Friday, 17 December 2010

CousCous Darna & Celebrating Liberation


Two days ago was a monumental day. It was one I had been looking forward to for quite a while as it marked the end of the university term and the beginning of the Christmas holidays. After twelve weeks, over 13,000 words, plus a photography project and workbook, the feeling of liberation was immense. One of the biggest challenges this term was the self motivation and organisation: rather than a manic last-minute dash, the workload required consistent endurance over the weeks, which in turn necessitated some tough self-discipline. At the end of it, then, there was no reason not to celebrate, so my friend Fred and I decided to go for a meal somewhere in London, preferably more central than we were currently located.


The plan for the evening was to be as relaxed and disorganised as possible; we'd get off a random tube station and amble aimlessly in any direction until we found a restaurant that tickled our fancy, then we would eat and spend as much time there as we liked. This approach, an antidote to the constraints that the past weeks had subjected us to, led us eventually to Couscous Darna, a Moroccan restaurant in South Kensington. I hadn't eaten at a Moroccan before and the restaurant looked inviting. The menu was on the pricey side, but after months of tight budgeting it seemed like a good (and further liberating) idea to throw caution to the wind.


The interior was fantastic. The Moroccan styling of the decoration was utterly convincing; from the terracotta walls to the intricately patterned crockery, right through to the Moroccan music and faint smell of incenses. The lighting was dim, but not too much so (something that can be irritating – I like to be able to see my food, and put my fork in my mouth rather than my eye) and the atmosphere was pleasantly convivial.


The staff were friendly too, especially the manager, a Moroccan from Fès, who was exceedingly polite and welcoming. After half an hour, our main courses arrived. Fred had ordered a pan fried 'Duck Magret', which was presented beautifully. More importantly, he was ecstatic about the flavour, so I think we can safely assume that it tasted as good, if not better, than it looked. I had ordered the 'Tagine Lahem Bal Barkouk', a 'traditional saddle of lamb with caramelised prunes, rosted almonds, cinnamon Seasame seeds, egg, and saffron' cooked in terracotta clay. It sounded good on paper, and happily it was good to eat too. The lamb was wonderfully soft and the sauce was subtly spiced, but for me the caramelised prunes were the star of the show. That said, I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as Fred was about his duck.


I decided to go all out and have a dessert too, for which I chose the 'Baked Fig Tartlette', a shortcrust pastry with 'almond and pistachio cream and roasted figs served with a cinnamon ice cream'. When it came it was nice – again subtly flavoured – but I have to say, disappointingly small.


Overall the food was good, the staff were friendly and the atmosphere was spot on – it is definitely worth a look, even if simply lap up the atmosphere. I couldn't help feeling a little ripped-off though. The main course was expensive enough, then the dessert was a further six pounds for a tiny tart and an even smaller dollop of ice cream. But worse was the fact that the bread rolls we were offered as a starter came with an Aubergine Zaalouk. It tasted fine, but I do not remember asking for it, and when it came to the bill we were charged an astonishing £6.95 for the small bowl of compote, plus an extra pound for the rolls. I felt a little robbed, to be perfectly honest.


The classic Cinnabon. Well worth it.


But we were not there to save money; we were there to enjoy the release from stress, deadlines and hardcore budgeting, and to embrace the free spirit of indulgence (just for once). With that in mind, we headed to Piccadilly Circus, where I simply couldn't resist a second dessert in the form of a classic Cinnabon bun. If you haven't tried one, just try to imagine a classic Danish pastry, but on steroids. Now there is a good way to spend (a further) £3.50. Well, come on, you've got to treat yourself every once in a while, right?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Why I'm Learning to Loathe Academia


(It’s not about food! #1)

Before I went to university I belived in myself, the career I wanted and my ability to write. I decided (roughly) what I wanted to do for a career and how I would need to get there. University seemed the best route.

Since enrolling on my course in Photography and Journalism, I have learned a lot of skills and information; particularly from the journalism side of things. Now, however, one and a half years into my course, I’m beginning to lose the will to carry on, and am learning to despise the pompous and seemingly arrogant world of academia.

Let’s start with reading. I used to enjoy reading a lot. Despite the un-cool and nerdy-associations that secondary school attributed reading with, I did a fair bit in my spare time. There was nothing like the losing yourself in the blissful escapism of a beautifully written piece of fiction. Since enrolling for a degree, my reading time has deceased. No time for fiction, practically none for magazines and newspapers (ironically, considering that I’m on a Journalism degree). This is quite acceptable – I understand perfectly that one should have to do a lot of academic, course-related reading for a degree.

However, after suffering many a page of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Benjamin Walter and Sigmund Freud, to name but a few, I don’t really enjoy it anymore. Their incessant use of complex syntax and inconceivably complex lexis has left me confused and frustrated on many occasions. I don’t know whether these people had some kind of issue with their egos, but I really can’t see the necessity of making things so difficult to read, let alone understand. Or maybe I am just stupid. Either way I’m losing belief in my ability to read.



Sigmund Freud: You will learn to hate this guy.

Closely related to reading is writing. Academic essays come thick and fast at university, so one has to get to grips with very specific forms of referencing and bibliography styles quickly. It’s not a problem; it just slows you down a bit. When it does become a problem, though, is when different lecturers prefer you to use different styles for different essays. To make things worse, the style guide I have been given contradicts itself. Did I mention that marks are deducted for incorrect referencing too?

More importantly, in the space of a week I have been sat down with different tutors for tutorials about essays, and listened as several pieces of writing, the products of hours of painstaking reading, writing and editing, have been torn apart. In some places I’m too informal. In some I’m not using the correct referencing. Sometimes they’re not interested in contextual information, and sometimes they are. I should be talking less about this and more about that. It’s not the end of the world, as I know I can improve these essays. But it is wearing me down and I am losing the belief I had in my ability to write – as well as read. When I was at secondary school and during A-Levels, I was actively encouraged to pursue writing. I haven’t been encouraged to write – or about my ability to write – in any way since starting my course. I’m beginning to worry that Blogspot might kick me off their servers soon for failing to reach their minimum writing standards.

Finally, there is photography. On my course I have learned less about improving my photography, and more about understanding photography. The seminars, and the discussions we had in them, with Michael O’Brien were a highlight of the course so far. I learnt a lot and my mind was opened. But the problem is, is that I can no longer enjoy photography for the sake of photography. A photo always – always – has some interpretation to be made, some hidden meaning to discover.

And this is all very well, but this approach has to pollute even my own photography. As far as my tutors are concerned, a photo is rubbish unless it contains some kind of reading – whether that be feminist, Marxist or whatever. Photographs of a random piece of tarmac are applauded if they relate to some Freudian theory. A penguin on an iceberg lit by an astronomically beautiful sunset is not applauded, because it is kitsch, cliché, and doesn’t ‘do’ or ‘say’ anything.

But do you know what? I honestly don’t care whether that penguin suffers from the Oedipus complex, or whether he represents individualism and the freedom of the West. I want to enjoy, appreciate and relish in this photo simply because it is beautiful, an achievement and work of art by the photographer and a tribute to incredible aesthetics of nature. And by doing this, I believe that I shouldn’t have to suffer the disregard and disrespect from so-called academics that feel their brains are simply too large to appreciate this.


Victim of the Oedipus complex, or simply photogenic material? You decide...

To conclude then, I must ponder these emotions and thoughts that have been provoked by higher education: the feeling that I have been robbed of the ability to read and write, the idea that I lack the intelligence to appreciate the ‘superior’ realms of photography. Maybe I am simply too stupid. Perhaps I lack the intellectual capacity to surf the shallow wave of academia. Whether I am right or whether I am wrong, who knows – but either way I’m paying well over £3000 per year for this demoralisation.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Problem with Premium Produce... and an Xmas Recipe

I was recently contacted by Owen Burek, the man behind the delightful savethestudent.org website, who was asking whether I'd like to write a guest blog for his site. I was only too happy to oblige, so have duly written a short article, on the Problem with Premium Produce, which can be found by following the link.

Also, for this month's recipe I thought something a little Christmas-ish would be in order, so click here for a very simple yet delicious stuffed turkey and smoky bacon recipe.

Due to SEO reasons, I can't post the articles here, so follow the links above for this month's innings!

Stuffed Turkey
As usual, if you try it let me know how it turns out...

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Fraicher's Guide - Part 2

Welcome to part 2, the other half, of the Fraicher's Guide. Enjoy!

Inspiration
Knowledge, inspiration and imagination are three words that can be associated with successful cooking. Knowledge doesn't come from your head (initially), it comes from recipe books, magazines and more. Once these resources have taught you something (for example, that a certain herb works with a certain meat) you then become inspired to try something new, incorporating what you have learnt. Suddenly this cooking lark is becoming more interesting. But before all that you need inspiration. So below I've listed some potential sources of the stuff:

Books
There is an ever expanding plethora of recipe books available today, and many of them are dedicated student cook books. Because of this huge amount of choice I decided to avoid all the student books and bought Jamie's Ministry of Food. I did this simply because of bold tag line: “Anyone can learn to cook in 24 hours”. I assumed that it must be for the uber novice such as myself. It turned out to be more comprehensive than novice; the sheer range of recipes is staggering and I have barely scratched the surface of its contents. Admittedly it has to be said that it could be simpler (i.e. less ingredients to save the hard up student money). Still, the point is that it taught me a lot – the Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish recipe proved somewhat revolutionary to me and inspired me to keep trying new dishes with new ingredients I have never tried before. At the end of the day you can't really go wrong with a good recipe book.

Magazines
These are great. What you are essentially getting is a short monthly cookbook for less than a fiver. The recipes are often varied and economic, as well as being conveniently seasonal. In addition, they have pages of advice, sections where you can send your own questions, and random yet useful titbits of information you probably wouldn't find in a recipe book. Hurrah for magazines!

The Web
Probably the best thing about the web is that the recipes are free, and the fact that others can often rate them. The only downside is having to print/copy down the recipe unless you wish to risk griddled laptop. Another great thing is that websites will often have forums where you can ask questions and discuss matters with other people. Also, websites such as the BBC's GoodFood one have very useful help pages with basic tutorials and the like. Check www.bbcgoodfood.com and www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk for a mind-boggling range of recipes. TV chef's websites also tend to host some rather good recipes too. Check Jamie Oliver's and Raymond Blanc's for starters.

Television
Little needs to be said about this, but watching programmes like Masterchef is simply inspiring - there's no other way to put it. Check Youtube (search '4od food') and BBC's iPlayer, both of which have some quality content. A great way to get the reluctant chef inside you into the kitchen.

Cooking Itself

When Following Recipes

  • If you're not sure about some of the ingredients, look them up on the supermarket's website. You can then work out how affordable the meal is.
  • Always allow for far more time than you think you'll need. Recipe's always take longer than their author's say they will! Also bear in mind the weighing of ingredients, the clearing up, washing up and drying up. I would always give about two hours for the whole process (including eating).
  • When cooking for just yourself, cook enough for two servings and then fridge half and eat it the following day, or freeze it if applicable. It makes the time spent in the first place all the more worthwhile.
  • Be sure to read the recipe through before going into it – that way you can always forsee any potential problems that may arise.
Some More Tips

Cook for your flatmates. Not only is this convenient, as you will be able to buy ingredients in proper quantities/not have irritating leftovers, but those who you cook for will love you for it (unless you poison them). This also has the potential benefit of them returning the favour, meaning you won't have to cook on another evening. Yay!

Desserts. Most people love a great pud but when having to make main meals for yourself, you really won't want to spend the time on something so seemingly insignificant. A great way, however, of getting an excuse to make one is to make a bargain with a mate. Make a dessert for them (and yourself) in an exchange for them making a main meal for you. It should work.

Freezing. Most shop bought food will tell you on the label whether it is freezable or not. If so the general rule is something like this: Freeze before the use-by date. Most frozen goods will last for 1-3 months in the freezer. To defrost, leave out over night (or day), or if in a rush it is possible to defrost in a microwave (just be careful not to over do it). Once defrosted, a food should be eaten relatively soon, and not refrozen. However, if, for example, your frozen food was mince beef, once defrosted and then cooked properly it can be refrozen. After it has defrosted the second time, be sure to consume it sooner rather than later and don't refreeze again.

Tinned food is a great time saver. Nothing fancy needs to be done, simply heat it in a pan a microwave. Make sure to stock up on cans and tins.

Ready Meals and Take-Aways. Ready meals are fine now and again. They're not all bad, can be cheap, and save time. Just don't live off them. Take-aways are always nice but go easy on them – they're often very much less than healthy and will put a rather large dent in your wallet.

Finally, be creative, experiment and have fun!

So that's the end of the Fraicher's Guide. I do hope it has been of help. Did I miss anything off? If I did, please let me know!

PS - Remember, all the tips here are just based on my personal experience during my first year of university, so don't try and sue me for anything 'cos it didn't work out for you. It should work out for you, but I'm just covering my butt really. It's the kind of thing you have to do in this lamentable day and age...

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A Fraicher's Guide - Part 1

When you start off cooking for yourself for the first time, there are always a multitude of questions to be asked concerning various topics, from what kitchen utensils you should own to what you can and can't freeze. Below are my top-tips for freshers, an odd assortment of advice that attempts to answer some of those questions and give you a few tips to help you on your way. This is in no way exhaustive, so if you have any tips of your own, I'd love to hear about them.

What You Should Own

This section is relatively unnecessary, as most mothers will have filled an MPV with all the equipment that they are certain you cannot survive without. And even what you (miraculously) don't already have is bound to be owned by one of your flat mates. Still, it can't hurt just to go over the basics again. There may even be something you've missed off your list...

  • Sauce pans – at least 3, of varying sizes and preferably with lids.

  • Frying pans – Two would be useful – one big and one small.

  • A Wok – Not the obvious choice, but I managed to get a 25cm non-stick one for about £2.50 from Asda last year. It's been invaluable.

  • A mixing bowl. Even if you're not going to be doing much baking, one of these will come in use at some point.

  • A measuring jug – A good glass Pyrex one is relatively inexpensive, but you can get plastic ones for even cheaper.

  • An oven tray – or two. I recently got a 33cm Tesco's Value deep roasting tray for less than £1 . I had a flat one before, which is fine – though it did get me into a sticky situation once (excuse the pun) when some sausages and the accompanying fat decided to alight the tray whilst I was trying to remove them from under the grill. Hopefully that problem won't occur with the deep tray...

  • A sieve – always useful for when draining rice etc., or as an inferior substitute for a colander.

  • An oven/casserole dish – great for making pasta bakes which are easy, cheap, filling and (can be) healthy.

  • A chef's knife – aside from all the normal cutlery, make sure you own at least one decent sized chef's knife. These don't have to cost a lot and make chopping so much easier than those little knives. (There's a great knife-skills video tutorial here)

  • A chopping board or two – whether plastic or wooden doesn't matter too much, just make sure you have a couple – you will need them!

  • A peeler and tin-opener are very useful too.

  • Oven gloves – Doesn't really need explaining...

The Store Cupboard

This one's quite straightforward really. You should always have a certain amount of ingredients in your store cupboard for two reasons: One, much of your cooking is likely to involve/require these ingredients, and two, in case of an emergency – you've run out of food and can't make it to the shops, for example. The following list contains the basics that everyone should own:

- Dried Pasta
- Dried Rice and/or noodles
- Salt and (black) pepper (black tastes better and recipes always seem to ask for this)
- Sugar
- Olive oil
- Tinned/chopped tomatoes
- flour
- Some sort of dried herbs are always useful (such as oregano)
- Garlic

Supermarket Shopping

With many universities, you won't have a choice as to which supermarket to shop at – there'll be the one that's nearest and most convenient, and that's it. But if you have a choice it's worth thinking about. If you're going to be shopping at a supermarket for three years (or more) shouldn't you get something back for it? Many people at my university shop at the local Asda because it's close and it's big. I tend to shop at the smaller and slightly further away Sainsbury's as, among other things, I collect Nectar points, meaning I'm slowly earning free food!

Sell-Bys and Bulk Buys

One of the first things you'll realise about shopping for one person is that it is a pain in the pan-seared posterior. Nearly everything is cheaper in bulk, but as there's only one of you, you don't need bulk. Another problem is that even if you do decide to buy in bulk, do you have the storage space? And then there are sell-by dates. If you can store it, can you eat it before it goes off?

Whilst on the topic of sell/use/consume/eat/scoff/munch-by dates, it's worth realising that these dates are only relative – for some foods at least. Supermarkets are legally obligated to put a use-by date on their foods, so they'll put them there whether strictly necessary or not. Some foods are fine past their date; for example I had a pack of grated mild cheddar that went well past the date but was perfect. Tins also are almost immortal. With foods such as fruit and milk, you can tell when they're past their prime because they smell, taste and/or look bad. But don't mess with meat - eat it within the date. Overall, just use common sense, and don't hold me accountable if you get ill from eating something mouldy(!) - I'm not saying ignore these dates I'm just saying that some of them are a little on the pessimistic side.

Going back to bulk buying, sharing shopping with your flat-mates is an obvious solution to the shopping-for-one problem. However, you probably wouldn't want to do too much as it could get quite complicated what with owing each other money and whatnot. Trying to split big milk bottles evenly could be quite difficult too. A good compromise is to buy foods such as pasta in bulk and split the costs, and then do the rest of your shopping yourself.

Economy Gastronomy

One thing many people, even students, are often dubious about is the economy range of any supermarket. But students are on a tight budget, and so often feel forced into the cheap ranges (unless you're like my good colleague Fred the Friendly Viking, who is probably unique in being the only student in the U.K. to shop at Waitrose).

But take heart, there is little need to be afraid of these foods. Some of the economy range, it has to be said, isn't that great but most of it is absolutely fine; it's just cheaper because it simply hasn't got the fancy packaging, or in the case of fruit and veg, everything isn't neat and uniform in size and shape. If you're unsure, all you have to do is read the ingredients, and if there's anything you don't like (or sounds alien) you don't have to buy it. But you'll probably find that cheap stuff doesn't even have to have lots of artificial flavourings, colourings, preservatives, or insanitary additives – as I discovered with my Sainsbury's Basics Meat Lasagne. The only bottom range food I tend to be avoid is sausages – A quick glance over the back of the pack reveals only about 42% of the sausage is actual pork. Grim.

So in short, just read the packet; see where it's from and what's in it and you should be able to make a good judgement. Economy ranges aren't all bad.

Another thing you will discover is that it's actually more expensive to eat healthily. Whereas a good packet of custard creams will only cost about 30p, a bag of bananas will cost over a pound. And that's just one very small example. Just don't be tempted to save a few pennies and eat unhealthily, because though your wallet may thank you, your body won't .

Just a couple more tips:

- Always write a shopping list (and plan meals ahead). That way you won't forget anything, and if you stick to it you won't go beyond your budget.
- Eat before you go. If you shop when hungry you'll end up with all sorts of confectionery in your trolley, and no recollection of buying it.
- If you shop closer to closing time there's more likely to be reduced items that are near/on the sell-by and needing to be cleared.

Part two to follow shortly, covering following recipes, inspiration and advice for cooking itself.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Summer's Last Hurrah

It seems like admitting defeat to mention it, but we cannot deny the fact that summer is slowly drawing its last breaths before it plunges into hibernation for the next eight to ten months.

Still, we can't really complain as, august aside, we've had a pretty good summer (for British standards, anyway). The culinary highlights of this fairer part of the year have mainly been sea-food orientated for me: from a delicious smoked salmon wrap on the Dutch island of Texel, to the legendary Anstruther fish and chips on the Fife coast in Scotland; from raw herring and onion in the Hague, to a sublime (if not slightly overpriced) white crab and chilli linguine in Porthleven.


Photobucket

Anyway, reminiscing aside, this recipe really comes at the wrong time of year. Really I should have waited until late spring/early summer to post it, but unfortunately I'm not that patient. So instead I'm labelling this as a last hurrah for summer, a 'not going down without a fight' type attitude to the last dregs of the warmer part of the year. (Looking out of the window, however, that attitude does admittedly seem a little futile).

The recipe is an almost-success. I'd hope that once placed in the fridge it'd set, but it didn't. As a result you have to place it into the freezer and then remove about 15 -25mins before consumption. Still, it taught me an important lesson about the solidity of chocolate and it tastes good to boot, so it was worth it in the end!!


White Chocolate, Strawberry and Mint Truffle Cake


Photobucket

Serves: 8 (or more, see below)

Price: 44p per slice

Time: About an hour, if you're as slow as me


Ingredients:

140g white chocolate

3 large fresh strawberries

1 small handful of fresh mint (about 5g)

8 digestive biscuits

115ml double cream

55g unsalted butter


Method


  1. Firstly, blitz the digestives in a blender and melt 30g of the butter. Mix the digestives and butter to create a 'wet sand'. Line an 18cm cake tin with grease proof paper. Empty the digestives and butter into the tin and smooth over the bottom to create your base. Place in the fridge.

  2. Next, chop your strawberries into small pieces. The shape doesn't really matter and they don't have to be uniform in size. Now do the same with your mint. A good technique for chopping the mint leaves into small strips is to pile 3-5 on top of each other, and then roll them up (as if rolling a minty cigarette). Then simply chop the roll thinly.

  3. Next, break up the chocolate and put it into a mixing bowl. Add the remaining 25g of butter. Pour the cream into a sauce pan and put on a medium heat. It should boil quite quickly.

  4. Once boiled, pour the cream over the chocolate and butter. Mix gently (try to avoid creating bubbles) until it all becomes a yellowish gloop (it doesn't look very appetising at this stage, but taste a bit and you'll change your mind!). Now simply mix in the strawberries and mint.

  5. Remove the base from the fridge and pour the mixture on top. Now place in the freezer to set. Remove about 15-25mins prior to eating.



    Two further brief notes about this:

    - One, it is really rather rich, so you won't need a large portion as a dessert.

    - Secondly, because of this richness you can cut it into small squares or circles or slices and serve as a bite with tea or coffee.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

TuTo-PaBa

It's funny how things go sometimes. I remember a while back, when I would flick through a thick, glossy paged, illustriously illustrated recipe book in WHSmith, how I would wonder at the recipes before me. How on earth would one possibly come up with such an enormous variety of such delicious looking food? How do you just 'invent' stuff like that?

The answer, I think, is that you don't invent. Take last Saturday. It was a warm and sunny morning, and after razzing it down the local common on my bike I arrived at the Pantiles, to find it looking as beautiful and historic as ever. There was a pleasant buzz in the air too; not the sort created by an airborne insect, but that of a moderately lively atmosphere. As it was so pleasant, we decided on a whim to stay for coffee, which we had at an Italian deli/café/restaurant which I hadn't been to before. As I supped on my cappuccino in the balmy sun, looking at the rickety old carts and baskets laden with groceries, I felt inspired.

Now traditionally on a Saturday evening in my family, we have always had a tea with bacon and eggs. But right then I really felt the urge to eat something fresh, simple and (slightly) Italian. Alfresco too, if possible. But not wanting to intrude too deeply on tradition, I decided the dish must include bacon. Some sort of pasta with bacon then. From there I added ingredients one by one to my mental shopping list until I had compiled the recipe below.

Now I know that the recipe is nothing particularly original. Bacon, pasta and tuna have been combined for eons. But the point that it illustrated to me, is how recipes are (or can be) formed. Influences from place, weather, atmosphere and tradition all combined to create my recipe. I'm not saying that all recipes are formed this way, I'm just saying that I seriously doubt that these great books come about from someone sitting at a desk thinking them up. They are are the result of travel, experience, knowledge and heritage. It's much like art and music – nothing is truly original; every piece of music or work of art has been influenced by something or someone else that came before.

So I guess I've answered my own question then. Next time I'm pondering over a recipe book in WHSmith I'll be less puzzled and more intrigued with what people come up with. The more of their recipes you follow, the more you'll learn and the more likely you'll be able to come up with something great yourself. There are those, of course, who do not follow recipes, and do not need to - and good for them! But if like me you need instruction and inspiration and want to explore more, then the variety of those dishes already created and tested will prove invaluable to you. Go on, try something new. I dare you.

___________

Oh, and as for the rather unusual title to this blog post, it's what I decided to call the dish below. The reason for this is that I thought it would be unimaginably dull and laborious to name it something like the 'Tuna Bacon Sun Dried Tomato and Pasta with Basil, Cheese and Some Other Ingredients' recipe. So instead I got the first two letters of the key ingredients -Tuna sun dried Tomatoes Pasta and Bacon – and christened it the TuTo-PaBa.


TuTo-PaBa


A hearty pasta with wine eaten outside on a warm summer's evening. It doesn't get much better.

Time: It took me longer, but I reckon you could get it down to the 20-30 minute mark.

Serves: 4

Price: £1.78 per serving


Ingredients:

Buy:

370g penne pasta

6 large rashers unsmoked middle bacon

1x 185g tin tuna

1 lemon

250g Wensleydale, Mozzarella, or cheese of choice

1 jar sun-dried tomatoes

1 pack fresh basil


From your cupboard:

2 slices brown bread

olive oil

butter

black pepper


Method:

  1. Cook the pasta according to pack instructions (i.e. place in pan of boiling water until soft).

  2. Meanwhile, add a knob or two of butter to a frying pan and fry the bacon.

  3. Whilst the pasta and bacon are cooking, wash most of the basil and pull the leaves off the stalks. Toast the bread, then whizz in a blender to make crumbs. Grab 8-10 sun-dried tomatoes and chop them into thin strips.

  4. Once the bacon is all fried, chop it into small strips or chunks.

  5. Once cooked, drain the pasta and return to a low heat. Now add the bacon, about two thirds of the basil, the sun-dried tomatoes, the bread crumbs and the tin of tuna (drain it first though!).

  6. Mix it all together. Now add the cheese of choice. I crumbled Wensleydale over it, purely for experimental reasons, and it turned out rather nicely. Feel free to use any other grated cheese, but if using parmesan add sparingly.

  7. Season with the black pepper, and squeeze the juice of half the lemon over it. Taste it – if you like add more lemon or pepper. It's fairly salty from the tuna, cheese and bacon so it shouldn't need any more salt.

  8. Once plated tear and scatter remaining basil leaves over the top. Serve with either a salad or a toasted cheese and tomato ciabatta (or normal fresh roll).


PS – I would love to hear any feedback. Firstly, if you tried the recipe I would like to know what you thought of it, and do feel free to suggest any improvements that could be made. Secondly – the blurb before the recipe. If you liked it, let me know. If you didn't, let me know.


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A Super Simple Sweet Summer Dessert

As a pun lover, I had to resist the temptation to title this “'Ice To 'Eat You”. However, there's actually no official ice cream as such in the desserts below, despite the fact that the recipes include cream and freezers. I say 'recipes' but really I should say 'recipe'; what we have below is one extraordinarily, almost embarrassingly, simple dessert, where one ingredient is simply replaced for another to create a different flavoured version of the same dessert.
When crushing the meringues, don't crush them too finely or you'll lose the lovely crunchiness in the final product. For the alternative version of this dessert, replace the Aero bars with 2 (or more, if you want) 40g Cadbury's Crunchie bars.

Mint Bomb

Serves: 8
Price: 56p per serving
Time: 25mins max

Ingredients:
  • 16 Meringue nests
  • 1 pint double cream
  • 3x 27g (or 2 Large) aero bars
Method:
  1. Whip cream.
  2. Crush meringues and Aero bars.
  3. Mix meringues & Aeros into the whipped cream
  4. Freeze overnight
  5. Remove from freezer 1 hour before serving. Loosen the edges with a knife and then turn onto a serving dish. Place in fridge.

PhotobucketThe Crunchie Bomb - Not much of a looker, but much of a taster.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

BBC Summer Good Food Show


As the shuttle bus whisked us through labyrinth of roads and warehouses that is the NEC, I was a little uncomfortable. Aside from my buddy sitting beside me, there seemed to be at least 40 years between me and the next youngest passenger. I was, however, relieved of my fears upon arrival; it seemed that most of the passengers had been attracted to Gardeners World Live (and/or Alan Titchmarsh) rather than the Good Food show to which we were headed.

I had rather hoped the BBC Summer Good Food Show would live up to the of 'Good' part of its illustrious title, as the most basic 'general admission' ticket was none too cheap at £19. Plus a £1.50 booking fee. To cut a long story short, it was good. To cut a short story long....


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The MasterChef Experience Kitchen

Once we'd actually found the Good Food Show part (no mean feat, as it turned out) we were instantly drawn to the MasterChef Experience. Here was a kitchen where any member of the public could participate and create a dish from a box of mystery ingredients, in a limited amount of time. I couldn't help but admire the people who were brave enough to stand and cook in front of the blood thirsty crowd. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to. After a few minutes of cooking, the three finalists of this years MasterChef series came into the kitchen, and after being interviewed by the amusing host Andi Peters, mentored the competitors and gave them advice. Once time was up the finalists, Dhruv Baker, Alex Rushmer and Tim Kinnaird, chose 3 dishes from the 18 (approx) competitors. Their dishes were then given a rinsing by none other than MasterChef judges Greg Wallace and John Torode.

Afterwards I was able to meet Dhruv, Alex and Tim and have a brief chat with them. It was rewarding and encouraging to discover how down-to-earth and genuine they were. It was also amusing/embarrassing to have Alex have to remind me to take the lens cap off my camera before taking his picture – I'd just told him I was a photography student and complimented the work of his girlfriend! Oops.

From there my pal and I browsed through the endless different stalls which contained anything and everything from pans to paninis, cocktails to curry sauces, and more. Getting free samples was always good. Carte D'Or had two stalls giving away samples of four different flavoured ice creams. The Rum and Raisin seemed to contain more rum than ice cream, but the Crema Di Mascarpone was exceedingly delicious. It has to be said though, that the mouth-wateringly delicious looking Madagascan Vanilla and Chocolate cheesecake was quite disappointing. If you were wondering, yes, I did visit their stalls more than once - apologies to Carte D'Or if I am responsible for single handedly forcing you into administration.


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John & Greg dig in

The next attraction was the Summer Kitchen, where visitors were entertained by the MasterChef Cook Off. This entailed two winners of previous MasterChef series' (in this case James Nathan and Matt Follas) cooking head to head: they had all of 30 minutes to create a stunning dish to wow the judges. It was amazing to see what they created in the amount of time it takes me to slice a garlic clove. This was, of course, presented by John & Greg who were full of energy and jokes, and were happy to share a few tips and 'behind the scenes' stories from MasterChef. I was impressed with how self depreciating they were, and how ready they were to give each other a ribbing.

All in all, it was a good day. I say day, but to be honest it was less than that – we arrived at midday and by four thirty we'd pretty much seen it all. There were other attractions, such as the Miele cookalongs, the MasterChef restaurant, and Tasting Beers Live, but these were all at additional costs. Not so accessible when you've spent over fifty quid just to get there and get in! But don't let that make you think it wasn't worth it, because it was. I found it to be a very enjoyable experience, and came home with good memories, some Good Food Magazines... and a MasterChef mug.

Roll on next year?


Tips from the Good Food Show (courtesy of John Torode and Greg Wallace!):

  • If you want your tomatoes to taste good, don't put 'em in the fridge. Leave them in the sunlight, on a windowsill.

  • “If you turn fish over the fisherman fall out of the boat” - when frying fish don't turn it over until it's properly cooked on the side in contact with the pan.

  • If you have freshly caught fish, leave them for a day or so in order to avoid the rigor mortis. If you cook them straight away the fish will be tough.


MasterChef finalists Dhruv, Tim, and Alex:


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P.S All photographs by me. No thieving without permission please!
P.P.S Expect a stupidly simple recipe in the next few days...

Friday, 21 May 2010

Death by Ready Meals (Or Not...)

Jamie Oliver would have you believe that ready meals are the bane of man-kind. He would have you believe that it was a ready meal that the Americans dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. He may even tell you that ready meals are to blame for appointing Gordon Brown as Prime Minister in 2007, and that they also are the soul reason of under-age alcohol abuse today.

But I'm not convinced. Admittedly, the previous paragraph may contain a few healthy spoonfuls of hyperbole, but I'm not so sure that they are all that bad. Whilst at Sainsbury's a short while ago, I picked up a Sainsbury's Basics Meat Lasagne ready meal for seventy one pence. Obviously it only served one, but that was all I needed and it was a bargain.

Anyone who cares about their health will at this point be cringing, their brains calculating a formula similar to 'BASICS + MEAT + CHEAP + READY MEAL = FATALY DIRE INGRDIENTS, AVOID AT ALL COSTS'. But no. Unbelievably, as I warily examined the box, my inner-Oliver screaming at me to put it down, I could find nothing wrong with it. The colour wheel was all greens and oranges. There were no added artificial flavourings or colours. There wasn't even a trace of any E numbers. So I told my inner-Oliver to shut it, and put the ready meal in my trolley - admittedly slightly apprehensive of how it might taste.

And I am delighted to inform you that it didn't taste bad. Obviously, it wasn't the tastiest Lasagne I have ever eaten, but there was nothing particularly wrong with it. Served with a heap of crispy salad it made for a pretty nice meal, with (almost) zero preparation required.

I think I should make it clear that I am in no wise pro-ready meals. They are never as healthy, tasty, and rewarding as home cooking, and they never will be. I am in no way trying to encourage you to eat them. Also, I have no intentions of undoing the hard work of Mr. Oliver's tireless campaigning. It's just that every once in a while, when you're too busy to cook, a little ready meal won't hurt. Just don't drop it on Hiroshima.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Speedy Smoked Salmon Spaghetti


The great thing about this dish is that it's quick, easy, cheap, only uses one dish and is healthy (apart from the cream!). Also, when it comes to things like adding the cheese, salt and pepper, etc., you can just experiment - add as much or little as you want and tailor it to your taste. If using the white wine, add it sparingly. I almost killed the whole thing first time by adding too much. Whilst you're at it, why not replace the single cream with crème fraiche?

I've included the quantities for two portions so that if cooking for yourself you can fridge half and eat it the following night.

Time: 30mins
Price: £1.01 p/portion (excluding wine)
Serves: 2

Ingredients:
- 120g pack smoked salmon trimmings
- 200g spaghetti (or macaroni)
- 150ml single cream
- Lemon juice of 1/2 a lemon
- Salt and pepper
- Grated cheese of your choice (parmesan is good)
- a little white wine (optional)

Method:

1) Put a large pan of salted water on the boil.
2) Once boiling, add your spaghetti and boil for about 10 minutes, or till done.
3) Once cooked, drain and replace on hob on a low heat.
4) Add cream, white wine (if using), cheese, salt and pepper, lemon juice, and salmon. Mix it all together.
5) Serve with a heap of crispy salad.


Thursday, 22 April 2010

Welcome - What it's all about....

Welcome to Fresh Food, my new blog that’s all about eating! I am currently writing a food column for my University newspaper, 'Fresh', (hence the title 'Fraiche Food'), so I thought it might be a good idea to put some of my writings onto the electric interweb to reach out to a wider audience.

If there’s one thing that unites all students, it is that they love to eat (not quite as much as they love to drink). Not all, however, love to cook; and that is going to be one of my sole aims of this blog – to get you cooking.

The idea of this blog is not just for students though - it's for any person who is short on time, in search of the same utopian goal of food that's quick, easy, cheap, healthy and tasty. I say utopian with good reason - getting all these factors into one dish is nigh-on impossible (as you may have discovered). However, I believe it is very possible to get close.

Over the coming months I hope to include some basic recipes for wholesome meals, supermarket shopping advice, seasonal specials, and more.

Also, as a keen photographer and photography student, all photos on this blog will be taken by me, unless otherwise stated, as I attempt to master the art of food photography... or at least get better at it!

Cheers,
Jason
Super Cooking Rookie/FarFromMasterChef

PS I'd really appreciate any thoughts/opinions on the blog, recipes, or whatever. Do let me know!