Eurovision hors d’oeuvres

We’re taking finger food to a Eurovision party this year, so I have made devilled eggs and puff-pastry pack two ways.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Devilled egg recipe here. Glut of teeny eggs from newly laying small hens, so used them up in this. Quite faffy, hard to transport and not the sort of fiddly work my clumsy fingers are any good at. I should probably stop even trying anything with piping in it.

Then a block of all butter puff pastry is divided – this time I did 1/3rd tartlets 2/3rds croissants.

Preheat oven to 200 deg C

Roll the pastry, cut rounds. Halve cherry tomatoes and optionally pre-roast them a little in the preheating oven. Stick each tomato half to a pastry round with tomato purée and top with a sprinkling of grated parmesan. Bake until crispy, about 10 minutes.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Roll the remaining pastry and cut into triangles, either from a large circle of rolled pastry, or less wastefully from rectangles. You are looking for very tall isosceles triangles. Place a small piece of cheese (camembert, goats, etc) and half a spoon of interesting chutney (I’m using something from the Garlic Farm) on the wider part and roll them up to form a croissant. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Serve with Meg Pickard’s Eurovision Bingo cards [PDF] .

Pudding club: marshmallow cheesecake

Quite often with recipes as I flick through Olive magazine or follow links on the internet, it’s a new technique that piques my interest. This was one of those. It starts with melting marshmallows in milk and using the gelatin from there as a setting agent.

I used hobnobs for my cheesecake. The idea that a biscuit base doesn’t have to be digestive comes from Nigella’s Grasshopper Pie where she uses bourbon biscuits. I’ve just been to find that recipe again and was amazed to find that uses the same marshmallow technique!

The cheesecake I made was not massively successful – it looked bad because the cream cheese wasn’t beaten enough, the frozen fruit mix was not nice, and the fruit juice soaked into the base and meant that the whole pie did not slice properly but fell apart. Next time I think I would either make a rough jam from the fruit or try blitzing the frozen fruit to a purée and then blitz it through the cheesecake mix to make a sort of smoothie cheesecake.

Anyway, here’s the recipe I was trying to make:

Serves 10

300g marshmallows
200 mls milk
200g biscuits
50g butter
500g cream cheese
150 mls

Line a 23cm tin. Make a biscuit base from 200grams biscuit and 50grams butter.

Melt 300grams of marshmallows in 200mls of milk stirring regularly over a very low heat. Once the marshmallows have fully melted, cool the mix. Mine separated a little at this point.

Melting marshmallows in milk as a first step to a cheesecake

Put most of a bag of defrosted frozen fruit on your biscuit base, reserving some fruit and juice to make a coulis to serve.

Frozen berries on hobnob biscuit base

My original recipe now calls for you to beat 500 grams of cream cheese with a teaspoon of vanilla essence, and whip 150mls of cream. Because that was two separate bowls, I decided not to let the Kenwood do the whipping, which was probably a mistake. Whilst I can whip 150 mls of cream by hand, it does make a bit of a mess of the kitchen. The texture of the final cheesecake shows clearly that the cheese wasn’t beaten enough to fully incorporate with the marshmallow mix.

Adding cream cheese to the cooled, rubbery, separated marshmallow mix

Some recipes get you to microwave the cream cheese a bit to check it properly integrates.

Because of the sugar in the biscuit base and the marshmallows, there’s no need for any more in the fruit.

Final assembly. Didn't beat cheese enough so slightly unfortunate texture / appearance

Cold brew, butter infused coffee

Last night as I was inputting my food data into Myfitnesspal my eye was drawn by a forum post about butter coffee.

I like butter, I thought, I like coffee, maybe this is for me.

From the details, it turns out you put a good wodge of unsalted, grass-fed butter in a hot black coffee and run it through the blender to emulsify it and stop getting a thick layer of melted butter on top of normal coffee.

The idea is apparently this is a low-carb diet friendly breakfast that helps you feel full for most of the day. It is mainly hawked in the US by someone promoting “bulletproof coffee” and most of the other links about it seem to link back to him.

Not even sure whether butter in the UK is “grass fed” or not and only had salted butter in the fridge, so didn’t make a rush on this idea. I also have a few concerns about putting butter in the blender as that looks much harder to clean out than the smoothies it usually gets used for.

However, whilst reading around on butter coffee I also hit on a few links for cold brew coffee, and that looked both more promising and possible to make with everything I already had in the house at 10pm.

There were lots of complicated things you could use – including this beautiful but expensive and house-filling lab kit and Cory Doctorow’s combo of bucket and tights – but reading a bit through the comments, the easiest thing to do was put the coffee in the camping cafetière in the fridge overnight. It took a while to find a sensible amount of metric quantities – the American sites mostly have quarts and pounds – but in the end I put 75g of coffee with 500mls of water and left it going.

This morning after a bit of a stir, so the grounds didn’t get caught on the mesh, I pushed the plunger and poured, then diluted the mix with hot water for my first three cups of coffee today. The first one slightly less than 1:1, the next one slightly more, the third even more.

The flavour – well, nothing particularly special. I am getting a bit more of a caffeine rush, eventually.

All in all, the faff, the extra use of coffee, which I already spend too much money on, and the mess of using a French press instead of a filter machine, mean this isn’t something I’m in a hurry to repeat.

Perhaps the butter next week…

Two weeks’ food

Meal plans in retrospect, once they become meal histories.

There’s been some casual plans and some moving around and slightly more takeaway than planned.

Last week

Sunday & Monday – spag bol

Tuesday – sausages from the freezer, with frozen corn on the cob and fresh steamed carrots that barely cooked at all. It turns out frozen corn is too heavy for the pan top steamer. We have several packs of sausages in the freezer, I discovered, because of BOGOFs in the past. This is served with gravy made with Bisto poured over fried onions, and an apple and a bunch of mushrooms that have been pushed through a grater. When the first cook has happened, pour in a glass of red wine and reduce before finally adding in the Bisto.

Wednesday – leftover sausage pasta

Thursday was Glamorgan burgers. I thought after two days of sausage related food, we needed to shape the traditional Welsh vegetarian dish slightly differently.

Thursday was before a GP appointment for my annual drug review. I’ve been on lansoprazole since 1995, back when I was 75kg, and this year, apparently, there’s been new research to show that people on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) need to be careful of food hygiene, as, with less stomach acid we are more susceptible to “bowel infections” (is that food poisoning?) and also we need to take care about bone density. This means eating a lot of calcium and taking some sort of explosive exercise – not just walking, but that’s good, but also something that involves jumping. In effect, my GP told me to eat more cheese. (Whilst also being careful not to take on too many calories.)

Friday we had takeaway, phoning Dominos.

Saturday I don’t remember and Sunday I made soup from the veg box – potatoes, leeks, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes. That went for lunches too. Mostly this term I’ve been having tinned soup for lunch as a low calorie, low carb plan that can sit in the cupboard for weeks until I need it.

Monday we made this baked potato and leek dish again – it’s become a firm favourite since we first made it.

Tuesday – Greek salad. More cheese! But some rather nasty bullet hard unseasonal Spanish tomatoes.

Wednesday – came home from the gym via the chippy.

Thursday – I don’t remember, but Friday I made a rather nice chicken tikka with a tiny bit of rice and bulked out with some extra veg – onions, mushrooms and peppers.

Pudding club: sticky toffee pudding

I last made this some years ago, when Simon Hopkinson’s cookery programme was on TV. But it seems I didn’t write about it at the time, so here’s a quick post to put things right.

I made it exactly as per this BBC recipe.

It’s a truly delicious recipe – as you’d expect for something that includes over a pint of cream and most of a block of butter, along with a variety of interesting types of sugar, one of which I’d never used till the recipe sent me hunting for it.

The recipe says “serves 4″ but even someone as sceptical of serving sizes as I am would think this recipe comfortably feeds 6.

Sticky toffee pudding for tomorrow's pudding club. Two toffee sauces for assembly.

The other reason this one sticks in the mind is that two years ago when I made it and photographed it and put it on Flickr, some wazzocky company took me to task for using the phrase “pudding club” in the description because they thought they owned it. Fools!

Things I stock up on in French supermarkets

As a frequent traveller to French France there are a bunch of things I try and buy a bunch every time I’m over there.

Our recent school trip had the super wheeze of stopping off in a hypermarket instead of using motorway services, which was a really effective way of exposing the students to an opportunity to use their transactional French, and just have a glimpse of every day French life.

And there was also a chance for teachers to shop.

Some things I always, or nearly always buy in French shops:

Coffee filters. So much cheaper in France than England!

Olive oil. Ditto.

Bonne maman jam. A luxury brand in England, but an every day one in France, so it’s cheaper over there. I have very pedestrian tastes, so I pretty much only buy fraise, and sometimes gelée de mûres, but there is a huge range of fruits available too. P is rather partial to châtaigne – chestnuts – which comes in a jar with a brown gingham top.

Speculoos spread. We found this for the first time last year, but it has since become available in English supermarkets too. See also Dan Lepard’s recipe made with English mixed spice.

Carambars. This is a very recent addition to my lexicon, influenced by Dom’s MFL blog. Delicious sweets, each one with a truly corny French joke on. You can also make them into a tarte. I’m afraid I bought four bags – two fruit flavour, one original, and one pâté de nougat, and I have just sat for days troughing them. I don’t understand all the jokes – the ones based on puns on names of French sportspeople are especially difficult – but it’s fun to see what I do get. If there are any left I could use them as rewards in lessons, or use them with this reading comp resource and this youtube advert:

Classroom tat. The last few years I have a quick look to see if there’s anything I can use for teaching. One of our “ofsted ready” preparations is about use of authentic materials, so things like calendars, maps, exercise books, stationery, etc call all help with that. The last few years, there has been a real trend for American 50s chic amongst the tat in French supermarkets, which has been a bit of a pain. I’m still on the look out for a large French / German perpetual calendar I could use on the board, but ultimately I think I’m just going to have to make one.

Moving on to matters more alcoholic and less suited to school trips…

Pastis. Available in England. A nice refreshing aniseed summer drink with ice and water that goes cloudy when you dilute it. It’s also a super ingredient for cooking fennel as many ways of cooking it lose its gentle aniseed flavour.

Crème de…. Crème de cassis is a blackcurrant liqueur, a little like alcoholic ribena. It’s used with champagne to make a kir royal, or white wine to make a kir. It’s a similar idea to flavoured syrups in American coffees. It makes a lovely simple cocktail, takes the edge of any slightly nasty white wine, and since it’s a liqueur served in a glass of wine, is pretty effective at taking the edge of you too. Crème de cassis is widely available in the UK, but (sing it with me) much cheaper in France. Much more interestingly, though, are the wider varieties of crème de… that you can use in the same way. Pêche is an old favourite, as is framboise, but this time to mix things up a bit I’ve come home with bottles of crème de pamplemousse rose and crème de cérise. One of my favourite drinks of late has been a gin-and-tonic-and-pink-grapefruit-juice, so pink grapefruit is a flavour I use a lot.

Meal plan nowish

Ouf, I don’t know where the time goes.

(I do, I know exactly where it goes. 12 hour days of school work, and every waking minute worrying that the school work is not good enough is where it goes.)

Anyway, since I last allowed me fingers to fly over the keys of the blog, we now have a veg box arriving, the first last Wednesday.

Astoundingly, it’s around six years since we last had a regular veg box, and that was not a universally positive experience.

Still, on verra. After all, I’m massively less fussy than I… no wait.

This week’s offering from Riverford was – with one exception – all perfectly normal stuff. Carrots, onions, mushrooms. Apples, bananas (not as many as I would like) and oranges, which we don’t really eat but I can happily juice. A salad bag, some celery. And the only slightly outré offering – a head of kale. I can cope with these things. I could cope better if we weren’t already quite well stocked with veggies, but no matter.

We’ve been living a little from the freezer anyway, and will continue to do so this week, but here’s what it vaguely looks like:

(drawing a veil over two nights of takeaway)

Last Friday was leftover Thai pork patties.

Saturday was a visit to friends – they fed us lovely onion tartlets and a leg of lamb, and I made Raymond Blanc’s pineapple sorbet and Nigella’s Nutella panna cotta.

Nigella 's Nutella panna cotta

As written, the recipe needs more gelatin as the they did not quite set enough.

Sunday was the first real foray into the veg box – kale and potato cakes topped with grilled cheese and a celery salad with a mustard vinaigrette dressing. The potato cakes were made plainer than the recipe with no real spice at all, and were still good homely fare. The cheese helped no end.

Tomorrow, the plan is bangers and mash with onion gravy and the rest of the kale.

Tuesday, a small bag of pork mince from the freezer will become pineapple rice a recipe which introduced me to toasted sesame oil, a miracle flavour ingredient which does wonderful things to salad dressings and lifts the entire recipe up.

Wednesday is that busy night again, straight from school to yoga, and if we have the strength of mind not to come home via the chippy again, we shall have hummus and crudités and the remains of the veg box.

Thursday is the last day planned. Last time we had veggie falafel burgers the recipe made an absolute ton, so we shall be defrosting and frying the remains of that and eating it with pitta bread.