Friday, 31 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Palestine - Okra Stew

Having survived my first attempt at cooking okra, a vegetable that up until that point I found abhorrent, I decided to keep going with my new discovery.  I had always found okra to be a slimy, slug-like vegetable and couldn't understand its appeal.  It turned out that if you look after it, it is really nice.

Tonight's recipe for the Olympic Food Challenge is called Bamee, an Okra Stew from Palestine.  Although if you take the time to read the recipe I hope you'll agree that it is a lamb stew with okra.  Lamb means that it is not just me being challenged tonight as lamb is Z's final hangover from her vegetarian past.

This is a very simple recipe and because of that the finished dish does have that authentic feel to it.  The lamb (we had some neck) was browned with an onion, some garlic and allspice, covered in water and left to cook for a couple of hours.  Sautéed okra, a tin of tomatoes and a bunch of coriander are then added for a further half an hours cooking.

I was wary as some of the okra tales I had received said that stewing was one of the reasons that it went slimy.  However, some of my advice on cooking okra paid off as there was no slime in sight.  We had the stew with some flatbreads to mop up the juices.  Palestine's two Paralympians will be hoping to mop up their opposition on Saturday as they take to the Olympic Stadium in the long jump and shot put.  I wish them good luck with their endeavours.  I can't see us cooking this again as the lamb was still too lamby and fiddly for Z.  If gold medals were awarded for effort alone she would have been top of the podium tonight.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Dominica - Caribbean Reef Chicken

Researching a meal for tonight's Olympic Food Challenge proved to be quite tricky.  Almost all of the recipes from Dominica that I found were in fact from the Dominican Republic and not Dominica.  They are not a million miles away from each other in the Caribbean, but there are always regional variations.

The Dominican recipe that I settled on was Caribbean Reef Chicken.  The chicken is baked with a marinade of brown sugar, dark rum, lime juice and spices.  The smells coming out of the kitchen were reminiscent of Christmas, but that could have been the cloves in the sauce.  After forty five minutes the chicken is coated in a mixture of mango chutney and more rum creating an even stickier glaze delicious on the chicken skin.

We served the chicken legs with Caribbean spinach and rice which, although not necessarily from Dominica, was a really nice, fresh accompaniment to the sweet chicken.  Z had a little moment when she had a nice chew on one of the whole chillis that were cooked with the rice but other than that the meal was a success. 

Dominica's Olympic team of two athletes failed to take home any medals and they have no athletes taking part in the Paralympics, so for them London 2012 is over.  Caribbean Reef Chicken lives on however.  We will be using this recipe again but not for roast chicken portions.  We both decided that the marinade and glaze would make great finger licking chicken wings.  All we need now is the excuse to cook some.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Papua New Guinea - Curried fish

So far for the Olympic Food Challenge we have; eaten Pigs Trotters, toyed with the idea of goats head soup, eaten breadfruit (an ingredient that I was assured was disgusting) and tucked into and enjoyed okra*.  Tonight we are venturing into the very belly of the beast and I'm cooking something that ticks all of my "do not eat this" boxes.

What can be so bad?  It's curried fish!  I love fish and I'm rather partial to a good curry.  What I really don't like is cooked pineapple in any form.  I do like pineapple, don't get me wrong.  I don't have a phobia for the fruit itself.  I just don't like it in a savoury setting.

Having braved pigs feet however, I feel that I needed to give this a try.  The fish curry recipe from Papua New Guinea is a simple enough recipe to follow** and also had the added fun factor of being quite vague.  Not only were the quantities a guide but there was also no specific fish specified.  We had cod cheeks in the freezer so that is what we used.  The finished dish was really good, even the pineapple worked, but I can't claim that it was a true Papuan classic.

*up until that point I had only found okra to be slimy and disgusting, I really enjoyed it home cooked so somebody must be cooking it wrong.
**even though it is written in white on a black page which is a pet peeve of mine.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Pork, Apple and Parsnip Stew

Something has to change.  We almost have two freezers full of delicious leftovers and yet we keep adding to our stocks by continually cooking really nice food.   Once the Olympic Food Challenge is over we will have to try to eat at least one "ready meal" a week.  We'll also have to try even harder to cook just enough food for the three of us and not be so greedy with our portions.

Because of a scheduled gap in my Olympic Food Challenge timetable, we have been able to start the freezer cull tonight and what a way to start.  Hopefully you will recall the pork and apple crumble that I made a few months ago.  As normal I made too much and the remaining filling for the dish was frozen.  When we defrosted the pork it turned out that I hadn't been too generous with my quantities.  We had considered bulking out the sauce with mushrooms but when shopping for them I found some parsnips and knew immediately that they would be a much better addition to the meal.

As well as the parsnips, I also added some light vegetable stock as I remembered that the crumble had been a little bit dry and freezing never improves this.  I served the finished stew with boiled potatoes and steamed broccoli, which coincidently is the same vegetable combination that we had with the crumble.  Having now eaten the filling twice we will definitely be making pork and apple crumble again*.

*Once we have got this wonderful summer out of the way and we can return to nice comforting wintry cooking.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Libya - Herbed Rice with Cumin Marinated Fish

After yesterday's hangover induced comfort food, I am back in the saddle and raring to crack on with the Olympic Food Challenge.  I was surprised when researching my previous nineteen countries that I hadn't found more fish dishes.  This time around my countries seem to be more interested in their fishing grounds, which suits me fine.

The first fish dish is actually billed as the accompaniment to a traditional Libyan rice dish of Ruz Hoot bil Kusbur or Herbed Rice with Cumin Marinated Fish.  The fact that this is a fish dish is not the only reason that I picked it.  It was the main factor but not the only one; the flavours in the rice were really tempting.  The deciding factor was the marinade for the fish.  I don't think I have ever used a tablespoon of cumin in anything.  It is a spice that can overpower other flavours if not used judiciously, but I went along with the recipe

I am very glad that I trusted Libyan Food because the finished dish was superb.  The cumin, garlic and lemon juice in the marinade combined really well to flavour the fish*.  I don't know if the breadcrumbs tempered the flavours but the result was great.  The rice was also really good.  I didn't have any fish stock so used vegetable stock instead but again the combination of flavours and the addition of whole roasted corriander seeds gave the dish an extra bite.

This is without a doubt one of the best meals we have cooked during the Olympic Food Challenge.  I would go as far as saying it warrants a gold medal.  Libya didn't get any medals during the Olympics and they only have a team of two entered in the Paralympics.  I hope they do well, I'll certainly be cheering them on after this dish.

*I chose coley, you can choose what you want.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Tuna Pasta Bake

After a fair few drinks last night and a disappointing breakfast courtesy of the Olympic Food Challenge, Z and I decided that we needed a bit of a hug and some vegetables.  The only fresh vegetables that we had in the house were salad ingredients, everything else was frozen.  As I was definitely a few pints over the drink drive limit, a trip to the shops was out of the question.  We raided the store cupboards and resurrected a student stand-by; Tuna Pasta Bake.

A simple tomato sauce is made using onion, garlic and a tin of tomatoes.  From there you can season the sauce to your whim.  I added a glug of red wine vinegar, dried basil and oregano and some chilli flakes.  After the sauce had bubbled for about ten minutes I chucked in frozen peas and sweetcorn and a tin of tuna.  All that was left was to stir the sauce through some cooked pasta, dump some grated cheese on top and bake for about half an hour.

This is not the nicest, prettiest, or most worthy dish that I will ever cook, but it was perfect for the moment and a great reminder that food doesn't need to be complicated to be good.

Olympic Food Challenge: Belarus - Draniki

I've not really been on top of Tonight's Menu since the end of the Olympic Food Challenge.  I put that down to a number of factors.  Firstly, no sooner had the challenge ended than we went on holiday.  I try not to blog on holiday, it's hardly social and possibly rude to lock myself away and type whilst visiting family.  Secondly, since returning to Leeds, we have mostly been eating leftovers and not cooking.  This does not make for good reading.

Thirdly and the saddest reason of them all, the Olympic Food Challenge remains unfinished.  The other bloggers involved and I all cooked like demons, but real life got in the way and so around forty countries remain uncooked.  In the last week I have reallocated the outstanding nations and the challenge is now back on.  We are now aiming to complete the set by the end of the Paralympics.

To get the ball rolling I discovered a Belarusian potato pancake that just had "eat me when hungover" written all over it.  Draniki is made with a mixture of seasoned grated potato and egg which is then fried and served.  Sounds great.  It wasn't.  Either my potatoes were the wrong type or I'm just not keen on draniki.  The grating, using the small side of the grater as shown on the instructions, left me with what can best be described as potato slurry.  Adding an egg didn't help matters nor did the instruction to drain the potato water which came after the instruction to add the egg.

The resulting batter did fry well.  As with all pancakes, the first few were not quite right and the last ones were a little burnt due to the variances in pan heat.  Unlike normal pancakes these were not yummy.  The potato didn't cook through and they remained watery.  Grating an onion didn't help my hangover either.  Luckily, a couple of sausages and a cracking slice of bacon, all from B&J Callard's on Kirkgate Market, came to the rescue.

It was the Belarusian pair of Azarenka and Mirnyi that beat Andy Murray and Laura Robson to the Olympic Gold medal in the Tennis Mixed Doubles.  I can only imagine that they didn't start that day with a plate of draniki.  If they did then they are better athletes than I give them credit for.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Chicken Tortillas and Mexican Ribs

Today could have gone one of two ways.  We were scheduled to have a trip over the Pennines to Wilmslow for a barbecue at a Uni friend's house.  This was still the plan until last night when good sense and an accurate weather forecast changed our plans.  It was decided that, in the best interests of R, our mates would come over the tops to Leeds and we'd do the cooking.

Pabs has made this trip plenty of times since we moved here from Leicester and each time we manage to squeeze in a bit of a pub crawl.  In the past the Otley Run has been attempted* and we have even braved some of the less welcoming pubs of the city centre**.  Today we showed our age and only had a few cheeky pints before going back home to cook.  I had a couple of pubs/bars that I hadn't been to before, and this visit was the perfect excuse.  We took in The Town Hall Tavern and The Bierkeller before heading to the highlight of the day: Friends of Ham

I very much doubt that I'll be going back to The Bierkeller.  There was nothing intrinsically wrong with it and there was a good choice of draft German beers, but it just didn't feel welcoming.  I can see myself going back to The Town Hall Tavern, if only for the food.  I am a fan of Timothy Taylor's beers and having a choice of their brews made a nice change from seeing Landlord as a guest ale.  The food looked superb, but as we were eating at home we didn't try any of it.

If you haven't yet ventured into Friends of Ham then please do yourself a favour and do so.  I am under no obligation to say this.  I am on talking friends with the owners and no more, I have no financial link to the bar, apart from the money that I have spent there on beer and meat.  It is just too good to miss out on.  The ever rotating beer selection means that I am yet to have the same beer twice.  Again, because we were heading home to cook, we didn't have any of the fine salamis or hams that were on offer but that means that I'll just have to go back again.

By the time the mini pub crawl was over Z had already returned home from her shopping trip with R.  She had also knocked up a batch of corn tortillas and poached some chicken as the base for their filling.  The shredded chicken was added to rice, which was cooked in a tin of tomatoes with ground cloves and oregano.

I had decided earlier on that I wanted ribs but, as much as I like gnawing at pork bones, I'm not a fan of BBQ sauce.  A bit of judicious research later threw up Tomasina Miers' Mexican barbecue ribs.  I'll admit to not following the recipe to the letter, mainly because I was fresh out of Ancho and Chipotle chillies.  Instead I used a variety of fresh, dried and powdered chilli for heat and included a roasted red pepper for bulk.  In all honesty I overcooked the ribs, but they still tasted good.  The citrus flavours from Thomasina's marinade still came through and they made a very welcome change from BBQ ribs.

*without the fancy dress.
**Hoagy's and The Vine spring to mind.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Spaghetti and Meatballs

We still haven't managed to do a "big shop" since returning from our trip to Windsor so again tonight we are raiding the freezer for Tonight's Menu.  Standing out on the blackboard inventory was meatball mix but it wasn't until it was defrosted, that we discovered that inside the container was the leftover beef mixture from our Olympic Food Challenge adventure into Mongolian cooking, Buuz.

The minced beef, onion and caraway mixture was formed into golf ball sized balls and poached in a fresh tomato and basil sauce.  We deliberately kept the seasoning and flavours to a minimum as R was joining us and although he loves strong flavours we put a lot less salt in his cooking than in ours.

The meatballs were served, as tradition dictates, with spaghetti and parmesan cheese.  Z and I also had some garlic bread, which of course R stole some of.  We already knew that the caraway worked really well with the beef but what got me was the success of its combination with the tomato and basil.  I'm not sure if there are any Italian/Mongolian fusion restaurants out there but if there are they really need to get Spaghetti and Buuz-balls on their menu as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Last month, on a rare day off, I indulged myself in some down time and a bit of cooking.  Having spent the afternoon drinking coffee I returned home and knocked up a batch of butternut squash gnocchi.  I originally assumed that I would only have enough for one meal but I was wrong.  There were plenty of little dumplings for Z and I, and even more to be frozen for another day.

That day was today.  Gnocchi are superb fast food* and cook in under five minutes.  We tossed them in pesto and had a nice salad to go with them.  I now have no gnocchi in the house so I'll be making more soon.  I'd be interested to hear how you like to serve yours.

*once you have made them.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Merguez Sausages

If you follow me on twitter* you may have noticed that I have a fairly unhealthy relationship with merguez sausages.  It runs close to an obsession and is fuelled by a lack of merguez in my life.  I'm sure that if I could find a reliable source for the spicy North African Sausages in Leeds, I could easily do without them but their absence makes me want them more.

Such is my desire for merguez that when I discovered a 'merguez inspired' sausage in Morrison's**, a packet was in my shopping basket faster than Usain Bolt doing up his shoe laces.  Never mind that I was shopping for the Olympic Food Challenge, or that the object of my desire was not indigenous to any of my countries, they had to be bought.

Now that the challenge is over*** and I can eat what I want, the merguez were first on the meal planner. Nothing could have made me happier than tucking into a plate of merguez with a pile of skinny chips and a mound of salad, so that is what we had.  I knocked up a yoghurt, lemon and mint dressing and wallowed in my obsession.  The sausages weren't bad but they were not 100% authentic.  My search goes on, but at least I now have a substitute for when the cravings get too bad.

*why not?
**other supermarkets are available.
***for now

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Saturday night with the Windsors

It's been a while hasn't it. I've not written on Tonight's Menu since the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.  I had no idea how I was going to follow up the Olympic Food Challenge but it turns out that I didn't need a new challenge, all I needed was a rest.  I said all the way through the challenge that it was only one meal a day, but it was more than that.  It turned into an obsession for me and one that brought out some of my worst emotions.

It was my baby, my challenge* and I was determined that I would hold up my end of the bargain.  I would cook and blog my way through nineteen countries in nineteen days.  Of course I had the added challenge of collating the blog-posts of the other challengers.  There were days when I only received a handful of posts from the other bloggers.  I knew after a couple of days in that we were never going to manage all 204 countries.  That started playing on my mind and I may have started to get a bit snappy, I only hope I didn't step on any toes.

After the final reckoning we were about forty dishes short, so because it's my game, I have decided to extend the challenge so that the end date is now the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, which is on the 9th September.  Usual service may well have resumed long before then.

To wind down from the blog-athon we have come on Holiday to Windsor, Z's home town.  We were scheduled to visit during the Olympics for Z's folks 25th wedding anniversary, but, due to the rowing at Eton Dorney, Windsor was a traffic lock-down and we had to stay at home**.

We always eat well when we take a trip to Windsor and this week was no exception.  Over the course of our visit we had a sausage and pepper stew, a huge barbeque, salmon fishcakes, pasta with homemade roast pepper and tomato sauce and a buffet on the day that more of the family turned up.  The Thai inspired salmon fishcakes were so good that we will be cooking them once we are back home.

Thai salmon fishcakes with sweet potato chips and stirfried vegetables

As an extra treat, on Saturday, we all took the train into London for a mooch around Borough Market.  I had never been before.  I was like a child on the night before Christmas as we were waiting at the station.  Our journey wasn't just for the fun of it, we had a mission.  We were shopping for our evening meal, a meal to mark our hosts silver wedding anniversary.  I had heard about the large number of quality butchers but was staggered firstly at the huge range of fruit and vegetables and then at the price***.

In the end we chose wild boar steaks from Sillfield Farm, along with some of their bacon, sausages and blackpudding for our breakfast on Sunday.  I found ruby chard (one of my favourites) and romanesco (a vegetable that I had never eaten before) and we happily left The City for Windsor.  The steaks were pan fried and finished off in a low oven whilst the vegetables were simply cooked so that we could all taste them****.  The whole lot was served with a white wine, cream and mushroom sauce and boiled new potatoes.

Usually, I long for home by the time the end of a holiday comes along, but not this time.  The break has been wonderful, helped by glorious weather, great company and good food.  The break from a daily food blog has also been nice.  I will be back to daily updates soon, just not for a couple of days while I'm still in holiday mode.

*my precious.
**this was a very good thing. I couldn't have coped with trying to complete the OFC whilst being in somebody else's house.
***6 flat peaches for £2.00 when I pay £1.00 for 10 of them on Leeds Market!
****Z's folks hadn't had chard before.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Great Britain

Way back in April, when the initial draw for the Olympic Food Challenge took place, a kindly soul* suggested that since I had drawn Great Britain I should cook a four course meal.  The idea being that each course should represent one of the home nations.  Of course I laughed off the idea as sounding like far too much work.

Tonight I have cooked a four course meal, one course for each of the home nations that make up The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland**. 

Starter: Wales - Glamorgan Sausage

I suppose the obvious choice for a light Welsh starter would have been rarebit but I have always had a soft spot for Glamorgan sausages.  For a long time they loitered as a poor vegetarian option on pub menus but I think they are due a come back.  Caerphilly cheese, leek, breadcrumbs, parsley and thyme are mixed together with some beaten egg and formed into sausages.  These are then coated in breadcrumbs and shallow fried.  A very simple and very tasty starter.

Fish Course: Scotland - Smoked Salmon and Oatcakes

Anyone who knows me may well be surprised that I have not picked haggis as the Scottish part of the British meal.  Well, haggis season starts today***, but even if I had managed to shoot a wee beastie this morning, it would still need to be hung for a couple of days before we could eat it.

The other thing synonymous with Scottish cuisine is smoked fish.  From Arbroth Smokies to Cullen Skink, smoked fish gets everywhere.  As we're eating four courses I decided to keep the fish course light and opted for smoked salmon with oatcakes.

Main Course: Ireland - Bacon Chops with Braised Cabbage

I did a fair amount of research for Ireland****.  I wanted to do the kind of dish that turns up on family dinner tables not a cheffy reconstruction, so I was happy when I was told I had to make boiled bacon with cabbage and potatoes.

Those of you who have been following the Olympic Food Challenge may have felt a little queasy earlier this week when we cooked pigs trotters.  We were certainly unsure about how they would turn out.  In fact, we were so unsure that I had bought emergency bacon chops just in case we had to throw the meal in the bin.  Surprisingly we ate the trotters and the chops ended up in the freezer.

Tonight they have been briefly pan fried, not boiled, and finished in the oven.  The cabbage was then braised in the bacon pan to make sure they benefited from the bacony goodness that was left behind.  Served with boiled new potatoes, this is not the most glamorous meal I have cooked in the last two weeks, but it is one of the best.

Dessert: England - Trifle

This was the first dish on the menu.  I love trifle.  Not the hundreds and thousands topped jelly-fest, but the sherry soaked, fresh fruit filled and almond topped grown up version.  We would normally make a huge trifle but as we are going on Holiday tomorrow we decided to make these two dainty individual trifles.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that.  Nineteen dishes, nineteen countries, nineteen days and one challenge.  The Olympic Food Challenge has opened my eyes to ingredients that I have never heard of before.  I have braised more food in two weeks than I have previously.  I have also met, and found a huge amount of admiration for, a group of food bloggers who have helped me cross the finishing line. Thanks for joining me over the last nineteen days.  Thank you for cooking, for blogging and for reading.  And thank you for your support.

*Yes Dan, you!
**I really am a sucker for a challenge!
***The Glorious 12th is not just for grouse.
****I asked J, the 29 year old receptionist at work, who happens to be of Irish decent.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Lebanon - Dolmas

A long time ago, in a kitchen far far away...

It's hard for me to remember a time before the Olympic Food Challenge started.  All of the researching and cooking new food with new ingredients is starting to feel normal, but that could just be culinary Stockholm Syndrome* setting in.  But there was a time before the Olympics started.  A happy carefree time, when I could cook what I wanted without having to source Fufu.

That said, there was always a part of me that was determined to discover new things.  There had to be or the Challenge would never have been born.  Back in June I had planned to make my own stuffed vine leaves as part of a Mezze that I was cooking for some guests.  By the time I had managed to find some vine leaves in Leeds I didn't have enough time to fill and cook them, so I opened a jar of ready made Dolmas.

Having drawn Lebanon as my penultimate Olympic Food Challenge country I knew I had to finally have a go at Dolmas.  I know that stuffed vine leaves are common throughout the Middle East but I first encountered them in a Lebanese restaurant, so to me they will always represent Lebanon.

Rather than trusting the internet I turned to my bookshelf as I knew there was a Stuffed Vine Leaves recipe in Sarah Maxwell's Meze Cooking.  On paper it didn't take too long, a couple of hours, but that didn't take into consideration the hour it took me to separate and rinse the packet of brined vine leaves.  This put us back a while and we had already been delayed by having a little too much fun at the Huddersfield Food and Drink Festival.

Once we finally sat down to eat the Dolmas they were just as tasty as any that I have eaten from delis or restaurants.  To me the mixture was a little light on rice and heavy on pine nuts and raisins but I can always change the quantities next time we cook them.  Who am I kidding?  Unless I was cooking a feast and feeling time rich and wallet poor, I will be going back to shop-bought Dolmas.  As nice as the were, they can be added to the list of things which life is too short to do; making puff pastry from scratch, boning an ox tail etc.

*Stockpot Syndrome perhaps.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Mongolia - Buuz

Without a doubt Mongolia has been the hardest of my Olympic Food Challenge countries to research.  For some reason all of the websites I discovered had the same dishes, the same measurements and exactly the same spelling mistakes.  If I had been marking essays on Mongolian Food, I would have been calling the entire class in for plagiarism.

There was the odd recipe that made me think twice.  An American family tried to recreate Khorkhog by cooking rocks on their barbecue before adding them to a wok along with some mutton.  I have neither a barbecue, or a handy supply of culinary rocks so that was off the menu.  The next recipe to take my eye was Boodog.  Boodog is not the latest IPA from those crazy scamps at BrewDog: it is cooked marmot. 

The first time I came across a marmot was in The Big Lebowski when a group of Nihilists threw their pet marmot into The Dude's bath.  What I knew from my limited marmot exposure, was that they resembled large ferrets or ground hogs and I was certain that even Leeds Market would let me down on that front*.  I was almost ready to throw in the towel when Z told me that she wanted to try making Buuz.  I was over the moon but mainly because I had heard "I'm going to make some booze!"

Buuz are a staple of Mongolian cooking, consisting of minced meat and onions wrapped in a simple dough to form dumplings.  These come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be either steamed, fried or boiled.  Our buuz were steamed, delicious and served with a bitter green salad.  The technique is daunting but quite simple and we'll be trying our arm at something similar in the future, possibly with some western flavours in the filling.

Mongolia have managed to medal** four times so far during London 2012.  Boxing, Judo and Wrestling are their events du jour.  Even if they'd won gold in kitten wrangling I would have told you that buuz are tasty.  If you can mentally cross pierogi and dim sum you'll understand the texture.  If you can't grasp that concept then give the buuz recipe a try, play with your own flavours and enjoy.

*Ferrets are available on Leeds Market but not for consumption.
**hate self

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Togo - Crevettes aux Poivrons

Researching recipes for the Olympic Food Challenge has been equally interesting and frustrating.  For some countries, recipes have fallen out of the internet and begged me to cook them.  Togo was not one of those countries.  Due to the unique way that Google searches the internet, I had page after page of food to-go!

I had all but given up when Z found a recipe for Crevettes aux Poivrons.  It is such a simple recipe that I was worried that it would be bland, but I shouldn't have.  The combination of ginger, garlic, peppers and prawns worked really well.  The recipe suggested that we serve the prawns with sweet potato chips.  I made some wedges but they were kind of surplus to requirements with the amount of prawns that I cooked.

Togo are yet to win a medal in the London Olympics.  They won a bronze in Beijing but with only a few days left I can't see them matching it this time around.  The team of six athletes can hold their heads up high however* as this dish was superb and we'll definitely be cooking prawns like this again.

*not that they'll be reading this, but you never know.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Uzbekistan - Kovurma Palov (mutton pilaf)

Tonight's instalment of the Olympic food Challenge comes from Uzbekistan.  The Uzbek team is 32 strong and they have medalled*, with a bronze in Judo.  That said, it's quite a poor show from their athletes, as they have walked away with a good handful of medals in the last two Olympics.

When faced with the issue of what to eat from Uzbekistan I seemed to have little choice.  The food of Uzbekistan is varied but the pilaf rules the roost.  I decided upon Kovurma Palov (mutton pilaf) for tonight's meal, mainly because we haven't had any mutton for a long time and I really like mutton.

I used the recipe as a guide but changed the quantities dramatically, there are only two of us after all.  However, I should have made a better stab at the spice quantities.  The finished pilaf was great but could have taken a bit more punch from the seasoning.  Will we be returning to Uzbekistan in the future?  Yes, I think we will.  This slow cook method for a rice dish was good, especially if you are feeding a large crowd.

*For the record, I am one of those people that can't stand medal or podium being used as a verb!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Sudan - Maschi

We are back to Africa for tonight's Olympic Food Challenge, Sudan to be precise.  I'll admit that I didn't do much research into the cuisine of Sudan.  This because the first site that appeared after my google search had a full three course meal, serving suggestions and a potted history of Sudan.

I decided not to go the whole hog and cook all three courses.  We try not to eat too much during the week.  Instead we focussed on the main course Maschi, or Tomatoes Stuffed with Beef.  Unlike the stuffed tomatoes of the 70's these required a little bit of patience as they need to remain intact so hacking the top off was not an option.  I cut a slit in the side wall of each tomato and, using a grapefruit spoon*, I scooped out the contents.  The toms were then filled with a mixture of minced beef, rice and fresh dill.

The stuffed tomatoes were then baked with a tomato and cinnamon sauce.  I was unsure of the dill and cinnamon combination but I'm happy to report that it works.  The Sudanese meal planner suggested a carrot and cabbage salad with parmesan cheese as the side dish.  After fourteen days of quite rich and heavy food, I was more than happy with a salad.  We went for a green salad, including yet more tomatoes and some bread.

Sudan managed to win a silver medal in Men's 800m at the last Olympics in Beijing.  So far they have not managed to repeat their success.  We will be repeating the Maschi in the future, so I hope they can take solace in that.

*what else would you use?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Philippines - Chicken Adobo

After last night's horror show of pigs trotters, I needed something a little less interesting for tonight's Olympic Food Challenge meal.  The first thing I noticed when researching Filipino food was that every list of food contained Chicken Adobo.  As it topped the list of their national dishes and didn't contain pigs trotters, I decided to give it a go.

Chicken is marinated in vinegar and soy sauce for a couple of hours and then poached in the marinade.  Once the chicken is cooked, it is removed and the remaining liquid is reduced to leave an intense sauce.  I served the Adobo with stir fried noodles and vegetables because I have started to crave light and healthy food.

The Filipino team only consists of a handful of people for the Olympics this year.  Even though they have been competing since 1924 they have only won nine medals, but they can go home safe in the knowledge that they have left a firm favourite behind in Chicken Adobo.  The sauce is so intense, salty and sharp.  After the heavy food we have eaten recently it was like manna from Manila.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Lithuania - Braised Pigs Trotters with Sauerkraut

So far the Olympic Food Challenge has been kind to us.  We've eaten and cooked new ingredients and recipes and I've made my own cheese!  Although we have had misgivings about our ingredients, nothing so far has phased us quite the same way as tonight's meal from Lithuania, Kiaulës kojos troðkintos su kopûstais or Braised pigs trotters in sauerkraut.

I like offal generally and I firmly believe in nose to tail eating but this was a hard sell for Z.  I have been taunting her with some of the more squeamish recipes that I have found over the last week or two* but in the interest of continuing my food adventure I insisted that we gave trotters a try.

The recipe I found was simple but vague, so I looked around for more information on trotter cooking.  It seems to me that they require two hours no matter how you cook them so that was the time that I allowed.  The trotters were braised under a blanket of sauerkraut** and served with boiled potatoes.

Plantains were either bland and granular or slimy and mushy.  Breadfruit was quite palatable.  Okra is not as awful as I used to think it was.  Trotters were not great.  They where OK.  The vinegar from the sauerkraut cut through the skin and gristle.  The flesh, what there was of it, was delicious and tender as it should have been after two and a half hours cooking.  I understand why these cuts of meat are eaten, they are abundant and cheap*** and in cold climates they really would provide a lot of your calorific intake for the day.  I just can't see them slipping back into our repertoire.

Thank you Lithuania for broadening my horizons and giving me an excuse to try something new.  Please excuse me if I don't make this a family favourite meal.

*sheep's head soup anybody?
** a family favourite.
***I paid 40p for two trotters!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: India - Paneer and Okra

I am not going to pretend.  I'm not to pull any punches.  When I drew India for the Olympic Food Challenge I was over the moon.  An other person may have taken this to be a day off, a banker, a chance to relax and just knock up the same old curry that they make week in week out.  I'm not that person.  I saw the chance to push myself and potentially pull off some kitchen wheelies at the same time.

Rather than one Indian dish, I decided to make a few and invite some friends over for a meal*.  First on the list was paneer.  Z and I both love paneer and we're lucky enough to be able to buy it locally, but where is the challenge in that.  I wanted to make my own.  Having looked it up, paneer is supposed to be the easiest cheese in the world to make.  All it takes is milk and acid (lemon juice or yogurt).  The acid is added to boiling milk which separates the curds from the whey and the cheese is rinsed under running water.  All that is left is to press the cheese so that you can cut it and cook with it later.

It was a huge success.  The cheese held its shape and was firm enough to cut into cubes before making Spiced Paneer, a recipe by Atul Kochar, one of my favourite chefs.  I had been looking for a simple recipe that wouldn't mask the freshness of my paneer and this combination of spices worked really well.

The second dish is another personal challenge, okra.  Having eaten okra a couple of times I am certain that I don't like it.  This is possibly due to the "ladies fingers" being poorly cooked, but slimy is never high on my list of properties food should have.  I was sure that cooked properly okra would be at least palatable and possibly really nice.  I found this recipe and bit the bullet. I had made the massala earlier in the day so that when it came to cooking all I had to do was fry the okra and add the spices.

The final part of the main meal, apart from a huge mound of pilau rice, was home made lemon pickle.  I had been talking about the Olympic Food Challenge at work** and a colleague told me about the amazing pickles and chutneys that his mum makes.  He rushed home to try to get her secret recipe for me but the translation of measures and ingredients from Hindi into English proved problematic.  Last Monday I was presented with a zip lock bag full of her pickle mix.  I could identify 99% of the spice mix but there was one seed that I couldn't put my finger on.  Ten lemons have been pickling on the kitchen windowsill for a week and tonight it provided a sharp point to a sweet and light meal.

Normally the meal would have ended there but Twitter intervened.  Back in April when I announced the Olympic Food Challenge, Mike from Indie Ices offered me some of his home made kulfi to celebrate India.  Of course I said yes and the months passed.  Yesterday, good to his word Mike delivered two pots of Mango and two pots of Almond & Pistachio kulfi.  I love kulfi but had never had any of Mike's award winning desserts.  They really are good, I had the mango but Z was in raptures about the almond.

Back to the challenges.  First, okra, my least favourite vegetable in the world.  It is definitely back on the menu.  It looks like the secret is cooking it fast and not letting it stew.  Second, paneer.  Wow, what can I say.  Paneer used to be a bit of a treat as it's quite an expensive ingredient but it is so easy and cheap to make at home I doubt I will ever buy it in a shop again.  Please try to make your own paneer, you wont regret it!

*if you're going to show off you may as well have an audience.
** I think about very little else at the moment.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Slovenia - Trout with Herbs

After nine days of great dishes as part of the Olympic Food Challenge, I'm starting to crave some simple food.  Last night Z and I were discussing life after the Olympics and decided that we both fancied a takeaway.  Well it's Friday and traditionally we would be trying to recreate a take away meal at home, but tonight we're eating Slovenian.  The fact that we're having Trout with herbs, means that the other tradition, Fish on Friday, is going to be upheld.

I know that stuffing and baking a trout is not the most adventurous meal that we have cooked as part of this challenge but if Ben Ainsley can slow down in order to win a gold medal then so can I.  There was another reason for picking this dish over any of the others that I found.  The inclusion of Pumpkin Oil.  We found out about pumpkin oil at a food event last year and have been enjoying it ever since.  I hadn't considered putting it on fish and not being one to look a gift horse in the gills, Z was dispatched to buy trout.

The fish was stuffed with a heady mix of parsley, tarragon, chives, dill and rosemary, sprinkled with lemon juice and pumpkin oil and baked for around 20 minutes.  To keep it simple we served the fish with some boiled new potatoes and steamed carrots.  It made a refreshing change from the big punchy stews that we have eaten recently.  For the record Slovenia have already won one gold and two bronze medals during London 2012.  Go Slovenia.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Grenada - Oil Down

There are some dishes in world cuisine that sound so good that you want to eat the page they are written on; steak and chips, bacon sandwich and lemon meringue pie all do it for me.  Tonight's Olympic Food Challenge meal does not make the mouth water from its name alone.  Oil Down is the national dish of Grenada and, that one fact, should have made me want to cook it as part of the challenge.

The clincher that allowed me to see through the greasy title of the dish, was the addition of breadfruit.  Now I don't have a bucket list mentality, I have no driving ambition to eat everything under the sun before I put down my pots and pans, but I do have a stubborn streak a mile wide.  If a new food opportunity is presented to me, I have to take it.  This way I can make my own mind up about how good or bad something is.

When I announced on twitter that I was going to eat breadfruit the responses were extreme.  Breadfruit, it seems, divides opinion like Marmite on steroids.  I received horrified messages warning me off eating the disgusting fruit, alongside messages telling me how lucky I was to be having the nicest food on the planet.

With all of the above knowledge on board, I was more determined than ever to cook Oil Down.  I had spies (@eatlittlespoon) on Leeds Kirkgate Market looking out for its arrival.  In the end Z was passing during her lunch break and happend to find some.  We had originally planned to eat Grenadan next week, but that was bread fruit dependant.  Now that we had it in our grasp we had to reshuffle the menu plan.

Oil Down is a wonderful one pot coconut milk based dish of salted meat and vegetables.  With the breadfruit secured I chose a bacon joint as the meat and got to cooking.  It turns out that we possibly should have cooked this a day or two ago.  Breadfruit doesn't stand well once cut* and we had bought half a fruit for the two of us.  What we cooked with was closer to a ripe brie than any vegetable I can think of, but after three quarters of an hour simmering in coconut milk with onion, peppers, bacon and a scotch bonnet chilli, it had firmed up and taken on the texture of soft, sweet gnocchi.

So far, Oil Down has been the stand out dish of the Olympic Food Challenge for me, it's the one that I want to cook again and that is as high a recommendation for breadfruit and Grenada as I can give.

*nobody told me that.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Azerbaijan - Musembe

When I sat down to meal plan for the Olympic Food Challenge I made sure that we wouldn't be eating the same thing two days in a row.  I separated out the beef dishes, the fish dishes and the chicken dishes.  It appears that I wasn't paying attention to what the meals consisted of.  Tonight's meal from Azerbaijan, is the third meal in four days to consist of meat and vegetables braised in a turmeric rich sauce.

Unlike the previous two meals Musembe requires a little construction rather than throwing everything into a pan.  The meat* is cooked in water until it is tender before turmeric and cinnamon are added.  Once the spices have been stirred into the beef, the vegetables (onion, aubergine, tomato, pepper and potato) are layered into the pan so that they steam over the meat for the rest of the cooking time.

I was a little concerned that the dish would dry out, but the liquid that the vegetables gave off produced enough liquid to finish cooking the beef** and make a great sauce.  Luckily for us we had a guest around for tea tonight, as I ended up cooking enough for a handball team.  H has been following Tonight's Menu for some time and was not in the slightest bit phased by an Azerbaijani dish that she knew nothing about.

The layering of the dish meant that its preparation took more time than I had anticipated, but it meant that the girls had plenty of time to "catch up" before we sat down to eat.  I only wish that I hadn't been so fastidious with the layering as my tetris like tessellation was destroyed as soon as the dish was served.  We plumped for wild rice to have with the musembe and there is still a portion left over.  As Azerbaijan is famed for its soup, it seems only fitting that the leftovers are headed in that direction.

For the record, Azerbaijan have already won a bronze medal in weightlifting.  Go Azerbaijan!

*I chose beef over mutton or lamb, mainly because Z doesn't like lamb and we have mutton coming up later.
**I used a combination of braising steak and shin beef.