Food Challenge Recipe 7: Red Cabbage

I’m a huge fan of vegetables, and red cabbage is one I rarely eat. At Christmas time I love to visit the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park because I can get spiced red cabbage as a side to one of the dishes they serve at the Oktoberfest tent.

When a friend received her Hello Fresh box at work, and had two lots of the recipe cards, she kindly allowed me to take a couple of the extra cards home – I think she saw the gluttony in my eyes when I saw one particular recipe.

It was for balsamic steak with wedges and red cabbage, and despite not eating steak at home, I was intrigued enough the try the recipe and switch the steak for chicken.

I won’t go into the chicken part of the recipe, because it’s incredibly un-photogenic (you’ll see) and the wedges were just wedges (with rosemary and they were delicious) but the real star here was that cabbage.

You start with half a small red cabbage, cut the stalk out and thinly slice. I didn’t slice mine nearly thinly enough, but we live and learn.

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I also sliced a small onion into half moons and this was thrown into a pot and cooked into a little oil over a medium heat. I cooked this until soft (about 5 minutes). I then added 1 tsp of mustard seeds and after about 30 seconds, when they started to pop, I added the cabbage.

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This was stirred together and then cooked down for about 5 minutes until soft (I think I could have cooked mine down for a little longer to be fair).

At this point I added 2 tbsp of white wine vinegar, a sprinkle of sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Then I popped on a lid and cooked for 5 minutes on a low heat. I then removed the lid and cooked uncovered for about 5 minutes.

Then it was ready to eat. This recipe was supposed to make enough for 2 people but it was easily enough for 4. I was eating it with every meal for the next couple of days! It was delicious though, so I didn’t mind.

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I warned you the chicken looked horrendous, but the rest was yummy. I glazed the chicken in the balsamic marinade for steak, but it didn’t really come through so it just tasted like plain chicken by the end!

I’ll give the recipe for the cabbage a 6/10 I need to cook less, chop it smaller and cook it longer next time!

Food Challenge Week 6: Ratatouille Linguine

The Disney reference in the title of this week’s dish was just a happy coincidence, I assure you. In fact I didn’t realise I had named a dish after two of the characters in the Pixar film Ratatouille until I was just about to start writing this post….. I’m obviously a little slow on the uptake.

So this week’s recipe is a variation on this recipe. I have changed it up a little, firstly because I tasted it and it needed tweaking and secondly because I don’t like spaghetti… Oh and also because the idea of nutritional yeast creeps me out – but this dish doesn’t need cheese (or any alternative) on top anyway. Who puts cheese on ratatouille??

I’ll preface this recipe with the fact that I don’t like either aubergine or courgette, but G-Man does so I thought I’d go with it.

When I begin a recipe, I always start off by preparing all the veg, chopping it up (as long as it won’t go bad before I get to use it) and measuring out anything I need to so I can be relaxed and chilled when I’m actually doing the cooking.

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I chopped up 1 small white onion, 1 small aubergine, courgette and a normal sized pepper. All into small chunks.

I don’t like to use garlic when I can avoid it because, as I’ve mentioned before, we don’t really enjoy the acridity garlic gives, in this household. So when I can, I’ll use garlic oil instead. I heated 1 tbsp of garlic olive oil in my deep frying pan and lightly browned the chopped veg.

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Then I added chopped tomatoes (400g can), water (480ml boiled), balsamic vinegar (1 tsp) and then linguine for 2 people (which I snapped in half for easier cooking and eating!)

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I brought this to the boil and then letter it simmer for 13 minutes, lightly stirring occasionally (at 10 minutes test the pasta and then add on time in 1 minute increments until the pasta is cooked how you like, if it’s not al dente yet)

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The sauce will have thickened and it’ll all come together. Then taste and season. I added pepper, sea salt and a small teaspoon of sugar to help the tomatoes along. Stir, taste and continue to season until it’s perfect.

Take it off the heat and stir in 1 tbsp of chopped fresh basil.

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It’s a sloppy dish to eat, this one, so no white shirts to be worn during dinner!

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We started eating and felt like something was missing. It needed a flavour a little deeper, so G-Man suggested the Waitrose Balsamic Vinegar glaze we have in the cupboard. It’s very versatile and can be used hot or cold, so we drizzled some over top and WOW was he right. The glaze added just the right amount of sweetness and depth and really complemented the dish.

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Clean plates all round! This recipe actually made enough for 3 people, despite it being measured out for two, so I took the leftovers to work one day in the week, and it was just as good the second time around!

I think I’ll definitely be making this again, and it’ll be just as good in the Summer as it has been in the Winter.

Yum yum! 9.5/10 for this recipe even though I don’t usually like aubergine or courgette!

Food Challenge Week 5: The Crispy Egg

I have a very hate/hate relationship with eggs. As a child the whites made me sick, and I’ve never really gotten over it. It’s a textural thing, whether the whites are boiled, fried, whatever, I just struggle.

When I started running I knew eggs were something I needed to try to get into my diet due to their protein content and also – I just love an egg yolk!

So I started scrambling them (with Worcester sauce in there to mask the taste), frying them (over-easy so there was no change of loose white on the top) and adding them into homemade fried rice. But even in all these ways, I had to really concentrate hard when it came to eating the whites, and give myself a kind of ‘mind over matter’ mindset in order to finish my meal.

A few years back, when I was reading the Smitten Kitchen’s blog, I was introduced to her Crispy Egg. The idea that I could potentially change the texture of the white and enable me to eat a fried egg without having to ‘go to my happy place’ was glorious.

I did however find the recipe intimidating. It’s an incredibly easy method, with only two ingredients (eggs and oil) but, as she says herself, it’s not for the faint hearted.

Well, on this day, as my lunch plans were egg on toast anyway, I decided to take the plunge. I took out my trusty heavy bottomed frying pan and spatula and followed her method. I was not disappointed.

You can visit the link above for her method, but in a nutshell, you get your pan smoking hot. Add a glug of oil and heat until it’s smoking. You then pop your eggs in, at which point they’ll spit and splatter at you and immediately start to bubble.

And then you just let them sit there without touching them, until the whites are opaque.

Once this is done, you’re good to go and can either flip them (I normally would but for the sake of pictures I didn’t this time) or remove them and place them on top of whatever you’re having. I went with toast.

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Can you see how crispy and bubbly those edges are? Granted mine might be slightly burnt, but the smokiness created by the charred bits was nothing short of glorious. I’ve never eaten a fried egg with such relish (or crunch)!

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Clearly I still had to add ketchup, but baby steps and all that.

Now, I will tell you about my casualty – don’t worry, I still have all fingers and the skin on my arm was unscathed by the hot oil….

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Apparently, my spatula wasn’t up to the task of the hot oil… so I’m in the market for a new (more robust) spatula, if anyone has a recommendation!

And once I’ve replaced this bad-boy, I’m sure crispy eggs will be back on the menu!

10/10 for this recipe!

Food Challenge Week 4: Russian Dressing & and Reuben Inspired Sandwich

So, I’ve made a one-pan meal, a potato salad and a dessert. I figured this week I’d make a dressing!

As previously mentioned, I love New York and a lot of the original flavours the food that comes from there brings. I’ve had a Reuben sandwich before, but never made the dressing that comes in it, so I thought I’d try my hand at that, and then make a sandwich (a Reuben with a twist) to eat it on!

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Russian dressing is super simple, and includes ingredients I already had in the house, so no doubt you’ll probably be the same. All it contains is mayo (80g) and then 1 tsp each of Worcester sauce, tommy k and mustard. Then mix it all together and hey presto!

The sandwich we created was made on rye bread, to keep it real, and we spread some dijon mustard on one side. We then added sliced turkey, Leerdammer cheese, pickled red slaw, and a good helping of Russian dressing on the other side.

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We had this with a heap of kettle chips on the side. I was very impressed with this sauce, and the sandwich altogether. I really love the red slaw we put on top. I know sauerkraut is traditional for a Reuben sandwich but as I said, this was our twist on it!

This is a dressing I’ll be trying again, and have eaten it since with breaded chicken steaks and it was really good!

I’ll give this recipe a 9/10 for it’s flavour and simplicity!

Top Diner

As a child there are certain little things that count as comings of age. Like the first time you’re allowed alone in the house at night without a sitter, or the first time you can go shopping with your friends and not need a parent chaperone. Well the first time you go to a place to eat out with your friends and pay the bill yourselves is definitely one of them.

I don’t remember how old we were, but I remember going to a place called Top Burger with my friend Jody, and ordering from the menu, eating and paying ourselves. We must have been aged about 12/13 or thereabouts.

Top Burger is just down the road from us. It’s in Bletchley town centre. You’ve heard of Bletchley. It’s the place where they cracked the German’s code in WW2 by using a machine called Enigma. The diner itself is more of a greasy spoon than a diner but it’s kitted out in all the diner style stuff it could muster in the 80’s. They serve burgers and chips and milkshakes. It’s all you need.

I have vague memories of eating there with my Dad when I was tiny. I remember begging my Dad to buy me a doll magazine because it had free doll clothes stuck on the front, and then sitting at a table with a milkshake, in that diner, excitedly imagining dressing my Barbies in the dresses and tops. I also remember being appalled at myself when I knocked my milkshake flying across the room (it probably wasn’t across the room but my humiliation has added drama and scale to the memory). The staff were happy to clean up and replace my drink for free, and probably assumed I was crying because my milkshake was gone – but it was only out of pure horror and embarrassment.

There was always this same old guy behind the grill wearing the white overall and hat like they wore in drive through diners in America. I remember the burgers tasting extra amazing because he lightly toasted the buns before putting it all together.

Just after the BSE crisis they changed the name of the place from Top Burger to Top Diner. I don’t know if the Mad Cow association was anything to do with it, but that was when it happened, so that was the assumption I made. I hadn’t eaten in that greasy spoon for around 15 years -until yesterday.

Jody and I are still friends. She moved away for a few years when she was studying, and I moved away once I was married but we have both now moved back, and despite us living about a mile from each other, we find it very hard to actually get together. So hard in fact that until yesterday I still had her 2010 Christmas present on my dining room table. So after finding out that we both has this week off on holiday, we made plans to get together and as a celebration of both our birthdays (and apparently Christmas) I suggested we walk to Top Diner for old time’s sake and see if it was still as good as we remembered.

We walked in to find the place packed, including the tables outside. We sat at a table and I looked around. And much to my delight was the same old guy behind the grill! He’s obviously in some kind of wonderful burger time warp that prevents him from getting any older. We had a look at the menu, which to be honest could be the same one from the 80’s (including the prices). All around the very small diner were staff asking people if they’d been served, taking orders, chatting and ALL smiling. We’re still not sure what some of the items on the menu were though…..

A guy took our order and then Jody and I decided to swap presents. One of the ladies working there came over and spotted our Christmas wrapping paper. We explained that we didn’t get to see each other very often and so we were having Christmas now. She asked if we lived far away from each other, to which we answered no, we live just up the road. She thought we were insane but seemed to love it! Jody and I, apparently have no shame…..

The food, when it arrived was gorgeous. Buns still toasted, onions still had a crunch, red sauce was radioactive red (not good for my eczema but tasted great!) and Pepsi syrupy sweet. And all for a snip of a price. In fact the tip I gave was about half the cost of my whole meal, which goes to show how good the price was.

It’s not the kind of place you could eat at weekly without blocking an artery, but it was so good to go back and see the place hadn’t changed. The staff were amazing, the food was great, the prices were ridiculous… and all of this has been just down my road for all of my life. I love that this Mom and Pop style diner is so close and I love that the same people still run it. I love that it used to be a Wimpy chain burger spot taken over by a family and I love that it’s still holding loads of my memories from my childhood. It might not be the classiest place in the world but it really made me smile. Especially because it was just the same as that first time.