Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Vegetable Tempura

Hello again! It's Dine at Mine's favourite (and only...) guest blogger, Greedy Gusto! After the success of my Royal Wedding Shortbread recipe, I've been invited back to write up another of my special recipes. And when I say special, I mean simple and delicious. And unhealthy.

Today I'll be explaining how simple it is to make vegetable tempura. Or in other words, how to take an innocent vegetable, and fry it in batter for 4 minutes.

Watch it fizz
The most important point in this recipe is to get the consistency right. The mixture in the photo below needs more sparkling water:

Too thick. Add some more sparkling water!
A bit more sparkling water, a bit more of a whisk, and you've got a consistency like single cream:
That's the consistency we're looking for
You can probably put most vegetables into this batter. My favourite is baby corn, but carrot, pepper, broccoli and courgette all work well. I imagine peas would be cute but small.
They look like they're drowning in there
Then put the batter-covered vegetables into the hot oil, and watch it boil. My tip is to add vegetables that need longer to cook first (like carrots), and then leave a few seconds between adding each vegetable, so that they don't stick together.
Beware very very hot oil!
After 4 minutes (or when the batter looks cooked), use a metal slotted spoon to fish out the battered vegetables. I advise against using a plastic spoon. I used a plastic spoon in my first attempt, and the molten plastic coating it left on the vegetables wasn't very tasty.
O more! O tempura!
So here's what the vegetable tempura look like. The surprising thing is that, after only 4 minutes in the oil, all the veg is cooked through and yummy.
Serving suggestion (crispy seaweed from Waitrose)
This recipe is pretty fool-proof. For example, I forgot to put in the baking powder, and I used tonic water instead of sparkling water, and I forgot to add the ice cubes, and my pan of oil was far too small, and it still came out fine! I guess my ineptitude in making this recipe may have something to do with my use for the leftover tonic water (mix with gin for a delicious drink).

That's the Dine at Mine blogger getting involved

Vegetable tempura

- 100g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 150ml sparkling water
- 4 ice cubes
- Any vegetables you like (carrot, broccoli, courgette, pepper etc.)

Mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl. Gradually add the sparkling water until the batter has the consistency of single cream. Add the ice cubes.

Heat the oil in a deep pan until it's really hot (but don't test this with a body part).

Dip the vegetables in the batter, then carefully lower them into the pan of hot oil. Deep fry for 2 to 4 minutes until golden brown, remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on kitchen paper.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Wedding Cake again...and Wedding!

Well, it took 26 eggs, over 3lbs each of butter, sugar and flour, almost a whole pot of vanilla bean paste, three newspapers, and some string.

There were massive bowls, which weren't quite big enough, an overheating set of electric beaters and a wooden-spoon-related blister.

The oven was on for 7 hours, cooking one cake after the other. We now have a huge cake, a big cake and cute little top cake. All in all, enough for 100 people with (hopefully) lots of leftovers.

The white chocolate icing is made, extensively taste-tested and tupperwared. The raspberry jam is ready and standing to attention.

Dowels and cake boards have been bought, tested, sterilised and carefully packed. It's wedding cake time!

Which's our wedding! By the time you read this, we will be veiled and kilted, singing hymns, saying vows, swapping rings, drinking champagne and eating (lots of) cake.

We've got a special guest post coming up next week to fill the gap while we're on honeymoon, and once we're back there'll be lots of cooking and eating. In the meantime, please keep your fingers crossed for sunshine and raise a glass!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Hummus Two Ways

In the final few days before we go on holiday, we always play a game of chicken with the fridge - how much fresh food can we use up before we go, and what sort of weird meals will that require? We're doing pretty well in terms of meat, veg and dairy products, but as I've got a few spare days off at the moment (which is every bit as good as it sounds), this game does mean that lunch options for me are somewhat limited. 

Today, the available options I was looking at were raw carrot and cherry tomatoes. The best way to turn that from rabbit food to actual food seemed to be some kind of a larder-based dip and because I was bored and greedy, I created not one but TWO! I know, it's non-stop excitement around here.

I've been meaning to try home made hummus for a while and as I've still got tahini cluttering up my cupboard from the delicious Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad (which I do wish I were having again today, it's that good), this seemed like a good opportunity. Smitten Kitchen seems to be patron saint of my chick pea adventures so far (see also: Roasted Red Pepper and Chick Pea Salad, nice but not as amazing as the squash one), so I turned to her again for today's recipe.

I then ignored the main point of her recipe - the surpassing brilliance of using dried, soaked and cooked chickpeas - and cracked open a tin from the larder instead. Look, I know that's useless, but I'm lazy and I'm going on holiday, ok? There are sunglasses to be bought and sun tan lotion to find! While I can believe that it's nicer with more effortful chick peas, this version was still really tasty and definitely a lot quicker. The downside was trying to work with American cup measurements so these measurements are a bit slapdash. Why do they do it? It's so much more difficult! 

While our herbs are going bananas in the window box, I decided to try whizzing some peas, parsley and mint in with some of the hummus and let me tell you, I think I actually prefer it. The peas and mint add a dash of sweetness and delicacy which really appeals to me in this springlike weather, although I can see that in full summer I might prefer the unadulterated variety. I'll reserve final judgement until it's hot and sunny (ie: never).

And because no post on a dippable foodstuff would be complete without a photo of it being dipped, I give you my hand. Voila! Home made hummus from the larder, DONE. Using up spare fresh veg, DONE. Packing? Finding my sun hat? Let me get back to you on those points.

Normal Hummus
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

- 1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 garlic cloves
- half a cup of tahini (about 8 tablespoons)
- juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

Mush the garlic to a paste with half a teaspoon of salt (lacking a pestle and mortar, I just scraped it all together on a board until it reached the right consistency). In a processor, whizz together the garlic paste, tahini and lemon juice until it looks pale and combined. She says "white and contracted" but mine never went white and I didn't know what she meant by contracted, so just do it for as long as you feel like. 

Add the water and whizz again. Then add the chick peas and process until it's the consistency you want, whether that's super-creamy or coarse and rubbley. Taste, adjust the seasoning with salt and lemon juice, then serve sprinkled with parsley and cayenne.

Pea, Parsley and Mint Hummus

Simply blitz some of the hummus above with a handful of peas (I only had frozen, which I cooked quickly in the  microwave then drained) and a few sprigs of parsley and mint. Serve drizzled with a little bit of extra olive oil, and think of Spring.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Crispy Mustard and Herb Pork Fillet

If you want to get greedy people stuck in an eternal discussion with no clear winner (and when I sell it like that, why wouldn't you?), ask them this: Cow or Pig. That is, if you could only eat the meat from ONE of those two animals for the rest of your life, which would you pick? For the purposes of this discussion, quantity is not an issue (so don't think that the cow seems like more bang for your buck because it's bigger), nor is milk. This purely comes down to your greediness preferences - steak and roast beef vs: bacon and sausages.

It's surprisingly tricky. At first, the thought of a good rare steak, or a slow-cooked beef casserole, seems completely unbeatable. Beef wellington! Burgers! I'll say it again, steak! Yum. And you can always make bresaola with beef, can't you? So you could still have some kind of cured charcuterie. And as for chilli con carne, meatballs, ragu etc, I'd say you could use either beef or pork so that doesn't help you make a decision.

But then the greedy person thinks of bacon, and beef seems to go slightly out of focus. I mean, bacon is just such a delicious essential. And it's not just bacon, there are all sorts of cured meats and hams that you'd miss. Sausages too are a huge favourite in this house, not just on their own (or roast in the oven) but in pasta, as sausage rolls, in stuffing - of course, Christmas stuffing! It would be a sad Christmas without that. If you wanted something really rich and greedy, I have two words for you. Pork belly. Yes, you might feel a bit greasy afterwards, but it's worth it.

But other than sausages and cured meats, we don't tend to eat too much pork in this household. This was an experiment with pork fillet and it was really tasty - no, not as delicious as sausages, but a nice way with a plain, lean piece of meat. 

We looked to Waitrose for ideas on how to cook it and this seemed pretty quick and easy - roll it in mustard, then herby breadcrumbs, and just bake until cooked through. I admit that it's not particularly beautiful (would you believe me when I said that these were the most attractive of the photos?) but it was juicy and flavourful.

Beef or pig? I'm still not sure. This was quite yummy, but better than beef fillet? Come on. It's good, but it's not that good.

Crispy Mustard and Herb Pork Fillet
Adapted from

- Pork fillet - enough for 2 (around 400g, a piece about 15cm long)
- 2 tablespoons of wholegrain mustard
- Handful of fresh thyme and parsley, chopped
- Salt and Pepper
- Breadcrumbs (we had home made from a bit of old baguette)

Preheat the oven to 180C, and mix the breadcrumbs, herbs and salt and pepper together on a large plate. Smear the pork fillet all over with wholegrain mustard then roll it in the breadcrumbs mixture until all covered. Transfer to a roasting tin or baking sheet and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until cooked through and not at all pink in the middle. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then slice and serve. 

If you want a little condiment on the side, this is a great opportunity to get out some of that random home-made chutney you were given for Christmas which has mouldered in your cupboard ever since. The breadcrumb topping does keep the meat moist though so you won't really need anything, unless you're a condiment fiend like me.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Bonbons

There are many wonderful things about having a birthday in May. The weather is (occasionally) lovely, there are lots of beautiful flowers just perfectly in season to be given to the birthday girl, my birthday is named in a song in My Fair Lady as "Eliza Doolittle day", and there always seem to have lots of other birthday parties around the same time. In fact I share my birthday with not one, but two people very close to me, and while this does mean that I have always had to share the cake-blowing-out-duties and photo opportunities, it also means that birthday festivities seem to stretch out on either side of my birthday for weeks. I have no idea what is in the air in August but judging by the number of May birthdays, prospective Mummys and Daddys often seem to enjoy their summer holidays very much.

However, there is one massive downside with a May birthday, which is that it's in the danger zone. The EXAM danger zone. May is prime time for public examinations and in many years my birthday was totally overshadowed by doom and revision timetables. How much celebration do you think took place on my birthday when my Finals, on which the whole of my four-year degree rested in its entirety, started the next day? Not very much. 

Before exams became an issue, when I was little - between the ages of 5 and 9, I'd say - it was very much de rigeur for the birthday girl to bring in treats on her birthday to share with the class. I distinctly remember feeling then that this seemed to be the wrong way round, and that surely the birthday girl should be receiving treats rather than giving them. I guess this was an early lesson that generosity is a Good Thing and everyone else cares less about your birthday than you do. Anyway, some years it was home made and some years it was multi-packs of fun-sized chocolate bars and either way, it was good.

Although it's not my birthday yet, I am leaving my current job tomorrow and it seems to me that the same rule of bringing in treats applies. In previous situations and bigger offices, I've gone for a tray of Krispy Kremes but in my current environment, with fewer people and even fewer greedy men (the real KK fans), something home made seems like the better way to go.  

These bonbons, based on Nigella's peanut butter and chocolate squares, are ludicrously rich but they're also ludicrously delicious - I'm serious. Even people who don't like peanut butter would fight over the last one. Because my current office is so small, I divided all Nigella's measurements by 1/3 and made mini bonbons dunked in chocolate, all too easy to pop into your mouth again and again. For the sake of all of our waistlines and arteries, it's good that I didn't make more. 

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Bonbons
Makes 24 bonbons

As explained above, I divided Nigella's quantities by 1/3 hence the loopy amounts below. If you want to do the full amount, turn 16g into 50g and 67g to 200g.

16g dark muscovado sugar
- 67g icing sugar
- 16g butter
- 67g smooth peanut butter
- 100g plain chocolate

Stir the sugars, butter and peanut butter with a wooden spoon until they come together and make a smooth-ish paste - it might have little nuggets of muscovado sugar but that's fine. Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave. Roll the peanut paste into little balls, dunk in the chocolate, arrange on a tray covered with baking parchment and put in the fridge to solidify. 

Once hard, you can cover up any naked peanut spots (ie: from the underside of the bonbon) with more chocolate until you have something that looks like a malteser, but is even more unhealthy.

Chorizo, Aubergine and Lentil Stew

I'm afraid that today's recipe, as you can see from these photos, is not one of life's natural beauties. The word "slop" springs to mind, doesn't it? But it did taste good and made a surprisingly filling dinner for two confirmed carnivores. 

This was a Dine at Mine improvisation based on the contents of the fridge - à la MasterChef Invention Test - and it was surprisingly successful. Some venerable chorizo which needed using up, an aubergine starting to wrinkle, plus a few tins and store cupboard bits and bobs made a delicious, smoky and spicy stew. And I know the word "stew" sounds intrinsically unappealing but unless you've got any better ideas, I couldn't think of a more accurate descriptor.

Another advantage of this meal was that it was mostly meat-free. Have you heard of the food author Michael Pollan's golden rule for healthy eating: "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants"? Well, I sometimes worry that we eat too much meat - bad for the environment, the wallet and maybe for us - so it was nice having an almost veggie meal which still left us full. And yes, I know that chorizo is meat, but the meal is still mostly vegetal and in my mind, anything with lentils is automatically healthy.

This stew was perfect with some leafy green veg on the side and reheated really well for a fabulous lunchbox meal the next day. Another bonus? It left us enough "healthiness brownie points" (need I remind you of the lentils and vegetables?) to feel no guilt whatsoever about having a proper cheese course later. Mmm, artisan smoked Welsh cheddar and super-squidgy French brie, oh yes.

Of course, this isn't likely to last - the fridge is full of sausages, steak and pork fillet and we are already looking forward to the very rare Beef Wellington at our wedding dinner. But for now, we are Eating Food and Mostly Plants. If only we could manage the Not Too Much part.

Chorizo, Aubergine and Lentil Stew
Serves 3 greedy people, or 4 normal

- about 10cm of chorizo sausage, chopped into medium-sized chunks
- 1 large aubergine, cut into chunks
- 1 onion, ditto
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 tin of lentils, drained
- 1 tin of tomatoes
- pinch of smoked paprika
- salt, pepper
- half a teaspoon of cumin
- good splash of balsamic vinegar
- a few sprigs of thyme

Add the chorizo to a hot, dry pan and sizzle for around 5 minutes, while it exudes bright red oil. Add the garlic, onion and aubergine to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, over a medium-high heat for around 5-10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and a few of the edges are caramelised. 

Pour in the tomatoes, lentils, herbs, vinegar and thyme, stir well and taste, adding anything else that seems like a good idea (other herbs or spices? a few cherry tomatoes?). Leave to simmer for another 5-10 minutes, or until everything has slopped down to the right consistency for you. 

Monday, 9 May 2011

Homemade Muesli

There are many rubbish things about working every day - the commute, the queues at the bank at lunchtime, the fact that you have to, well, go to work every single day, yes even on your birthday - but one food-related problem is that it totally removes the possibility of a good breakfast. On weekends and holidays, a special breakfast feels like a cast iron promise that you're going to have a good day, whether it's a proper fry-up, sticky syruped pancakes with bacon or even just some fresh bread or croissants.

But before work? In the fifteen bleary-eyed minutes between finally getting out of bed (already three Snooze settings down) and getting in the shower, while my eyes are still 90% closed and the Today programme is a jumbled mass of noise not making sense in my head, that is not the time for a good breakfast. I'm thinking quick, automatic, filling and easy. But mostly quick.

I've always gone in for long, monotonous cycles of breakfasts - I can pretty much divide my childhood into the Fruit and Fibre, Bran Flake, and Marmite on Toast years (I know, rock and roll!). If I was feeling like I needed a little bit of a treat, it was always peanut butter and banana on toast, the breakfast/snack/any time food of champions. And Elvis.

But now that I'm a Grown Up I have to think about boring things like my sugar intake and slow-burn carbohydrates and cholesterol and that means I've got stuck on porridge. Every morning, exactly the same. 35g of Waitrose essential porridge oats (Jordans are too fine, jumbo are too coarse), 5g of Mornflake Oat Bran, water, splash of milk, 2 minutes in the microwave, stir in more milk, shake of cinnamon, eat, done. Yes, I am that regimented about it and yes, it is because I can't trust myself. Both my mum and my cohabitee pointed out that, without weighing it on the scales, I was making and eating easily three times the recommended daily portion EVERY DAY. Need I mention the havoc that ensued when I let myself loose with the golden syrup or jam? I can't be trusted first thing in the morning.

But don't think that my porridge pattern is totally joyless. Yes it's mechanical, but it works and it's delicious - creamy, comforting, warming and enough to power me through to lunchtime. However, much as I love my porridge, it starts to feel really out of place as the weather warms up and the thick fleecy dressing gown is swapped for a coquettish silky slip of a thing. How am I going to be virtuous and oaty in the summer months?

I think this muesli will be the answer. I know bircher is a popular choice - and I've tried it, don't get me wrong - but it just tastes like uncooked slop to me and it always comes up a bit too sweet. As for granola, it's nice but if I'm going for extra fat and sugar, it will never replace peanut butter and banana on toast in my eyes. As far as I can see, the Golden Breakfast Mean of Summer + Oats * Virtue - Guilt = Muesli. It doesn't hurt that it's delicious and, once I've made a big batch, it'll hit my quick/automatic/filling/easy target in one fell swoop.

The inspiration here comes from a recipe in Nigella's Feast and she says that it makes her feel like "some intellectual, beautiful free spirit". To be honest, calling it a "recipe" is a bit excessive - all you do is toast oats, nuts, seeds, add some dried fruit and a teenytiny amount of sugar and put it in a jar. With milk though, it all comes alive and with yoghurt and fruit compote, even better. Now if it can just shut John Humphries up a bit, it would be the perfect weekday breakfast.

Homemade Muesli
Adapted from Nigella's Feast

- 100g mixed nuts (I used what I had, which was hazelnuts and desiccated coconut)
- 100g oats (again, I used a mix of jumbo and rolled)
- 40g of seeds (I had some healthy snack mix, so used that)
- 75g of raisins
- 1 dessertspoon of brown sugar

Toast the oats, nuts and seeds on a baking tray in the oven for 10 minutes. Once cool, mix in the fruit and sugar, then put in an airtight jar or tupperware.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Asparagus, Parma Ham, Pea, Mint and Mozzarella Tart

How's that for a catchy title? Brevity is clearly not my strong suit but, you see, each of the ingredients is equally important here and I didn't want to mislead by leaving any of them out. This tart is really easy and it's pretty much a celebration of lots of my favourite things at this time of year. Although it may not be quick to describe, it was definitely quick to eat, and is my favourite thing to come out of the Dine at Mine kitchen for a long time.

This recipe was inspired by the need to use up a bit of leftover puff pastry from the chicken pie, and the idea comes from a Lindsay Bareham suggestion in Monday's Times. She recommended using the pea and mint purée on toast, topped with griddled asparagus, parma ham and a soft-boiled egg with a drizzle of balsamic. I used the leftover pastry instead of toast and added some mozzarella instead of the egg because my eating partner is anti-egg - I know, it's ludicrous. I ended up with this beautiful tart - summery, light and tasty! Yes, I am very pleased with it if I say so myself (smugly).

I've written before at tedious length about how much I hate wasting food but honestly, it seems like a neverending cycle of creating and using leftovers in the Dine at Mine household. Is it like that for everyone? Anyway, this not only used up some of the pastry and crème fraiche from the chicken pie, but even used the tough ends of the asparagus which you normally click off and throw away. Thrifty! I did boil them for quite a few minutes to make them tender, but I think they could have had a bit longer just to get them really, really soft without any woodiness or stringiness. 

On top, the asparagus and parma ham roast to a crisp and the mozzarella melts. Golden, crisp pastry all around in case you felt at all healthy with all the green vegetables floating around. As you can see, I arranged my asparagus in a beautiful top-to-toe pattern but any old way would do, I'm just a sucker for aesthetics (although the dodgy camerawork may lead you to think otherwise). 

I know I said that I really loved winter food and I didn't want to give it up, but it turns out I was talking rubbish. This crisp, light little tart, some salad, a glass of rosé and a sunlit garden to eat it in and I think summer could be perfect. May, I'm glad you're here - it's asparagus time!

Asparagus, Parma Ham, Pea, Mint and Mozzarella Tart
Inspired by Lindsay Bareham in the Times
Serves 2 greedy people, 3 at a push

- half a pack of all butter puff pastry
- beaten egg to brush the edges
- a bunch of asparagus (mine had 10 spears)
- a couple of handfuls of frozen peas
- the leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs of mint
- a tablespoonful of crème fraiche
- salt, pepper, olive oil
- about six slices of Parma ham
- half a ball of mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 200C, put a small saucepan of boiling water on the heat and get out a baking tray. 

Click off the asparagus stems at the point where they break - this should be around 5cm from the end - and set aside the rest of the asparagus. Trim the dry edge of the broken-off ends and any bits which look too tough or manky, then add the ends to a pan of boiling water and boil for 4-5 minutes. Then add the peas, boil for another couple of minutes until everything is tender, and drain. Whiz together with the crème fraiche, mint and some salt and pepper until you've got a creamy green mush. 

Roll out the pastry and score a border around it with a knife, stabbing the inside area a few times with a fork. Smear the pea purée over the pastry (leaving the border clear), then drizzle a bit of oil over the rest of the asparagus and arrange it on top of the purée. Drape the Parma ham and torn up mozzarella on top. Finally, brush the exposed border with beaten egg and bake the tart for 15-20 minutes or until the asparagus is tender and the pastry is golden and crisp.

Before serving, sprinkle a few drops of balsamic vinegar on top of the tart then eat straight away. 

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