Archives for posts with tag: Food

Cheese Swirls

At work this week we celebrated a Macmillan Coffee Morning.  Because I am lucky enough to work in a generous and perhaps greedy office, we actually did a weeks worth of cakes and savouries with people donating food, time and money to raise money for Macmillan nurses.  I am fortunate enough not to have experienced the work of Macmillan, but recent years have brought me closer to the effects of cancer upon people and their families so the cause which has always been extremely worthy has become increasingly poignant for me.

I am not a baker and am definitely not capable of baking a cake (although my new friend at NR11 Blog has inspired me to try…soon!) so I did a quick cheat and made my team some cheesy pastry swirls.  Dead simple and I didn’t use shop bought pastry because I am incapable of making my own, but because all the TV chefs have said that it’s okay and they do it too.  I believe that they were a success, all gone by tea break in the morning, so I thought I’d share the recipe!

Cheesy Pizza Pastry Swirls

1 roll of puff pastry

1/2 an onion, chopped finely

100g grated cheese

50g tomato puree

Herbs and seasoning for the tomato base, I used some fresh thyme, black pepper and a little bit of dried basil as that was what was within easy reach!

First, take the pastry out of the fridge and let it reach room temperature.  While it’s warming up a little, use the time to finely chop the onion and grate the cheese.  Now’s also the time to preheat the oven to about 200C.  Make sure you eat the bit of cheese that won’t grate because you are fearing for your finger tips.  No one wants fingertips in their swirls, so you’re doing it for the greater good.

Put the tomato puree into a little pot.  Add your herbs and seasonings, plus a tiny bit of water.  Mix it so that it’s all well incorporated and at a consistency that is thicker than your standard pasta sauce but that you’ll be able to spread.

Once everything is prepped, now’s the fun part.  Unroll the pastry, but keep it on the little bit of plastic so you don’t have much washing up.  Take your tomato paste and spread it across the pastry.  I made sure to cover the whole area right up to the edges, but left about 2cm on the far end.  This means that when rolled, you can use the ‘dry’ part of the pastry to finish the seal at the end.  Now take the onion and cheese, sprinkling it across the tomato base.  Make sure it’s even and not too thick in any place.  Once you’re happy everything is spread nicely, it’s time to roll!

The joy of buying shop bought pastry is that once you’ve unrolled, it’s really easy to roll it back up again.  Make sure that you keep it even and fairly tight as you go, you don’t want the cut pastries to fall apart in the oven!  Squish (technical term) the dry part against the roll to be sure to close it all up.  Slice your nice swiss pastry roll up, about a finger width per slice.  Pop the pieces on a baking tray, making sure to leave a couple of centimeters between each one.  This is puff pastry, after all, and it will puff.  A quick glaze with some milk (an excuse to use the pastry brush you have in the back of that drawer!) then put it in the oven and – ta-dah! – about 20 minutes later you’ll have a house that smells of pastry and cheese and anyone who popped over for a cup of tea will be bitterly disappointed that they don’t get to eat the tasty treats.

Well, unless you are nicer than I was at least.  Dead easy, still a bit homemade, and delicious all within 30 minutes.  What more can you ask for?

There would be countless variations on this theme too.  Feel free to add other bits (maybe some chorizo? Peppers? Fresh tomato?) as you fancy but make sure you don’t over-fill it.  If you do, they may fall apart which would be a disaster.  They wouldn’t be suitable to serve for any charity bake, you’d have to eat them all and start again.  And no one wants that, do they?!

If I was going to write a post about all things that are sweet and sour I think that blackberry vodka may well fit the bill.

While walking Pepper the other day I saw that the hedgerows were filled with ripe, juicy, jewel like blackberries.  Hundreds of them.  They looked amazing.  So yummy.  I could make any number of things, but of course my mind went straight to the vodka that was laying in the wine rack feeling a bit sorry for itself as September officially became The Month We Weren’t Drinking.  (Yup, another story entirely.)  Rather than going straight out to gather the bounty nature offered, I decided to procrastinate for a week.  Then the weather started to turn and I was left with no more excuses.  It was actually really nice, there had been a particularly miserable rainstorm during the day but the sun was out, the air was fresh and I had tupperware and a boy willing to go blackberry hunting with me.  We were off!

Blackberry 1

After collecting as many berries as we could before the sun set (autumn is drawing in, ahhhhh….sad to see summer go but excited about curling up on the sofa again) it was a fairly straightforward plan.  A slight surplus of vodka following an August bank holiday party meant we had a few options and we settled on three separate recipes:

Bottle 1 – Sweet Vanilla Blackberry Vodka

  • 300g blackberries
  • 300g sugar
  • 500ml ‘student’ vodka
  • 1 vanilla pod

Bottle 2 – Fancy Vanilla Blackberry Vodka

  • 300g blackberries
  • 200g sugar
  • 500ml ‘grown up’ vodka
  • 1 vanilla pod

Bottle 3 – Grown Up Blackberry Vodka

  • 300g blackberries
  • 200g sugar
  • 500ml ‘grown up’ vodka

All ingredients were put into their separate kilner jars.  They looked really pretty.

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And then we shook them like the proverbial polaroid picture.

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Now they look dark and juicy and …. okay, a little sugary.  But a bit more agitation over the next few weeks will hopefully do wonders and there will be a tasting session to see which recipe is the winner…once the Month of No Drinking has passed by and it’s well into curling up on the sofa season.  Ahh, Autumn, you’re pretty cool!

 

 

 

Mmmm….The Good Life.  They have a pig, grow all their own vegetables and gently mock their neighbours.  There’s definitely something to be said about it.  My Good Life is kind of limited to a couple of (slow to ripen) tomato plants, a chili plant I saved from the reduced section in Tesco and a courgette plant that has not delivered the glut of giant green beasts I had slightly hoped for, rather more delicate little yellow zucchini that actually complement a salad rather well. Providing you aren’t too hungry though, because there really haven’t been that many.

Imagine my delight when I received a bag full of allotment grown beetroot.  “Delight” is perhaps a strong word, but I did get a little excited as I decided what to do with them.  I could roast them (with chillies, balsamic and maybe some cherry tomatoes if my plants ever do decide to let the fruit ripen?).  I could chip them, cutting them into crisp sized slices and popping them in the oven. Tyrrells can do it, why can’t I?  (I did try it.  Tyrrells obviously either deep fry them, which would be yummy but rubbish for the diet, or have bigger, hotter ovens.  My beetroot chips were a little bit gooey.)  But really, there was only one option when you think of beetroot, you pickle them!

People who know me well know that I would happily eat my own mother if she was nicely pickled (no reference to your wine intake mum, I promise!) but I have never tried to actually pickle anything for myself.  I love pickles.  One of my lifetime highlights was eating McDonalds with 6 other people, who all gave me their burger pickles.  Moving to England, it was the discovery of pickled onions that got me through the withdrawal I suffered when decent dill pickle spears were no longer available in supermarkets.  Piccalilli is a recent discovery in my world, but by golly it’s a great addition to any boring salad.  And don’t even get me started on just how many jalapenos I could actually fit onto my cinema nachos.  Pickling my beetroot was clearly the way forward.

I love a good Google and I found my recipe on the Down to Earth blog.  It has a really awesome step by step how-to and I have to admit that sterilising the jars in the oven was quite a revelation to me.  I mean, seriously – heat kills germs?  A whole new world has opened to me.   I think I will preserve *everything* that crosses my path now.

Of course I took pictures.  Any questions, let me know!

First you boil…

Beetroot 1

…then you peel (wear your asbestos hands obvs!)….

Beetroot 2

…slice….

Beetroot 3

…..and PICKLE!!! Yay!!

Beetroot 4

I told you I got my hands on a lot of beetroot.  More is coming my way.  I have already tried to mix it up with a giant jar containing some sliced onion (I found a Polish recipe online.  I didn’t follow it but I did steal the onion idea, except I didn’t have a red onion).  I might try some chilli beetroot with some homegrown chillies.  What else should I experiment with?  The Good Life is so on its way…but do I really have to wait til October before I can try it?

Italy, what a blast.  I fell in love out there.

And I photographed food.  Which would have probably frustrated my co-eaters if they didn’t seem to be quite as obsessed with the tastes and variety on offer in Sorrento.  I am very happy to report that I was amongst friends.  Most importantly, friends who share food.  Delightful!

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Whilst there, I myself ordered and enjoyed: tuna steak, fungi risotto, gnocchi alla sorrentina, crazy good puttanesca taglioni, the freshest tomatoes you could imagine (I mean,  you could actually taste the sunshine in them), cherries that were like manna from heaven and several         Panini filled with parma ham, mozerella, steak, buffalo tomatoes, roasted vegetables, pesto, more…

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I sampled from my friends: fillet steak, applejack in a bean sauce, the world’s yummiest pizza (so yummy we forgot to photograph it), more different shapes of pasta than you get at a Whole Foods store and little snatches of ham when their backs were turned.

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Between three of us we ate a £50 antipasti salad.  That waiter saw us coming.  It was lush.  The beans were longer than the long beans in Thailand.  I’ll write more about them another day…

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We all ate ice creams in the shape of little monkeys.  Seriously.  Best gelatos out there.  Mine was pistachio.  He had teeth.

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One person had his first ever cappuccino in Sorrento.  He also had his second, third, fourth, fifth and quite probably tenth before we hit the airplane.  He was buzzing and I was glad he wasn’t driving on the way home.  I myself had a few espressos.  Those who know me would think that would be a crazy idea.  It was.  But the best.

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We even got free food.  Bruschetta, fresh green olives, champagne and a tuna aperitivo with a little kiwi sauce. Not to mention the usual nuts, pretzels, crackers and copious amounts of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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And of course, wedding cake.  Congratulations to the newlyweds!

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So, Italia.  Buonissimo!

Has everyone else enjoyed their bank holiday weekend?  It’s been lovely seeing the sun again and remembering just how awesome England is in the spring.

After a busy day in the garden (ah, another post to come!) we decided that a takeaway was in order to celebrate just how brilliant we were at gardening and reward how hardworking we were.  An overpriced and not quite amazing pizza was delivered, eaten, and not enjoyed quite as much as we expected.  So now it’s going to be all about making our own takeaways and seeing if we can do it better.  Maybe not always easier, but definitely more satisfying.

First stop: kebabs.  Gyros to my American friends.  Proper doner kebabs like the ones that spin around in the dodgy kebab shops that you know you would never set foot in if you hadn’t already visited several fine drinking establishments and ideally an old-fashioned dance hall.  Or something.  With cheesy chips.  Cause chips are always nicer if they are cheesy, right?

The thing is, I’m not original and if I want to make something a quick google will usually find the recipe for what I want.  However a bit of creativity and willingness to adapt to either what is in the cupboard, or what tastes best, means that these googled recipes are often the best thing ever.  Doner kebab – well just follow this link here.  It involves minced lamb, plenty of fresh herbs and garlic, a little bit of chilling time (4 hours, but next time will try to plan ahead and go for an overnighter) and putting your meat into a brick shape.

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Like, how can you not love a brick shaped piece of meat?

This needs to be grilled til its burned and brown on the outside.  Flip. Burn and brown – in a good way.  Flip again and repeat til the smell is overwhelming you with its deliciousness.  You’ll end up with something like this:

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To my mind, the smell was better than any late night kebab shop.  It was like all your guilty pleasures rolled into one with the knowledge that the mince was not mystery meat.  The herbs were fresh, the meat was moist and the pita bread filled with more salad and slices than you’d ever get on Prince of Wales Road.  Score.

To complete the kebab, some nice fresh salad (no indigestion-inducing onion that has been out for days!) and some kick ass homemade salsa to replace any chili sauce out of a giant bottle.  And the cheesy chips?  Some nice homemade wedges cooked to perfection on a pizza stone, with über cheap cheese sprinkled on top.  Because perfection is not always pricey.

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I think takeaway perfection may become a favourite.  Let me know what your homemade cheeky secrets are please, I want more!

 

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to spend the morning snorkelling in Bali. I was experiencing my first round the world trip, backpacking the island with friends I had made along the way and found myself spending about three hours exploring the underwater world of Jemeluk Bay in Amed. I was especially happy that day because I can remember realising I was 18, on my own in a beautiful part of the world and had just done so many things and met so many wonderful people that I never would have imagined the year before as I was finishing my A Levels. I really was in another world. And to top off my smug feelings, my usually pale English Rose skin had managed to see enough sunlight that it was my Californian friend who got fried in the ocean, and not me. Things were good.

That afternoon I went to our guesthouse and had the best meal ever. I chose red snapper because I had spent the morning swimming with them and thought it a poetic end to my perfect day. The snapper was fresh, barbecued and served with a spicy Balinese sauce that had been cooled down enough for my western taste buds to enjoy and forever love the mix of chilies and flavours that have simply been imprinted on my mind as ‘perfect’. I sat under a hut on the beach eating and talking to the guys on the bar, feeling a million dollars and way more worldly wise and sophisticated than any smart, chic lady in Paris, London, Milan…..

And we skip forward thirteen and a half years. I just enjoyed my second Big Adventure (having had several Escapades and Romps, a few High Jinks and occasional Shennanigans in the meantime so don’t worry, I wasn’t left wasting away). This Big Adventure to Thailand and beyond finally got my snorkel back on and in the Trang Islands, I saw a white snapper swimming amongst the angel fish. It seemed only right and fitting to head back to the friendliest restaurant on Ko Lanta’s Klong Dao beach, enjoy a happy hour Mai Tai and follow the genial hosts recommendation for how he would eat his white snapper: filleted, fried and cooked in a delicious Thai Spicy red curry sauce. While I remain unconvinced that I was given the real ‘Thai Spicy’ curry, the meal itself, combined with the epic day of snorkelling, visiting paradise’s beach, swimming through a sea cave to an emerald cavern and witnessing one of nature’s beautiful sunsets helped the white snapper live up to the memory of its red predecessor. I got to eat with sand in my toes. No girl could actually ask for more. Maybe not the second best meal…but close enough.

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I love how many of my great memories are about eating.  The snappers were special meals for so many reasons.  I love cooking and the flavours, textures and experiences good food bring you.  And writing on here….what a great excuse to keep taking pictures of that yummy food 🙂

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