Category Archives: experiment

Weekend focaccia experiments

A long, lonesome weekend often leads me to culinary experimentation and this weekend I was particularly bold. Seeing as I’d never cooked focaccio before, I don’t know what led me to try out focaccia with toppings. The first was chick peas, tomato and rosemary – as inspired by this photograph by Parla Food.

The second was inspired by a bread-based flamiche I tried at The Bertinet Kitchen (a cookery school in Bath that has a bakery open on Saturday mornings).

Now, the chickpea looks good but didn’t taste very special. Could have done with a lot more garlic and, I suspect, an obscene amount of oil. I’ll leave that one. The leeky, cheesy focaccia on the other hand was DELICIOUS. I hereby dub it ‘foc-quiche-a’. More space for toppings would improve it immensely. I will definitely be trying this again, very soon, and aim to give a proper recipe!

I’ve written this on my lunch break, having just polished off a couple of slices of the cheese and leek foc-quiche-a with tomatoes and cucumber. I think it would be utterly lovely for a picnic!

Christmas stuffing – chestnut, shallot, apple & quince, sage

My dad makes a christmas stuffing that I always thought unsurpassable, but of course us young upstarts will try and usurp our parents won’t we? I took HEAVY inspiration from his recipe, but made it less like a meat loaf and more like a stuffing.

When I tasted the tester ball I was actually astounded that I had managed to make something so delicious. It was light, flavoursome, soft and yielding. Since I put the uncooked balls in to store for Christmas, every time I open the freezer I wonder what the delicious smell is, and remember it’s the stuffing! This recipe is definitely for keeps.

I improvised the weights and measures from what looked right, so I had to go back and weigh the leftovers to get the recipe. To make 10-12 balls of stuffing.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 large cooking apple, diced
  • 8 – 10 shallots, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbspn quince
  • 2 tsps mixed herbs
  • 1 handful of fresh sage, chopped finely
  • 1/2 fresh nutmeg, grated
  • salt & white pepper to taste
  • 500 g sausagemeat (I squeezed it out of my favourite leek sausages)
  • 4 slices’ worth of breadcrumbs (I always forget to leave it out, so I do it in the oven at 200 C for about 10 mins. I think this actually helps as the bread is crisp but not totally dried out) crumbled up.
  • 250 g chestnuts (un prepared weight) which should be cooked – look up online if puzzled, I did – and then crumbled up.

How to make it

Fry the apple, shallots, garlic and a pinch of salt until soft. Add the quince, mixed herbs, nutmeg and fresh sage and cook for a further minute or two to combine. Add salt (probably not much at all) and white pepper to taste. Leave to cool.

Put the sausagemeat, bread crumbs and chestnuts into a bowl. Add the cooked mixture once it has cooled. Combine with your hands until everything is evenly spread out.

Take handfuls and roll into balls about the size of a lime. Cook at 200 C for around 20-30 minutes.

I ate the tester ball with cauliflower cheese (naughty, yummy) and it was delicious. Can’t wait to have the rest on Christmas day! I have told dad about this stuffing and have set aside a taster for him to try at the weekend. I wonder what he’ll think?

They aren’t the prettiest of beasts, especially photographed on a winter night- but I hope the picture helps show the consistency.

Cottage Hotpot


You’ve probably heard of Frankenstein foods in relation to GM. This is my own Frankenstein’s monster – a hybrid of cottage pie (beef mince with mash on top, as I know it) and Lancashire hotpot (lamb chunks with carrot and a crispy potato topping). This proved to be the silkiest, richest, most flavoursome hotpot I’ve ever made and a total triumph for ekeing out leftovers.

When I made my pumpkin dish for Halloween I used a leg of lamb and was left with the bone and some meat I couldn’t quite [be bothered to] get off. Inspiration struck and I simmered the bone with a sprig of rosemary and thyme and made a stock for an hour. I skimmed the fat off the top and reduced the stock by about half. I then carved and pulled off the remaining meat and cut into small pieces.

I fried a VERY large onion with about 150g of beef mince, then added my lamby chunks and shreds, some salt, a little brown sugar and the remaining stock. This was all simmered down again for half an hour or so. After this, I tipped some cubed carrot in and put the lot into a dish, topped the with ultra-thin sliced potatoes and baked in a hot oven for an hour.

Now, this was just delicious. I’m beginning to think I might have to take up the method when I want to make this as a special meal as it was just so darned scrummy. True, it took a lot of cooking (but I did leave the oven door open with the washing stood in front of it to use the residual heat) but it was just SO worth it.

Must experiment more …

Car Birthday Cake

When you will go and make an outlandish, rainbow-coloured UN-birthday cake for your own party, it seems only polite to oblige when your beloved asks for something equally as ridiculous and time consuming for their birthday.

My brief was simple: a red car cake. With jam.

I scoured the internet for car cake tins (thought I could cut a corner – ho ho – here) but was thoroughly unimpressed at the 20-odd-quid price tag. They would also mean no jam, unless I were to start slicing it up which would sort of defeat the point of buying a cake mould. With a bit of inventiveness surely I could do it with what I had in already?

Using a remote-controlled car as a template and two slightly differently sized loaf tins I set to work. I used the same recipe as the UN-birthday cake, but only used 1/2 the sponge batter and 3/4 of the icing.

I poured 2/3 of the sponge batter into the larger loaf tin, and 1/3 into the smaller one. (Pictured below is the ‘squodging‘ stage where I pressed the larger cake down when it was nearly cooked so it would be flatter to work with).

While I waited for my sponge to cool, I assembled my icing accessories (lights, number plates, wheels, wing mirrors, car badge), cake board with finishing line, chequered flags (made from cocktail sticks), trophy and candles (for the exhaust pipe).

I sandwiched the sponges with jam (only the top sponge needed a little cutting with a very sharp knife).

Then smothered the whole thing in a LOT of red icing, and started to add the pre-coloured roll-out icing accessories.

And TLM had three slices of it for birthday breakfast.

Megrim with Tarragon

I have learnt from experience that it is better to wait until after you have eaten a fish to google what it looks like (monkfish was the point in case). So when I found out that the alternative name for a megrim was a ‘whiff’ and that it was specifically a left-eyed flat fish (a relative of turbot), I was surprised that it was actually quite a cute little critter. What’s more, it made pretty nice eating pan-fried quickly and then lidded and cooked for 10 minutes with butter, fresh tarragon and lots of lemon juice.

It was a moist, meaty white-fleshed fish, which came off the bones easily and tasted just delicious. It was the first time I have put tarragon with fish and it gave a fennel-y zing to the proceedings.

I’d only gone for the megrim as they were reduced in the supermarket to £2.49 per fish – and I naturally chose the biggest one there was (which was probably twice the size of some of the others). Served with some bread and some lovely fresh peas and broad beans it was certainly stuffing.

It took longer to pod the peas and beans than it did to cook the fish! I love summer eating, where you can laze in the garden doing the prep before a quick flash in the pan.

Rainbow UN-birthday Cake

My heart skipped a beat when Heston Blumenthal, experimental chef extraordinaire, brought out a completely edible insect-filled garden and vibrating absinthe jelly at his Alice in Wonderland themed feast. My own Mad Hatter Tea Party had been planned for some time and now the bar had been raised and I had to do something special. My head was filled with images of psychedelic, towering, toppling cakes exploding with colour… but it had to be achievable. And it had to give up a special secret at the last minute.

So I made a cake, smothered it in pink icing and stuck cards all around the base. And I kept the surprise all to myself. So as the cake was brought out to me and people sang me a happy UN-birthday, I was sniggering inside knowing I had my Heston Blumenthal moment to come. With great mischievousness, I cut the tall cake open to reveal…

Rainbow Birthday Cake


Rainbow UN-birthday Cake | a zillion calories per serving | Serves 20-25


It was incredible to see the astounded faces of my guests. I can now completely understand the feeling Heston gets when he makes someone fill with childish smiles over the food they’re about to eat.

It was completely worth the effort, especially as it was straight-forward to make, and I recommend it to anyone. It was just a Victoria sponge, a WHOLE jar of jam to stick it all together and a slathering of butter icing to hold it all together and make ‘operation: wonderment’ complete.

Admittedly, there was some special food-paste dye (which can be bought online and is worth the investment as it is vivid and doesn’t alter the texture of the cake mixture) but there was a lot of washing up… Luckily my mock-turtle kitchen assistant took care of that 🙂



Ingredients – for the cake

For the cake

  • 450 g self raising flour
  • 450 g unsalted butter or margarine
  • 450 g caster sugar
  • 8 eggs
  • food dye

For the layering & icing

  • 1 jar of raspberry jam for sandwiching the layers together
  • 250 g unsalted butter
  • 500 g icing sugar
  • dash hot water
  • food dye

[Lots of people have asked me where to get the food dye from. I got mine from a local kitchen shop at a hefty £2.50 per tub, but you can get all the colours you need for a rainbow cake in this Set of 8 Wilton Food Colours.]


How to Make the Rainbow Cake

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and white.
  2. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl.
  3. Alternate adding the beaten eggs and the flour in to the butter and sugar mixture.
  4. Mix until combined, but not totally smooth.
  5. Separate between six large bowls, add the relevant food dye and mix/beat until smooth (if you beat till smooth first and then added the food dye and beat again you’d probably get rid of all the air).
  6. Pour into sandwich tins (I think mine are 23cm).
  7. Cook the sponges, two at a time, in the middle of an oven preheated to 190 Celsius. Cook for 15-20 minutes, depending on the amount of mixture (you’re bound to have somehow misjudged the batter for one of the layers).

Leave the layers to go absolutely cool before sandwiching together with LOTS of jam. Don’t worry if it’s a big mess, it will be fine once covered in icing.

To make the icing, beat the butter and sugar together, adding a little water if needed and the food dye of whatever colour you like. Ice the cake from the bottom up using a knife. Don’t get too neat.

Decorate the outside however you like and then wait out the moment of the big reveal!

p.s. A special mention should be made of my mother who, though she can’t cook, is an outstanding seamstress (a skill that sadly eludes me) and made me a fantastic costume:

rainbow-unbirthday-party

Also thanks to dad who scared the rain away by spending hours putting up tarpaulin, and a big hello to people visiting because I outed my blogging habit after a little too much sparkling wine (and absinthe?!) drunk from teacups!

Beef Gyozas and a bit of a breakthrough

We do love a gyoza now and then, strictly as a treat as we enjoy them in their unhealthily cooked forms. I’ve recently found a local shop that stocks gyoza skins, so they’re back on the menu.

Now, our favourite place to eat gyozas is Wagamama, and I’ve long-marvelled at how they get the pastry so dry and crispy, yet the inside moist and delicious. It’s not just deep-frying as I’ve tried that before (and I actually find them far too fatty when deep-fried) and didn’t get quite the same effect – see gyozas here. Tonight, however an experiment and a brainwave combined to solve the problem. So I now present my (current) favourite way of cooking gyozas.

How to cook a gyoza/ dumpling/ pot sticker

  1. Put the filling in the centre of the pot sticker (about a teaspoon, or just under)
  2. Wet the edges of the gyoza all round (keep a small bowl next to you)
  3. On a flat surface, gather the edges of the gyoza up, and crimp together all along (this way the gyoza will sit upright with the crimp along the top rather than fall sideways)
  4. Place gyozas into a steamer and steam for 5 minutes (I used a microwave steamer and it was fine)
  5. [[At this point, I think you may be able to freeze them for a later date so long as you used fresh gyoza pastry – I will try this in the future]]
  6. Finally, remove the steamed gyozas, then shallow fry for a minute or two on each side

And this method is my new way of cooking them. They sit upright, the pastry is crisp and the inside is moist still.

(Wondering why this comes under ‘frugal food’? Well, the filling was comprised mainly of roast dinner leftovers. You know that nub of beef that can’t be carved and is use to neither man nor beast? I simply shoved it in the whizzer, then added two cloves of garlic and two shallots. I finely chopped some mangetout and added it to the whizzed mixture, before sprinkling in a little white pepper, sesame oil, hoisin sauce and Chinese rice wine.)

"aight peppas a paaand"


I hope I’m not alone in finding 78p for a single pepper in a supermarket highly objectionable. On the whole, I usually get a big bag of the value peppers – especially if they aren’t just green ones – and we eat things with peppers in for the whole week.

Unfortunately, my meal plans were scuppered when I couldn’t resist eight red peppers for a pound at the local market (yes, that’s the translation of the title!) So I snapped them up, and walked home wondering what to do with them. On the way I stopped into Waitrose (for a browse round the bargains – none – poo) for inspiration. I spotted a jar of peppers in oil for £3.99. Well I can do better than that, I thought.

Coming home, I found an appropriate jar and cleaned the label etc off. I topped and tailed the peppers, gouge out the middles and chopped them into thick slabs and preheated the oven to 250 C. I boiled a kettle, poured it over the jar and lid and then put the jar into the oven to dry (thus, sterlising it… I hope!). I also popped the trays of peppers in. After a good 15 minutes, when the peppers were charred and the jar dry, I carefully put the peppers into a plastic food bag and left them to cool. Leaving them like this makes it dead easy to get the skins off because the condensation does all the hard work for you – and you don’t burn your fingers!

I got the peppers out of their little plastic bags and rubbed them under a running tap to get the skins off. I then chopped them into thick slices and put some in the jar, followed by a bit of oil, then some more peppers until the jar was full. They just fit!

Well, it’s been about 5 weeks since I did that and we’re nearly through them all and we’ve not yet died so hopefully I can carry on doing it when I see the bargains! The peppers are useful for salads, cous cous, sprucing up a cheese sandwich, for putting on the tops of homemade pizzas etc etc. Be sparing, of course, because they’re quite oily but they are a scrummy treat and incredibly useful.

Christmas Fruit and Carrot Cake

This cake needs some tinkering still, but was deliciously Christmassy with some mulled cider.

Due to my poor maths skills, I miscalculated the amount of fruit I’d need for my Christmas cake and pudding by around 250 g (I don’t know quite how). My Christmas fruit was a mixture of glace cherries, candied peel, dried cranberries, currants, raisins and sultanas steeped in cherry brandy, Cointreau and Amaretto.

I’d been hankering after a carrot cake for a while, so I thought I’d combine the two ideas and cook a fruity carrot cake. Unfortunately, the only recipe I liked the look of was in American cups and had some spices I didn’t have in (ground cloves, nutmeg) so I altered, substituted and below is my metric rendering of the cake:

Ingredients

  • 175g brown sugar
  • 85g butter
  • 200 ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsps cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 140g carrots
  • 250g steeped Christmas fruit

How to Make it

Cream the butter and sugar together (the better you do this, the better a cake seems to come out)
, then add the milk and eggs alternately with the flour and dry ingredients. Then add the carrots and Christmas fruit, pour into a 8 or 9 inch tin (I had a 9 inch which is why it’s a bit flat!) and bake for 45 mins to an hour.

For the icing – I used 100g cream cheese and 100g butter and just added icing sugar until it looked like the icing I’ve seen before on carrot cakes. Not precise, I know, but it worked OK.

When I make this cake again I’ll likely cut the quantity of milk. I thought it looked a rather wet batter and after an hour of cooking, the cake still came out a little damp for my liking.


Scrummy Scone Stuffed Tomatoes

Life, it seems, has a way of working out. Everything has come together over the past month and two trips to A&E aside, everything is going well. Hooray. On that theme…

Last week, I finished early and was able to pop to the bakery just before they shut. I got my bread and the lady behind the counter threw in a scone for free so it wouldn’t get thrown away. Cue TLM arriving home from owrk some hours later with two beef tomatoes and the proclamation “I want to stuff these with something but I don’t know what”. We scooped out the tomatoes, cooked them down with some herbs and onions, and stuffed it back in the hollowed tomato. Crumbled the scone over the top, grated some cheese and baked for 20 minutes.

I’ve had many disappointing stuffed veggies before but this was absolutely delicious. I might have to get some savoury scones in for this particular purpose… (also, might slice the tomatoes in half to get more cheesy scone topping in – hehe)