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Thursday 27 October 2016

Smoked Haddock Paella (sort-of à la Slimming World)

I'd like to call it a tradition that I cook dinner while I'm off work but, over the last couple of years, Courtney and I have usually been doing something - like taking a holiday - which means there's actually not much of an opportunity to cook, and when I'm off work due to illness, cooking couldn't be further from my mind. This week - coming at a bad time for going away - has presented the first good opportunity (other than, y'know, every frickin' weekend) for me to get back into the kitchen and prepare some meals from scratch... But it didn't happen without a struggle. We'd talked about it a while back but, in the run-up to the week, Courtney became reluctant to pick meals for me to cook. I had previously become a little stressed during other stints in the kitchen and she felt that she wanted to spare me the upset.

Nevertheless, a handful of recipe suggestions were eventually teased out of her and, on the Wednesday, I tried my hand at an adaptation of a 'Syn-Free' Slimming World recipe for a vegetarian/vegan paella, with a bit of fish added because we happened to have it in the freezer, otherwise unused. There were a couple of other changes to the recipe, so I'll give this the full write-up...

  • Smoked Haddock (a couple of small fillets should be enough)
  • Onion (one of a decent size is sufficient, to be sliced)
  • Garlic (a couple of cloves, to be crushed)
  • Peppers (one red, one yellow, to be sliced)
  • Tomatoes (four, to be sliced - the original recipe specifies plum tomatoes, but I used the normal kind)
  • Lemons (one to be juiced, one to be cut into wedges)
  • Peas (200g, frozen)
  • Artichoke Hearts (one 400g tin - equating to about 240g of artichoke when drained)
  • Arborio Rice (largely because we couldn't find anything called 'Paella Rice', 350g)
  • Paprika (2 teaspoons)
  • Cumin (1 teaspoon)
  • Turmeric (half teaspoon)
  • Saffron (just a pinch, however one measures that...)
  • Vegetable Stock Cubes (3 should be sufficient, to be dissolved in about a litre of water)
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste) 
  • Cooking Oil (to lubricate the wok in the initial stages)
Preparation Time: About an hour, less if you're better at slicing and chopping - or generally more organised - than I am

Tools Required:
  • 1 Large Wok or Frying Pan
  • 1 Saucepan (large enough to comfortably accommodate 1 litre of boiling water)
  • 1 Kitchen Knife
  • 1 Mandoline (because it makes slicing the onion far easier on the eyes)
  • 1 Garlic Press
  • Miscellaneous receptacles to contain the ingredients prior to adding to the wok
  • 2 Stirring Implements (one for the wok, one for the stock)
The Process:
This is one of those recipes where it pays to prepare in advance. Before even firing up the hob, I cooked the two haddock fillets (thawed overnight in the fridge, then approximately 5 minutes in the microwave, breaking halfway to drain the excess water, and then removing the skin and flaking the fish at the end), mixed up the spices in a small bowl (since it's easier to mix in the paprika, cumin, turmeric and saffron evenly if they're already mixed up and ready to be dumped into the wok) and chopped up all the veg. While I would never say that I've got chopping things down to a fine art, I do find it easy enough to deseed and slice up things like peppers. Slicing things like onions has become far easier for me since we acquired a mandoline (the Chef'n Pull'n'Slice mandoline from Lakeland, specifically) but, even so, I had to cover over the onion slices once finished to avoid getting all weepy. The tomatoes were slightly more complicated to slice up because they also needed to be deseeded, and that's the gooiest portion of the tomato. On the upside, none of the slicing needs to be especially fine, and all I did with the artichoke hearts was drain them and halve them. I made a lot of extra washing up by using bowls and plates to store things once prepared, so I could simply line them up and add them into the wok as I progressed. The frozen peas were measured out, then stored in the fridge till needed. One of the lemons was juiced, while the other, which only needed cutting into wedges, was set aside.

I also dealt with the stock before the main part of the cooking, putting just over a litre of water into a saucepan, dropping in the three vegetable stock cubes and bringing it to the boil. Stirring occasionally to help the stock cubes break up, I then made a start on the main event.

The wok received a spraying of cooking oil before turning on the hob to a medium heat. As a side note, I'm slowly learning how to set temperature levels on the hob - high and low being obvious, but 'medium' sitting somewhere below the median - so just about every stage of this recipe proceeded as intended. First into the wok were the sliced onion and the crushed garlic, these being cooked gently - and kept on the move to prevent them sticking to the wok - till the onions started turning golden (a little over five minutes). I did splash a spoonful or two of the stock in early as I suspect I didn't spray in quite enough cooking oil.

Next up came the peppers, with the whole lot continuing to stir-fry for about another five minutes. The next stage starts out with a flurry of activity before settling down for a long simmer: the tomatoes, rice (added dry) and the spice mix go in next, along with a small amount - about a tablespoon or so - of the lemon juice and then stirred up. The final part of this stage is adding the stock and, since I wasn't quite sure of myself on this point, I ended up adding it gradually rather than all at once. I ended up not using all of it, as the extra was just a precaution, but very little was left over. This then needs to simmer down for around a quarter of an hour or so, to allow the rice to absorb water and cook. It's worth giving it all a stir once in a while, as I did find that my rice sank to - and then stuck to - the bottom of the wok.

The final stage starts by adding the frozen peas and chopped artichoke, then simmering for another ten minutes or so, leaving you with something resembling paella, rather than a chunky vegetable soup - you want it moist, but not waterlogged. The last thing to be added to the wok, preferably in the last couple of minutes before serving, is the flaked haddock. After that, it's simply a case of serving up, seasoning to taste, then chopping the remaining lemon into wedges to squeeze over the top.

The Results:
Given the time I'd put in to preparation before I started, I was pleased to find this all progressed very smoothly. Because my worktop space is fairly limited, I'd dotted bowls and plates around the available space, piling them up as I emptied them into the wok. My biggest concern was getting the hob temperature right for boiling off the excess water to ensure the correct texture/viscosity in the end result, but the only problem with the simmering stage was that I didn't keep the rice moving, so quite a bit ended up as a congealed, crispy mass at the bottom of the wok... but even that wasn't a complete disaster, as Courtney likes crispy congealed rice.

The original Slimming World version of this recipe suggests garnishing with shredded parsley, but that's not something we tend to have in stock as it's not something we use a great deal of - it seems like a huge waste to buy some only to tear up a small amount to sprinkle over something like this. I seasoned mine only very slightly - a little salt and a touch of pepper - as I wanted to try it with as little extra flavouring as possible. I was a little concerned, for example, that smoked haddock might have too strong a taste in its own right, but that turned out OK - blending in without losing its own flavour. While the tomato pretty much fell apart, becoming part of the sauce and leaving only the strips of skin, the other veg held together well, maintained some of their bite and kept their individual flavours to a degree. Adding a squeeze of lemon juice didn't do much, and I suspect a sprinkle of fresh parsley may have been a worthwhile addition after all. I'm not entirely sure what the difference is between 'paella rice' and the arborio rice I used, but I can't imagine the results would have been massively improved by using the 'correct' rice.

Aside from all the preparation work and small amount of waste due to the rice getting stuck to the bottom of the wok, this was a simple recipe that turned out very well and restored some of my kitchen confidence. The recipe in the book isn't exactly comprehensive, assuming a certain amount of experience, but I was able to read between the lines and keep things progressing, without getting stressed out by re-reading the same lines over and over, trying to discern what I might be missing.

This is, at heart, a vegetarian dish, so it would be perfectly acceptable in its unadulterated form, yet it could easily support other white fish, or perhaps a full-on meaty component... as long as it's not something too strongly flavoured in its own right.

The quantities specified are meant to serve four, but we both had fairly generous servings, and Courtney took the leftovers for today's lunch. She had it cold, and reported that it was still quite flavourful, though she felt a bit of extra salt and pepper would have improved it, and hadn't taken any with her. She also reckoned it had reached the consistency where it could be turned into rice balls or patties, so that's perhaps something to investigate further in future.
Snapped prior to the addition of a little salt and pepper...

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Birds Eye "Stir Your Senses" Tagliatelle con Porcini

Having singularly failed to note the sixth anniversary of this blog (12th September), despite setting a reminder in my phone and receiving several prompts from my girlfriend, I actually have a good opportunity for a quick post this evening. Courtney would normally be out at a Slimming World meeting on a Monday evening, so there's a good chance there will be several ready meal/quick snack posts coming up (not to mention an under-discussion post about Slimming World, if only so I can joke at length about how it comes across as some kind of cult whenever anyone I know talks about it, and there are quite a few Slimming Worlders at work).

The upshot of this is that I was recently vaguely organised and picked myself up one of Birds Eye's new "Stir Your Senses" collection - a range of seven ready-to-cook-from-frozen, bagged meals for one which take about ten minutes (or less) to cook. Given that I generally get home too late to start cooking anything substantial from scratch, that's a very tempting prospect, and I'm always happy to try out something that purports to go from freezer to plate in a very short time and by a very simple process. That is, after all, just one raison d'être for this blog.

According to the packaging, this particular bag invites one to "Be inspired by the truly magical tastes of Tuscany. Our chefs have combined ribbons of fresh egg pasta in a delicately light creamy sauce and the earthy richness of porcini and champignon mushrooms". The cooking process described is nothing more than emptying the contents of the bag into a non-stick pan or wok with two or three tablespoons of water, heating on high until the frozen bricks of sauce begin to melt, then turning the heat down for the remainder of the 7-8 minutes cooking time. The full duration depends mostly on how thick one wants the sauce to be or, at least, a fine balance between that and how hungry one is to begin with. The most complicated part is remembering to keep stirring once the sauce has fully melted, lest the pasta start to stick to the outer edges of the pan/wok. Once the desired consistency of sauce it achieved, the contents of the pan are simply decanted onto the desired receptacle for eating.

I have to say I was very surprised by this - not only was the process of cooking it precisely as quick and simple as the packaging suggests - granted, it's only barely more involved than simply chucking something into the oven for a few minutes at a particular temperature, but it's been a while since I've done much of anything in the kitchen - but it didn't take much effort to ensure it didn't go horribly wrong. I was worried initially that some of it might burn at (or to) the bottom of the pan before the rest had even thawed, but a small amount of stirring kept everything under control. Not only that, but it was a remarkably tasty meal - one tends to expect that mushrooms, in particular, cooked from frozen, will be soggy and pretty much flavourless, but the subtly nutty flavour was not overwhelmed by the plentiful and creamy sauce and their texture retained a certain firmness. The real hero of the dish, though, was the onion, which offset the sweetness of the sauce and added a pleasant bite. If I had a complaint, it would be that the size of this 'Meal for 1' was rather smaller than I'd prefer, but I know I tend to be a bit of a porker. It's likely a healthier portion size than I'd serve myself if I was cooking something like this from scratch.

Looking over the rest of the range, there aren't many others that I'm especially keen to try - "chef inspired" they may be (whatever that's supposed to mean), but they're not incredibly varied or imaginative. Four are Italian-styled pasta-based dishes, the other three involve chicken and one of those adds prawns - one of my culinary bêtes noires. Nevertheless, they have apparently been awarded 'Product of the Year' in a 2016 consumer survey of product innovation, and it's not hard to see why - the simple presentation (bagged rather than boxed, making them somewhat more convenient to store in the freezer compartment of an average fridge freezer) along with the fact that it's so simple to prepare and so surprisingly tasty mean that such plaudits are well-deserved. I'd certainly grab one of these again if I need a quick dinner, and may yet try other options in the range.

I'll also add this to the list of meals I'd like to try cooking from scratch, at some point...

Monday 4 July 2016

Kanikama Luxury Sushi Collection

I'm quite a fan of sushi, as long-time readers may be aware, so when I popped into my local Iceland today and discovered they now stock a seemingly heretical frozen variety, I was surprised, not to say utterly dumbfounded.

But this is occasionally a blog about convenience foods as well as about making things from scratch, and this appears to be a convenience food (until you read the instructions, that is). It's also a rare day that I'll say no to the idea of eating sushi.

The first thing to remember about sushi is that, ideally, it's prepared fresh, and preferably right in front of you. Most folks in the UK with experience of sushi will have eaten in at the likes of Yo! Sushi, though London is certainly not lacking proper sushi restaurants. The very idea of freezing this form of Japanese cuisine is surely anathema to those who spend years training to prepare it in a restaurant, but I'm hardly going to let that stop me, am I?

Well played, Iceland - challenge accepted.

And so, first, we address the elephant in the room, the disparity, the downright oxymoron that is 'fresh frozen'. The Kanikama Luxury Sushi Collection describes itself as "Authentic Hand Crafted Sushi" and, more specifically "Ready to eat cooked rice with raw salmon, cooked shrimp, crab flavour surimi, wasabi, soy sauce and vegetables." The basic instruction is to "Defrost & Serve", but therein lies the first problem. According to the detailed instructions, it takes 2-3 hours to defrost the product "at room temperature" (and one has to wonder which room, and at what time of year they use for their definition of 'room temperature'). Alternatively - and especially for high summer - the set can be defrosted by storage in the fridge, but this takes between 6-8 hours, followed by 5-10 minutes at room temperature. For those who just can't wait, it can also be defrosted in the microwave, in about 2 minutes on Medium power... followed by 10-15 minutes at room temperature.

All the while, the condiments - wasabi paste, soy sauce and pickled ginger strips - must be defrosted separately "under cold running water for 5-10 minutes" or "at room temperature for 20-30 minutes"... so, even when using a microwave, this is hardly a quick snack. It's also worth noting that the instructions basically caution against using a microwave, on the grounds that it's likely to start cooking the salmon which, as everyone but Sainbury's seems to know, is not what you do with sushi. I used the microwave for mine as I didn't fancy waiting 2-3 hours for my dinner when I got home this evening, and I must confess to deliberately overdoing it in the microwave, just to ensure it was properly thawed.

The end result, perhaps surprisingly, is not as vile as one might expect. The rice isn't waterlogged, the fish has a decent texture though it's very light on flavour versus what you might experience in a restaurant. The salmon is ridiculously easy to overcook by microwave thawing, but that's true of just about any piece of frozen salmon you'd care to risk defrosting in a microwave.

In each pack, you get 3 California Pinwheels (small rolls with seemingly random content), 3 Salmon Nigiri (fairly bland, but not offensively so), 2 Shrimp Nigiri (never my favourite, not least because of the tails), 1 Salmon Hosomaki (which looked suspiciously blobby) and 1 Surimi Hosomaki (essentially fake crabstick pieces in a seaweed-wrapped roll). It's a decent selection, but presents only a light snack for one. The set also includes its own chopsticks, for convenience, and, while there's a reasonable quantity of wasabi (which was, for my preference, of better than reasonable quality), the sachet of soy sauce was insufficient, and hand to be topped up from my own supply. I didn't try the pickled ginger because I'm not a fan... and because I accidentally left it in the packaging during the microwave thawing, so it ended up a bit soggy.

I certainly wouldn't recommend this to anyone as an introduction to sushi. Please, try it first made properly fresh from a halfway decent restaurant (or, failing that, Yo! Sushi). For a sushi connoisseur, this would probably be inadequate in every sense, if not outright insulting... but, for £3, this is certainly better than I'd expected. I'm not sure I'll ever choose to have it again, given that I work near a Yo! Sushi and have access to the myriad sushi restaurants in and around London, but I suppose it's nice to know it's available in Iceland's cabinets, should one find oneself craving a better brand of junk food.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Rouleaux Niçois/Cannelloni Niçoise-Style (à la Khoo)

Another of my little whims while on holiday around Easter was to leaf through Rachel Khoo's delightfully quirky recipe book, 'My Little French Kitchen' for something reasonably simple, but more complicated than the Croque Madame Muffins I tried last time (being almost four years ago now). I've actually tagged about a dozen things that I intend to try but, on this occasion, wanted something not too taxing, but still reasonably adventurous.

Since I quite like Italian food, but the closest I've ever come to actually cooking it from scratch is that staple of the single man's repertoire, Spag Bol (which isn't even really Italian), I thought I'd try this French take on an Italian dish. The recipe called for the purchase of fresh ingredients - even, for preference, fresh lasagne sheets - but, thankfully, didn't require an awful lot of chopping.

Back when I did those Croque Madame Muffins, I noted that the instructions in 'My Little French Kitchen' aren't always presented in the most logical - or strictly chronological - order and, yet again, I fell foul of this foible when working through this recipe. I did most of the prep work in advance, as I strive to do as often as possible, but there was a rather critical instruction regarding the lasagne that is placed as a footnote to the recipe, in smaller type, which I shall quote here:
Les petites astuces - tips if your lasagne sheets are a little dry, pop them in a bowl of boiling water for 30 seconds or so. When they are supple, drain them and pat dry with kitchen towel or a clean tea towel.
Now, considering that 'fresh lasagne' sheets, as bought from most supermarkets, are typically pretty dry, one would tend to think an instruction like that isn't merely one of 'the little tricks', but an integral part of the recipe, and should be inserted more prominently within the main text of the recipe... OK, sure, I remember being taught in High School that one should read through all instructions before commencing (and what a great laugh that lesson was)... but that exercise did not involve footnotes.

And I'm clearly less patient now than I was then.

Unbelievable, I know.

So, having peeled long ribbons of courgette and sliced the cooked peppers and artichoke (both from jars, and not as successfully drained as they could have been), it didn't occur to me to dunk the lasagne in hot water before staring to pile stuff onto them and, consequently, when I started to roll up my cannelloni, the lasagne sheets cracked quite spectacularly.

That wasn't the worst of my errors, though. When we went shopping, the punnet of cherry tomatoes we picked up was slightly short of the 500g specified on the recipe, the parsley we'd bought was soggy and browning slightly by the time I came to start cooking this, and I entirely forgot to spread the black olive tapenade onto the lasagne before adding the other stuff, so that ended up getting dumped into the tomato sauce.

While I wasn't far short of the 500g of cherry tomatoes, it seems I was sufficiently short to ensure there wasn't quite enough sauce to adequately douse the cannelloni so, once in the oven, the dish never reached the 'golden and bubbly' stage, because what little fluid there was seemed to boil off too quickly.

I also forgot to grate any lemon zest or add any lemon juice but, after all my many cock-ups, the end result was surprisingly edible. As learning experiences go, it wasn't half so annoying as my first attempt at that HelloFresh Peanut Satay thing, and I'm very keen to try thing again sometime soon with the right weight of cherry tomatoes (with perhaps a bit of added water, just in case), and remembering to spread the olive tapenade over some freshly-dunked fresh lasagne sheets. It was a remarkably simple and fun recipe, so it's a little frustrating to have ballsed it up so stupidly, but it proves I really need to get more practice in the kitchen...

...and read the bloody recipe more thoroughly.

This is the only dish of the three I cooked recently that I remembered to photograph, so enjoy...
"Green salad? We don't need no stinkin' green salad!"

Friday 25 March 2016

HelloFresh Revisited: Double Peanut Satay Stir Fry with Thai Holy Basil & Bok Choy

Clearly I haven't been doing a great deal of cooking recently, but I've been off work for most of this week - by choice, this time, rather than through illness - and my girlfriend and I had been discussing for quite some time that this would provide the ideal opportunity for her to take a break from slaving over the hot stove, and for me to get in some more practice over that same hot stove.

Since my last couple of stints of cooking dinner were both sets of three dishes (one from Gousto, the other from HelloFresh), I figured I'd start by looking over their recipe cards, and my eyes naturally fell on my biggest failure from that batch of experiments. I always say that one learns more from a single failure than from any number of successes, but I've yet to put that properly into practice in the kitchen. The first change I made was obvious - using products I already had in stock, or were bought at the supermarket - basically things that didn't have to be wrestled out of weird 'portion-sized' packets and things that I'd gone and got for myself based on the ingredients list.

My biggest gripes about HelloFresh generally were the imprecise and illogical measures they used for some items, and the wonky order of events presented by the instructions. Having cocked it up once, I had a better idea of how and where to start, so I began by mixing the Satay sauce - 2 large tablespoons of peanut butter straight out of my kitchen cupboards, 1 tablespoon of the sweet chilli sauce lurking in my fridge, and a tablespoon of soy sauce (light or dark is not actually specified in the recipe, but the first bottle I picked up was light, so I used that) all stirred together in a small bowl. This was an interesting step, because the peanut butter in my cupboard had separated when I last used it, and stirring it thoroughly still left it roughly "the consistency of runny honey", which description was the source of just one of the issues I had the first time round. Adding the two sauces thinned it out further, but then I left the sauce aside... and while I worked on the other steps, it thickened up considerably. By the time I was doing the noodles, I really did need to add some of the boiling noodle water, but the recipe's estimate of "a couple of tbsp" wasn't entirely sufficient to correct the consistency - I ended up using four or five, and could probably have used a couple more without overly diluting the resultant sauce.

Next up came the chopping of the veg - which, as usual, took far longer than it should have done because I'm still terrible at chopping veg. I did save some time and effort by grating the ginger rather than chopping it finely, because attempting to chop things finely still really pisses me off. I put the grated ginger and the discs of the white parts of the spring onions into one small bowl since they're added together, then the red peppers (sliced not quite to half centimetre matchsticks, but close enough) and the sugar snap peas into a second bowl since they're also added together. Next up, I sliced the bok choy (or 'pak choi', as Morrisons call it) and set that aside in another bowl, then chopped up the green parts of the spring onions and put them an a small bowl of their own.

Finally, in this pageant of proper preparedness, primed to prevent a plural of poor performances, I poured a handful of dry roasted peanuts into the mortar I barely use and lightly crushed them with the pestle I rarely touch. Hey, they look nice in my kitchen, OK?

Then and only then did I start on the noodles. My girlfriend has shown me a neat trick where you boil your water in a kettle before putting it in the saucepan, and that does seem to cut down the cooking time simply because a kettle boils water far quicker than a gas hob, so the noodles could be added sooner, so their four minutes were up sooner. Again, I followed the advice of HelloFresh and put the cooked noodles into a pan of cold water to keep them ready (and loose) till they were needed.

The actual cooking part is very quick - part of the problem I had the first time round was that the fourth step of the recipe, the stir-fry, takes only a little over five minutes, but everything has to be ready and to hand so that things actually happen in the necessary quick succession.

When it came time to add the Satay sauce, I still managed to fluff things up a little: it looked at first as if there still wasn't enough (hence the impression that I could have added more of the noodle water) and by the time it was bubbling, some of it had already stuck to the bottom of my wok. Still, it mixed in nicely enough and everything seemed to get a decent coating of the sauce, so things were looking positive. I had, of course, singularly failed to tear up some basil (the normal kind, as the Thai variety was nowhere to be found in the supermarket or my local grocers), but that was soon enough accomplished. The final steps were sprinkling over the crushed nuts and the green bits of the spring onion. Still no prayers to the gods of Thai cooking, but equally no colourful oaths muttered under my breath... and my girlfriend was pleased to find I wasn't utterly losing my rag over dinner this time.

Oh, and it tasted fantastic... Much, I suspect, as it is intended...

I was especially pleased with the sauce, as I really could taste the note of ginger and the sweetness of the chilli sauce in the Satay - even the shredded basil wasn't utterly overwhelmed by the large quantity of peanut butter. The red peppers and sugar snap peas had retained some bite and the noodles were nice and soft without being gooey or gummy. It may have taken me most of a year, but I feel that I've managed to turn what I very generously considered "a kind of success" in retrospect, into the success it deserved to be, without half the stress I'd expected considering how long it's been since I last cooked. It all proceeded far more smoothly than the first time, I felt calmer, more confident and in control all the way through... the only downside was the mess left over in the wok... but most of that will come off through soaking.

This is definitely a recipe that I'd like to try again sometime, making a few subtle changes: the ginger was possibly grated a little too finely, almost to a paste, and I'll probably add a bit more water to the Satay sauce as I cook the noodles... maybe even use different veg.

My biggest regret with this second attempt at the recipe is that, yet again, I didn't take any photos. To be honest, though, what I served up wasn't as tidy-looking as the photo on the recipe card, so it still wouldn't have looked half as good as it tasted.

Monday 15 February 2016

A Flippin' Late, Flippin' Short Blog Post

It comes to something when I can't even be bothered to write the most underachieving post in the underachieving history of this underachieving blog... But, last week, my girlfriend and I did some pancakes. Courtney made the batter, but had trouble with the flip, and the first few pancakes out of the pan were rather bunched up. Flipping things in frying pans is something I do well... Quite bizarrely well, in fact, because I've flipped omelettes in the past.

I am, however, a bit of a sad traditionalist at heart, so one of my pancakes just got topped with sugar and freshly-squeezed lemon juice. The other was a bit more daring... if you consider attempting to spread Nutella on a hot, freshly-made pancake 'daring'.

Which I don't.

So I don't know why I wrote that.

Anyway. Photos:
One very nicely done pancake

A liberal sprinkling of sugar with half a lemon at the ready...
Which reminds me, I really must set up an appointment with my dentist...

Not that you can tell from these photos, but the one on the left is the sugar'n'lemon one and you might just make out a slight oozing of Nutella on the righthand pancake.

Friday 8 January 2016

Sriracha Tuna Melt

I am a big fan of the tuna melt and, despite having previously only done one write-up for a very cheaty home-made version and one shop-bought frozen version, it's something I have made for myself, from scratch, quite a few times by mixing up a tin of tuna, some mayonnaise and some capers, then slapping the result into what would otherwise be a humble toasted cheese sandwich.

This week, while I've been away from work due to a lingering illness, I had a moment of inspiration while searching my fridge for the capers: I noticed a small, squeezy bottle of Sriracha sauce (acquired from Yo Sushi months ago, as a result of ordering one of their specials) and wondered what that would taste like in a tuna melt...

...And so, here's the first post of 2016 - a quick, simple and spicy variant on an old favourite. Enjoy!

  • Bread (2 slices per melt, I used Kingsmill 50/50)
  • Tuna Chunks (160g tin - 120g drained - makes 2-3 melts, depending on how generous you are with the tuna mix)
  • Mayonnaise (1.5 to 2 heaped tablespoons, depending on your preference and how high you heap)
  • Siracha Sauce (about 2 generous teaspoons, but basically according to your preference)
  • Mature Cheddar Cheese (grated or sliced according to your preference, I used Tesco ready-sliced from a 250g pack, but had to use just over 1 slice per melt due to the size of bread)
Preparation Time: Less than 10 minutes in total

Tools Required:
  • Tin Opener (duh)
  • Toaster (duh, again)
  • Small Bowl
  • Mixing Implement of Choice (such as a fork)
The Process: 
Preheat your grill to about 170C. Open the tin of tuna, drain thoroughly, then empty into the small bowl. Add mayonnaise and stir, then add the Sriracha sauce and stir in so it's all nice and even. Toast a slice of bread for the base of the melt, then spread the mix over evenly. Top with cheese, then place under the grille and start another slice of bread toasting for the top of the melt. While the timing may not be perfect for everyone, I've found that my toaster, on my preferred setting, finishes toasting at precisely the right moment for a nicely melted cheese topping, so the moment the second slice pops up, I took the melt out from under the grill and topped it with the second slice of toast.

The quantity of tuna mix makes at least 2 melts, so the most efficient way of doing it would be to make 2 simultaneously: toast 2 slices of bread, add the mix to both, top with cheese and pop both under the grill while toasting another 2 slices of bread.

The Results:
My only concern, going into this, was whether cheese was still a suitable accompaniment for a tuna melt imbued with the spicy power of Sriracha, but I needn't have worried. Just as supermarkets have so-called 'Mexican Cheese' which is basically cheddar with added chilli, the combination if spicy Sriracha and sharp mature cheddar is excellent. I'm not sure whether capers might still be able to add something worthwhile, or whether they would clash with the Sriracha, but I suppose there's no harm in finding out at a later date...

And if you're not a fan of the tuna melt, this concoction works equally well as the filling for a baguette, or if you fancy something hot in temperature as well as in spiciness, I'm sure it could be used as the topping of a baked potato.
Spicy Tuna Melty Perfection!