Saturday, 30 July 2011

Creamy Rice Pudding

I like to think that I'm fairly resourceful in the kitchen, particularly when it comes to not wasting food. This week I ended up with a surplus of milk because the family had gone holiday and forgotten to cancel the order. So, by Thursday I hadn't even opened Monday's milk. And what's the best and easiest way to use up as much milk as possible? Rice pudding. All it requires is a few extra store cupboard ingredients and a few hours in the oven.  
Rice pudding is one of those desserts that can be teamed up with any number of additional treats. Flicking through my cookbooks I came across 'Rice pudding with butterscotch apples' in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Year (my neighbour passed over apples, from his apple tree, I could've used for this - unfortunately it was not until after I made, and eaten, the rice pudding). Other choice toppings can include jam, fresh fruit, honey, maple syrup and chocolate. There are typically two ways of making rice pudding: boiling and baking. Both can produce tasty results but baking creates a golden-brown skin on top, adding extra texture to the dish.

With rice being the main staple of half the world's population, it's not surprising rice pudding is found around the world. And it's not only served as a dessert but as a savoury dish. In Iceland they add a type of blood sausage and in Mexico they use tequila soaked fruit.   Typically, short- or medium-grain rice such as Aborio or paella rice is used because of it's high starch content which, when released through cooking, creates a creamy texture - as it does in  Spanish paella dishes and Italian risotto dishes. Though this varies depending where in the world it's being made. 
My choice of flavourings for this particular dish was mixed spice and blueberries. Taken fresh from the garden, my blueberry bush has finally started to provide a decent amount of fruit. The first summer it produced one blueberry and the following summer provided us with two (though I suspect birds may have something to do with this). This year we chose to reposition the bush near the house, which seems to have kept the birds away. 

Rice Pudding

Adapted from The River Cottage Year by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Serves 6

50g     butter
100g    Aborio or other short-grain rice
1 litre semi-skimmed milk*
50g     caster sugar
1/2 tsp mixed spice

*For extra richness this can be substituted for 50/50 milk and cream

Preheat the oven Gas Mark 3 (160C) 

In an ovenproof pan, slowly melt the butter. Stir in the rice and ensure it's all coated with the butter. Add the milk and sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, sprinkle the mixed spice over the top and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. 
If you want to really get the golden-brown skin on top of the rice pudding, turn the oven up to Gas Mark 4 or 5 for the last 20 minutes (or use the grill). 

Adding some vanilla
Melting chocolate into it
Stirring in nuts and fruit

Friday, 29 July 2011

Baking with cake mixture

I can envision some people might query, "Why buy a cake mix when you use to be a pastry chef?" Any number of answers might be acceptable: time, cost, research, experimentation. None would be true. I suppose it's a slug of curiosity mixed well with a pinch of laziness. Please don't be mad. After all, it's only a bit of fun for me and Billy. So, which cake mix did I go for? Organic? Free-range? Luxurious? No. How about cheap? Yes. If I'd wanted a good, socially competent, quality cake, I would have made it myself. As it was, I didn't see the point in spending too much on it. 

The next time (if there is one) I purchase a cake mix, I must remember to read the full recipe beforehand. After reading the "Just add eggs and water" on the front of the packet, I was a bit irked when I got it home and discovered I had to have an electric whisk and two same-size cake tins. I don't have an electric whisk and although I do own two tins, they are both different sizes. Not that this was of any consequence. Simply substitute the electric whisk for elbow grease and use one tin but bake for longer. 

Wanting to add a bit of indulgence to the cake, we decided to top the cake with melted chocolate and sandwich some red, vanilla flavoured buttercream in the middle (I intend to write about food colourings and e numbers at some future point).

Unfortunately, the cake was too thin to risk halving it to create a sandwich cake. So instead we opted to make 'pretty' swirls with the chocolate and buttercream.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Anglesey Game Sausages

During my camping holiday in Wales I was determined to seek out good, local, Welsh food. Prior to leaving, I scoured the internet for any food events and eventually found the Anglesey farmers' market. I've talked about it in my previous post, so I won't go on about it again. But, I did want to mention, in their own post, these smoked wild boar and venison sausages I bought. 

Both me and Billy were looking forward to having them for breakfast - cold cereal not being the most warming of breakfasts whilst camping. As soon as I started cooking them, the smoked smell become prominent. Sending my imagination straight to visions of a traditional smoke house, packed full of products being smoked. Eel, cheese, chicken, duck and sausage. It certainly took my mind off the cold, damp weather surrounding us. 

Served between two slices of bread, I probably could have made the effort to utilise them with more effect if I had been at home. But at this point I just wanted hot food. The sausages were certainly different to the regular ones bought from the supermarket. They seemed to have the texture of a German cured sausage, which was no bad thing. However, I found the smoked flavour slightly over-powering (I had the taste in my mouth the rest of the morning). 

For more on these game sausages and other smoked products from Derimon Smokery click here

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Camping in North Wales: Search for Local Welsh Food

I'm currently at the end of day two of our camping holiday in North Wales. So far I've managed to have Welsh Rarebit at Aled Williams' cafe in Beaumaris (I shall cover this in another blog post) and visited a farmers' market in Menai Bridge.

The farmers' market had a variety of local produce including cheeses, chili sauces, veg, meats and baked goods. If I could've afforded it, I would've bought something from each stall.

As it was, I got some wild boar smoked sausages from a producer that was handing us ample amounts of samples. Smoked eel among them. Having never tried eel before it was both tempting and daunting. But both me and Billy had some and it tasted similar to kippers (though Billy thought it was 'disgusting').

I also bought £17 worth of 'pork' pies. Yes. £17. That gave us 10 pies, all with different fillings such as black pudding, mutton, venison and red wine, and game. 

A recent purchase of In Search Of Food by David Mabey (bargain at £1 from a antique shop) gives a brief account of the local foods of Britain. In the Welsh section there were certain foods that caught my eye. Mutton, cawl, salted duck and welsh rarebit, namely. There's still a whole week to discover them hopefully. 

Monday, 11 July 2011

Gammon and Mixed Bean Stew - Using leftovers

Having to cook on a budget can have its benefits. And being forced to make the best out of leftovers, without them looking and tasting like leftovers, is one of them. This gammon and bean stew was a result of left over roast gammon from Sunday lunch and ham stock that I had made. Also, there are some onions, garlic, chili, cayenne pepper, sage, mixed beans and maple syrup. The addition of maple syrup brings a sweet and subtle caramel taste to the dish that unites the whole stew. 
Whilst it may not look the most impressive meal, I assure you taste and smell is definitely on the money. I had this with crusty bread, but rice or pasta would go equally as well (though bread is useful for wiping up the juices).

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Reduced Section: Sicilian Sausage Pasta

It may sound a bit sad, but I love going food shopping. I'll spend a little time getting together what meals I want to cook for the week and pulling together a shopping list, then it's off I go. I'll methodically go up and down the aisles, checking off each item on my list as I drop it into the trolley - doubtlessly I'll accidentally forget a few things and have to return on my way back. 

My favourite aisle is the cheese aisle. Not because of the cheese (though I do love cheese), but because at the far end is the reduced section. Here are the hidden gems. The expensive cuts of meat, that extra special dessert, cheap veggies. However much of a struggle it may be to squeeze in between all the other shoppers fighting for a bargain, it's well worth it.

My reasons for liking the reduced section so much are two-fold. Firstly, it's reduced. I'm saving money. Secondly, it helps the environment. Everything that gets thrown away from supermarkets will undoubtedly end up in landfill sites.

Amongst other things, this week I obtained some sausages and tomatoes. The sausages went straight into the freezer when I got home, but as the tomatoes weren't going to last long I fancied doing something special with them, and something that would make them last - slow roasted tomatoes. 

As anyone who purchases sundried tomatoes will know, they are expensive. So for me, this is an ideal alternative. Simply quarter the tomatoes and place them in a baking tray with olive oil and fresh oregano. Season well and place in an oven on its lowest setting. Leave for a few hours, checking occasionally. The tomatoes with release their moisture and start to dry up, thus intensifying their bold sweet, acidic flavours. When they're ready, drain the juices off and store them in a clean kiln jar along with extra virgin olive oil to cover and help preserve them.

The resulting oven dried tomatoes can be used in many dishes such as pizzas and salads, and the Sicilian Sausage Pasta dish below.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil over a medium heat in a frying pan. Cut 8 sausages into bite size pieces and gently fry them for 10 minutes, adding 8 quarters of the oven dried tomatoes and 1/2 tsp dried chili flakes half way through. Meanwhile, cook 400g dischi volanti pasta per packet instructions in salted water. Drain the pasta and stir through the sausage sauce along with 4 tbsp creme fraiche, 1 tbsp pecorino cheese and a handful of torn fresh oregano. Serve immediately topped with more cheese and a sprinkling of oregano.

Serves 4
Recipe adapted from July 2011 Issue of Delicious