Caramelised Onions

Caramelised Onions

So often in life there seem to be things which elude us.  Circumstances, opportunities, events.  Invariably we can now hear about, through social media and other sources, where people are going, what they are doing, what is on, where, and how wonderful it will be.

But it is worth remembering that not everyone will go to everything, and that to live life vicariously through another is to miss what is right in front of your nose.  It may also be said that, with the plethora of food commentary, delightfully innovative recipes and ideas that flood our lives through all different types of media, we often miss the simple pleasures.  Such as conquering how to cook the perfect caramelised onions.

I would like to announce at this point, that I think I may have cracked it.

It’s a small step I know, but for me, one that has taken many failed attempts.  And what, you may ask, brought about this ‘eureka’ moment?  Sugar.

You may remember a while back, that we did a little experiment, and, for a short period of time, resisted as many forms of the sweet substance as we possibly could.  Which in itself was pretty successful.  But if you enjoy cooking, as I most certainly do, there comes a point where you have to search you soul and question whether something so fundamental to your being is worth rejecting.  For me it is a definite ‘no’.

That in no way means that I wish to advocate a sugar indulgence, but I have come to the conclusion that I want sugar in my life.  It’s a choice.  I am not, I realise, interested in it’s alternative.  And believe me, I have researched the many possibilities.  But no, sugar is here to stay.

So, having acknowledged that sugar is a lifetime commitment, I have begun looking into ways it can actually enhance simple foodstuffs without an overindulgent attitude to it. And it is to this end that I have found out how to make the most wonderful caramelised onions.

Firstly, pop a little oil and a knob of butter into a frying pan. Warm on a low heat until the butter has melted then add the sliced onions.  And here’s the piece of wonderment and joy.  Add a sprinkling of salt and sugar to the onions and fry, slowly, turning regularly, until the whole pan of onions begin to go a beautiful, shiny golden brown, allowing some of the onions to crisp up ever so slightly.

Turn off the heat and let them have a rest.

If you’re going to put them into something like a flan, make sure they’re cold.  If you’re putting them in hot dogs, reheat for thirty seconds or so.

Either way, these little beauties will do you proud and enhance your day like nothing else.  Perhaps a slight exaggeration there, but truly, they are magnificent and will give your day that extra sparkle when perhaps you may have, up to this point, not felt that it’s quite lived up to expectation.

To be honest there are very few days that go by where I don’t feel extraordinarily happy to be alive.  Not just because of the wonderful family and friends I have around me, but because, through circumstance of birth, I have been given opportunities which so many people on this amazing planet of ours, just don’t have.

It is to this end that I encourage you all to fully enjoy each day.  Whatever the dish you serve.

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Courgette Cake

Courgette Cake

Having sampled this cake a coupe of years ago, made by one of my many talented and lovely friends, the memory of how wonderful it tasted has stayed with me, although I have never, until now, managed to rustle one up.

Turns out it is the simplest thing to make, and although I am still not eating sugar so therefore won’t be able to sample my goods, it will be going to the wee boy’s Kindergarten Spring Fayre, which is happening on Saturday so hopefully will all be eaten.  Actually, there is enough mixture to make two of then which, in my book, is a result.

This is what you will need:

3 eggs, 275ml sunflower oil – I used vegetable oil as I didn’t have any sunflower oil and I figured there can’t be that much difference – 350g caster sugar, 350g courgettes grated, 165g plain flour, 165g buckwheat flour – once again, I didn’t have any so I used wholemeal plain flour – 1tsp baking powder, 2 tspns bicarbonate of soda, 1tsp cinnamon, 175g raisins – I used sultanas, see previous excuse – 150g walnuts chopped.

Now then, here’s a thing with putting nuts into a cake.  I absolutely love them but the wee boy and his friends are going through a phase of ‘being allergic’ to things, which roughly translates as not liking them, so I have left the nuts out of this recipe as it has the ‘I’m allergic to nuts’ foray written all over it.  Instead I replaced them with a handful of chia seeds, for texture.

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4. Then, either grease and line the base of two 900g/2lb loaf tins or, if you’re like me, you will have purchased, for absolutely no other reason than the thought that they might come in handy one day, a packet of paper loaf tin liners.  I was beginning to think they may have to be used for something to paint onto, but now I am completely absolved from buying ‘just in case stuff’, as they fit the tins perfectly.

Put all the ingredients together and mix to make a thick batter.  Pour into the cake tins.  Bake in the pre heated over for about an hour until the loaves are firm and a skewer comes out clean.  Sadly, I couldn’t remember what time I put the cakes in as I was ‘multi-tasking’.  However, I went by the smell of the oven and actually, although when I first tested them they weren’t quite done, I left them in a little longer, turning up the heat ever so slightly, and there was no dip at all.  Which has given me a completely disproportionate belief that I know what I’m doing.

Cool the cakes a little before turning out on a wire rack.

I have left one of the cakes without anything on top but the other now has a glaze made up of lime juice and granulated sugar. Of course I am unable to tell you what that will taste like but I reckon it should compliment the cake well.  I will be able to tell though, because when you sell cake at a Fayre, people never come back for a second slice if it’s not palatable.

I’ll let you know what happens.

Lentil Dhal

lentils #2

The wonderful thing about lentils is that they are easy to add to anything in order to give it a bit of bulk, but actually are pretty good as a main ingredient too.  I make a lovely cheese and lentil loaf where the lentils, although not full of flavour, add a wonderful texture to the loaf.  Similarly, lentils make a lovely dhal.

Now then, I follow a recipe given to me by my friends which works every time and allows you to temper the spiciness of the dhal, depending on what your palette can cope with.  I am always taken aback when people start reaching for the water, tea or yoghurt for something that I think is mild.  So often I misjudge the chilli scenario. These meals I put in the ‘learning curve’ pile.

So, this dhal.  Well, it’s as simple as you like.  Warm a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan – you can use Ghee if you like but it is humongously bad for your arteries and heart, apparently.  Just so you know.  Back to the oil.

Chop two cloves of garlic and 2 – 4 green chilli.  My advice on the amount of chilli to add is, if you are not that fond of heat, start with two, you can always add some fresh chilli later.  If you quite like a kick, chop up three, if you enjoy a runny nose, four.  I buy the long thin ones.  Obviously if you go for the larger chilli you will need more as they are milder.  The reverse of this may be adhered to also.

Add the garlic and chilli to the oil then add half a teaspoon of cayenne, and half of turmeric.  Let them get acquainted then add 185g red lentils, 750ml water and a teaspoon of salt.  Bring to the boil and simmer for twenty minutes or so, until the lentils are cooked.

Now then, if you fancy eating a dhal that will make you wake in the morning wanting to make more, add 3 – 4 tablespoonfuls of chopped, fresh mint.

Trust me when I say, this is scrumptious.

p.s. Today’s post is dedicated to my gorgeous niece, Madeleine.

Sweet Potato

iStock_Sweet potatoes

Aren’t potatoes a wonderful thing?  I am always amazed by how many differing types there are.  I have never eaten a potato, or a potato dish and thought it was unpleasant.  In fact I would go so far as to say I find almost everything to do with potatoes delicious.

So today, realising we have absolutely no food in for the weekend of any significance, I popped into Waitrose to pick up a few bits.  One of which was some sweet potatoes.

Now I really must just have a diversional rant here.  Whilst in Waitrose, happily minding my own business, my eyes were presented with a father and son image that, quite frankly, I find completely abhorrent.  Why does a certain type of male insist on putting the collar of his t-shirt up around the back of his neck?  What on earth possesses them to think this is in any way an attractive, stylish or appealing look to impose on the public?

Just to clarify though, a collar turned up on a Mackintosh coat I understand completely.  In fact, many coats lend themselves to the turned up collar look. Having a penchant for film noir I am appreciative of those men who carry off that unique elegance.  I don’t even have a problem with men sporting the look at private parties, sports venues or in their own home.  I’m not completely unreasonable.  Indeed what people do in their own homes is their own affair. But I find it deeply unreasonable to enforce it onto the public.  Myself especially.  Surely I am not the only one?

So, aside from gathering all my wits in order not to march up to said father and son and turn their collars down, the image momentarily completely puts me off balance. However, I eventually managed to compose myself and continue with my tasks. One of which was to purchase a few glorious sweet potatoes.

Now for those of you who are not versed in sweet potatoes, my advice would be to begin your journey by slicing and twice cooking them.  By this I mean, slice them into wedge or large chip size, put in a pan of water, bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for five minutes, then drain and dry.

You have now cooked them once.

Put your oven on gas mark 7 and heat some vegetable oil in a roasting dish.  When the oil is hot put the dried potato slices into the oil and swizzle them around.  At this point I sprinkle salt over them all, but you may wish to pop them in saltless.  Top shelf is best for these.  Leave them for around 20 minutes and then turn.  Leave in the oven for another 20 minutes or so.  They should come out crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Alternatively, of course, you could deep fry them.

You have now cooked them twice.

The other way to start you adventure on the sweet potato train is to take out up to one third of what would have been white potatoes for mash and replace with sweet potato. Cook together with the white potatoes, drain, mash and butter up as usual. You will have the most delicious, slightly sweet, orange mashed potato.  The wee boy is extremely partial to this method.

Whichever way you decide to cook your sweet potato, now is most definitely the time of year to get cooking them.  The colour is sublime, and totally complimentary of the season.

Who said style over content?

Quick Passata

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Some days just fly away with you, and before you know it, the sun has set and you’re caught off guard wondering who stole the time.  Today was one of those days, but I did manage to make a passata sauce for a meal I’m cooking tomorrow, which although probably not done in the correct way, always tastes delicious.

And this is how I do it.

Chop red onions and add to a pan of oil with a whole heap of ripe chopped tomatoes, and perhaps a tin of tomatoes as well if you feel like it.  Add tomato puree, salt, pepper, sugar and a splash of red wine vinegar and let it simmer for a while.

Stir occasionally and ‘quality control’ for balance of flavours.  Little tip here, best to add too little seasoning to start with and build up the flavour.  It’s a nightmare trying to counter balance too much of something.

When all the ingredients have had time in the pan to get to know each other, turn off the heat and allow to cool.

Blend.

Now I know that is should be strained so that none of the seeds or skins of the tomatoes are left, but I don’t mind them hanging about in the mix.  So for me, that’s it.

I am using the passata as a base for pizzas tomorrow, and I’ll let you into a secret.  I don’t always use pizza bread bases either.

Culinary rebel.  That’s me.