Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Pesto-topped Mini Salmon Fillets

Hey guys!  Tetley and I have been feeling a bit under the weather these past few days, so we haven't been cooking anything very exciting.  When I looked back through my mismash of photos for this blog though, I found pictures for this recipe that I forgot to post, which lets me off the hook somewhat...  Although not the most attractive recipe (green is always a dubious colour for food in my opinion), these salmon fillets are very tasty, they converted fish-hater Tetley so even if you're not the biggest fan of fish you should give them a try!

To serve two people, you will need:
  • 2 fillets of salmon
  • 3 tbsps green basil pesto (or any other pesto you have)
  • 2 slices white bread
  • Parmesan or cheddar cheese
  • Parsley

1. Firstly, cut the salmon fillets into inch-thick pieces, placing them skin down on a baking tray.

2. To prepare the topping, firstly make the breadcrumbs by putting the bread in a food processor or toasting then grating it.  Grate the cheese too, the amount is up to you but I generally use a big handful, I probably put cheese in far too many of my meals...

3. Put the cheese and breadcrumbs into a bowl and add the pesto and parsley.  Mix everything together, if it looks too dry then add a bit more pesto.

4. Spoon the mixture on top of the salmon strips, splitting it evenly as you can between them all.  Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees for about 10 minutes.

I usually eat these with potato wedges or homemade chips, but we were out of potatoes so I cooked some tagliatelle instead, which worked surprisingly well with the crispy-topped salmon and probably made for a healthier dinner.  Why not experiment and see if you can find another way to serve this meal?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

So many Pretty Things, So Little Money...

The story of my life right now is that the shops and the internet are full of pretty things, but I have no money to make these things mine.  The woes of being a student!  One item I will need to invest in in the near future though is a new handbag.  I'm definitely much more of a shoes girl than a bags girl - my shoes used to live under my bed, but now they've taken over the bottom two shelves of my wardrobe and are gradually creeping into the hall cupboards as well...  On the other hand, I only ever have two bags on the go at one time, a big one for everyday use and a little one for nights out, and I use them until they fall apart (I'm a terrible bag owner)!  Sadly my old faithful flowery bag, as pictured below in its glory days of last summer, is almost at that stage, so I thought I'd put together a list of potential bags for when my favourite gives up the ghost....

My first port of call in the bag hunt was Modcloth, more for inspiration rather than realistically looking for something I would buy.  As I mentioned in my previous fashion post, Modcloth is where I go to lust pathetically over items that are far beyond my reach, both in terms of price and distance.  This bag, adorably named 'The Upwardly Mobile Satchel' comes in cherry red and mustard, but the brown, called 'Cambridge University' is more practical for me since a requirement of my bag is that it goes with all (or at least a few) of my outfits.  However, at $134.99, it was time for me to move to cheaper ground!

After ogling the Modcloth satchel for a while, I decided that a satchel would be the style to go for, so I began to browse websites that were closer to home.  Urban Outfitters had this to offer, and I love the combination of teal and brown as these would tone in with most of the colours I usually wear.  Sadly at £48 it's still a bit much for my pathetic budget!

The next satchel comes from Miss Selfridge and at £30, it seems a lot more affordable.  I also love the cutout style, I'm a sucker for anything with cutout shapes or scalloped edges, I think I need a less girly wardrobe...  I would probably have bought this bag, but I saw it in the shop and it's really small in real life, and sadly I cart too much rubbish around with me for that to work out.

 While I love the style of the above bags, I like to have a bag that's a bit more of a statement.  My current flowery bag is actually the plainest bag I've had so far - the one I had before that had polka dots and an owl on it, and previous to that, I used a bag with multicoloured unicorns (I was a cool teenager...).  So when I discovered the website Cloth-Ears, I found just what I was looking for.  This bag from Paper Planes is adorable, and it has birds and maps on it, two things that I love style-wise.  I'm torn between it and the next bag I saw...

This bag, called the 'Flutters and Fancies' satchel, is just gorgeous.  It has brown leather, plus green, blue and pink sections, all of my favourite colours.  Plus, it has embroidered flowers and cutout details, it's so cute!  On a more practical note, there are apparently pockets inside, which is useful for me since whatever I put into my current bag seems to disappear into some labyrinthine void, which is annoying when I'm getting a phonecall or trying to find my keys.

At £37.99, the Flutters and Fancies satchel is a couple of pounds cheaper than the Paper Planes one, but I still might have to save up for a little while before I get either, fingers crossed that my flowery bag holds out till then!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Fantastic Homemade Burgers

Hello blog fans!  Sorry I haven't been posting as regularly as usual - my friend Bradley has been staying with me this week and we have been very busy having exciting alcohol and shark related adventures.  Hopefully this burger recipe will make it up to you all though, it's tasty and impressive looking but actually really easy to make, perfect for when you have friends over!

To make four burgers, you will need:
  • 4 rolls or burger buns
  • 500g turkey mince
  • 3 slices of bread
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (which I did NOT just have to Google to find out how to spell...)
  • Parsley
  • Toppings of your choice
1. First of all you will need to make your breadcrumbs.  If you're lucky enough to own a food processor, put the slices of bread in this, but if you, like me, only have pathetically basic kitchen technology, make the breadcrumbs with a grater.  It's easier to do this if the bread is slightly stale or if you toast it for about 30 seconds first.

2. Next, dice the onion as finely as possible, because no one wants massive chunks of onion inside their burger, unless they are onion rings.

3. Put the onion and breadcrumbs in a large bowl and add the Worcestershire sauce and a big sprinkle of parsley.  Mix everything together.

4. Add the mince and squish everything together with your hands.  This is quite an odd sensation but I quite like it, it reminds me of playing with Play-doh, that is if Play-doh was made from raw meat...

5. Shape the lump of meaty stuff into burgers.  The quantities given do make four burgers, but as there were only three of us I made three really big ones and had to throw a tiny bit of the mixture away.

6. Heat some sunflower oil in a pan and cook the burgers for 15-20 minutes.  Turn them occasionally with a spatula.  While they cook, prepare your toppings - we had grilled bacon, lettuce, cheese and tomato relish, but be as creative as you like.  You could try jalapenos and salsa for a spicy burger, or cook some battered onion rings for a really tall and impressive look.  I also lightly toast the burger buns at this stage.

7. After 15 minutes, check if the burgers are done by cutting into the biggest one with a knife.  If it's at all pink inside it's not ready yet, you'll know when it's ready when the juices that come out when you cut into it are clear.  Don't worry if the burger begins to look quite dark on the top and bottom, mine were and they didn't taste burnt at all.

Here is the finished burger, it is served with my spicy potato wedges, which I added sweet potato wedges to for the first time, they were delicious!  This is the perfect meal if you want to treat yourself without feeling too unhealthy, as turkey mince has a lot less fat than beef mince, plus roasted rather than deep-fried chips are presumably a lot better for you.  If you are a beef burger puritan, follow this recipe but substitute the turkey mince for beef mince (obviously) and add an egg to the mix, as beef doesn't stick together as well as turkey does.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Spanish Sausage and Bean Stew

I got the idea for this recipe ages ago from a magazine, but I've changed it so much since then that I now feel like it's mine.  The 'Spanish' aspect of the stew is debateable, but it has chorizo in it so that's good enough!

For the stew you will need:
  • 6 pork sausages
  • 1 chorizo sausage or a pack of chorizo slices
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Other vegetables if desired (I used peppers and a courgette)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Tomato puree
  • 300 ml pork or beef stock
  • 1 can canellini beans (I used kidney beans this time as that's all the conveniently close Tesco has)
  • Paprika and chilli powder
1. First of all, chop up all of the vegetables and set them aside, to save time later.

2. Next, cook the sausages in a large pot or wok for about 10 minutes until they are golden.  While you can buy the cheapest versions of everything else in this recipe, I would advise buying nice sausages as ominously pink, supermarket value ones are gross and don't tend to contain much meat.  These carmelised onion ones are delicious and really not that expensive:

3. Tip the sausages and all of the delicious meaty juices into a bowl and set aside.  Add the vegetables and chorizo to the pot or wok and cook until the veg is golden.

4. While the chorizo and veg cook, cut up the sausages into small chunks with a knife and fork.  Don't worry if they're still slightly pink inside as they're about to be cooked some more.  I added some bacon as well as I needed to use it up, if you do this then cook it with the sausages at the start.

5. Tip the chopped up meat back into the pot or wok and add a lot of tomato puree, the stock and as much paprika and chilli powder as you prefer.  Turn down the heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.

6. Add the beans and the tin of tomatoes and cook for a further 5 or 10 minutes.

This stew is perfect served with some crusty bread or garlic bread to mop up all the juices.  The quantities I gave serve about three people, so adjust accordingly depending on how many people you need to feed.  Enjoy!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Pancake Party

I'm not a Christian, nor do I follow Lent, but every year I still celebrate Pancake Day, as a day you celebrate by eating pancakes seems like a pretty good thing to jump on the Christian holiday bandwagon for.  This year, Tetley and I had a couple of friends round for drinks and a pancake party.  I must confess, I'm actually really bad at making pancakes, so we set up a mini production line with me making the batter and Tetley cooking and flipping the pancakes.  Tetley is surprisingly adept at this, as seen in my incredible action shot below, and not one pancake ended up on the ceiling or floor!  If you would like to hire Tetley for your pancake-related celebrations, please notify me in the comments below, fees are negotiable. :P

We made two different types of pancake for the party, the first being large, thin crepes and the second small, thick, American-style pancakes.  I got the recipes from Good to Know Recipes, a handy site/magazine.

For the crepe-style pancakes you will need:
  • 300ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g plain flour
  • 25g butter, plus extra for frying
  • Toppings and fillings of your choice
1. Measure out the milk and then whisk the eggs into it.  Put the flour into a bowl and make a little well in the centre, as pictured:

2. Gradually pour in the milk mixture, whisking constantly until the batter is smooth and runny.  Melt the butter and whisk it in to the batter.

3. Heat some butter in a frying pan.  If your frying pan isn't non-stick, aquire a non-stick frying pan from somewhere or this really won't work, as I know from my pancake-making experiences in first year of uni.  When the pan is quite hot, ladle in about this much batter:

4. Gently push around the edges of the pancake with a spatula to prevent it sticking to the pan.  After about two minutes, flip the pancake, or for more cowardly pancake makers (i.e. me) turn it over with a spatula.  Cook for two minutes on the other side, then you're done!

5. Add your fillings or toppings.  These pancakes are not particularly sweet on their own, so any topping works well - ours varied from Tracy's pancake, which she covered in every chocolate item she could get her hands on, to Ruaridh's Super Manly Bacon Pancake, to Malik's healthy halloumi, hummus and salad option, which is the perfect choice if you, like Malik, put vegetables in all your home baking. 

Sadly I was too busy in my pancake production line to take pictures of these amazing culinary feats, I only have a photo of my unimpressive looking but very tasty pancake, containing some squares of white chocolate with raspberry pieces.  I put it in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the chocolate, it was so so good!

For the American-style pancakes, you will need:
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder (or BACKPULVER if you buy from Lidl, I find this inexplicably funny)
  • 1 egg
  • 125ml semi-skimmed milk
  • butter for cooking the pancakes
1. As before, put the flour and baking powder in a bowl and make a well in the centre.  Add the egg to the well, and gradually beat in the milk to make a smooth batter.

2. I wanted to make apple and cinnamon pancakes, so at this stage I peeled and finely chopped two apples and sprinkled on some caster sugar and cinnamon, then cooked the apple pieces in butter for a few minutes.

3. Heat some butter in a non-stick frying pan, and drop the batter into the pan using a tablespoon.  You should be able to make two or three pancakes at once as they are small.

4. Cook the pancakes for three minutes, then turn with a spatula.  Don't try and flip them because with multiple pancakes cooking at once this will turn into a mess, unless you have crazy pancake skills.

5. The pancakes pictured above are plain as Tetley and Tracy didn't want the apple filling.  If you're doing the filling, however, drop a few apple pieces into the pan and then spoon the batter on top of them, and you'll get pancakes with lovely appley, cinnamony centres.  Here's a picture of the apple pancakes:

Here, the pancakes are served with golden syrup and ice cream.  The recipe suggested toffee sauce instead of syrup, which also sounds delicious.  Hope everyone had a great Pancake Day, if you celebrate!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Movies of the Month

This is probably a stupid title for this post as we're only a few days into March but I like alliteration, what can I say?  Also, I watched the three films that I'm about to give mini reviews to within a 30 day period, so calling them Movies of the Month seems completely valid, at least in my head....  As with the previous fashion post, feel free to skip over this if you just come here for food, or if you haven't seen the movies yet and want to avoid spoilers!

True Grit

True Grit was a film I'd been looking forward to for a long time, and while I enjoyed it and believed that it deserved its Oscar nominations, it was a little different to what I expected.  The film follows 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) as she attempts to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Broslin), the man who killed her father.  Accompanying her are US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a man rumoured to have "true grit" who Mattie hires, and Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who wants to apprehend Chaney for the many other crimes he has committed.

Being a fan of the Coen Brothers' movies, I found that True Grit was not as offbeat or bizarre in style and tone as I had been expecting, especially compared to some of the Coens' classics like O Brother Where Art Thou?.  However, the Coens' famously artistic cinematography can be seen throughout True Grit, with many very beautiful shots.  Sadly I couldn't find any of the shots I was looking for online, as apparently only stills of the characters are available, but the moments that really stood out to me were Mattie's glance back at the corpses leaning against the hut in the snow, and the clifftop shot of Cogburn facing down four of Chaney's men - these were classic Hollywood western moments turned into art.

Cogburn's brilliantly delivered line 'You are not LaBoeuf,' following the arrival of the bear-doctor guy creates a moment of humour in the movie, but even this scene is beautifully shot, creating a desolate, muted-coloured scene of bare trees and flurries of snow.  Although True Grit has some serious themes, I feel that Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon bring the film to life in the way they portray their (sometimes darkly) funny characters. 

Also, Hailee Steinfield is fantastic as Mattie, and I would love it if she got the role of Katniss in the movie adaptations of The Hunger Games (the series of 'Young Adult' novels that I am currently reading and may review here at some point, if I ever recover from the trauma and tragedy that they have made me suffer).  It's refreshing to see a film where a girl is allowed to shoot people and be a badass without also being a spandex-wearing sex symbol, I'm looking at you, Sucker Punch!

Never Let Me Go

I went to see this movie with friends with no idea of what it was about.  All I knew was that it had Andrew Garfield in it, and as he is a total hottie, this was more than enough to convince me.  Never Let Me Go centres on the life of Kathy (Carey Mulligan), and her best friends Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield).  The story begins in the 1950s with the characters' childhood at boarding school Hailsham.  However, hints soon creep in that the children's lives are not as perfect as they seem, culminating in their discovery that all the children at Hailsham are clones, created for the sole purpose of providing organs for others in order to unnaturally prolong their lives.

While the film's premise makes it seem like a sci-fi thriller, Never Let Me Go is in fact more like a touching, tragic love story, but with serious and condemning ethical questions.  Set primarily in the English countryside, the film is aesthetically very beautiful, with this surface beauty creating a thin veneer over the ugliness of the realities of the characters' lives.  I was completely unprepared for the levels of tragedy in the film, with many of the scenes sticking in my mind long after I left the cinema.  One poignant moment in my opinion was Ruth's death, her heart monitor flatlining like in so many medical dramas but provoking no reaction from the doctors, who calmly finish removing an organ and leave Ruth on the operating table with her face uncovered, the end of the breathing tube left carelessly in her mouth.  However, the most distressing scene in the film was Kathy and Tommy's visit to their former Headmistress to apply for the 'deferral' of their donations for a few years, as they are in love and want to spend more time together.  Tommy shows the Headmistress his drawings to prove his love, only to be told that the drawings the children were made to do at Hailsham were not to enable the teachers to look into the children's souls as he believed, they were to determine if the children had souls at all. So sad, poor Andrew Garfield! :(

Tetley disliked the ending of the film, saying that it was frustrating that Kathy and Tommy made no attempt to escape when their fate was revealed.  Personally I liked this aspect of the film though, as it emphasised the hopelessness and inevitability of the clones' situation, and the way their upbringing had mentally conditioned them to the extent that escape could never cross their minds.  Plus, some dramatic escape attempt might have brought the film a bit too close to the plot of The Island, a film with similar but far less emotionally presented themes to Never Let Me Go.  The film can be relentlessly bleak, but it is also beautiful and very thought-provoking, plus there was Carey Mulligan's super-cute hair and Andrew Garfield's amazing awkward teenager walk to keep me happy!  Have a bonus picture of Andrew Garfield being all moody in a scarf:


To lighten the mood slightly, I'm going to finish off with Rango.  It's the second animated movie I've seen this year after Disney's Tangled, and while Tangled was a fun and pretty film, I found it very light and forgettable compared to a lot of my Disney favourites, and certainly not 'a return to Disney's classic days of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid' like some critics claimed.  Rango, on the other hand, is very far from being a sterotypical kids' movie.  A summary of the plot may make it sound generic: Rango, a lonely pet lizard (voiced by Johnny Depp) is separated from his owners, and inadvertently becomes the hero that a small desert town needs.

However, the main thing that separates Rango from the endless half-term releases of animated films is its character design - the inhabitants of the town of Dirt are anything but cutesy, sanitised Disney-esque creatures.  The first character we are introduced to other than Rango is a wise old armadillo, giving profound advice whilst lying in the middle of the road with a car tyre-track splitting his body almost entirely in half. The rest of the animals aren't much better, all scruffy, weather-beaten and more often than not comically wounded in one way or another.  The film's many bizarre sequences also makes it seem more like an adults' film, such as Rango's theatre-inspired imaginings, or his hallucinations of the Clint Eastwood-esque 'Spirit of the West' character (disappointingly not voiced by Clint Eastwood himself).

The highlight of this weird yet enjoyable film has to be the way in which it , like True Grit, (is it weird to compare these two movies?) plays homage to traditional Westerns in its portrait of frontier town Dirt, yet still emphasises that its characters are animals.  When the wise, shaman-like raven character plucks his feathers while staring off into the distance, Rango asks him if he's communing with the spirit world and he replies 'No, I'm moulting, it means I'm ready to mate.'  For a more straight to the point highlight, the film also features Bill Nighy as a snake with a gun for a tail - what's not to love?

Probably my favourite thing about Rango was its Greek Chorus-like band of Mexican owls, I probably would have seen the movie just for them because they were amazing!

Have you seen any great movies lately?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Spicy Chicken Skewers

Hey guys, here's another recipe for you all.  These chicken skewers are quick and easy to make, you literally only need 4 ingredients.  On top of that, they're super tasty as well, so why not give them a try?

The ingredients you will need are:
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 peppers (and other vegetables if you like)
  • 5 tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 1/2 tube of chilli paste
These quantities serve two people, if you want more or less skewers the the quantities are pretty easy to adjust.

1. Firstly, work out roughly how many wooden skewers you're going to use and soak them in a bowl or washing up basin full of cold water.  This will stop them burning in the oven.

2. Next, make the marinade by putting the yoghurt into a dish and adding the chilli paste. The paste I used is from Schwartz and it or something similar should hopefully be available next to the herbs and spices in most supermarkets.  I also add a bit of chilli powder and some tabasco at this point, but if you don't like your food to be too spicy then leave the marinade as it is.

3. Cut the chicken into small pieces and mix into the marinade.  Remember to wash hands or utensils thoroughly if they have touched raw meat.

4. Cut up the peppers into small pieces and add them to the marinade as well.  For variety, you could add in other vegetables, like courgette, cherry tomatoes or small wedges of red onion, or whatever you like best.

5. Mix everything together and leave to stand for a while if you have the time, to allow all the lovely spicy flavours to work their way into the meat and veg.  Put the dish in the fridge to marinate if you're leaving it for more than 15 minutes.

6. Pat the skewers dry and push the chicken and pepper pieces on to them, alternating between meat and veg.  Place on a baking tray or a grill tray with a dish underneath so your oven doesn't get ruined by drips.

7. Cook in an oven preheated to 200 degrees for 10-15 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking.

I appear to have taken more photos than usual for this post, so I'm sorry if that creates the illusion that these are complicated and time-consuming to make, they really only take about half an hour!  I normally serve them with my spicy potato wedges but I realised too late that I only had one potato in the cupboard (that was attempting to grow mutant baby potatoes), so I made some rice instead which complemented the spicy chicken very well.  For a lighter meal, the chicken skewers are perfect on their own or with some dips - enjoy!