Here are some of my past successful, and not-so-successful, endeavours (of things I happen to have photos of!).
Last year for my boyfriend's birthday, I made Toad-in-the-Hole, which is his favourite dinner, with onion gravy. I had never made batter before in my life, but thanks to a chef friend of mine, it tasted absolutely perfect!
I never measure anything when I cook the batter, but go by the texture and look of the batter. According to chef-friend, it should have the consistency of double cream. And a big help in getting the batter to rise is to keep two egg whites aside until you have finished the batter and then pop them in right at the end and whisk in. It is also a good idea to make your batter the evening before and put it in the fridge overnight.
Imagine my horror the first time I did this and took it out the fridge to discover all the ingredients had separated and it looked akin to something not entirely unlike sick. A quick whisk though, and all is right with the world.
Using good sausages is important in any top-class Toad-in-the Hole – my favourite are pork and chive from a local butcher's.
My onion gravy was not quite so successful, however. I can't remember where I got the recipe from but it was somewhere from the internet (this is not always a bad thing as I will reveal in later entries!). I'm pretty sure it was my fault it didn't turn out great, rather than the internet's fault though. This recipe used red wine and unfortunately my gravy tasted more of red wine than of onion, which I'm not sure was right, and it was very pink. And far too thick. I still haven't quite got the hang of caramelising onions properly and I think this is where I majorly fell down. Any hints or tips in this area would be most welcome.
Next, we move onto a very different dish – Ratatouille!
This recipe was taken from a relatively new cookbook of mine, The Ultimate Recipe Book. I made it with fresh yellow and green courgettes and onions from my work colleague's allotment and fresh red peppers and aubergine from the Asian green grocers/supermarket near to where I work. As you can see, this made for a very colourful concoction and I'd really recommend adding yellow courgettes to the mix if you can find them.
The tomato sauce itself wasn't as sweet as it perhaps should have been, but on the advice of the cookbook I used fresh tomatoes, although they weren't vine-ripened tomatoes as the book suggested, because I only had normal tomatoes in my fridge at the time. Next time I think I will use tinned tomato to get the sweetness – I particularly like the plum tomatoes from the Napolina range, which I've been buying since they've been half price in Sainsbury's for the past few weeks. I really don't think there is anything wrong with a tin of tomatoes – I remember when I was young it was not unusual for us to have peeled, boiled potatoes with tinned tomato on top. I could totally eat that right now.
Speaking of tomato of the tinned variety, my third and final dish is one I made last week. This photo was taken shortly before putting it all in the oven.
It's a Jamie Oliver recipe taken from his book Jamie's Dinners which I recently borrowed from my brother. This was a tasty recipe and a relatively simple one and it was particularly nice with the basa fillets bought from Sainsbury's deli counter, but I do have some issues with Jamie Oliver recipes in general, particularly the ones in this book. The ingredients are not separated from the main text (only highlighted in bold) and the recipe itself is just a block of text rather than clear stages, with little or no indication of measurements. Maybe it's just me, but on the whole I like clear instructions, laid out in a structured way.
Still, as I said, a tasty recipe and the base tomato sauce can be used for a number of things. I also tried it with grilled polenta, with parma ham wrapped around rocket on the side, which was ok, but polenta is something I feel I have not quite mastered yet. Part of the problem is that my fiancé is somewhat allergic to cheese so I avoid using it in my cooking, so I have been trying to flavour the polenta in other ways by using butter or olive oil. But really I do think it is screaming out for some parmesan or something. I'll have to wait until he's not around and try it. Again, I welcome any other suggestions anyone reading this might have. I have half a packet of polenta grains left and I don't like to waste things, especially not food!