Posted in baking, comfort food, filling food, Food, Jamie Oliver

Week 11: Mother’s Day lunch…

Mother’s Day – a date that is emblazoned on our brains from a young age. You do NOT forget Mother’s Day. Father’s Day, you’d be forgiven for forgetting Father’s Day but not Mother’s Day.

This year it was our turn to go to Mr Gem’s family for Mother’s Day and he had the lovely idea that we should cook a meal for his mum, lovely hey? Except that by we he meant me with a bit of help from him!

However because I was cooking in a strange kitchen I didn’t take any photos – but what I can tell you is what I made and how it went down!

What you need to know about Mr Gem’s family is that the men don’t really like the type of food that I cook, i.e. Asian flavours, spice, chilli, garlic…so I had to really step outside my comfort zone to come up with a menu everybody would enjoy.

So – for starters I decided on South American Fishcakes. This was a recipe from Jamie Oliver’s website this was my little rebellion, little nods to the food that I like with strong citrus flavours. So easy to make but a little odd – you poach the fish in milk but then throw the milk away…which seems a little wasteful to me but for a special occasion I went with it. Once the fish is cooked you mix it and the mashed potatoes with all the other ingredients, divide it into balls, roll in flour and shape into patties. Simple! You’re supposed to deep fry the fishcakes but I didn’t have enough oil so i shallow fried them which meant that they stuck to the bottom of the pan a little but they tasted great – I’d make these again!

Mains. I didn’t want to make a roast, oh no that would be too easy. I decided on spare ribs, coleslaw and cornbread. Easy peasy. Except my ribs where so fatty that the fat ran out of the ribs into the sauce which didn’t thicken and I had to get Mr Gem’s mum to help me. Nevertheless the sauce was delicious – I adapted a recipe from Simon Rimmer’s recipe – cocoa cola ribs but used pork ribs rather than beef ribs. They were absolutely delicious. The cornbread was kind of stodgy but I love the flavour of it so would make it again. Mr Gem prepared the coleslaw and of course it was delicious!

Finally pudding – well for a Mother’s Day lunch I had to turn to the queen of puddings – Mary Berry. I went with a lemon tart. I’m still not great with pastry – in fact I’ve asked Mother Gem for a master class – she makes great pastry – although when I spoke to her about shrinkage when blind baking she sniffed ‘oh no – I don’t bother with blind baking, who has time?’ but in fairness she’s never produced a soggy bottomed pud! Anyway I digress, so I thought I’d go with a shop bought pastry (again) I think I’m done with shop bought, it always shrinks, as it did on this occasion. Pastry aside the lemon filling was delicious and light. I served it with strawberries and the flavours were fab!

But my opinion doesn’t count – the proof was in the eating and the opinion of the family, I think they liked it, the fishcakes all went, the tart all went, the ribs where a bit fatty and I think that put people off. All in all, not bad! I’m better with my spices I reckon – so next week I’ll be back to what I know!

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Posted in baking, cakes, cooking, Food

Week 12 Part 1 – Baking special!

This week I have literally made so many new things I need to publish over two posts. So welcome to the first ever Kitchen Gems baking special! I baked three new cakes / cupcakes this week – and although my waistline isn’t thanking me, its been amazing!

Bake No 1: Coffee and Walnut Cake

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Now I blame my parents for this but if I have a proper Sunday dinner I need a pudding of some sort. There is nothing more comforting than finishing a roast dinner off with something sweet. So as my chicken was roasting Nigel Slater style in the oven I had a bit of time to look around the kitchen to make something sweet. As I’m not eating chocolate for lent and I didn’t have any lemons for a lemon drizzle cake I decided on a coffee and walnut cake since Mr Gem is partial to a coffee and walnut slice.

For this recipe I turned to Delia – and you can find the recipe I used here. The basic recipe is for an all in one sponge – 4 oz Marg, 4 oz flour and 4 oz caster sugar, 1 tsp baking powder and 2 eggs. You mix all the ingredients together until it forms a smooth batter then add a tablespoon of instant coffee granules dissolved in 1.5 tablespoons of water. I also added chopped walnuts to the mix to add a bit of crunch. Then bake in the oven at 170 degrees for about 20 minutes. For the frosting I dissolved sugar in water and reduced until it became thick but before it turned into toffee, mixed the sugar syrup into two egg yolks then whisked in butter until it made a creamy mixture. Simple!

And delicious – the cake was really moist and the frosting was addictive – I literally had to leave the kitchen until the cake cooled down as I kept “testing” the cream! Mr Gem enjoyed it although I think my Mum does it better – but I’m young, I can improve!

Then my other two bakes came as a result of a bake-off at work to raise money for Sport Relief – this led to a very stressful evening on Thursday and a trip to the shops in my pyjama’s – read on!

Bake No 2 – Raspberry Ripple Cupcakes

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These were so cute! I was literally beaming from ear to ear when I presented them to Mr Gem for inspection!

The recipe was from my Bakes and Cakes book. Starting with a standard cupcake recipe with a handful of crushed raspberries stirred in at the very end. You literally mix the raspberries in for about 10 seconds so that its not blended fully – this is what makes the ripple effect and the the mixture was a lovely pink colour by the time it went in the oven (I think I enjoyed making these because it was such a girlie bake!).

However it wasn’t all pink fluffiness at Kitchen Gems HQ on the evening of my mammoth bake – when the cupcakes had cooled I began to make my frosting and it’s at this point it all went horribly wrong for a time. I was meant to crush some more raspberries and then sieve them to make a puree – I don’t have a sieve (I know, I know but I never remember to buy one until I need it!) so I thought I’d add a bit of water to the crushed raspberries and pass it through some kitchen roll – which incidentally worked a treat. Whilst the raspberries were pureeing I began to whip some cream and icing sugar. Unfortunately I over whipped the cream so that when I added the puree it literally churned into raspberry flavoured cheese. I came up with a new plan to just make with a simple butter cream, of course I then realised I was out of icing sugar so had to trek to the Co-Op in my pyjamas covered in flour, looking like a maniac.

All in all through the cupcakes turned out really well and looked so pretty despite my trauma!

And finally for Week 12 Part 1:

Bake No 3 – Carrot Cupcakes

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There were amazing – I could literally eat them every single day for ever and ever. The recipe was pretty much the same as a full size carrot cake – there are a number of carrot cake recipes online but the one most similar to the one I used is here. I didn’t put nuts in the cake though (because I’d run out and I couldn’t face another late night trip to the shops) and instead used mixed raisins. Again these were dead easy to make mix all your ingredients together and bake in the oven – they take about 20 – 25 mins at 180 degrees. When they come out the smell is fabulous. The best part of these cakes though was the frosting. I mixed Marscapone with orange juice and icing sugar – it was unbelievably good. Out of all of the cakes this week I’d say these were the best, so tasty and moist and so easy to make.

I may not have won the bake off at work – but then the lady who won made a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake and frankly who could compete with that? Even with the best carrot cupcakes in the world!

So that concludes my sweet little post. My next post features the savoury dishes from week 12 – I know you should have savoury before sweet but I can never resist cake!

Posted in aubergine, baking, cupcakes, Jamie Oliver, spinach, strawberries, sweet potato chips, trout

Week 10 – Strawberry Cupcakes, Aubergine Parmigiana and Spicy Trout Fillets

Well… Week 10 is going to be a bumper post with 3 new recipes tried – and more importantly 2 new foods that I’ve never tried before.
First of all though apologies that this post is late – I usually write them on a Sunday but to be completely frank I was far to hungover yesterday to even consider writing about food. As a result I also ate some terrible things and I’m not at all hopeful about this weeks weigh in…anyway I digress.
This week I was faced with the challenge of what to do with trout fillets, a vegetable that I have never liked and therefore never cooked with and a bit of Sunday baking – so let’s jump straight in with the baking, because lets face it, cakes always go down well, whereas aubergine may not!
Strawberry Cupcakes:
A few weeks ago I made the mistake of freezing some fresh strawberries, thinking that they would last longer – however when I defrosted some to have with yoghurt for a healthy breakfast they were awful, really mushy and a bit slimy in texture – so the rest of the punnet stayed in the freezer until I could find something to do with them.
I recently treated myself to a new cookery book – Cakes, Bakes and Cupcakes (other booksellers are available!) and it is amazing – you know you’ve got a good cookbook when you could eat almost everything in it, anyway I found  recipe for strawberry cupcakes in my new book so decided to give it a whirl. I couldn’t find a link to this online so here is the recipe (or at least the ingredients – the method is just how I did it)

200g Fresh Strawberries
200g Caster Sugar
150g Unsalted Butte
3 eggs
200g self raising flours 1/2 tsp baking powder
50 ml Butter milk (I used coconut milk as I didn’t have buttermilk)
Put the strawberries and 50g sugar in a bowl, sealed with cling film and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water.
Then make the cakes up mixing the the remaining ingredients together. Separate into cake cases and bake in the oven at 190 degrees for 20 minutes. Meanwhile the strawberries should be melting into a syrup with the sugar.
When the cakes come out of the oven, prick them with a cocktail stick and then drizzle the syrup over them so it soaks through. When the cakes have fully cooled, top them with a butter cream topping – I added some strawberry syrup to my frosting to make it a bit flavoured and give it a bit of colour.
The cakes were so delicious I will definitely be making these again although I may try a few other recipes out of my book first! 
The only thing I would change is the fact that I slipped a bit when adding the syrup to the butter cream and when I tried to ice them it went a bit flat…but I’ll know for next time. Definitely a treat for a birthday party – or just a Sunday!

Aubergine Parmigiana:
In last weeks post I mentioned that I had bought an aubergine from the supermarket and was a bit concerned that I neither like aubergine nor know what to do with one… luckily for me, my good friend Amy read my post and suggested I try Aubergine Parmigiana as an easy dish for an aubergine virgin. 
I had a quick look through my books and found a recipe in Jamie’s Itay – there is a similar version here. I really enjoyed the process of making this recipe not only because I was using an ingredient I have never used before but the griddling of the aubergine until it was charred felt very Mediterranean and a bit cheffy! 
It’s a really simple meal to make, all you need to do is griddle the aubergines until they are charred on both sides, layer it up in an oven dish with the tomato sauce and Parmesan, top with breadcrumbs and bake in the oven, I also popped a few slices of sliced fresh mozzarella on the top whilst it baked. 

I have to admit when I sat down to eat it I was a bit dubious about whether I would like it – but after the first forkful I was converted. The aubergine was lovely and the whole meal was delicious and really filling – so thank you to Amy for the recommendation, I will definitely be making this again – its the perfect midweek meal and so satisfying. 
Mr Gem really enjoyed this meal, you can tell when he really enjoys it as he doesn’t say a great deal whilst he’s eating it! 
Spiced Trout with Sweet Potato Chips:
My final new dish for this week was spiced trout, this was another random ingredient chosen under the slight haze of a hungover visit to the supermarket.
I have never cooked or eaten trout before so I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, I didn’t really want to put it in a stew or a pie or anything as I wanted to actually taste the flavour of the trout. 
I found the recipe on BBC Good Food and whilst it looked simple it looked very tasty – plus it included sweet potato chips, I love sweet potato – I think I’d rather have sweet potato than normal potato most of the time.
To cook the trout I mixed flour with Cajun spices and then coated the fish in the spiced flour. Then I chopped sweet potatoes into chips, coated in olive oil and baked in the oven for 30 minutes until they were just getting a little charred on the edges. When the chips were almost done I fried the trout in hot oil whilst I steamed some spinach. 
The trout was lovely, really crispy skin and with just a hint of the spices which went well with the sweet chips. Mr Gem is a big big fan of crispy skin so he was particularly happy with this meal. 
I’d definitely cook trout again, I quite like trying different fish – especially since we’re often told not to have too much cod and salmon due to over fishing and trout is a really nice flavoured fish. 

Anyway – that’s all for Week 10 – see you in Week 11!

Posted in baking, cakes, chicken soup, coconut milk, cooking, filling food, low calorie, oats, rice

Week 9 – Malaysian Chicken Broth and Apricot Oat Bars

So I’m writing week 9 as I’m about to enter the 10th week of my 2012 challenge and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. I was wandering round Asda today doing the weekly shop thinking about what I’ll be cooking this week and to my surprise I came away from the shop with my usual trolley load plus an aubergine and some trout fillets. I don’t even like aubergine and I haven’t the first idea of what to do with trout – but I’m going have to find something to do with both of them – although potentially not in the same recipe! By the end of this year I’ll have tried so many new foods that I wouldn’t have tried before and I just find that so exciting! Anyway I’ve digressed, you’ll have to come back next week to find out what I do with this weeks shopping, but read on to see how I got on in week 9! 
Apricot Oat Bars 
Try as I might I can never find an oat bar or granola bar that is quite how I want it to be. I came pretty close to one that I had on Sunday in Costa Coffee but although it was delicious it was tiny, had over 300 calories in it and I felt guilty ALL day afterwards. 
After a hard days house hunting with Mr Gem I needed to clear my head so headed to the kitchen to do some baking and come up with a recipe for an Oat Bar that I will really enjoy eating and won’t cause my waistline to expand too rapidly! 

I couldn’t find a recipe online that a) I had all the ingredients for and b) I liked the look of so after a bit of reading around I decided that the best way to make the bars would be to make a cake mix as a base and then add in my own ingredients – so instead of providing a link to somebody else’s recipe, for the first time in Kitchen Gems (albeit short) history here is how I made them:
Basic Mixture 
150g Self Raising Flour 
1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
75g Soft Brown Sugar 
150g Porridge Oats 
2 eggs whisked
2 Tbsp Clear Honey
1 Tbsp Butter
Any fruit and nuts you want to use – I used 25g Walnuts, 25g Mixed Raisins and Sultanas, 25g Dried Apricots chopped up and half a banana mashed up. 
Mix the dry ingredients (including the nuts and fruit) together whilst you melt the butter in the saucepan. When all the dry ingredients are well mixed add the melted butter, eggs and honey and mix until all combined. 
Pour into a lined square baking tin and cook on 180 degrees for about 20 minutes or until firm to the touch. Done! 
I got 12 bars out of this recipe and they work out at about 150 calories each so as well as being very tasty they are filling and won’t break your calorie limit, but the best thing about these is, you can use whatever fruit and nuts you have in the store cupboard, add chocolate, yoghurt etc – they’re a really versatile snack. 
Mr Gem was quite fond of these as a snack and all 12 were gone before the week was out. I’d give these a 7.5 out of 10 – give them a whirl, I’d love to hear of any variations on the recipe that work well.
Malaysian Chicken Soup
My second new recipe for this week was a real winner. I found the recipe in Sainsburys free magazine – but I can’t find a similar recipe anywhere online. 
For two good sized portions you’ll need olive oil for frying, an onion (really thinly sliced) diced red chilli, 2 tsps lemongrass paste, 75g easy cook brown rice, 1/2 tin of light coconut milk, 600ml chicken stock 1 tbsp fish sauce, cooked chicken breast, shredded, 5 spring onions, 75g sugar snap peas cut into thin strips and a lime.
Fry the onions and chilli until softened and then add the lemongrass paste and stir til the onion and chilli are coated in it. Add the rice, stock and coconut milk and bring to the boil, turn down the heat and let simmer for about 20 – 25 mins. Add the chicken, spring onions and sugarsnaps and heat through for another 5 mins. Squeeze half a lime into the sauce and mix. Divide the soup between 2 bowls and serve imediately. 
It was a really fresh and flavoursome soup but with the rice and chicken it was so filling. 
This was a definite winner in the Kitchen Gems household, Mr Gem has already requested it again soon! Its also another meal that is so satisfying without being highly calorific – just 418 calories per serving. I’d give this meal 8.5 out of 10, simple but effective.

Posted in baking, biryani, cheesecake, cooking, curry, oreo

Week 6 – Chicken Biryani & Oreo Cheesecakes

I was watching the Hairy Bikers a while back and they made an amazing looking Chicken Biryani, I really wanted to try it so I found a recipe online and gave it a whirl. 
Sadly for the first time in 2012 I was a bit disappointed and this is because the recipe used shortcuts – using a curry paste instead of mixing the spices. I’d kind of thought this when I downloaded the recipe but hoped that something in the cooking process would make it taste like a biryani, but it didn’t. It was delicious but aside from the almonds on the top if just tasted like a normal curry that I’ve made before. I realise that I’ve not sold this recipe that well but the recipe is here if you want to try it. Like I say it was a nice meal just didn’t wow me – but I did take my own picture – no more plagiarism from Kitchen Gems! Here it is in all its glory!
As I was disappointed I can really only give this recipe a 5 out of 10 – I will be on the look out for a better version of this recipe later in the year!
Slightly more successful this week were the Mini Oreo Cheesecakes. These where amazing. So easy to make and so so cute. They’d be perfect for a house party and actually they aren’t too fattening only 134 calories each so perfect for a tasty sweet treat!
Unfortunately they tend to dry out in the freezer so I wouldn’t recommend freezing them really (they still tasted nice when defrosted but they’d just lost the moist texture). The picture below doesn’t really do them justice but they are lovely bite-size morsels of Oreo yumminess.

I found the recipe here if anyone would like to try it. Personally I gave these 8 out of 10 but Mr Gem thought the base needed to be crunchier so would give them a 6 out of 10.

Posted in baking, Chinese takeaway, chocolate, cookies, cooking, sweet and sour

Week 3 – Sweet and Sour Pork and Chocolate Biscuits

So after the challenge of week 2 – when I really did go crazy on the savoury food I thought that Mr Gem and I needed a treat. 
Ordinarily a treat would be a takeaway or something but due to the Jan Health Kick I didn’t really want to start ordering food in, so I hit the recipe books, and found a recipe for Cantonese Style Sweet and Sour Pork – which looked like this in the recipe, admittedly it wasn’t as pretty on my plate…! 
It was a bit daunting to read that I had to make a batter and deep fry the pork as it was something I haven’t tried before. However the recipe was easy to follow and the result was better than anything I’ve ever had from my local Chinese! Mr Gem’s only comment was that it needed more sauce which is quite an easy tweak to make really.
I would definitely make this again, it was tasty and quite healthy really, only 432 calories each (plus rice or noodles) but perfect for a treat when you fancy something.  I’ve found a link online to the recipe here but so far I’d say I’m loving Ching’s work so I’d just buy one of her books if you like Chinese food!
As well as cooking, I do like to bake, its much more fun and so much messier. Mr Gem goes mad when I’m baking because I always end up with flour all over the place – but nevertheless this week I was really craving something sweet, so figured if I put the effort in to make my own it would at least burn some calories before I ate the sweet! So I found a recipe for some chocolate cookies – which I can’t find again unfortunately but this one is quite similar (you’ll need an American Measurements conversion if you want to try it – I recommend Delia’s as its easy to follow and understand!
The resultant cookies look a bit like this (but again still nicking pics from the internet until we get to Mid Feb!) 
The cookies are surprisingly tasty given that they work out at about 95 calories each and they are a real craving satisfyer (if that’s a real word?!) if like me you’re on a healthy diet but can’t resist the allure of chocolate. Oh and they freeze really well so you don’t have to eat them all in one go! 

Anyway – I’d love to hear if you’ve tried any of the recipes I’ve recommended and how you thought they worked out.