Friday, 29 January 2010

Parmigiana di Melanzane

I was about to make the tomato sauce for this most delectable dish, when; horror! No tinned tomatoes! Could it be possible?! Opening my recipe book, I realised that the recipe I copied down years ago actually uses ready-made tomato sauce. Phew, found two jars in the cupboard!

I have included a sauce here so you can do your own, but if you want a jar, I love Sainsbury's Siciliana sauce best of all I have tried (most of the upper-end supermarket sauces). It is thick, with an intense flavour, which makes it really good on pizzas and for lasagne. Check it out at This dish takes a little time, but if you make the sauce during the day, you can assemble it fairly quickly and then it bubbles away in the oven. It is one of my favourite dishes; rich, filling and luxurious!

Parmigiana di Melanzane (Aubergine with tomato and parmesan)

1kg aubergines
500g tomato sauce or two jars (see recipe below to make your own - about a quarter of the price!)
3x125g mozzarella balls, thinly sliced
100g finely grated parmesan cheese
a bunch of fresh basil leaves

A dish 8"x11"

Heat the oven to 170 degrees/gas mk 4.
Slice the aubergines lengthways into about 4-5 slices. Brush with olive oil and grill on both sides until golden and soft - be sure that they are cooked through otherwise they will be spongy and tough.
Layer aubergine slices, tomato sauce, torn basil leaves and parmesan, ending with a layer of aubergine and parmesan, seasoning each layer well. Remember all the layers, because I always forget one ingredient!
Bake for 1 hour and serve with green leaves and some fresh Italian bread. Wait for the sighs of delight!

Your own tomato sauce is so versatile. My friends will tell you that I am a passionate bread cook, so I always make my own pizza bases (SOOOO easy!) and using your own sauce on top is very satisfying. You can make a lot at a time and freeze it in smaller pots ready to save you time. It is difficult to get away from what the supermarkets can offer, because they use ingredients like thickeners and flavours that we can't get at home. So, be patient and experiment.

Tomato Sauce (Pomodoro)

1 onion, chopped finely
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 glass red wine
2 stalks of basil leaves
2 cans of tinned tomatoes (I like the whole ones)

Cook the onion and garlic in a good glug of olive oil (4-5 tbsp) until they are golden. Add the red wine and continue cooking to reduce the liquid, about 5 mins. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes. I then like to whizz the sauce in a processor to make it thicker. Taste it to make sure you have seasoned well enough. This is important to make sure the sauce is not bland and affects the taste of your finished dish.

What I am cooking today:

The above! I am taking it to a friend's house, so I have bought a Waitrose curry for my family which has become a bit of a tradition on a Friday night! I tried making Jamie Oliver's Chicken Tikka Marsala last week and it was really good, with a thick sauce, so I may be tempted to forgo the mass-produced stuff next week. Haven't conquered Korma yet though. Anyone know a good recipe?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Homemade Fish Fingers and Chicken Fingers

Of course, sometimes I succumb to the lure of Bird's Eye, but more often I remember how easy it is to make your own fish fingers! They look and taste straight out of a restaurant, with not a lot more effort than sticking the frozen ones in the oven.

Any fish will do, although increasingly we need to be aware of the state of our seas and the over-fishing that has gone on during the past couple of decades. Our seas are in a very precarious position, with many of our native species fished to near extinction in our waters. Please just be aware of what you are buying. It is difficult to know what is best. There are many species that aren't as sexy as milky white cod and are just as tasty; pollack and coley to name two.

Anyway, rant over! Enjoy making your own delicious creations - you'll be hooked........get it??!!

Fish Fingers

2-3 white fish fillets (depending upon appetites!)
About 100g plain white flour
A bowl of breadcrumbs (3-4 slices)
Herbs of your choice
2-3 eggs, beaten in a shallow bowl

Heat a large frying pan on a medium heat.
Mix the flour with some seasoning and some herbs if you want. Slice the fish into 'finger' shapes or cubes. Take the pieces of fish and dip into the flour first, then the egg, and finally the breadcrumbs until they are covered with the mixture. Use one hand!
Pour some oil or butter into the pan and fry the fish fingers, turning carefully as each side becomes golden. They take about 5-6 mins to do all over.
Drain on some kitchen paper and serve straight away.
Dip into garlic mayonnaise (see below).

You can also use the same method to make lovely chicken fingers.

Chicken Fingers (for want of calling them 'nuggets'!

Use the same method but cut up chicken breasts or thighs into fingers.
You can add a handful of grated parmesan and some grated lemon zest to make these taste great. They are lovely cold the next day for lunch or a picnic.

What I have been cooking:

Well, what with a puncture today and various children's activities tonight, I gave in to scampi and chips, although I made the chips myself, roasted with oil and crushed garlic, yum!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Carrot Cakes and Loaded Skins!

Just look at these beauties! And you can make them too!!

I had an urge to find a good carrot cake recipe, having devoured the most moist, creamy spectacularly delicious cake at an orienteering event on Sunday. Surfing the web, I found a lovely one for carrot cake muffins at, a darker sponge with a lovely sounding 'frosting'. Easy to make, they were moist and moreish, although the topping was a little sweet for me. I added more cream cheese, but it wasn't stiff enough. I think the answer is to replace some of the butter with some cream cheese and perhaps cut down on the sugar a little, say 50g. And they needed a little salt.

Anyway, here is the recipe!

Carrot Cakes

250g wholemeal flour
25g baking powder
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
half tsp salt
125g desiccated coconut
250g muscovado sugar (I used light brown soft sugar)
5 eggs
185ml sunflower oil
500g grated carrots
125g raisins (optional)

Heat the oven to 180 degrees/Gas mk 5.
Mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Add the carrot to the dry mix and stir to break up the lumps. Add the wet and mix until just combined; over-beating makes the muffins tough and dry.
This recipe makes 16 muffins, so divide the mixture between muffin cups, lined with paper cases and bake for 22 minutes. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile, whizz together 250g cream cheese, 125g butter and 325g icing sugar with the zest of an orange in a processor until smooth. Use a piping bag with a large nozzle to make swirls of icing on the top, soooo professional!

What I have been cooking:

Yesterday's tea was a couple of spare baked potatoes from the night before, nearly all of the insides scooped out, cut into six pieces each, sprinkled with lots of grated cheese and baked for 15 mins in a 200 degree oven, yum! We had home-made coleslaw and houmous with it.

Tonight, we had pasta and I made a sauce with butter, onion, two cloves of garlic, shredded cabbage, sliced mushrooms and a splash of soy sauce. Delish.

Breakfast tomorrow will be Waitrose Essentials croissants, which I reckon are better than their normal ones - well done Waitrose! Find them at

Monday, 25 January 2010

Winter Comfort Food

I am not a meat-eater. Do meat-eaters crave comforting, warming winter food in the same way as vegetarians, I wonder? I am wanting cheese at the moment, and warm, roasted and baked food. it makes me feel full and satisfied; salads just don't do it for me, not this week anyway! Check out these recipes I baked tonight for tea, mmmmm!

Baked Kabocha Squash

One whole Kabocha squash (or onion or acorn)
1 leek
1/2 red pepper
Gruyere cheese
2 tbs double cream (optional)

Heat the oven to 200 degrees/Gas mk 6.
Place the squash on a large sheet of foil, on a baking tray. Cut the top around the stalk and take off the lid. Scrape out the seeds (I am going to try washing mine and roasting them with sesame seeds and soy sauce later!) and add some scrapings of butter around the edge of the hole. Replace the lid, fold over the foil to seal and roast in the oven for about 1 hour 15 mins.
Open the foil and the lid may have fallen into the now soft squash and the sides will have split! Tip in the vegetable mixture and a lot of cheese, and I even added a couple of tablespoons of double cream. Seal the foil again and put in the oven again for another 15 minutes.

The squash has a lovely sweet flavour, which is deliciously complimented by the sweet leeks and nutty gruyere!
Fry the leeks in a knob of butter until soft, then add the chopped red pepper for a few minutes to soften. Season well. Eat and sigh with delight!!


Fluffy Baked Potatoes

I couldn't work out how to upload a second picture today - so you'll just have to take my word for it that they looked lovely!!

6-8 baking potatoes, pricked with a fork
50g butter
100g cheddar cheese
2 balls mozzarella

Bake the potatoes for 1 hour 15 minutes along with the squash.
When cooked, slice them in half horizontally and gently scrape out the cooked flesh into a large bowl, leaving some attached to the skins. Place these skins on a baking tray. Mix the potato flesh with the butter, cheeses and seasoning. Replace the mixture into the awaiting skins and give them a good grating of extra cheese. Bake in the oven for a further 15 minutes until golden and looking GOOD!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

With all this snow, warmth is needed. And what is better than tomato soup? Am I the only one who was fed Heinz Cream of Tomato soup as a child? So comforting!

Tomato Soup

1 onion, chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tin of tomatoes
1 tbs tomato ketchup
about 500ml vegetable stock
Cream to serve

Fry the onion and celery in a knob of butter or oil until translucent, then add the tomatoes and stock to cover the vegetables. Simmer for 15 minutes. Puree in a blender and serve with a swirl of cream and some parsely to garnish. Mmmm!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Mmmm pancakes!

The pancakes were a great success! So light and fluffy that you wouldn't know they were wholewheat. The children wolfed them down with agave (pron: agahvay) syrup and butter.

I have just scoffed three Lindt chocolates; just couldn't stop myself. In my defense, they were 70% dark choc (loaded with iron) and tasted delicious, which I reckon means they must be good for me! And before you argue that McDonald's tastes good too, I SO don't agree!

I was just leafing through a lovely cookbook of mine, 'The Enchanted Broccoli Forest' for something to cook tonight. Mollie Katzen wrote this in 1982, and it is a bit late 70s Californian Veggie Cuisine, but none the less for that and so lovely to rediscover! I think I will try her Piroshki which is pizza dough pasties with lovely fillings. My family (isn't everything usually centred around what the kids will eat???) like spinach and cream cheese, so that's that!


1 quanitity pizza dough:

500g strong white flour
10g dried yeast
10g salt
2 tbs olive oil
300ml hot (not boiling) water


500g cream or cottage cheese
100g feta cheese
1.5 tbs lemon juice
4 chopped spring onions
handful chopped parsley
1/2 tsp dill
150g grated cheddar cheese

Heat the oven to 220 degrees/Gas mk 8.
Make the dough. Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Tip the dough out and knead vigorously for 5 mins until smooth and silky. Leave to rise for 20-30 mins.

Meanwhile combine all the filling ingredients and mix well.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces and form into balls. Roll each one out into a circle about 0.5cm thick. Place some filling on one side of the circle. Bring the other side over and seal the edges with water and a fork. Prick with a fork a few times and place on a greased baking tray.
Bake at 220 degrees/Gas mk 8 for 20 minutes and serve immediately.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Egg white pancakes and other stories!

Well, I was pondering, as my mayonnaise was curdling, 'What am I going to do with all these egg whites? Meringues again?'
First things first, I have now amended the mayonnaise recipe in my book (The Joyful Cook!) and can now say that it works. Funny thing, mayonnaise; so easy, but sometimes temperamental. I have discovered today that it is easier to make by hand than in a food-processor, because the processor can't cope with just two egg yolks; they just get left at the bottom of the bowl. And I had forgotten to add some lemon juice and that is important, apparently. Anyway, all is well!

Mayonnaise (or add two crushed garlic cloves for Aioli)

2 egg yolks
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp lemon juice
200ml vegetable oil (I find olive oil too rich and flavoursome)

Everything should be at room temperature.

Whisk the eggs with the salt, mustard and lemon juice. VERY gradually, I mean drip by drip to start with, whisk in the oil. When it becomes stiff, you can pour a VERY thin stream in as you mix. You should end up with a lovely stiff mayo. Keeps in a jar in the fridge for a week or so.

Then I had 5 egg whites to use, and found some lovely recipes on the web.

This one, has a recipe for wholewheat pancakes using egg whites. Laura maintains it makes a lovely, light pancake you wouldn't really know was wholewheat. I will report back tomorrow after breakfast!

Then I found Erika at
with some lovely macadamia and white chocolate cookies. I am on an 'Ultimate Cookie/Biscuit Search'. I'll try them tomorrow too.

What I have been cooking:

Yesterday, I made lasagne using Quorn. As a vegetarian, I miss those meaty dishes and Quorn just about fits the bill. Thanks Jamie Oliver for the creme fraiche sauce idea!

Bolognaise sauce

1 pkt Quorn mince
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 grated carrot
1/2 glass red wine
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tbs tomato puree
5/6 basil leaves
salt and pepper

Fry the onion in some oil until golden. Add the wine and bubble to reduce the liquid for 5 minutes. Add the mince, garlic, carrot and tomatoes and basil and simmer for 15 minutes.

For the sauce

500ml creme fraiche
2 handfuls of finely grated parmesan

Mix all together.

You will also need:

1 pkt lasagne
2 pkts mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
Extra grated parmesan for the top

Take a rectangular oven-proof dish and a packet of lasagne. Put two spoons of meat sauce in the bottom and cover with a layer of lasagne sheets. Then spoon on top a third of the bolognaise sauce, 1/4 of the creme fraiche and a quarter of the mozzarella, then a layer of lasagne. Continue like that finishing with a layer of creme fraiche and any mozzarella left. Make sure the sauce covers all of the lasagne on top and finally grate some parmesan over it.

Bake at 200degrees C/Gas mk 5 for about 35 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

And to finish, Pear Tart.
I had some puff pastry past it's best in the 'fridge, so I rolled it out, scored around the edges, put on it some peeled, sliced pears and folded the edges up a bit. I mixed an egg with one and a half tbsp of caster sugar and about 3 tbsp double cream and poured it all over the pears. I baked it for almost 20 mins and served it with more double cream - a hit!

Friday, 15 January 2010

More soup!

Or as Geoffrey Boycott would say, 'Souper Soup'!

More soup for lunch today, I am obviously in need of some veggies.

Root Vegetable Soup

1 leek, 2 carrots, 1/2 celeriac, 1 parsnip, 1 potato, all peeled and chopped. Tip into a saucepan with a knob of butter and 'sweat' for 5 mins.
Add enough stock to cover the vegetables and simmer for 15-20 mins. Season to taste and whizz to a puree, if desired. Add a swirl of cream to make it richer and serve with some of yesterday's soda bread. Mmmmm!

Tonight will see us having a supermarket curry. 'What?' I hear you cry! Yes, even obsessive cooks need a night off sometimes!

What to eat?

What to eat indeed? We are overwhelmed with media telling us the latest research on what we should and shouldn't be eating, only to be completely contradicted by other 'expert' research the next day! How can we steer a course through this quagmire of conflicting 'information' that our food and food preparation has become?

The only way, in my view, is to follow your instincts (remember those?) and to eat what you feel like eating. The old adage, 'Everything in moderation' is so, so true. Read about some quantum physics findings and you will find that it is how our bodies treat what we put in them that is more relevant to what we physically eat. So, I think the crux of the matter is to ENJOY what you eat and take time to TASTE what you put into your mouth. Eat only what you need and only when you are HUNGRY!

What I have been cooking:

Yesterday I made a lovely butternut squash soup for lunch with soda bread. So simple and so delicious. You can easily whip this meal up in under half an hour.

1 onion, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 potato, chopped (no need to peel)
Vegetable stock (about 500ml)
salt and pepper
a little milk or cream if desired

Cook the onion in a knob of butter (or ghee) until translucent. Add the squash and potato and cook for about 5 mins, stirring. Add the stock so the vegetables are covered. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 mins. Add seasoning and taste. Whizz to a puree.

Meanwhile, make the soda bread.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees, Gas mk 5.

500g white bread (strong) flour
50g butter
20g baking powder
10g salt
2 eggs
150ml buttermilk or natural yoghurt
100-150ml milk

Rub the butter into the flour, baking powder and salt (or whizz in a processor). Add most of the eggs, yoghurt and milk, but the dough should be moist, not sticky.
Tip on to a floured or oiled baking tray and bake for 35 mins. Leave for 5 mins before eating, if you are able!

Serve with butter and the soup.
Food for the Soul!