Hot potato. Hot potato

There is nothing more disappointing in life than a soggy, flaccid potato. Yes I just used the word flaccid. Whether it be chip or roastie, parmentier or croquette.

We want our potatoes crispy and we want them now.

I, as usual, put out the question out to the great unwashed about how to make potatoes crispy and some of the answers were surprising. Everyone immediately went into a discussion of roasties rather than anything else so for the rest of this blog we’re talking about how to make roast potatoes crispy.

Mother would have been appalled at the answer as no-one said lard and in the Lawlor household our Christmas roasties are done in lard, after which we all lie on the sofa wanting to die for the next fourteen hours.

There were a couple of themes throughout the discussion, firstly, let them dry.

A true crispy potatoes take time, and love, but mainly time. They need to be lovingly parboiled (someone tried to tell me it was part-boiled the other day. WRONG) then left to steam dry before being tossed in some form of fat. This drying technique is something Delia has always told me to do, but, shockingly I have always ignored due to normally being so impatient to get on with making the roast, but as per usual St Delia is correct. Let them steam dry.

Then, the main debate is and I guess always has been, what fat do we roast the roasties in? Is it oil? If so, WHICH KIND? Is it goose fat, beet fat, duck fat, some other gout inducing fat? Or is it controversially as one friend suggested, butter. The guy who sharpens Sheffield’s best knives swears by duck fat, Jay Rayner whom I trust in all things uses vegetable oil (which I was mildly surprised by) my chef friend gave me a scientific breakdown including how long to peel them before you want to cook them but was torn between goose fat and duck fat.  


I was entranced by the idea of roasting my potatoes in butter, I will find an excuse to use butter in anything, and I mean, anything. I love butter, anyone who’s been in the same room as me for more than 3 seconds will know I love butter, on in everything, in everything and so when someone put forward the fact that she does hers in butter I jumped at the chance. Let me tell you they were glorious. Housemate was horrified that I’d managed to find yet another way to use butter. They were wonderfully coloured, wonderfully crispy BUT they didn’t taste like the roast potatoes of days gone by.

I also take issue with goose fat, whilst they taste amazing they also feel greasy. When I use goose fat everything gets covered in a thin layer of fat that won’t go away; the tray, the oven, the sides, the cat. Lard is similar but I also feel like my vital organs are covered in that layer of fat. To me either roasting them in the juices of meat or good old olive oil is the way to go.

The definitive top three roastie tips seemed to be:

  • Let them be dry: If I took away one thing from my questioning was that the potatoes must be dry when they go in the oven. As said above this is something I’ve not done before but I WILL be doing from now on

  • To oil or not to oil: The fat almost seems to be irrelevant, the thing to learn is make it hot, really hot. Super hot. Smoking hot. The cool potato hitting the hot fat is what seems to matter

  • Fluff it up, fluff it up: I read an article the other day that said it doesn’t matter whether you give your spuds a good shake or not. The public disagree. Pretty much every person polled said that you should tap, shake, fluff our spuds before they are put into roast

 

Advertisements

& butter……

I’ve been thinking a lot about butter recently. Not that I’m not always thinking about butter, because, I am. I love butter. I’m a butter purist, this is a margarine free zone thank you very much. Feck off flora, carry on clover, yes I can believe it’s not butter thank you. A horrifying amount of my daily food involves butter, I love baking with it, slathering it lavishly on toast, making sauces glossy with it and just generally making life better with it.

The reason, however, I’ve been thinking more and more about butter though is because sadly, my grandma is not doing so well. This woman is a force of nature, a true matriarch and the woman that taught me to love butter. It’s stuff of family legend that June spreads her butter so thick on toast you can see teeth marks in it and I can totally relate. So it seemed like a cruel joke when I was sat in the doctor’s office being told that due to acute stress (it’s been an intense few weeks) I was suffering with IBS. Cut out dairy especially and anything inflammatory for a couple of weeks, take these nice pills and see how you go.

“I’m sorry. Did you just say cut out dairy?”

“Yes, just for a couple of weeks, you are lactose intolerant, it says so on your records. Probably best to ditch it for a couple of weeks till things calm down”

Now, the fact that I’m lactose intolerant (MILDLY. I say MILDLY lactose intolerant) is something I very regularly ignore. Infact. Always ignore. I love dairy, it’s my favourite. A meal isn’t a meal without cheese, butter, sour cream, creme fraiche *insert other dairy related product here* but here I was being told that for my upset stomach to calm down this was a good idea. I was devastated, lost, confused, hurt beyond all natural cause and reason and then, I saw the challenge. It’s been months since I’ve written, days since I’ve tried to cook something new and as yet again my life is about to drastically change I have always sought solace in experimenting with new food. This is just the universe telling me to get my cooking head on again try something new and write about it. So, here I am, three days in, haven’t killed anyone yet. Yet being the operative word. I’m going to do a series of blogs throughout this couple of weeks around my journey of going dairy free, i’m nervous and excited, there’ll be terrible baking exploits, an exploration of dairy free cheese in its many forms, a dalliance with Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines which naturally involve less cheese. So please send your dairy free ideas and recipes my way.

 

Let’s see how this goes and no I’m not counting mayo as dairy.

How do you measure a year?

 

“Five-hundred, twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure – measure a year?

In daylights (365)? In sunsets (same)? In midnight’s (see before)? In cups of coffee (too many to count)?”

The opening lyrics to one of my favourite songs struck me as an apt opening on my reflection of the year this blog has now been alive. Rent puts it perfectly, how do you measure a year? Should I measure it in successes? That actually, when I write them down are bigger than I ever thought they could be, or is it more accurate to work in failures? Which were also many and some, may argue, more spectacular. There were times I cried too much over silly things, rushed into even sillier decisions and there was an unfortunate incident with a window. Please don’t ask.

Whilst, I like to think, I am a positive person, it is actually very easy to get wrapped up in the loss’s we suffer every day; I’ve drifted apart from friends whom I thought I would always be close, I’ve not been to the gym anywhere near as often as I wrote in my aims for the year and even though I promised myself I’d be more sensible in 2016/17 still made some spectacularly stupid choices. I’ve loved, lost, celebrated and mourned all throughout this year, however, one thing that has always kept me focused was this blog. It sounds ridiculous because I probably don’t post on it anywhere near as often as I should, or, more importantly, so much as I’d like. Loving food and writing about food has defined my year and defined me. I have thrown myself off of heights that used to scare me…….literally, I jumped out of a plane, which, incidentally was funded by a foodie adventure. I’ve reviewed places I used to revere and have cooked things harder than I thought I could achieve. I whipped my first real meringue, hosted my own supper club for 35 very loved one’s, made a dessert worthy of MasterChef Australia and for the first time focused in on what I’d like to do with my life. Be around food.

I’ve managed to involve food in all areas of my being, I’ve hosted friends and family, catered for work events, cooked for charity and baked recipes I knew would fail just so that I could be real in my writing. I started this originally as a channel to discuss my love of food but it’s become so much more. It’s become something that has given me confidence in really low times and brought me back down to earth when I was probably becoming too lofty, and, whilst it sounds about as sickening as eating three sticky toffee puddings in a row it’s also very true.

I could wax lyrical about how much this blog has meant to me, but I should probably focus on the food and write about my foodie highs and lows this year:

Lows

Start with the bad news eh?

  • Everyone’s obsession with coconut: Especially in 2016, coconut was freaking everywhere. In puddings, savouries, in oils and butters. Frankly, I want it no-where so if we could move onto another ‘health food’ craze that would be grand
  • Chia Seeds: See above
  • Being deemed a snob: I’ve loved writing about food but it does now seem to have given me a label of ‘food snob’. I think the term you’re looking for is; ‘has taste’18871429_10154779643851849_1716247826_n
  • Brexit: Well that just ruined everything didn’t it
  • Cheese Soufflé: Imagine going to your dream restaurant, you’ve thought about this day for years, you practically wet yourself you’re that excited. You sit down, someone is literally employed to pull your chair out for you. The first course is the restaurants signature dish. They’ve served it since the dark ages of when Michelin first existed, it’s renowned across the world as a delicacy and…………. you HATE it. Not just don’t like it, but literally can’t stand it, think it tastes, looks, smells hideous. You begin to question your palate, who you are, what you think you know and why on earth you’re being allowed in a restaurant with not only 1 or 2 but 3 Michelin stars. You’ve loved the chef since you can remember and yet you hate his signature dish? Is there anything more disappointing? It’s ok though because the rest of the menu makes up for it. Panic over.  

Highs18816171_10154779647211849_1029948589_n

  • Eating at my first Michelin starred restaurant: I was actually nervous walking in,what if they realised I “didn’t belong”, made even worse by hating the first course and jumping out my skin when someone was there to push my chair in. I had to be banned by my Mother from taking photos but it was bloody amazing. Sadly since 18834751_10154779650491849_1794121632_nwe went it’s come out he doesn’t pay his staff minimum wage. Shame on you.
  • The Wick at both ends: This was probably my first real invited review and again I was so nervous, I loved every second of it, took some of the best photos I’ve ever taken and felt so privileged. The food was pretty decent too
  • Running my own supper club: Spurred on by friends, loved ones and unlucky boyfriend of the time I was encouraged into running a supper club for 35. It was extremely stressful but wonderful and an experience I’ll never forget and can’t wait to repeat
  • The first time somebody asked my advice on a recipe: “Oh you know about these things” Hoping that no-one realises I learn most of my stuff from MasterChef Australia

Thank you to everyone who’s helped me. Those that I see every day and those that I don’t. Thank you for putting up with me and I can’t wait for my next foodie adventure.

A story of salmon….

It’s a Sunday night, I’m sat in my dining room, glass of wine in hand, staring at the wasteland that used to be my kitchen. The top of a food processor is discarded on the floor, knives strewn all over, half chopped bunches of coriander and parsley looking sad on top of the cooker and a singular, mangled & lonely lemon. The utter devastation of my kitchen is all down to one man, one man whose face is grinning at me frustratingly from the front cover of the book I got this weeks dreaded recipe from. Jamie Oliver. I say his name with narrowed eyes and a hiss in my voice due to my current state stress.

The reason I’m in desperate need of yet another glass of wine (this would be my third large, so sorry Mother) is that I challenged myself to do one of Jamie’s 30 minute meals and actually try and make it in 30 minutes. I knew this probably wasn’t going to be possible but I didn’t realise quite how infuriating and anxiety inducing it would be.

I took my time carefully going through the book and picking which recipe I was going to wage war on. After discussion with one of the housemates we settled on ‘Crispy Salmon, Jazzed-up rice, baby courgette salad, gorgeous guacamole, berry spritzer’.

My first annoyance with this recipe is that it has over 20 ingredients. OVER 20 JAMIE. This is supposed to be a mid week meal, now some of these are staple ingredients that you probably have in your your cupboard but on the other hand how many people, on average, have fennel seeds just lying around? As usual I will go through the recipe step by step below but I’m just going to put it out there this recipe took nearly 50 minutes. Which is not 30. It also takes 8000 different pans, chopping boards, food processor etc. Oh, and finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was serving rice on a chopping board, this is not normal or productive. In any way.

Ingredients:

SALMON
2 long peppers, red & yellow
A bunch of spring onions
2 fresh red chillies
1 x 1kg fillet of salmon, skin on, scaled and pin-boned
1 lemon
Fennel seeds

SALAD                                                                                                 RICE
1 lemon                                                                                                1 mug of basmati rice
A couple of sprigs of fresh mint                                                     1/2 a 450g jar of red peppers
1-2 red chillies                                                                                    A few sprigs of fresh basil
400g baby courgettes                                                                        Balsamic vinegar

GUACAMOLE                                                                                     EXTRAS
4 spring onions                                                                                  1 pack of tortilla wraps
A small bunch of fresh coriander                                                  1 tub of soured cream
1 fresh red chilli
1 clove of garlic
2 limes
2-3 small ripe avocados
1 handful of cherry tomatoes

SPRITZER
1 punnet of blueberries blackberries, or strawberries
Ice cubes
A few sprigs of fresh mint
A bottle of sparkling water

DISCLAIMER – So, to be honest with you reader; I did not use baby courgettes, shocking and appalling I know but my local morrisons only had full sized courgettes. Plus I hate fennel. I loathe it in all it’s ani-seedy forms and so I didn’t use the fennel seeds on top of the salmon. Also shocking. Finally, Morrisons let me down again and refused to sell me 1kg of salmon and so I had to settle for salmon fillets.

TO START – Get all your ingredients and equipment ready. Fill and boil the kettle. Turn the grill up full whack. Put a saucepan on a medium heat. Put the standard blade in the food processor

Let the panic begin. Does this count in the 30 minutes or do I actually have to be cooking for it to take 30 minutes!? My grill is awful it’s going to take 30 bloody minutes to heat up

SALMON – Pour a couple of lugs of olive oil into a large roasting tray. Halve and deseed the red pepper. Slice the pepper and the bunch of spring onions into 2 cm pieces. Roughly chop the chillies. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of the salmon, season and finely grate over some lemon zest. Rub these flavours all over the salmon, then wash your hands. If necessary, halve the salmon so it fits in the roasting tray, then lay skin side up and arrange the slices vegetables around it. Whack under the grill on the middle shelf and set the timer for 14 minutes.

I’m sorry, since when was a ‘lug’ a form of measurement!? Last time I checked if I was lugging something, I was punching it. What do you mean wash my hands Jamie I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR WASHING

RICE – Put the rice into a medium saucepan with a pinch of salt and cover by 1.5cm with boiling water. Put the lid on, then turn the heat right up and leave to cook for 7 minutes. Once cooked, take off the heat and leave to steam for 7 minutes, still covered with the lid.

My mother drilled the Delia Smith recipe for cooking rice into me from a young age, old friends, housemates and even ex boyfriends have begged me for the recipe and the secret to cooking rice. I feel like i’m betraying St Delia by cooking rice differently! 7 minutes!? What madness is this!? But i’ll behave and follow the recipe

SALAD – Squeeze the juice of ½ a lemon into a large serving bowl and add a couple of lugs of extra virgin olive oil and a good pinch of salt & pepper. Finely chop the mint leaves and ½ a chilli and add to the bowl. Speed-peel as much of the baby courgettes as you can over the dressing and put whatever is left behind on a large wooden chopping board. Take the bowl of salad to the table but don’t toss until right before you are ready to serve.

Speed-peel my courgettes and half my fingers at the same time as I realise that I’ve already used a good whack of my time17622816_10154605410801849_311581703_o

RICE – Roughly chop and mix the jarred peppers and mint leaves on the chopping board with the remaining courgette. Add a pinch of salt & pepper, a good lug of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

I’m sorry. Did you just tell me to pour liquid on a chopping board………this feels like madne….oh yep….look what happened……..

SPRITZER – Blitz the berries to a puree in the food processor. Half fill a large jug with ice cubes and rip the leaves from a few sprigs of mint. Put a sieve on top of the jug and quickly push the blitzed berries through, using the back of a spoon. Discard whatever is left behind, then top the jug up with sparkling water, stir and take to the table. Quickly rinse out the processor

This spritzer is utterly pointless and a massive waste of your precious minutes in this challenge. By sieving the puree you take out ALL THE FLAVOUR and so it becomes pointless and just a jug of sparkling water.

SALMON – When the 14 minutes are up, take the tray out of the oven. Using a knife and your fingers carefully peel the skin away from the flesh and flip it over. Add a pinch of salt and the fennel seeds. Turn the peppers over, then put the tray back under the grill and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the skin is really crispy.

Whilst severely burning your fingers

GUACAMOLE – Trim the spring onions and put then into the processor with most of the coriander, the chilli, a peeled clove of garlic, the juice of one of your limes and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Whiz up while you stone the avocados and quarter the tomatoes. Stop whizzing, and squeeze the avocado flesh out of its skin into the processor. Add the tomatoes and pulse until chunky. Put into a bowl and add more seasoning or lime juice to taste if needed. Take to the table with a few wedges of lime for squeezing over.

I DON’T HAVE TIME TO WASH ALL THE BLOOMING TINY STRAWBERRY SEEDS OUT OF THE FREAKING PROCESSOR. Really starting to feel the stress here as oh look it’s been 30 minutes, there’s stuff everywhere and nope I’m no where near done

RICE – Quickly fluff up the rice with a fork, then tip over the board of chopped veg and gently mix together. Take to the table. Put a griddle pan on a high heat

Whilst getting rice everywhere. Also I don’t know why my rice can’t be mixed with all these ingredients in a nice bowl, like a normal person, why does it need to be flat surface that means stuff goes everywhere!?!?!?!?!

17506157_10154605409751849_1672003202_n


SALMON
– Use tongs to carefully turn the crispy salmon skin back over. Season with salt & pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes

I feel like you told me earlier to cook the skin until crispy. This salmon is getting a lot of cooking time and the skin is no longer nicely crispy, it’s bordering on burnt

EXTRAS – Warm the tortillas one at a time in the griddle pan for a few seconds on each side. Tip the soured cream into a bowl, drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil and take to the table.

As if I have time for this rubbish

TO SERVE Take the salmon straight to the table and serve with the lovely salad

Lovely, stress inducing salad.
17692841_10154605409461849_149919791_o

As I said above, this entire process takes longer than 30 minutes. However, whilst I’ve be-moaned most of this the recipe itself in principle is actually great. Apart from the stupid spritzer, don’t waste your time or money (let’s face it, berries aren’t cheap). I’ve never used balsamic vinegar with rice but it’s amazing and I’ve never achieved crispy salmon skin before so know how to do it now. Rice goes in a bowl though Jamie. A bowl.

Getting my veg on

I must admit I have been feeling guilty. Now, feeling guilty is sadly nothing new for me, in fact, it’s how I’ve spent vast swathes of my life feeling over the years. Guilty that I wasn’t doing well enough at school, that I wasn’t a good enough friend/girlfriend/worker/writer, that someone misunderstood what I meant, that the relationship hadn’t worked because I just hadn’t tried hard enough etc. All of this negative guilt has lead to some interesting behavioural choices over the years and a tendency to message my housemates on a regular basis and ask them if in fact my nightmare of them no longer wanting to be friends with me because I am so annoying is coming true. It never is FYI. However, whilst all of this sounds self-pitying, self-serving even, my over-heightened sense of guilt does do me some favours every now and again.
I feel particularly guilty if I buy a £3 chicken from Morrisons, and whilst I can’t always afford organic, hand-fed, hand-plucked, cuddled by farmers chickens, I should probably be more thoughtful about where my food has come from and the life that it’s lead to get to my plate. It has been proven time and time again that the amount of meat we are eating is having a direct impact on our environment and everyone’s seen the hideous documentaries about chickens living in cages. So, one of my new year’s resolutions is to be more conscious of what I eat.

I tried to be veggie for a while last year and failed so miserably that I ended up sat in my room at 2am drunkenly crooning softly to a box of KFC. However, this year I’m trying again, not  because I think meat is unhealthy or that I need to restrict myself but because it makes me a more conscious eater. If I’m specifically avoiding an ingredient then I will think much more carefully and sustainably about the others involved. Currently I’m a week in, which is better than I did last year, and I’m feeling much more positive about it. I’m eating more fresh vegetables and am aiming to be much more adventurous in the ways I cook them. Just don’t ask me to walk past the rotisserie chickens in Morrisons, they smell so gosh darn good.

Every Sunday we eat together as a house, it’s become a bit of a thing for us, we call it family dinner and it’s something we’ve managed to stick to even when things are tough and life is trying. This week for Sunday dinner I’m creating something new, it’s easy to do my usual chicken (Can you tell I like chicken by the way) but as meat isn’t an option right now it’s time to think outside the box. After trawling through the internet and considering many options I’ve gone for a mushroom wellington. Pastry solves a myriad of ‘crappy week’ problems and is always a favourite in the house. We also all adore mushrooms and, for good measure, I’m sure I can find a way to sneak cheese in there somewhere.


Mushroom Wellington:

Ingredients, serves 3:

  • 3 large Portobello Mushrooms
  • Spinach
    Depends how spinachy you want it, but remember spinach is hideously annoying in the fact it shrinks like the wicked witch of the west when faced with water
  • Enough puff pastry to surround said large mushrooms, around 2 sheets of pre rolled puff pastry
    Don’t pretend you make your own puff pastry
  • 4 or five button/closed cup/chestnut mushrooms
  • Half a white or red onion
    Some people have a preference
  • Cheese of your choice
    Now yes, I realise this is horrifyingly vague, but some people wouldn’t appreciate me dictating that this recipe needs intensely strong blue cheese (which is great) some people would prefer the meltier quality of brie or the tang of a cheddar. So yes, cheese of your choice. The quantity is also dependent on how much you like of said cheese.
  • Butter
    Because what doesn’t need butter
  • Oregano
  • Salt and pepper
    Obviously

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees and line a tray with either non stick tinfoil or baking paper
    This WILL stick, don’t be tempted to not use anything, you’ll end up crying over losing the pastry bottom, sad.

  2. In a large frying pan put a generous pat of butter, salt, pepper and turn onto a medium heat to melt butter
    Who says butter pat!? Surely it’s knob…..oh wait….probably shouldn’t say that

  3. Once butter is melted place each of the portobello mushrooms face down in the pan, flip after a couple of minutes to that all surfaces are browned slightly
    Don’t over fry at this stage, this would be a disaster as it’s going to spend 40 minutes in the oven soon

  4. Move pan off the heat once the portobello mushrooms are cooked, chop closed cup mushrooms, onion and garlic as finely as possible. Add more butter to pan and fry all of these together
    Notice a theme in this recipe? Butter. This is NOT a dieting recipe. I repeat, abandon hope all ye who diet here

  5. Once mushrooms, onion and garlic are all browned add in around a tablespoon of oregano and then stir spinach in until wilted
    Always use more spinach that you think as it shrinks into absolutely nothing

  6. Put mushroom, spinach and onion mixture aside to cool. Light dust a surface with flour and lay out sheet of puff pastry
    Inevitably spill flour and cover the surface, yourself, the floor, ceiling, windows, neighbour’s house in flour in the process15995369_10154379735231849_1321945653_n

  7. Spoon three evenly distributed portions of spinach mixture onto the pastry with large gaps in between, place a slice of favoured cheese on top, lay mushroom flat side down over cheese and layer another slice of cheese. Repeat on all three spinach piles
    Don’t be tempted by putting toooo much cheese, remember this stuff melts and will go everywhere

  8. 15995657_10154379735406849_410709532_nLay second layer of pastry over all three piles and cut so three evenly sized parcels are formed. Fork the edges of each parcel and brush with egg. Pierce a hole in the top of each parcel to finish
    No egg wash = no golden brown = sad. Don’t forget the egg wash

  9. Place parcels in the pre-heated oven for around 40 minutes until golden brown and enjoy!
    GOOEY CHEESE JOY

15996291_10154379735701849_2132369624_n

Please feel free to email any feedback on this recipe or your favourite veggie recipes to erin_lawlor@hotmail.co.uk