Hedgehog Potatoes

Hedgehog potatoes

I am a self confessed lover of potatoes.  They are, in my humble opinion, one of the most diverse vegetables to cook with, and always taste delicious.  Especially when you find a different way to cook them.  Enter the hedgehog potato.

This simple twist on a baked potato has just found it’s way onto my top ten cooking list. They look beautiful, need hardly any attention, and taste absolutely divine.  Sort of a cross between a baked and a roast potato.  All you need to do is cut slices three quarters of the way down the potato, brush with a warmed mixture of olive oil, butter, salt and pepper and pop in the oven for around fifty minutes.  Then hey presto, they’re done.  Yes, my friends, that is all it takes.  They have a wonderfully crisp exterior, but still maintain a soft interior.  Perfect with a Sunday dinner.

Meanwhile in the world of me, them and the puppy, I found a small part of the wee boy’s pants the other day, lounging idly on the living room floor.  A little bemused, I thought nothing more about it.  Out on a dog walk the following day, I discovered where the rest of that particular pair of pants had gone.  I have absolutely no idea why the puppy would even consider a small, perfectly shaped red and navy blue striped pair of boys pants edible, but then I’m not a chocolate labrador.  Anyone would think the poor wee thing was never fed.

I have also recently rediscovered the beauty of short journey train travel, although it also turns out that I’m still not very good at it.  Getting lost in my thoughts, the ability I have to block out all sounds around me to concentrate on the inner idle banter of my mind, I managed to completely miss my stop and had to go to the next main station before catching a train back to my original destination.

I guess the phrase ‘quicker by rail’ only works if you’re paying attention.

 

Corned Beef Hash

corned beef tin

Today I am venturing into a food territory of almost mythical proportions.  The corned beef hash.

You see, corned beef hash reminds me of 1970’s camping trips.  Not that I went on any camping trips in the 1970’s, but other people did and spoke about it, wrote about it, eulogised about it and generally made corned beef hash the ‘go to whilst camping’, foodstuff.  I always thought it sounded very romantic, and was, if I’m honest, slightly envious of children I knew whose families ate corned beef hash at home, as it was just not something we ever had.

And then corned beef seemed to disappear off the planet, only to reemerge as a much more expensive version of itself.  With one exception.  The method of opening the tin has not changed one iota.  Which was always one of the reasons I loved it when, as children, we had corned beef for tea.  The tin.

There is something innately satisfying about a tin that opens with a key.  To the extent that if you haven’t opened a tin of corned beef, you really are missing out on one of the ‘Ooo, satisfying’ moments of life.  Of course, conversely, if the key breaks there is a feeling of complete failure, totally disproportionate to other events in life, but still, not to be underestimated.

So today I am living the dream and making a corned beef hash.  Yes, I realise that is slightly over egging the pudding, but nevertheless, I’m giving it a go.

Having read quite a lot of different recipes I decided I would slow bake the hash in the oven, (I can hear gasps of horror reverberating around Lancashire already) and use the following ingredients:

Fresh thyme leaves, one large onion sauteed in a big knob of butter, a glug of red wine, a beef stock cube, one tin of corned beef chopped, a few splashes of Worcestershire Sauce, a few potatoes, diced, ground black pepper and just boiled water.

I put all the above ingredients into a dish, and popped it in the oven, gas mark 3, for a couple of hours.

Half an hour before we ate, I poured the lot into a pan, sprinkled a handful or so of frozen peas into the mix and let it simmer for ten minutes.

It was nothing like I thought it should be, although if you’d asked me to describe what I thought it should look or taste like, I would be hard pressed to give you an answer.  However, the gang enjoyed it immensely, which is all the ratification I need.

Potatoes Dauphinoise

Dauphinoise

We haven’t really sat down to eat a big meal since Christmas Day, so I felt it was only fitting that at the start of the year I should make an effort but keep it in the comfort zone, as our winter hibernation is truly setting in.

Also, I am loathed to pop out and buy food when there is still a plethora of things still sitting in our fridge that need using up. Albeit most of them are pickled affairs.

Anyway, all of this led me to plump for something I love, but rarely do, as we don’t often have cream in the fridge.

I have occasionally tried to keep cream in the fridge as almost all the cookery programmes i have ever watched, always seem to refer to it as an essential. However, I found that as we don’t use cream on a daily basis, once the correct amount has been apportioned to whichever recipe required it, any left over cream just lingers forlornly, slowly frosting away with no particular place to go.

I am trying to rectify this situation, hence potatoes Dauphinoise.

Officially, this is a gratin recipe as the potatoes, although sliced, are completely cooked in the oven.  But I don’t think anyone’s too concerned about semantics in this particular instance.

Anyway, put your cream in a pan and add a clove of garlic per 100ml of liquid. Grind in some salt and pepper. Bring to a light simmer, and add the potatoes which have been thinly sliced, simmering for approximately 3 minutes.

The basic rule of thumb here is that you need double the amount of potatoes to cream.  And just to let you know, it doesn’t need to be all cream.  The beauty of this recipe is that you can use up all the cream you have and just top up with milk.  Or, if you prefer, go half and half.  It’s totally up to you.

Then, strain the potato slices into an oven proof dish, fish out the garlic cloves from the warmed cream before pouring over the top.

Cook in the middle of the oven, gas mark 5, for about an hour.  Longer if you prefer your spuds with a little more of a mush.

And it is at this juncture that I feel the need to point out the beauty of potatoes Dauphinoise.  It is a wonderfully diverse dish that you can tweak to your heart’s content.  You can add rosemary, thyme, or any other herb you love, to the cream mixture. You can grate cheese on the top (Gruyere is the cheese most oft mentioned but anything light and nutty will taste great), you can even, if you’re really thinking of living on the edge, add eggs to the creamy affair.

I will just add a word of garlic caution here.  I find infusing the cream with garlic is enough to compliment the other flavours in the dish.  Those of you who cannot get enough of the garlic flavour, may wish to grate, crush or chop your garlic into the cream and leave it there.  If so, I suggest one clove per 250ml of liquid will suffice.

Whichever way you decide to cook your potatoes, they always taste divine, and although traditionally they were cooked to compliment fish, I like to throw caution to the wind and cook them to compliment whatever I fancy, or even, sometimes, just eat them on their own.

One of the most delicious classic comfort foods around.  Enjoy.

Roast Potatoes

roast potatoes

I love potatoes, their versatility never ceases to amaze me.  And did you know the Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C.?  No, me neither until I looked it up.  We have a lot to thank them for. Moreover, they didn’t just use them for cooking, oh no, they were masters in the art of potato versatility.

They also did the following *:

Placed raw slices on broken bones to promote healing
Carried them to prevent rheumatism
Ate with other foods to prevent indigestion
Measured time: by correlating units of time by how long it took for potatoes to cook

Then there were various potato remedies:

Treat facial blemishes by washing your face daily with cool potato juice
Treat frostbite or sunburn by applying raw grated potato or potato juice to the affected area
Help a toothache by carrying a potato in your pocket
Ease a sore throat by putting a slice of baked potato in a stocking and tying it around your throat
Ease aches and pains by rubbing the affected area with the water potatoes have been boiled in

A pretty comprehensive list, I think you’ll agree.

However, tonight, we enjoyed our potatoes, roasted. Now I know everyone has their own way of roasting potatoes, but for me, there is nothing like a crisp crunch on the outside, with a soft, fluffy warmth on the inside.  I always par boil my potatoes, then drain them, put the lid back on the pan and give the whole thing a good shake.

I then sprinkle some semolina, a little tip I got from Nigella, and add a little salt before popping them into a tray with vegetable oil that has been heated up in a hot oven.  Gas mark 8.  They take about 50 minutes in my oven, yours may take less time.  Either way, if you don’t overload the tray, and turn them every so often, each potato comes out gloriously golden and crispy.

What more could a girl wish for on an autumnal Monday evening?

 

*Taken from http://www.potatogoodness.com

Cooking Chicken

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There are very few cooking pots that stand out in a crowd for their innovative design and practical supremacy.  There are perfect pieces of pottery, and classic pieces of cookware.  It is rare to find a wonderful combination of the two.

Enter the Chicken Brick.

This beautiful piece of culinary design was created by David Queensbury for Habitat 50 years ago, and as far as I’m concerned, is one of their most successful pieces in their short, but colourful history.  It is one of my favourite cooking pots.  Or to be more precise, terracotta cooking pots.

And here’s how it works.  The pot acts as a culinary kiln, and because it is terracotta and therefore porous, it allows the heat to drift through it very nicely so that the chicken and its accompanying orchestra of vegetables, cook away in their own juices, thus creating a perfectly succulent bird every time.  And if you’re worried that the chicken may look a little anaemic having had no direct heat onto it’s skin, don’t. It manages to come out with a very healthy tan.

I always tend to put onions and carrots as a cushion for the chicken to sit on top sprinkled with salt and pepper, but to be honest, it is just as delicious without added vegetables, and it is absolutely up to you what you pop in there.  I add a little boiled water into the base before putting in the oven, to make sure I don’t have a minor panic attack as to whether there will be enough gravy or not.  You can never have enough gravy in my book.  Anyway.  I then put the brick on the shelf nearest the middle of a pre heated oven.  Gas mark 5.  There is a rule of minutes per weight for every meat, but as with everything oven based in my home, I have to adjust according to the outside influences.  Therefore, I tend to just use a thermometer.

So why is this so fabulous then eh?  Well, there are a few reasons.  Firstly, the chicken always tastes succulent and gorgeous which is a bonus as chicken, although texturally satisfying, is quite a bland meat if it doesn’t have a great support act.  I find that the sweetness of the carrots and onions imbibe the chicken enough to add flavour, but without overpowering it.  As a slight diversion, I have found that this combination makes beef, cooked in the chicken brick, taste wonderful as well. Secondly, the stock that I use for the gravy has a taste that I find hard to replicate through any other formula, and finally the pot itself has a quirk and style to it that is unbeatable.  If you like that kind of thing.  Which I do.

There are a couple of very, very minor downsides to the Chicken Brick.  The first one is that it takes up quite a bit of space if you don’t have other pots or dishes of the same shape.  Luckily I do.  But if you didn’t, you would probably have to either buy some oval dishes, or accept the fact that the brick needs it’s own space.  And secondly, it doesn’t take kindly to letting go of washing up liquid, so wash wisely.  But hey, these are blips on an otherwise perfect piece of innovative culinary design.

And so to dinner.  As it’s Sunday, I am opting for a traditional Sunday affair.  Chicken, sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, and steamed mini sweetcorn, long stemmed broccoli, sugar snap peas and mange tout, all covered in gravy.  Delicious.

As a final thought, if you like the idea of using a Chicken Brick but are a little concerned about spending money on something you feel you may regret, why not find someone who owns one and ask to borrow it?

Mine will be free from this evening, if anyone’s interested.

 

 

Eating Leftovers

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It is doing the proverbial cats and dogs outside, and therefore I have absolutely no desire to venture out.  Even though summer rain is never cold where I live, sometimes the thought of having to do anything in mild dampness is just not appealing.  I understand that if dressed appropriately one can overcome these obstacles, but I just do not have enough impetus to stroll along that avenue.

Alongside the inclemency of the weather, I am becoming more and more aware of how much we throw away with not a hint of irony.  Food especially.  I think this begins when you are young.  If children are brought up without a respect for food and it’s ceremonies, they will grow up with a similar disregard which is harder to shake off, as it becomes a default setting.  We were brought up believing that food was deeply important, not just for sustenance, but as a social interaction and communication tool.  Similarly, having parents who spent their childhoods with post war rationing, the respect for food had a much greater significance.  Something I try to teach my own children.  Interestingly, the ceremony of the birthday cake still resonates even in households who may have not eaten round a table in years.  But I digress.

Taking everything into consideration it is still difficult to fully appreciate food that is, shall we say, unappetising (I’m being polite).  Therefore, my philosophy should really go hand in hand with something that is at least palatable.

With the aforementioned in mind I am concocting a left overs dinner for this evening. Something which I am not always successful at, but insist on giving a go, even if just to ease my own conscience.  So far I have made potato cakes from left over sweet corn, potato and grated carrot.  They are, as we speak, lounging in the temperamental fridge, probably fighting off the desire to freeze, coated in home made bread crumbs.

However, I have now reached an impasse. What goes with potato cakes?  As I sit and ponder, an occupation I do relish, I have a wonderful compilation of rain songs going on in the background and, quite frankly, a feeling of having all the time in the world.

Think I’ll just pop my nose in the fridge again, it’s sure to inspire me, and if not, I do have a plan B…

Comfort food

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Every now and then I get to the point where I just want to eat something which makes me feel slightly warm and fuzzy and reminds me of being ‘home’.  By which I mean my mum’s house when I was a child.  In my mind’s eye, everything is in a sunshine shade of polaroid.  It’s an ideology of comfort brought on by selective memory syndrome, which I think you will agree, we all suffer from occasionally.

So, favourite comfort foods?  Well, being a child in the seventies anything out of a tin has an association, but Heinz Tomato Soup has to be on the comfort food list.  As does tea and toast.

Interestingly, rice pudding aside, I don’t really go for a sweet comfort food, although am happy to be persuaded.  And then, of course, there’s always the amount of effort you need to put in to be comforted.  More often than not comfort food is needed when you are, sadly, a little under the weather. That weather often being a force ten gale with added storm.

However, I do have one foodstuff that always satisfies and something I am prepared to rustle up, on the way out of the storm, every time.  Now I realise that everyones comfort food is very dependant on their influential culinary early years, so consequently, one persons comfort is another’s chore.  But I do believe at least a few of you will glow when you find out what it is.

So, are you sitting on the edge of your seat with barely controlled anticipation?

Ok, let me share.  Mashed potato.  Hmmm.  It can be as part of something such as shepherds pie, or indeed fish pie.  It can be a feature in a plate of food my grandma used to call ‘sandcastle mince’.  Which, for anyone who may be remotely interested, consisted of the mashed potato acting as a sandcastle and the mince, carrots and peas, taking on the role of the sea.  It could be ensconced within a jacket, although I would attest that isn’t actually mashed potato.  But for me, sometimes, it’s just the best thing in the world on it’s own, with a little grated cheese on top, and if you like to live on the edge of high society (rather like myself), a sprinkling of black pepper and a dollop of Tomato Ketchup.

And I’ll let you into a little secret.  Get yourself one of those potato ricer gadgets, add lots of butter, and I promise you, your mashed potato will taste sublime and never have lumps again.

A comfort food cuddle on a plate.  Perfect.