Thursday, 8 October 2015

Pan-Frying or The Tefal Optigrill: A Steak Experiment

Did you know that Tefal have a new gadget out? It's called the Optigrill and it claims to give 'superb grilling results from rare to well done'. So does it? 

Well, I decided to do an experiment.  

Firstly, the Tefal Optigrill looks a bit like the George Foreman grill I used to use about 5 years ago. Except it's a bit more high-tech than I remember the George Foreman grill ever being. And with a few more blinking lights and noises.

The first thing I noticed is that the plastic tray that collects all the cooking juices while cooking actually slots in and fits into the bottom of the grill. No knocking it accidentally and then realising steak juices are pouring all over your worktop and down your cupboards. That was a good thing. 

The other thing I used to hate was the cleaning. But that's not a problem with this one, because you can quickly unclip the cooking plates and wash them in the dishwasher. They just clip back in nice and easily. The plastic tray goes in the dishwasher, too.

The controls, although to start with, might look a bit complicated, are not. You just press the 'on' button to light up the dashboard and then select what you're cooking. Then you press 'go' and the grill starts to preheat. A little beeping sound reminds you when to put the meat in and then you close the lid and it's cooking. No splattering, no mess - nice and easy. 

All good so far. 

But what about the actual cooking? 

Well I was told that the Optigrill was especially good with steak, being able to cook it however you wanted - whether rare, medium or well done. The light changes colour to tell you when to take your meat out. Hmm. I wasn't sure I could trust a machine to tell me when my steak was done. 

So I bought a couple of rib-eyes and put it to the test. 

The first one, I griddled in a little coconut oil, and cooked it as I usually do, to medium. It was still a bit spongy in the middle, and pink and juicy but just cooked. 

So. Onto the Optigrill. I cooked the steak as directed, and took it out when the flashing light beeped yellow-orange. I cut it in half and checked both steaks out. 

Not bad. 

The two medium steaks: Optigrill on the bottom, pan-fry on the top

Both steaks were cooked medium, still pink in the middle - pretty much the same.

Since then, I've cooked sausages, tuna steaks and bacon and it's worked really well. I did cook some frozen hash browns for the girls but they squashed down quite a bit and went a bit soggy so that didn't quite work as well, but overall I've seen really great results. I haven't tried it, but I guess you could also use the grill for making toasted sandwiches or cooking flat mushrooms. The pork chops I left in until 'well done' as directed, but they were a bit on the dry side, so it might be worth just checking once they get to the top end of 'medium'. Just cut into them to make sure they're cooked all the way through before eating.

So. The Tefal Optigrill. I like it. I like that it cooks meat well - and I like that you don't have to watch your steak cook - a little beep tells you when to hop along to the kitchen and take it out. No messing about, no splattering and no standing watching things cook. 

Thumbs up from me. 

Check out the Tefal Optigrill on Amazon (affiliate link):

I was provided with the Tefal Optigrill to use for this experiment. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Why I'm Shaving My Head for Charity (Seriously)

So there I was, 28 years old, and expecting my first baby. I was very excited, and a little bit nervous, naturally. 

I'd have a home birth. Or maybe one in a cosy tub filled with warm water with twinkly music playing on a CD and candles. That would be nice. 

But there was a point, when I was 28 weeks pregnant, as I was being hurriedly daubed with antiseptic and placed onto an operating table with a light shining in my eyes and a needle about to go into my hand, while nurses rushed about, barking orders, scrubbing themselves up - when I thought that something obviously hadn't quite gone to plan. 

I'd developed HELLP Syndrome, a serious condition that can develop (although it is rare) in some pregnancies, where the liver stops working properly and you don't have any platelets in your blood. It's kind of a race against time to operate while your blood can still actually clot. As it turns out, I was having an emergency Caesarian to try and save mine and my daughter's life. The surgeon later told my husband that I was 'hours' away from dying. Scary stuff.

So anyway. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter was born - tiny, blueish and weighing just 941 grams - while I was wheeled over to intensive care. I woke up the second day. 

I was released from hospital about a week later, on strict orders to rest. 

My daughter stayed in for the next 3 months. 

It was difficult. We'd get to go in and change her nappy, hold her swathed in big bundles of blankets (if she was up to it) and we learned how to feed her through her nasal gastric tube. We learned what all her SATS meant on the machines that beeped and flickered above her incubator. The nurses at the hospital were INCREDIBLE. They made sure to allow us to bond with her as much as was possible. 

Sometimes things weren't so good. We'd arrive to see her and then be stopped in the corridor and asked to wait in the waiting room while emergency doctors worked on her. The phone might ring in the middle of the night. We always feared the worst. Which is where Bliss comes in to the story. 

Bliss are a charity that support the parents of premature babies with information, a helpline and through their forums, they helped put us in touch with other parents we could talk to. It meant so much not to feel like we were alone in this. They also work to raise awareness of aspects of prematurity, and work with hospitals to help parents bond with the babies as much as they can, rather than feel like they're in a plastic box and unreachable. By 2020, Bliss aims to recruit 28 Bliss nurses - one for each region in the UK. I used Bliss quite a lot when my daughter was young. She's ten years old now. And so now I want to give something back. 

So I'm shaving all my hair off to raise money for Bliss, so that they can support other parents going through similar situations to ours. 

And that's not everything. 

When my locks are cut off, they'll be donated to The Little Princess Trust, which is an organisation that provides wigs to children who have lost their hair through cancer treatment. 

So that's it. If my story resonates with you in any way, then I'd love it if you'd support me, either by donating (seriously - 50p would make my day) or by sharing this post. The people at Bliss do incredible work and they helped me keep a sense of sanity while my world was turned upside down. I'd love to help give a little something back. 

Oh, and you'll get to see me with a shaved head. That's got to be worth 50p, right? 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Pig's Cheek and Bacon Ragu

Pigs cheeks. 

It's the kind of cut of meat you don't buy regularly, not like chicken legs or minced beef. But we should. Firstly, because it's more ethical to use up all of the animal, and secondly because, when cooked right, they're pretty damn tasty. 

This pig cheek came from Farmer's Choice, an online butcher based in the UK, supplying free-range meats as well as fish and game. 

I'd once eaten pig cheek ragu at a restaurant and absolutely loved it. So when I saw this, I wanted to create something that would satisfy my cravings to go back in time and try it again. It's light, and when cooked for a long time, the pig cheek turns really tender and you can pull it apart. I cook mine in the slow cooker, mostly because I can clink on the lid and forget about it until it's time to eat. The recipe is paleo, as well as gluten and dairy-free. If you're AIP, this recipe is fine if you've re-introduced tomatoes. 

Pig Cheek Ragu
Serves 2-3
350g pig's cheek
4 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped roughly
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
a splash of red wine or port
400g can chopped tomatoes
pinch of dried marjoram
pinch of thyme
pinch of salt, to taste

First, put the pig cheek into the base of a slow cooker that's preheated to high. Replace the lid while you make the ragu sauce. 

To make the sauce, drop the chopped bacon in a largish frying pan and leave it so that it turns slightly golden and the fat renders down. Once the bacon is cooked and starting to turn golden, add the garlic and onion to the pan, stir-frying until the onion is soft and tender. Once the onion is almost cooked, pour in the splash of red wine or port. Allow the alcohol to bubble off for a few seconds and then add the chopped tomatoes, herbs and a pinch of salt. Give it all a stir, simmering for a few more minutes. 

Pour the hot sauce over the pig's cheek in the slow cooker, replace the lid and leave to cook for 4-5 hours. 

Once the cooking time is up, check the pig cheek. It should be well-cooked and pull-apart tender. Shred the meat into the sauce with a couple of forks. Put the lid back on while you make your vegetables or whatever you're having alongside. Serve hot. 

I received a contribution towards the ingredients for this recipe, and the pig cheeks, from Farmer's Choice. I've always found the meat of brilliant quality and totally delicious. Do go visit their website. 


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