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Saturday 26 October 2013

Mojito Lime Quorn

This was a bit more experimental than some stuff I've done, but still on the simple side, because it used a ready-mixed Mojito Lime marinade, a ready-prepared salad, and ready-to-bake seasoned potato slices.

The marinade mix came from the Schwartz 'Grill Mates' line, but I chose not to follow the instructions completely (a) because this was Quorn, not meat, (b) because we didn't have all of the ingredients as listed and (c) because I'm like that, so there.

Note that these details are for the preparation of the Quorn fillets only, any accompaniment would be dealt with separately, according the the instructions on its own packaging.

  • 1 sachet Schwartz Grill Mates Mojito Lime Marinade Mix
  • 50ml Oil (I used olive oil rather than plain cooking oil)
  • 50ml White Rum 
  • 2 tbs Balsamic Vinegar (original recipe specifies white wine vinegar)
  • 2 Quorn Fillets
Preparation Time: about 30 minutes, including 15 minutes marinating time

Tools Required:
  • Wide, shallow bowl
  • Frying Pan
  • Spoon (for mixing and basting)
The Process:
Pour the oil, rum and vinegar into your shallow bowl, then add the contents of the marinade mix sachet and stir thoroughly. Add Quorn fillets to the bowl, ensuring all surfaces are covered, spooning the mixture over the fillets where necessary, then leave for at least 15 minutes to marinate. I started with frozen fillets (all I could get my hands on at the time), and the marinating time allowed them to thaw slightly before being cooked, thus reducing their cooking time slightly.

Set the hob to a medium heat, then transfer the fillets into a frying pan. Fry for about 5 minutes a side, generously spooning over more of the remaining marinade after turning. The oil in the marinade is sufficient, so no more need be added to the pan.

The seasoned potato slices I mentioned at the start were baked according to the instructions on the packaging, and were put into the oven at the beginning of the process... the salad, obviously, didn't need cooking.

The Results:
The instructions for the marinade suggest discarding all but two tablespoons of the marinade, which is used for basting halfway through the cooking time. This strikes me as rather wasteful... then again, frying the Quorn fillets made it far easier to pour on additional marinade during the cooking process, so I was probably a bit trigger-happy with it. What can I say, I like a good, thick coating on meat, so I figured it'd be especially important on Quorn, which has very little discernible flavour of its own.

The results would be very different on any kind of meat or seafood, with much of the eventual flavour coming from the meat, regardless of how long it's marinated. With Quorn you get a sweet, sharp coating that isn't quite 'mojito' because the rum doesn't come through very well - either it doesn't mix in well or it was just burnt off in the frying pan. It's possible that balsamic vinegar has too strong a flavour in its own right for this recipe, but it certainly did the finished product no harm.

It turned out very well for such a simple process, and I'm very likely to try this again using Quorn nuggets, or possibly using the alternative recipe, for 'Honey Lime Marinade', which switches the vinegar for lime juice and the rum for honey. At the very least, the next time I try this mix, I'll try leaving the Quorn to marinate overnight, so it absorbs more of the flavour. Quorn, being rather more porous than most meat, will most likely end up completely saturated... which shouldn't be a bad thing...

Quick Pie Roundup

A selection of boxed pies under special offer turned up at my local Morrisons a couple of weeks back (yes, it's taken me that long to write about them - they were eaten very quickly). The range is called 'Pie in the Sky' and, while the packaging is all bright colours and fun cartoons, it doesn't list a website or even a Facebook page... pretty strange for a new product which is otherwise unique and stylish. In fact, the packaging doesn't even go into any great detail about the makers, Kerry Foods Ltd. Still, that's just a weird choice about advertising rather than anything important about the product, and it just means I can't add a link to them for convenience.

I picked up three different pies from a selection of four or five on the shelves and tried them out over the course of a week, either on their own as a quick snack lunch, or with a selection of veg for dinner.

Cluck & Sizzle
Contained within a box sporting a cute cartoon of a pig and a chicken, this is - no surprises - a chicken and bacon pie. It claims smoked bacon on the packaging, and the meat is in a white wine sauce. The pastry is nice and light, not overly stodgy or dry, but the filling is a bit of a mixed bag. It quickly becomes clear that the white wine sauce is probably the largest component in the pie, and the filling is very liquid. There are a fair few chicken pieces of a reasonable size, but the bacon comes in tiny shavings, none larger than a grain of rice, and it's not exactly plentiful. What little is there tastes good but is pretty much overwhelmed by the white wine sauce, so I honestly couldn't tell whether it tasted like smoked bacon or not. The chicken comes out better - it has good flavour in and of itself (unusual enough for chicken, let alone in a sauce, in a pie) and the sauce complements it well. The sauce has a good, rich flavour to it, but it's far too runny for this kind of pie, especially when there's so little meat in there.

Overall, it's very much a case of 'could do better', particularly where the shameful dearth of bacon is concerned. I'd expected good, hearty chunks of bacon (most likely with large amounts of fat, but beggars can't be choosers) rather than the crumbs floating in a sea of white wine sauce. More meat overall would have been a better complement to the quality of the sauce.

Moo Achoo
Long-term readers of this humble blog will no doubt be aware of my scepticism toward anything claiming to be spicy, and that seems to extend to 'peppered steak'. More often than not, any seasoning would get overwhelmed by the sauce but, thankfully, not so here. The contents of this pie are described as 'tender braised beef with cracked black pepper and onion in a rich sauce', and it hits the mark perfectly. The chunks of beef are nice and large (with no discernible fatty bits in the pie I tried), but pepper is very nearly the dominant flavour (albeit far from sneeze-inducing). The onion is softened to the point where it's almost undetectable, other than in the subtle bite it ads to the flavour of each mouthful. The sauce is definitely rich - not to mention much thicker than the white wine sauce in 'Cluck & Sizzle' - but it's essentially just a garden variety gravy. Also, perhaps because the makers didn't think there was enough pepper in the sauce, there's a sprinkling on the pie crust as well.

This was my favourite of the three pies, largely because the plentiful chunks of beef were so well complemented by the thick oniony, superbly peppery sauce. It's very warming and very filling.

Hot Cow
This pie - billed as 'hot chilli seasoned minced beef with kidney beans in a spicy tomato sauce' - I'm in two minds about. One the one hand, it seemed to be literally filled to the brim, and that is quite rare for packaged pies these days. The filling appears to be proportionally more minced beef than anything else, and it's very well seasoned, so as to be hot without being eyewatering. On the other hand, it's not very successful as 'chilli' because the bean content is extremely low, and the tomato sauce would be pretty bland were it not for the seasoned meat.

It's certainly filling, and as a component of a larger dinner it's excellent. It's just the right level of spiciness to go well with whatever you'd normally serve with a beef pie, but will go equally well with more heavily seasoned accompaniments.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

More-ish Mushroom & Rice (BBC GoodFood 'One Pot' Recipe)

One of the things my girlfriend and I are trying to do as much as possible at the weekends is properly cooking our meals rather than relying on takeaways, restaurants and ready meals. The trick is that I'm a carnivore and she's vegetarian, so it has to be something that can have meat thrown in at the end, or something with enough flavour that I can live without meat. To make things easier, we both have a selection of recipe books - some veggie, some not - so there are plenty of existing recipes we can try before getting all experimental.

This recipe comes from BBC/GoodFood's '101 More One-Pot Dishes', which is why I'm linking to that rather than doing my usual list of ingredients, then all the details of how it was made. Instead, I'll just deal with a few brief bits, then end on a nice, large photo.

Making this from scratch was probably the first time I've had any significant exposure to the concept of using fresh herbs rather than dried and, while I could certainly taste the difference, the fact that fresh herbs start wilting within a couple of days of purchase means I'm unlikely to start buying them regularly. I did have a small herb basket hanging outside my kitchen window, but haven't replanted since the first crop died, unharvested, and it's now overgrown with weeds. It's also worth noting that I'm not a fan of tinned tomatoes of any kind, so it was pretty strange - I won't glorify my neuroses by using a word like 'daring' - for me to try this recipe.

The end result is very sticky rice which has absorbed plenty of flavour from the veg while leaving the peppers, onion and mushrooms with enough texture that you don't feel like you're eating a very thick rice-based soup. I'm not sure that the specified amount of rosemary is quite enough unless you get creative with other spices, but it certainly adds something to the few mouthfuls it turns up in, and the parsley garnish brings a welcome crispness. It's also surprisingly sweet - or possibly not surprising considering it contains fried onions, peppers and tomato - so that should be kept in mind if adding anything to the mix, particularly with meat.

It's a ridiculously simple recipe - the most complicated part is seeding and slicing the peppers - takes less than an hour (particularly when made by two pairs of hands), and creates about four portions worth, so any spare can be refrigerated for another time. It's also very adaptable - you can start with multi-coloured peppers, add other herbs and spices, some meat or, as we tried for lunch the next day, stir-fry it with some egg for a bit of extra protein.

Monday 14 October 2013

Last Course: Chocolate Macaroon Kit by Sainsbury's

Macaroons have become quite popular in recent years. Rarely have I attended a fan convention without finding dozens of stands inexplicably selling cupcakes, macaroons and other assorted fancies. Thusfar, while I've attempted various kinds of cake, I haven't made any smaller, lighter sugar-packed treats... Which is just weird, for me...

Since I tend to be fairly lazy in the kitchen, I'm a big fan of ready-mixes like Wright's flours and things like this kit by Sainsbury's (though I should mention at this point that a Delia Smith Christmas cake kit from 2011 2010 was 'unearthed' from the Stygian depths of my cupboards this last weekend, so make of that what you will!) as they remove the necessity for lots of careful measuring and a good portion of the mixing. The instructions tend to be minimalistic and optimistic, but they're certainly sufficient, and any mistakes made the first time round can easily be fixed on future attempts.

This kit was picked up by my girlfriend before she went home for the summer, but we only got round to making our macaroons this last weekend.

  • 1 Sachet Macaroon Mix
  • 1 Sachet Icing Mix
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 50g Butter
  • 1tbsp Milk
Preparation Time: about 45-50 minutes... Longer if whisking by hand

Tools Required:
  • Piping Bag (included in kit, but it's only a basic, paper one... use your own if you prefer)
  • 2 Small/Medium Mixing Bowls
  • Whisk (one of the electric variety may be preferable - there be meringue-making involved in this recipe!)
  • Spoon
  • Baking Tray
  • Greaseproof Paper
The Process:
As with the Salted Caramel Cupcake Kit, the instructions are pretty good - on one side of the box, there's a simplified version with diagrams, on the other is a set of concise, step-by-step text instructions... But what the hell, why not write them out in my own way..? And with my own experiences of the process added to spice things up!

To begin with, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Bear in mind that the instructions reckon on producing twenty four macaroons (12 sandwiches, that is), starting with a 3cm diameter blob of mix, so it needs to be a fairly large baking tray. My oven isn't exactly massive, but I'd have thought it was about average... and yet I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to fit 24 blobs of the macaroon mix onto one of my baking trays... I probably should have used more than one, just to make it easier.

Separate the whites from the two eggs into one of the bowls (disposing of the yolks - they're not needed), then beat with a hand- or electric whisk. We tried using a hand blender for this, and I can confidently report that, unless you have a more whisk-like attachment to replace the usual blade, a hand blender is a terrible idea for making meringue - I ended up with a surface layer of light froth and a rather vile, bubbly white liquid underneath... and used a whole box of eggs in determining that whisking by hand was the only viable option until I get myself a proper electric whisk. Doing it by hand is incredibly tiring (as previously mentioned), and it took the two of us a good 15-20 minutes to do the 3 minutes of whisking listed in the simplified instructions. The end result should be stiff, and able to form good, stable peaks.

The instruction for adding the macaroon mix isn't the clearest: 'with a spoon, slowly fold the mix into the egg white'. For clarity, I'd recommend adding the mix a little at a time, folding it in thoroughly before adding more. It has to be done slowly to avoid ruining the meringue... It is just bubbly egg white, after all - burst all the bubbles and your mixture will be useless.

Once all the macaroon mixture is folded in, decant all of it into a piping bag and chop off the end. The one provided is basically made of thick, coated paper and isn't exactly easy to use unless you're an expert in origami - the paper won't always fold the way you'd want it to once the mixture is in there, and you're trying to squeeze it out the end. Squeeze out the mixture onto the lined baking tray, aiming to get something like 24 evenly-sized, well-spaced blobs. It was around this point I started wondering if the meringue was quite ready when I started folding in the mix, or if perhaps I'd gone too quickly. The completed mix was still very bubbly, but it was also extremely fluid, spreading out on the tray so that a 3cm blob (as recommended in the instructions) rapidly became 5cm.

Note that it's not necessary to preheat the oven for this recipe - you only turn the oven on once you're ready to use it because, initially at least, it needs to be cold, warming up slowly. With the baking tray in the oven, set the heat to 50C, and leave it for about 20 minutes, then increase the temperature to about 150C for 15 minutes more.

Once baked, take the macaroons out and allow them to cool fully before removing them from the grease proof paper. Here, again, we found our macaroons were possibly not quite right. Not only had they basically merged into one giant conjoined macaroon, they'd stuck fast to the tray lining all around the edges and were still rather gummy in the centres. We managed to create something like 19 blobs, and a good few of them didn't really want to separate from the grease proof paper. Whether they could have done with a little longer in the oven, or whether it was another sign that my mixing wasn't quite up to scratch, I'm not sure...

The icing is a simple case of mixing 50g of butter (which should come out of the fridge early enough that it's nice and soft for mixing) with a tablespoon of milk and the entire contents of the icing mix sachet. The butter should be mixed around a bit before anything else is added, to ensure it's smooth and easy to stir. The end result should be a nice, smooth paste, which is then spooned onto one macaroon and sandwiched with another.

Lastly, collect the macaroons onto a tray or plate and refrigerate until you're ready to eat them. Which will probably be immediately so try to restrain yourself for... I dunno, maybe half an hour or so?

The Results:
This humble blog has a long history of producing things that are gloriously cock-eyed or, as I prefer to put it, "lovingly hand-made", and these macaroons are no exception. Attempting to separate them from the grease proof paper led to much breakage and crumbling, but we managed to make nine whole macaroons... Some may have been reconstructed with pieces, using the icing as a convenient 'glue', some may have been seasoned with small strips of grease proof paper, but all were edible.

I really do think that either more whisking or the use of an electric whisk would improve the look of them... and/or possibly a touch more caution when folding in the macaroon mix... but, while broad and flat, the macaroons were quite light, if rather sticky. The icing tasted strangely buttery, but not unpleasantly so. It's entirely possible that leaving the box in my cupboard for a couple of months left the icing mix in less than optimum condition but, let's be honest, it's just sugar and cocoa powder. Perhaps, next time I make some of these, I'll use some extra to give it a more bitter and punchy chocolate flavour.
Neither small, nor perfectly formed... and three fewer than Sainsbury's reckoned

Grilled Halloumi & Mushroom Burgers

One of the most interesting things about having a vegetarian girlfriend is the clever and creative spin that gets applied to food whenever we cook together. It's tempting to think that vegetarians 'must be missing out' on certain kinds of foods but, even without the likes of Quorn and Tofu, there are many ways to get the feel of common dishes with all manner of wholesome substitutes. Some I'm familiar with, having gone through an almost vegetarian phase myself but, coming from a family of unabashed carnivores, most meals were very meat-oriented.

I'm familiar with several different kinds of 'veggie burgers', too, but I'd never considered the humble mushroom as the main player in a quick, simple and very tasty variation on the cheeseburger.

  • 2 Crusty Bread Rolls
  • 2 Large Flat Mushrooms (ideally Portobello)
  • Small pack of Halloumi
  • Small pack of Spinach
  • Olive Oil
  • Herbs/Spices/Seasonings, as preferred
Preparation Time: About half an hour

Tools Required:
  • A Sharp Knife (to cut both the bread rolls and the Halloumi, and to lop off the mushroom stalks if they're too long)
  • That's about it
The Process:
This one's fairly simple, relying mostly on looking in on the grill regularly to check the progress of the mushrooms and halloumi. Mushrooms, it should be noted, will release an awful lot of moisture while grilling, and may need to be drained/squeezed (by pressing down on them with a fish slice or tongs, for example) to ensure the burger buns don't end up as soggy lumps.

To begin, preheat your grill to about 200C. Wash the mushrooms, chop off the stalks, then lightly score the domes of the mushrooms. Drizzle olive oil over the mushrooms and rub it in. Cut the Halloumi into slices about 1cm thick, ensuring there's enough to cover each burger.

The Halloumi will need about 5 to 10 minutes under the grill, while the mushrooms tend to need 15 to 20 minutes and will need to start dome-upwards. Both will need to be turned about halfway through their grilling time. Once flipped, sprinkle over whatever herbs, spices and seasoning you feel like adding to the Halloumi, noting that salt shouldn't be required as it's a fairly salty cheese as standard.

While the grilling is in progress, cut the rolls and prepare them with your desired salad, condiments and whatever else you like to add to a burger. One suggestion was to add spice mixes made by a certain chain of chicken restaurants into mayonnaise, or even use the spice mixes on the mushrooms/Halloumi themselves.

Once the grilling is complete, pile the mushrooms and cheese slices into the buns and devour mercilessly.

The Results:
There's no doubt in my mind that large mushrooms such as the Portobello are meaty enough to serve as a burger. These were made with only the barest additional seasoning, so the flavours of the mushroom, cheese and spinach were clean and prominent in every mouthful. Crusty rolls are preferable simply because, however well you drain your mushrooms during and after grilling, a certain amount of fluid will remain, and it will begin to soak into the buns. Standard burger buns would end up saturated and dripping far too quickly.

It's not often I'll cook something entirely vegetarian when I'm eating on my own, but this is quick and simple enough - as well as tasty and filling enough - to experiment with when I'm otherwise stuck for ideas for a straightforward and satisfying lunch.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Greggs Iceland Exclusive Bakes

The collaboration between Greggs and Iceland is leading to quite a range of products, both savoury and sweet. With between two to four pieces per box, and almost all products costing a mere £1.50 (Cornish Pasties cost £2 for two), they present excellent value for money as either part of a large dinner or small lunchtime snacks. Most of them are fairly standard fare - ham and cheese, chicken or beef in a puff pastry casing - but these two in particular caught my eye... and the reasons couldn't be more different...

Spicy Chicken & Pepperoni Bakes
I'm sure I've mentioned how dubious I am when foodstuffs - particularly of the frozen variety - claim to be 'spicy' or 'fiery'. Almost without fail, they are disappointing in that they lack basic flavour and any spiciness is mild at best. I mean, pepperoni is supposed to be spicy, but it very rarely is. I picked these up fully expecting to be completely disappointed, but I was surprised to find it was actually pretty spicy. Not just 'pepperoni spicy', either... it was more like chorizo.

The pastry is more or less the usual frozen Greggs stuff, coming out light, fluffy and crumbly. The filling isn't exactly overflowing, but nor is it as meagre as some of the others in the range. The chicken pieces are of a reasonable size, and the pepperoni pieces are certainly identifiable, but neither are as plentiful as the photo on the packaging suggests - it's the usual trick of pushing all the filling to one side to make it look full.

A suggestion on the box is that these can be served with potato wedges (and some kind of salsa, if the photo is anything to go by) to turn it into a 'proper meal'. I might be tempted to add something else, were I to go that route... Some sort of veg, perhaps, so it's not quite such a stodge-fest..?

Sausage & Bean Melts
Iceland has a very dubious product in its 'own brand' line called 'Cheesy Beans & Sausage', and this is essentially the Greggs version. There's no potato filler, it just gets wrapped up in puff pastry. What you have is a jumble of sausage pieces, probably about a dozen baked beans and a few shavings of cheese, all mixed up in the usual kind of tomato sauce you'd get from the average tin of beans. Of all the Greggs bakes I've tried, this filling was probably the most miserly and, again, the photo clearly involves some kind of artistic license with the quantity of filling.

The filling tastes pretty much as you'd expect - if you dislike any of the components (it's the beans, right?), you're likely to find them revolting, but I'm no stranger to these kinds of things - and it goes fairly well with the pastry. Thing is, it's only an egg and two slices of bacon away from an All-Day Breakfast Melt, so it's puzzling that the serving suggestion is to slap it on a plate with some mashed potato. The photo is rather ambiguous, too - it could be showing mash or scrambled egg with the generous dollop of ketchup.

My usual strategy for these things is to have an entire 2-pack for lunch (unless I'm not especially hungry) so as to avoid the large cardboard boxes occupying all that space in my freezer for too long, and to avoid the necessity to figure out some kind of accompaniment. Since my expectation for these bakes was that they'd be quite bland, all they needed to do was fill the lunchtime hole in my stomach. The Chicken & Pepperoni ones were a pleasant surprise, but the Sausage & Bean bakes met my expectations precisely which, in this case, isn't necessarily a good thing. Neither is a product I'd rush out to buy again - at least, I haven't bought any more since - but the former is one to remember for those times when I have virtually nothing in my freezer that isn't made of potato, while the latter probably counts as a form of comfort food.