Saturday, 24 October 2009

Is it that time already..?

In spite of my best efforts to pretend otherwise, the Christmas things are fast appearing in the shops and James' birthday is next week.  So today was decreed (by me) to be Christmas cake bonanza day chez nous.  On no other day of the year would a third of a bottle of brandy have been used before lunch, without a drop passing a lip (well, OK, maybe a drop).  My recipe doesn't change much from year to year; coming out like a trusted friend whenever I need a richly fruited celebration cake and I passed on the recipe back in 2007 when I made it to serve as James' christening cake.  Today I made not only our 'proper' cake to decorate for Christmas, but a smaller one to be my part of a competition entry with my W.I. for our local federation's Winter Rally and another half-a-dozen mini cakes to give as small gifts to teachers and suchlike.  All safely stowed away now, double-wrapped in baking parchment and foil, and thankfully no longer taking up mental 'space', so to speak...

Much as I am loath to admit it, I am a total Christmas junkie and have already hauled my Chrismas cutting book down from the highest shelf, started making cards and gifts and dusted off my special Christmas hat (yes, really, I'm afraid) for December 1st.  I did make a batch of my Spiced Apple Chutney with James' help a couple of weeks ago but, as it is already being eaten (out of the jar with a spoon, in James' case), I suspect that I ought to make another batch to be sure of having some left for the festive season!

Cath xx

Sunday, 18 October 2009

'Raisin' the Bar

When you have friends coming to stay (as we did this weekend), it's nice to feel you've given them a good time, isn't it?  Lots of food, lots of wine and LOTS of fun and laughter.  All this can be smoothed by getting as much of the slog work out of the way in advance of of your VIPs' arrival  A lovely pudding is always popular, even if you have the sort of friends (I don't) that claim not to eat puddings!  Rum-and-raisin ice cream is a great favourite of my beloved and so a cheesecake inspired by these flavours seemed like a grand idea to me.  Thankfully it worked; trying out a new idea without testing it out on my long-suffering family first could have been a disaster!  You do need to start this in plenty of time, you need an overnight soak for the raisins and then another overnight (or most of the day) chilling to set the topping on the base.  Spreads the workload, though...

Rum & Raisin Cheesecake

100g raisins

4 tbsp dark rum

Pour the rum over the raisins, cover the dish with clingfilm and leave to soak overnight.  The next day:

300g digestive biscuits, crushed
100g butter, melted

Combine the crumbs with the butter and mix thoroughly.  Pat into the base of an oiled 20cm springform (or loose-bottomed, at any rate) cake tin and chill to firm up, while you prepare the topping.

2 eggs, separated
50g light muscovado sugar
150g cream cheese
200g ricotta cheese
150ml pot double cream
Beat the egg yolks with 25g of the sugar, then beat in the cream cheese and the ricotta until smooth.  Tip in the raisins and the rum and stir to combine. Whip the cream and fold this in as well.  Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then tip in the remaining 25g of sugar (sieved) and whisk until stiff and glossy.  Fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture, then pour this over the prepared base in the tin.  Chill for several hours, or overnight, until set.  Run a knife around the edges before releasing from the tin to serve.  Divinely delish!

Cath xx

Friday, 16 October 2009

Kitchen Therapy

Everyone must have, I'm sure, those dishes that they always return to when they feel down and in need of some comfort.  Pork Chops top Hubby's list every time, Chris loves a good casserole and James always asks for a pasta bake.   My comfort food is steak and kidney pudding; a hug encased in suet pastry, though I would never turn down a plate of kedgeree in a miserable situation. For me, however it's not so much the food that's the comfort in a lot of cases, but the mere act of cooking.

I knew I'd had a lousy day yesterday, because all I could think about on the way home was gertting back and getting a risotto started.  Not because I wanted, particularly, to eat a risotto, but because I knew that half an hour of (relatively) uninterrupted, therapeutic stirring was just what I needed.

Today has been, again, a real tonic for me in that department, as we have friends arriing this evening to stay for the weekend.  Instead of using the sainted bread machine today, I've made a loaf of bread by hand, which rates very highly on my 'Kitchen 999' scale.  I've made a batch of my favourite tiny toasts for quick pre-dinner nibbles over the weekend and beyond, the childrens' supper for this evening, ready to reheat later and a pudding for tomorrow night (more of which another time...).  And so, fortified and comforted by a morming of satisfying kitchen pottering, I may proceed serenely (by my standards at least!) with the rest of the day.
Cath xx

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

There's a Leek in the Pot!

Another day, another quickly assembled pasta meal with whatever ingredients are handy...  This one went down really well tonight and I suspect it will now become one of my regular supper standbys, and a bit of a bargain supper too, really.  We (almost) always have the ingredients in stock, especially now that I have discovered the advantages of keeping a bag of frozen,sliced leeks in the freezer.  I first picked them up as a bit of a novelty purchase (see how rock 'n' roll my life is..!) but am now devoted to them for dishes like this, where you want a touch of allium flavour but not a whole load of onion getting in the way.  For casseroles and such I just bung them in from frozen, but when I cook them in dishes like this, I give them a quick whizz round in the microwave, to just defrost them.  You could just as easily soak them in some boiling water to defrost, refresh them under the cold tap and drain them really well.   A lifesaver, nonetheless.

Mustardy Sausage Pasta Pot

300g pasta

4 sausages (I like Porkinson's), skinned

1 leek or equivalent frozen (and see above)

1 tbsp mustard (use your favourite)
100g créme fraîche
handful of watercress, roughly torn up

50g parmesan, grated

Put the pasta on and heat some fat in a wide frying pan.  Break the skinned sausages into chunks and fry them, with the leeks, until the sausages are browned and everything is nicely cooked through.  Stir the mustard into the créme fraîche and swirl this into the pan with the sausages. Reserve a cupful of pasta water, then bung in the watercress in with pasta, stir and  then drain it immediately.  Return the pasta and watercress to the pan, tip the saucy sausage back in and throw in the parmesan.  Mix well, adding some of the reserved pasta water to keep the sauce nice and liquid, so it clings to the pasta without being 'claggy'.

Cath xx

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Leaving Well Alone...

Coronation Chicken is one of those true classic dishes that (almost!) everyone likes and yet people will keep trying to 're-invent' it. Ahem, not unlike Christmas lunch, then. In the same way as I can't abide the annual, seasonal onslaught of 'new alternatives' for Christmas dinner, shoving confit of duck, individual venison-and-cranberry pies and heaven knows what else, I can't stand seeing perfectly delicious dishes 'updated for the 21st century, when no-one is fed up with them in the first place! So here we are, no cubes of fresh mango, no anchovies, no shaved coconut and no cherries. All of which I have seen included in pretenders to the throne of this wonderful dish. Even the anchovies. Yes, I know...

In true Distracted fashion, however, you will find this to be a rather less labour-intensive option, no poaching of whole chickens and no making of mayonnaise. Sometimes, I agree, homemade mayonnaise is very much what you want but I, for one, fail to see the point of all that effort if you will subsequently 'curry' it and obliterate the delicate flavour of the vrai article.

For this outing, our contribution to a Bring & Share Harvest Lunch at church, I cooked the chicken yesterday (breast fillets, on a rack over a roasting pan of water, covered in tinfoil - 25 minutes at 200°c) and chilled it until this morning, when I sliced it it neatly and folded it into the sauce, before plating it up for the buffet table. You can, of course, use any leftover cooked chicken; shredded roast chicken in this sauce does make a rather superior sandwich filling (and see also my Coronation Chicken Rice Salad).

Easy-Option Coronation Chicken

500g cooked chicken, cooled
200g mayonnaise
150g Greek yoghurt
40g mango chutney
30g tikka masala curry paste
toasted flaked almonds
chopped parsley

Slice or shred the chicken, according to what you have and to what degree of finish pleases you. For a celebratory buffet dish, I like to see definite slices; for a more homely affair or a sandwich filler, I'm less fussy. Set aside while you prepare the sauce.

Beat the mayonnaise and yoghurt together, then stir in the mango chutney and the curry paste. If it is anything less than runnily silky, let it down with a little freshly boiled water to reach the desired consistency. It needs to sloppily coat the chicken and ooze very slowly across the plate, not bind it into a sticky, homogeneous mass. Fold in the sliced chicken, and chill this for anything from one to four hours to let the flavour develop. Pile watercress onto a seving dish, then top with the Coronation Chicken. Scatter over some toasted flaked almonds to add that desirable bit of crunch and then chopped fresh parsley to finish the dish.

Cath xx

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Cook's Nip(ping Out)

Today has been a busy day for me. I've been out at a study workshop since this morning(which, luckily, had a créche for the children), so first thing, just before leaving, I bunged a seasoned chicken in the slow-cooker and left it there to cook while we were out. The thought of coming home to dinner being mostly cooked was a huge comfort and allowed me to concentrate on the matter at hand.

In fact, it was such a comfort that tonight's dinner became rather more than the chicken and salad I had anticipated. Having been relaxed about not having to cook a meal when I got home, I suddenly felt like doing EXACTLY what I had thought I would NOT want to do. So 'chicken and salad' became 'chicken with creamy bacon and pea pasta and salad'.

Creamy Bacon & Pea Pasta

This is really rather lovely as a side dish with chicken, but it also works very well as a meal in its own right. I left the quantities roughly the same as for a main meal, as I can freeze the leftovers for quick children's meals in weeks ahead.

200g dry pasta shapes
150g chopped bacon
50ml chicken stock or white wine
100g créme fraîche
2 tbsp tomato purée OR 6 tbsp tomato (pasta) sauce
100g frozen peas, defrosted
25g parmesan, grated
chopped parsley

Put the pasta on to cook. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a very little fat until it is just crisp. Splash in the wine or stock to deglaze the pan. Stir in the créme fraîche and tomato purée or sauce, then add the peas, the parmesan and the parsley. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water, then toss the pasta with the sauce. Add some of the reserved water if you need to moisten the finished dish, to help the sauce coat the pasta and remain silky and delicious.

Add a plate of salad leaves and, actually, that was rather more than the dull chicken dinner I was expecting to produce.
Cath xx

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Changing Lanes

Sometimes, no matter how much I think about, and organise, my weekly menus in advance, when the time comes to cook I just don't feel like the cooking, or the eating, or indeed both and so I change my plans. Tonight I was going to make some lamb kofte to eat with salad and pitta, using up some Mint Raita I made at the weekend to go alongside. However, it became this filling and very moreish rice dish instead, which borrows heavily from my Vaguely Middle Eastern Coucous. I have a horrible, sneaking suspicion that this went down better than the originally intended, more labour-intensive dinner. Never mind, if nothing else, it provides proof indeed that the very best meals are often little more than happy accidents brought about by my fickleness.

Lamb Pilaf with Fruit & Spices

Lamb stock is more useful than you might initially think and I make it easily with whatever bones we happen to have from chops, shanks or other joints. It's really worth having in the freezer, but if not, I should substitute vegetable stock.

1 onion, sliced
500g minced lamb
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
500g basmati rice
handful sultanas
handful dried apricots, chopped
1 litre lamb stock
plenty of chopped fresh parsley

Heat some oil or butter, or indeed both, in a large pan and fry the onions until soft and beginning to colour. Add the lamb and brown it, then tip in the spices and stir well to mix. Stir in the rice and the dried fruits, then pour the stock into the pan. Bring up to boiling point, then clamp on a lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and without removing the lid (no peeking at all, trust me), leave to stand for 5 minutes. Fork through some chopped parsley; I would have loved to put some fresh mint in too, but I didn't have any, then take it to the table and serve straight from the pan. Yum!
Cath xx

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Freezer Burn

Back in cyberspace again...don't ask. Suffice it to say that my absence has not been entirely down to laziness on my part. But no matter, onwards and upwards!

Keeping the freezer organised can be a problem for me, to often it seems to become a black hole of food amnesia if I don't keep on top of it ALL THE TIME. I have to force myself to use the freezer properly, that being said I do enjoy having it all efficient and fabulous! As well as the inevitable cache of frozen vegetables (so useful, I don't know what I'd do without them), homemade stock and the boines to make it with, I keep hunks of meat bought when there are good deals to be had, and a stash of both sweet and savoury crumble topping, ready mixed to be used from frozen.

I don't very often cook specifically for the freezer, though that time of year when I do is fast approaching. More often what I do is double up on things I'm cooking anyway; pies, casseroles, chili con carne and bolognese sauce (to name a few) are as easily made in double or triple portions as in single and then I've an extra meal or two to parcel away, in anticipation of a busy day.

Today I had a good quantity of leftover meat from a whole turkey leg joint I cooked for our Sunday roast at the weekend so this, combined with a tin apiece of ham and sweetcorn, plus a little leg-bone stock to make a savoury sauce went into two pies. The pie for tonight's dinner is in the oven as I type this, and you can see the other in the freezer picture above. I lined the (oiled) pie tin with some (oiled again) foil, then open-froze it in the tin once I'd assembled it. Once hard, it's the work of a moment to pop it out of the tin and wrap it in more foil. Thus, my pie tin is not buried on Hoth for weeks on end!

Cath xx


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