Friday, 15 March 2013

Easter Eating pt1 - Creme Egg and Bacon Sandwich

The internet is awash with recipes featuring Cadbury's Creme Eggs. Of course there are deep fried Creme Eggs (come on, who hasn't had one of those), but also creme egg doughnuts, milkshakes, brownies, and even creme eggs benedict (I really, really wish I'd thought of that first). It was a real challenge to come up with an original recipe, but I think I've done it. I give you, the creme egg and bacon sandwich.

No ordinary bread would have sufficed for this sandwich. I used french toast - two slices of white bread, soaked in egg, and fried until brown and crispy. And then spread with a generous layer of peanut butter.

I used streaky bacon, because it crisps up much better than back bacon. I brushed the slices with lots of maple syrup, and put them under a hot grill until ultra crispy.

Finally the egg. I simply chopped it up, melted it down, and then poured it over the bacon.

I was a bit concerned about the combination of bacon and sickly sweet creme egg - despite the fact that bacon desserts/cakes seem to be all the rage these days. But to tell you the truth I could hardly taste the bacon through all the sweet stuff, apart from a hint of saltiness. Which I decided was probably a good thing.



Monday, 11 March 2013

Weekend in Iceland

My little corner of South London has seen it's fair share of change over the last few years. Scruffy old man's pubs were slowly turned into bars and gastropubs. Cafes, delis and boutiques sprung up. A posh butcher and a fishmonger arrived, and familiar chain stores started to move in. And now, it looks like the long standing Iceland store is going to be transformed into an M&S "Simply Food", sparking much debate in the local community.

On one side of the fence, you can almost hear people gleefully rubbing their hands with the smug anticipation of rising house prices. Not to mention the prospect of loading up on seafood paella, "gastropub" chunky chips, superfood salads, and Belgian chocolate melt-in-the-middle puddings on their way home from work. None of these items, as far as I am aware, are available from Iceland. But others argue that Iceland is a valuable resource for those of us with less cash to spare.

I admit, I hadn't been inside the store in well over ten years. The only occasion I could remember was when I first arrived here, and I emerged with three packets of biscuits and some paper plates. But although I'm not a regular Iceland customer, I probably won't use the new M&S all that much either... so I'm open minded about the change. I decided to pay another visit to Iceland before it disappeared, so I could see what I'll be missing.

The in-store Experience

The shop has obviously not been updated in at least 25 years, the beige tiles and abundant orange trim are guaranteed to put off the chattering classes and image conscious young professionals. The front of the store has a small section of fresh fruit, veg and dairy, but this looked similar to any other supermarket, and the prices seemed no lower. This was not the reason for my visit. I walked over to the expansive frozen foods section... this was the stuff.

"Excuse me,"
I said meekly to an employee (with a strange residue around her mouth, as if she'd been drinking Yop straight from the bottle). "Where can I find the chicken tikka lasagne"?
"I dunno. Where do you normally find it?" came the rather bizzare answer.

Eventually I found what I was looking for, and also picked up a few other items that tickled my fancy. A doner kebab pizza. Microwavable chicken strips. Sweet and sour chicken (with rice) for one. Despite the fact that the store was almost deserted, the checkout queue was pretty slow as there was only one till open. But eventually I left the store with enough food for the weekend, for a grand total of £3.75. You would be hard pushed to buy a single meal in M&S for that sort of money.

Chicken Tikka Lasagne

I was getting hungry, and decided to start with the signature dish, chicken tikka lasagne. Despite the unsavoury memory of Kerry Katona advertising this on TV, I eagerly stuck it in the microwave for the recommended duration. It came out looking rather anemic, so I put it under the grill for a couple of minutes, and turned it out onto a plate.

First of all, any curry lover can see straight away that this does not even vaguely resemble chicken tikka. What we have between the layers of pasta is bog standard chicken curry, which would probably be fine as a jacket potato topping, for instance. But curry with cheese sauce is not a combination I would have personally put together (and that's saying something). Still, it is not as unpleasant as popular opinion would have you believe, and I actually ate most of it.

Amount Completed

Microwavable Chicken Strips

I was particularly cynical about this one. You simply pop open the box, and stick it in the microwave for three minutes. Surely they couldn't possibly emerge crispy? And guess what - they didn't. They came out limp, soggy, and chewy.

The reformed chicken pieces had the texture of polystyrene coated in porrige. I was reminded of the damp microwave chips my Mum used to give us as an after school "treat". They were a bad idea, and so was this. I only managed to eat 1 piece.

Amount Completed

Doner Kebab Pizza

This one actually sounded like something I might want to eat. I had a renewed enthusiasm for the doner kebab after my recent attempt at making my own, and saw no reason why it couldn't work on top of a pizza.

The pizza was of the "deep pan" variety, with an inch thick base of stodgy bread. It felt strangely nostalgic - this is the kind of food I was raised on. I guess that explains a lot. But it also reminded me how much British food has improved over the last 20 years. The cheese had the texture of melted cheese, but tasted of nothing. The doner kebab pieces, even when sampled in isolation, had only the faintest hint of meaty flavour. But still, it doesn't feel right to judge this on flavour. It's a big slab of food, that will fill almost anyone up for only £1.

I only finished half of it - I could have eaten more, but there didn't seem any point.

Amount Completed

Sweet and Sour Chicken

We eat Chinese food in our house several times a week. Even though sweet and sour chicken is not exactly Chinese food... I felt well qualified to judge this one. Considering the ridiculously low price, I was impressed to find that there were no reformed meat pieces in sight - this contained actual chicken (even if it had a texture of meat which has already been chewed and partially digested). There were also quite a few bits of vegetable in there which had somehow managed to remain chrunchy, despite being encased with orange gunk and buried in the freezer cabinet for the past year.

The first couple of mouthfuls didn't taste too bad, but after that, the overriding syrupy sweetness became a bit much. But I was hungry, and had neglected to buy any real food, so ended up eating over half of it.

Amount Completed

So, will I be visiting Iceland again any time soon? Unlikely. But I can see why people might use it when the food is this cheap. Of course, it helps if you don't really care what it tastes like.


Thursday, 7 March 2013


It's not a cheese steak. It's a cheesesteak. Just one word. Don't ask me why, I guess Americans struggle a little bit with their spelling. I've never actually had a proper cheesesteak, but next time I'm in America, it's right at the top of my list. But in the meantime, here's my effort.

For the best combination of flavour and tenderness, there's only one type of steak to use, and that's ribeye. I sliced it thinly by partially freezing it, and then cutting it diagonally with a sharp knife. Then quickly fried the slices for around 3 minutes.

I piled up the steak inside a large sub roll, put some slices of cheese on the top, and microwaved it for 20 seconds to melt the cheese. A little mustard, a little mayo, and you have a breakfast lunch fit for champions.

A damn expensive sandwich... but worth every penny.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Bombay Potato Hash Browns

We all look online for recipes now and again - even experts such as myself. But after searching for hash brown recipes, I felt somewhat disappointed. All the recipes I saw were for pan-fried grated potato patties - which I'm sure taste great, but to me, that's a potato rosti, not a hash brown. I wanted to make the kind of hash brown you get at a greasy spoon, or with a McD's breakfast. The best way I can describe one of these hash browns would be finely diced potato, stuck together with "potato glue", and deep fried. It sounded doable.

But then I had a brainwave - to combine the hash brown with the flavour of everybody's favourite (well, certainly my favourite) potato dish, Bombay Potato. What I needed was one of these - a packet of "Bombay Potatoes recipe mix". Yes, you could of course use your own mix of spices, but I thought that the Schwarz mix had a certain comedy kitsch value. But despite finding plenty of evidence for this product's existence online, after searching three separate supermarkets, I still had not found it. The best I could do was a jar of Asda bombay potato curry paste.

So I made my "potato glue" out of mashed potato, flour, egg, and the bombay potato curry paste. This stuff was sticky and horrible - leaving it in the fridge to dry for a few hours helped a bit, but not much. But I added a bit more flour and some extra dried spices, and it was just about workable.

Next I diced some potatoes as finely as I could, and then tried to squeeze the moisture out using a rolling pin. It was a particularly satisfying experience to feel the little cubes of potato popping like bubble wrap. I mixed the diced potatoes with the "potato glue", formed the mixture into squares, and it was ready for deep frying.

Fresh, crisp hash browns, with a spicy curry flavour. A bit of mango chutney on the side, and you can't go wrong.