Friday, 10 September 2010

Fakin' Bacon

OK, so it's only just barely a recipe, but it is very useful especially if, like me you do your supermarket shopping after school and then get home needing to prepare supper.  These mushrooms are super quick to prepare; if you use the soya bacon chips I specify, it takes less than five minutes to get it all ready and then you can just bung the dish in the oven.

The other rather amusing(well, to me anyway!) thing is that this dish can be serve to vegetarians as the 'bacon-flavour' soya chips are 'suitable for vegetarians'. If you know a veggie who (rather oddly, in my opinion) wants to eat something bacon-flavour, then this could be just the ticket. Obviously you could replace the soya chips with real bacon if you're somehow 'spooked' by them, just grill until very crisp and crumble or chop when cool.  I rather love them and have mentioned this before, plus anything that saves a bit of time is always welcome in my kitchen...

Cheesy Baked Mushrooms

500g white mushrooms
about 10 tbsp BAC~Os
fresh parsley, finely chopped
150g strong Cheddar cheese, grated
black pepper

Grease an ovenproof dish, which will just take the mushrooms in one layer, with a very little oil.  Remove the stalks from the mushrooms and - don't waste them - set them aside to use in another recipe (I'm planning to add them to a veggie lasagne I'll make later this week).  Lay the mushrooms, hollow-side up in the dish and add a good pinch of BAC~Os to each mushroom 'cup'.  Scatter chopped parsley over all the mushrooms and cover with the grated cheese.  Season with pepper.  Bake at 180°cfor 20 minutes.  All you need to go with are some nice bread rolls and a green salad.

Cath xx

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

'Banging' Nachos

Nacho platters are becoming a big favourite with us, midweek, for a fast, slightly 'treaty' supper that doesn't break the bank (and see my recipe for Loaded Beef & Bean Nachos as well).  They are also a great way to get children to eat more pulses and vegetables.  I prefer to make my own tortilla 'chips' for these; I feel that the method I give here makes for a more filling base to the plate than a bag of bought tortilla chips provides, plus you can avoid all the extra added salt of the commercially fried chips.  Just take some corn or flour tortillas, cut each disc into six wedges and spread out on lightly oiled baking sheets.  Bake at 200°c for 5 minutes, then turn them and return to the oven for another five minutes.  You can make these in advance and keep them in a tin if you like, but  they aren't a great deal of effort even if you do everything for this meal just before you eat it.  

Making this sauce by mixing spices and herbs with a drained can of chopped tomatoes was something of a revelation for me when I first tried it out (necessity being the mother of invention, as they say) and I share it with you now. It gives you a lovely thick, spicy sauce just perfect for nacho-type dishes or just as a dipping sauce; no need to shell out for long-life jars of incredibly salty, yet suspiciously sweet, 'salsa' ever again!

Sausage Nacho Platter

6 flour tortillas, cut and baked as above
6 sausages
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tsp mild chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
400g can mixed beans, drained

100g sweetcorn, defrosted if frozen
4 fat spring onions, chopped
1 small red pepper, diced
150g Edam, grated

Skin the sausages and divide each into three.  Heat some cooking oil in a non-stick pan and fry the sausage pieces until well cooked through (about 3 minutes a side).  Meanwhile, drain the excess juice from the tomatoes, discard it and mix the chili powder, cumin and oregano in with the tomato chunks.

Spread the tortilla chips out across a very large plate, then top with the beans and the sweetcorn.  Scatter over the red pepper dice and the chopped spring onion.  Nestle the sausage 'nuggets' atop the vegetables, then dollop and drizzle the spicy tomato mixture all around the surface.  Cover everything with the grated Edam and pop the plate in a hot oven until everything is covered in molten, oozing cheese.  Serve with a crisp green salad on the side.
Cath xx

Monday, 6 September 2010

Quick & Mix

I love homemade bread, don't you?  Still a little warm, dunked in soup or topped with lashings of butter and, just maybe, some cheese?  I crave good bread and this recipe means that I can satisfy that need easily, pretty much whenever I feel like it.  You really do need a mixer or processor to really appreciate the speed, but you can take the 'scenic route' with a bowl, wooden spoon and your hands and just take a little longer about it.  You can use a full 750g of white flour for your dough if you like, but I prefer some wholemeal in there too; it somehow makes the bread taste even more homemade!

Easy Mixer Rolls

500g strong white flour
250g strong wholemeal flour2 tsp salt
7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
450ml warm water
a little milk
seeds, to top, if liked

Rub the butter into the flour, then stir in the salt and then the yeast.  Mix in the water, then knead until the dough is soft and smooth.  Cover the bowl and leave to rise for 30 minutes.  Divde the dough into 12, roll each into a ball and place side-by-side, slighly spaced apart, in a roasting tin.  Brush with milk and sprinkle with seeds, if you like (I usually use poppy, sesame and sunflower seeds separately, see picture; sometimes I mix some mustard seeds in with the poppy seeds too).  Bake at 200°c for 15 minutes, remove to  rack and cool slightly before serving.

You can also use this dough to bake a loaf (in a 2lb tin or formed into a round on a baking sheet) at the same temperature for 35 minutes.  My other favourite thing to do with this quick dough is my Fake Foccacia.  For this, you need to pat the dough into the bottom of an 8"/20cm sandwich tin and, withe your fingers, poke indentations all over the surface.  Dabble the loaf with olive oil (garlic-infused, if you have it) and sprinkle with freshy chopped rosemary or thyme.  Bake for 30 minutes and cool slightly in the tin before removing it to a rack to finish cooling.
Cath xx

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Weekend Cook

While cooking during the week has its rewards and is a worthwhile occupation, it can be fraught; keeping the family happy, the cook composed and the suicide hour as peaceful as is reasonably possible.  Weekdays find me looking for shortcuts, quick solutions and recipes for the all-important slow-cooker.

Weekends are another matter, though.  I am rarely more at peace with myself than pootling around in my little kitchen at the weekend; baking for the week ahead, preparing bits and bobs in advance for the week's meals and just generally idling hours away planning lovely meals...

Saturday night was pie night for us and, while I would usually make a pie like this with leftover roast, or otherwise cooked, chicken, his one was a scratch pie from start to finish.  Poached chicken has such a beautiful succulence in a pie and the liquid provides a tasty sauce with little work.

Chicken & Leek Pie

Obviously you could use leftover cooked chicken, as detailed above and just steam the leeks while you make the sauce with a pint of stronger chicken stock (and I would recommend the Knorr Stock Pot stock gel if you have no homemade stuff to hand)

4 chicken breast fillets
60ml dry vermouth
3 leeks, trimmed and sliced thickly
light chicken stock or water, to cover
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 dried whole chilli pepper
40g butter
40g flour
1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry

Put the leeks and chicken breasts into a large saucepan and pour over the vermouth.  Pour the stock or water into the pan and add the peppercorns, bay leaves and chilli.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.  Remove the chicken and leeks from the pan with a slotted spoon and strain the liquid into a jug.  Pour the liquid back into the clean pan and boil it, reducing it to a pint.  Leave the liquid to cool.  Chunk or slice the chicken breasts as you like and put them, and the leeks, into a pie dish.  Put the butter and flour into a saucepan with the poaching liquid and bring to the boil, whisking continuously.  Turn the heat down and simmer, still whisking, until the sauce has thickened.  Pour this into the dish and gently mix to coat the other ingredients.  Top the dish with the puff pastry and bake at 180°c for 30-45 minutes until the pastry is cooked and everything has had chance to heat through completely.

This weekend has been boosted by my acquisition of Kitchen, the lovely new offering from Nigella Lawson.  Filled with all sorts of good things and the sort of perceptive, evocative writing she is so well-known for, I have been sofa-bound, armed with this book, whenever time allows.

Today, I decided to try out a few of the recipes; the Everyday Brownies (p.217) and the Crustless Pizza (p.26) and the Ham Hocks in Cider (p.368).  The brownies were very popular with the children, being more 'cakey' and considerably less opulent than my usual Fabulous Chocolate Brownies.  The pizza was a delicious kind of  'Yorkshire Pudding' pizza and went down very well with all of us at lunchtime.

Ham Hocks in Cider are now simmering on the stovetop in readiness for our supper this evening.  Happily, the ingredients are things that I generally have in the house (apart from the fennel seeds, so I left those out and added a couple of bay leaves instead).  Two large hocks cost only £3.00 from the butcher yesterday, so hardly extravagant.  To that end, I plan to serve the hocks with extravagantly buttery mashed potatoes and, I think, the last of the purple sprouting...

Cath xx

Thursday, 2 September 2010


Our friendly door-to-door fish man brought, among other things, some river cobbler round on his van this week.  I'd never tried this fish before, only knowing that it had been implicated in a couple of Trading Standards cases where it was being sold as cod by unscrupulous fish-and-chip shop owners.  If it can pass for cod while being more sustainable and therefore less culinarily unethical , I'm interested...but then, I love a bit of controversy, me!

While I love a good fish pie, it can be a bit of a production for a simple weeknight supper.  These little jackets are a time-and-stress friendly option; always welcome on the first day back at school! 

Fish Pie Jackets

4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed and pricked
2 fillets firm white fish (and see above)
200g spinach, washed
50g parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes.  I bake them for 90 minutes in a 160°c oven.  Meanwhile, poach the fish in enough milk to just cover it.  I do this in the microwave for speed; one of the few things that I do use the popty ping for.  Just make sure that it's in a covered dish!  Put the spinach into a large bowl.  When the potatoes are ready, halve them and scoop out the cooked potato into the bowl on top of the spinach; the heat from the spuds will wilt the leaves.  Mash the potato and spinach together, the add the fish, flaking it and folding it in carefully.  Add as much of the poaching milk as you need, to make a nice soft 'mash' consistency and then season the mixture (mainly with pepper, don't forget that the parmesan is salty too!).  Fill the potato shells with the fish mixture and sprinkle with the grated cheese.  Put the jackets on a baking tray and bake at 200°c for 20 minutes to heat through and crisp up.

I serve these with sweetcorn as an extra 'fish pie' ingredient and very good it is too!

Cath xx


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