Sunday, 10 February 2013

Old skool Sunday

When I was a kid Sunday’s were pretty much set to a standard run of events. There were very few, if any shops open. It was a day when you were forced to spend time with friends and family, whether you wanted to or not. My granddad would come over every Sunday, picking my sister and I up from Sunday School, and go home via the sweet shop.  The day would then unfold with a monster roast lunch, some snoozing (with intermittent darts/snooker championships/Bullseye - because as we all know, you can't beat a bit of Bully) and tea on tap. Oh let’s not forget the Darling Buds of May in the evening!

Tea would always be around the 6 o’clock mark and it always consist of a range of sandwiches, maybe some salady things in the summer (with salad cream, I don’t think ‘dressing’ had been invented yet), cake and more tea. Fond memories.

Looking outside, it’s chucking down with rain and whilst there isn’t any snooker or darts on the tv, we do have perhaps the most important game of the 6 Nations.  And it’s chucking down with rain outside.

Time for home comforts. Time to rekindle that Sunday feeling.  Time to make cake.
If anyone’s looking for musical inspiration when making this cake, I would suggest The Cinematic Orchestra – Ma Fleur, or Fink – Perfect Darkness. Time to drift away.

Apple and Spice Tealoaf
Makes 10 slices
175g butter, plus extra for greasing
175g light muscovado sugar, plus an extra tbsp. for sprinkling
3 large eggs, beaten
1 eating apple
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g dried mixed vine fruits
85g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
175g plain flour
1tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch salt
Splash lemon or orange juice
1 tbsp marmalade or apricot jam

Heat the over to 180C (160C fan). Butter a 900g/2lb loaf tin, or use a loaf tin liner (much easier). Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then beat in the eggs one by one. Grate half the apple and mix it into the batter along with the vanilla extract, dried fruit and ground almonds. Mix the baking powder, flour and spices together with a pinch of salt, lthen fold into the mix until even. Spoon into the tin and level the top.

Core and thinly slice the remaining apple half and toss with the lemon or orange juice. Push the apple slices into the batter, forming a line along the middle of the cake, and sprinkle with the extra tbsp of sugar.

Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 140C, cover the cake in foil and bake for another 45 minutes to an hour, until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tin.

To finish the cake, melt the marmalade or jam in a small pan, sieve to remove any lumps, then brush over the cake to glaze the top.
Serve in thick slices. If you're northern, you could consider spreading the slices with butter. Alternatively, copious amounts of steaming hot tea.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Cold outside? Need something to warm the soul? You need to cook this tonight.

I LOVE snow. I don’t think that feeling of excitement as the flakes start to fall, followed by the deep rooted anguish of ‘will it stick?!’ will ever go away. Of course the gut retching disappointment when it starts to melt, and the ‘walking with trepidation’ that accompanies a trip into town is something that we push to the back of our minds – for the time being at least.

The cold weather also ignites a certain culinary spark in you, and that’s exactly what happened to me last night. I needed something warming, soothing and slightly spicy.  Something cooked in a big pot that can bubble away without too much care and attention. The answer to this is below.  And if you’re looking out of your window, and see a white blanket of icy snow, I’d wholeheartedly recommend you make it as well (assuming to can get to the shops that is – my trip last night was a little ‘I don't know what' as the French say!).

Oh – try saying it over and over.  Or after two pints ;-)

Chipotle Chilli Chicken Stew
Serves 4 people

1tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp dark brown sugar
1 ½ tsp chipotle chilli paste (I found mine in the ‘specialist’ aisle at Sainsburys)
400g can chopped tomatoes
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs works just as well)
Salt to taste
1 small red onion, sliced thinly into rings or half-moons, to serve
A few coriander leaves
Rice or flours tortillas to serve

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes or until softened and starting to turn golden, adding the garlic for the final minute. Stir in the sugar, chipotle paste and chopped tomatoes and bring to the boil.
2. Put the chicken into the pan and spoon over the sauce. Simmer for 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked (if using chicken thighs increase this to 30 minutes so that any remaining fat melts into the sauce). Add a splash of water if the sauce looks like it’s getting too dry.
3. Once cooked, remove the chicken from the pan and shred with two forks and then stir back into the sauce. Make sure every piece is coated with the lovely spicy sauce. Season with salt to taste. Scatter with the sliced red onion and coriander leaves, and serve with rice or flour tortillas.

As an alternative, I've also had this with pitta breads, loaded with salad, followed by the chicken stew piled on top. Spot. On.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Time to ditch the crappy shop-bought sarnie

Booooooooooooooooooo back to work.  But woooooooooooooooooooooo! for the nice food that can help to make up for the rubbish weather.

Time to think up some nice lunches to make perk up the working week.  One such option for you below – quick, easy and tasty-tastic.  Get your cook on………...

Pitta pizzas

I found these in a BBC Good Food magazine from early last year and made them one afternoon following an unexpected (yet highly appreciated) visit from my niece and nephew.  Warming comfort food in the space of ten minutes – and as I later discovered, perfect to take into the office.  Nicely does it.  They’re not particularly gourmet but then who cares?  And I think it’s entirely satisfactory to have two of these pizzas to oneself ;-)

2 x  readymade pitta breads (go for the slightly more expensive ones rather than the value ones as they tend to be tiny)
2 tbsp tomato puree
¼ tsp mixed herbs
2 x medium tomatoes
1 x ball mozzarella cheese or (lets take this old skool) 2 x tbp cheddar cheese

These are really good on their own.  But on the day I made them I just so happened to have a few cold sausages in the fridge so sliced them fairly thinly on the diagonal and wacked them on as well.  Equally you could put anything else on you fancied (though for things like peppers, mushrooms or onion, make sure they’re cooked first or they’ll end up being a bit raw).  They’re also really good with a teaspoon of pesto smeared on top of the tomato puree.

To make, just layer up, making sure you finish with the cheese and a quick drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil.  Place under a pre-heated grill for 4 – 5 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Either eat straight away – or – take to work and eat cold or heat up in the microwave.  They’re just as good and you can laugh in an evil villain style whilst watching everyone else eat their scabby shop bought sandwich.  Muhahahahahahahahah.

Christmas 2

This year I spent Christmas away with friends and didn’t come back until the 27th – so no leftover turkey or gammon for me.  It’s a bit of a shame actually as that’s one of my favourite bits of Christmas!  That is, other than watching The Snowman on Christmas Eve and the Back to the Future trilogy on Boxing Day (the latter still being the best trilogy ever made).

However, I had to see my family as well, so we decided to do ‘Christmas 2’ on the Saturday and I would cook.  There were 8 of us so, rather than going for the standard Christmas roast or buffet, decided to make something a little easier, and went for two different sorts of lasagne – a meaty and a vege.  I won’t give you the recipe for the meaty lasagne as there are hundreds out there – but a good tip (particularly if entertaining a lot of people) is to make the Bolognese base in advance so that all you have to do on the day is make the béchamel and layer it up).

 The vegetarian option was a Nigel Slater ‘mushroom lasagne with basil and cream’ and was genuinely a bigger hit on the day than the meaty version.  Try this one below and see what you think.  I served both with the standard massive mixed salad and some homemade garlic bread.  (Oh and photo coming shortly – had a few issues with uploading them).

Mushroom lasagne with basil and cream
Serves up to 6

2 x onions
3 x garlic cloves
Thick slice butter
10g packet dried porcini mushrooms
750g chestnut mushrooms
Handful chopped parsley
8 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
150ml double cream
750ml béchamel sauce (homemade or ready-made)
180g dried lasagne or 350g fresh lasagne

For the basil sauce
60g pine kernels
50g basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
Enough olive oil to make a thick, spoonable paste
4 tbsp grated parmesan

1. Peel and roughly chop the onions, peel and thinly slice the garlic and set them to cook in a deep-sided frying pan with the butter.  Cook for around 20 minutes until softened and they have taken on an almost translucent quality.
2. Whilst the onions and garlic are cooking, cover the dried porcini in warm water (barely 100ml), and leave to soak and cut the fresh mushrooms into thick slices.  Blitz the pine kernels, basil, garlic, olive oil and parmesan in a food processer (or by hand with a pestle and mortar) and add enough olive oil to make a slightly sloppy, spoonable paste (you could also take the easy option and buy some good quality ready-made pesto).
3. Stir the sliced mushrooms into the onions and garlic and partially cover with a lid. The mushrooms should colour and soften. Add the reconstituted porcini and their soaking water, followed by the parsley, 4/5 tablespoons of the grated parmesan and the cream. Season with salt and ground black pepper and simmer and stir until the cream has thickened somewhat.
4. Spread a few spoonfuls of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of a large dish (40cm oval baking dish works well), then cover with a single layer of the pasta. Spoon over half of the mushroom filling, cover with another layer of pasta, then a second layer of the mushrooms. Top with a third single layer of pasta. Spread the basil sauce over the pasta, then smooth the last of the béchamel sauce over and cover with the remaining parmesan. Bake at 180C for 50 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

What I had for tea Sunday night…

…and by that I mean dinner. But I’m from the Forest of Dean and dinner has always been called tea and lunch has always been called dinner. Confusing, I know – but that’s just how we roll.

As you know I love frugality and I picked up a rather nice recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Everyday’.  It’s a lamb breast stuffed with a lemony apricot stuffing and is truly lovely. And to top it all off – the lamb breast cost me £3.70.  The recipe suggested one lamb breast will serve three people, but lets be honest, it’s winter and I need to get my reserves up – so for today at least, it serves only two!

As it’s cold outside, and was a Sunday, I went with some nice crispy roast potatoes, parsnips and butternut squash – and it really good.  Move forward six months however to (hopefully) hotter and sunnier times, and it would be amazing with a tomatoey couscous and a crunchy salad – and perhaps some crusty bread.  Recipe below – though I halved it as there were only two of us eating.

Roast breast of lamb with lemon and apricots
Serves 6 (yeah right)

2 breasts of lamb , boned, any skin and surplus fat removed
A knob of butter
3 – 4 small shallots (or half an onion), chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
125g fresh breadcrumbs
75g dried apricots, chopped
Grated zest of 3 lemons
1 tbsp thyme leaves
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
Freshly ground black pepper

Make the stuffing/ Melt the butter in a small pan, add the shallots (or onion) and garlic and cook gently until soft but not coloured. Mix the breadcrumbs with the apricots, lemon zest, thyme and fried shallots and add plenty of seasoning. When cool, add in enough egg to bind the mixture lightly.

Lay the breasts of lamb flat on a board and season well. Divide the stuffing between them and spread evenly, leaving a little space at the edges and at each end. Roll the breasts up tightly and tie each with 3 or 4 pieces of string (or special elastic bands from the butcher that is safe to cook).  Season the outside with a little salt and more black pepper.

Place the lamb rolls side by side in a roasting dish.  Put into an oven preheated at 200C and cook for 30 minutes.  After this, reduce the temperature to 150C and continue to cook for another hour and a half.

Transfer the lamb to a warm serving plate and leave to rest in a warm place for about 15 minutes. Cut the lamb into thick slices and serve as you wish – two ideas above!


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Objective 1: Lose a chin by Christmas

Ok so maybe I’m choosing the wrong time of year to do this – but it’s time to lose a bit of weight. My objective – to lose one of my chins by Christmas. I currently have three.

I’ve started doing a bit of the old exercise again, but of course that’s only part of the picture. I have to start eating better as well. For me, my main issue is eating rubbish during the working day. We have a tea lady in the office that comes around twice a day (aptly named ‘the angel with the trolley’), serving up everything that I shouldn’t be eating; chocolate, crisps, fizzy drinks and homemade cakes (including ‘The Gloucester Drip’!).

It seems rude not to buy a little something from the tea lady – she works so hard and everything. However – it’s also making me fat. So, reluctantly, I’ve banned the tea lady. It hurts me deep – but it’s got to be done. Instead, I’ve started making a few homemade things that will hit the sweet spot without having to resort to a Yorkie. I would also like to take this opportunity to set a common 1980’s myth straight; a finger of fudge is certainly not enough.

The recipe below is a variation of one taken from Leon ‘Naturally Fast Food’.  It’s essentially a muesli bar – but for me they lacked a little sweetness and a little too ‘seedy’. In fact my colleague at work thought I was eating one of those ‘brill’ things you put in the garden for the birds. Not good. In response, I doubled the amount of honey (from 2 to 4 tablespoons) and reduced the seed content.  My favourite fruit and nut combination is chopped apricots and cranberries with crushed hazelnuts and flakes almonds – but go with whatever you fancy or as is often in my case – whatever you have left in the house!

Fruity, nutty, oaty bars
Makes 16 bars

270g dried fruit (e.g. apricots, cranberries, sultanas, cherries, pears, dates, figs)
40g nuts (e.g. cashews, hazelnuts, almonds)
Small handful seeds (e.g. sunflower, pumpkin)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
100ml fruit juice (e.g. apple, grape)
4 tbsp honey
60 wholemeal flour
120g rolled oats

3x balls stem ginger in syrup, finely diced or half a tsp ground ginger

1. Preheat the oven to 170C, 375F, gas mark 5.
2. If the dried fruit is whole or in large chunks, either place it in the food processor or finely chop by hand. Do the same with the nuts.
3. Warm the fruit juice and honey together in a pan large enough to eventually contain all of the ingredients until all of the honey is dissolved. Add the flour and oats, and stir in the fruit and nuts.
4. If adding stem ginger, add now and stir thoroughly through the mixture.
5. Smooth the mixture into a 25 x 30cm baking tray about 2.5cm deep. I find it useful to line the tray with baking parchment. Make sure you push the mixture firmly into the tray, right into the corners. This will make sure they can be cut into bars after baking.
6. Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes, longer if you like your bars more crispy and crunchy.
7. Allow to cool, and then cut into rectangular bars.  These little lovelies will last for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Autumn lunches

So it’s officially autumn.  It’s getting colder. Salads no longer cut the mustard when it comes to lunch (or dinner, really).  So this morning I put the old thinking cap  on – what can I make for lunch that’s hearty and warming but won’t cost a lot (there are no particular reasons for the last criterion – other than…I get an enormous sense of self-satisfaction when I make something lovely for almost nothing).

As it happens this week has been crazy at work, so I haven’t had much of an opportunity to do much proper cooking.  Consequently, I have quite a few things that need to be used or they will have to be thrown away (refer to comment above: this option is something I fine REALLY difficult to stomach).  I have celery, carrot, peppers, onions, corn in the cob – all need using up.  A quick root through the cupboards reveals tins of mixed beans and tomatoes.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have landed.  See below.

NUMBER 1: Mixed bean chilli

2 x tbsp. vegetable oil
1 x green pepper (plus I added an extra half left over from in the week)
1 x corn on the cob
2 x medium sized onions
2 x sticks of celery
2 x 400g tins of mixed beans
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 x cloves garlic
1 x tsp ground cumin
1 x tsp chilli flakes
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 x tsp sugar
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

Finely slice the green pepper, onions and celery.  Put to one side.

Using a sharp knife, place the corn on the cob on its end and slice the kernels off (watch your fingers – danger of slicage). Put to one side.

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan and add the green pepper, onions and celery.  You want to sweat the ingredients, so make sure it’s not too hot and browns.  This should take a good ten minutes or so.

Stir in the corn kernels, followed by the tins of tomato, garlic, cumin, chilli flakes, cayenne pepper, sugar and seasoning. (It might sound a bit odd adding sugar, but the tinned tomatoes can be quite harsh and acidic – this takes the edge off).

Place the lid on the saucepan, and simmer for a good half an hour.  Then add the mixed beans, put the lid back on and simmer for a further half an hour – longer if necessary.  You don’t want the beans to start falling apart, but equally you want the sauce to be nicely combined and a little ‘jammy’.

Check for seasoning – and you’re away!  Either eat straight away or place in containers in the freezer.  I managed to get 4 individual portions out of this – ready to be taken out of the freezer the night and reheated at work.  Serve with whatever takes your fancy – rice, couscous, thickly cut white bread and butter.  However, in contrast to what the advert suggests, Rivita is a massive no no here!