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Tuesday 17 March 2015

Experiments with Gousto #3: Honey-Soy Glazed Salmon & Summing Up

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt have come to the conclusion that I'm pretty fond of salmon (always assuming I haven't already outright stated that I am). I've also tried to do a glazed salmon on two previous occasions already, and it's never quite gone according to plan. For whatever reason - whether something I'm doing wrong, or perhaps some quirk of my fan-assisted oven - a glaze never actually glazes, it always remains a liquid of approximately the same viscosity as when it first went into the oven. I was hoping that, by following this recipe, I'd break my run of bad luck but, sadly, it was not to be. The Gousto honey-soy glaze, if anything, became less viscous while in the oven... though, on the upside, it worked very well as a marinade - the salmon soaked up more than I would have expected. It is clear from this recipe that something has always been lacking in my previous preparations of a glaze, but I'll have to keep trying and experimenting with other recipes, cooking methods and timings.

On that subject, it was also nice to have a timing for the oven which actually gave the correct result - salmon which was neither undercooked and still slightly raw inside, nor overcooked and dry. I'd have to say that this was the best bit of salmon I've ever cooked - utterly melt-in-the-mouth succulent, and with a subtle kick from the honey-soy sauce and its little chunks of ginger. I even broke my tradition of scraping off the skin and leaving it on the plate, largely due to having been pleasantly surprised, not too long ago, by crispy salmon skin nori at Yo! Sushi.

This is also the first time - in my life - that I've ever made mashed potatoes from scratch. It's actually a point of some amusement (not to say outright ridicule) among both my family and my girlfriend's that I generally rely on instant mash, despite the simplicity of making it fresh. I think I did reasonably well with all the vegetable peeling required by all of these recipes, but I was especially pleased by the way the mash turned out, despite not giving it my fullest attention all the way through.

I think the mash could probably have used some more of the wasabi paste - the half-pot I used certainly added some zing, but it wasn't consistent throughout the mash. To be honest, though, by that point I was a little rushed, and I found that some of the mash had started sticking to the saucepan. Further delays to mix in more of the wasabi would probably have ended up burning some of the mash and, seriously, what kind of muppet burns mashed potato?

Courgette seemed like quite a strange addition to this allegedly Japanese cuisine (that's what it claims on the front of the card), but it's certainly no stranger than a dollop of mashed potato, with or without added wasabi paste. The instructions for chopping it up seemed counterintuitive: quarter lengthways, then cut into 3cm pieces? The card suggests there's a tutorial on Gousto's YouTube account, but the only courgette video I found was how to make it into ribbons... Perhaps the chopping video will come along later.

I did forget to sprinkle on the toasted sesame seeds at the end but, let's face it, I've made at least one cock-up on both of the other recipes, so I'm just glad it was such a minor omission on this one! It also feels like a rather stupid mistake, considering the fun I had toasting them, and watching several sesame seeds make a bid for freedom from the frying pan. I'll probably be finding the damned things all over my kitchen for the next few weeks.

The last few steps of the recipe required some overlap, and splitting my attention between the frying courgette chunks, the boiling potato chunks (and, later, the mashing of said chunks), all while keeping an eye on the time for the salmon in the oven. While I've had to split my attention between several cooking tasks in the past, I'm neither comfortable nor confident in doing so... but, on this occasion, it didn't go too wrong.

In choosing this recipe, I'd made something that was wholly for me - my girlfriend had to fend for herself on Sunday evening, so this was also a test of how well we'd work together in the kitchen while engaged on entirely separate tasks... and I think we did rather well. It did take me rather longer than it should have - I think a little over an hour rather than the estimated 40 minutes - but I suspect my speed on certain tasks would improve with practice.
Third time lucky on photos? Although my presentation is perhaps a little lacking...

So, summing up, I'd say my experience with Gousto was very positive. The step-by-step guide to each recipe was clear and easy to follow, even if some of the steps seemed to me to be out of their proper sequence. The results of each recipe are unquestionably excellent, and I'm very keen to try my hand at another set of recipes... though that'll probably have to wait until I have some time off work, because I've not once managed to keep to the estimated timing for the recipes, meaning I was eating later than usual on each occasion. Their setup - and the whole delivery angle - doesn't quite suit my current schedule/lifestyle, but I can see it being exceptionally useful to some folks, not least because it makes it so easy to break out of the rut of ready meals or excessive weekly repetition.

There were only two real problems with the three recipes I picked out for this experiment: on the very first recipe, a redundant ingredient was listed and supplied, and on that same recipe, a hole was punched in the card right in the middle of a block of text. As long as those sorts of problem are isolated incidents, Gousto is a service which is easy to recommend. Every other problem I had with the recipes was of my own making - the frequency with which I forgot to add things was a little ridiculous, and I wasn't quite prepared for some of the work required, in terms of both kitchen equipment and culinary experience.

As as aside, I may not have had a 'Fishy Friday' last week, but I had a very fishy weekend - trout for lunch and sushi (not home made) for dinner on Saturday, then salmon for dinner on Sunday. I possibly could have organised things for a bit more variety but the fishy recipes were the highlight of last week's batch from my point of view.

If you think you might fancy giving Gousto a try (and are within the UK mainland), please feel free to use my referral code GORDO45552 for an introductory discount. Yes, that also gets me a discount on my next order, but further deliveries are currently on hold while I complete this first set of recipes and consider how this system fits in with my current... erm... 'lifestyle'.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Experiments with Gousto #2: Smoked Trout & Root Slaw

This second of three recipes from Gousto required no cooking whatsoever, only chopping of veg, larking about with dill and mixing a couple of things - perfect for a quick lunch, right?

Of course, being a household which is half vegetarian (and not pescatarian), only half of this dish was suitable for both of us so, while I was busily preparing the slaw and the honey mustard and dill sauce, my girlfriend cooked herself a couple of Quorn 'Turkey' burgers to accompany her share of the slaw.

The front of the card reckons only 20 minutes to prepare this, but I suspect that was timed against someone who is (a) very good with a kitchen knife and (b) generally pretty darned quick in the kitchen. Me? I took about 40 minutes... If Gousto can create a faff-free cookbook, I can damn well put the faff back in.

I'd actually started out with a good idea: the recipe calls for the carrot and beetroot to be grated, and for the apple to be cored and diced. While I'm lacking a corer, I was able to remove the core from the apple reasonably quickly using a kitchen knife. After that, I decided to get some more experience with our mandolin and Julienne the lot, rather than faff about with a grater for some ingredients and do my usual terrible job of dicing with a knife for the rest. Either one is likely to leave me with shredded fingers, and I'd already given myself a long, shallow cut on one finger cleaning the food chopper I'd used on the mushrooms in the first recipe.

That said, I somehow managed to very nearly do myself an injury or two with the mandolin, and that takes some doing!

The instructions are clear and simple, with nothing obliterated by punched holes this time. Even so, I managed to cock up, and left the olive oil out of the honey mustard and dill sauce, despite having it standing at the ready while I was preparing everything.

Getting the dill ready can hardly be called 'faff-free'; I probably spent at least twice the time any sensible person would have taken to strip the leaves from the stalks, and my chopping of said herb would probably cause great upset to any trained chef.

Nevertheless, and yet again, this recipe survived all my culinary shortcomings and turned out rather nicely. I got a double-helping of trout into the bargain and, while mine was left in fillet form, rather than artfully flaked as per the Gousto photography, its appearance was never going to affect the flavour.

This is definitely something I want to try again, not least to get the damned honey mustard sauce right - how anyone can neglect to add one of only four ingredients in a sauce is truly beyond me, and yet that's precisely what I managed to do. That said, I'm not certain that olive oil is necessarily as common in the average kitchen as Gousto clearly believe, because that ingredient was not one of those included in the package. I reckon they would do well to reconsider that, though I suspect it would bump up the price of a box...

I'm constantly surprised by how flavoursome a salad can be, and the root slaw turned out lovely - I'm not sure I've ever eaten raw beetroot that wasn't at least pickled, so it was good to find that I enjoyed it just as much in its raw form. I didn't even add any salt or pepper as seasoning though if (when?) I do try this again, I'll certainly give that a try to see what difference it makes.

My only other thought is that there was perhaps too much dill, even if I'd made the sauce correctly and it was distributed more evenly across two separate servings of trout, in the slaw and as a garnish on two proper portions of this dish... But if the only significant complaint here is "too much dill", I think we can safely say this is a winner.

Also, it's good to know how to make a good, simple honey mustard and dill sauce (and this one is certainly both good and simple!) since that can be applied to other dishes. Likewise, the slaw can be used as part of a cold plate during summer months, and would go well with a number of other sources of protein (including, I gather, Quorn).
This time, I only managed one shot before the camera's battery died...
but I think it's a good photo this time!

If you think you might fancy giving Gousto a try (and are within the UK mainland), please feel free to use my referral code GORDO45552 for an introductory discount. Yes, that also gets me a discount on my next order, but further deliveries are currently on hold while I complete this first set of recipes and consider how this system fits in with my current... erm... 'lifestyle'.

Experiments with Gousto #1: Introduction & Mushroom Bolognese

A few weeks ago, I started seeing ads on the Tube for a couple websites which offered a service potentially very useful to those of a culinary persuasion. The idea is that you sign up and receive boxes of produce and recipes explaining what to do with said produce. Now, obviously, there's no shortage of recipe books available already, and myriad websites out there with a grand selection of recipes... but they don't supply the required ingredients in the precise quantities the recipe needs. These options basically take out all the legwork and let one concentrate on the cooking.

Because it's been absolutely ages since I did any significant cooking at home, and this blog has been languishing in deplorable neglect while I do other stuff, I figured these websites offer me the ideal opportunity to get back into cooking slowly and so, with my girlfriend out of town for a few days this last week, I thought I'd try doing myself some fully home-cooked meals.

Gousto was my first port of call - a site where one must select three meals, indicate whether they are meals for two or four, and then select a delivery date from those available (typically Wednesdays or Fridays). Of course, the very fact of the need to have ingredients delivered almost scuppered everything: I wouldn't be around to received them, so delivery had to be scheduled for a date after my girlfriend's return anyway... Consequently, we agreed that, this weekend, I'd be doing most of the cooking. For a change.

Of course, things are never that simple. While Gousto have an excellent selection of recipes, each meal is tailored either to vegetarians or omnivores. My girlfriend is vegetarian, but I'm not... and, frankly, some of their meat/fish dishes were far too tempting to pass up. I selected only one fully vegetarian dish for this experiment, then one of the others looked as though it could be adapted for a veggie (Gasp! Deviating from a recipe? Creativity?!), while the other was something I - selfishly - just had to try, so she'll have to figure something out for herself.


Gousto's produce comes very well packaged and insulated, with each component separately bagged or in small plastic tubs, all labelled as appropriate and a with detailed inventory offering 'Enjoy By' dates for each dish. This makes for very easy storage, as ingredients for each recipe can be collated and stored together, should you so desire, and organised so each recipe can be used while the produce is good and fresh. My first box came complete with a set of the three relevant recipe cards and a binder in which to store them, along with a 'Welcome' booket, a flyer showing next week's recipes (available before midnight tomorrow!) and a couple of offers from other companies.

The first recipe I tried, shortly after getting home from work yesterday, was the Mushroom Bolognese. I shan't reproduce the recipe here, just launch into how it all went...

Firstly, since it had been so long since I last did anything 'big' in the kitchen, I was feeling pretty cautious about everything. I tried to read through the whole instruction set before even starting, but misunderstood a couple of points and made a couple of mistakes - largely because I'm not at my best of a Friday evening. One side of each recipe card has a large photo of the finished dish and a full, photographic list of the ingredients required from the inventory supplied. Details on the front also include an estimated preparation time (40 minutes in this case), the origin of the recipe (Italian), its calorific, fat and protein content (completely over my head) and a rough guide to how far it fulfills one's 'Five-A-Day' (2/5, apparently).

On the reverse is a step-by-step guide to preparation, each step accompanied by a photograph of the relevant ingredients at some point in the procedure. It's written as if you complete one step before moving on to the next, though whether that's actually the intention seems doubtful considering some of the directions given. For example, preparing the linguine is a single isolated step but, in the time between completing that step and reaching the next step in which the linguine featured, it had quite successfully gummed itself together and into the colander I'd used to drain it. In practice, it may be more efficient to deal with any and all chopping before making a start on the cooking steps.

Some of the photos also left me feeling a little inadequate (quelle surprise!) due to their neat arrangements of neatly sliced and chopped and diced veg and fungi. My fingers are well trained for the use of a mouse and a keyboard... my skills with a kitchen knife are dubious at best.

One step pretty much required at least half a dozen hands as the contents of the pan had to be stirred constantly while also crumbling in a stock cube, adding tomato paste from a plastic tub, adding soy sauce from two plastic sachets, then adding a teaspoon of sugar and black pepper 'to taste'. Those last two ingredients are not supplied as, I guess, they're common enough kitchen staples... but having to grab them from their storage space while also dealing with the contents of the pan was a little tricky for me... Then again, perhaps all that means is that I need to invest a bit of time beforehand in clearing more of my worktop so everything can be placed closer to hand...

The final instruction is also a little unclear, in that it says to "stir the drained linguine through the mushroom sauce, adding the basil and cheese", while I suspect the cheese should probably only be added separately, to each portion, once served (even though the photo on the front depicts the cheese sitting on top of a large amount of the finished bolognese in what looks like a large ceramic dish). Adding it in while stirring the linguine into the bolognese meant that the cheese melted into the mixture and, inevitably, some glued itself to the pan.

One other significant problem with the instructions was the step detailed on the upper righthand side, as the hole punched through for the binder obliterates the time stated for stirring in the mushroom and garlic. I guessed five minutes (assuming a single-digit number going by the space) and that certainly had no detrimental effect on the end result.

...Which was absolutely delicious. I was glad to see the linguine loosening up as I stirred it into the sauce, and it warmed up nicely in the few final minutes of preparation. The mixture of 'grated' (thank you, Pampered Chef food chopper, though I ain't looking forward to cleaning it!) and chunkily-sliced mushroom worked nicely, the carrot and onion still had some bite to them, the basil added its subtle flavour and the cheese increased the overall richness of the dish. My girlfriend went so far as to say it was "better" than the bolognese she'd put together for a Quorn-based spaghetti thing we had last week, though that was of the more usual tomato and red wine variety, so I said there was no real comparison.

The dish takes about 40 minutes according to the recipe card but, what with one thing or another, I think it took at least an extra five minutes, despite trying to get through some of the later grating/chopping while the pasta was on the go. I still managed to serve it up piping hot, though, and it's a nice, easy recipe to start me off. Definitely something we'll try again at a later date, so these Experiments with Gousto are off to a good start.

I am, however, a little confused by the fact that the supplied balsamic vinegar is referenced on the front of the recipe card, but isn't mentioned anywhere in the instruction set, though I'm not sure where or why balsamic vinegar might be used anyway.
Sadly only one rather blurry photo of this, as I rather wanted to eat it
while it was still hot.
If you think you might fancy giving Gousto a try (and are within the UK mainland), please feel free to use my referral code GORDO45552 for an introductory discount. Yes, that also gets me a discount on my next order, but further deliveries are currently on hold while I complete this first set of recipes and consider how this system fits in with my current... erm... 'lifestyle'.