Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I realise that this isn't the post about salad which I promised, but I couldn't let Halloween pass me by without trying some seasonal recipes.  So here goes, a very pumpkin-filled post!

For starters, here is my attempt at pumpkin carving, it is meant to be my college's crest being held up by yales (the mythical creatures which traditionally support our crest).  Unfortunately my pumpkin was a little small to reproduce the rather complex design, but nevertheless it was fun to make!

So on to dinner!  I decided to make a simple but delicious pumpkin soup.

For two (large) portions, you will need:
1tbsp olive oil (for frying)
500g pumpkin flesh (I bought 2 small pumpkins which was just about enough)
350ml vegetable stock
70ml double cream
salt and pepper to season

The first thing you need to do is scoop all of the flesh out of the pumpkin (this was difficult, not sure whether it was due to the size and ripeness of the pumpkin or my technique).  Then chop the onion finely (this is particularly important if you don't have a blender).

500g pumkin flesh

First, you need to fry the onion for 5 minutes to soften it, but don't brown it.  Then you need to add the pumpkin flesh and cook for another 8-10 mins until it is soft.  Add the 350ml vegetable stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 mins.  The pumpkin should now be very soft.  Add the double cream and bring to the boil.  If you don't have a blender, don't worry, the texture won't be great but the soup will taste very nice as it is.  If you do have a blender then blend the soup to give it a lovely thick texture.  Alternatively you could use a potato masher, not perfect, but it will do.  Season to taste and enjoy!

We enjoyed our soup with some crusty bread.  We also thought that it would have been nice had we caramelised the onions before adding the pumpkin flesh, or with a sweet onion chutney dolloped on top.

We finished off the evening with pumpkin mug cake!
Like the mug cakes I have tried previously this was super-simple and took just minutes to prepare.

Mix 4 tbsp self-raising flour, 2 tbsp caster sugar, 2 tbsp pumpkin puree (mash up 2 tbsp pumpkin flesh), 2 tbsp milk, 1 tbsp sunflower/vegetable oil and 1/4 tsp of either cinnamon or nutmeg.  Put in the microwave for a minute on high (maybe a little longer if your mug is slightly larger).  This produces a yummy cake, if you really want a strong taste of pumpkin then you'll need to add some more pumpkin flesh but make sure you use a little less flour if you decide to do this.

I hope your Halloween is as full of tasty treats as mine has been!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

One-pot wonder

As the title may suggest, all you need for this is one (large) pan (preferably a frying pan but a saucepan will also work) and a hob.  The vegetables you put in are up to you, I've included what I used but that doesn't mean other things won't work just as well.

Ingredients (2 portions)
sunflower oil (for frying)
1 onion
2 large/4 small chicken thigh fillets cut into chunks
4 tsp curry paste (I used Thai green curry but a red curry paste would work just as well) - if you like your food a little spicier then just add more!
2/3 mug rice (I used brown rice so I cooked it for 15 minutes beforehand)
1 mug (plus a little) chicken stock
Veg (use as much as you want depending on how hungry you are), I used carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, sugar snap peas and spinach (the veg can be fresh or frozen just remember that frozen veg will need longer to cook)

If you're using brown rice then cook the rice in simmering water for 15 minutes.  Put aside (in a bowl or on a plate).  Then heat the oil in your frying pan and fry the onion for about 5 mins until softened, add the chicken and fry for another couple of minutes, stir in the curry paste and add the rice.  Cook for another minute.  Add the chicken stock and larger pieces of veg, bring to the boil and lower the heat so it is simmering before covering with a lid (if your pan doesn't come with one then use a plate).  Cook for 10 mins before adding the rest of the veg.  If you're using spinach add this last but don't stir it in (otherwise it may disintegrate), just scatter it on top.  Cook for another 10 mins until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked (if you run out of stock before the rice and veg are cooked then simply add some more - boiling water will also do if you've run out of stock).  Stir, season with salt and pepper (and some more curry paste if it's not spicy enough) and serve.

I do have a picture of this dinner, although I have to apologise for the presentation, something which I really need to improve on!

One-pot chicken pilaf

My next post will be about a couple of delicious salads, not very seasonal but I can at least try and pretend it's still summer!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Let them eat cake!

Here it is, as promised, the post in which I tell you how to make cake without an oven.  Unfortunately I don't have any photos of my mug cakes yet as they generally get eaten before I remember to photograph them, but I will update the post later when I do take some!

The best and most effective mug cake is the basic chocolate one.  All you need to make this is a mug and a spoon and a microwave (or a hob and saucepan - but more on that later).

You will need:
4 tbsp self-raising flour
4 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 egg
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp sunflower oil
3 tbsp choc chips/grated chocolate

- Add dry self-raising flour, caster sugar and cocoa powder to the large mug, then add the egg and mix well
- Add milk and oil, mix well
- Add choc chips and mix well
- Cook in microwave for 3 mins on high (this is usually enough but if the cake isn't cooked then pop it back in for a few more seconds)

Traditional sponge: instead of cocoa powder and chocolate chips add an extra couple of tablespoons of flour and sugar.
Oreo cake: replace the chocolate chips with several crushed oreos
Nutella cake: add 3 tbsp Nutella instead of chocolate chips
Banana cake: This tasted good, however, I couldn't get the consistency right, hopefully this amended recipe will work better when I try it.  Mash up a ripe banana and mix it with 4 tbsp self-raising flour, 4 tbsp caster sugar, 1 egg, 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 tbsp milk.  Pop it into the microwave for 3-4 mins on high (or until baked)
Syrup sponge: N.B. This MUST be eaten fresh, otherwise it solidifies.  Make the traditional sponge mix in a separate bowl.  Pour a couple of tablespoons of golden syrup into the bottom of a mug and pour the cake mix on top.  Cook in the microwave as normal.  The syrup with rise up into the middle of the sponge creating a gooey centre.

If, like me last year, you don't have a microwave don't despair!  There is a way of making cake, you just have to be a lot more patient.  Mix the ingredients in a mug (as you would for a microwave cake) and cover the top of the mug with some baking paper (cut out a circle that is larger than the top of the mug and use an elastic band to secure it in place).  Then bring a pan of water to a gentle simmer (when you put the mug in the pan the water level should be just over halfway up the mug).  Once simmering place the mug carefully into the pan and leave for about 2 hours (give or take half an hour depending on the size of the mug and temperature of the water).  To check to see if the cake is ready carefully remove the mug from the water and peel back the baking paper so see if the mixture is cooked.  Make sure the water does not boil!  You don't want the baking paper to get too wet or for water to get into the mixture.

I hope you found this post helpful!  If you have any requests for other flavours of cake please post them below and I will let you know how I get on!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Keeping it simple

I'm quite pleased as I have managed to cook a couple of different things since my last post.  As the title suggests, none of them were very complicated but that didn't make them any less yummy.

The first recipe I'm going to tell you about was one of my go-to lunches last year.  It's quick, easy and is perfect if you want something a bit different to a sandwich.  So here goes, the recipe for Sweetcorn and avocado wraps.

This is quite a flexible recipe but here's how I normally make it (quantities are for approximately one portion)
Mash up 1/2 an avocado with a fork (I used my blender on this recipe for the first time, but I actually prefer the avocado when it's a bit lumpier).  Next, squeeze in some lime juice (a little less than half a lime), stir in a couple of teaspoons of tinned sweetcorn (add as much or as little as you fancy).  I then like to add some chilli flakes, but they're not essential.  Finely chop a spring onion and add to the avocado along with some basil (fresh or dried) - once again as much or little as you like - and you can even add 1/2 teaspoon of cumin.  Season with some salt and pepper.  Spoon the mixture onto a wrap and top with rocket, roll up the wrap and enjoy!

If you want more filling you can also dice half a tomato and add that to the avocado or a quarter of a red onion.  This turns it into more of a guacamole and is a bit more filling.  If you don't fancy rocket then other lettuce works just as well, but I must say that the rocket and avocado combination is yummy.

Sweetcorn and avocado wrap

My next recipe is not as tried and tested, in fact it was the first time I've tried it.  This is mainly due to the fact that it's a lamb dish and in Germany it is remarkable difficult to find lamb, so I saved this for when I got back to England!

I do have a set of scales but I have also got quite used to approximating quantities based on how much is in a packet.  I cooked this for Dave and myself and it turned out very well for a first effort.

You need to heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan (all the ingredients end up going in so make sure your pan is big enough to start with!)  When the oil is hot fry 325g lamb (remember this is for two people) for 5 minutes until brown.  Chop up an onion and after you've browned the lamb add it to the pan and cook for another 2-3 minutes until it has softened.  You then need to add the spices.  Add about 2 teaspoons of ground cumin and 2 teaspoons of ground coriander and fry for another minute (make sure you mix it well to get everything coated in the spices).  Then stir in about 90g of rice (long-grain rice is recommended, if like me you'd rather use brown rice make sure you cook it for 10 mins before you add it).  If you can't weigh out the rice add about a handful per person.  Then add 2 teaspoons of dried oregano and 1-2 tablespoons of tomato puree.  Grate the zest of 1/2 a lemon and add that along with the juice of half a lemon.  Then pour in 425ml of boiling water.  I had a measuring jug but if you don't then find a glass which you know the volume of e.g. a pint glass and use that, or just guestimate!  All you have to do now is stir well, bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 20-25 minutes (I would say nearer 25).  I also steamed some veg in the microwave to have with this and just before you serve you can stir in some fresh parsley.

I realise that this recipe uses a lot of herbs and spices, but dried herbs and spices do keep for a long time.  Alternatively share them with a friend or cook for a large group of people, as I discovered last year, that is a very quick way of using things up!

One-pot Lamb with Rice

Finally, I made a chicken caesar salad.  Normally I get the ready-made dressing but this time I decided to make my own!  Once again I made this for two people, as it's always more fun when you're not eating something on your own.

Season two chicken breasts and try them until cooked (my recipe recommends 4 mins on each side but it may take a little longer), if you're unsure just get a sharp knife and cut them in half to check.  Crush a clove of garlic (or chop finely if you don't have a crusher).  In a bowl mash an anchovy (I used a fork to shred it), add the garlic and grace in a handful of parmesan (or equivalent cheese).  Mix in 2-3 tablespoons of mayonnaise and 1/2 tablespoon of white wine vinegar (I put in a little more than this).  It should be the consistency of yoghurt, but if it isn't add a dash of water until it is.  Next tear up some lettuce (I used a romaine lettuce but cos is also good, or just pick your favourite).  Shred the chicken onto the lettuce, add the dressing, mix, then grate over some more parmesan and if you want you can buy some croutons to sprinkle over the top.  (You could also make your own but as I don't have an oven I couldn't really do that).

This recipe was far quicker than I was expecting it took less that half an hour to make and tasted a lot better than the stuff you can get out of a packet (in my opinion anyway).

Chicken Caesar Salad

Well done if you've made it this far!  I'm going to try and keep my posts to one recipe in future!  I hope I've encouraged someone to try making something from scratch rather than going for the ready-made supermarket stuff, it really is quick and easy, especially once you've done it once or twice and the good thing about these recipes is that you can make more than you need and have some another day.  Watch out for my next post as it will be all about making cake without an oven (or even a microwave)!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Back in the bubble

Well, my year abroad is officially over and I've been back in the Cambridge bubble for five days, so I thought it was about time I started my blog.  My aim is to show that it is possible to cook yummy things with very little equipment, I have a microwave, an induction hob and a fridge along with basic equipment.  I've already had quite a bit of practice cooking as a student as during my year in Germany I had only a hob in my room, so I became quite good at adapting recipes!

The best way to cook is with friends, so I was really pleased when my friend Helen suggested we make cheese and ham pancakes for dinner!  It was the perfect end to a rather stressful day owing to a German exam I had this morning.

Although not the hardest of things to make I didn't put in quite enough milk, meaning the pancakes came out rather thick, but they were delicious nonetheless.  Pancakes really are quite simple, you need plain flour, eggs, milk (and water), a pinch of salt and some butter.  Although I do have a set of scales we were trying to be quick so I didn't bother weighing out the ingredients (another thing which contributed to their unusually thick consistency).  Just mix the flour, eggs, milk, salt and water together until you have a reasonably runny mixture, then melt enough butter in a frying pan to coat the bottom of it, make sure the pan is hot and add some mixture (not too much or the pancake will be really thick).  Let it cook on one side and then either flip it if you're feeling daring, or if not just use a spatula or knife to flip it over.  Cook on the other side and add the toppings :)  Quick, simple and yummy!

I hope it won't be too long before I find time to cook again, but with a dissertation due in soon and the first week of term just around the corner I'm not going to make any promises!

Not the prettiest pancakes ever but they were warm and tasty :)