Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Simple, simple, simple!

It has just begun to snow! I LOVE the snow. Wasn't it blissful in January when there was nothing else to do but go sledging? To me, it seems to make everything clean and new..... until it turns into slush!
After a long, wet day in London visiting the Zoo, we arrived home cold and in need of something substantial but simple. Not much in the 'fridge, but I noticed double cream, and thought of some pasta. I also had frozen prawns and peas, and some fresh parsley on the windowsill. Aha!

This dish is so simple, and uses ingredients I usually have lying around somewhere. Try it and see.

Last Minute Pasta

284ml double cream
1 clove garlic, peeled
a cup of frozen peas
a cup of frozen prawns
a handful of chopped parsley
salt and pepper
500g dried pasta, I use the shells so they scoop up the sauce

Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the pasta for the time on the packet. Four minutes before the end, tip in the peas. 2 minutes before the end tip in the prawns.
Meanwhile, heat the cream in a small saucepan with the garlic clove - don't boil though.

Drain the pasta, put back into the saucepan. Take out the garlic clove and add the cream, parsley and a good grinding of salt and pepper to the pasta.

Serve immediately, before the cream is absorbed by the pasta.

Add a handful of chopped, smoked ham
Add a few slices of chopped smoked salmon
Add some sliced salami
Add some cooked, chopped spinach

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Quick Easy Bread!

Ever run out of bread? Yeah, happened to me today, and I had Jake's friend, Daniel, round for lunch too! I remembered a lovely book, 'Morning Bakes' by Linda Collister. It is full of lovely things to make for breakfast or morning coffee and includes a recipe for Cottage Cheese Rolls which you can make and bake in under 25 minutes - perfect! You don't even have to have cottage cheese; cream cheese will do just as well.
Here is my version of her recipe.

Cottage Cheese Rolls (makes about 12)

500g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
250g cream or cottage cheese
1 egg
150ml milk
A handful of chopped, fresh herbs (optional, depends on whether you think your kids will eat the green bits.....)

Whizz everything in a processor, or mix thoroughly in a large bowl. Tip the dough out on to a floured surface, press lightly with your hands until about 3-4cm thick and cut shapes with a knife (as above) or with a cutter. Place on a floured baking tray and bake at 190 degrees/Gas mk 5 until risen and golden around the edges. Serve immediately and let the butter melt!

What I am cooking:

Yesterday, I made root soup again with left-overs and served it with homemade bread (mixed in the breadmaker and shaped by Jake and Barney).

Root Soup

1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
leftover roasted parsnips, carrots, squash and onions
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
500ml approx vegetable stock

Fry the onion and leek in some butter until golden, add the butternut squash and carrots and sweat for about 5 minutes. Add the stock and leftover veggies and simmer for about 20 minutes. Whizz to a puree and season to your liking then serve with warm bread.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Aubergine Adventures!

I used to be afraid of aubergines! I had had some nasty experiences with dodgy cooking and spongy results and really didn't know how to handle them.
It used to be that they needed salting and rinsing and all sorts of stuff that put me right off from the start - it all sounded too much like hard work and I like quick results. Then I discovered grilling them - and it all changed for me!And now I am a convert to their rich unctuousness and satisfyingly creamy insides.
This recipe is SO EASY as to be ridiculous! It takes no more than 20 minutes to make, and is so lovely to devour!
Have fun!

Grilled Aubergines

Serves 2

2 aubergines, sliced in half lengthways
olive oil
sun-dried tomato paste or pesto or tapenade
a few basil leaves
a ball of mozzarella cheese, or some goats' cheese

Heat the grill to maximum. Brush the aubergine halves with oil on both sides and place cut-side up on the grill pan. Grill for 7 minutes, then turn and grill for another 5 mins.
Turn cut-side up again and spread with the paste of your choice, then two or three basil leaves on each half and finally the sliced mozzarella. Grill for another 3-4 minutes until the cheese has transformed into something oozing and delectable!
Serve at once on top of some dressed salad leaves, and with some bread on the side.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Moroccan Tagine

I have a lovely book by Jane Noraika (head chef at the London restaurant, Food For Friends) called Vegetarian Food for Friends. It is not often I find a veggie book that has recipes that will satisfy me. Meat is so filling and a plate full of vegetables just isn't enough; I need something more substantial. Anyway, her book is full of lovely ideas that are just that: filling and hearty. Also, her puddings look delicious.
So, last night I cooked her Moroccan Tagine, and here is my version of her recipe.

Moroccan Tagine (Serves 4)

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped
400g can of tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
75g black olives
1 potato, cut into wedges
250g carrots, thickly sliced
500g chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked for 1.5 hours, or a can
3 tbs runny honey
handful of chopped parsely
salt and pepper

4 fl oz couscous (in a measuring jug)
1 tsp stock powder
1.5 tsp salt
knob of butter

Heat the oil and fry the onions until soft. Add the spices and chilli and cook for 2 mins. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato puree, cover and cook for 5 mins. Add the potato, carrots and olives, cover and simmer for 25 mins. Then add the chickpeas. Finally, just before serving, stir in the honey, parsley and seasoning.

Add 4.5 fl oz (easier in oz!) boiling water to the couscous along with the other ingredients. Stir once and leave to soak for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Chill leftovers (what leftovers?!) asap and reheat thoroughly for lunch the next day!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Chicken, Mushroom and Stilton Pies

With a packet of puff pastry in the 'fridge and the need for something filling for Sunday lunch, I remembered Pies!
This pie is very, very easy, and so delicious you will wonder why you have never tried it before. My family sighed with delight and, even better, I can satisfy their carnivorous tendencies as well as my own herbidatious ones! (I think that last one is from The Herbs..... remember Parsely the Lion and Dill the Dog?!) Herrrrrrbidatious!!

Chicken and Mushroom Pie, with Mushroom and Stilton Pie for non-meat-eaters

Serves 5

1 pkt puff pastry

1 onion
300g mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
125ml half-fat creme fraiche
4 tbs double cream
Some cubed stilton for the veggie pies
1 pkt ready cubed chicken breast or 3 chicken breasts, cubed

You will need a pie dish approx. 22 cm across and 5 cm deep, and a small dish about 10cm across and 4-5cm deep.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees/Gas mk 6.
Fry the onion in some butter until golden. Add the mushrooms and cook until wilted but not too watery. Add the thyme, creme fraiche, double cream and season to your taste.
Meanwhile, cook the chicken in a frying-pan until golden.

Cut about a quarter of the pastry block off and set aside. Roll the remainder to the size of your pie dish and then roll the small piece to the size of the small dish.

Take some of the mushroom mixture and place into the small dish along with some cubes of stilton. Mix the chicken into the remainder of the filling and pour into the larger dish. Wet the edges of the dishes and put both lids on top, pressing gently around the edge to seal. Cut the excess pastry off and make little leaf shapes. Brush the pastry with beaten egg and stick the leaves in the centre.

Bake for 30 mins or until the pastry is golden and looking delicious!

Happy Baking!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Pizza Party!

Jake (far right) and Barney (second from left) had some friends over on Saturday and requested pizza for tea. Barney paid me the ultimate Pizza compliment by saying that he liked mine above all others, so I bought enough mozzarella for an army and got kneading!

Pizza dough is just the same as bread dough, and easy to make yourself. There are also pizza dough mixes available in the supermarkets, so you don't have a load of yeast getting old in your cupboard! I love bread making and I run courses to share my passion with others. Making dough is so theraputic, and making your own bread successfully is an amazing experience. Contact me if you would like to know more.......
Meanwhile, have a go!

Pizzas Dough

500g strong white bread flour
10g fast-acting dried yeast
10g salt
300g hand-hot water
2 tbs olive oil


Tomato puree, or Tomato Pasta Sauce
Mozzarella (buy the middle range; the cheaper, the more liquid)
Parmesan cheese
Capers, Olives, Ham, Artichokes, Mushrooms, Pepperoni, Tomatoes, etc.

Heat the oven to 220 degrees/gas mk 7

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add the water. I use a flat-bladed knife to mix until a dough is formed. You may need a little more water or a little more flour. Sprinkle a little flolur on the table and tip the dough out. Start kneading: fold the dough in half, press down and away with the heel of your hand, turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat. You are aiming for a dough which is not sticky, but smooth, has a silky feel to it, and bounces back when pressed lightly with a finger. It will take about 5 minutes.
Place the dough back in the bowl and leave to rise for 20 minutes or so.

Cut into four pieces and roll out to thin or deep crust size. Place on an oiled baking-tray and spread with tomato puree or a little tomato pasta sauce and bake for 5 minutes (you can freeze them at this stage). Remove from the oven and top with mozzarella, a grating of parmesan and anything else you fancy!

Bake for 8-10 minutes and serve immediately!

Dough Balls

Use one of the portions of dough and cut into small pieces. Bake alongside the pizzas and serve with some butter and crushed garlic.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Something out of Nothing!

More lovely friends over for lunch today (I seem to be entertaining a lot lately!) and we decided bread and cheese. And there is not much nicer than freshly baked bread, so I cooked the soda bread again.
Looking in the fridge I spied three little pastry tart cases that I made with left-over pastry on Tuesday, and peas were in my brain. I always think you should try to eat what you are thinking about, even and especially if that is chocolate! My theory is that your body is infinitely wise and knows exactly what it needs and so I like to honour that and take heed. Today it was 'peas'! And so, three little pea and leek tarts were born!

Pea and Leek Tarts

6 little tart cases, or cases lined with pastry (no need to bake blind)
1 small leek, sliced thinly
a cup full of frozen peas
2 eggs
4 tbs creme fraiche
Splash of milk
salt and pepper
3 mint leaves (optional)

Put the peas and leeks into a pan of boiling water and bring back to the boil for three minutes. Drain and whizz or mash until squashed but not pureed. Mix the eggs, creme fraiche and milk, then stir in the pea mixture; season to taste. Be brave; the mint adds a great deal of sophistication.
Pour the peas into the pastry cases and bake for 20-25 minutes at 200 degrees/gas mk 5.

The soda bread was a great success and so delicious to eat hot with wensleydale and cranberry cheese, and very ripe French brie from Waitrose. www.waitrose.com

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Birthdays and Leek Tarts!

It is my friend's birthday today (Happy Birthday, Paula!), so I invited another friend, Serena and Paula round for lunch.
What to cook? Didn't want to be too 'cheffy' but wanted something deelicious. Decided on Leek Tart.
Tarts (or Quiches) are so very impressive and really very simple to make, especially if you use ready-made pastry. I like to make my own pastry, but there is no shame buying it when ready-made is so good now. Then you can go to town on your fillings. Use your imagination! Be creative! There are some classic combinations like Quiche Lorraine with bacon and onions, or broccoli and blue cheese, but really anything goes. Try red onion, walnut, blue cheese and spinach, or grilled red peppers and brie, or, as I made today, sweet leeks.
Just make sure the pastry is baked 'blind' beforehand to make it crisp and light, and away you go!

Leek Tart

23-25cm deep tart tin

1 block of shortcrust pastry or:
175g plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
90g chilled butter, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp cold water

Heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mk 4
Whizz the flour, salt and butter until combined. Then add the egg yolk and water and process until a dough forms. Roll it out to the size of your tin and cut to size, leaving a lip to hang over the edge a little (the pastry shrinks when it cooks, so this makes sure it still fits the tin. Bake for 10 minutes. Trim the top of the pastry around the tin.

Meanwhile, make the filling.

4 leeks, washed and chopped finely
60g butter
2 eggs and 1 yolk
250ml creme fraiche or double cream
1.5 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

Cook the leeks in the butter gently for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until very soft. Beat the eggs, yolk, creme fraiche or cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg until well combined. Add the leeks to the egg mixture and stir. Spread the leek mixture over the base of the pastry case and bake until golden, about 30-35 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

I served this today with a salad with lettuce, halved cherry tomatoes, a peeled and chopped pear and some blanched green beans. I rang my friend, Ellen, for her lovely 'almost Caesar Salad Dressing' recipe.

Ellen's Almost Caesar Salad Dressing!
3 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Mix everything together and toss with the salad.

Serena brought the richest cupcakes! They were the 'Nutella Cupcakes' from the Hummingbird Bakery Cook Book. Wow! Even I could only eat one of those - thanks Serena! Check out their websites:



What I have been cooking:

Made 'Tuna Melts' last night for tea. We love Costa!! And the tuna melt is the sandwich of choice. I have sussed it now!

Take a small ciabatta bread and split in half. In a bowl, mix a tin of tuna, mayonnaise and some grated onion. Grate some cheddar and some mozzarella cheese. Spread the tuna on to one half of the ciabatta and then sprinkle over a good amount of the cheeses. Top with the other half and wrap in foil. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or so, then take off the foil and bake for another 5 mins. Yum!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Jamie's Curry

I have a bit of a cheat today! I was bemoaning the fact that, although I have lots of 'authentic' Indian cookery books, I had yet to find a recipe with that lovely thick gravy that the supermarkets are able to produce. My friend recommended Jamie Oliver's Chicken Tikka Masala, and said that it changed the way he cooked curries.
So, I tried it on my family - and, tadaaah, it worked!
I tried it on Friday night with vegetables instead of chicken, and it was delicious. Just make sure you add enough salt (yes, but I don't use salt much in anything else!) and I have reduced the amount of cream. The secret ingredient is a handful of ground almonds, which transform the sauce from watery to lovely and thick.
Try it!

Jamie Oliver's Chicken Tikka Masala
Serves 4

6 cloves garlic, crushed
7cm ginger, finely grated
2 fresh red chillies, chopped finely
sunflower oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
3 tbsp garam masala
150g natural yoghurt
4 medium chicken breasts, cut into large chunks (or lots of cooked veg., or paneer cheese)
1 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, sliced
2 tbsp tomato puree
a small handful of ground almonds
75ml double cream
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped
juice of 1-2 limes

Mix the garlic, ginger and chillies in a bowl. Heat some oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add them to the garlic mixture along with the paprika, cumin, coriander and 2 tbsp of the garam masala. Put half this mixture into a bowl, add the yoghurt and the chicken and leave for half an hour or so.

Melt the butter or ghee and add the onions and the remaining half of the spice mix. Cook gently for 15 minutes. Add the tomato puree, the almonds, half a litre of water and 1/2 tsp of salt (more if you like).

Griddle or grill the chicken until cooked through.

Warm the sauce, add the cream and the other tbsp of garam masala, taste and season if necessary. As soon as it boils, add the chicken and serve, as Jamie says, with a 'huge bowl of steaming basmati rice, some poppadums and lots of cold beer!'

Extract from 'jamie's dinners' by Jamie Oliver (2004)

This is such a lovely book, a real 'home' cookbook. I love Jamie; he has done so much to rescue our everyday food and make it easy for it to become special and he is my number one inspiration. In my opinion, he deserves to be sainted for his work with schools, what dedication to keep going despite the HUGE mountain he had to climb; all that old, old energy and belief systems! Love ya, Jamie!!
Check him out at www.jamieoliver.com