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