Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Side Orders

Finding things to go with easy suppers can sometimes be more of a problem than grilling some chops or roasting a chicken.  Putting on some rice or bunging some potatoes in the oven to bake is simple enough, but what about the vegetables?  Imaginative, tasty ideas are always useful and I thought, today, I'd share another of my favourite side dishes with you.  These courgettes are really easy, and really tasty.  The 'secret ingredient' is balsamic glaze which you can get in Sainsbury's and, I believe, in Tesco.  As an added bonus these are delicious cold for lunch the next day, with some shaved parmesan over the top and some nice bread to mop up the juices.  Lovely as part of a mixed antipasti first course as well, if you can bear to cook them the day before and let them cool.

Roasted Balsamic Courgettes

4 tbsp olive oil
1 head of garlic, separated into peeled cloves
3 courgettes
balsamic glaze (and see above)
parsley, roughly chopped

Pour the olive oil into a roasting pan and add the halved garlic cloves.  Pop the tin into a 180°c oven  for 5 minutes while you prepare the courgettes.  Halve them lengthways, then chop into 2cm chunks.  Tip these into the roasting tin and toss well to coat them in the garlicky oil.  Roast for 20 minutes, then squeeze over a good souse of the balsamic glaze.  Toss again and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.  Throw over a mass of chopped parsley to serve. Good hot, great warm - and gorgeous cold too.  Result!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Easy as Pie

Let's face it, sometimes it just has to be pie.  However, at the moment I'm suffering from a nasty cold and don't feel much like elaborate, constructional cooking so tonight I opted for an easy route to pie pleasure.  Ready-rolled puff pastry is yet another of those ingredients that the modern home cook can give thanks for and for a quick assembly job like this, it's the perfect kitchen helper.  Something of a wellington, but much less of a fancy, formal meal... more of a pixie boot, really!
Easy Mushroom 'Pixie Pie'

2 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry
4 portobello mushrooms
150g soft cheese with garlic & herbs (I used Boursin)
1 egg, beaten with a splash of water and a pinch of salt

Cut the sheets of puff pastry in half widthways, and place a mushroom on each piece.  Spread the soft cheese over the mushroom 'gills', then brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash and fold the corners into the centre to cover the filling.  Place on a baking sheet, then brush with more egg wash.  Cook at 180ºc for 40 minutes or so, until crisp and golden.

At Christopher's insistent request, I also served some small baked potatoes (though I personally feel that potatoes and pastry is de trop.  This garlic-and-lemon spinach is all I wanted...

Garlic-and-Lemon Spinach

So easy, and so fast.  I adore spinach any old how, but this is my absolute favourite way to cook it!

1 tbsp olive oil

5 cloves garlic, or to taste, chopped
200g leaf spinach, rinsed and just shaken dry
juice of 1/2 a lemon
black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the chopped garlic.  When it is soft and fragrant, add the spinach, turning quickly in the garlicky oil, throw over the lemon juice and then clamp on the lid.  Let the spinach wilt, then give it a good grinding of black pepper and serve warm.
Cath xx

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Stick It!

Satay chicken or chicken satay, whichever, has been a favourite of mine for longer than I care to admit.  My first taste of it was when on a independently-organised field trip to Port Solent in Hampshire (with my Mum!) to collect information for my GCSE Geography individual study.  I did get full marks for the study and an A* overall, but I this suspect it wasn't entirely down to the satay... The memory of it, however, has stayed with me to this day, whereas my knowledge of reclaimed land in Hampshire and Holland has retreated somewhat!  I continued to dream of this, and to make it myself, through my university years and beyond.  Far superior to the mimsy, minuscule, ready made 'satay stix' you can buy, this is real food (and very popular with the children, who love any excuse to play with their food).  Can't think who they get it from...

Satay Chicken

This recipe is for 1kg of chicken breast meat, cut into long strips, which makes more than enough for four - with some leftover to eat cold as a snack.

1 medium onion, very finely chopped
1cm fresh ginger root, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp rapeseed oil (or sunflower, or vegetable)
juice of 1/2 a lime
2 tsp light muscovado sugar
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder (NOT powdered chillies, I mean the blended stuff!)
1/2 tsp turmeric

Stir all the prepared marinade ingredients together in a large bowl.  Mix the chicken (and see above) into the marinade, coating it thoroughly, then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but preferably longer.  I did these mid-morning, for supper tonight.

Soak some bamboo skewers (I used 12) in cold water for 30 minutes, then thread the chicken strips onto them in a wiggly fashion (you can do cubes, which is probably easier, but I like the wiggles).  Space them out on lightly oiled baking trays and bake at 200°c for around 25 minutes until cooked through and just starting to 'catch' in places.  Serve with this satay sauce...

Satay Sauce

100g dry-roasted peanuts
25g creamed coconut, finely chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tsp light muscovado sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp lemon juice
smidgen cayenne pepper

Put all the ingredients into a small pan  with 150ml water and bring gently to a simmer.  Cook for 5 minutes, then set aside to cool.  You can reheat it to serve, or put in straight into a serving eat at room temperature with the satay sticks.

To go with the chicken and the peanut sauce, I like nothing more than a bowl of steaming basmati rice and a simple salad, something to balance the taste of the rich peanut sauce; today I made a cucumber salad with radishes, only very lightly dressed.

Cath xx

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Peas Please!

 Like many people, I suspect, without frozen peas I would feel bereft.  As well as the inevitable childhood chips-and-peas accompaniment, they are a useful ingredient in their own right.  So easy to throw into meals for a burst of colour and flavour; going so well with not only traditional British flavours but also with exotic spiced curries and pilafs.  Add softened onion, stock and cream (and bung in some mint or basil if you like, too), blend, and you have a beautiful light soup in moments.  Tip some into a risotto or make a meatless carbonara; the possibilities seem almost endless.

So it was pleasing to find, in the post, the new recipe booklet from the Yes Peas! campaign.  Full of all sorts of interesting recipes, such as Green Pea Hummus, Mild Pea & Sweet Potato Curry and Pea and Sun-Dried Tomato Bread, tonight I tried this Pea & Tuna Kedgeree.  It was very easy to make and very satisfying to serve - both my little boys had several helpings!

Pea & Tuna Kedgeree

This recipe is just as it appears in the booklet, with my additional notes in italics. I substituted 2 tbsp of ghee for the oil-and-butter mix.  The photo was, gratifyingly, taken by me and not by a food stylist!

300g frozen peas
4 eggs, hard-boiled and shelled
250g long-grain rice (I used basmati)
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
30g butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp mild curry paste (I used Patak's Tikka)
1 tsp cumin seeds
400g tin of tuna, drained
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Squeeze of lemon
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 160°c.  Cook the frozen peas in boiling water for 3 minutes, drain and set aside (I actually just put them in a jug, poured a kettle of boiling water over them and left them for 3 minutes).  Roughly chop the eggs.  Add a pinch of salt to a large pan of boiling water, add the rice and return to the boil, stir well, reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender, drain in a sieve and set aside (as always, I used my electric rice cooker to do this - with 2 manufacture-supplied measuring cups of rice).  Heat the oil and butter (ghee) in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan (large saucepan), add the chopped onions, curry paste and cumin seed and fry until the onion is cooked, but not brown, stirring all the time.  This will take about 3 minutes.  The add the rice, peas and tuna to the cooked onions and mix in well (I put it all into an oven dish at this point).  Cover (with foil) and place in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (I didn't bother).  Remove from the oven, add the roughly chopped eggs, parsley and lemon juice and adjust the seasoning accordingly. Serve with a green salad (I eschewed this, but did put a bowl of natural yoghurt on the table).

Cath xx

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Go Shorty

A bit of home baking on the weekend is always a good idea, something to entertain the children and educate them about food a little, while providing a lovely treat at the same time.  Shortbread is a wonderful thing to bake, so simple yet so rewarding.  Because it contains so few ingredients, the preparation time is minimal and a mere fifteen minutes in the oven is bearable for even the most fractious child (or parent!).

Of course butter (and it must be butter when you make shortbread) is not a health food, but the oats I've added to my recipe, plus the introduction of unrefined sugar, with its trace nutrients and minerals, allow me to feel better about this snack than some of the other 'kiddy snacks' around.  OK, so it's not an apple this time, but it's not shortbread every time and that's what matters.  Find a balance, it's the weekend...

Brown Sugar Shortbread

60g porridge oats
190g plain flour
200g salted butter
75g light muscovado sugar

Put the porridge oats into the blender and whizz to a fine powder.  Stir into the flour and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together, then work in the flour-and-oats mixture to form a crumbly dough.  Press into a 20x30cm rectangular baking tin (mine is non-stick, but I still wipe it round with my wonderful Cake Release).  Mark into squares or bars with a sharp knife, then prick holes in each  section with a skewer.  Bake at 180°c for fifteen minutes, until the surface is golden.  Remove to a rack to cool (careful, it's rather fragile at this stage!), then break into biscuits once cooled and firm.  Put the kettle on, make a pot of tea (shortbread's best friend) and put your feet up, that's an order!
Cath xx

Friday, 15 January 2010

Chatty Chicken

For us, more and more, Friday night is curry night.  It started when, back in 2008, my new year's resolution required me to learn to cook Indian food properly.  Two years later and I still love the sound of spices and bay leaves popping and frizzling in hot oil (or more lately ghee, which I now buy in cans).  I'm not a fan of  super-hot curries, preferring instead the flavour of the spices to really come through, rather than feeling I've been bludgeoned to death with chillies.  I add any extra heat I need with a generous dollop of lime pickle.

Chat (or chaat) masala is a spice mix with a citrussy, slightly sour kick to it.  Masala, in fact, means spice mix while chaat is the verb 'to lick', which I think tells you all you need to know about this mouth-watering, lip-licking blend!  It is available as a ready-mixed blend, but is easy to make, as are many of the Indian spice blends but, as so many are made with ingredients you can find in any reasonably well-stocked spice rack, it seems a good idea to have a bash yourself occasionally.  Having said that, chat masala does really, in the authentic sense, call for things without that range but, living in the sticks as I do, I don't have access to a handy Asian grocer for amchur, asafoetida and black salt; this version is very much my interpretation.  I was given a Typhoon CrushGrind for Christmas but you can use a mortar and pestle; it's not too taxing.

My Chat Masala

This makes enough to make the curry below.  Of course, you can make more and store it in an airtight jar in the cupboard if you want...

1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 small dried whole red chillies

Toast these in a dry frying pan until the aromas are released, then grind.  Stir in a pinch each of turmeric, ground ginger and salt.  You can then add a smidgen of cayenne pepper for extra punch if you like.

Chicken Chat

I prefer to use yoghurt in curries for the slightly acidic bite it gives, but find that it can sometimes 'split' during cooking, so I add the cornflour to stabilise it.  Replace it with single cream if you'd rather.

5 tbsp cooking oil or ghee
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2cm piece ginger root, grated
chat masala (see above)
200ml water
1 tsp cornflour
150ml natural yoghurt
6 chicken thigh fillets, halved
150g spinach

Heat the oil or ghee in a deep pan (one which has a lid).  Fry the onion until soft then add the garlic and ginger.  Stir in the chat masala, then pour in the water.  Stir the cornflour into the yoghurt (and see above); add this to the pan too.  Stir well, then add the chicken pieces and cover the pan.  Cook at a simmer for 25 minutes (which gives you time to sort out rice, set the table and pour a well-deserved glass of wine).  Stir in the spinach at the last moment, let it wilt into the sauce, and then serve!
Cath xx

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Call this cold? Well, yes, actually!

The cold weather has really brought us round to stews and casseroles again.  Milder winters in recent years have meant less of a marked change in our diet from one season to the next but this year I am really feeling wintry and more in need of hearty, rib-sticking dishes to warm my chilled marrow right through.  Originally, when planning supper for tonight, I thought of Goulash, but the lack of beef available in my freezer, and the need to use up a surfeit of pork, meant that this has ended up more like the equally appealing Pörkölt. 

For the accompaniment, first I thought rice, then I thought noodles (for which read tagliatelle), then I wondered about couscous.  Then it came to me, as obvious as it should have been all along... DUMPLINGS!!!  Called knedlíky when dishes not dissimilar to this are made  in Czechoslovakia, my dumplings immediately felt 'right' with this dish.  We all love dumplings anyway, so nI wonder what was wrong with me not to think of them straightaway.  No matter, this was especially lovely with a glass of robust Shiraz.

Slightly Slavic Pork Stew

Incidentally, the dumpling 'recipe' can be used to bulk up any stews or casseroles - and add any herbs or spices you feel would enhance your meal.  I prefer them plain and unfettered with a highly-flavoured stew like this one.

25g butter and a little cooking oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
700g lean boneless pork, cut into cubes
2 tbsp smoked paprika (I use La Chinata, which seems quite widely available)

1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks1 green pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks
100g mushrooms, cut into chunks
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée

For the dumplings:

150g self-raising flour
50g suet
salt and pepper
milk or water to bind to a loose dough

Heat the fat and fry the onion until soft.  Add the pork and brown it a little, then mix in the vegetable chunks.  Pour in the tomatoes and half a can of water with the tomato purée, and cook at 160° for 1 hour 15 minutes, then, if you like, mix the ingredients for the dumplings together, form into half-a-dozen small balls with wetted hands and add them to the pan, cooking the uncovered stew at 180°c for a further quarter of an hour.

Cath xx

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Chili for the Chilly

On a cold winter's night, thoughts definitely turn to comfort food and in the comfort food stakes, chili con carne rates pretty highly, I think  You can find my tried-and-tested recipe for chili here.

Chili has the benefit of being made largely from ingredients that you can find in most reasonably stocked kitchens, I add cubes of red (or yellow) pepper if I have one to hand, but leave it out if I haven't.  The only fresh ingredients are an onion, some garlic (and I, anyway, keep a bag of Rock frozen chopped garlic in the freezer) and some minced beef.  Having a pack of beef in the sainted appliance was the main reason for cooking this tonight; as I haven't left the house in over a week now, I'm doing my 'food shopping' from the freezer!  Thank heavens for our seemingly weather-proof milkman and my wonderful bread machine; we'd really be having problems, food-wise, without them!.

This is one of those fantastic dinners that is always welcome; one which you can dress up or down, depending on your constituency.  With jacket potatoes and cheese it makes an easy family supper; one which I often turn to if I have a couple of portions of chilli in the freezer to use for a meal.  For guests (often friends arriving late on a Friday evening to stay for the weekend), it can be tarted up a little by providing tortilla chips, grated cheese, sour cream and guacamole in addition to the chilli and a big bowl of plain-cooked rice.

Tonight I planned to find the middle ground with just chilli, rice and a dish of grated cheese, until James decided he fancied some garlic bread too.  Fair enough, says I, and there we are...

Cath xx

Thursday, 7 January 2010


 Being at home is lovely at the moment, isn't it?  Looking out of the window at the snow-blanketed countryside; seeing the cat shaking frost from his fur when he comes through his door; hearing the crunch of snow on the road outside as cars edge gingerly down the hill - all while we're snuggled up warm inside.  I'm a  homebird at heart anyway, but poking round the house with the perfect excuse for not going out is heaven... domestic bliss!  A cheering, baked all-in-one supper like this provides a touch more winter warmth without any pressure on the cook - and allows for more time in front of the fire with a cuppa.

Comforting Creamy Chicken Bake

1 leek, sliced
250g bacon, chopped
500g small waxy potatoes, halved lengthways
4 tbsp wholegrain mustard
squeeze of lemon juice
284ml carton double cream
200ml milk
4 chicken thighs

Put the chopped bacon, halved potatoes and sliced leeks into the bottom of a large ovenproof dish.  Mix the mustard, cream and milk together with a squeeze of lemon juice and some seasoning.  Pour this over the ingredients in the dish, then nestle the chicken pieces in the top, skin-side up.  Bake at 180°c for 45 minutes until the chicken skin is crisp and the top of the bake is nicely golden.

Eat up and keep warm!

Cath xx

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


Back-to-school day turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax in the end; heavy snow overnight and this morning meant that the local schools were all closed and - yay! - my babes were at home for one more precious day of holidays.  With favourite toys out and happy sounds emanating from the sitting room, I retreated to the kitchen for my reward; a little pottering in anticipation of a lovely, leisurely lunch instead of the rather rushed affair of days ruled by the school-run.

For all the hand-wringing that goes on at this time of year about the leftovers from the festive season I, for one, love prinking bits of box-bound remains in the fridge to make something different and delicious.  To wilfully (and woefully, I'm afraid) paraphrase Dr Johnson "a woman who is tired of cheese, is tired of life".  However it must be said that at this time of year the cheeseboard which I usually fall upon with such enthusiasm begins to lose a little of its appeal.   Just a little, mind.  To remedy that, I like to make this little dish...

Potted Stilton

This quantity fills two ramekins, but increase the quantities as you like.

75g butter
150g stilton
1/2 tsp English mustard powder
2 tbsp port

Melt the butter in a small pan.  Meanwhile, mix the mustard powder and a little pepper into the port and set aside.  Crumble the stilton into the food processor or blender jug and pour over the port and, when melted, the butter.  Whizz to a smooth paste and scrape into ramekin dishes.

I like to eat this with my favourite tiny toasts and some chutney or, even better, the last of the Christmas cranberry sauce.  Now then, cheese is a real superfood...

Cath xx

Monday, 4 January 2010

Back-to-School Risotto

Well, the holidays are over and school starts tomorrow.  Today has therefore been spent in a spin, dashing around trying to locate errant plimsolls, pencil sharpeners and other associated, ephemeral dross.  We also had to take the Christmas decs down; I know the last day of the hols isn't ideal, but I can't bear to see the back of Christmas for another year and always leave them up until the last lord leaps, piper pipes and drummer drums.

I love cooking risotti, as I know I've written before, but more and more, when up against it, I've taken to getting the bulk of it done in the oven; after all anything in the oven can, in a sense at least, be ignored while you get on with other things.  A good comforting supper was in order tonight, not least for me as James is going to (admittedly nursery) school for the first time tomorrow and it has all gone so quickly.  It feels like only yesterday that I was writing about weaning him into solids and now look at him; my little peach is not-so-little any more.

My method for doing a risotto in the oven is very straightforward, either with 300g risotto rice (I tend to use arborio as it's the most widely available) and a litre of stock, which makes dinner for the four of us, or with 450g rice and 1.5 litres of stock, which makes enough for a lunch for me and one (or both, if needs be) of the children the following day as well.

Soften an onion, in butter, in a large ovenproof casserole.  When very soft, tip in the rice and stir to coat in the butter.  Pour in a slug of white wine or dry vermouth, then add any extra ingredients (and see below), pour in the stock and pop in the oven.  Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes at 180°, then stir in a handful of grated parmesan and pop a lid on for five minutres while you set the table and pour yourself a drink.

Tonight;'s risotto was made with ham stock and the last, diced, meat from our Christmas ham but past successes in this line have included a mushroom version, a chicken and herb version, bacon and pea and prosciutto wth cubes of roasted butternut squash.  To be continued, I'm sure...

Cath  xx

Friday, 1 January 2010


The New Year's Day walk is as much of a tradition in many families, I know, as is the turkey on Christmas Day.  As we are at my parents' home for New Year, we joined them on their New Year walk to blow out the cobwebs, negate a little New Year's Eve indulgence and allow the children to run and burn off some 'excess' energy.  A walk on a crisp, cold winter's day is lovely anyway; even better when sunshine is bright enough to make you squint and utterly fantastic when you can really enjoy the beauty of your surroundings.  We went walking in Lacock today, a place I perhaps don't always appreciate as I should, having grown up with it on the doorstep. 

No matter, today has been a great day.  Happy New Year to you all...
Cath xx


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