Sunday, 30 August 2015

Actually Cooking Pinned Recipes Part 1: Quinoa Baby Cakes with Herbed Tahini Sauce by Wholehearted Eats

Hello lovely and patient readers. I was going to begin with the most ridiculous sentence which went along these lines: "I'm sure you've been waiting with baited breath for the next post." Then I realized that, although sarcasm is one of my favoured forms of wit, it just doesn't feel appropriate in this instance. How can I intimate, even from a joking point of view, that you've all been sitting around with nothing to do but wait for a new post to appear on my blog, when you are just as busy, if not busier, than me, and that for you to condescend to spend even two minutes scrolling through whatever trivialities I have to share is a great privilege for me. I haven't had opportunity to sit and write here since, apparently, the 11th August. Life is busy, so I'd like to take a moment to say a very large and appreciative "thank you" if you've even spent about 20 seconds reading to here and decide you can't be bothered with any more. It's not been great up to here, has it? But sometimes I sit down to write, and am struck by what a presumption it is to think that anybody will actually want to read what I have to say, and I think I often take the sarcastic stance because I feel somewhat embarrassed that people think that I think I have something worth listening to. I think I'm just so full of words, to which anybody who knows me in real life will attest, and they just spill over and out and here they are.

Now that bit of self-deprecation is over (it's sincere, believe me) let me tell you of one of the plans I had for the blog in its very early days, when I couldn't stop writing down ideas and I had my little notebook to hand constantly, so as to instantly record any ideas which came to mind. Now that the blog has become a little more established, and I'm not constantly thinking about it, I realize that something which I really wanted to do I never actually got round to; a long-running series featuring Pinterest recipes. How many people save recipes galore in their foodie inspiration folders on Pinterest and never get round to actually cooking them? I know that's by no means true across the board and is a bit of a generalisation, but even if you do, from time to time, open up your Pinterest gallery and think, "Yes, I will make that recipe this week," is it often enough for the reams of photos you have saved to inspire you to put on your apron? So I want to inspire you to open those so eagerly saved images, go to the writer's website and actually cook a recipe from Pinterest. And if you do, leave them a comment. It will make their day. It means that somebody saw the recipe they'd spent time designing, photographing and writing up, as worth trying and appealing to the eyes and taste buds. What an achievement!

Over the months, I've cooked quite a few recipes I've saved on Pinterest, but this is the one I want to share with you first: Quinoa baby cakes with herbed tahini sauce from Wholehearted Eats. I've linked to the actual site rather than Pinterest, but if you want to pin the recipe, just look it up on Pinterest or use the pin it button in your browser or on the website. So, this recipe contains one of my all-time favourite ingredients, butternut squash, so it wasn't hard to draw me in, but just look at the vibrance of the photographs. It just looks so good for you, and that is good! Before I continue though, I need to make a confession, which isn't so much my fault as being one of those confusions that can happen when a British person follows an American recipe. Green onions though. Oh dear. I've never seen green onions in the shops and though they must be some special variety available in warmer climes than ours. It only occurred to me this morning, in fact, that they may perhaps be spring onions. And the recipe calls for four of said onions. Stupidly, I just thought, "four onions is rather a lot; I'll just use one... large white onion." Ha! I knew there was something wrong with this as I added more and more honey and tahini to make it edible, and ended up with about a litre of pungent though thankfully just-about-edible dressing. Another unfortunate mishap with the should-have-been beautifully vibrant green dressing was that I used soy sauce instead of tamari, which turned it a delightful disgusting brown colour. If you're reading this Sophie (the recipe author) please have pity on me for my incompetence!

The great thing about this recipe is that, aside from the baby cakes (what a fab title!) and the dressing, you can serve it with any selection of vibrant veggies you like. I began though, by preparing my squash and quinoa, as I didn't have leftovers to use as Sophie suggests, so I could get everything else ready while they were cooking. I baked the squash (of course) and simmered the quinoa in stock for added flavour.

I baked the butternut squash in olive oil with a good helping of seasoning, as per usual, for about 50 minutes.

For all the Brits reading this (you can thank me later!) I can inform you that one cup of quinoa equates to 160g, so no need to worry if you don't possess cup size measures. I made up 800ml vegetable stock from two cubes, then simmered it for about 20 minutes until all the water had been absorbed (it never takes as long as it says on the packet) then just left it to stand while I prepared everything else and waited for the squash.

I then prepared the dressing once as the squash and quinoa were dealt with. In the original recipe, Sophie prepares the dressing first, but I believe that's because she already has leftover squash and quinoa so she doesn't need to prepare them from scratch. Here's where things went a little pear-shaped. Or actually, they went onion shaped, and onion flavoured!

I am trying to hide my face in shame at this moment as I recall the moment I added dark brown soy sauce to my somewhat pungent smelling but refreshing looking dressing.

Big mistake - idiot!

 So here's how my vibrant Herbed Tahini Sauce turned out. Ha! Enough to dress any food of your choice for about a month. Except I won't, because it is simply not pleasant to wake up more than once in a month with the morning breath this concoction imparts to the eater. I need to remind you though, that this is not in any way the fault of the recipe. If I'd used four spring onions, as I'm pretty sure is intended (actually, if anybody can confirm that, I'd love to hear from you in the comments) it would have been simply delicious. So I set that aside in the fridge; it wasn't entirely pleasant to view!

Lets move on from that unfortunate episode. Once the squash and quinoa were ready I mixed them in a large bowl with the garlic and herbs, as per the recipe. This was a delicious, thick mixture which combined beautifully, easily shaping into the baby cake shapes and easy to transfer to the frying pan once the cakes had been formed.

Oh lovely readers, you will despair of me (if you haven't already, that is!) because if you've been reading for a while, you'll know how I have issues with portion size, as in, my eyes are bigger than my belly. These were not to become "baby" cakes but giant burgers! No matter how I tried to form dainty and delicate "cakes", as in the original recipe, my spoon just created burgers. Half pounders, I'm pretty sure. Thank goodness for all those vibrant veggies to be served with them!

If I'd made them the correct size, they would have also have acquiesced much more readily to being turned over. Two large spatulas were required! But even so, they stayed together remarkably well, and, had the burgers been a little smaller, there would have been absolutely no problem. One of them cracked slightly, unsurprisingly.

Whilst the burgers (sorry Sophie if you're reading, I simply can't continue to call these monsters "babycakes") browned beautifully in the pan, I got together the random selection of veggies I had to hand, plus the recommended boiled eggs. I ended up using beetroot, rocket, radishes, grated carrot and avocado, plus half a boiled egg each. This was a fantastic selection and a great way to use up spare veg too, as really anything will go with this dish. The freshness of the vegetables really complements the heavier nature of the baby cakes/burgers, and the dressing complements everything (yes, even mine did OK) bringing it all together beautifully.

So what do you think? How is that for a vibrant plate of food? I loved that the only preparation necessary for the raw veg was to chop them and place them on the plate. The baby cakes were really absolutely delicious, and this recipe also translated perfectly to a child's meal. A bit of finger food in the veg, a nutritious burger and some yummy dressing (my boys wouldn't, unfortunately, go near mine - I can't think why). Because I was starting from scratch rather than using leftovers it did take a little while to prepare; probably just under an hour. But the way it worked out meant I could prepare one thing while something else was cooking, which is a good and methodical way to work. That's me in the kitchen - methodical.

This was the first of many posts on the subject of cooking from Pinterest recipes. I hope you'll find them helpful and that you'll be inspired to use recipes by bloggers, as well as from the generic food sites (I still love you BBCGoodFood). It really gives bloggers support and a little encouragement that what they're doing is helping or encouraging even just one person. Personally, I love the little stories or lead-ups to recipes on blogs, because often a recipe idea has an interesting or anecdotal background, but if you'd rather miss out all the chat and scroll down to the start of a recipe, go ahead. If you're not used to reading blogs, it can seem a bit unusual to read about someone's life, or whatever of it they choose to share on their blog, but you may come across someone who shares your outlook on cooking, preparing meals for loved ones, how you like to cook, or pick up some interesting tips along the way. Go on, open your Pinterest recipe folder and choose one recipe from it make this week!

Thank you so much for reading :)

xxx Sam

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Butternut squash, pea and streaky bacon risotto

Hello faithful readers, and apologies for the recent lack of posts. We've been on holiday in one of the most beautiful parts of the world: Pembrokeshire. It was certainly a holiday of eating too much, but aren't all holidays? On the first day I made a batch of Ella's Raw Raisin and Ginger Nut Bars, as a healthy snack to munch on during the week when Husb and the Tonjus were eating "bad things", but I ended up having my fair share of naughty things too, such as the most delicious fish and chips in the world, at Bowen's in St Dogmaels. To be honest, I did save myself for that meal. Their fish and chips are beautifully cooked, not oily, and both the fish and the chips are excellent, and the man and woman who run it are lovely, friendly and accommodating. Even when little Tonju took a swig from the bottle of vinegar and had to be brought an urgent glass of water! I'm feeling the effects of eating too much now though: that bloated feeling and the trying to get back to eating the amount one normally eats, rather than holiday extras.

So far this week I've cooked a couple of tasty and seasonal recipes from the latest Tesco Food, Family, Living magazine, which I really want to share with you, but I've been promising a very dear friend a recipe I cooked for her and her boys at my house some time ago. It was extra special because she really wasn't expecting her oldest boy to enjoy it, but he absolutely loved it and she's been asking me for the recipe ever since. It's a slight adjustment to an original recipe by Tana Ramsay, published in Tana Ramsay's Family Kitchen, one of the first proper cookbooks I bought. It was one of those books that was on the shelves of several friends, and was really popular at the time. I have a few favourites from it, this being one of them - Baked pumpkin and fresh pea risotto. I have slightly adjusted the recipe, partially in terms of the method, but I also roast my butternut squash rather than cooking it in the risotto pot with the rice as Tana does. Roasting always gives butternut squash a richer taste, and I have to say, I would always roast squash unless it was imperative not to. I also use frozen rather than fresh peas for ease and dry-fry the pancetta instead of grilling. I have also just realised, used, as I am, to inferring butternut squash for pumpkin, that Tana doesn't even use squash in her recipe. This is becoming an entirely new recipe in its own right!

So without further ado, here's how to make your own Butternut squash, pea and streaky bacon risotto.

Ingredients (for two adults and two small children)

200g arborio risotto rice (or other risotto rice)
700ml chicken stock (from cubes is fine)
knob of butter
One butternut squash
6 slices smoked streaky bacon or pancetta
200g frozen peas
A few tbsp grated parmesan (according to taste)
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

Utensils required: large baking tray and casserole dish with lid


Pre-heat the oven to fan 180C
Peel and deseed the squash, cut into small cubes and place in a baking tray.

Drizzle with olive oil and season before placing in the pre-heated for 45 minutes.

Once the squash is in the oven, prepare the rice.

Measure out the required amount...

...make the stock...

...then add both to the casserole along with the butter.

After the squash has been in the oven for 15 minutes, put the risotto in too.

You can have a little rest at this stage, as there is nothing to do until 10 minutes before the end, so pour yourself a drink and take a break!

Ten minutes from the end of the cooking time, heat up a frying pan to medium high and dry fry the bacon or pancetta until nice and crispy and golden.

While the bacon is cooking, measure out the peas, and when there is five minutes cooking time left, take the risotto out of the oven and add the peas. Stir well and return to the oven for the remaining time. When the bacon is ready, remove from the pan and place on kitchen towel to soak up any excess fat.

At the end of the cooking time, remove the risotto and the squash from the oven...

...and add the squash to the risotto.

Add the parmesan, season according to taste, and stir everything together.

Real-life shot - it's a serious business adding parmesan!

Chop the parsley and bacon, ready to sprinkle over the top.

Serve in pasta bowls (for the adults) and sprinkle with the bacon and parsley, plus a further sprinkling of parmesan, if you like. Finish with a grind of salt and black pepper.

So there you have it. This is one of those meals that goes down superbly well with everyone in the family. It contains cheese and bacon which are instant winners, and the whole combination of foods is just scrummy. It's definitely a hearty meal, but also fresh in a way, with the addition of peas and parsley. I promise you that if you make it, all the members of your family, even the fussy ones, will devour it! 

Do you own this book? It's one that, now I have a fair few cookbooks on my shelves, I don't pick up all that often, but when I do, I'm always reminded of how good the recipes are. The Chicken and Mango Casserole is another favourite, as is the Steak and Guinness pie. Mmmmm!

Well, happy cooking readers. I'd love to know if you make this and if it goes down as well in your household as it does in mine, or if it's quite the opposite!

Until next time,

xxx Sam
Cooking for Sanity