Thursday, 8 November 2012

Disaster Kitchen Hiatus

Someone asked the other day why I hadn't done a Disaster Kitchen post in a while. In part this was to do with going back to work, but things have developed lately.

You see, at the moment my kitchen is a disaster. Quite literally.

We're having some building work done on the back of the house - render removal and replacement, new windows etc. For ages it was a waiting game for everything to start. Our furniture was piled up, turning our dining room into an elaborate game of Jenga, and we were psyched, ready for the disruption and the mess.

Then we were waiting a bit longer for a builder, then the job took longer, then the windows came, then they started late, then AAARRRRRGGGHH!

Fortunately, things are progressing nicely now. Of course, that means my kitchen is filthy, the sink covered with a wooden board, every surface sealed with a layer of brick dust.

Yes, that is daylight you can see through the side of my house.

My romantic dining room...

Cleaning the hob ahead of cooking tea - it still stunk when I turned it on.

So, while this work is still in progress (and I honestly don't know how long it's going to be until it's finished) I will be living on a diet of macaroni cheese and microwave meals. I find it hard to get inspired to cook at the best of times, but when I daren't touch ANYTHING in my kitchen, it gets a bit harder.

I am not gone permanently, though. Soon I will be back burning stuff, measuring things wrong, exploding stuff in the microwave in the way only I do quite so effectively.

Until then!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Roasted Vegetable Lasagne

Dish: Roasted Vegetable Lasagne

Difficulty: Coordination of the different parts was a little tricky, but otherwise fairly straight forward

Utensils Used: Wooden and serving spoons, spatula to serve, garlic crusher (at last!!), food processor (to do it properly)

Cock Ups: About 4. I lost count.

Recipe Book:

Cooking: After tiring of my one and only cookbook and failing to remember to pick some new material up from my mother's, I resorted to google, and came across this recipe. Being a long time fan of lasagne, I thought I'd give it a go.

After heating the oven to 180, I cut up 3 peppers. The recipe specifies red, but I used green and red. Because I'm a rebel. Two aubergines were sliced thinly and I threw in one courgette for good measure, also cut into big chunks.

The veg was put on lightly greased baking trays, tossed with a bit of Olive *cough* Sunflower Oil, seasoned, then put in the oven for 25mins. I thought this would be ample time to make the tomato sauce. Hah.

Also, did I get a duff aubergine? I've never had them with this many seeds in before...

To make the tomato sauce I chopped an onion and crushed (the recipe said slice, but I got excited to use the crusher) two cloves of garlic. I missed out the carrot from the recipe. Mostly because I hate peeling them. This was cooked for about 5 minutes until softened.

Meanwhile I genuinely accidentally misread the amount of white wine required for 300ml instead of 200ml, but there was a fairly easy solution to that error...

Add 2tbps of tomato puree, or squeeze in a generous dollop if you are too lazy to try and scoop it out of the tablespoon measurer and then wash it afterwards.

Cook for a minute, then add the wine.

The Boyfriend came home as I reduced the wine/tomato puree/onion mix down by 2/3rds and announced that the house smelled like a pub. I took this to be a promising sign.

Once the mix was reduced, I added two cans of chopped tomatoes. The recipe asked for half quantities of the homemade tomato sauce, but I kinda forgot that til halfway through, so just reduced the amount of tins of tomatoes by one. I wish I'd just gone for three - there wasn't quite enough of it to cover the whole of the lasagne.

I also threw in a few mushrooms, as there were some looking slightly past their best in the fridge. The recipe then states 'add a handful of basil leaves then simmer for 20 mins.' So, um, Italian Style Seasoning counts right? After that, you were supposed to leave it to cool and food-process it. But I don't have a food processor, so I left it hot and lumpy.

By this point, I'd already opened the door of the oven and turned it off to stop the roasted veg from becoming charcoal. The Boyfriend was expecting dinner to be ready any moment, but, foolishly, I hadn't checked how long it takes to cook - 45mins at 160. I'd also, stupidly, left the door of the oven open too long, so it took ages to heat back up again...

Layer the veg, tomato sauce, lasagne sheets and white sauce (the recipe includes a homemade white sauce, but I was too lazy and just bought one). It's supposed to stretch to three layers, but I found the third a bit of a pinch. Over the final layer of lasagne, pour the remaining white sauce, then break up a ball of mozzarella and sprinkle across the top. I also added some cheddar. Just because.

Cook for 45 minutes.

Washing Up Required: Well, it still all fit in my half size dishwasher...

Result: It looked and smelled delicious. Definitely worth the effort to prepare.

Taste Test: While I was generally impressed with the effort (despite it needing about another 5 minutes in the oven) the Boyfriend was less enthused.

'It looks... Like lasagne.'

After a hesitant taste, he declared: 'It's alright. It's better than that shit you made last time, anyway. It's edible.'


Overall Verdict: A bit of an effort, but tasty and with all the veg in there, you could probably even argue it's healthy.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagne

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Restaurant Review: Ambrosia

Restaurant: Ambrosia

Location: Market Drayton, UK

General First Impressions: I've been going to this restaurant for a while, so I don't really have a first impression that I can remember. It always smells delicious though.

Starter: I don't normally do starters here, but went for the vegetarian platter. It had onion rings, spring rolls and other veggie staples, along with a sauce for dipping. I honestly can't remember what the sauce was, because I normally pay no attention to them - I'm not big on sauce - but in the interest of thorough testing I tried a bit. It was okay, but for me added nothing to the delicious spring rolls. That's me though, the girl who doesn't like sauce.

But no amount of desire for integrity in my blogging could make me touch the seaweed.

The vegetable wonton did end up in my handbag at one point, but that was my own clumsiness, combined with the champagne I'd drunk before, not an attempt to hide it so I didn't have to eat it. Honestly, you can't take me anywhere...

Main: For my main I was boring and went for my favourite mushroom curry with egg fried rice. The portions are very generous and the curry sauce rich, so it's no easy task to get through the whole lot. I managed though, a testament to how much I was enjoying the food and the company.

It's very much a typical 'make your own bowl of food' from the heated serving dishes kind of place - no call for fancy presentation - though the duck is separated out for you, a process that usually really impresses me (easily entertained) but I think our waitress was fairly new, so it didn't have the speed or elegance that I've seen waiters achieve in the past.

Drinks: The Boyfriend shared a bottle of the House Red wine, which he said was very enjoyable.

Price: It was £20 per head for starter, main, rice and two shared bottles of the cheaper wine.

Overall: This is our only sit in and eat chinese restaurant, and has been a staple of celebratory nights out for me since I was seventeen. The fact that we keep going back time and time again says volumes about the quality of the food and the reasonable prices. It's not just because it's the only one, I promise.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Restaurant Review: The Cosy Club

Restaurant: The Cosy Club

Location: Bath, UK

General First Impressions: Having run through torrential rain to get there, anything warm and dry would have impressed, but the Cosy Club was particularly cosy, with lovely sofas and big chairs with cushions for added comfort, quirky decorations and a sort of old converted loft space feel.

I was charmed immediately by the place, and enjoyed sitting outside on the balcony (sheltered, obviously) at the waiting table and at the table we eventually ate at - everywhere in the restaurant was nice.

Main: No starters or deserts this time, just a Tapas main course. At 3 for £8 this was a fairly reasonably priced main. I chose Roasted Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash with Goats Cheese, Pan Fried Haloumi, Corgettes and Peppers with Rose Harrisa Dressing and Falafels with Red Onion and Coriander Yoghurt Dip.

The Tapas were beautifully presented in individual bowls on a wooden carrier, though the waiters did get the bowls mixed up between me and a friend. It was easily sorted though, as each of the bowls just had to be swapped for the right one. Being veggie, I do get a bit concerned about cross contamination, but the bowls kept everything nicely separate.

The Tapas was served with fresh ciabatta bread. I really enjoyed the falafel and sweet potato dishes, though I was disappointed by the haloumi - it was a bit oily and I wasn't keen on the sauce.

Drinks: It's worth mentioning that the drink you can see in the photograph is a Cherry Bakewell Cocktail, which was totally disgusting in the best sort of way. It really did taste like a Cherry Bakewell. There were other cocktails on the menu, my favourite being the Juno Rapple, which was a deliciously fruity mixture and very refreshing after the run in the rain.

Price: The drinks were typically quite expensive compared to other cocktail bars, but you could get a jug of cocktail for £18 which held at least four drinks' worth. Food was reasonably priced and, I gather from the rest of the party, mostly well enjoyed.

Overall: For something a bit different with a really good atmosphere, Cosy Club is a great place to go. The food isn't going to blow your mind, but for £8 a main, it's not exactly going to blow a hole in your bank account either.


Friday, 31 August 2012

Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

Dish: Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

Difficulty: Well, I only had to look up one thing on Google...

Utensils Used: More wooden spoons, nothing special

Cock Ups: 2

Serves: 4-6

Recipe Book: Back to River Cottage Veg Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I seriously need to buy/borrow some different cook books.

Cooking: There was extra pressure in the Disaster Kitchen, as this meal was being made specially for guests. Okay, the guests were Mash and George, my cake slaves, and they knew my cooking standards very well from the Simple Chocolate Cake disaster, but I wanted to make a good effort.

I let them choose the recipe, only asking that they didn't chose something I'd done before, so I could blog about it here. They picked this cauliflower curry so I figured it would be relatively painless, given I'd almost successfully made a cauliflower curry just a week ago.

The recipe called for about 800g of cauliflower - described as one 'Medium-Large' cauliflower in the recipe. I bought a large one, and it quickly became clear that I had way too much when it wouldn't fit in the pan I was meant to be bringing it to a 'rolling' boil in.

This meant it took a very long time for the cauliflower to come to the boil - something the recipe made feel somewhat more instantaneous. So by the time I was taking them off the heat, straining and putting back in the pan to keep warm, there was no real need to be keeping them warm, as everything else was already ready. Oh well.

Also, cutting cauliflower is a very messy business. Is there a tidier way of doing it??

While the cauliflower was crawling slowly towards boiling point, I heated some sunflower oil (only as the recipe specified because it was what I happened to have...) and added 3 chopped onions. Except I did 4 because my onions were really small. Four chopped garlic cloves (goddammit recipes! I have a garlic crusher now...) and 1 teaspoon of freshly grated (cough, powdered) ginger were added, and the mix was then sautéd (that's what I had to look up on Google - it means to fry at a high temperature in a little oil to preserve flavour) for ten minutes.

Two teaspoons of ground coriander, two teaspoons of cumin, two star anise (an ingredient I had never used before) and a large pinch of dried chilli flakes (cough, chilli powder) were added, along with seasoning, then cooked for another five or so minutes. Note the cauliflower in the corner - it is producing some steam, but not yet boiling, even by this point.

A tin of plum tomatoes, chopped, were then added. Which makes no sense to me - why didn't it just ask for a tin of chopped tomatoes? Is there a difference?? Apart from saving me a job... Then 400g of chickpeas. I have no idea if I had 400g, as I looked for a tin in Morrisons, but they didn't sell them, so I had to raid Mum's freezer. Lucky she had them really. Not getting the recipe far enough in advance - cock up number 2.

The cauliflower were then added, plus enough water to almost cover the lot. The recipe said 100-200ml, but I just used the water I used to swill the juice out of the tomato tin. The mix was then brought to a simmer and left to cook for ten minutes or so.

Half a 'good handful' of fresh coriander, chopped, along with two teaspoons of garam masala were then stirred in.

I set my new table...

While adding copious amounts of water to the rice, which I had seriously over catered for, and waited for my guests to arrive.

Serve with a sprinkling of fresh coriander and warm naan.

Washing Up Required: Not too bad really.

Result: Quite adventurous in terms of ingredients, but oddly it tasted quite bland. I don't know if that's my cooking or the recipe... Probably my cooking. But it mostly tasted of tomato. Very fresh and healthy though, and not unpleasant.

Considering the extra pressure, I was pleased. Especially given I was suffering with a bad cold. I was very careful, not wishing to poison my guests, and made frequent use of my antibacterial hand gel:

...that's right next to a paintbrush in white spirit. Oh God, my kitchen is so unhygienic.

Taste Test: Maisie, being my kind sister, said the dish was very tasty. George said it had an odd flavour in it that he didn't like. Trying to work it out, he decided in the end it was the chickpeas...

Yes, they did pick the recipe.

The Boyfriend, usually terse and abrupt, did ask if I wanted his honest opinion, which turned out not to be that bad anyway.

'It's not exactly spicy, is it? It's more herby than a curry. I like the cauliflower, though.'

I think perhaps he was holding back for the benefit of our guests...

As I said, I found it a bit bland for all the spices that went into it, but it was a perfectly pleasant meal.

Overall Verdict: Quite easy to make, and very healthy. If chickpeas weren't such a pain in the arse to prepare, I'd make it again.

Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

New Table

Look out. The Disaster Kitchen is now open for dinner parties!

Got a new table (that doesn't tilt like a seesaw when you lean on it) from Freecycle. It's a bit bashed, but a bargain. Now to entice some foolish guests round...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Curry

Dish: Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Curry

Difficulty: My friend described it as foolproof. Hahaha...

Utensils Used: Wooden spoon plus a plastic one for serving

Cock Ups: 2

Serves: Two, with a little extra left over for lunch tomorrow

Recipe Book: Recipe kindly provided by Mel :)

Cooking: So it was definitely long overdue that I got back on the cooking wagon. With our impromptu holiday and other commitments, we've barely spent an evening together. This was a perfect dish to share while watching some House on DVD. Well, it would have been if I was anywhere near a competent cook...

Looking down the recipe, there didn't seem to be anything I hadn't done before, so I started chopping and frying an onion in oil for 2-3 minutes with great confidence. While the 2-3 minutes were ticking down, I realised I still don't have a garlic crusher (d'oh) and chopped a clove of garlic instead, mushing it slightly with the flat side of the blade.

Then came the big cock up. The recipe calls for two tablespoons of curry powder and 4 teaspoons of flour. So I was busy putting in four tablespoons of curry powder, and realised my error just as the last one went in. I suppose it could have been worse, but the onions were very well coated with powder.

Next I had to cube 350g of sweet potatoes. After peeling them, which was a mission in itself, I realised I had no idea how to cube something, and proceeded to make strange rectangular/triangular shapes out of the orange sweet potato flesh. I also realised I had no idea how to turn a cauliflower into 350g of florets, but managed to get somewhere with both in the end.

Meanwhile, a further realisation - this time on the inadequacy of my equipment rather than my skills - came in the shape of my 500ml jug, which could not make 850ml of vegetable stock without a quick bit of maths. Fortunately, I was always quite good at maths.

The stock and the cauliflower and sweet potato were then added to the frying onions. I realised my pan was far too small (cock up two) and had to switch everything over into a bigger one.

The mixture was then brought to the boil and left to simmer for 15 minutes, boiling off a bit of the water and thickening the sauce nicely. Then, I chopped 100g of green beans (actually, they were dwarf beans, but I'm not sure there's a difference, except the dwarf beans were on special offer in Morrisons) and found a packet of Uncle Ben's rice (I know it's cheating, but I'd already used my good pans...)

The beans were added to the mix, along with a tablespoon of garam masala, and cooked for a further three minutes - just long enough for microwave rice to cook and be served, it turns out, how convenient. Serve with a slice of lime.

Washing Up Required: Not that much (note the jug and Brita Filter in the background are the detritus of other adventures) though do add on an extra pan. If you're chronically stupid like me. Or want to cook your rice.

Result: I was really pleased with how it looked and smelled - delicious.

Taste Test: The Boyfriend complemented the appearance of the dish, its healthiness and its 'difference' to what we normally eat. He wasn't too happy about the spiciness though, saying it left a rather overpowering taste of 'chip shop curry sauce' in his mouth.

That would be the two extra tablespoons of curry powder then...

He did request that I make it again, which is a first.

I'm a bit more spice tolerant than him and thought it was really nice. I liked the way the lime complimented the dish, which is saying something because usually I'm strongly against mixing savoury and sweet.

Overall Verdict: A really tasty, simple and pretty quick to make dish. Thanks very much, Mel! :)

(very badly photographed) Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Curry

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Restaurant Review: Shis

Restaurant: Shis

Location: Porto, Portugal

General First Impressions: Located by the sea front in the beautiful city of Porto, Shis has a lot going for it in terms of location. When we arrived the sun was setting, casting a beautiful glow of colour across the sea, easily visible through the glass walls of the restaurant.

The inside of the restaurant was modern and clean and we were well looked after by staff from the moment we sat at the table, provided with fresh bread rolls, butter and other dips while we perused the menus and chose drinks.

Starter: For my starter, I chose a goats cheese nest with pepper coulis. I was really impressed with the presentation - the dramatic orange of the coulis, the drizzle of balsamic vinegar and the nest, which it turned out was a very accurate way of describing the container of the goats cheese.

I really enjoyed all the flavours of this dish - the sweetness of the pepper coulis against the strong taste of goats cheese, the salad and the balsamic vinegar also complimenting nicely. The nest thing was a bit hard to eat - it didn't cut up nicely - but that was more than offset by the presentation and the taste.

Main: There was a limited choice of vegetarian options, including a vegetarian sushi which I was a bit scared by, so I went for a staple classic of Mushroom and courgette risotto. Not many members of my family are risotto fans, but I quite like it.

Of course, it doesn't really matter how you present risotto - it's always going to look pretty much like a plate of sick, so I'll concentrate on the flavours. It was very rich, creamy without being too stodgy. The shaved parmesan at the top added a nice kick to it, and I enjoyed the little bits of courgette mixed in amongst the mushrooms.

Dessert: As I'd been unable to sample many of the traditional delights of Portuguese cuisine, I decided to have Pecado Do Convento for my dessert. Literal translation: Sin of the Convent.

This entailed a sharp tangerine ice cream, a spongey thing not unlike a swiss roll with an orange sauce, and that jelly thing on the end. The jelly thing is made of egg and sugar. A lot of sugar. No one was able to give me a more specific recipe or description than that.

The roll was lovely, perfectly sweet and a nice orangey tang to it. The jelly stuff was nice but the sort of sweet that makes your teeth ache. Fortunately, the tangerine ice cream had a bit of bite to it, so by alternating mouthfuls of the ice cream and jelly you could enjoy both flavours without being overwhelmed by either.

I did enjoy it, though the jelly was a bit much. I don't think I'd be in a rush to eat it again, but as an experience of a local traditional dessert, I was pleased to finish my meal with it.

Price: I didn't pay, so I can't really comment on the price. I think it's medium to expensive (though my view of that is coming as someone with 77p in their bank account, so perhaps it would be a little less expensive to others) but for the atmosphere, the location and the food, it's definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in Porto.

Overall: A great restaurant that I really appreciated being treated to. Good food, good location and I was fortunate enough to have good company too!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Food of Portugal

One of the most challenging things about being vegetarian is going abroad. I've been to mostly European countries, but also South Africa during my years as a vegetarian, and I've found myself in some interesting situations.

Once on a day cruise trip, I was handed my lunch - a plate of salad with a cut of meat. I asked for the vegetarian option, had my plate taken off me, the meat removed, and the plate handed back. And I've lost count of the amount of times I've had to explain that fish is not a vegetable.

I'm not a squeamish, or particularly strict vegetarian. I'm not bothered by people cooking meat, or by people eating meat, and I won't be too concerned if I think my food has touched something meaty. I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals, or because I don't like meat, so it really doesn't break my heart to have a bit of meat juice on my salad, particularly when I'm abroad and I know it's likely to be an issue.

The Boyfriend and I travelled out to Portugal last week, spending a few days with family who live over there. I know from previous conversations that Portugal is a very meat and fish heavy country, so I was intrigued as to what I would get. While there, the Boyfriend and I both made some interesting foodie discoveries.


Natas are like little pastry treats you have with coffee. They are very, very sweet to offset the bitter coffee taste. Now, I don't like coffee, so I didn't have that to offset the sweetness, but I really wasn't complaining.

They were delicious. Like egg custards, in a way, but really not because I don't like egg custards. The filling in the middle was more like just custard, but much richer. I enjoyed eating these immensely.

Tornedo and Picanha

The Boyfriend enjoyed the meaty offerings. I won't cook it at home - not out of any principle, just because I fear I might kill him with it - so he took every opportunity to get his meat fix. Two new things he tried were Tornedo, which was like a small, but very thick steak.

He also had the opportunity to try some home cooked Picanha, a Brazilian dish the Portuguese have adopted. It's a specific cut of meat, cooked only on the outside, so it's very rare in the middle.

I had some delicious vegetarian alternatives, some of which I'll talk about in more detail in a restaurant review I have planned. Overall, the Boyfriend and I both thoroughly enjoyed the foods Portugal had to offer, and it was very interesting to learn about the different traditional dishes.


And despite my vegetarianism, my mouth was watering when the Boyfriend and our hosts had a Francesinha (literal translation: Little French Girl, though there is nothing little, French or girly about it).

A sandwich, swimming in a tomato sauce, containing two different types of sausage, beef steak and ham, topped with a fried egg and cheese. A heart attack on a plate, but it looked so good.

Almost enough to make me waver from my vegetarianism. Almost.

(Note: All photos taken from Google, as I stupidly didn't have the foresight to take photos myself.)