Friday, 25 February 2011

Cooking for 50+

Last weekend was a work event for our younger constituents. That should immediately tell you that this blog is about cooking for a high number of people, rather than cooking for the older generation.

The brief was to cook dinner and dessert on Friday and Saturday night, and lunch on Sunday afternoon.


I wasn't alone in the kitchen - I had the help of the lovely Liz, Alta, Emma, and the microwave specialist Luke (microwaving steaks, Luke, really?) to get me through.

Friday night was chilli and rice followed by swiss roll. I've blogged my chilli recipe before, so really it was just a case of multiplying up the numbers.

The swiss roll was an adventure though. I've only done it once before, so cooking it for 50 kids was worrying me a little. Thankfully we had a whole host of other cakes and goodies, so even though I only made enough for about twenty in the end, it was still okay.

You will need:

- 225g self raising flour
- 225g caster sugar
- 9 eggs
- Jar of jam

Thankfully for my whisking arm, the kitchen was equipped with a wonderful Kenwood mixer. This meant that beating all the sugar and all 9 eggs together was completely hassle free.

Once the eggs and sugar were well whipped (forming stiff peaks), it was just a case of folding in the flour and then pouring the mixture into a big baking tray.

I'd preheated the oven to 180°C, and then just shoved in the tray for twenty minutes.

Once the cake had risen a bit and coloured nicely, it was time to take it out. Hopefully you'll have greased your tin a wee bit better than I did...

Lay out a clean tea towel and sprinkle it quite generously with caster sugar before turning the cake out onto it. If you haven't greased the tin, be prepared to give it a good old whack - and pray you don't break up your swiss roll.

Then it was time to spread the roll with jam (all the way to the corners!) and then carefully, very carefully, roll it up using the towel to lever it over without breaking.


Saturday was undoubtedly the success story of the weekend foodwise. With a menu that boasted both lasagne and trifle, I was always going to be onto a winner.

I had never cooked lasagne before - so starting by cooking for 50 was a little nervewracking. Thankfully though, I had much support from Alta to bring it all together.

You will need:

- 1kg lasagne sheets
- 7kg beef mince
- 6 tomatoes
- 4 cans chopped tomatoes
- 1kg onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3tbsp tomato puree
- 4tbsp mixed herbs
- Plenty of salt and pepper to season
- 2 beef stock cubes
- 1kg cottage cheese
- 1kg cheddar cheese

I haven't included the ingredients for the white sauce here. It's just flour, butter and milk, but I'm unsure of the quantities we used. It was a lot. An awful lot.

We started by greasing two very large, deep sided baking trays.

Then, while I got the mince mixture ready, Alta put together the white sauce.

First, I minced the garlic and finely chopped the onions, frying them off in a little oil. Quickly following this was the mince - browning 7kg of mince takes about thirty minutes.

Once the mince has browned, add in the tinned tomatoes, chopped fresh tomatoes, the tomato puree, herbs, crushed stock cubes and just a ton of salt and pepper. Leave this for another half an hour to an hour to cook through and allow all the flavours to come together.

Once you've made your basic white sauce (mix together the butter and flour to form a roux, then add in milk until you have the quantity and consistency you want), take it off the heat and stir in the cottage cheese and a good helping of cracked black pepper to taste.

Once your sauce and your mince mixture are both cooked, it's time to construct your lasagnes. This recipe would easily serve 60 - so make sure you have two big trays or three reasonably sized ones to build it all in.

Start by laying a little white sauce on the bottom to help stop the pasta sticking. Then apply one layer of pasta, a generous layer of mince, then the sauce and repeat, finishing with a layer of pasta topped with white sauce. Grate your cheddar over this and then whack it in the oven for a good forty minutes at 180°C.

While it was in the oven it was time to sort out the trifles. I'd set the jelly with some fruit in the night before, so it was just a case of piling on the custard and whipping several litres of cream (again with the magical Kenwood mixer) to spread over the top.

I will admit now, that for the sake of time and convenience I was using packeted jelly and custard. Maybe I'll make it all properly some day, but I really wasn't going to be faffing about when I already had so much to make.

The final touch was to grate some chocolate biscuits over the top. Job done.


Sunday was by far and away the simplest to do - just putting 50 or so baked potatoes in the oven (for four and a half hours!!) and preparing plenty of salad, beans, tuna and grated cheese to go with them. Easy.


And that was my biggest catering adventure to date - bring on more!


Coming up:

- No idea...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Food Travel: Egypt

So the long awaited (is it - are you reading?) Egypt blog is here! Plenty of food experiences from Egypt to tell you about - so sit back and enjoy! There are of course more stories from my travels than just those about food, but this is a food blog, so that's all that'll be here. Maybe I'll put all my other notes somewhere else.


Unfortunately, the first food I encountered on the journey was inevitably going to be on the plane over. Suffering the ignominy of airline food is never the best way to start a journey.

Coasting at thirty thousand feet over the glorious alps, Croatia forty miles out over the starboard wing of one of mankind's greatest inventions, the jet, and what are you served to eat?

A paltry excuse for a full English. And yet in that very British way we simply get on and eat it all (Or is that just polite? Or duty? It's included in the flight price - take full advantage!).

The view from the portholes, the occasion of flight, surely calls for the best of foods to be served... A steak perhaps, a roasted pig, the mighty lobster. But instead a pitiful pile of beans, a sodden, chewy omelette and a solitary, passable sausage. Packeted jam and butter for a stale roll. One small jewel that nestles on the tray - a chocolate brownie, gluten free, baked with an almond mixture rather than flour - is just enough to spare BMI's blushes.

I lived in hope that Egypt had better fare to offer...


One of the most frustrating things about the shrinking size of the world (though there are many benefits to the modern ease and speed of travel) is that the culture of a place begins to be tainted and can become lost in the evil that is the cultural melting pot.

For example, the hotel I stayed in, The Barceló in Giza, is part of a global chain of hotels. This means that the food from the restaurants is mostly inoffensively European, be it pasta, chicken, beef - even a carvery!

How can a country with it's own bold, unique identity, cultural significance and historical
importance be reduced to serving croissants at breakfast and gravy at dinner time?! It's an

After further scrutiny of the hotel's breakfast buffet I did eventually find a couple of local items. That middle eastern and mediterranean staple, the falafel, and another more obscure item (or at least one I hadn't come across before) was simply labelled black beans. They were like a paste - a little similar to Mexican refried beans (usually pinto beans). I think there was a little chilli and cumin mixed in there too.

So it was to be that lunches out and about in the cities of Egypt had to give more of a taste of local cuisine. Surely...


It was three days in to my trip before I managed a real taste of Egypt.

Wandering down one of the little back streets in Cairo I came across a few little bakeries.
Stopping in at one I pointed at one of the glass cases (my Arabic is VERY limited. A few fairly useless phrases is all I have.), not really sure what it was I was looking at inside. But you have to have a sense of adventure, right?

Anyway, one of the guys in the shop came over and asked "One? Two?". I presumed he meant how many I would like, and so I replied "One." However, what he was really asking was how many Egyptian pounds worth would I like. Now one Egyptian pound is about ten pence - and even for this I was given a bag of seven little baked goods. I think he said they were called
Noshul or something similar. They turned out to be date cookies - a little like fig rolls, and
absolutely delicious. Well worth the pittence cash.

This cheap cost of living (at least that's the way it seems to those in the West), seems to be a bit of a theme when it comes to eating in Egypt. Wandering through another marked later in the week I found some saffron. For three Egyptian pounds (thirty pence) it was possible to get about one hundred pounds sterling worth of the stuff - absolutely incredible.

Speaking to another local about restaurants, it was explained to me that owning property near the Nile is very expensive, and mooring a boat to use as a restaurant is even more so. Because of this, he continued, restaurants on boats on the Nile serve food at a premium price. Curious, I asked him how much it might be for a meal one of these boats. Thinking for a while, he proclaimed that it would be about one hundred and twenty Egyptian pounds... I personally thought that twelve pounds for a meal out was a bit of a steal.

It makes me wonder what the average wage in Cairo is, but I never did get round to finding out.


It was at the hotel that I next encountered some more local cuisine.

It was dessert and both the guava and persimmon were on the buffet. I decided to try both. I know that both are widely available the world over, but I'd never had persimmon before, and guava I'd only had in Lebanon.

When I'd last had guava, I'd had it as a fresh juice, so I knew to expect the sweet flavour and pulpy texture. It was delicious.

The persimmon however, was particularly unripe, overly firm, and very very bitter. It also had the interesting - but definitely unpleasant - effect of drying out my mouth as I ate it. So, casting it aside, I am still waiting to try persimmon in its ripe state.


A couple of days later in a little town about seventy miles south of Cairo, I managed to
experience a proper Egyptian lunch.

Sitting on the west bank of the Nile, looking across to various mansions and other local interests - could there have been a better time to try Egyptian food for real? Was there a better place? Probably, but never mind. This was good enough.

Lunch was brough out in five or so containers and I was presented with a stack of a distinctly familiar flat bread - the Middle Eastern hobs (or aish in the local dialect). By the way, my translations may be a little off as I'm unsure of the spelling. It was what I got from some of the locals though, so shouldn't be too far out.

Each container was a different gem of the local food. A tray of grilled meats (Koftes and chicken - farakh), a tub of spiced potatoes, and another with salad (Salata, or more specifically, the very well known tabouleh), one of rice, and a tub of tahini which seems to be served with absolutely everything in Egypt.

Finally was a carton containing two types of beans. Beans seem to be one of the main staples in Egypt, from navy beans, to chickpeas, and many other varieties.

We were served what I believe may have been butter beans in an orange coloured sauce that
was a little spicey. The second was a type I've never seen before, and am not sure of the western name and I didn't catch the Arabic. The translation I do remember though - they are referred to in Arabic as bird tongues due to their small, tongue shaped look and slippery texture. Despite this nickname, they are delicious.


The same night I had perhaps my most interesting experience of Egyptian cuisine.

Engaging a few locals (what better way to learn about the culture of a place), one of them was eating what appeared to be a bowl of vomit. Naturally I was challenged to have a go at this particular delicacy - and as an avid foodie, who was I to turn down this opportunity?

The dish is in fact known as mlooha (literally, 'stink'). And it really does stink. From what I gathered from broken English conversations and excited gesticulation, it's fish that is left to go off. It smells like very very strong cheese. And it tastes so much worse. I was fighting back the retching as I scooped a VERY little up into some aish and gave it a try. Quickly, they thrust some spring onion into my hand to mask the taste.

The closest food I can relate it to is Bombay Duck, but it really is much worse than that. Not something I'd try again, but I'm glad I got the opportunity to experience it.


Moving further down the country, about 150 miles south of Cairo, it was just about time for breakfast as I arrived.

Breakfast doesn't seem to be Egypt's strong point. Or at least not to a Scottish palate. Served of course, the flat bread that is eaten with every meal, the aish. That morning though, it was accompanying another staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, the chickpea, in the form of fool. Fool is basically a chickpea casserole. I've had it before, but it really was horrible this time around. It didn't taste anything like when I had it in Lebanon - whether the ingredients were not the same, or just a difference in quality, I'm not sure.

There was falafel as well though, and that helped to make up for it. And chips, oddly.

Lunch was fairly typical, with all the usual foods doing the rounds. Grilled chicken, rice, bird tongue beans, aish and tahini. I like it, but not every day.

This seems to be the way in more rural Egypt though - with everything being very cheap
(compared to the already ridiculously cheap bigger cities), but never varying very much.


I was also delighted to find Mirinda in Egypt. This is a soft drink that's common around most of the world, but sadly lacking from the UK market. It's a little like tango, except much more 'nuclear fallout glow orange', and a little less realistically orange flavoured. So all round, much better than anything on sale in the UK.

Junk food is a bit of a mixed bag in Egypt though. Some of the sweets on sale are perfectly fine - like Keshta, a chocolate wafer - but in general, the quality is very low. And just try to find a standard bar of chocolate. Forget about it.

This is all made up for by the low pricing though - two Mirindas and two Keshtas? That'll be
twenty pence. Not everything is cheap though - crisps are fairly comparative pricewise. About thirty pence for a bag of Middle Eastern Walker's - Chipsy's as they're known!

Food at equivalent prices tends to be the stuff that you'll find the world over - be it McDonalds, Burger King, Walkers, or other well known brands.

Back in Cairo, I decided to try one of Egypt's very own fast food chains - Mo'men. I do not recommend that you do the same.

It was honestly the worst thing I ate in my whole time over there... except maybe the mlooha. I had a chicken baguette which was more like a fat baguette. Just greasy, no flavour and the texture was hideous. Let me share with you a wee story to give you an idea of how bad it was:

Cairo has a population of two million street children (in a population of twenty million!), and as I sat outside the restaurant, I was approached by one little girl who indicated rather forwardly, having sat down next to me, that she would appreciate some of my baguette. So I broke off a little and passed it to her. She took a bite, was obviously disgusted, and thrust the rest back into the takeaway bag. Not even good enough for those who struggle to get a proper meal every day!

Don't try Egyptian fast food.


And so to the last day. Having had enough of the breakfast on offer in the hotel restaurant (and indeed fighting through a mob to attain a dismal first meal of the day), I decided to take a walk down the high street in search of something more appetising.

After walking for a while, it occured to me that most of the shops would be shut - most places don't start to open until 11am, but they stay open until well past 11pm - but thankfully there was one little patisserie with it's door unlocked. The patisserie was Al Bohsali, proudly proclaiming on its boxes to have been producing cakes and other delicacies since 1870.

I am a firm believer that pudding makes the best breakfast. The shop displayed a formidable array of chocolates, cakes, baklava, and other Egyptian sweets.

Not knowing what anything was, and with no clear labels, I just picked what I thought looked best from the cake selection - and I picked well!

The cake was encased with a caramel cake surround and filled with various layers. From top to bottom, vanilla cream, pistachios, a thin sponge layer, a caramel cream that made up the majority of the filling, and finally a chocolate cake base.

It was a superb breakfast, certainly better than chickpeas!


And that is the conclusion of my various food experiences in Egypt.

I did of course eat many more meals and other bits and pieces than I described above, but really the rest was either similar or unremarkable.

The general cuisine in Egypt, as I've said, does not vary much - whether that's due to availability, pricing, local tastes, whatever, I'm not sure. But the country is well worth a visit - not only for its food, but also for the wonderful attractions, the lovely people, and the excellent climate.

Drop a comment if you've any questions and I'll do my best to answer anything I can!

Hope the blog was worth the wait...


Coming up:

- The big 'do' at the weekend.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

French Toast And Blueberry Coulis

I've been trying to get into liking eggs recently. As I was saying in the previous blog, I can deal with egg in a few forms, but others just make me baulk.

So, in my new adventurous mindset, I thought that once again I'd use eggs in a recipe but try to cover up the taste as much as possible! French toast with blueberry coulis...


A traditional french toast recipe would usually use just normal milk, but, in an effort to even further mask the eggy taste, I used strawberry milk. It should also be noted that french toast was not invented in France, but rather in Rome, and today it is a popular breakfast dish in the USA.

You will need:

- 4 eggs
- 250ml strawberry milk
- 200g caster sugar
- 1 punnet of blueberries
- Lemon juice
- 6 slices of bread

This is an incredibly simple dish to make, there's really only a couple of steps.

Beat your eggs, milk and half the caster sugar together in a bowl until it's all combined well. You want to soak the bread in this while you heat a good knob of butter in a frying pan or griddle.

Once the butter is melted and hot, fry your toast off in batches (depending on the size of your frying pan), making sure to brown the toast off on both sides. Make sure the butter is very hot so that it cooks the outside of the toast quickly rather than sinking in and making a soggy mess.

To make the blueberry coulis, simply put all the blueberries, the rest of the sugar, and a good squeeze of lemon juice into another pan and cook it out for maybe 5 - 10 minutes.

Stir frequently and give the blueberries a good bashing to release their juice into the coulis. Once the sugar has all melted and the blueberries are simmering down, add in a little cornflour mixed with water to thicken up the sauce.

Stir on the heat for a couple more minutes before taking it off and straining it through a sieve.

Everything is now in place for you to stack your french toast and pour your coulis over the top and devour...



Coming up:

- I'll be cooking for about 40 people or so next weekend for a work do. Expect to see the results (or lack thereof - hopefully not!) on here.
- Egypt blog. Honestly!

Sunday, 6 February 2011


I'm not much of an egg fan. I can deal with the yolk in a fried egg, I love poached eggs, and I can just about eat an omelette. Maybe. But I hate boiled eggs, and the white on a fried egg.

I had four eggs to use up though, and so I decided to try and disguise the taste of them as much as possible while still using them in a reasonably substantial meal. Time to try making a frittata...


You will need:

- 4 eggs
- 2 potatoes
- 1 red onion
- 50g mushrooms
- 1 pepper
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 polony sausage (This is just what I chose, but really anything like chorizo or pepperoni would be fine)
- 100g cheese
- Salt, pepper to season

Start by peeling and chopping the potatoes and getting them on the boil. This is the longest process in making the whole thing, so best to get it started as soon as possible. It is best to cut the potatoes to the size they'll need to be in the frittata before boiling them - saves any finnicky manipulation later. Cut them fairly chunky, but reasonably small.

Then turn your attention to preparing everything else. While the potatoes are cooking dice the rest of the vegetables, garlic, and sausage, again quite small. It is a good idea to also prepare the cheese and eggs at this time too. Simply grate your cheese down on one plate. In a separate bowl, beat the four eggs together with seasoning to taste. Just enough to combine the whites and yolks.

Once everything is prepared, get a pan out that'll be big enough to cook the frittata in. About a ten inch pan should be enough.

Start by frying off all the vegetables and sausage, etc. It's now that you'll want to add any seasoning to the mixture. I used a mixture of paprika, dried red pepper and thyme.

Once the vegetables have been cooked through, and the potato is ready, put the potatoes into the frittata pan, and allow it all to cook for maybe another five minutes or so.

Now add in the egg. Just pour it over the top and allow it to cook through (without stirring) for about fifteen minutes. Make sure the heat is not up too high at this point or the omelette will burn on the bottom before it is cooked through (I may only know about the potential for this to happen because that's what happened to me...).

Once it's cooked about half way through, put the grill on in your oven and put the whole pan under it for about five minutes. Take it out when the egg all looks cooked through, again keeping a close eye that it's not all burning.

Take the frittata out, cover it in the grated cheese before putting it back under the grill until the cheese is bubbling.

Then it's ready! Slice and serve. It's also great cold, so any leftovers make for a great breakfast or lunch.


Coming up:

- Egypt blog. Really.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Haggis Risotto

To use up the last of the haggis, I decided to make a risotto... One word of warning - make sure your stirring hand is up to the job. 20-30 minutes of constant stirring is a pain in the wrist.


You will need:

- 400g risotto rice
- 1l or so of beef stock
- Some haggis
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 300ml white wine
- Salt and pepper to season
- Butter and cream to finish

Start by very finely chopping up the onions and garlic and frying them gently in some oil and butter. I used some chilli oil to give the dish some extra kick.

After the vegetables have softened a little, add in the rice and fry it out for a couple of minutes until the butter and oil is all absorbed.

Crank the heat all the way up before adding the wine. Pour it in to the pan and, constantly stirring, work the rice until it has absorbed all the liquid. The stirring helps to bring out the starch from the rice to give the creamy finish that is associated with risotto.

Once the wine is all gone, start to pour in the stock a bit at a time. The same rules apply - stir constantly, and wait until all the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Taste frequently to check the seasoning - adding pepper or salt as needed - and also to check how cooked the rice is. Stop adding stock if the rice is cooked through.

There really is some rice behind the steam in the above photo...

Once the rice is cooked, all that is left is to add in a large knob of butter and a splash of cream. Stir this through to give a rich finish to the risotto, and then leave it to sit for a couple of minutes while you heat through the haggis to crumble over the top.

The ingredients listed should cook enough for about 4. If you're going to have any leftover then crumble the haggis through it and stir in rather than leaving it on top to dry out in storage.


Coming up:

- Egypt. Still. Really.
- Frittata for lunch... should find its way on here.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Apple Juice Battered Pork

So, after all the recent Burns festivities, I was given a haggis that was leftover by my colleague, Linda.

Having pondered over what to do with it, I settled for two dishes. One I made today and the other I'll do tomorrow night.

Today I made apple juice battered pork with mashed potato and sliced haggis. Tomorrow I'll be finishing off the haggis in a risotto.

Let me set the scene a little. First of all, pork and haggis is a little unusual - but chicken stuffed with haggis is not uncommon. I had pork leftover, and I just thought as another white meat that it would be a decent partner (and it was). This is essentially a leftovers meal - spare chops, haggis and a couple of potatoes in the cupboard.

As for the apple juice batter (think beer batter, but the beer substituted with apple juice), I'm afraid that this is not an idea that I can claim as my own. I was talking about the 'art of battering' with another colleague, Sammy, and she suggested that instead of an apple sauce with the pork, use an apple juice batter instead - put the flavour directly onto the meat as it were.

Intrigued, I had to give it a go. The conversation also led to the idea of irn bru duck with an irn bru reduction being mooted... but we'll see about that!

Anyway, below is how it all went.


You will need (to serve one):

- 2 large potatoes
- Salt, pepper, butter and milk for the mash
- 1 slice of boiled haggis
- 1 pork chop
- 225g plain flour
- 200ml apple juice
- 100ml soda water

I'm not going to explain mashed potato again, as you can find it here. Plus, I'm sure you already know how.

Anyway, I had a whole haggis, but I only needed a slice for tonight. I boiled the whole thing though, and just kept the rest in the fridge for tomorrow.

For those who don't know, a haggis looks like this.

To boil it, you just wrap the whole thing (skin and all) in tinfoil and stick it in a pan of boiling water. For one this size (just a bit bigger than a fist), it'll take about forty five minutes.

When there's about fifteen minutes left for your haggis, get your potatoes on for the mash before turning your attention to the batter.

It's very, very simple - 225g plain flour whisked together with 200ml apple juice and 100ml soda water. The soda water keeps the batter nice and light, while the apple juice gives flavour. You want the batter to be fairly thick - a little like pancake batter. Make sure to be heating some oil in a pan to deep fry the pork while you make the batter.

Take the pork chop and dust it well with some spare flour before coating it thoroughly in the batter. Carefully lower the chop into the hot oil, and it will take about 10 minutes to cook through and for the batter to brown nicely. You can trim the fat of the pork before frying it, but it's fine either way. It really all depends on how healthy you want to be - but to be honest, if you're making this, you probably don't really care about that.

Once the pork is done, lay it on some kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil, and make your mash.

Your haggis should be done now too, so drain the pot, take the foil off the haggis and then take a slice of it for the meal. You can fridge the rest.

Now just arrange it all on your plate and enjoy an appley pork chop with some superb sides!


Coming up:

- Haggis risotto tomorrow night.
- I will get that Egypt blog up - it's in the works. Quite long though...

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Burns Lunch

Work is now over and I'm home blogging about lunch today - as it was a late celebration of Robert Burns' Birthday.

Scotland's national poet and one of her greatest heroes, Burns is remembered for his often satirical poems on the church and politics, as well as his beautiful works written in old Scots dialect.

As I was in Egypt last week (Burns' birthday is 25th January), I held a wee shindig at work this week to remember him - and to give all the English a wee taste of Scotland... The haggis!


For those who don't know, to celebrate Burns Day, it is tradition to bring the haggis to the table to the sound of a tumultuous pipe band (sadly the music at work wasn't quite so loud as it could have been), and is then recited to with one of Burns' most famous works - the Address to a Haggis. The haggis is ceremoniously sliced open with a sgian dubh during the third verse.

The haggis will be served with mashed potato, mashed turnip (sometimes mixed with carrot), and whisky (and sometimes a whisky sauce... or just whisky poured over the haggis. Really.). But for the purposes of work, we drank Irn Bru with lunch.

Then, time is taken to recite Burns' poems or sing songs. I've uploaded a video of me butchering 'A Red, Red Rose' too... Just for you all to have a laugh.

All in all, I think it was a good wee change from a usual work lunch, and something new for a few of the staff. Superb.


Coming up:

- Egypt blog.