Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Limoncello

Since my boozy haul at Christmas, I've been pretty proud of the fact that whenever guests come to stay I've been more or less able to get them drunk on whatever they fancy. Be it cheap gin, expensive whiskey or decades-old benedictine (no exaggeration), no matter your tipple - I'm your guy. Still, not one to be content with having enough enough alcohol in the house, I knew there was certainly room for one more bottle. Limoncello it is then - the perfect after-dinner drink. Just be careful...this stuff's so damn good that you might be finding excuses to make it an after-lunch drink.
I wanted to try something different with this one, so I went with a combination of lemons and limes. Four of each should do the trick. I'm struggling for a name here...limonlimoncello?
The beauty of this recipe is in its simplicity. All you need are a few lemons and limes, a sugar syrup and a bottle of vodka. It doesn't even need to be expensive vodka, as you're infusing it over the course of about a fortnight. I mean, don't go buying that cheap stuff that that we used to guzzle down in the park when we were little, but no need to go crazy either. I'm just kidding by the way, I never did that - I was immaculately behaved.
Peel all of the zest off your lemons and limes, being careful not to get too much of the bitter white pith. Funny word that, pith. Anyway, this is the only real labour-intensive step in this recipe so not too bad hey? Also by the time you're finished the whole house will smell all lemony-fresh.
Throw your peels into a big jar and drown them in the vodka. If you want to reserve a shot for yourself that's your call, I can't stop you and I won't tell you that it's a bad idea. Seal tight and leave for a week, giving the jar a good shake every day.
After a week or so, mix in a sugar syrup. Easy to make, just dissolve about 300g of granulated sugar in 500ml of water until it's thickened slightly. Leave to cool before you chuck it in, then seal up the booze and leave for another week. Don't forget the shaking. Can't forget the shaking. After a week simply decant into a bottle and stick in the freezer. 
And that's a job well done. Pour yourself a large shot in your favourite children's-puzzle-book-character-themed shot glass and sample your, ermmmmm, hard work. Cheers!

Ingredients
4 lemons
4 limes
75cl vodka
300g sugar
500ml water

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Taco Bowls

Taco Bowls
Growing up, tacos were a staple in our household, and very much a fan favourite. If my sisters or I ever caught wind that they were on that week's menu then that was it - tacos on the brain for days. We'd talk about what fillings we would used and how many we could eat, and argue about who was more excited for taco night. We were buzzing and we wouldn't calm down until we had our hands on those crunchy shells of Mexican goodness. And then, after we finished our tacos we needed to find out when the next taco night was going to be, and can it please be tomorrow? Well a couple of decades later and nothing's changed. I still love tacos and tonight....is taco night.
Avocado
If you're going to do it, do it right. And homemade guacamole is doing it right. There's a reason you pay 50p extra for a dollop of the green stuff at those burrito bars. Those wily burrito bars...
Guacamole
For my guacamole I just combined the flesh of two ripe avocados, one diced tomato, half a diced red onion, a chopped red chili and clove of garlic. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice, pinch of salt and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. So simple and so good. Make this just before you serve up otherwise it will start to lose it's groovy green colour.
Salsa
So one of the best things about taco night was my mom's homemade salsa. She'd make up this massive salad bowl full of the stuff that would last all weekend, satisfying our regular chip-n'-dip cravings whilst slowly being decanted into smaller bowl after smaller bowl until the salsa was no more. Even though I've never managed to quite crack the flavours in my mom's salsa, this one's pretty good too. Chop up loads of ripe tomatoes - get them on the vine if you can, it makes such a difference. Don't worry about deseeding or taking the skins off, no time for that. All you need is a red onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, a green chili, and a handful of coriander. Dice everything up nice and small and chuck it in. Squeeze of lime, pinch of salt and glug of oil and you're salsa'd up.
Refried beans
I think my favourite thing about taco night was that we never ran out of food. With all the different bowls of meat and rice and cheese and whatnot to stuff in your tacos, you could go round after round and still there'd be plenty of fillings left over. That is, except for the refried beans. See in my house the refried beans never made it to round 2, thanks mostly to my younger sister. They were more of a 'get-what-you're-entitled-to-as-fast-as-you-can-or-Ellie-will-have-eaten-your-share' kinda filling. To make your very own refried beans just fry off a tin of pinto beans in a pan with a tablespoon of lard. When they've softened add a glug of olive oil and use a potato masher to squish everything up into a nice sloppy little mess that - for any doubters out there - it tastes ten times better than it looks.
Taco bowls
There's something about being able to eat the plate or bowl that your food comes in that just gets me even more excited about what I'm about to chow down on. Let's be honest...who here never desperately wanted to eat out of a nacho hat?
The sort-of worrying thing is that as I watch that, I'm thinking - 'Now THAT would make a good blog post...' Probably not a good idea. To make your almost-as-cool-but-nowhere-near-as-dangerous taco bowls just pop a soft corn tortilla into a greased oven-proof bowl and stick it in a hot oven. Keep an eye on it, but after 4-5 minutes or so you should have some nice taco bowls. Well done.
Taco bowls
Now all that's left to do is assemble. I just went with some nice beef mince, fried with onions and some spices but this bad boy is welcoming of all kinds of meats. Pulled pork, spicy chicken, steak strips, even a few king prawns or some grilled fish. Some lettuce, your toppings, grated cheese and a scoop of sour cream to finish it all off. It really doesn't get better than that. I love taco night.

Ingredients
for the guacamole...
2 ripe avocados
chopped tomato
red onion
red chili
lime juice
salt
olive oil
garlic

for the salsa...
chopped tomatoes
coriander
red onion
green chili
garlic
lime juice
olive oil

Monday, 3 June 2013

Sourdough Breadsticks

I've been cooking for probably about a decade now, and its fair to say that I've had a few disasters. I've burnt cakes, undercooked chicken (the oven's fault - I SWEAR), and a pecan pie that - to use a culinary term - just plain sucked. More of then than not I'll sit and seethe for a minute then just chalk it down to experience and reach for the nearest takeaway menu. But, on the rarest of occasions I'll end up creating something that, albeit may not be what I necessarily intended to create, can certainly pass for something else, and actually taste pretty damn good too. And so, on a totally unrelated note, these are my perfectly planned and intentional sourdough breadsticks.
A few weeks ago I started making a sourdough starter. It was a bit of a punt and there were some nervous moments right around week two, but I think I got there in the end. 
I'm not gonna lie to you guys. This stuff don't smell so hot. But it makes such beautiful bread. Crazy.
For a big loaf..err..batch of breadsticks, mix 500g of strong white bread flour with 300ml of the starter and about 300ml of warm water. Add a pinch of salt and give it a good mix. Once it's all combined tip it out onto a floured worktop and give it a hell of a knead. It's REALLY wet and will take a lot of kneading. Use plenty of flour to stop it from sticking...I swore a lot at this stage actually. Once the dough is elastic and coming away from the table, roll it into a ball and pop into a big bowl that's you've ever-so-lightly oiled. Leave in a warm place for two hours.
I can't tell you how much joy I derive from seeing dough rise up like this. And then being able to punch it down. It's the coolest. I'm the coolest. Tip it out of the bowl onto a floured surface and smack it around a bit then shape into a loaf-ish shape.
So this is where it started to go wrong for me. The dough needs to rise for another 10 hours or so. You saw how much the dough had risen last time? So did I. And I still figured it would be a good idea to squeeze it into a nice little loaf tin with barely an inch or two to spare. Poor decision. What you want to do is leave it in a nice big bowl or loaf tray, even on a baking tray, with a bit of oil and covered with cling film. Mine rose like a motherbleeper, all over my oven and I lost half my dough. Great thing to wake up to. 
The other, equally stupid mistake I made was leaving the dough on the side, covered on a baking sheet all day whilst I was at work instead of cooking it straight away. The result was a flat loaf. Hence...breadsticks! If you'd like some bread instead of breadsticks...don't do this. Bake it straight away after the second prove, at 230C for about 30 minutes. Throw a cup of water in the bottom of the oven and the steam will give the bread(sticks) a beautiful brown glossy crust.

So, yes. These were a complete nightmare but at the same time, a little bit of a success as well. They were flat as hell but they tasted good and the sourdough flavour was great. And, with a bowl of pasta or nice bit of cheese, they really did the job I asked of them. It kinda makes me wish I'd taken a photo of the inside of my oven after the dough explosion. It's very funny now, just didn't seem so at half past seven in the morning. I'll know next time...

Ingredients
500g strong white bread flour
200ml warm water
salt