Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Tasty TV Dinners

I know lots of people do it differently, but this is the way we do it: the kids eat dinner around 5.30 or 6.00pm, whereas Himself and I eat later. Not only that, we eat different things. My kids are (nearly) 5 and 7 and still have a bland palate - they'd happily eat mild chicken curry, shepherd's pie and a couple of other "usual suspects" (bolognaise, pizza, Donegal Catch fish fillets, I know your kids eat them too!) every other day til they were 15. I cannot hack that level of repetition and so we cook something for ourselves after they are in bed. As a result, it is usually about 8.30pm when we eat, so we tend to eat it on our laps in the sitting room.

I've also recently been getting very fed up of our normal midweek dinners. Himself is extremely fed up of stir fries (although I'd never tire of them!) and really, if I see either my vegetable crumble or my cauliflower cheese again this winter, it'll be too soon. I've been meaning to re-try an old student staple of mine, and tonight seemed like a good night. It's so long since I made a Spanish omelette and the last few times weren't so successful, so I just thought I should cast a quick eye over a recipe. BBC Food is always a good idea, so I found this Delia Smith recipe for Spanish Omelette on their site. 

As you can see from the photo, I did tweak it a little, not least the addition of some red peppers - I always found the potato and onion mix alone to be a little bland. However, following Delia's instructions meant that we had a really delicious meal (turns out, I had been rushing the whole thing too much, that's why it was failing more and more with each attempt). And the great thing about a Spanish omelette means that it is also delicious served cold, at a picnic.

As usual, the recipe is pretty much verbatim.

Spanish Omelette

  • 1 medium onion (about 110g / 4oz)
  • ½ red pepper
  • 275g / 10oz potatoes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 large eggs
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
  1. First some points to note. The size of the frying pan is important: a base measurement of  8 inches (20cm) diameter is about right for two to three people. If using a larger pan for more people, it should not be too heavy because you need to turn the omelette out using both hands. Use a non-stick pan if you don't have a well-seasoned frying pan. An enormous asset here is a flat saucepan lid or large plate that fits the pan.
  2. First of all, peel and cut the onion in half, then thinly slice each half and separate the layers into half-moon shapes. 
  3. Now thinly pare the potatoes using a potato peeler and slice them into thin-ish rounds ... you have to work pretty quickly here because you don't want the slices to brown. When they are sliced, rub them in a clean tea cloth or some dry kitchen tissue to get them as dry as possible.
  4. Next, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the frying pan and, when it's smoking hot, add the potatoes and onions. Toss them around in the oil to get a good coating, then turn the heat right down to its lowest setting, add a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, put a lid on the frying pan and let the onions and potatoes (and peppers, if sing them) and cook gently for 20 minutes, or until tender. Turn them over halfway through and shake the pan from time to time, as they are not supposed to brown very much but just gently stew in the oil.
  5. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a large bowl and, using a fork, whisk them lightly - it's important not to overbeat them. Finally, add some seasoning. When the onions and potatoes are cooked, quickly transfer them to the eggs in the bowl.
  6. Put the frying pan back on the heat, add the rest of the oil and turn the heat back up to medium. Then mix the potato and eggs thoroughly before pouring the whole lot into the frying pan and turning the heat down to its lowest setting immediately. Now forget all about French omelettes and be patient, because it's going to take 20-25 minutes to cook slowly, uncovered.
  7. Every now and then draw the edge in gently with a palette knife, as this will give it a lovely rounded edge. When there is virtually no liquid egg left on the surface of the omelette, turn it over to cook the other side. To do this, place a flat lid or plate over the pan, carefully invert both so that the omelette is on the lid or plate. Put the pan back on the heat and use the palette knife to gently ease the omelette back in. Give it about 2 minutes more, then turn the heat off and leave it for a further 5 minutes to settle. It should then be cooked through but still moist in the centre. 
  8. Serve hot or cold, cut in wedges, with a salad and a glass of Rioja - it's brilliant.
We served it with a simple salad - half a bag of rocket, a few cherry tomatoes, half a stick of celery finely chopped, a scallion, a grated carrot, some mixed seeds and a basic dressing, Bob's your uncle - the perfect TV dinner.

Sarah xx

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Beat the January Blues - Eat MORE Cake!

Wasn't today just the most miserable day??! I tell you, I am well fed up of January already, and I know I am also over February too, and it hasn't even started yet...

Tonight, my Dad is coming up and has deposited with us a leg of venison, which we will be attempting to roast later. Thank goodness Himself is a chef and even though he's never roasted a leg of venison before, I am leaving it in his capable hands. I found him a Jamie Oliver recipe on a Daily Mail page (very random) on the internet that uses canned cherries, and I know I have a tin lurking in the back of the cupboard (honestly, the weird food items you accumulate!) I felt this would be a good opportunity to finally use the blinking thing. 

So, anyhow - obviously we are pushing the boat out a little tonight with the whole leg of venison. As I mentioned, I am thoroughly fed up of the whole post-Christmas denial thing - not to mention the amount of talk in the press this month about the evils of sugar; so instead of the planned apple crumble, I decided to try out a recipe of Nigella Lawson's that I've been eyeing up for a while - Butterscotch Layer Cake. Butterscotch, caramel... what's not to love?!

So that's it - screw the "Jan Ban Plan" or whatever it's called in your house. If I'm gonna sin, I'm gonna do it in style; I'm having a glass of wine and I'm making me a seriously decadent cake - bring it on!

It doesn't look like Nigella's picture much, but I have HIGH hopes

Butterscotch Layer Cake 

(recipe verbatim from Nigella Lawson's "How To Be a Domestic Goddess")

For the icing
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 125ml cold water
  • 250ml double or whipping cream
  • 400g cream cheese, at room temp
For the cake layers
  • 225g butter, very soft
  • 125g light muscovado sugar
  • 100g golden (or ordinary) caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temp
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 2 - 4 tablespoons double or whipping cream
  • You will also need 2 x 21cm sandwich tins, greased and lined on the bottom with parchment paper
  1. Preheat the oven to 190C / gas mark 5, and get on with the icing. I do this first, since you need to make some caramel and then let it cool. 
  2. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, remembering NOT to stir at all as it will crystallize if you do. When it seems dissolved, turn up the heat and boil until it turns a dark golden colour. This will probably take 10 - 15 minutes. And try not to be faint-hearted: caramel has to be burnt; it wouldn't be caramel otherwise. (I think I actually let mine go a minute too far, but i think it should be fine)
  3. When you've reached this exciting stage, take the pan off the heat and slowly whisk in the cream. It may go a little lumpy, but don't panic, it will right itself smoothly enough. When all the cream's in, put the pan on the heat for a further minute , whisking until smooth and combined. I find one of those little curly wire whisks (sometimes sold as Magiwhisk) the best tool for the job. Cool, and then put in the fridge until you need it
  4. The easiest way to make the cakes is to put all the ingredients except the cream into the bowl of the food processor and blitz til smooth. (It's for this reason the butter must be very soft before you start.) Scrap down the sides of the bowl, then process again. adding a couple of tablespoons of cream down the funnel with the motor running. Stop and check the consistency of the batter: if it's on the runny (though not liquid) side then stop here; otherwise add another 1 - 2 tablespoons of cream to achieve this dropping consistency. 
  5. If you want to make them by hand (as I had to, as my food processor is only a small one and the above method wouldn't work for me), then proceed as per a Victoria sponge - cream together the butter and sugars, then add the eggs one at a time, adding a spoon of flour after each egg. Then slowly fold in the rest of the flour, and add the cream at the end, as required to achieve the dropping consistency.
  6. Divide the batter between the prepared tins and bake for about 25 minutes (another aside from Sarah: I baked mine at 180C, as I have a fan oven, 25 mins was verging on the over-cooked, a couple of minutes less would've been better.)  The cakes are ready when they're beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin and when a cake-tester or skewer comes out clean. Leave on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out and leave on the rack until completely cooled.
  7. Now, for the assembly. Pour the thoroughly cooled caramel into either an American cip measure or into a measuring jug to come up to the 250ml mark. (You'll be using some if not all of the rest to dribble over the iced cake later.)
  8. Beat the cream cheese until softened and smooth, then add the cupful of caramel and beat gently to combine.
  9. Put one cake on a plate. Using a rubber spatula or an ordinary blunt knife, roughly spread just under half the icing over the top of the waiting cake. Place the other cake on top and then roughly ice the top of that cake with what remains in the bowl. Don't feel constrained to use up every last scrap of icing: it tastes almost at its best straight out of a finger-wiped bowl. 
  10. Using a teaspoon, drizzle some of the reserved caramel over the cake: think Jackson Pollock.
    Serves 8
So go on - beat the January blues! 

Sarah xx

PS - here's an update a day later on the venison - WOW! It was totally sublime. We used only one tin of cherries, but otherwise followed the recipe (although our joint was smaller so we took an hour off the cooking time). It was totally delicious. Venison is not very "gamey" game. The meat is extremely lean so therefore quite dry, so the cherries were fabulous with it - I am not usually the biggest fan of fruit and meat combos, but the sweetness of this sauce was good to offset the dryness of the meat. Served with the veg it was cooked with and some roast potatoes, with the butterscotch cake to follow... It was a triumph of a meal. And there's loads of leftovers, so we are going to have venison wraps tonight, with some sweet onion relish. S.