This was an interesting job. So there was I famous for baking but then being asked by Smart Energy GB to do anything but bake. It turned out to be quite a revelation, firstly for how much energy a normal domestic oven uses but secondly how a bit of creative thinking can produce some tasty dishes. The first part of the job was to get a Smart Meter fitted. As ever with my old house it wasn’t quite as simple as it should be but once I had repaired the wall by the meter box it was up, running and immediately showing how much energy we were using. I can’t say it was all positive as it meant the kids kept turning off lights everywhere even if I was in the room and I grumbled about how much using the shower on full power was costing! But Smart Meters are free to have installed in your house and I’m sure they’ll save you money as you realise what costs money and thus how you might be able to cut back.

In the end they asked me to come up with 5 recipes: a starter, main & dessert plus some regional recipes for Wales & Scotland all using a variety of different cooking methods.

Feta & Spinach buns

Feta & spinach steamed buns
Feta & spinach steamed buns

This recipe was inspired by travels in China. They don’t really have a culture of baking in China and so their version of bread tends to be steamed buns that they often fill with savoury treats.

Ingredients (in grams):

350g self raising flour
35g caster sugar
½ tsp fine salt
7tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp veg oil
110ml milk
110ml water

120g feta cheese
200g spinach
generous grating of nutmeg
juice of ½ small lemon

Olive oil & balsamic to serve

Time to produce: 2 – 3 hours (most of which is waiting for the dough to rise.)

Step by step instructions:

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl

Gently heat the water and milk in a small bowl in a microwave until it is vaguely warm – about 50 seconds. Add to dry ingredients along with vegetable oil.

Knead for a few minutes until you have a soft pliable dough.

Lightly oil a bowl, place in a bag and leave the dough to rise & double in size – about 1 to 2 hours depending on the temperature.

Meanwhile bring a large pan with about 1cm of water in the bottom to the boil (it only needs a tiny bit so very little water to heat!) Put in spinach, turn down heat and simmer for a minute or two. Drain, allow to cool and then squeeze out most of the water.

Put spinach on chopping board along with feta cheese. Grate nutmeg on top. Chop and combine everything, then squeeze lemon juice on top along with a couple of grinds of pepper. Chop until everything is mixed in.

Once dough has risen, knock it back and divide into 9 equal portions – about 70g each.

Take each piece of dough and in the palm of the hand or on a lightly oiled surface roll into a sphere. Squash or roll the dough into a circle approx 4 – 5 inches in diameter trying to make the edges thinner than the middle.
Take a heaped teaspoonful of the feta mixture and pop it onto the middle of the dough. Wrap the sides up and over the feta so it is totally enclosed.
9. Leave the buns to rest for a few minutes.
10. Meanwhile cut a circle of baking parchment slightly smaller than the base of the steamer. Place the buns on this in the steamer leaving space between them for them to expand.
11. Bring a shallow pan of water to the boil and place the steamer on top and cook for 15 minutes. A good energy saving tip is if you have more than one steamer is to stack them up on top of one another.
12. Eat when still hot / warm. Dunk in a nice olive oil along with some balsamic vinegar.

 

Moroccan chicken & lemon tagine

Lots of spice and all things nice.
Lots of spice and all things nice.

This was another dish inspired by my travels. I’ve been to Morocco quite a few times as I think it is a country that has so many things going for it. I love going to any desert but when it is combined with lovely people and some wonderful food then it is a winning destination. The key to keeping the energy usage and thus costs down for this dish are using a slow cooker.

Ingredients (in grams):

3tbsp olive oil
4 skin on, with bone chicken thighs
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground paprika
1tsp turmeric
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp cinnamon
1 medium onions
400g carrots
Juice & skin of a lemon
1 tbsp honey
1tbsp plain flour
250ml chicken stock
100g pitted green olives
Season to taste
Fresh coriander to garnish

250g couscous
8 dried apricots, chopped into pea sized pieces
2tbsp olive oil
Approx 330ml water
Season to taste

Time to produce: about 3.5 hours. Probably less than 30 minutes actively cooking with most of the time being spent whilst the slow cooker bubbles away.

Step by step instructions: e.

Finely slice the onion.

Put 3tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. Fry onions on one side of the pan. Fry the chicken, skin side down on the other side of the pan. Stir the onions every so often whilst you brown the chicken skin – this should take a couple of minutes.

Warm the chicken stock.

Add the spices and stir everything together. The spices can stick and burn to the bottom so try to coat the onions or chicken as much as possible.

Add the flour, mix in and briefly cook. Slowly add the stock whilst stirring all the time.

Peel and chop the carrots into fairly thick slices – about 1cm. Put in pan with chicken.

Juice lemon and pour about ¾ of the juice in the pan along with the skins, checking that there are no pips left. You may want to add the rest of the lemon later depending on taste. Add sugar and pitted olives too.

Once it has come to the boil pour it into the slow cooker and place on lid. Slow cookers are very low energy (mine is 135 Watts so not much more than an old fashioned filament light bulb) so they can take a while to get up to temperature.

Cook for about 3 hours until the chicken is lovely and tender and almost falls off the bone. Add salt and extra lemon juice if necessary.

Once the chicken is done measure out the water for the couscous and boil in kettle. (This way you only boil the water that you need rather than boiling extra or having to boil again because you haven’t got enough.) Place couscous in serving bowl along with chopped apricots. Pour on boiling water and olive oil, cover with lid and leave for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff up with fork, season to taste and serve. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

 

Elderflower, lemon, honey & ginger cheesecake

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Cheesecakes are superbly versatile desserts as you can try so many different flavours in them. This one uses lots of elderflower which is one of my favourite ingredients and just makes you think of summer with every bite. Obviously we have a fair amount of reasonably decent food through my kitchen but this one causes my normally disciplined wife serious trouble as she is always going back for more.

Ingredients (in grams):

110g ginger biscuits
110g shortbreads
80g melted butter
150g double cream
600g full fat cream cheese
100g caster sugar
100g runny honey
100ml elderflower cordial
2 balls stem ginger finely chopped
1tsp lemon oil / extract
juice of ½ lemon
Large pinch of salt

Blueberries to decorate

Step by step instructions:

Put biscuits in strong plastic bag and then beat with rolling pin until totally crushed.

Melt butter in medium saucepan. Tip in crushed biscuits and stir in to combine.

It can be made in 3 ways: If serving on a nice plate put outside of 23cm springform tin on a large flat plate and press biscuit / butter mix onto bottom. Otherwise put in 23cm springform tin with baking parchment on base or finally put in large, deep pie dish. Allow to cool then chill in fridge.

Meanwhile put all the other ingredients except ginger in a large mixing bowl. Beat with handheld whisk until thick and holding it’s shape.

If you want to pipe some decorations on the cheesecake put 3 tablespoons of the filling aside in separate bowl. Mix in ginger into the big bowl.

Tip filling onto base, flatten with a spatula or pallet knife.

If decorating chill the reserved filling. Then put in piping bag and decorate as you like.

Finally decorate top with blueberries and chill until serving.

Time to produce: about 2.5 hours. 2 hours of which is cheesecake chilling in fridge.

 

Scottish Mac and Cheese

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Cosy, comforting and very easy to make. Another way of helping to make it cheaper to produce is to use the salmon offcuts that quite a few shops sell. They cost a fair bit less than smart sliced salmon and since you need to chop the salmon small anyway, they make perfect sense.

Ingredients (in grams):

250g macaroni pasta
40g unsalted butter
40g plain flour
450ml milk
100g grated medium cheddar
2tsp grainy mustard
4tsp finely chopped chives
150g smoked salmon, chopped into small pieces
salt & pepper to season

Step by step instructions:

Bring approximately 900ml of water to a boil. Add salt and then the pasta. As soon as it comes back to the boil, give it a stir, replace the lid and turn off the heat.

Meanwhile melt the butter in a medium sized pan. Once it has melted add the flour and mix it in. Cook for about a minute before starting to add the milk a little bit at a time. Make sure it is fully incorporated before adding more. Once it is mixed in, turn it off the heat before adding half the cheese and all the chives, mustard and salmon.

Once the pasta is al dente, drain it but reserving about a cup of the liquid. Mix the pasta and the sauce. If necessary add some of the pasta water to loosen it up a bit. Tip into a large, ovenproof dish, grind a bit of pepper on top and sprinkle over the remaining cheddar. Pop the dish an inch or two under a grill. Turn it on to maximum and cook until going golden brown.

Cooking time: 30 minutes

 

Welsh recipe: Barra Brith microwave coffee cup cake

Fastest dessert in the West.
Fastest dessert in the West.

I think I discovered microwave cup cakes a bit later than many but somehow they appealed to my sense of humour – having spent hours and hours producing sponges over the past year I was suddenly making them in 90 seconds in a microwave! Using a microwave uses so little energy in comparison to a conventional oven. Also if you have leftover batter you can use it to make a cake the following day and it still works fine.

Ingredients (in grams):

40g mix of currants & sultanas
1 tea bag
70g self raising flour
60g light brown sugar
pinch of salt
1tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
3tsp marmalade
60g vegetable or sunflower oil
40ml of tea from the soaking fruits
1 large egg

Step by step instructions:

Place currants & sultanas in small bowl along with tea bag. Add 60ml of water and microwave for 30 seconds. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

In another bowl mix the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and mixed spice. Then add the marmalade, oil and the bowl of tea, currants and sultanas. Briefly beat together with a fork until smooth. For normal sized coffee cups split the mixture 3 ways – approximately 120g per cup. Place 1 cup in microwave and cook on high power for 90 seconds. That’s it! Run a knife around the edge of the cup and serve with custard, ice cream etc.

Timings: 10 minutes preparation including cooling time. 1.5 minutes cooking time.

Smart Energy GB

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