Beyond Burnt

Now I know anyone is capable of creating this little misdemeanor right? Even the greatest of cooks leave a little carbon now and again yes?

burn1But this? This takes a little time, a little extra special effort from even a terrible cook I’m sure you’ll agree:

burn2What could create such a disaster I hear you ask? Well apparently just pouring a bit of honey over some baking chicken does not honey roast chicken make. Oh no honey burns, like thick black tar…

Lesson learnt!

UPDATE:
And tonight I burnt sweetcorn. There is NO hope:

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Friends Provide The Spice of Life

I have some very lovely friends who often help me out with kitchen tips and ideas – the comments section alone of this blog is testament to this fact.

Creative cook Claire made me up a beautiful parcel of exciting foodie items to help me out recently and I’ve enjoyed trying out various things such as pomegranate molasses, vanilla sticks and harissa. As a big fan of flavours from around the world she also packed in two lovely new spice packs I had no idea even existed! Sumac (or Somaq) and Za’atar:

photo 1Claire gave me some ideas of what to do with them and because I love North African and Middle Eastern food plumped for a chicken and chickpea tagine. (Normally I would buy a paste or a packet marked with the words TAGINE or CURRY or SHEPHERDS PIE so there could be no mistake as to what I was attempting).

I hoped my new flavoursome additions would raise the basic taste of that lovely bird into something all together meatier. And indeed it did! I happily threw my spices around with wild abandon – you know me – and ended up with this gorgeous looking dish:

photo 2The Sumac added the citrusy tang of lemons and the romantic sounding Za’atar provided the spicy, warm depths.

See – It’s not all doom and gloom in my house when it comes to cooking. Sometimes I can spice things up a bit (with a little help of course). Thanks Claire!

Educational and Abominational Pizza

Son and I got a kids cookery book for Christmas. I tried to hide it, but was reminded of it recently when my son suggested we cook more together. I held his little face in my hands not wanting to let him down, not wanting to remind him of our previous disasters. Hope always springs eternal in the young… so with a heavy heart I got the book out and said we could try to make anything he liked in it.

Happily he chose creative pizzas, I was relieved  because all that means is making shapes out of food on ready made bases. Phew, baking bullet dodged.

Sadly it wasn’t totally without trauma.

First up the Clockface Pizza – telling the time with food – what could be more educational? These pictures need no explanation but just imagine two happy human faces putting this little beauty together:

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 Son happily ate all four quarters telling the time as he did so. Look, it even looks a bit like the picture in the book!
Pizz3Fired up with success and enthusiasm for this creative pizza making lark I then boldly told my son we could try any design he liked. To hell with the constraints of the book what would HE like to see on a pizza. The answer was Steve from Minecraft. What? Steve, you know from Minecraft? Right find me a picture. He did and so not without some trepidation we got stuck in…

For the uninitiated Minecraft is made up solely of squares and blocks, rather at odds with the roundness of pizza and its toppings.  I knew our happy pizza making days were at an end – before they had even really begun…

This is what Steve from Minecraft looks like:
mine-craft-steve-headsteve-head---minecraft-mask---myteespot---your-t-shirt-store-b2e0cutdAnd this is what he looks like on a pizza:

Pizza2

Son was so distraught at the abomination, the desecration of the venerated Steve that he refused to eat it and went off to play Minecraft instead. He asked me not to write about the experience and hasn’t asked to cook with me again.
He has a point. But I challenge any mother to make Steve out of pizza and not scare people?
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It’s the eyes right? They’re watching you, little pizza eyes… don’t have nightmares ok?

 

Alice’s Laboratory – New Year, New Ways With Pasta

It’s the new year, you’re bored, you’re trying to eat sensibly, you’re so poor you’ve only got dry old pasta in the cupboard… ok I’m painting a terrible picture but you get the idea.

I’m always keen to try new things and new ways with old things (not always successfully of course) and thought that cupboard staple dry pasta deserved another turn in my kitchen this boring January. Happily the lovely chaps at Sainbury’s sent me some of their huge range to experiment on (and no not like the time I slow cooked pasta into jelly). Time to set up Alice’s lab…

*Puts on safety goggles*
First up – if you’re trying to eat healthier then more veg is in order right? Well as I was weighing up the contents of my cupboards and thought about what a pain it would be to cook both pasta and vegetables at the same time (because I’d have to wash up two pans) I realised I could just cook them together – in the same pan. Well they both need to be boiled in water right? What’s the problem? Well it turned out there wasn’t one. I happily managed to boil up some rather lovely wholewheat tagliatelle (that’s the healthier brown stuff) with some green beans before adding a pot of fresh tomato pasta sauce:

Pasta1Look – it was really great. Not sure why I don’t cook pasta and vegetables together at lot more? I suppose as long as you wash the veg no harm done right? And you’ve saved on the washing up. Win!

Secondly – everything is not always what it seems – I was sent something called Orzo, a little packet of rice. No, I hear you cry that’s not rice that’s tiny little pasta pellets, it just looks like rice. OK right, I still thought it was rice for quite a while and bought some risotto paste I’ve been desperate to try out to go with it. As soon as I realised  that Orzo is not rice it still did not deter me, I decided to treat it as such and made a PASTA RISOTTO. Yes you read that correct.
photo 1I am unable to make real risotto – see here for evidence – so maybe this is the way forward? Certainly worked well, it behaved just like rice, just without that tiresome age of simmering and stirring, it absorbed my risotto paste and tasted pretty good too.
photo 2Well done Orzo, I applaud you.
And well done Sainsbury’s for your large range of dried pasta, I applaud you too!

PastaNext up – using spaghetti as a dessert, no just joking.
Or am I? *Puts on lab coat again*

Giving up giving up… Some new new years resolutions

Christmas is over, and yes I did buy some mince pies, even though I swore I wouldn’t. And I ate some even though I don’t like them. Thinking about it I do this a lot, sabotage myself but dress it up as treating myself.

Every new year I laugh and declare that I am going to ‘give up giving anything up’ and continue to do whatever I liked and wanted. Which included eating, drinking, not exercising and generally not giving a shit. (although I did manage to ditch a 30-a-day fag habit about 7 years ago for which I still feel I deserve a daily medal).

But in my pursuit of fun, hedonism, relaxation, treats, freedom, not missing out on anything (and trying not to be sanctimonious about what I ate or did) I find that I am not really enjoying myself anymore. As I get older whole food groups have stopped agreeing with me, it’s hard to get out of bed without my joints and muscles hurting, I never sleep a full night through and my colds and hangovers are becoming events rather than niggles. (I sound attractive right?)

And so maybe instead of insisting on opening a second bottle of wine when I’ve clearly had enough, or just buying grab bags of crisps for the car on the way home because the supermarket was a bit of a bugger I should maybe look into this ‘moderation’ thing and create new levels of what’s acceptable for me now. What will help me not feel bloated, sleep better, not wake up feeling dreadful? They are clearly different from what they were when I was 20.

So no I am still not going to give anything up, but I am giving up giving up giving up.

And so here are my 2014 resolutions in full... (the list doesn’t include trying not to shout at my son or dog, read more bedtime stories, wash my make-up brushes, have more patience etc because these are just daily guilt trips I could write a whole other blog about)

1. Don’t waste time on books I don’t want to read. Once I start a book I always have to finish it, even if I realise half way through that I hate it, I always press on despite dreading opening the pages. This is a waste of time when I could be reading books that I will love. There are so many out there.

2. Keep to the evening skincare routine. It’s not hard to rub a couple of creams in before you go to bed and when I don’t it doesn’t take long for my skin to start resembling a parched riverbed.

3. Don’t overeat, especially when already full and bloated, and never just because I’m bored or something is in the cupboard.

4. At least three nights a week without booze instead of just the current two – hopefully drinking will become enjoyable again instead of guilt-inducing and humdrum. Oh and maybe experiment with other drinks instead of just white wine which is starting to give me a headache if I’m honest.

5. Try not to just sit on the sofa scrolling through Twitter when bored, I need to pull myself out of the time sink sometimes to do something physical and worthwhile.

6. Learn to cook. Ha ha, who I am kidding?

Happy new year to you all, and if you have any resolutions to share I would love to hear about them.
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Christmas Climbdown

Hello all and Merry Christmas to all Alice Can’t Cook readers.
I am NOT cooking the big lunch this year so there’ll be no festive posts from me but I do hope all your cooking and feasting goes bloody well!
Enjoy, have fun and until 2014 enjoy my super baby reindeer, we’ve called her Festive Bambi…

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For all previous seasonal blogs from me (including the turkey that nearly broke my knee and the festive cupcakes that turned out ok and why I’m not buying mince pies this year) then follow this linky!link

Alice xx

Beating the Bloat with Beer. Really!

20131130-125524.jpgI don’t drink enough beer, not because I don’t want to, believe me I do – sometimes nothing sounds more appetising than ‘do you fancy a pint?’ -  no it’s because I end up looking six months pregnant after just a half. Sadly all lagers and beers leave me bloated and gassy and miserable.

I obviously go on enough about my problem with some foodstuffs because traditional brewers St Peter’s Brewery kindly sent me samples of their new gluten free beer (or ‘G-Free’) to try out.

I’m not allergic to gluten, or probably even intolerant, it’s just sometimes wheaty things make me glow up like a balloon, but I know there are some out there for whom gluten is a real problem. So a decent beer free from the stuff is probably a very good thing right!?

G-Free is an award winning light ale, with a slight lager like fizz and very quaffable (which I believe is a technical term?) and G-Free Dark is more of your manly, bitter stuff – so I gave it to my husband. Both taste no different from the beers you’d buy yourself and happily I drank two bottles of G-Free with no bloating, no really, none. And with a curry too!

So, honestly, if you’re a bit like me and tend to lay off the beers if you want to wear a tight dress without folks giving up their seat for you on the bus then maybe give these a go instead.

Also – bonus – totally darling bottles!

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But I’m nothing like Gwyneth Paltrow?

As much as I would like to dislike the woman I have a sneaking admiration for Gwyneth Paltrow. Probably the reasons I want to dislike her are precisely the reasons why I actually do like her – the smug lifestyle advice, the casual, smart dressing that no other mother can pull off, the hair, the hair, the hair. I’d like to absorb it all please.

But obviously I can’t and I won’t because Paltrow is probably perfect and can cook bloody well (if slightly sanctimoniously) and I obviously can’t. However, I’ll drop into Gwynnie’s world now and again for snippets of advice and was quite taken with her idea of a week long detox now and again. Of course the chummy ‘I’ll be there with you as I too need to lose a few pounds’ didn’t wash but the abstinence from gluten, dairy, caffeine, booze and sugar struck a chord. Now (just) the wrong side of 40 I do find my digestive system doesn’t seem to work quite as well as it used to – sometimes I only need to look at something edible and I blow up like a balloon and I know I drink and eat far too much.

So a couple of weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and give myself a break, a boost, a detox, a bloody hard week, whatever you want to call it. Perversely I was rather looking forward to it.

I have absolutely no will power usually, I am one of those cupboard rummagers who will eat anything if it’s in the house, but can just about set my mind to something for about 5-7 days. Yes, a week long project is probably my limit – I’ve tried the Juice Diet and WeightWatchers and DietChef and yes a week is usually enough. (I’ll never be thin).

photo 2I wrote a little message in the kitchen to remind myself not to go heating up any croissants and I was on my way…

Following Gwyneth’s Detox plan and recipes to the letter I bought all the stuff needed and settled in for a week of vegetable soups, smoothies, salad and herbal teas. Waking up without a cup of strong and milky was hard but the warm lemon water upon rising is rather lovely really and I was happy to not feel full and bloated all the time from the amount of bread I consume. And I got a lot of warm satisfaction from not eating my son’s left over fish fingers and mini rolls as I smugly fed them to the dog instead of losing them down my throat as usual.

I did however probably alienate all friends and family – not from being grumpy, it didn’t affect me emotionally at all – but from the amount of onions, garlic and miso I was ingesting and then sweating out again.

A couple of meals included a teriyaki chicken dish. Here is mine:
photo 1Of course I messed it up royally – it looks nothing like Gwyneth’s example – but after three days of leaves in hot water I was glad of something solid no matter how dry it was. The charcoal taste was actually a welcome change.

I stuck at it religiously for five and a half days, you are meant to do seven but who (apart from Gwyneth herself) can deny themselves a bottle of Pinot Grigio whilst watching The X-Factor? Not me Paltrow, not me. It’s like Saturday night medicine to help the awful singing go down.

I have to admit that I felt a bit lighter and brighter whilst eating this way, and dare I say it a few good moods seemed to appear out of nowhere when normally it takes a trip to Disneyland to make me smile spontaneously.
There are lessons to be learnt here (for me anyway) and a few cleaner days are certainly in order. Probably in January and certainly after I’ve finished this new lime marmalade that is absolutely scrummy and best eaten with a spoon straight from the fridge with a hot croissant.

If you want to give the Goop Detox a go – it’s here – it’s apparently their most popular post. Let me know how you get on, I might be back on it come the new year, I’m hoping I get the hair next time?

Let Them Eat Waste? What’s The Pig Idea?

Here’s a good idea – cut down on food waste by feeding it to pigs.
Sadly I waste a lot of food, not because I am just a bad shopper (although I can be) but because I’m a terrible cook. And I hate it. I can’t bear throwing anything away.

Just imagine how much food is wasted not just by us in our homes but by restaurants, companies and shops? It’s not good when you consider how expensive food is these days and how supplies are running low globally.

The Pig Idea is a movement calling for pigs to be fed on surplus food rather than new commercially produced crops that humans could eat and that put pressure on the environment. They’ve reared 8 pigs in London on food waste from local restaurants and companies such as brewers grains, whey and unwanted fruit and veg to prove the EU ban feeding catering waste to pigs is a bit silly. It might sound nasty to us but not to the pigs!

Of course it is better for us humans to eat as much surplus food as we can but feeding it livestock such as pigs and chickens is the next best option rather than turning it into waste.

If you are in London tomorrow (Thurs 21st) there is a big (pig) event taking place in Trafalgar Square from midday to raise awareness of food waste and how it’s best used as livestock feed. Big name chefs and celebrities (including my favourite Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) will be there to show of their cooking and plenty of piggy activites for the kids.

Let Them Eat Waste!
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How I Killed My Slow Cooker

Rather a sad tale this one.
As the weather has turned colder I have been keen to get the Crock Pot out again. I had some chicken last week but was unsure what to do with it. It seemed the perfect opportunity to dust off the slow cooker. In it all went with some onions and stock cubes but as I had no potatoes or suitable veg I emptied a bag of dry pasta and some sweetcorn into it.
Chicken and Sweetcorn Pasta Bake? Lovely!
After four or five hours the house smelt lovely and I was thrilled.
It looked rather odd when I took the lid off the slow cooker I have to admit, in fact there were no discernible pieces of pasta at all. The still slightly pink chicken was suspended in a kind of gelatinous mush:
photo 4Well at least it’s robust I thought and dished it all up.
Everyone was rather sad to discover that the delicious smelling dish was not a taste sensation. In fact as the pasta had broken down it had become a jelly like substance, and completely overcooked while the chicken was still just a little bit raw.
My husband even gagged as he tried to stomach a mouthful.
Inedible, it all came back into the kitchen. What a terrible waste!
photo 3Undeterred I bought some more chicken and this week put it in to the cooker very early in the day with garlic, carrots, onions and pearl barley as well as some stock. Couldn’t go wrong I thought with that?
But of course at the last minute I decided to throw in some dumplings (ready made mix of course I wouldn’t go it alone). The packet said to drop into the stew 15minutes before serving, which I suppose doesn’t mean in a slow cooker? Because after nearly 45mins they were still like white rubbery snowballs drifting around in a fast overcooking chicken dish.

I took the internal ceramic bowl out of the cooker and put it on the hob to hurry the dumplings along. The dish cracked over the flame and I had seconds to decant it before everything seeped out.

Unsure of whether it was full of china splinters I served it up. Again it was a half raw, half overcooked dish that looked terrible. My son declared it was ‘a vomit’ and my husband put some chips into the oven. The slow cooker went in the bin.
Ho hum.