fresh is best, but <movie_ref="Spaceballs">I used the Schwartz</movie_ref>
  • Butter (as much as you like, basically)
Preparation Time: 1.5 hours baking time, plus a couple of minutes preparation either end

Tools Required:
  • Sharp Kitchen Knife
  • Bowl
  • Spoon, for to scoop the cheese and stir
The Process:
Preheat your oven to 200C. Wash your spuds, dry them, and prick the skin a few times. One trick I learned from the interwebs was slathering the surface with olive oil all, then scattering over some salt. The theory is that it should stick to the oil but I'm sure you all know that salt likes to spread itself everywhere. Do the best you can, then just stick them directly onto an oven shelf for an hour and a half. While that's going, make a start on the topping...

First, cut a piece of cucumber, about an inch long, and dice it. I realise that's a tall order unless you're some kind of kitchen ninja - basically, all I mean is chop it into small, roughly cubic chunks. Maybe I should have just said that to start with... Next up, chop your onion. I should mention that this particular recipe is dealing with raw onion. If you have any objections, feel free to substitute with something else (peppers, maybe?), but it does work out, honest!

Scoop about 150g of cream cheese into your bowl. Full fat is always preferable and, just to make things easier, the average tub I found was 300g, so that's roughly half a tub used here. Dump in some salt and pepper, add some mint (I'm being deliberately vague with quantities here - I believe the common phrase is "to taste") and stir it all up. Add in your chopped veg and stir that in. Since this stage takes far less than an hour and a half, stick the mixture back into the fridge until the potato is ready.

First things first: Topped, baked jacket potatoes are not a quick snack. They take an hour and a half. Think carefully about making yourself a baked jacket potato if, like me, yesterday, you're only making a start on dinner after 7pm. I did this the stupid way, and made the topping up before even starting the potatoes, so I sat down to eat around 9pm. This also accounts for why there are no photos of this little dish either... I was just too darned hungry by the time the potatoes were ready.

I have to confess also that I was a little dubious of my choice to use chopped raw onion - it tends to have rather too much bite. Thankfully, the minty cream cheese and the cucumber took the edge off that quite nicely, giving the potatoes a cool, smooth-yet-crunchy topping that complemented both the crusty skin and the hot, light, fluffy innards.

Along with cheese on toast, baked jacket potatoes are a great way to make use of any silly leftovers you might have lurking in your fridge.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Classic Braised Steak with Mash by Sainsbury's

So here's the thing. Having discovered that I can actually digest beef without my stomach exacting a terrible revenge upon me, I've remained fairly cautious of which beef products I consume. Far too many of the cheap-and-cheerful options fail to meet 50% of the requirement, even those from higher-end stores. Sainsbury's Classic line impressed me with it's Bangers & Mash so, as part of one of their meal deals, I decided to pick up something different... Something with beef...

The problem with many beef dishes is that you end up with something tough and somewhat rubbery and, I'll be honest here, I wasn't expecting much from this. The packaging proclaims it "British braised steak in gravy with carrots, served with mashed potato" which, let's face it, covers everything you might want to know about the product. The image on the front is nothing special - frankly, it could feature just about any kind of meat, and it really doesn't 'sell' the contents. Based on my (still limited) experience of beef-in-gravy (largely pies, really), I predicted that the meat would be fairly chewy, and probably a little musty.

Also, let's face it, there were bound to be fatty bits.

And gristle.

At least.

Oh, gentle reader, how wrong I was.

For, you see, this doesn't use just any gravy... nor is it yer average beef gravy. Unless my taste-buds deceive me this is, in fact, something similar (though certainly not identical, going by the ingredients) to the onion gravy that featured with the aforementioned Classic Bangers & Mash... only with added chunky slices of carrot.

And the meat? Well, I'm clearly a terrible cynic when it comes to beef, because this was as close to melt-in-your-mouth as one would have any right to expect for the price. Moist and tender, I barely needed to use a knife because it basically fell apart at the merest touch from my fork... and there wasn't even a hint of mustiness.

To be honest, though, there wasn't a great deal of any flavour to the beef... it just seemed to have absorbed the flavour of the gravy. I'm sure there's meant to be a bit of give-and-take in the flavourings - the gravy picking up some of the beef flavour (it's actually made with beef stock, not that you'd notice), and the beef picking up some of the oniony goodness of the gravy. It's not all bad, though... since I'm not necessarily a big fan of the flavour of beef, it just meant I enjoyed this particular product all the more.

On the downside, it wasn't entirely wrong about the fatty bits though, in the whole meal, I only found a couple, and they were very small. There was a notable absence of gristle... which can only be a good thing.

Sainsbury's are also onto a serious winner with their mash. I'm not sure I noticed it so much with the Bangers & Mash, but the mash in this package is extremely buttery (also, it's made with double cream - "From Cows' Milk", no less), and the salt and pepper component is pitched just right for me.

The quantity is pretty much spot on for a single serving - while it's probably no more than equivalent to their Bangers & Mash (and probably less purely in terms of mass), the portion size feels sufficient: I wasn't left thinking "Y'know... I could do another round of that..." which is actually quite a common thought with me and ready meals.