26/08/2012

Apple Crisps.

I found myself with a surfeit of apples today. Some were nice and fresh, some going a wee bit soft but all needed eating. After a bit of Googling, I decided to  make oven-dried apples as it seemed the easiest thing to do. I had Discoveries, Cox’s and Golden Delicious to use up.

Slice all the apples into 3mm (ish) thick slices. You don’t really have to be precise.

I cut out the middles with a mini cookie cutter, as that saved me coring the whole apples. I don’t have an apple corer, and trying to do that with a knife would have resulted in a lot of claret on the apples that didn’t belong there.

Once you have the rings ready, put them out in a single layer on baking trays lined with non stick paper or liner.

Sprinkle over cinnamon.

Bake for 1 hour in a 225F/110ºC/Gas 1/2 oven, then turn them over, and bake for another hour.

Open the oven door, turn off the heat and let them cool on the trays.

Done!

I am now trying very hard not to eat them all before hubby comes home tomorrow.

 

Apple crisp

Apple crisps

20/08/2012

Quick Sunday Dinner.

The ridiculous heat this weekend (seriously, 31ºC in Essex? Really?) has sapped my creative energy for cooking. I keep looking at the lovely ingredients in the shops and my brain appears to have short circuited. Where usually it is teeming with recipe ideas, this weekend it has been sluggish to the point of comatose.

All I managed to put together on Sunday was fruit and yoghurt. Admittedly it was very nice fruit, and very nice yoghurt but that seemed to be my limit until the sun went down.

Watermelon and strawberries

Greek watermelon, with Greek thyme honey, Total Greek yoghurt and Essex strawberries.

I knew that I had chicken in the fridge that needed to be used, so that spurred me on as the evening drew in.

Take 4 large chicken breasts, place them in a roasting tray and slash them with a knife.

Drizzle over olive oil, sprinkle with dried oregano and sea salt and then dot with a little butter.

Tuck lemon wedges and garlic cloves in around them, drizzle those with a little olive oil and then roast in the oven at around 170ºC (Fan) for 30 minutes. I put some bacon pieces that I’d cooked earlier on the top and then popped the grill on to crisp them up. That took another 10 minutes.

Served that with salad, halved hardboiled eggs and griddled halloumi.

Garlic Lemon Bacon Chicken

Chicken with roasted garlic, lemon wedges and crisped bacon.

Close up

Clarence Court eggs. SO good.

halloumi

Halloumi. Griddled. What more can I say?

13/08/2012

Team Food Are Go!

You know when you have those throwaway conversations that happen at dinner, and people run with it?

That.

When Jackie Lee and I were guests at the fabulous Danny Kingston’s supper club, we had a conversation about having a team of foodies, with matching leather wrist bands (or something) who you could call on in a food crisis. Ho ho we all said, and carried on eating our delicious gooseberry fool.

Fast forward, dear reader, to the end of July. I get an email. The subject line says Catering Job HO!

I’m hooked.

I love food. I talk about food. I read about cooking. My bedside table has cookery books on it. My coffee table has (aside from a heap of Stuff) cookery books on it. A recent job interview ended up being 90% about food. I decided it was about time to actually DO something about it so I agreed to help Jackie out with prep for a 10 Anniversary party at the beginning of August.

I wasn’t available for the actual event, as it was my pa in law’s 75th birthday meal, but I was available the day before.

August 10th dawned bright and sunny. I got up at my usual work time of 6am, because I’d not been to Lewisham before and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get there. I headed off around 8am, marvelled at  the DLR yet again, and got to Lewisham at 10.30.

I stepped out of the station into the sunshine, looked around and got a text from Jackie to buy more supplies. Cue a short walk to Tesco where I found all the things we needed and got a taxi to J’s house because a) I was scared of getting lost when we had lots to do and b) 2kg of rice plus tins of black beans is heavy! Waiting for the taxi in the sun was lovely and odd.  I had an interesting run in with the male locals because if you are a fat lady, you are either adored by the local boys, or loathed. I got both versions, and both made me laugh out loud, much to the chagrin of the lad who had made one of Those comments. I sat in the sun, drinking a can of Peanut flavour Nourishment because breakfast was needed, and I wasn’t sure if we’d have time to actually eat anything ourselves.

The cab got lost, but we got there in the end. It was straight to work upon arrival.

There was time for a quick look at the assorted recipes strewn across the dining room table, and then onto chopping and shredding slow cooked brisket. Once the whole lot was shredded and transferred to the serving dish, the most gorgeous smoky, spicy sauce was poured over the top. Brisket shall henceforth be known as Sponge, between it soaked up the whole panful of sauce like an aubergine soaks up expensive olive oil. Cue Jackie making another batch of the delicious stuff so that more could be added. The smell was amazing.

Next up: Saffron Spiced Rice. Jackie prepared onions, I prepped peppers. Peppers were to be my theme for the day, it turned out. The scent of the rice cooking wafted through the house like a tropical breeze. Tropical was also going to be theme of the day due to the heat.

Next up after that, I think, was baby peppers. Cut in half and deseeded. There were a lot of peppers. My fingernails ended up a curious shade of orange, but I got quicker at the deseeding as I went along. These were to be stuffed first with a layer of the spiced rice, then with a layer of black beans and then topped with cheese. This task takes a lot longer than you would ever think. Baby peppers might be wee, and cute, but what they lack in size, they make up for in the sheer amount of seeds they hold. I persevered, and then Jackie joined me for the stuffing after she’d finished doing the most amazing smelling grilled chicken ever in the kitchen. Which we didn’t eat any of, by the way.

I will say to you now, rice does not like sticking to the inside of small peppers. The black beans worked very nicely as a topping, because they sealed the rice in. Once covered with cheese, these were going to be lovely, spicy mouthfuls. I’m not sure I ever want to see black beans for a fair while though.

The hard work turned into these:

Baby stuffed peppers

At some point I made the batter for sweetcorn fritters. I can’t remember exactly when I did this, but I know I did. Corn kernels, freshly ground coriander seeds, cumin, sliced spring onions, chopped fresh coriander, flour, eggs and water. Simple, and very, very  good.

Sweetcorn fritters with sour cream and chives

When the lovely Cindy arrived, she got started on guacamole, and I went back out for more beans, and to get some lunch. This time the cab driver didn’t get lost, and unloaded my shopping for me.

On to the baby burritos! I finished the last of the peppers, and then Cindy showed me how to roll the burritos. It’s not as easy as Cindy made it look, but I got there in the end. I was doing the veggie ones. Each burrito contained guacamole, rice, black beans, cheese and sour cream. The non veggie ones had added shredded chicken too. We had a veritable production line set up.

Baby burrito army

Jackie had to leave to go to a prior engagement, though she was going to come back as soon as she could and carry right on. We also carried on for as long as we could. Cutting out and baking pastry for tartlets, stuffing burritos, chopping up chicken for kebabs, frying off the last of the fritters.

I left at around 8pm, though I really wanted to stay a lot longer. Cindy stayed until 10 I think.

Jackie informed us that the event went off very well, and that everyone loved the food. That makes the aching back and sore feet very much worth it! Yes, it was hard work, but I felt a huge sense of achievement at the end of the night and would willingly help Jackie again. Next time though, I am definitely taking my own knives. You don’t realise how accustomed to using your own knives you are until you use somebody else’s.

These are the photos from the finished feast.

Baby ceviche pots

Baby Ceviche Pots

Carrot cake iced

Jackie’s beautiful carrot cake.

Carrot cake

 

Crab and avocado tartlets

Crab and avocado tartlets

Empanadilla army

Empanadilla army

I tell you, if I ever have an Event that needs catering, I know exactly who I’m getting to do it, and not only because I want that carrot cake.

Many thanks to Jackie for giving me the opportunity to do something that I had been thinking about tying for a long while.

All photos courtesy of Jackie Lee.

07/08/2012

Ricotta and Feta Stuffed Peppers

You know how it is when you see a vegetable so nice and juicy looking that you simply have to buy it and take it home? Even though you know you don’t really have it worked into your meal plan? Well, that happens to me an awful lot.

Going to my local farm shop is both an utter pleasure and sheer torture. Pleasure because they sell such lovely local produce and torture because hardly anyone in my house eats the vast array of vegetables that I would cook.

If I can’t get to the farm shop, I go to my local Turkish grocer. I am still excited by the fact that I can buy sultana grapes, fresh dates, mini cucumbers, vine tomatoes, carob pods (if I knew what to do with them) and figs alongside sweet potatoes, yams and plantains, plus the usual cauliflowers, carrots and parsnips. Not to mention the Polish sausages, Turkish and Bulgarian cheeses, bread and confectionary, all stuffed into a shop the size of a generous shoebox and with the spaces filled by jars of Turkish honey and jam, tubs of halva and all manner of packets and tins. I am still finding things on the shelves that I didn’t know about before.

Anyway. Where was I? Oh yes, vegetables. This weekend I spied peppers. I used to hate peppers and then I had them roasted, and that neatly averted my loathing, though I still do not like them raw. (I also vehemently dislike green peppers, both raw and cooked.) The Turkish shop had beautifully large and vibrant yellow and red bell peppers, almost glowing with juice. Within an instant they were mine, and heading home in my bag together with Bulgarian sheep's milk cheese, Greek feta and a small mound of ricotta.

Here are the beauties, gracing my kitchen counter.

IMG_5567

I had a mountain of cheese to use, so ended up mixing together two packs of feta (I found another one in the fridge), the one pack of sheep's cheese and the small pack of ricotta. Two eggs got added in to that, a fair bit of olive oil, some dried mint, some Greek oregano and, as a final addition to make the mix less dry because I had run out of eggs,  some pesto that I had in the fridge.

Oh my that made a lovely smell. I was happily stuffing peppers while I watched the madly cycling weather outside.

Et voila!

I will admit, right now, that I was so stupidly happy with this photo that I was grinning all over my face for an hour and Tweeted everyone about it.

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I was almost loathe to put them in the oven as they looked so pretty but I did. Eventually. I should point out, I would arrange them this way even if I wasn’t going to take a photo. It pleases me.

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I think I cooked them for around 40 minutes on 170C (fan oven) until the cheese was nicely toasted and the peppers good and soft.

IMG_5575

IMG_5574

This week, I will be mostly eating stuffed peppers for lunch. Smile My lovely Cypriot co-worker made ‘too many’ stuffed vine leaves, so we’re going to have a kitchen picnic tomorrow.

Oh and one final photo, just to show you the cosmopolitan nature of my kitchen:

IMG_5576

Spanish olive oil, Italian chocolates, a Moroccan tagine and good old Essex plastering. You can ignore the plastering. In fact, please do. Maybe it’s rustic?