Monday, 29 November 2010

Chilli Con Carne

So the mystery of the secret weekend cooking can be revealed!

It was mum's birthday at the weekend, and a lot of family and friends were down from Scotland - as well as a few others from England - so I cooked a big pot of chilli to sit with all the rest of the food that my sister and her friend had put together.

As a side note, the promised tangerine sorbet has not come to fruition as I've been sick since Saturday and so haven't gotten around to it. My bad.


I forgot my camera when I went to mum's, so I just have one picture that I took with my phone. It's not especially brilliant, but who doesn't know what chilli looks like?

You will need (cooking for about 20):

- 4tbsp oil
- 4 onions
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 2kg beef mince
- 500ml red wine
- 800g canned, peeled tomatoes
- 800g red kidney beans
- 8tbsp tomato puree
- 8tsp dried ground chilli
- 2tsp ground cumin
- 2tsp ground coriander
- 2 beef stock cubes

This is a fantastic recipe in that it can all be put together in one pot. For this many people, the cooking takes around 2 hours or so.

Start by dicing the onions up very small. Crush the garlic cloves and then fry them off with the onions in the oil. Once they start to brown, add in all the mince and brown it too.

The mince takes a fair wee while to brown all the way through. Just keep turning it over in the pan until it all takes on colour.

Now for the wine - pour it all in and then cover the pan for a few minutes until the whole lot starts to boil. Let the alcohol cook off for about five minutes.

Next up is all the seasoning. Add in the tomatoes from the cans (make sure to chop them well first if they aren't pre-chopped), the tomato puree, the chilli, cumin, coriander, and crumble in the stock cubes. Give the whole lot a good stir before covering once again.

Turn the heat down a bit and leave the pan to simmer for about an hour.

Once the hour is up, uncover, add in the kidney beans and cook for a further twenty minutes.

Once this time is up, you're ready to serve - best with rice and pitta breads.



Coming up:

- Who knows?

Friday, 26 November 2010

November Catch-up

I haven't updated anything like as much as I could have done this month... so this blog may be a little longer than usual. Or a lot longer. It really depends on just how long I can be bothered to type for (it is 23:26 at time of writing) and whether the wonderful sounds from OceanLab coming from my speakers are enough to keep me awake.

Anyway, there will be a fair bit to chew through, so let's crack on.


On the 21st I was very much in the mood for some steak. Peppercorn sauce. Onion rings. Chips. Yes yes yes.

I'm not going to list the ingredients, because this is so simple to do (I'm excluding the chips and onion rings here because they were out of a bag. Shame on me, whatever.)

Start by crushing a few whole peppercorns with a mortar and pestle. You can use pre-ground black pepper I suppose, but the flavour wouldn't be as intense.

While crushing the peppercorns, set a heavy based pan with a little oil on a high heat. Once the oil is up to temperature, pat some salt and pepper into the side of the steak you are going to lay facedown in the pan. Stick it in the pan and then pat in more seasoning onto the reverse.

I was cooking rumpsteaks, about half an inch thick. For this sort of size and cut, two minutes on each side is an adequate amount of time to fry. Once the steak has cooked, set it aside to rest but keep the pan you were using - just lower the temperature a little.

Time to add your peppercorns into the pan. Allow them to heat in the beef juices for a while to release their flavour and aroma. Add to this one beef stock cube and about 3tbsp water. Let this all simmer down before adding about 150ml cream. Stir it all together well so that it combines - do not let the sauce overheat and split.

Once the sauce is ready, you're ready to plate up. Pile up the chips, onion rings, steak and liberally douse the lot with peppercorn sauce.


Next up was to make a cake for a colleague who was leaving work and moving to Scotland. Finally the mystery of the reasoning behind the caramel sauce is revealed!

The trial run from the last blog meant that the caramel worked much better this time around... however the cake as a whole didn't.

I should start by saying that the cake was a bit of a concept idea, so I was never sure whether it would work. Though I don't see a reason why it wouldn't. I think it was just down to some poor execution on my part which is why it never saw the light of day at work (sorry everybody!).

The idea was to create a cheesecake with a peanut brittle base and a banoffee topping. With a peanut brittle base, the cheesecake could not be baked, so it would be a gelatin set affair.

I'm not going to put a recipe or anything up, because mine clearly didn't work. But one day I'll get it sorted. For now, I have a bowl of all the three elements mixed together in a large lumpy mess. It tastes good, but it's no finished article. Basically I think I didn't get the temperature of the sugar mixture up high enough when making the brittle so it never set so as to give a 'snap' when broken. It went firm but a little gooey.

Like I say though, still delicious, and I'm getting through it gradually (it's sickly sweet).


And finally, to show that not everything I eat or create has to be extravagant or amazing or even remotely tasteful, I had cheese on toast with beans this evening (before going out for a curry...).

Here is what I did to the beans...

You will need:

- The contents of your stockcupboard (You must not discriminate - whatever comes to hand!)

Heat a little butter in a pan, just enough to fry off half a red onion, finely diced with a good helping of salt and pepper.

Once the onions are browned, it is time to put the beans in the pan. At this point, your recipe may vary drastically from mine - just mix stuff in from your stockcupboard. Leave nothing out. I threw in a good dash of tabasco, a splash of HP sauce, and some worcestershire sauce too. Give it a good stir and allow the beans to heat through.

Serve on toast and cheese. High cuisine indeed.


Coming up:

- It's the Christmas meal for a few of our friends this coming Monday (some of them are away over Christmas and we are having a farewell dinner sort of thing) and I am bringing pudding. Tangerine sorbet is definitely on the menu, and I had said chocolate fondants too... but I feel that's a little ambitious for ten people. So it'll be some sort of hot rich pudding followed by the sorbet as a cleanser.
- I'm cooking over the weekend too, but that's a secret for the moment (similar situation to the caramel story!), but all shall be revealed.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Macaroni Cheese And Caramel Sauce

Not together of course - the macaroni and the caramel that is. It's been a while since I've blogged, but I've been trying a couple of things over the last few days. The (mixed) results of which are below...


With a couple of friends coming over before we went out to football on Tuesday, we were in need of some food that would provide a bit of stamina for the cold night.

Sport and pasta. What a combination. Macaroni and cheese. Another blinding duo. What better dinner to make under the circumstances?

Macaroni cheese is a spectacularly easy dish to put together and can be tweaked in a whole variety of ways to add interest - be it throwing in a bit of chicken, bacon or mushrooms. Maybe some chillis or other vegetables.

Anyway, I went for a pretty straight forward version with just a bit of tabasco sauce for a wee kick.

You will need:

- 300g macaroni
- 40g butter
- 40g plain flour
- 600ml milk
- 300g grated cheese (I used red leicester, but any will do. I suppose if you want to be vaguely traditional there should be some parmesan in it...)

Start by boiling the pasta until it is soft, but still with a bit of bite.

Once the pasta is ready, drain it and set it to one side while you make the cheese sauce.

The sauce is made from a roux base - that is butter and flour. Simply melt the butter in a pan before whisking in the flour.

Add the milk in, a bit at a time, whisking all the while. At this point start to whisk in any seasonings you are going to use. I added a little salt, a lot of black pepper and a good splash of tabasco. Allow the sauce to thicken before removing from the heat. This will take about 5 to 10 minutes.

Once off the heat, put about 250g of cheese into the sauce and whisk it in until it's all melted and you have a beautifully glossy, yellow sauce. I chose the red leicester for a bit of extra colour (as above).

Finally, combine the pasta and sauce. Lay the pasta in a deep ovenproof dish before pouring the sauce over the top and letting it sink through.

Grate the rest of the cheese onto the surface and then place it under a grill for 5-10 minutes. The cheese should start to bubble and brown and the macaroni is ready to be served!


Now for the caramel sauce.

I'm not going to say a whole lot about the reason I was trying to make this... it involves work... and as some people from work read this I shall have to keep schtum about it. You'll all find out soon enough.

Anyway, it's part of what I will be making, and I've never made a runny caramel before, so I thought I'd best test it before I did it for real. And I'm glad I did, because it needs some work...

You will need:

- 1 tin condensed milk (about 400g)
- 150g butter
- 150g soft brown sugar

It should have been easy, but I made a couple of mistakes.

Start by melting the butter in a pan. Add the sugar to this and heat through until it has all dissolved into the butter. Make sure the sugar has all dissolved. I think I didn't quite give it long enough at this point.

Now pour in the condensed milk, stirring it all through.

Keep stirring constantly. Because I hadn't let all the sugar dissolve, and I was fiddling with the camera, some settled to the bottom and burned. Not so good.

Ideally, once the caramel is starting to boil, take it off the heat and set aside to cool before using. However, I ended up with wee flecks of burnt sugar in the sauce. I think I'll use a little less condensed milk next time around to give a thicker caramel too.

Let's hope it goes better in the near future.


Coming up:

- Well, what is that mystery caramel for?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Coconut Macaroons

What do you do if you're hungry, there's nothing pre-prepared to eat, you don't want to spend ages making something, and you only have limited ingredients in the house?

Why, you make coconut macaroons of course. Provided that your limited ingredients include an egg, dessicated coconut and sugar...


Really fast and really simple this one.

You will need:

- 1 egg
- 125g dessicated coconut
- 75g caster sugar
- Icing sugar (optional)

Simply crack your egg into a bowl and give it a wee whisk.

Chuck in the coconut and sugar and work it with a wooden spoon until it comes together nicely. Should be fairly sticky.

Form little balls with a metal spoon and put them on a baking tray lined with paper. Put this all into the oven at 180°C for about 15 minutes. The balls will flatten out a little and should turn a deep golden brown.

Optionally you can glaze the macaroons with icing once they've cooled.

I made seven with the above quantities, but you should manage ten if you're a wee bit more conservative!


Coming up:

- That bakewell tart I promised.
- Currently looking at an 'alternative' Christmas dinner. Lots of details to sort out and research to do first though!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Cook's Library: A Cheference Guide

As promised, I've finally put together a few bits and pieces about some of the books I use for inspiration, reference (and sometimes just to take recipes straight from!) when cooking.


One of the main reasons for my wanting to put up a blog on this subject was actually my most recent acquisition. When I went to visit my parents recently, my mum gave me her old copy of The Glasgow Cookery Book from 1976. Originally produced as a college textbook, it's a fairly well known reference book throughout Glaswegian and Scottish homes.

It's a fantastic book with hundreds of recipes spanning all sorts of cuisine, and of course encapsulating the always comforting Scottish cuisine.

This particular copy, having been my mum's, is of particular interest due to all her wee notes in the margins and the odd extra recipe written into the back.

Thanks mum!


Another recent addition was a copy of The Cookbook by Terence and Caroline Conran that I found in Witney's local market. I paid £1.50 for it... which is an absolute steal for a book that weighs a couple of tons. There really is a lot of book to this one.

With sections including the purachasing and preparation of food as well as just straight out recipes, the book is a bible for the kitchen.

With descriptions and uses for more ingredients than you could ever possibly use, it is an exhaustive look into the world of food and its preparation.

Particularly useful are the breakdowns on how to prepare meat and fish, how to get particular cuts from an animal, and so on.

Really, I can't recommend this one highly enough.


As well as standard cookbooks and reference books, I am interested in all sorts of cooking related reading material.

I have a fair stockpile in the house but I'll detail some of my favourites here.

The first two are books on particular foods. I have various books on chocolate, but definitely the best is Chocolate by Mort Rosenblum. Covering the ancient history of chocolate, from its first tribal uses, right up to its current status as a modern day aphrodisiac and healer of all ills, as well as providing insights into how it has changed culture and even religion. A fascinating read that even manages to find space for a few chocolate themed recipes.

The second cuisine specific book I've picked is The Connoisseur's Guide to Sushi by Dave Lowry. Again, focusing on one single type of food, the book is a wonderful look into Japanese culture, the preparation of Sushi, how it should be eaten, what to eat it with... there is probably no better Sushi reference guide. And if there is, please let me know about it!

Sticking with the 'not-quite-a-cook-book' theme, I have another two favourites that are sort of biographies.

The first is Raymond Blanc's A Taste Of My Life (again picked up at rock bottom price from Witney's local stall), which really is a straight forward autobiography of Blanc on his rise through the kitchen to eventually owning and running various restaurants.

Providing an insight into a very driven man, the book will certainly be of interest to anyone looking to go into cooking as a profession. The book also finds space for some of Blanc's recipes too.

My absolute favourite of the bunch has to be Tamasin Day-Lewis' Where Shall We Go For Dinner. More of a biography again, but one focused on particular events where food was the star. Be it travelling around the world to find a new cheese to sell in her partner's shop, or just trying out a local restaurant on holiday, the book is a real inspiration to travel and try new foods.

Well worth a read. Really.


And what tour of a kitchen library would be complete without a wee look at the book belonging to the cook who owns it?

It is indeed my own wee collection of recipes. The book was made for Claire and I as a wedding present by our friend Moira. She makes fantastic scrapbooks, and she deviated a little to make a cookbook with sections for all sorts of things. She threw in some divider pages and some of her own recipes (immaculately decorated, and with scripture and the like on the backs) and left space for us to fill it up in our own time.

I've been steadily doing that for the last three years, filling it with recipes I've trialled, or with recipes passed on by friends. If you've ever given me a recipe then it's in this book - with your name attached! Heather's banana bread is pictured above.


That then is a potted guide to my kitchen library. It's much more extensive than that, but you get the idea.


Coming up:

- I'm thinking bakewell tart. Yes, that sounds good.