11/04/2017 § Leave a comment
Noodles have come to my rescue twice these past few days. Having a pretty potent hangover on Saturday morning and contracting a stinking cold yesterday, I’ve been working on my medicinal ramen.
I think it was Jay Rayner who took to Twitter last year to lambast claims that chicken broth and other foodstuffs have any sort of proven medicinal properties, but you cannot deny that something chickeny, noodley, savoury and wet is what you fancy when your body is feeling like it’s been pulled through the wringer.
Saturday’s hangover noodle broth was very much the joyous invention of somebody feeling a bit ‘tired and emotional’, grabbing items impulsively from their cupboards. The end result was an inelegant bowl of chicken stock (made with a low-salt stock cube – so shoot me), egg noodles, garlic, sliced mushrooms and frozen peas that had softened in the boiling stock, and a sliced boiled egg. Also, as is the rule with all hangover foods, I doused the bowl quite liberally with chilli powder before tucking in.
This little bowl of succour gave me the hydration and energy to power through the afternoon, which was very important because I had a lot of errands to run in town and then I had to get the bus to my office to collect my car, which has become the new ‘walk of shame’ now I am in my 30s.
No sooner had I shaken off the effects of the hangover than I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. On Sunday night I woke up with barbed wire in my oesophagus and by Monday morning I was a snotty wreck at my desk desperately trying to proofread my April/May edition between managing a runny nose and the pressure building in my sinuses.
But why on earth would you go to work when you’re at your most nose-driblinngly contagious, Rose? Why would you do that to your colleagues who have holidays and events and deadlines to be healthy for. For that I apologise. Not only do I have to be at work to get my magazine to print, I have plumbers coming to the house to install my new bathroom this week so being at home isn’t a terrific option if I can physically sit up and type, even if it left me feeling exhausted last night. So when I got home yesterday evening I decided to have another crack at a bowl of ramen to comfort, sooth and cure what ailed me.
The preparation for this ramen was simple to the point of laziness – perfect for somebody longing to put on pyjamas and head straight to bed with her Kindle. I had chicken breasts in the freezer so roasted two of those with a little seasoning for 45 minutes, during which time I chopped up a few chestnut mushrooms, garlic and parsley, got out the rest of my ingredients (small tin of sweetcorn, eggs, egg noodles, another low-salt stock cube, soy sauce, chilli powder and half a lemon) and then went away to quietly die for a 40 minutes before the chicken was ready.
When the chicken was cooked, I took it out the oven and fired up my wok to stir-fry the mushrooms, garlic and sweetcorn. I boiled my noodles and my eggs (5 mins for a soft-hard boil) and rinsed them under the cold tap when I drained them so the eggs would be easier to peel and the noodles wouldn’t go gungey. There was enough gunge in this kitchen already. I sliced the chicken and eggs and boiled the kettle for my chicken stock (I made approx 400ml).
In two big bowls, first I put in my noodles, then I spooned over the vegetables, then I placed the chicken slices and eggs on top with a sprinkle of chilli powder, soy sauce and parsley. Then I poured half the stock over each and squeezed some lemon juice over the top.
It may not have been authentic or artfully done, but I ate every morsel of it. No my cold has not gone but what else was I going to do with what I had in the cupboards that I’d actually feel like eating? All I know is that it helped.
06/04/2017 § 1 Comment
I don’t want to risk transforming Spoonpen into some sort of ranting commentary on European or global politics. Goodness knows that my years in journalism and following EU policy as a significant part of my job has taught me that I really am not qualified to feign any sort of expertise on the matter. Nevertheless, the months since the EU referendum have stirred up passions in me and led me into ugly Twitter brawls with some pretty unpleasant individuals.
Last week on ‘Brexit Eve’, I returned home from a day of being ripped to shreds by some very aggressive members of the Twitter community (I blazed into a conversation I was never invited to) I decided to turn off Twitter and bake something.
I have lots of effective outlets for frustration/stress/anger/sadness/boredom. Yoga, walking, running and swimming are all well and good, but that night only baking a cake, a whole 23cm diameter cake, would help me whisk, beat and fold the voices ringing me ears into balmy white noise.
Upon checking my fridge, I realised that the only butter-type foodstuff I possess is a half tub of spreadable Lurpak and a very small knob of Welsh butter which I’m obviously saving for that time I’ll only need a very small quantity of butter to finish a meal… But I do have an obscene quantity of olive oil thanks to my parents bringing me a silo back from North Spain when they took the car to Santander do a wine and sardines run last autumn.
I had olive oil and I had almonds due to the fact I am terrible at visualising units of measurement so picked up two 200g bags of ground almonds incorrectly shelved behind a 100g price label in the supermarket. Obviously, had I realised there were 200g bags, I would only have taken one… but happily the superfluous bag of ground almonds had a destiny after all and let’s leave it at that.
As long as you have enough olive oil to sacrifice, and the requisite 150g of ground almonds. most of us will have the rest of the ingredients for Nigella’s chocolate olive oil cake at home. In no particular order, these are 200g sugar, three eggs, 50g cocoa powder, vanilla essence, bicarb and boiling water. So for a cake, it’s actually a bit of a skinny one. The recipe is available here and can be found in Nigella’s delightful Nigellisimma cookbook.
Now even though I am a real grownup, I still haven’t felt inclined to invest in a proper mixing machine. I’ve never had a recipe fail on me with my rudimentary toolkit of wooden spoons, analogue whisks and the whisk attachment to my handheld electric blender. You do need to use an electric whisk for this for a nice frothy mix, because as batters go, it’s an extremely runny one.
Once your tin and oven are ready to receive your unborn cake, you start by beating together the cocoa, kettle water and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl. I’ve made this recipe a few times now and sometimes the cocoa mix is a bit thicker when you mix in the water, but yesterday it felt thin. I was short on patience, however, and moved on to the rest of the ingredients. If, like me, you only possess one tool for measuring ingredients (in my case, one of those frightfully useful measuring cone things) you will need THREE bowls and it is important that you measure the oil, eggs and sugar into your big bowl. I measured my ground almonds, bicarb and salt into a cereal bowl, the cocoa mix was in a medium-sized bowl and for minimal collateral whisking damage, the sugar, oil and eggs went in the big bowl and were whisked into an emulsion before adding the cocoa mix (unfortunately my pink hoodie was caught up in the crossfire and ended up speckled like a free range egg), then finally you whisk or fold in the remaining dry ingredients.
I then poured the batter into the tin and slammed the tin into the middle of the oven very quickly to start the cooking process and minimise the chance of any of this dangerously thin batter finding its way out of the bottom of my tin (it didn’t).
40-45 minutes of baking later and the cake is very dark, very unset and smells incredible. The skewer test is pointless with this cake because your skewer is never going to come out clean. You just have to trust that everything will set while it cools in its tin.
I’ve made the flour version of this recipe before but I have to say that ground almonds are far superior for flavour and texture, but both versions are delicious and it’s such a simple cake because the ingredients are all things we normally have in anyway. Also, not only is it only 25g of sugar per serving (if you care about that sort of thing), but it’s flour and butter-free. And for an added bonus if you’re trying to be ‘good’, the batter isn’t particularly delicious so you don’t need to waste your time licking the spatula.
Baking may not have the answers to life’s great questions, but it is a good way of banishing demons and Twitter trolls.
27/03/2017 § Leave a comment
Like so many ‘90s boybands, Spoonpen is being resurrected and I don’t know whether it will succeed or flop silently into the cyber vacuum never to be heard of again.
Spoonpen has lain dormant for four years, going off the boil as things do when I got a new job and shortly after started planning my wedding. Settling into a new job and wedding planning really ought not to take four years, and yet here we are, in 2017. I am now 30 and a magazine editor, and along with having a husband, I also have a house, a car and a cat. I am an adult.
I was thinking about Spoonpen yesterday when I was cooking the tea on my wobbly convection cooker. Now, a convection cooker was not my first choice but when we moved into our cooker-less house last year I decided just to order the best cooker we could afford that would fit and would be delivered within a week (a shocking number require waiting up to five weeks for delivery). My obvious first choice would have been gas but as the previous owner’s cooker was electric upon inspecting the photos on our phones from our viewings, we did not know if the gas pipe to the cooker would even work as the gas fire had been disconnected, raising questions about the entire gas circuit. So rather than risk having a cooker that would require another callout from a Gas Safe engineer later on to connect it in the event the gas line didn’t work, we hedged our bets and went electric. And it wobbles because the plumber inspecting the gas circuit for our new bathroom needed to pull it out a fortnight ago upsetting the delicate folded cardboard I had placed under one corner in the first place.
So far, so dull. What made me think of Spoonpen was that first week when we did not have a cooker, but the weather was so glorious like it was yesterday that we had a barbecue every night. Being without your usual amenities forces you to be inventive and we did very well, making chicken fajitas by barbecuing marinated chicken breasts and slicing them up to put into wraps with peppers and onions charred on skewers with a dollop of sour cream. We definitely had Lincolnshire chipolatas a couple of times in hotdog buns with smoky onions sweated down in a pan on the barbecue coals. We even had minted lamb patties in a pitta with salad and mint yoghurt (our new garden is awash with mint which I am trying to extract and put into pots to keep it from killing the roses). And one night we cheated and ordered pizza.
I thought to myself, reminiscing about that strange week before we really had ‘moved in’ to our cosy terraced house, what a shame it was that I didn’t write about that week. I’m sorry I didn’t write about my first meal in the new house: the tuna sandwich and crisps I got from the corner shop and ate sitting in the garden not 30 minutes after opening my front door for the first time, as my husband drove back to the flat to get some more things and I waited for my family to arrive to help us start unpacking. I sat in my leggings, denim skirt and grey T-shirt in the sunshine looking at the flowers bursting into bloom on my hedges and in my flowerbeds. I remember finishing the sandwich and realising I didn’t even have a bin to dispose of the packaging. I’m sorry I didn’t write about the strange things you eat when you’re in a half-unpacked house and running up stairs with heavy boxes working harder physically than I ever did running half marathons the previous year. I’d lunch on toasted hotdog buns with jam and I ate the entire 500g box of peanut brittle my mother gave us as a moving in present while populating just one bookcase. And that’s after the chapter I could write on the weird things you eat in order to empty the freezer in the fortnight before moving house. Frozen peas went into everything. Cold fishfinger sandwiches (the fishfingers had been cooked first) came with me to the office. The ambiguous Tupperware boxes of frozen stew/chilli/curry were defrosted and served in a sort of delicious game of roulette. The vodka was courageously finished off – although I’m fairly certain that would have survived the move…
I am also sorry I didn’t write about one of the most fun parts of planning my wedding: choosing the food. The night my partner and I went to the wedding venue for our tasting dinner and laughed the whole way through just enjoying a ‘free’ meal together in the happy time before the stressful bit began, completely changing our minds about what it is we were going to choose and knowing full well that roasted salmon and cherry tomatoes wouldn’t please everybody, but we’d enjoy it more in August than the hefty beef alternative.
Everybody has stories like these concerning food and for me, life is what happens around meals. My father in his speech on my wedding day teased me for how high meals are on my list of priorities in life, when upon visiting my parents the first thing I ask them is what are we going to eat? Though not just the imminent lunch or tea, but our gastronomic plans for the entire weekend. But I’m interested in using Spoonpen as a platform for all of it, because sometimes food is the scenery and something else is centre stage.
My ‘new’ job – a job can’t be new after you’ve celebrated four times round the sun in the same chair, I know, but bear with – takes me around the world and wherever I go I try to eat like the locals eat. In Shanghai I ate piping hot broth-filled dumplings while a brutal head cold brewed inside me and thought they were the elixir of life. In Milan, I watched three young men fresh from the office sit down at the next table and order a carafe of wine and clams to share while watching the football and thought ‘how Italian’. I went to the Red Lobster and Hooters for the first time in Orlando and realised that in the US, they don’t expect you to actually clear your plate. I had to be rolled home and haven’t been able to look at a plate of calamari since. In Dubai, I ate a mezze of Emirati delights including flatbreads with dates wrapped around grilled spicy lamb. On my many many trips to Germany, I have sampled and enjoyed every riesling and pilsner, every kind of würst (chilliwürst with extra chilli sauce after a night on the pilsner is definitely the best), spätzle, goulash and schnitzel. I even had wiener schnitzel in its home of Vienna after being served a red wine spritzer by accident when I ordered a soda water and merlot… I didn’t mean together. It was definitely served with a side of ‘you what?’.
So why haven’t I been writing all of this down? From now on I mean to make amends. The good and the bad. Like the improbably dull meals I was served in Portugal this month on business, but I have been since reassured that it was just three separate anomalous occasions and Atlantic cuisine in Portugal is actually delicious and exciting. I look forward to being convinced. Or like the revolting smoked sausage I brought home (also from Portugal), which was full of fat that didn’t render down in the pan and didn’t taste of smoked pork at all… it tasted quite simply of what I imagine a dusty barn floor tastes like.
Anyway, for better or for worse, I am bringing back Spoonpen because I still have an awful lot to say about what I cook and eat, and the life that’s happening around it. Cheers.
14/04/2013 § 1 Comment
It’s finally in the slow cooker!
I appear to have picked up the irritating habit of selecting recipes that appear simple but in fact take ages to prepare. Take last weekend’s lemon and almond cake from River Café Two Easy. Not only was it not easy, but it used practically an entire kitchen of utensils. The end product was delicious and the perfect pudding to follow up a roast chicken dinner, but still, when I use a recipe book with ‘easy’ in the title I don’t expect to have to make custard from scratch.
Anyway, this weekend’s cooking project is the French classic Coq-au-vin and as my guide I used the Comfort Food Book – one of my absolute favourite cookbooks and certainly my most used given the spattered state it is in.
Despite the fact I’ve owned and cooked from this recipe book for about ten years, I’ve never made the Coq-au-vin recipe.
I commenced by flouting the initial instructions. Great start. The recipe calls for a whole hen cut into eight pieces, but I bought a pack of five chicken thighs instead. So spank me. Also, the recipe recommends the chicken marinates for one-to-three days. Now I was nursing a very bad hangover yesterday (why do so many of my blog posts include hangover suffering in them?) so I could only prepare the marinade and the chicken yesterday afternoon. Nevertheless, I reckon it’s had 24 hours of bathing.
Quick grammatical note, marinade is the noun, while marinate/s is the verb.
The marinade was not fun with a hangover yesterday. A whole bottle of red boiled for five minutes with a chopped onion and carrot. I forgot to buy celery so I added an extra onion. This is then cooled to room temperature and poured over the chicken and left until you’re ready to cook.
This next bit is meant to be done in a lovely big Le Creuset pot on an Aga, but instead I’ve opted for a large frying pan and my Breville slow cooker.
I fried lardons of bacon in a little rapeseed oil until crispy, set aside, and then placed the two largest chicken thighs skin side down in the remaining bacony fat, sealing for four or five minutes on each side. I then repeated this with the remaining smaller chicken thighs.
I popped the chicken and bacon into the slow cooker and set about sautéing two minced shallots and three garlic cloves in the same pan. They then went in with the meat. Next I fried off a whole packet of quartered button mushrooms and popped in the slow cooker and finally I rolled 15-18 whole, peeled shallots in the fat until they were catching at the edges and put them in the slow cooker too.
The reason for doing everything one at a time is purely so things cook nicely and it doesn’t all become a mushy homogenous steamed panfull of stuff.
Lastly, I deglazed the frying pan with the red wine marinade, adding it bit my bit and stirring. I then added the beurre manié (butter mashed with flour) to thicken it and popped in the marinated carrots and onions to simmer for five minutes until a little reduced.
All of this is off-piste because I had to adapt the recipe for the slow cooker. And another thing, who can be bothered making a bouquet garni these days? I just chucked in a couple of bay leaves and some thyme stalks before adding a good grind of black pepper, a couple of tablespoons of chicken stock (not the required 500ml because the slow cooker will generate a lot of moisture) and then finally poured in the reduced marinade.
Now the coq-au-vin is simmering on a high setting in the slow cooker to be taken out in three hours, during which time I will be doing the ironing and making mashed potatoes.
24/03/2013 § Leave a comment
Apparently, I live in Narnia, and the White Witch’s power is at its most potent.
So as I wait for Aslan to arrive in Cheshire – hopefully before the Easter long weekend – I’ve dug out the slow cooker. After all, if the slow cooker is ever going to be dusted off, it’s going to be dusted off when half the UK is dealing with a foot of snow.
My wonderful mother paid me a visit this week bearing meat. This may be to do with the fact I’ve grumbled about the rubbish red meat at the budget supermarket where me and Mr Spoon shop. So mum rocked up with two packets of minced Aberdeen Angus rump, veal escalopes, chorizo sausage, haggis and a kilo of silverside. And a bottle of wine (love you mum!).
I’ve tried making a few beef roasts here in our flat using joints
from the budget supermarket and each one was flavourless and tough, no matter how gently I braised it or how long I marinated it. This is due to the fact the meat was not hung and was probably butchered at the abattoir – or at least that is the conclusion my dad came to.
This silverside was matured on the bone and is best slow roasted. I have tried many, many times to do the perfect medium-rare roast beef and have failed. Steak: pink as you like. Joints: disappointing. So slow roasting it is.
I’ve never put a roasting joint in the slow cooker. My past failings have set a nagging doubt going in my head, as I wonder if the lovely bit of seasoned meat I’ve cuddled among carrots, red onion and strewn with thyme, rosemary and garlic in a shallow red wine bath will emerge from its day-long braise a dry, grey lump.
Full up. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I can confirm that silverside is best slow cooked for an entire day. We’ve just polished off one-third of the joint between us, leaving a lovely amount for two mid-week suppers.
I took the meat out of its delicious savory broth about fifteen minutes before serving and popped it onto a plate under a loose covering of tinfoil. It was at this point I knew the slow cooker had done what it was meant to do because the meat
was already falling away.
During the resting time I mashed my sweet potato and turnip, checked my greens and strained the beef broth into a saucepan, rescuing the carrots and onions and taking out the rosemary and thyme stalks. I popped the carrots and onions back in the slow cooker (now switched off) to keep warm.
I added a scant teaspoon of cornflour to the broth – which is now boiling furiously on the hob – but it made little difference, staying quite loose. I don’t mind this but I know Mr Spoon
likes a thicker gravy. Quick taste and it’s perfection, so never mind.
I teased the beef apart with two forks and served. It was so good I had seconds and now we’ve shredded the rest of the beef to be used later in the week.
So if you, like me, have failed to make the perfect pink-in-the-middle roast beef one too many times, I thoroughly recommend this method of cooking silverside. Plus, there’s the added benefit of shredding rather than carving, which will come as a relief to the loved ones of cooks such as myself who have one carving setting: doorwedge.
16/03/2013 § Leave a comment
Necessity is the mother of invention and on a cold March morning I found myself hankering after a cooked breakfast – but my beloved potato farls were nowhere to be found in my freezer.
I always keep a steady supply of store-bought farls (Irish potato cakes) in the freezer, because you tend to have at least two of the breakfast trinity (bacon/sausage, mushrooms, eggs) to hand of a weekend, thus facilitating a lovely, calorific cooked brekkie.
But I’ve recently started a new job and there’s been a succession of busy weekends, so my shopping routine has fallen out of kilter and unbeknownst to me, I failed to pick up more farls after toasting my last batch to eat with dippy eggs while nursing a particularly potent hangover following my office leaving party the other weekend.
Alas! Woe! Damn and blast it! And no, toast just will not do. Nor will going Atkins on my breakfast. A cooked breakfast without potato in some form just isn’t going to cut it for me. My mother always cooked sautéed potatoes with our weekend grilled breakfasts and ever since then any breakfast sans spuds just doesn’t feel complete.
But before I plumped with sautéing some of the little waxy potatoes I dug out (of the vegetable box, not the ground), I considered hash browns, and consulted my favorite tuber-based cookbook, Potato by Alex Barker and Sally Mansfield.
The recipe calls for 450g of cooked and then grated or finely chopped potatoes. As it’s just Mr Spoon and I, I cut this down to a little under 300g and popped the unpeeled spuds into simmering water to parboil for about 5-6 minutes. Meanwhile, I finely chopped half a medium onion.
I poured the spuds into a sieve and rinsed them with cold water to stop them from cooking.
I did not bother with peeling, firstly because I am lazy and secondly because I like the taste of potato skin. But I’m sure it makes for a tidier hash if they are naked. I grated the potatoes (sticky work as the starch in the potatoes goes gluey – which is desirable for the recipe but inconvenient for the cook) and then set a non-stick pan on a medium heat with a conservative glug of rapeseed oil.
I’m going through a rapeseed oil phase. Not least because it is cheaper than olive oil, but it is supposed to be just as healthy (if fat can be healthy) and it’s pressed in the UK so it’s better for the old carbon footprint and the economy. I’ve heard stories about the Mafia rigging the olive oil business in Europe too, but this could be bollocks.
Next, after testing a small pinch of grated potato in the oil, I pressed down the potato in the pan with the back of a spoon and sprinkled the onions on the top side of the raw hash along with a pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper.
During this time, I slid my bacon rashers under the grill, popped some sliced mushrooms in a saucepan with a little butter and cracked my eggs into a mug.
After about 5-6 minutes again, I checked the underside of the hash had started to brown. It looked golden but hadn’t caught so I decided it was ready to turn over. Now the recipe recommends quartering the hash and flipping each quarter over one at a time. This is a good method for idiots like me who have little-to-no kitchen finesse. I still managed to make a mess, with bloody sticky potato getting all over my spatula, but the turning over worked. No need for any more fat at this stage, by the way. I gave the cooked side a grind of pepper and then tended to my other breakfast ingredients.
Another 4-5 minutes and the underside was a nice golden brown too. But I was a little concerned about the uncooked bits that had managed to get onto the top of my hash while turning it over, so I popped the hash under the grill on a medium heat while I fried my eggs.
By the time the eggs were done, everything looked right and I served up my first ever hash browns. A faff, maybe, but they were delicious and were more or less inhaled by Mr Spoon who has promised to do the washing up as a thank you for my culinary efforts.
26/01/2013 § 2 Comments
Today is January 26th and for those who paid homage to Scotland’s national poet in the traditional way last night, it’s likely there will be bowls of cling-filmed haggis and neeps lurking in the fridge.
Obviously, trying to recreate a Burns Supper with just leftovers is never going to be as good as the real thing, so we are forced to improvise and I think there are four great ways of using up these ingredients in ways that are interesting and delicious.
Haggis sausage rolls
I made these for the first time a couple of years ago and every so often Mr Spoon will request them when I suggest making regular sausage rolls for picnics when out hiking. Haggis sausage rolls are the perfect snack when out on a cold mountainside, but as haggis can be difficult to procure in Cheshire when it isn’t late January these are a blue moon treat.
This isn’t a recipe as much as it is an enhancement – and is particularly good if you only have a tablespoon or so of haggis (although in my book, if it isn’t enough to be a portion in its own right then you might as well eat it rather than save it). To complete your Full Scottish breakfast, just fry off a little leftover haggis in the fat before adding your eggs and then strew the cooked fried eggs with the grains of haggis, completing your breakfast plate and complementing your sausages and bacon. Also, you could fry off any leftover neeps to make squishy little potato cakes to soak up all the egg and fat. *dribble*
Haggis pie for two
Another recipe that can use up some leftover neeps is haggis pie. Preheat oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Fry off a finely chopped carrot, garlic clove and onion in a saucepan. Remove to a plate and brown a small packet of minced beef or lamb. Put the vegetables back in with the meat and crumble in the haggis. Next, a few generous shakes of Worcestershire sauce and a couple of tablespoons of water and a little salt and pepper. Stir together for a couple of minutes and then remove to mini pie dishes for individual portions or a smallish casserole dish. Top with the leftover neeps and add a little cheese if that’s what you fancy. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top of the mash is crisping nicely and the meat underneath is bubbling around the sides of the potato.
I just made these for my lunch today. Invented on the spot, as many things are in my kitchen, they could have done with more haggis, but it’s my own fault for eating more than I should last night. Heat a little oil in a pan. Mix together your haggis and neeps in a bowl and add a little salt and pepper. Because I’m lazy, I just shaped them into patties of the same circumference as a baked bean tin with two dessert spoons, but making patties using your hands is fine too. Next, I coated them in breadcrumbs (no egg necessary because the potato is sticky enough) and popped them in the pan to sizzle, squishing down so they’re about 2cm tall. They need 2.5 minutes on each side and should be eaten piping hot with the condiment or chutney of your choosing. Mine was a blob of chilli jam.