St Ives Beer Festival 2011

This evening I went to a local CAMRA beer festival. It cost me £3 to get in, and another £2.50 to ‘rent’ a glass (but you can keep it if you don’t want your money back), but since I said “I’m the designated driver” I had free non-alcoholic drinks free all night. Nothing fancy, just lemonade or cola, but at least there’s some benefit to being the driver, for a change.

I always have a go on the tombola, there’s always one at these events, and usually I end up winning another pint glass (which is always useful), some beermats or a useless old Good Beer Guide. This time I won a Good Beer Guide 2010 (last time the one I won was about 5 years out-of-date), which I proceeded to give away to a friend as soon as I saw him. I also won a recipe book, which although I would never have bought if I saw it in the shop, I’m actually very happy I won it.

From a quick skim through, it’s not all about drowning good food in bitter, it looks to be an all-round recipe book, with only the occasional recipe calling for a ale as a main ingredient. Many of the recipes say the dish ‘accompanies’ a good beer, as opposed to containing it within the recipe.

I’m not a drinker (out of choice), but I’m not adverse to cooking with alcohol if a recipe calls for it, so I may try one of the recipes soon.

Texmex meals for lazy bastards with little time

Texmex Dinners For Lazy Bastards Some years ago, when I started working from my studio flat to my current employer, I ate nothing but frozen pizza margaritas with some added extra Finnish blue cheese for a week. I was fairly busy, stressed out and didn’t have an inspiration to cook for myself anything elaborate. I mentioned the problem of my bad dinner habits to a coworker who asked me a question: “Why don’t you try texmex burritos?” I’ve loved Mexican ever since my sister introduced me to it in the early 90’s in California, and I quickly saw the benefits of the idea. I’ve cooked countless amounts of them to force me to eat veg and meat instead of just frozen pizzas and pasta with cheese.

Ingredients

  • Wheat tortillas or wraps
  • 400 g minced beef, stir fry beef or chicken strips, quorn or soya protein strips
  • 1 pouch of Taco or Fajitas seasonings
  • Cottage cheese or Soured cream
  • Grated cheese
  • Salsa and/or guacamole
  • Salad, what ever mix floats your boat (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cabbage, carrot, peppers etc)
  • Optional ingredients:
    • refried beans or whole (kidney) beans rinsed
    • sweetcorn
    • mushrooms, tinned or fresh, fried with the meat and seasoned with it

Instructions
Fry the meat, add the seasoning. Warm up the tortillas lightly on a pan or microwave them soft, assemble with the meat and other ingredients. I fold my tortillas to burritos to have a bottom in a way that looks a bit like an envelope, so I try not to put too much filling in. Cottage cheese, soured cream and guacamole (depending on how spicy it is) work as a nice cooling agent and the optional beans or sweetcorn adds a bit bulk.

The brilliance of this food comes on the leftovers. From 400g of meat you get 4-8 burritos, depending on how much of the other stuff you put in. Single person eats from this 2-4 meals, with minimal work, very little pot washing and a possibility for endless modifications.

Texmex Dinners For Lazy Bastards

I’ve had this in different ways three times this week. To finish the leftovers today, I decided to try out our new inverter microwave oven a bit more and filled my tortillas with the seasoned beef strips, cottage cheese, sweetcorn, green peppers and grated cheese. I then folded the tortillas to burritos, placed them in a microwave proof dish, poked a piece of linguine to keep the burritos folded (as I couldn’t find toothpicks) and just because there can never be too much cheese, sprinkled some on. Five minutes in our miracle microwave on combined grill/medium microwave and end came out a wonderful dish. Served with an extra large heap of salad, this was the best dinner of this week.

Tom Yum Gai

Tom Yum Gai

A type of food we love is Thai.  It’s quite a lot different from other Asian cuisines popular in the UK because there’s a lot more variation in tastes and flavours, which makes them extremely fragrant and colourful.  Thai curries and soups are pretty much the only thing I can cook pretty well without looking at the recipe every step of the way.  Something we cook regularly is Tom Yum Gai, a spicy chicken soup with a fragrant citrusy taste.

As we’ve eaten this in a lot of restaurants as well as cooking it with many tweaks, we’re constantly varying the ingredients and quantities based on the flavours and textures we fancy at the time, but I’ll describe the most common version we make, with some notes of tweaks you might want to try.

The recipe we based ours on is from Temple of Thai, which is a wonderful site for anyone keen on cooking thai dishes.

Ingredients

Serves 2 as a main course, 3-4 as a starter

  • 750ml of chicken stock – Works just as well using stock cubes
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 stick of lemongrass – For your own sanity, cut it into large chunks, crush them a little to bring out some of the juices, especially if you’ve got the slightly dry ones from a supermarket
  • 4-5 Kaffir lime leaves – These give a surprising amount to the fragrance of the soup
  • About an inch of Galangal slices – This is somewhat optional, but improves the flavour a little.  You can also use the paste if you can’t find fresh/dried slices
  • 4 tablespoons of lime juice – 2 limes should do it if you squeeze/press the lime before juicing
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 100g mushrooms (either sliced or quartered) – We put more because mushrooms are great in the soup.  I like button mushrooms but chestnut/closed cup mushrooms work just as well
  • 400g diced chicken (raw)
  • 2-3 finger/birdseye chillies
  • Halved cherry tomatoes – 6-8 is a good number, but the quantity is just a preference

Now, for some optional extras:

  • Shallots – Add at the second phase of cooking (along with the tomatoes) to stop them going too soft.  I’d suggest getting the longer ‘french’ variety rather than the small round ones.
  • Spring onion – Add at the second phase or at the end of cooking.  One thing to note is that it can get confusing to notice which bits are spring onion and which are lemongrass.
  • Whole/halved garlic cloves – Adds a little bit of flavour, but they go nice and soft and mild
  • Yellow sweet pepper (paprika) – adds to the colour of the dish and should be added in the second phase along with the tomatoes
  • Pak Choi (chinese cabbage) – It’s good in thai curries and isn’t too bad in this soup either, but this will wilt quite easily, so add it late to the cooking process

The process

There are 2 simple phases to cooking this soup.  The first involves boiling the chicken stock and adding the chicken, as well as all of the ingredients other than the tomatoes and chillies, then simmering for 10 minutes.  Then add the other ingredients (vegetables that don’t need much boiling) and simmer for another 5 minutes.  The recipe says to simmer without a lid, but the choice is yours.

Tom Yum GaiTom Yum Gai

That’s it, very simple… throw it all into a pot and leave it.  If you cook some Jasmine rice at the same time, it adds a great texture and makes the soup more substantial if you’re having it as a main course, as we usually do.  Just put some in the bowl before you dish out the soup.

Summer Beverages: Teas and Tisanes

I’m told rehydration is important in the summer. I’ve always been a lousy drinker and I honestly believe I have worse sense of thirst or dehydration than most people. Habit of drinking even non-alcoholic drinks in abundance is a learned skill for me, and at the ripe age of 30 I think I’ve finally caught the idea of how to keep myself hydrated. The trick is teas and tisanes (herbal and/or fruit infusions).

Teas and tisanes aren’t a new form of refreshments. Ice teas have been around forever, and today they’re sold in stores in bottles and cartons. The problem I have with store-bought stuff is that I don’t know what’s in them, even after reading the label. I try to keep my sugar intake in bare minimum and I’m not too big fan of all the other industrial flavourings, preservatives and acidity regulators and whatnots are put into such a simple thing as tea. So, I usually brew my own. There’s couple of tricks though.

I grew up watching my mum preserve juices and jellies for consumption in winter. I know how to preserve, and it was explained and taught to me when I could barely read. So, I preserve my tea, and make bulk batches of it in different flavours.

HOWTO: make refreshing, cool, naturally no-caffeine beverage Here in Finland a well-known grocery store of German origin, Lidl, sells orange juice with pulp in glass bottles like the one depicted on the left. They fit 0.75 liters of drink, but the most important bit is that they’ve got metal twist tops, with a bit of plastic in the inside of the top – and the mouth of the bottle is wide enough to fit two teabags in. I usually clip a clothes peg on the tab of the teabags to prevent them from dropping inside the bottle.

I love normal tea for iced teas, but sometimes I prefer to have non-caffeinated drinks. For that purpose I use chamomile, mint and rooibos (red bush) teas and infusions. Green tea is also nice sometimes. I usually sweeten my iced teas with raw fair trade sugar, honey or sometimes just the normal run of the mill table sweetener like Splenda or Truvia (of which I brought some from US with me).

HOWTO: make no-caffeine beverage, part 2, ingredients HOWTO: make no-caffeine beverage, part 3, ingredients, natural cane sugar

If you’re doing the drink in batches of more than one bottle that is going to be consumed immediately after it has cooled, hygiene starts to play a role in the making and preparing of the tea. The bottles have to be properly washed, and the lids sterilized in hot boiling water. Pouring a bit of hot water in the bottle and swirling it in it before starting the real beverage process is good for two reasons: killing bacteria even more, and also warming up the bottle a bit so it won’t break so easily for the temperature shock.

For preserving the trick is to fill the bottle up with water, let the tea steep for needed amount of time, and then top the bottle up until heaped. This will be messy, but it is essential there is absolutely no air between the liquid and the lid after twisting it close. When the liquid cools down, it takes less space and a vacuum forms inside the bottle, as shown in the next picture.

HOWTO: make no-caffeine beverage, part 4, containers and preservation 07.05.2008

After letting the tea bottles cool down in room temperature for a while, they can be refrigerated. My old fridge does overtime on the summer temperatures already so I try to let them cool down as much as possible before putting them in. Iced tea preserved this way and stored in a dark, cool place will be drinkable practically for months, but somehow mine doesn’t last more than few days…

Childhood summer memories from Finland

One of the few foods that contain potato which have remained with me after moving out from my childhood home is cooked, fresh new potatoes. In Finland it’s traditional summer food that is restricted to summer months, starting from Midsummer or so (if you prefer to use Finnish new potatoes). It’s a real Midsummer Feast delicacy and a cornerstone of Midsummer Party dining.

In Finland the new potatoes are sold in one form: with some soil still on them. You can get them from the market squares, quaint little stalls or just go to your local supermarket. The option of growing them yourself is of course also available; I hear they’re perfectly capable of surviving in a big pot on a balcony.

Ingredients: new potatoes The starting point is potatoes. In Finland, as said, they’re sold with some soil on them, so you need to scrub them. I prefer to scrub mine very well, so that there isn’t any grit grinding when I’m eating: I don’t peel my new potatoes at all. The tradition says that the potatoes should be put in boiling water with a pinch of salt and preferably with dill. I’m not too big fan of dill myself, limiting its use only to gravlax, so I’m not using any here either.

Ingredients: New Potatoes, Washed Potatoes N Stuff Potatoes N Stuff

When boiling the potatoes, remember to keep them covered with water, and not let the water boil too hard. While you’re boiling your potatoes, you’ve got time to blog, upload some photos from your camera and organize your Flickr collections… or whip up a salad, or a posh onion sauce.

My onion sauce isn’t all too traditional, what my mum used to serve was onions boiled a bit in milk with a dollop of butter. My sauce consists of all those, but also flour: I chop my onions, twirl them around in melting butter in a pan, add couple of teaspoonfuls of normal flour and mix again for few minutes, not browning the flour or cooking the onions, though. To this base some milk is added and cooked on low heat until it thickens a bit.

Onion Onion Sauce For New Potatoes

Then comes the serving part. The main thing is of course potatoes, mine took about 15 minutes to cook. They can be served in multiple ways:

This Way like I had them as a kid, with just butter

This Way The way I had them as a teenager, with raw onion and butter

This Way The way I’ve learned to understand as an adult, with pickled herring

Summer Potatoes Or with all the above and the sauce!