Friday, 4 December 2015

I'm taking a hiatus!

It's been a good year to be the OCD Cook.  I've baked and cooked a whole host of things that I never have before and feel much more in control of my mental health than I have done in a long time.

I've also moved house and jobs, become editor of an online music magazine, won a writing competition, and a whole host of other things.  Some of these have thrown up new and exciting opportunities that I need to pursue.  I'll still be baking and cooking (I hope) but it can't be my priority.

I'll carry on using my Twitter to bring attention to foodie news, recipes and other general yummyness, but the site itself will not be updated for a little while.

If you want to follow me elsewhere, you can find me at The Arbitrary Reader and Public Pressure.

Speak soon!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Good Food Show Winter: A Foodie's Dream!

Ah, it's that time of year again when I can rock up to the NEC in Birmingham and be showered with freebies, samples and all manner of scrumptious temptations.  I love the Good Food Show.  It's an excuse to try things that you are normally too broke to buy or that aren't available in your area, and makes for some brilliant Christmas shopping.

Having been exceptionally broke over recent weeks, it was with great relief that I was paid before this weekend.  I didn't end up spending too much, but it's always nice to have some in reserve just in case.  My haul looked like this by the end of the day:

Good Food Show Winter, Birmingham

I got some fantastic Seed and Bean chocolate (a buy that I've been looking forward to since the last show), some Spicentice packs, curry leaves and a few random freebies thrown in.  I could have got a lot more, but I was keen to avoid buying for the sake of buying.  When in doubt, I made a mental note of stalls and brands, with an eye to looking them up online at a later date.

The only downside of the day was that it was largely the same stalls that were there when I went last November.  This isn't necessarily a problem - it certainly helps to build brand loyalty - but it means that the experience loses some of its novelty.  I had a lovely sausage roll, I think from the same place I had one last year, and the same is true of a bombay aloo samosa I enjoyed.  All very tasty, just not particularly original.

There were some changes this year.  It looked like there was a cheese competition going on alongside the main show:


Tonnes of the bloody stuff!  Boy, did it smell too.  I'm not big on smelly cheese but it was an impressive array nonetheless.

High point of the day was going to see the Hairy Bikers do a demo in the Supertheatre:

Hairy Bikers

They were as funny and over-the-top as you would expect, with James Martin even making an appearance to add butter to Dave's salad.  It was nice to see Si looking so well after his recent health issues too.  It was their new meat book that they were promoting, although the demo might have been more tempting if someone had remembered to switch on the oven...  Oops.  A good laugh though, and the recipes sounded tasty enough to recommend the book to me.  I'll be keeping an eye out for it at the library.

Overall, it was a fun day and well worth fighting through the crowds for.  I might take a year off from attending though, so that it doesn't get too stale.  Some fresh stalls and a bit of a facelift might do it good, but it remains an excellent day out.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Justine Pattison's Lamb Rogan Josh

OCD Panic Rating: 2/5
Handwashes: Average

With the end of the year approaching, I've had to go back to my list of horror foods and work out what I really need to be cooking in order to tackle my OCD.  Thanks to The Great British Bake Off, I've cooked more with eggs in the past three months than I probably had in the previous three years.  I've also had a few attempts at making things with mushrooms, and it turns out they're nowhere near as scary as I'd expected.

Which brings me to meat.  I specified my three main horror foods as fish, pork and chicken, but I'm not a great fan of handling any meat at all.  I've just about got myself comfortable with beef, mainly because you can eat it raw when it's fresh, but I'm still struggling with the idea of cooking much else. that basis, I decided to have a go with a simple recipe using lamb.  As with beef, it's something you can enjoy rare, so it rings fewer alarm bells with me than other meats.  I returned to one of my favourite cookbooks: Takeaway Favourites Without The Calories.  The version of lamb rogan josh in here is a one-pot wonder.  You cook down the onions and add the other fresh ingredients before browning the meat off.  Then it's a few more additional herbs and spices, some tinned tomatoes, and straight into the oven for a couple of hours.  I barely had to handle the meat at all.

The main problem I had with this recipe came from the sheer volume of ingredients that it used.  1.2kgs of lamb is not a small amount, and I was becoming increasingly concerned that it simply wouldn't fit into my casserole dish.  To make the browning of the meat easier, I split the mixture between the casserole dish and a large frying pan, and prepped a second large dish to cook it in if there was too much.  As it was, the casserole dish was just big enough, and I mean just.  The dish was full to the brim, bringing back horrible visions of my tennis cake leaking out of the baking tin during my GBBO challenge.  I at least learnt from that mistake, putting a large baking tray on the bottom of the oven to catch any potential overspill.

I sat back for an hour as the curry cooked in the oven.  It needed a stir at this point and I was slightly concerned to see how little the water had boiled off.  It didn't have that thick sauce consistency that I was looking for.  If I was doing this again, I would have put it back in the oven without its lid, giving the steam an outlet.  But that's Captain Hindsight talking.  As it was, after another half hour, the lid was taken off and some spinach was stirred in, with another ten minutes in the oven just to help the spinach wilt down into the mixture.  I love spinach.  There's something about the way you can have a boatload of the stuff and it shrinks down into virtually nothing when you stir it into a mixture.  Let me tell you, if that wasn't the case, there is no way on God's green earth that anything else would have fitted into that casserole dish.  Perhaps the two-dish approach would have been better.

I wonder if the spinach added extra water to the curry, particularly as I washed it pretty heavily before I put it in (gravelly spinach is the worst).  The sauce was definitely too wet when I took it out of the oven.  Now, there are a few ways that this can be dealt with.  You can put the dish back in the oven (sans lid) for a bit longer.  You can cook it on the hob for a while.  You can use cornflour to thicken up the liquid as well.  The only problem with these ideas is that they all take time and I was really hungry.  Really hungry.  I tried a piece of the lamb and it was beautifully tender and I knew that I couldn't wait another half an hour to eat.

So we had lamb rogan josh soup, with poppadoms and naan bread:

It had a good flavour.  Like any proper rogan josh, the sauce had a serious kick of spice to it.  Also positive was that you could taste the individual flavours in the curry.  There was quite a lot of garlic, ginger and chilli in there, but there was also a hit of fennel, cumin and coriander that gave the flavour a bit more depth.  There's no question that it would have worked better as a proper sauce but curry soup is a decent meal in itself, particularly when you have the big chunks of fall-apart lamb to enjoy.

This recipe made six portions, so we have two frozen dinners ready to go.  With these, we should be able to get that nice curry sauce consistency when we reheat it on the hob.  The flavours were great; it was just the impatience of the cook that stopped it working perfectly.

(Editor's note: we did reheat the curry from frozen one evening and, sure enough, the mixture thickened into a perfectly formed sauce.  It still had the depth of flavour and the heavy hit of spice, but did not have to be eaten with a soup spoon.  A definite improvement.)

Key Points:

  • Too much liquid is easy enough to remedy, but it can definitely throw your cooking times off if you're preparing other side dishes at the same time.  With slow-cook recipes, check the liquid level at frequent intervals: it's easier to rectify if you catch the problem early.
  • I've said it before (and not learnt from it apparently) but you really do need to check the size of your pots and pans before you start.  I had twice as much washing-up to do with the recipe because I was disorganised.

Win Rating: 3/5 for the curry soup.  4/5 when cooked properly!

Thursday, 12 November 2015's Lemon Curd Cake

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 2

Eggs occupy the number 4 position on my list of horror foods, but this is something I have largely managed to overcome.  By doing the GBBO Bakealong, I've been forced to try some recipes way out of my usual baking comfort zone, and it has done wonders for my confidence.  I now trust that eggs aren't going to give me salmonella just through touching something else in my fridge, and I'm (slightly) less worried that I'm going to crack a dead chick into my cake mixture.

To celebrate this, and to use up some rapidly aging lemon curd, I found this yummy recipe from  Like so many loaf cake recipes, it just requires ingredients to be combined and baked.  I creamed the butter and sugar together, added the flour and wet ingredients, then poured it into a lined loaf tin.  I was slightly disappointed to see that it was only about half full, but I figured that it would probably rise in the oven.

It did!  Well, a bit.  However, it was still well below the top of the tin, making it look a bit sad.  The smell was great though, especially when the lemony topping was poured over.  After cooling and slicing, it looked like this:

As you can see, it does seem a bit squashed but it has a good crumb on it and feels lovely and moist thanks to the curd and icing.  The taste, unsurprisingly, is very lemony.  I'm not a massive fan of lemon curd – I usually find it an unpleasant mix of too sweet and too tart – but it works brilliantly in a cake.  However, because of the way it has barely risen, this won't take over from my favourite lemon drizzle recipes.  If you want to use up some lemon curd or do some really simple baking with a small child, you could definitely do a lot worse than this recipe though.

Key Points:

  • I lined my tin very badly, with bits sticking out and weird folds, and the cake moulded itself to every bloody one of them.  If you want a more attractive cake, you might want to get the scissors out.
  • The recipe can also be adapted easily to make cupcakes.  Based on how little the cake rose, I would suggest filling the cases quite generously.

Win Rating: 4/5.  Looks a bit off but has a lovely flavour.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Gino D'Acampo's Spicy Pasta with Porcini Mushrooms and Cannellini Beans

I have a tendency with pasta recipes to go for the tomato-based sauces.  There's something satisfying about the sweetness and how difficult it is to mess them up.  Perfect after-work food.  However, I need to branch out a little.  Looking through Gino's Italian diet book, I found a recipe for a classic Neapolitan recipe of spicy pasta with cannellini beans.

This jumped out at me partially because it involves using dried porcini mushrooms.  The point of me starting this blog was to encourage me to make recipes that challenge my OCD around food.  Mushrooms are one of my horror ingredients - I never used to be able to touch them, let alone eat or cook with them.  Over time, I've been able to get comfortable with them more and more in my diet, but cooking them still causes me some stress.  It seemed to me that trying out the dried mushrooms might be less stressful than working with their fresh (and muddy) brethren.  And so it was.

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 1

This recipe was a relatively simple one to put together.  I had to soak the mushrooms and defrost some peas while I was prepping the other ingredients, then it was a case of frying them off, cooking some pasta, and mixing it all at the end.

It's quite a savoury dish.  You have the deep flavour of the porcini mushrooms as well as a glug of the water they were soaked in, plus some vegetable stock.  There is a bit of freshness and sweetness from the leek, peas and the wine, and a hit of spice from the chilli flakes, but the overall taste is very different to the tomatoey sauces I'd go for.  It was satisfying though, feeling almost adult compared to the big, bold flavours of a bolognese or lasagne.

It looked ok.  Like many pasta dishes, it's just a mess of food, and I do not have the photographer chops to make it look any better:

The important thing was that dealing with the mushrooms did not send me into an OCD tailspin.  You have to drain them carefully after you've soaked them because you can get some yucky sediment in your pasta otherwise, but the texture was good and they had that lovely woody flavour.  I doubt I'll ever be comfortable with unusual or handpicked mushrooms (I'm always paranoid that someone will've made a mistake and given me something poisonous...) but chucking a few chestnut mushers or a handful of buttons into a pan is now in my wheelhouse.  Not the best meal I've ever made but well worth it for the satisfaction of getting one over on my brain!

Key Points:

  • If a recipe asks you to reserve the water from soaked mushrooms, make sure you don't just tip it in.  There will be gritty bits that you don't want in your food.
  • Be careful with the chilli flakes!  It's a simple recipe so an overdose of spice will upset the balance quite dramatically.  Mine was on the upper end of acceptable...
Win Rating: 3/5

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Beating the Breakfast Blues: Jamie's Granola Dust

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 1

I've never been great at having breakfast.  First thing in the morning, the last thing I want to do is cook anything elaborate.  Some mornings I don't even feel like I can manage anything more than a cup of tea.  What makes this annoying is that I always feel better if I have a proper breakfast, whether it's something on toast, some fruit, or the occasional bowl of cereal.  It sets me up for the day, soothes my often-unsettled stomach, and stops me having a sugary midmorning snack.  And, yes, the evidence is really on breakfast's side too.

My need for a proper breakfast has increased recently.  I've been doing shift work for a while, meaning that my meal schedule has been haphazard, differing from day to day.  Now, I work five mornings a week, with no break before 1 pm, making a good breakfast essential.  Seriously essential: I missed breakfast one day and was making sharp comments at staff, students and passing strangers until I was fed at lunch.  Not a great way to spend a morning and not a particularly professional way to appear to my new bosses.

Thankfully, Jamie Oliver's new Everyday Super Food book has a big section on breakfast.  Most of the recipes are a bit labour-intensive for first thing, but his granola recipe looks healthy, easy to throw together, and has the advantage of lasting for weeks.  

The recipe simply involves roasting some oats, nuts and seeds, before blending them together with fruit, a bit of orange peel, cocoa and ground coffee.  It makes a rough dust that you can use for cereal, smoothies, with fruit and yoghurt, all sorts.  

I had a large glass container to tip it into but halved the recipe to ensure it would all fit in.  This is a wise move, as the recipe makes a very large amount of the dust.  Although the recipe doesn't specify it, I found that it's best to let the roasted oats cool before you whizz them up.  I didn't think about this and ended up putting them into the jar hot.  This is fine, but they need to cool off before closing the airtight seal or you're going to end up with moisture affecting the texture and prematurely spoiling the mix.

The smell is great: the cocoa and orange give it an appetising sweet smell that lifts its rather drab appearance:

By itself, it's not great to eat.  I stuck a finger into the pot to try it out and almost choked.  The taste is fine but the texture is not pleasant on its own.  It's like nicely-flavoured dust and is definitely more appealing when you have a slightly coarser grain to it.  I think I'll only blend it very briefly next time, just to get everything to mix properly.

My first breakfast with it involved sprinkling it over raspberries and yoghurt.  Still not a massive success.  It's a bit claggy, imparting the flavour but spoiling the texture.  You need to add some milk to stop it sticking to the roof of your mouth.

I was starting to worry that I had a lot of gross (and reasonably pricey) dust to get rid of.  Thankfully, there are ways that it is really nice!  The husband has tried it as porridge and was pleased with the results.  Apparently, the nuts give it a bit of texture and you still get the gentle chocolate orange taste coming through.  Top with some fruit and it makes for a very nutritious breakfast.

Personally, my preferred way to have it is as part of a fruit milkshake.  This morning, I blended it with some raspberries, milk, yoghurt and a drizzle of honey, and it made a thick milkshake that was surprisingly filling.  Considering the nuts, seeds, fruit, oats and calcium in it, that's not a bad quick breakfast, particularly for those mornings when the thought of consuming actual food is just too exhausting.  It works with blueberries, strawberries and bananas too, so I imagine you could enjoy a different smoothie every morning for a month without too much effort.

Apparently, it also works in pancakes and as a hot drink, so there are other ways to use it up.  I don't think it has the right texture to just be used with milk as a cereal replacement, but it makes a great accompaniment to other things.  I'll make it a bit coarser next time, maybe not even blitzing the seeds, to give it a better texture.  After being unimpressed, it's something I can see having a ready supply of in the kitchen.

Key Points:

  • This is a great recipe for using up leftover bits and pieces.  I put some desiccated coconut in mine, and will be bunging in some leftover ground almonds when I top up the pot next time.
  • Let the mixture cool before whizzing.  Heat leads to moisture, which will not create ideal storage conditions.

Win Rating: Depends how you have it, but generally it's a solid 3/5.

Monday, 19 October 2015

My GBBO Challenge #10: Iced Buns

Yes, I know it was a couple of weeks ago but I'm still happy about Nadiya's much-deserved win.

The final wasn't much of a nailbiter as Nadiya was the best baker in each challenge by a mile. The haters just don't have a leg to stand on. Although I guess Tamal's showstopper was quite the eyecatcher:

I'm not sure that it works as a piece of art, but you have to admire the sugar work.

It was interesting that it was a relatively simple set of challenges for the final. I think the idea was that the contestants had to produce perfect bakes, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is a simple thing perfectly. On that note, let me introduce you to my iced buns…

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 4

As the judges mentioned in the episode, there is no reason for iced buns to be as amazing as they are. It's pretty much a bread roll with icing on it, yet they are one of the most satisfying bakes you can get.

I'd never attempted these before and didn't have a recipe to hand. After a bit (a lot) of enjoyable Googling for recipes, I found this one from former GBBO contestant Ruby Tandoh. I liked the idea of making buns with a lemony flavour. Also, aside from giving them a reasonable amount of time to prove, it didn't look too time-consuming a recipe.

The dough starts off quite sticky. The fifteen minutes of rest specified in the recipe is crucial for allowing the liquid to mix into the dough better, making it substantially easier to knead. You don't need to flour the surface or your hands. I was slightly worried that I had killed the yeast (I poured the salt straight onto it like an utter idiot) but it proved reasonably well when left under a hot light. I separated the dough into six sausages and gave it a bit longer to rise again.

Before I put the buns in the oven, I tried to space them out enough to be distinct buns but to be touching like a proper batch bake. This did not go so well. It turns out that they need to be a lot closer together than I had anticipated. It also turns out that you need to shape them much more carefully than I did:

There's some serious deformity on show here, as well as my weird shadow! They had a soft, springy feel though, so I was confident that the bake was a reasonable one.

Once cooled, it was time to decorate. This is not my strength. I cut the buns through horizontally and spread some lemon curd liberally over the base. Then I made some lemon-flavoured icing with a bit of orange colouring in for effect. I think it was too runny…

So it's the aesthetic part of the bake that is the real challenge, I see! I soldiered on, adding some whipped cream before serving. Despite the dodgy icing and shape, the cream pulled it all together into something very appealing:

(Yes, I do have a plate with a tapir on it. It's awesome)

Not too bad in the end, I don't think. It was virtually impossible to eat without making a complete mess, a situation not helped when I dropped half of it on my lap. I regretted adding squirty cream at that point, although it did taste bloody good. The lemon icing is a bit tart by itself, although it's ok in small quantities.  Overall, it's a well-flavoured iced bun, just not up to the standard of the ones you'll get from a proper bakery. In fact, and this is awful to say, there's something about the artificial-tasting mass-produced ones that is unbeatable.

I'll get my coat.

Key Points:
  • Shape the buns carefully before baking or you'll end up with rejects like mine.
  • As they're only cooked for twenty minutes, the buns won't grow much more in the oven. If you want the batch bake look, make sure they're quite close together.

Win Rating: 3/5

Looking back at the bakes I've done as part of the GBBO Bakealong challenge, I can definitely say that they have not all been successes but I've learnt something from each one. Sometimes it was a lesson as simple as making sure you have the right equipment to hand; sometimes it was a reminder that the decoration is often the most difficult part of a bake.

The mokatines were my least successful bake of the series. My biscotti and, in particular, my chocolate tart were good enough to warrant inclusion in my usual repertoire. I'm certainly more willing to experiment with what I make, and am confident that I can rescue most failing bakes. That level of knowledge and confidence needed to adapt a recipe and to make it your own can only be acquired through experience.

I won't be challenging Nadiya's crown any time soon though.  If you think you could, you can start the application process here.