Thursday, 31 December 2009

Review of 2009

2009, the year I started food blogging. This time last year I just another reader of food blogs and never did I imagine that I would start my own. Then in February I cooked a three course dinner for valentines day and after reading blog posts about the same thing I became inspired to start my own. I have to say I had my doubts about how long I would keep it up and still continue to be amazed by the things I have done cooking wise this year.

Initially I started this blog as a way of recording recipes I would like to cook again but food blogging has done so much more for me than that. I'm a much less fuss eater. I've tried raw fish, an ever increasing variety of vegetables (I was previously a carrots, peas and sweetcorn girl!) and also fish (fish fingers and salmon only this time last year). I got my first kitchenAid, which is still much loved and used. It pushed my bread baking onwards and also inspired me to join the Daring Bakers. Highlights include my first challenge, a Bakewell tart, the Dobos torte and Decembers gingerbread house. At the same time I joined the Daring cooks and a newly formed bread baking group Fresh from the oven. Highlights of the daring cooks challenges this year include Chinese potstickers, sushi and salmon en crute. I started out as a member of Fresh from the oven on their first challenge in June, in August I hosted the challenge of English muffins and took over the running of the group along with Jules of butcher, baker. I also joined the UK Food Bloggers Association and try to be an active member in the forum as much as time allows. And of course my blog reader continued to grow with more and more great blogs.
Another thing I have come to love about food blogging is the social side (you can find me on Twitter here). I have got to know some like minded people via this blog and twitter. Hopefully blogging and tweeting about my love of cooking/baking and sharing my successes (and sometimes failures) in the kitchen will stop me boring my none foodie friends and family! I have read and appreciated all the comments you have given me so thank you all and keep them coming.

Other foodie highlights of 2009 included a trip to the lake district and one to the Anglesey Oyster and welsh food produce festival (I even tried an oyster) where I discovered smoked bread flour. Favorite recipes other than those mentioned above have included authenitc spaghetti carbonara, blueberry crumble muffins and beetroot and spring greens risotto.

So what does 2010 have in store?
In mid December my boyfriend and I got our first DSLR camera (a second hand Canon EOS 400d) as an early Christmas present. I hope that this will start to make a difference to the photos on my blog.I hope to revive and complete my whats in season series which was side tracked due to lack of time. I also plan to continue trying to grow vegetables in our tiny garden. This year produced a bowl of mangetout and 2 courgettes! but I live in hope of producing more.

Bread wise I want to continue to bake the majority of bread we eat and to try lots of recipes and types. First up I plan to attempt sour dough again (you can read a bit about my first attempt at sour dough here) it was an epic failure but it was over a year ago now (pre-blogging) and the memories are fading enough for me to consider trying it again! This time I will be following the recipe from The handmade loaf by Dan Lepard, no doubt a much better recipe than the Jamie Oliver one I tried last time (sorry Jamie I have had great success with all your other recipes but not the sour dough).

I also received some ravioli cutters for Christmas so I'm hoping to experiment with them sometime soon. I didn't have much success with ravioli why I tried earlier this year but I'm hoping another Christmas present I received may help - The Italian cookery course by Katie Caldesi. Talking of cookbooks this year has also seen my collection expand exponentially. I got 3 for my birthday in October, 2 in Borders sale last month and 3 for Christmas alone. Favorites this year include Tender by Nigel Slater, Ottolenghi the cookbook and Larousse Gastronomique. I plan to try new recipes more often (especially from all these new cookbooks) because as I blogged last week I find cooking new recipes inspiring and therapeutic. All too often I fall in to the trap of planning a week of meals and writing a shopping list at the last minute and filling it with the same old meals. I hope to be more organised in 2010.

I plan to continue being a member of the daring bakers and daring cooks as I enjoy the excitment each month of what the next challenge will be and it pushes me to try recipes I wouldn't normally try. I also hope that myself and Jules can build on the success we have these last 6 months running Fresh from the oven.

All thats left is for me to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year!

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Monday, 28 December 2009

Daring bakers - December 2009 - Gingerbread house

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I've always admired gingerbread houses and even before this challenge was anounced I had contemplated baking one this year. However whether I actually would have found time to if it wasn't for the daring bakers I'm not so sure. I had great fun building my house, even if it was time consuming. When the challenge was announced I was very excited about it and eager to get started but since I wanted to be able to eat the house at christmas I waited until the 23rd to put the house together and decorate it, having pre-made and frozen the gingerbread pieces. I used the recipe given by Y of Lemonpi which came from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice A. Ojakangas. I used this template from Rachel Allen.

I kept it a secret from our families just in case mine turned out a complete distaster but I was very pleased with the result and I think everyone els liked it too. It even survived the journey an hour up the motorway to my boyfriends parents for christmas. We used it as a centre piece for the table on christmas day...and then it was demolished and we enjoyed eating it!

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Fresh from the oven - Stollen

This months Fresh from the oven Challenge was hosted by Jules. Since it was December and everyone was preparing for Christmas she picked a festive challenge - stollen.I've not eaten stollen before, let alone baked it myself and on top of this I'm not much of a marzipan fan. However my boyfriend loves marzipan so I went ahead and completed this months challenge. In the end I really enjoyed the taste of the stollen and had fun baking it. We shared the stollen with my boyfriends family and everyone enjoyed it. I could easily see myself baking stollen again next Christmas.

based on a Simon Rimmer recipe

100ml/3½fl oz warm milk
6g (1 sachet) fast action yeast or 2 tsp dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast
pinch salt
1 tsp caster sugar
225g/8oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp ground mixed spice
200g/7oz mixed dried fruit (including glacé cherries)
25g/1oz flaked almonds
50g/2oz unsalted butter
1 free-range egg, beaten
250g/9oz marzipan

To finish
25g/1oz butter, melted
50g/2oz icing sugar

1. Place the milk and yeast into a bowl and mix well. Leave to sit for 5-6 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sift the salt, sugar, flour and mixed spice into a large bowl. Add the dried fruit, almonds and butter and mix well then stir in the yeasty milk and mix well.

3. Add the egg and stir to form a dough. Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes, then cover and leave to prove for 20 minutes. Uncover the dough and turn out onto a clean, floured work surface. Knock the dough back to reduce the volume, then knead the dough for 3-4 minutes.

4. Push the dough out by hand into a flat oval shape about 23cm x 18cm/9in x 7in. Roll the marzipan into a sausage shape about 6cm/2in shorter than the dough. Place the marzipan into the centre of the dough, then fold over the sides of the dough to seal in the marzipan. Then fold in the ends of the dough to contain the marzipan and help give the dough shape. Place the stollen seal-side down onto a greased baking tray. Cover and place somewhere warm to prove for one hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 180C/365F/Gas 4. Place the stollen on the baking tray into the oven to bake for 40 minutes, or until golden-brown and cooked through.

6. To finish, remove the stollen from the oven, brush with the rum then melted butter and dust liberally with icing sugar immediately. Allow the stollen to cool, then serve in slices.

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Monday, 21 December 2009

Chickpea and chorizo stew

I don't know about you, but one of the things I love most about cooking is that moment when the stress and worries of the day just melt away. Whether it be in the therapeutic stirring of a risotto or just the shear concentration and enjoyment of following a new recipe. For me there is something therapeutic about food and cooking. There's nothing more relaxing than curling up with a new or old favorite cookbook, getting lost in the kitchen in the cooking process and the smells or sitting down with a warming bowl of comfort food.
After repeated talk of chickpea and chorizo stew on twitter I decided it was about time I tried it. I had also just purchased Joanna Weinberg's How to feed your friends with relish, which includes a recipe for this dish. The only down side is that the recipe in the book serves 25! However I discovered that Essex eating has scaled the recipe down on his website to feed 4-6 - find it here. I cooked the recipe tonight after a particularly hectic day at work and was not disappointed. The smells of this stew bubbling away on the stove were divine and the taste was literally bursting with flavours. We have half the recipe in the fridge ready for a quick meal tomorrow night and I have been led to believe that the flavours will improve! If you haven't tried this dish by now (& provided you like chorizo) I urge you to give this recipe ago.

It's night like these that leave me feeling inspired and determined to try new recipes more often. Maybe some time soon I'll scale down the recipe in the same book for cottage pie with chorizo, which feeds 40!

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Thursday, 10 December 2009

Daring cooks - Salmon en Croute

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.This months Daring cooks challenge struck the balance between keeping up the festive feeling without being another turkey dish! I really enjoyed this challenge and think it would make a perfect boxing day or new years dish.

Mine wasn't the best looking salmon en croute but the salmon was flaky and succulent and the sauce tasted delicious with the fish and the pastry. I will most likely make salmon en croute again possibly with a healthier sauce and filo pastry.

Thank you Simone for a great December challenge.

Salmon en croute:
Mascarpone or creamcheese 5.2 ounces/150 gr
Watercress, rocket (arugula) and spinach - 0.6 cup/4.2 ounces/120 gr
Shortcrust pastry - 17.6 ounces, 500 gr. Use a butter version such as Jus-rol which is frozen or dorset pastry. or... make your own!
Salmon fillet (skinless)- 17.6 ounce/500 gr
egg - 1 medium sized

1.Heat the oven to 200°C/390 F. Put the mascarpone or cream cheese in a food processor with the watercress, spinach and rocket and whizz the lot until you have a creamy green puree. Season well.
2. Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the salmon in it completely (approx. 2-3 mm thick) and lay it on a buttered or oiled baking sheet (it will hang over the edges). Put the salmon in the middle. If it has a thinner tail end, tuck it under. Spoon half of the watercress mixture onto the salmon. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel (the join will be at the top, so trim the edge neatly), making sure you don’t have any thick lumps of pastry as these won’t cook through properly. Trim off any excess as you need to. Make 3 neat cuts in the pastry to allow steam to escape and make some decorations with the off-cuts to disguise the join if you like. Brush with the egg glaze.
3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. To test whether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds then test it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked. Serve with the rest of the watercress puree as a sauce.

Shortcrust pastry
While this is not mandatory to do, I highly recommend making your own shortcrust pastry as it is very simple to do! As mentioned in the notes; please make sure to not add too much water as that is the key to having a successful shortcrust pastry. Watch this video to check the correct consistency of the dough Making shortcrust pastry

450 gr (15.8 ounces or 3.2 cups ) of plain all purpose flour
200 gr ( 7 ounce) cold butter
pinch of salt

Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. If you have a food processor you can use that as shown in the above video.
Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tbsp of water and mix to a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.

For best results make sure the butter is very cold.

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Christmas baking

The Christmas tree is up, the presents are wrapped and the cards have been sent. Now it's time for me to tell you about some of the festive baking I have been doing this month.

First up there were the Jamie Oliver mince pies (from last years Christmas show, recipe available here). These were incredibly simple to make and a delicious twist on traditional mince pies. We ate a few warm from the oven and the rest are sat in the freezer patiently waiting to be reheated from frozen nearer to Christmas. I followed the main recipe but I used more than 100g of mince meat as it was spread too thinly for my liking.
Next up are these Christmas spiced biscuits from Sainsbury's magazine. The flavours in these biscuits are delicious and quiet frankly I could eat them all year round! I'm sorry to say that there are none left! For that extra festive touch I decorated them with red and green icing.
I have also taken part in this months festive themed Daring cooks and Fresh from the oven challenges. The results of which will be posted on the 14th and 28th respectively. I also aim to find time to bake some extra Christmas treats for my family and also complete the December Daring bakers challenge so keep an eye out for them on here soon.

Spiced Christmas biscuits
Sainsbury's magazine, December 2008

225g soft butter
175g light soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon clear honey
1 large egg
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

  • In a food processor, mix together the butter, brown sugar and honey for a few minutes or so until pale and creamy. Then add the egg and mix again until combined.
  • Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices and mix until the mixture comes together to form a dough.
  • Turn the mixture out on to a lightly floured surface and knead gently, then divide in two.
  • Roll out each piece of dough between two sheets of baking parchment to about 0.5cm thick and chill for at least one hour until firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C, 170C (fan), gas 5.
  • Cut out star shapes using a cutter and place on a baking sheet; repeat until all the dough is used up.
  • Bake in batches for 10-12 minutes until golden, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • When cold, decorate with icing if desired.
Will keep in an airtight container for up to a week. Can be frozen uniced.

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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Christmas Hampers

So its December already! Where has this year gone? To get us all in the christmas spirit I have a few festive blog posts for you coming up over the next month and I've even used my limited skills to make the blog a little bit festive.

First up I have been wanting to tell you all about the wonderful Christmas hamper I received from Interflora since it arrived mid November. A couple of weeks before that I was contacted by them to see if I would be interested in them sending me a free hamper (worth £70) to review on my blog. I had no idea that Interflora did hampers (I had always associated them with flowers) and decided to check out their website. The hamper they sent me is just one of a range of Christmas hampers they are selling this Christmas, as well as a range of Christmas flowers.The hamper arrived just after 9am on the day they told me it would be dispatched and was packaged securely. The wicker hamper was enclosed in a tight fitting, smart black cardboard box to prevent movement during transport. All the glass items were wrapped in bubble wrap and surrounded by biodegradable packing material and the items fitted snugly in the hamper so that all items arrived in perfect condition.
The quality of the wicker hamper and its contents were fantastic. The hamper includes a bottle of red and a white wine, Christmas cake, mince pies, Christmas pudding, luxury fruit and nut mix, clotted cream biscuits and fudge, chocolates, a selection of Twinings teas, chocolate chip short bread biscuits, rosemary and thyme biscuits, strawberry jam, cranberry sauce and onion chutney. More than enough to keep us going over the festive season and in to January too!
Overall I would have to say that I would recommend Interflora hampers to anyone looking to send gifts to friends or family that live too far away to personally deliver your gifts. At least there is no chance of delays due to postal strikes!

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Saturday, 28 November 2009

Fresh from the oven - White tin loaf

This month's Fresh from the oven challenge was hosted by Linda of With knife and fork. She chose a simple English tin loaf. Part of the challenge was to learn the kneading technique she was taught by Dan Lepard. This was the first time since before I bought my KitchenAid that I kneaded bread by hand. It was easy and the resulting bread rose well and had great texture. I would recommend any one who kneads bread by hand to give this a go but I won't be giving up using my KitchenAid regularly! The bread was good for sandwiches but taste wise I didn't enjoy it as much as other breads I bake. However this could be because I mostly bake wholemeal loafs for sandwiches. Thanks again Linda for hosting this months challenge.

Dan Lepard says he developed this when he was working full time in commercial kitchens (that made artisan hand kneaded bread) because there wasn’t time for full 10 minute knead of all the different bread batches so he switched to short kneads spaced out and found it works just as well, part of the development of a good gluten structure is dependent on the time elapsed not the vigorous kneading. I liked the idea because I’d not been getting good textures with either a machine or a normal hand knead. I am now a wholesale convert.


You must use oil not flour on the kneading surface and your hands. Something like vegetable oil is good.

The dough must be quite sticky and soft to start with. It will firm up when kneaded and as time progresses.


  • Once you have soft sticky dough leave it covered in the bowl for 10 minutes.
  • Now oil your kneading surface and hands and tip the dough out.
  • Knead for about 12 seconds by folding in the edges to the centre, a bit like shaping a round loaf, rotate the dough as you go.
  • Flip the dough over, leave it on the surface and cover with a cloth. Wash out the bowl and then oil it lightly. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover.
  • Leave for 10-15 minutes and then do another 12 second knead. You will notice the dough is already less sticky and firmer.
  • Leave for 20 -30 mins and repeat the fast knead. You are aiming to have kneaded the dough 3 times in the first hour.
  • Leave covered to rise until at least 50% larger but not more than double in size.
  • Tip out onto the oil surface and press the air out of the dough using the tips of your fingers so its square-ish in shape. Repeat the fast knead process (or fold in to thirds then rotate through 90, flatten again and fold into 3rds again).
  • Shape the dough as required for the particular loaf you are making. Put it in a tin, or supported in a floured cloth in a bowl.
  • Leave to rise until at least 50% larger and preferably almost double in size.
  • Slash top and bake as per your recipe.

White Tin Loaf

(based on Dan Lepard’s Quick White Loaf, p63 of the Handmade Loaf)

2lb loaf tin greased and floured or lined with baking parchment (no need to line the short ends just oil them).

Oven to be pre-heated to its maximum setting (R10/250C) and with a tray of water in the bottom to create steam.


200g semi skimmed milk at room temp (Dan uses whole milk but semi skimmed seems to work fine)

150g water at room temp (remember 1g = 1ml but its easier to be accurate weighing fluids)

1 tsp fast action yeast (or 2 tsp fresh yeast crumbled)

200g plain white flour

300g strong white bread flour

1 ½ tsp fine sea salt


Mix the flours and salt together in a bowl.

Mix the water and milk together in a separate bowl and whisk in the yeast.

Add the liquid to the flour and mix with the fingers of one hand to a soft sticky rough dough. You may need to add a little more liquid do this a teaspoon at a time until you have a soft sticky dough.

Follow the kneading instructions above.

The first rise will probably take about an hour from the last knead.

To shape for a tin loaf, flatten the dough to a square about the same width as your tin. Roll the dough into a cylinder and press the seam firmly, fold under the two short ends and place in the tin seam side down.

Allow to rise (covered) to 1 ½ to 2 times volume i.e. to the top of the tin.

Slash the top of the loaf along it length and put it straight into the oven for 10 minutes at maximum temperature. After 10 minutes check how it’s browning and drop the temperature as follows (these baking guidelines are from the River Cottage Bread Book):

R6/200C if the crust is pale

R4/180C if crust is noticeably browning

R3/170C if crust is browning quickly

And cook for a further 40-50 minutes.

I usually check again part way through this time and either adjust temperature again or cover the top with foil if it’s brown enough. Also note that with a traditional gas oven (i.e. one without a fan) the top may brown far too quickly on the side near the heat at the initial temperature so you might want to start at a lower setting of R8/9 for the first 10 minutes. Adapt the setting for what you know about your oven and how things usually bake.

When it’s cooked turn it out of the tin and allow to cool.

Then when it’s cooled cut a big huge doorstop of a slice toast it and slather with lashing of butter. Yum.

The recipe also works well with a mix of 50:50 wholemeal and white bread flours. You’ll prod need 2-3 tbps extra water.

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Friday, 27 November 2009

Daring bakers - November 2009 - Cannoli

I had mixed feelings about this months Daring bakers challenge. On the one hand I love cooking and eating Italian food but on the other, I refuse to deep fat fry anything. A bit further in to the post and I discovered that it was possible to bake cannoli. So I decided to give the baked version ago. I just needed to find out at what temperature and for how long and what I could use instead of buying cannoli forms. A bit of research on the Internet and I found a video where not only did the cook bake his cannoli but he used 1 inch diameter wooden dowelling to shape and bake the cannoli.
So armed with 6 3 inch lengths of wooden dowelling one Sunday afternoon I set about making baked cannoli. The dough itself was simple enough to make using my KitchenAid, however rolling out thinly was quiet a challenge. I shaped the dough around my soaked lengths of dowelling (just as suggested in the video) and baked as directed. I only made 6 cannoli since there were only 2 of us but unfortunately 4 of them refused to be parted from the dowelling! The two that survived with filled with whipped cream (a cheats filling I know but I guess I must have known they wouldn't turn out!) and decorated with chocolate chips. The taste? I have to say I wasn't impressed with the taste. I'm sure that part of the problem was that I went for the healthier cooking option but even so I didn't rate the flavour of the shell that much. At least this was a slight improvement on last months macaroons!

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

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Sunday, 15 November 2009

Christmas pudding challenge

A few weeks back I saw a competition posted on the UKFBA website. The competition was to come up with an alternative way of using a Christmas pudding. The competition is being run by Mathew Walker who have been making Christmas puddings in Derbyshire since 1899. Mathew Walker generously sent all bloggers wanting to enter the competition a 100g taster Christmas pudding and a full size (454g) Christmas pudding.

So I started to think of recipes using Christmas pudding, specifically leftover Christmas pudding (yes, I believe it does happen in some households!). I wanted to create something simple that could be used as a desert on boxing day. The final recipe I settled on was to replace meringue with Christmas pudding in a twist on the traditional Eton mess - a Christmas mess!

I still wanted there to be a mixture of textures as well as flavour so I decided to include broken up pieces of brandy snaps in the cream mixture. The hardest part was deciding what fruit to put in it. Cherry's soaked in kirsch? cranberry sauce? mandarin segments? I think all would work well. In the end though I found a tub of pears in cranberry juice which left them a beautiful pink/red colour. The dish tasted delicious. all the flavours blended together well (helped by the Christmas pudding being so delicious and flavourful) and I enjoyed the mixture of textures. The brandy flavour in the Christmas pudding infused through all the cream making it all lovely and as my boyfriend called it "Christmas in a glass".A Christmas mess is the ideal desert for boxing day. Its quick and simple to prepare (exactly what you need after all the preparation and cooking on Christmas day), uses up any leftover Christmas pudding, includes many of the traditional flavours of Christmas and tastes fantastic. Leftover Christmas pudding can be included cold or reheated (and then cooled slightly before adding to the cream). You could heat by frying lightly or in a microwave. The quantities are a bit vague allowing you to customise the recipe to your families tastes.

Christmas Mess
Serves 4

200g leftover Christmas pudding (or as much as you have/like).
400ml double cream or whipping cream
4-6 brandy snaps
Tub of pears in cranberry juice (tinned pears in natural juice would also work or any fruit of your choice)
Icing sugar and coco powder for dusting.

  • In a large bowl softly whip the cream until it is thick and soft.
  • Gently stir in most of the bits of brandy snap and all the Christmas pudding.
  • Put a layer of pears in the bottom of 4 glass dessert bowls (I used wine glasses).
  • Spoon the cream mixture on top.
  • Decorate the tops with the reserved brandy snap shards.
  • Dust with icing sugar and coco powder.
  • Serve.

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Saturday, 14 November 2009

Daring cooks - Sushi

Not that long ago, if you had asked me to eat sushi, I would have point blank refused, stating that I don't like raw fish (even though I had not tried it!). Thankfully I seem to be getting much more adventurous and willing to try new things. So when I read that this months Daring Cooks challenge was sushi, I surprised myself by getting quiet excited about the challenge. The next weekend we gave up or usual coffee and cake shopping break and instead opted to visit the Yo-sushi bar in our local shopping centre and try a few different types of sushi. I loved the set up of the sushi bar with the conveyor belt where you can pick which dishes you want to try and the ability to watch the chef's preparing the sushi whilst you eat. However it was with some trepidation that I took my first bite of a raw salmon nigiri sushi. It was actually quiet nice! so much so that I went on to try a tuna one as well! I have to admit to still being a bit freaked out by the thought of fish roe but I tried a dragon roll with fish roe on the outside of the rice and it wasn't bad but I wasn't rushing to eat any roll containing large amounts!

After our research trip to Yo sushi I started to think about making sushi at home. I was unconvinced about buying fish fresh enough to eat raw locally so I decided to stick with smoked salmon and cooked prawns as my fish element. I also used avocado, cucumber and roasted red peppers.
The challenge had four parts:-
Part 1: Making proper sushi rice – you will wash, rinse, drain, soak, cook, dress, and cool short grain rice until each grain is sticky enough to hold toppings or bind ingredients. Then you will use the cooked rice to form three types of sushi:
Part 2: Dragon sushi roll – an avocado covered inside-out rice roll with a tasty surprise filling
Part 3: Decorative sushi – a nori-coated rice roll which reveals a decorative pattern when cut
Part 4: Nigiri sushi – hand-shaped rice rolls with toppings

The most time consuming part of the challenge is preparing the rice but once you have this done and all your filling ingredients prepared the rest of the process is easier than I expected and so much fun. You can get as creative as you like with the fillings and in particular presenting the dragon rolls.I really enjoyed preparing and eating the sushi rolls for this daring cooks challenge. I think it has been my favorite so far. I tried (& liked) raw fish sushi for the first time, I had fun preparing my own sushi (even if I cheated and didn't use raw fish) and I was very impressed with how my sushi turned out!

Thanks to Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen for picking a great challenge!

The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.

PART 1 : SUSHI RICE (makes about 7 cups of cooked sushi rice)

Preparation time: 1¾ hours consisting of :-
Rinsing and draining rice: 35 minutes
Soaking rice: 30 minutes (includes 5 minutes making the vinegar dressing)
Cooking and steaming time: 25 minutes
Finishing the rice: 15 minutes


  • 2½ cups uncooked short grain rice
  • 2½ cups water
  • For superior results use equal volumes of rice and water

Optional Ingredients

  • 3 inch (75mm or 15 grams) square dashi konbu (or kombu) (dried kelp seaweed) wipe with a damp cloth to remove white powder & cut a few slits in the sides of the kelp to help release its flavours
  • 2½ teaspoons (12.5 mls) of sake (Japanese rice wine)

Sushi vinegar dressing

  • 5 Tablespoons (75 mls) rice vinegar
  • 5 Teaspoons (25 mls or 21 grams) sugar
  • 1¼ Teaspoons (6.25 mls or 4.5 grams) salt

Rinsing and draining the rice

  1. Swirl rice gently in a bowl of water, drain, repeat 3-4 times until water is nearly clear. Don't crush the rice in your hands or against the side of the bowl since dry rice is very brittle.
  2. Gently place rice into a strainer and drain well for 30 minutes.

Soaking the rice

  1. Gently place the rice into a heavy medium pot with a tight fitting lid (if you have a loose fitting lid use a piece of aluminium foil to make the seal tight).
  2. Add 2½ cups of water and the dashi konbu.
  3. Set the rice aside to soak for 30 minutes, during this time prepare the sushi rice dressing.

Preparing the Rice Vinegar Dressing

  1. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl.
  2. Heat on low setting.
  3. Stir until the mixture goes clear and the sugar and salt have dissolved.
  4. Set aside at room temperature until the rice is cooked.

Cooking the rice

  1. After 30 minutes of soaking add sake (if using) to the rice.
  2. Bring rinsed and soaked rice to the boil.
  3. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed, 12-15 minutes. Do not remove the lid during this process. Turn off heat.
  4. Let stand with the lid on, 10-15 minutes. Do not peek inside the pot or remove the lid. During this time the rice is steaming which completes the cooking process.

Finishing the rice

  • Turning out the rice

  1. Moisten lightly a flat thin wooden spatula or spoon and a large shallow flat-bottomed non-metallic (plastic, glass or wood) bowl. Do not use metallic objects since the vinegar will react with it and produce sour and bitter sushi rice.
  2. Remove the dashi konbu (kelp) from the cooked rice.
  3. Use the spatula to loosen gently the rice and invert the rice pot over the bowl, gently causing the cooked rice to fall into the bowl in one central heap. Do this gently so as not to cause the rice grains to become damaged.

  • Dressing the rice with vinegar

  1. Slowly pour the cooled sushi vinegar over the spatula onto the hot rice.
  2. Using the spatula gently spread the rice into a thin, even layer using a 45° cutting action to break up any lumps and to separate the rice. Don't stir or mash rice.
  3. After the rice is spread out, start turning it over gently, in small portions, using a cutting action, allowing steam to escape, for about a minute.

  • Fanning & Tossing the rice

  1. Continue turning over the rice, but now start fanning (using a piece of stiff cardboard) the rice vigorously as you do so. Don't flip the rice into the air but continue to gently slice, lift and turn the rice occasionally, for 10 minutes. Cooling the rice using a fan gives good flavour, texture and a high-gloss sheen to the rice. The vinegar dressing will be absorbed by the hot rice. Using a small electric fan on the lowest speed setting is highly recommended.
  2. Stop fanning when there's no more visible steam, and all the vinegar dressing has been adsorbed and the rice is shiny. Your sushi rice is ready to be used.

  • Keeping the rice moist

  1. Cover with a damp, lint free cloth to prevent the rice from drying out while preparing your sushi meal. Do not store sushi rice in the refrigerator leave on the counter covered at room temperature. Sushi rice is best used when it is at room temperature.

* Tip: To make sushi rice: for each cup of rice use 1 cup of water, 2 Tbs rice vinegar, 2 tsp sugar, ½ tsp salt and 1 tsp sake. For superior results use equal volumes of rice and water when cooking the sushi rice since the weight of rice can vary. Weight of 2½ cups of uncooked rice is about 525 grams or 18½ ounces.

* Tip: While the rice is draining, soaking and cooking prepare your rice vinegar dressing, sushi fillings and toppings.

PART 2 : Dragon Rolls (also called Caterpillar Rolls)

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus 1¾ hours to make the sushi rice
Cooking time: about 5 minutes (grilling the eel)

Yield: 2 inside-out (uramaki) sushi rolls


  • 1 sheet 7”x8” (17.5cmx20cm) of toasted nori (dried seaweed sheets), cut into halves
  • 1/2 Japanese cucumber
  • 2 cups of prepared sushi rice
  • Glazed Barbecued Eel (ungai) (about 3½ ounces or 100 grams)
  • 1 Avocado
  • Vinegared Water – ½ cup of water combined with a dash of rice vinegar
  • Various small amounts of sauces to use as the flames of the dragon (or legs of a caterpillar)


  • 2 tablespoons (25 grams or 1 oz) Fish Roe (Fish eggs)

1.Cut cucumber into strips ¼ inch (6mm) x 7” (175mm) long, then salt, rinse & dry the strips.
2.Grill (broil) the eel for about 2-5 minutes until bubbling. Cut into two lengthwise strips.
3.Halve, pit and peel the avocado. Cut the avocado halves into thin even 1/8 inch (3 mm) slices. Fan out the cut avocado into a 7 inch (175 mm) overlapping pattern.
4.Cover bamboo mat with plastic wrap. Place a sheet of nori shiny side down, lengthwise, on the edge the mat.
5.Moisten lightly your hands in the bowl of vinegared water.
6.Place one cup of rice on the nori and gently rake your fingertips across grains to spread rice evenly. Do not mash or squash the rice onto the nori, the rice should appear loosely packed and be evenly distributed over the entire sheet, you should be able to see the nori sheet in a few places.
7.Flip the rice-covered nori over (so the bare nori is now on top) and place on the edge of the mat closest to you.
8.Arrange one of the eel strips across the length of the nori, not quite centred on it but a little closer to you. Place half the cucumber sticks next to the eel.
9.Lift the edge of the mat closest to you with both hands, keeping your fingertips over the fillings, and roll the mat and its contents until the edge of the mat touches straight down on the nori, enclosing the fillings completely. Lift up the edge of the mat you're holding, and continue rolling the inside-out roll away from you until it's sealed. Tug at the mat to tighten the seal. If the rice doesn't quite close the roll add more rice in the gap and re-roll using the mat to completely cover the inside-out roll. Place the roll on a damp, clean smooth surface.
10.Spread about 1 tablespoon of the optional fish roe along the entire top of the rice-covered roll. Using the plastic covered mat gently press the fish roe so it adheres to the rice.
11.Slide a knife under one fan of avocado and transfer it onto the top of an inside-out roll. Gently spread out the avocado layer to cover the entire roll. Lay the plastic wrapped mat over the avocado-covered roll. Squeeze very gently to shape the roll.
12. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the roll. Slice the roll into 6-8 equal, bite-sized pieces, wiping your knife with a damp towel before each slice. Discard the plastic wrap. Repeat the above to make one more roll.
13.Arrange the cut pieces on a serving plate with the sauces so the finished dish appears as a dragon breathing fire and flames (or a caterpillar with many legs).

* Tip: The most common mistake is having too much filling the golden rule is less is more when it comes to making sushi it is easier to roll an under-filled roll than an over-filled roll.

* Tip: Dampen your knife with a moist lint-free towel before every cut – this prevents the sushi rice from sticking to your knife.

* Tip: Excellent videos on making Dragon Rolls

PART 3 : Spiral Sushi Roll
This is easiest 'decorative' sushi roll.

Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus 1¾ hours to make the sushi rice

Yield: One Roll, cut into 8 pieces


  • 2½ cups prepared sushi rice
  • 2 sheets of toasted nori, each sized 7”x8” (17.5cmx20cm)
  • Six assorted fillings, each filling should be the size of a pencil (see note below)

1.Join 2 sheets of nori by moistening the adjacent edges and overlapping them about ½ inch (12mm).
2.Place this double sheet shiny side down on a rolling mat, part of the nori will extend beyond the mat.
3.Using moist fingers place 2½ cups of rice on the nori and gently rake your fingertips across grains to spread rice evenly, leaving ¼ inch (6mm) nori showing on the both ends of the sheet. Do not mash or squash the rice onto the nori, the rice should appear loosely packed and be evenly distributed over the entire sheet, you should be able to see the nori sheet in a few places.
4.Using your fingers form six grooves (in the same direction that you will be rolling the mat) at even intervals across the bed of rice. Make the first groove about 2 inches (50 mm) from the edge of the nori sheet. Form the grooves by pushing the rice away, do not mash or squash the rice, leave a loose one grain layer of rice in the bottom of the grooves. Level the areas between the grooves where you have pushed the rice.
5.Place your fillings in the grooves. Fill the grooves a little higher than the surrounding rice bed.
6.Then roll the sushi up from the edge closest to you, this will form a spiral pattern of nori, rice and fillings inside the roll.
7.Slice into 8 pieces with a very sharp wet knife, wiping the blade with a damp cloth after each cut.
8.Place the pieces on a platter and garnish.

Make each groove about a finger-width wide they will hold about 1-2 tablespoons of filling. Use fillings that compliment each other and are highly coloured. Use parboiled vegetables cut into strips, seafood, left over eel, smoked fish or chicken, whole cooked beans, edible flowers etc....

PART 4 : Nigiri Sushi
Nigiri sushi is the type of sushi most often made in sushi bars. In Japanese, nigiri means “squeeze”.

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus 1¾ hours to make the sushi rice

Yield: 14-16 pieces of sushi


  • 2 cups prepared sushi rice
  • 8 pairs of assorted toppings, 200 gms/7 ozs total of fish, meat or vegetables (see note below)
  • 1 tablespoon Wasabi (paste, reconstituted powder) or any other paste to adhere topping to rice


  • Garnishes such as Ginger (pickled), chilli strips, vegetables flowers etc
  • Thin strips of nori or vegetables (for tying topping on)

1.When handling sushi rice, make certain your hands are very clean. To keep the rice from sticking to our hands moisten your hands with vinegared water.
2.Form nigiri sushi by scooping up a small amount (about 2 tablespoons) of rice with your forefinger and second finger of your right hand and placing it in your cupped left palm.
3.Use the fingers and thumb of your right hand to form it into a long, narrow mound (about 2 inches x 1 inch wide or 50mm x 25mm) in your cupped palm.
4.Press enough to make the rice hold firmly together. Place the nigiri on a damp cutting board flat side down. Don't let sushi touch or they'll stick to each other. At this point, you can cover the sushi with plastic wrap, and they'll keep at room temperature (not the refrigerator) for several hours.
5.Smear a thin line of wasabi on top of the rice and place the topping piece on it. You may need to press the topping down lightly with your fingers and adjust the shape of the rice accordingly to form an attractive piece of nigiri sushi. If your topping is very loose like fish roe you can place a strip of nori (higher than the rice) around the nigiri and form 'battleship' sushi. The cavity that the nori forms holds the topping so it does not fall off.
6.Garnish as desired and use strips of nori (or vegetable) to tie the topping to the nigiri if needed.
7.It is customary to make nigiri sushi in pairs, so make two of each variety.

* Tips: A great video on making nigiri sushi
A great web page on slicing fish for nigiri

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Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Cookbook review - Supper for a song - Tamasin Day-lewis

First off I have to admit to having never read another Tamasin Day-lewis cookbook so I can't compare this latest book to her usual style. This latest release is another in a long line of books clearly written with the more cost conscious cook in mind. In it Tamasin provides recipes for making the most of the food we buy and in some cases encourages the reader to cook extra food so there are left overs to be made in to some mouth watering recipe the following day. Yes the book is called Supper for a song but this doesn't involve buying the cheapest food in the supermarket. This book is about using good quality ingredients and making sure you waste none of it. Recession or no recession this book (and the others similar to it) are designed to help us make the most of the food we buy and in the processes eat delicious food.

This book is packed with ideas for using up left over potatoes, bread, meats, chickpeas and fruits (to name just a few). It is filled with delicious looking photos, mouth watering recipes and tips from the author. There are recipes for roasting a chicken and making stock and risotto with the left overs, Shepard's or cottage pie with leftover roast beef or lamb, potato bread and cakes and hummus and chick pea soups and stews. There is a chapter on meat using the cheaper (but more flavourful) cuts of meat such as braised belly of pork, brisket with pickled walnuts and oxtail stewed with grapes. There are also plenty of recipes for those who love to bake such as carrot cake, Earl Grey fruit tea loaf and chocolate brownies.

One thing I would warn some people about is that the title may make you think this is 'budget' cooking. It's not! Its about buying the best quality ingredients you can afford and using them wisely. Recipes use organic ingredients, wild salmon, vanilla pods and many different types of alcohol including Marsala, Creme de cassis and Madeira (so clearly not aimed at those on a tight budget!).

Further information:
Supper for a song. Tamasin Day-Lewis
Published by Quadrille publishing, September 2009
Hardback, full colour photography, pages 192
ISBN 978 1 84400 743 1

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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Fresh from the oven - Edible bread bowls

This months Fresh from the oven bread challenge was hosted by Corry. She chose ‘Soup Bowls’, from Richard Bertinet’s fabulous book ‘Dough – Simple Contemporary Bread’.

I really enjoyed baking these bread bowls and found them simple and reasonably quick to make. They were a great novelty idea but not something I will make regularly. I replaced a 1/3 of the bread flour with smoked bread flour (more about here) which added an extra flavour to the soup. I served spiced vegetable and chickpea soup in mine, a recipe from this months sainsbury's magazine which was delicious (I will post the recipe shortly).

Here's what corry had to say about the bread bowls (recipe at the bottom).

The bread bowl recipe is quick and easy, It’s a great recipe to have in your repertoire and a lot of fun, There’s no dishes to clean up afterwards and you get to lick the bowl as well as eat it. If you are organized, you can have it ready in time to serve up for dinner. They also freeze well for a few weeks.

This dough has a small amount of semolina added to give it a nice texture, and some fruity olive oil to make it soft, resilient and give it a good flavour. You can also add a little chilli or spice to the dough for extra favour.

I found that the recipe makes 6 bowls using 16 x 10cm diameter pyrex bowls or 8 if you use 12cm bowls . Preparation takes 30 minutes, with 60 minutes resting time and 20 to 25 minutes to bake.

Bread bowls

500g strong bread flour
20 gm course semolina
15gm fresh yeast (or 1 sachet dried)
10 gm salt
50 gm good-quality fruity olive oil
320 gm water
chilli or spice (optional for added flavour)

Preheat the oven to 250˚C (500˚F). Mix together the flour and semolina and rub in the yeast as if you were making a crumble (Richard Bertinet’s method – see below for video link). If using a mixer, switch it on to the slowest speed, add salt, olive oil and water and mix for 2 minutes, then turn the speed up to the next lowest speed and mix for 6 to 7 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

If you are kneading by hand, knead for approximately 10 to 12 minutes or until you have a nice smooth elastic ball of dough. Richard Bertinet has a unique kneading technique referred to as the French fold that can take approximately 5 to 10 minutes depending on practice. You can view his method in a online video at the Gourmet Webpage. In this video, he is actually doing sweet dough but the same technique can be used for most bread dough.

Place the dough into a bowl that has been floured, cover with a tea towel and leave in a draught free place for approximately 1 hour or until doubled in volume.

Lightly oil or spray with non-stick spray, the outside of 6 ovenproof bows (I used pyrex bowls). Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into 6 to 8 pieces (depending on the size of your baking bowls). Taking one piece of dough at a time and using a rolling pin, roll each piece into a circle (similar to making pizza). Shake off excess flour and shape each piece over an upturned bowl, patting into shape and pressing gently to remove air bubbles from between the dough and the bowl. Rest the dough for 10 minutes. Place the upturned bowls, two at a time, on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, then into the preheated oven. Turn the oven down to 200˚C (400˚F) and bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes. Using a fine-bladed knife, gently loosen the bread from the bowls and ease off. Cool on a wire rack.

It is probably safer to serve the bowls on a plate, as they do become soggy after a while and the soup may leak through.

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Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Daring bakers - October 2009 - Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I was very excited when I visited the Daring Bakers forum on the 1st October to discover we would be making macarons. I have seen lots of them on various blogs (mainly the fantastic ones on Tartelette) and had been thinking about baking them for a while but just never quiet got round to it. This month has been busy though and I only found the chance to bake them last week and predictably they went very wrong! I spent ages reading through all the tips people had been posting on the forum and felt well prepared to undertake the challenge but the results say otherwise!I hope to try making macarons again one day soon and think that next time I will try a different recipe. Perhaps the one in the Ottolenghi cookbook or one from Tartelette's website. Any tips on why mine turned out this way would be appreciated!

For any one who wants to try the recipe, here it is.


Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip. You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Yield: 10 dozen. Ami's note: My yield was much smaller than this. I produced about two dozen filled macaroons.

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Thursday, 22 October 2009

Cookbook review - John Torode's Chicken and other birds

Chicken used to be one of my favorite meats and I used to cook it at least once a week. Right now though I can't remember the last time I cooked it. Its not that I've gone off chicken but more that I'm a less fussy eater and cook a wider range of dishes. However this book could hold the next chicken recipe I cook. 256 pages on chicken and other birds, cooked in a variety of different styles and cuisines, with this book you'll never be short of inspiration for chicken again! But this book is more than a book of chicken, there are also lots of recipes and information on cooking game birds too.

The first thing I liked about this book was the removable jacket sleeve with a flow diagram of what to do with your chicken. From poaching or roasting it whole, to jointing and grilling it or using the meat in curries, pies or kebabs. This diagram inspires you to turn to the book for recipes, ideas and tips for getting the most out of your chicken. As well as the recipes which I will cover in a minute, there is lots of other useful information such as a calendar of the game seasons so you know what to eat when its at its best, a brief guide to all the types of bird you might wish to cook, what to look for when shopping for chicken (no not the 2 for £5 stickers), jointing a bird and a list of poultry and game dealers.

So on to the recipes. The book is split in to chapters on the following topics soups and stocks, snacks and starters, legs and breasts, salads, curries, barbecues, roasts, one pot wonders, tarts, pies and pasties, pasta, noodles and grains and finally confit, terrines, pates and pastrami. Each chapter has a brief introduction by John which will inspire you to try the recipes. Some of the recipes that I want to try include chicken Cesar salad, some of the 8 different chicken kebab ideas (oregano and garlic, chicken and prawns with pancetta, Chinese chicken with sesame seeds), the roast chicken with olives and lemons, and the chicken paella. There are nearly as many game bird recipes as their are chicken ones such as penne with ragout of game sausage and red wine, guinea fowl tagine, five-spiced Chinese duck with bok choy and oyster sauce and pheasant wrapped in proscuitto with polenta. I've never eaten game, let alone cooked it but should I ever decide to this will be the book I reach for. Scattered throughout the recipes John also offers lots of useful advice and tips.

Whilst I would not normal buy cookbooks that focus on one type of meat I do think this is a good book. Its stuffed full of mouth watering pictures and John's useful hints and tips. Although you may glance over this book on the shelf if your not a fan of chicken or think you know all there is to know as chicken I think this book is a great introduction to cooking other types of birds.

Thanks to Quadrille publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Further information:
John Torode's chicken and other birds.
Published by Quadrille publishing, September 2009
Hardback, full colour photography, pages 256
ISBN 978 1 84400 715 8

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Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Authentic spaghetti carbonara

Until a few years ago I used to love the rich, creamy carbonara sauces most Italian restaurants serve. Ok so it's not the healthiest dish on the menu but it was a very occasional treat. Then suddenly I started to find the dish too rich for my tastes and stopped ordering it when in Italian restaurants. Maybe my tastes had changed or maybe I had had one too many rubbish carbonara's. Then as I started to get more and more in to cooking I discovered that true Italian carbonara's don't include cream at all! At this point I started to consider the idea of making a carbonara myself.

I discovered Italian Foodies sometime last year and have been following the blog since then (and also working my way through the posts/recipes from before I discovered it). It has to be up there as one of my favorite blogs. It is full of mouth watering pictures and deliciously simple recipes (mostly Italian - my favorite kind). You might have noticed that I have a list in my side bar called 'recipes I want to try'. I have been using this list to keep track of some of the recipes other blogs post that I want to try myself. Italian foodies authentic carbonara has been sat there for quiet sometime waiting for me to find the time to try it.

At the weekend we visited The Hollies farm shop in Cheshire. They were hosting a Great British food feast, with lots of local suppliers showcasing their produce and lots of food to sample. There was also a delicious hog roast and a showcase of 1000's of pumpkins (the advertising said 4000 but I didn't count them!). One of the products that caught our eye was their bacon. So armed with a packet of local bacon I decided to try my hand at a real authentic (cream free!) carbonara. I wasn't disappointed. The carbonara was simple to make and turned out fantastic, I didn't miss the cream and it really allowed the quality and taste of the bacon to shine. I wanted to share this recipe with you all and also book mark it here so I can make it again in the future. For the recipe and step by step photos see here.

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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

smoked bread recipe

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Anglesey Oyster and welsh food produce festival in Treaddur Bay, Anglesey. Whilst we were wandering round the different food stalls we came across Derimon smokery which as well as some of the smoked products you might expect (salmon, garlic, tomatoes, etc) had a few I wouldn't of expected like duck breast, mussels and bread flour. The bread flour grabbed my attention and the man of the stall was more than happy to tell me about it. He sells it in his shop and also supplies it to El Bulli! where it is used in bread buns for dipping in to oils and vinegars. He suggested using a ratio of 1 part smoked flour and 3 parts strong white bread flour as a starting point but to play around depending on how strong or mild you want the smoky flavour.

I started by using the formula he suggested and using it to make a pizza base for a ham and mushroom pizza. For me the ratio seemed just right. You got a good amount of smoky flavour which complimented the toppings well with out being overpowering. Next I decided to make a smoky bread loaf using the same ratio. The end result again was delicious and just the right amount of smoky flavour perfect for cheese on toast! I have also used some of the flour in my Fresh from the oven challenge which will be revealed on the 28th October. The only problem is I'm down to half a bag and have no idea where I can get another bag in Cheshire!Smoked bread flour loaf

125g smoked white bread flour
375g strong white bread flour
10g salt
5g fast action yeast
2 tbsp sunflower (or similar) oil
300ml warm water

  • Combine the bread flours, yeast and salt in a bowl. Add the water and oil slowly into the flour, stirring (I use a KitchenAid on low speed with a dough hook fitted) until well combined.
  • If using turn the mixer knead for a couple of minute until a smooth, satiny bread dough forms (if not using a mixer knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for approximately 10 minutes).
  • Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Leave to prove in a warm, draft free room until doubled in size (mine took 1.5-2hrs).
  • Preheat oven to 250C (or it's highest setting). Deflate the dough with your hands. Shape in to a ball and place on a baking sheet or if you own one in a lightly flour proving basket and leave to prove for 30minutes.
  • Transfer the bread from the proving basket (if using) to a baking sheet. Score a cross in the center and bake for 10 min at 250C then turn the oven down to 200C. Bake bread for a further 20-30 min. You can always cover the bread with tin foil if the crust is getting brown too fast. The bread is cooked when it sounds hollow when you tap on the base.
  • Leave to cool on a wire rack.
I am submitting this entry to Yeastspotting.

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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Guest post

Just to let you all know I have wrote a guest blog post on Nora the kitchen 'Splorer tonight. You can read it here, its a review of all the deliciousness posted on other food blogs this week.


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Daring cooks - Vietnamese chicken pho

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

There were two parts to this month's Daring Cooks' challenge, a compulsory and an optional challenge. The compulsory part was a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup (with the option to do it the quick way or a longer method). The optional part were deep fried chocolate wontons. Partly due to time (and partly due to not wanting to deep fry) I only did the noodle soup.

I have made a chicken noodle soup before, but as I commented then I felt the one I cooked was a bit over simplified. Since then I have bought a bottle of fish sauce but I still don't like fresh coriander. I substituted the chicken for pork (sliced up British pork loin) which I cooked in the broth. I made the recipe as described below using some homemade chicken stock from the freezer and simply omitted the fresh coriander from my bowl. The flavours of the broth were delicious and I didn't feel mine was lacking in flavours without coriander. I think I would make this again as it was quiet simple (especially for a 'daring' challenge) and flavourful.
Vietnamese Chicken Pho

Preparation Time: 45 cooking time + 15 minutes to cook noodles based on package directions

Servings: Makes 4 servings


For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce

1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)


2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice


  1. To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
  2. In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
  4. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
  5. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
  6. Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
  7. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
  8. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

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Friday, 9 October 2009

Kidney disease cookbook

Since I started this blog I receive a lot of emails from people wanting me to promote their offers or latest campaigns but I have never really been keen on turning my blog in to free advertising space. However the email I got today was different and it is something that I am willing to make available to you and tell you about. Basically I was asked to help make a cookbook for people with kidney disease available on my website and I have agree to do just that.

One in 10 people will develop chronic kidney disease in their lifetimes in the UK alone. Some of you may be familiar with the chef Lawrence Keogh from BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen but may not be aware that he had to have a kidney transplant at the age of 35, and as a result is now limited to what foods he can consume i.e. minimal amounts of salt, sugar and fat. On the back of this he developed a cookbook especially tailored for people who have or have had problems with their kidneys.
The book contains 16 recipes and is designed to help people cook meals that are still exciting and flavourful but move away from the quite often dull low phosphate diets that many sufferers have to contend with. He wrote the book in conjunction with a renal dietician who includes information throughout the book on why each recipe is suitable in kidney disease. I think this is a great little booklet for patients suffering from kidney disease and as such I am happy to support this campaign. Currently the booklet is only available free of charge from renal dieticians. However the aim is to make this cookbook available to as many kidney disease suffers as possible, so if you or someone you know suffers from kidney disease send me an email (purelyfood @ and I will email you a copy of the PDF.

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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A weekend in the Lakes

This last weekend myself and my boyfriend went up to the lake district for a couple of nights. We had a great time relaxing, walking and enjoying delicious food. I thought I would share with you my photos and thoughts on some of the places we visited and/or ate.

We stayed at a very nice little B&B in the heart of Ambleside (stumbling distance from the pubs, restaurants and shops). The owners were really friendly and helpful, the breakfasts used local products where ever possible and our room was lovely and perfect for our needs.

We arrived Friday afternoon and after unpacking we set out to explore Ambleside and book somewhere to eat Friday and Saturday evening. Whilst wandering round Ambleside we discovered a fantastic specialist food shop - Lucy's Specialist Grocers. It stocks a wide range of food from around Cumbria including, breads, cheeses, fruit and veg and a vast selection of jams and chutneys. We bought a selection of spices shown below, all for under £2.50 (much more reasonable than the supermarket and you can control how much you buy).They also have two restaurants in Ambleside (but you really need to book ahead) and also a cooking school near Kendal.

Friday night we ate at The Glass House Restaurant and I really wish I hadn't left my camera in the B&B. The restaurant is a listed building, a converted mill and still has a working waterwheel (although it wasn't on when we were there). The restaurant is on a series of mezzanine flours and we were right at the top where all the machinery that powers the waterwheel are still visible on the ceiling. The food was delicious and reasonably priced for the lake district. Starters were around £5-6 and mains ranged from £10-14 (with the exception of a couple of more expensive dishes like fillet steak). I had the Caesar salad with warm poached egg and maple glazed pancetta to start and char grilled pork chop with bubble and squeak and courgette ribbons served with a creamy mustard sauce. My boyfriend started with crispy duck, bean sprouts, water chestnut and white radish salad and had the fish pie as a main. All the food was delicious including the complimentary bread basket to start with which I believe was home made.

On Saturday the weather started out wet and windy but if your going to the lakes you expect this. So we put on our walking boots and waterproofs and headed off to Grizedale Forest hoping the weather would improve. Thankfully it did, but not before pouring down on us! We had a good long walk through parts of the forest looking at the sculptures and as an added bonus we picked lots of blackberries.

By early afternoon we were starving so headed back to the visitors centre where there was a fantastic cafe. I don't know about anyone else but I find canteen style cafes at popular local attractions are either really bad (school dinner like, over cooked or simply prepacked sandwiches) or really good (local produce, flavourful and a reasonable amount of choice). Thankfully The Cafe in the Forrest at Grizdale fell in to the later category. The menu consisted of the usual burgers, sausages and chips but there were also casserole of the day (beef, mushrooms and Hawskhead ale) and venison burgers. I had the casserole of the day and my boyfriend had the pie of the day (Coniston beef and red wine) both cost approximately £7. Both dishes were very generous in size (the pie looks a lot smaller in this picture than it was), packed with flavour and perfect warming comfort food after a long walk. To finish with we shared a slice of their homemade toffee fudge cake. Again the portion size was very generous (more than enough to share) and the cake delicious. The only problem was it looked so delicious we forgot to take a photo!
Saturday evening we ate at Zeffirellis restaurant, a Mediterranean inspired vegetarian restaurant, cinema and jazz bar. Most Friday and Saturday evenings they have free live music upstairs in the jazz bar. We went both nights and really enjoyed ourselves. The food again was delicious and reasonably priced (around £9 for mains and pizza's). I had aubergine and mozzarella parmigiana and my boyfriend had vegetarian red bean chilli. Both dishes were very good portion sizes and full of flavour and neither of us missed the meat (a sign of a good vegeterian meal in my eyes). To finish with decided to spoil ourselves with a dessert each. I had their speciality chocolate sundae (all I can say is it was truly delicious) and my boyfriend had the tiramisu.
On Sunday it was time to pack up and head off home but not before spending the morning in Keswick followed by lunch and a spot of shopping at the Rhedged centre. They have 3 cafes and a selection of shops most selling local products. In the food shop we picked up a jar of Westmoorland's chutney and some diced shoulder of venison. If any one has any good recipes for venison stew/casserole which would be good for someone whose never cooked or eaten venison please let me know! The chutney was delicious in a simple cheese sandwich when we got home on Sunday evening. The bread is homemade Irish Blaas which I made before going away using Eat like a girls recipe. The bread is delicious with a soft light texture. I will certainly be making them again.

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