Thursday, 27 November 2014

Christmas Party Food from Marks and Spencer

Once again this year we have been pleased to see how many of the 'mainstream' party foods products in the Marks and Spencer chiller cabinets are marked as gluten free.  Sous Chef J is a VERY BIG fan of the Mini Chicken Kievs whilst I like the Belly Pork bites.  Here's a selection of the products we've tried so far this 'festive season'...

 ... first off, we were delighted to find a really lovely, decorated Christmas Cake.  When we bought it, there was the additional bonus that it was on offer at a cost of £8.  It can also be ordered online here using Marks and Spencer's food to order service and has a cost of £12.

Sous Chef J is a HUGE fan of the mini Chicken Kievs - these can be found in the chiller cabinets and also the freezers (useful for stocking up) - and will eat almost a whole pack himself!  They are crispy chicken bites, filled with garlic butter which are a firm favourite.

The Mini Toad in the Hole with  caramelised onion chutney are lovely little mouthfuls of Cumberland sausages in a crispy batter. 
The BBQ Pork Belly Squares are delicious - the meat falls apart and the barbecue sauce glaze is a fab last minute addition to the tray when they're being cooked.

When we found the Mini Christmas Dinner Bites, Sous Chef J was not sure he would like them.  They're made of bitesize turkey and stuffing wrapped in streaky bacon with a pomegranate, clementine and cranberry glaze.  The glaze is added 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

In the end, Sous Chef J enjoyed trying the bites... and they do look appetising - a nice touch is that the bamboo picks have Magic & Sparkle engraved on them.

The last party food item we found was also something Sous Chef J liked - Sticky Asian Lollipops - as they are "easy to eat" which always something that's likely to make him happy!

Spotted in the freezer cabinet was a dessert called Christmas Candles - no gluten was listed in the ingredients or allergen information... we are still trying to find out if this is gluten free but it looks like a lovely option for an easy pudding.

Marks and Spencer also sell gluten free Christmas Puddings and mince pies although, to date, we've only seen the empty shelves where these are meant to be.  

Online, Marks and Spencer's food to order even has a Gluten Free Party Selection which contains 12 Mini Chicken Kievs, 12 Scottish Lochmuir™ Smoked Salmon and Prawn Appetisers, 18 BBQ Pork Belly Squares, 12 Sticky Asian Style Chicken Lollipops, and 12 Mini Toad in the Hole with caramelised onion chutney at a cost of £30 for 66 pieces in total.

Overall we have been pleasantly surprised by the range of items that are stocked which are clearly marked as gluten free and, although we'd like the supply to be more reliable, we do think it's worth heading to M&S to stock up on easy-to-cook party food.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Slow Cooker Meat

We use our slow cooker throughout the year but, in preparation for cooler weather, this post is a summary of a number of cuts of meat that we've cooked with it.

Our slow cooker has been used for whole joints of meat, chicken pieces and many stew-type meals... here are a few meat joints that we have slow-cooker-cooked.
This was a beef silverside joint, cooked with small potatoes in their skins.

Gammon in slow cooker, heat on low, ready to be cooked
Gammon resting, under foil, prior to carving

Gammon mid-carving
The method we use is the same, whatever the meat... the slow cooker's 'warmed up' on the high setting whilst the meat is prepared.  For a cooking a joint, the preparation is drying the meat, seasoning it generously, and then placing the joint of meat in to the slow cooker pot.  It's that simple!!  The lid is placed on the pot and the heat is turned down to low.  That's it; it's left alone for about 6 hours (depending on size of meat being cooked) until mealtime.  No water/gravy is added to the pot.  The meat cooks in its own juices (although sometimes we put roughly chopped vegs placed in the bottom of the pot.) 
Liquid from the cooked gammon - nothing extra has been added to the slow cooker
Poultry, whole or pieces, and other meat joints are cooked in this way (we blogged about cooking a duck in the slow cooker here).  If you want crispy fat/crackling, then take the fat off the joint once it's cooked and being rested and add it to a hot frying pan.  It'll soon render down and leave you with lovely crisp crackling.
Gammon fat being removed from cooked joint
Gammon fat - now crackling!
Here are a few pics of duck legs being slow cooker cooked -

Duck legs prepared for cooking - skin pierced and seasoned...
...cooked duck legs some hours later.

The duck meat comes away from the bone easily.

Skin being crisped up in frying pan.

As we said at the start of this post, this is just a few of the meats we've cooked in the slow cooker - we use it for all sorts and have blogged other recipes like meatloaf, stew, devilled chicken, chilli and minced beef surprise.  The slow cooker is a great tool for loads of versatile and easy to make meals.  We love ours even though it's nothing fancy - was from Argos, is a 3.5l capacity and was on offer at under £10... what a bargain!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Party Ring Biscuits

Our take on party rings started out as a bit of trial and error but we were pleased with the end result and will be making more.

We had some biscuit dough in the freezer (the dough recipe from here) and allowed it to defrost before cutting 0.5cm discs from it.  These were flattened slightly using a rolling pin and, using a long-ago-purchased (from Tchibo), biscuit cutter we cut circular biscuits whose centres were also cut out and ejected.

The cookies were placed on a non-stick baking tray and cooked until golden (8-10 mins in 170ºC oven - depends on thickness).  Once fully cooled, the icing was prepared - we made a small batch of yellow and another of pink.
Starting with the yellow icing, it was spread on the rings using a thin silicone spatula before being dipped in yellow and orange citrus flavour strands.

Next, the remaining ring biscuits were iced in pink.  After this a circle of white icing was piped onto the pink biscuits and, using a cocktail stick, it was dragged through the white icing to leave a trail behind.
The pink party rings were most like the 'traditional' shop-bought biscuit and were eaten quickly.  Placing the orange and yellow party rings in an airtight box, they were stored for eating later.  The 'innards' of the party rings were also cooked and made a great 'with a cuppa' treat.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Choc chip cookies

Sous Chef J is very partial to the Honeybuns bakery Triple Chocolate Tinker cookies and this is our attempt to re-create them.  We do have the Honeybun's cookbook but, being the details chap J is, he noted the recipe in the book does not contain the same ingredients as the bought cookies (the recipe contains oat flour and oats whereas the bought cookies contain ground almonds).  It is the bought ones, with ground almonds, Sous Chef J likes for elevenses so that's the type of cookie we're aiming for.

Tweaking a chocolate brownie recipe, the ingredients we used were -

100g Dark chocolate pieces
100g Unsalted butter
150g dark soft brown sugar
150g caster sugar
2 beaten eggs (we used medium ones)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g ground almonds
50g chocolate chunks

We started by melting the chocolate and butter over a pan of simmering water, they were mixed thoroughly together and then the sugars were added.  

At this point, the beaten eggs were added one at a time and combined well.

Next, the vanilla extract was added and stirred in.

Adding the ground almonds it's important to make sure they're completely mixed through. 

Finally, the chocolate chunks were added.

Placing dessertspoonfuls of the mix on a non-stick baking tray, the cookies were baked for about 6 minutes in a 170ºC fan oven.

Be careful to ensure the blobs of mix are well spaced... this will spread!

We watched the cookies quite closely as it depended on the amount in each as to how quickly they cooked.  Once cooked at the edges, the cookies were removed, and allowed to cool on the baking tray.

As soon as they were cool enough to lift off the baking sheet without bending, the cookies were put on a cooling rack to completely cool.

We made 6 cookies (about 10cm diameter) and a small tray of brownies using the ingredients above.

The brownies were cooked until a knife inserted in the centre of the aluminium tray came out almost clean.

This recipe results in cookies with a crisp outer and squidgy inner.  The brownies are fudge-like in the centre.

It is not a recipe for those counting calories!  Bagged up individually, the cookies freeze well and we cut up the brownies into small squares and freeze them for later...