Category Archives: experiment

Stuffed Peppers with Potato, Leek and Mushroom Gratin

Tonight’s dinner was improvised from various leftovers, which might make it harder to follow this post than usual as it’s a little stream-of-consciousness.

Stage One: dinner started this morning when I was sorting out the leftover rogan josh from last night. As usual, there was sauce aplenty for another dinner but most of the meat had been eaten. To bulk it up, I peeled and cubed some sweet potato, zapped it in the microwave (so it can be easily heated at a later date) and stirred it into the curry before bunging it in the freezer. This, however, left me with half a sweet potato as it was a big’un!

Stage Two: later in the afternoon with half a sweet potato, some small salad-type potatoes and a leek I layered up a gratin (sweet potato, white potato, leek). Realising I had no idea what to do next, I googled for a gratin recipe. It called for cream…. hmmm… no cream. Then I remembered I had some homemade mushroom soup in the freezer, which was mainly a cream mushroom puree really, so I defrosted that, added it, and topped up the gratin with milk.

Stage Three: realising that a gratin alone isn’t very balanced, I used two big red peppers I’d bought with the intention of roasting at some point, and filled them with vine cherry tomatoes. Hmmm, not great. Emptied out the cherry tomatoes. Hmmm… what could I stuff it with? I remembered some leftover frozen bolognese sauce we had in the freezer which I stabbed, slotted frozen into the peppers and then put three cherry tomatoes on top and gave a grating of parmiggiano reggiano.

Gratin and peppers went in at the same time, for about 45-60 minutes.

Dinner turned out to be much better than anticipated. The sweet potatoes, of course, cooked faster than the white potatoes which gave a lovely variation in texture. The leek was crisp, and the mushroom soup made the whole thing sing. Unfortunately, the mushroom soup isn’t the easiest thing to whizz up just for a gratin BUT I have decided that blending some mushrooms, cream and garlic together will give much the same effect. So that I shall do next time. Somewhat unconvinced about sweet and normal potatoes together in a gratin, but I think a sweet potato and red onion gratin-esque concoction (maybe with yoghurt?) would be the next to try.

Thai Fish Soup (Tom Yum Gai)

My hilarious attempts to speak Thai should not be left in Thailand, so I present to you: tom yum gai nam kohn – what I believe could mean fish soup with coconut milk. I can’t find exactly what ‘tom yum’ means, it could describe the sauce or could be the word for soup, but it is a very popular dish in Thailand. Tom yum goong (tom yum with prawns) was one of my favourite meals during out trip and so when I saw tom yum paste in Wing Yip, our local Asian supermarket, I had to get some.

I know mixing a sauce in with some vegetables and protein isn’t much of an achievement, but I was pleasantly surprised by how this came together. Guided by the servings per jar, I used a tablespoon and a half of tom yum sauce (which made the soup -ahem- very very very spicy), fried it with onions and green peppers, then I added reconstituted creamed coconut, juice of half a lemon (lime is the best, but we didn’t have any), some carrot, some cabbage and at the last minute some cubed fish. I used monkfish because we happened to have some in the freezer from the last time I fell foul of the fishmonger, and its firm and meaty texture really stood up to the spices.

I added some rice noodles, which sucked up some of the soup but it was worth it! Next time I will use less tom yum sauce (oh the joys of a new ingredient!) but overall I was very pleased, and it proved to be a less fearsome version of a hot and sour prawn soups I’ve made in the past.

Strawberry and White Chocolate Cheesecake

One of the main reasons I like food blogging is the potential to experiment and still feel that something productive came out of something that didn’t go perfectly. This entry to A Slice of Cherry Pie’s In The Bag event (this month’s ingredients: strawberries and white chocolate) was one of those imperfect, but valuable cooking experiences.

I knew I wanted to cook a cheesecake, but I wanted to not follow a recipe strictly as it seems all the cheesecake recipes I try to follow don’t work. This is probably due to differing oven temperatures, but many times I’ve found the cooking times specified to be either far too short or far too long, with me having to slice a burnt top off. So today I wanted to try one that has been much hyped, Nigella’s London Cheesecake, but I wanted to do it a bit differently. You can find the original recipe here.

I started my departure from the recipe by doubling the amount of biscuit and butter required in order to make a cheesecake with a base and walls. (Probably more accurately termed sides, but I think they look like a rather craggy fortress myself) Although working against gravity to create the walls, they didn’t cave in and it was all A-OK.

I then made up a strawberry syrup from a punnet of berries, some caster sugar and a touch of water. I boiled it up, then down, then mushed it and spread all over the biscuit base and let the whole lot cool. So far, so good.

The white chocolate was simply melted and stirred in with the cream cheese of the original recipe, and I adjusted the cooking times up a little to make up for the 200g of white chocolate I’d added but cooked it in a vat of water just as with the original. Well, I evidently didn’t adjust enough because it was still wibbling at me after a good hour. I can’t quite tell with cheesecake how much it’ll firm with cooling (once I had a rather amazing disaster where I undercooked a cheesecake and took it out of its tin without letting it cool. Result: cheesecake avalanche, followed by a number of spoons scooping and eating from the table and a mortified me!) so I bunged it in for another half hour. I eyed it suspiciously once more, removed it from the water, let it cool.

As it was cooling, I fanned some strawberries for the top (apparently very retro, but novel for me).

Unfortunately the slice of cake itself was not pretty enough for a full-frontal (boo hoo) as the strawberry layer, though tasty, looked a little tired (well it must have been after all that time sat under the cheesecake filling). The walls went down very well with TLM, but I think next time they could be thinner, and hopefully with today’s knowledge I will be able to judge them better. Something inside me felt the strawberry syrup needed whizzing for a more event texture, and maybe even something to made it redder – more appealing I suppose? However, it tasted fine so maybe I should keep it organic.
I will want to add more vanilla next time (pod maybe?) because that would really bring out the white chocolate softness. It had flecks from the vanilla sugar and flavour from the vanilla extract but I think a pod is the way forwards for this one.

A very interesting challenge. Cheesecake, not yet mastered. I predict with us moving (again) and me having a new kitchen and cooker the battle will continue…
(any tips – welcome!!)

Thai Green Pea Green Curry

After a week of picnics, barbeques and celebratory dinners we were 1) very full and 2) left with only a packet of pea shoots in the fridge. It was 8:30 pm by the time we realised we were hungry, and on a Sunday there’s not a lot you can do to remedy the situation. What with Glastonbury coming up, we predicted being sick with take away very shortly so we really wanted something homemade. I posted about our trip to Thailand in the afternoon and after a quick look in the kitchen I realised I could make up the basic curry (had all the ingredients in – as an easy storecupboard meal) and add pea shoots and frozen peas and frozen soya beans.

I couldn’t be bothered with rice, so we used noodles. This worked remarkably well and we were fed by 9pm. Woop!

Pea Shoot Pesto

Whizzed this up today: pea shoots, chives, pine nuts, parmaggiano reggiano and a slug of olive oil. This was less successful than the previous experiments, not because it didn’t taste good but because I’m so indoctrinated by basil pesto. I really liked the fresh flavour, and it certainly did taste of the hedgerow/field (not in a bad way!) but I think it would be better paired with something more robust like a good piece of fish. I’ll be freezing the rest (hope that’s possible…) and taking it out when we have fish, or maybe stuffed in a chicken breast with some sundried tomatoes? Hmmm…

Pea Shoot and Feta Bureks

With the advent of my pea shoot delivery and a craving for Feta cheese, these little delights were born. My first thought was to combine the two in a spanakopita (a Greek spinach and cheese pie). After reading up, one of the big problems with spanakopita is that that spinach can be too moist, so the pea shoot would fare well I thought. I didn’t want to make a whole pie though, I wanted singular nibbles. After a bit of exploration, I found out (from wikipedia, so not really mich exploration actually…) that “Burek is a type of pie popular throughout the former Ottoman Empire. They are made of a thin flaky dough known as filo, and are filled with salty cheese (often Feta), minced meat, potatoes or other vegetables.” So I’m calling these bureks.

As a complete amateur cook, I’ve no idea if my concotion is hideously inauthentic but the mix smelt GOOD before it was wrapped in filo, and then DELICIOUS when they came out of the oven.

The mix is made from pea shoots, fresh parsley, sping onion and garlic which is cooked up to soften. Then I added an egg and crumbled in the Feta and stirring through.

I’ve never cooked with filo pastry before, so the experiment got a bit tricky at this point. I layered up three slices (?) of filo, sliced it into strips and then added a dollop of filling before folding it along the length of the strip into triangles. I brushed the pastry with olive oil, crossed my fingers, and put them in the oven at 175 Celsius for 25 minutes.

They turned out very well, and even TLM who doesn’t go in for pastry or fancy cheese scoffed happily. Long live experiments!

Pea Shoot and Bacon Soup


When I had peashoots the other week, the back of the packet said it made a very nice soup with bacon. So I had a go, and this made for a summery version of pea and ham soup.

To make the soup for two, I used four shallots, two rashers of bacon, a packet of pea shoots, ham stock from the freezer and salt and pepper. I cooked the shallots and bacon, added the stock and seasoning and let it simmer for a while before adding the peashoots at the last minute.

I whizzed the lot up (this was very difficult as the peashoots were determined to escape) and it made this pleasuringly lurid soup. It was tasty, and I think I will cook it again as long as the peashoots are in the shop.

I kept some shoots and bacon aside as a garnish, but unfortunately it sunk as the soup was thinner in consistency than my soups usually end up!

Lamb, Pea Shoot and Mint Salad

I read in one of my cookery books that lamb, peas and mint is a classic combination. When I saw pea shoots at the supermarket, I immediately thought of a small piece of lamb in the freezer and the mint I’ve been growing in a pot on the windowsill.

With TLM revising hard for his finals, there was only me to feed at lunchtime. I popped the pea shoots and some cucumber on a plate, mixed up some garlic, chillis, fresh chopped mint and a dash of wine vinegar together and then flash fried the lamb.

It made a very nice combination. I think it would work really nicely with chives rather than garlic, but I only got the seeds yesterday so that’s out of the question! Might go for a drizzle of olive oil next time too… (but was trying to be good today)

Creamy Mushroom and Bacon Pots with Hedgehog Potatoes

So far this week we’ve eaten very healthily (and keeping our resolution to eat fish at least once a week), but today we were both in need of some comfort food. I tried to think of something that felt like a real treat, but was still not that naughty. TLM got me a set of ramekins for Christmas and instructed me on Christmas day that he wanted food that was made in them (!) Quite the brief for this evening’s late late late late meal (TLM at surgery till late then at revision).

I chopped up two big flat mushrooms, half an onion and two lean bacon rashers (just the top oval bits) and fried them with thyme, salt and pepper. Once softened, I put about a tablespoon of double cream and stirred in to the released mushroomy juices. I immediately decanted the creamy mushrooms/ bacon/ onions into the ramekins and placed two more large flat mushrooms on the top to fit as a lid. I then grated a little cheese on the top. A blast under the grill and they were done.

The ‘hedgehog’ potatoes are really Ms. Lawson’s hasselback potatoes, but TLM re-names most of our food. They are made from baby potatoes (new or Charlotte) which you sit in a big-ish spoon and then slit by pushing your knife down onto the potato – the spoon stops you slicing all the way through the potato. You then put a little oil on them and bung them in at 200 celsius for an hour and a half. They’re easy to prepare as you don’t have to peel them and they’re difficult to burn (but I did manage once).

Scrummy – one of our new favourite suppers.

Pear Kulfi

Each month, held alternately by Julia and Scott, there is an ‘in the bag’ challenge where three ingredients are suggested and you come up with a recipe including them. Initially I didn’t have the confidence, but after a little thought and settling on what I could do, I was really quite excited. January 2007’s ingredients were: pears, lemons and nuts of your choice. I sort-of imposed another requirement on myself: I wanted to offer it as the pudding for a coeliac friend who was cooking dinner, so it had to be gluten-free.

I wanted to do something sweet but the nuts really threw me off. I found some interesting pear/chestnut icecream recipes but they all required an icecream maker. Consulting my musty but trusty Marguerite Pattern book I found a recipe for kulfi, a rich almond icecream of Indian origin, which could be made wholly in the freezer. This recipe instantly gave me a good way to use nuts, and I could transform it by adding pear puree and the juice of a whole lemon. So I present my pear kulfi concoction, with slight pride that it throws up no other google results.

It is a little bit fiddly, but only in that it uses up a lot of bowls and so generates a bit of washing up. I strongly suggest rehearsing this recipe in your head to make sure you have all the pans to hand.
Ingredients
  • 600 ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • 50 g ground almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
  • 300 ml double cream
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 pears
How to make it

 

First, you make an almondy custard. Put the eggs, egg yolks and caster sugar in a heatproof bowl and whisk together until evenly blended. Put the milk in a pan and bring to the boil. Add the scalded milk slowly to the egg mix, stirring throughout. Stand the bowl over a pot of boiling water and stir until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Once cooled, stir in the ground almonds and almond essence.

 

Secondly for the pear and lemon puree. Peel, core and chop the pears. Dice into 1 cm squares or so and cook them until soft in a pan with a dash of water. Drain, then puree the pears. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the pan and stir.

 

Whip the cream to soft peaks, then incorporate the pear puree. Finally fold the cream/puree mix into the cool custard. Pour into a container (make it a 2 litre tub) and pop in the freezer to do its thing.

 

Take the icecream out about half an hour prior to serving, so it’s easier to scoop. Add some lemon zest and flaked almonds or pistachios to garnish.
Overall, the pear kulfi was absolutely delicious. The fruity/zestiness of the pear and lemon cut through the otherwise rich almond custard cream. The kulfi is smooth and the crystals turned out fairly small, but as always they could be smaller.