Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Normal Service will resume shortly...

Just to let you know, it's the school holidays, and we are mired (in a good way, natch) in visitors and the like, so I shan't be posting much, if at all, for the next week or so.  Sorry!
Cath xx

Monday, 17 October 2011

Luscious Leeks

I really, and I mean REALLY, love leeks.  I adore them and would happily eat them, cooked in all sorts of ways, several times a week.  I rather rate them, too, chopped raw into salads in place of spring (or aren't we now supposed to say 'salad') onions.  Leek soup is fab and there is no easier, nor lovelier, side dish to a roast chicken than a tin of chunked up leeks, roasted with a little oil and some chestnut mushrooms chucked in halfway through cooking.  Anyway, I digress...

I remember eating something rather similar to this as a child, though only vaguely.  'Baby' (i.e. early) leeks wrapped in prosciutto, with hollandaise sauce was also quite a regular first course for entertaining in my newlywed girl-about-the-kitchen days.  Leeks and ham, or bacon, are a marvellous double act in whatever guise you choose.  See also:

Leeks with Ham & Cheese

I like to use 'Black Forest Ham' in cooking more and more these day; I love the smoky flavour and find it drier and less greasy than a lot of cured hams.  It tends to be cheaper than prosciutto too, which is always nice these days!

6 slim leeks, washed, ends trimmed and cut into thirds (and see picture)
50ml dry vermouth
9 slices of ham, halved (and see above)
75g butter, plus some for greasing the dish
50g plain flour
1 tsp mustard powder
400ml milk
125ml double cream
50g strong Cheddar cheese, grated
100g fresh (i.e. stale) breadcrumbs
100g Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 180°c.  Put the chunked up leeks in a big pan, slosh in the vermouth and top up with water.  Bring to the boil and cook until just tender.  Drain and set aside.  Melt the butter in the same saucepan, then stir in the flour and mustard powder.  Cook briefly, then pour in the milk and cream, stirring continuously.  Simmer until thickened, then add the cheese, remove from the heat and whisk like b**gery, until the cheese has completely melted into the sauce.

Wrap each chunk of leek in a piece of ham and arrange these little parcels in a reasonably shallow ovenproof dish which you have greased with a little lump of butter.  Pour the cheese sauce over the top and smooth it out as best you can.  Mix the breadcrumbs and Parmesan together, add a few grindings of black pepper, then scatter these over the dish.  Bake for 25 minutes.

I rather like a bit of salad with this but, apparently, I'm weird.... (how rude!)
Cath xx

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Harvest Braised Steak

This is a precious hand-me-down from my paternal grandmother.  My beloved Granny gave this recipe to my darling Mum, who cooked it often during my years at home, before writing it out for me.  Now I pass it on to you, for fear that this delicious recipe will otherwise, one day, be lost forever.  It's a brilliant one-pot dinner, quickly prepared but slow to cook; ideal for a rainy Sunday in autumn.  Food like this just feels so right at this time of year, familiar and warming but not flash or fussy.  It's a completely self-contained meal as well, no bits and pieces or side dishes required, so very little washing-up to be done before the mad weekly rush to get the children's things ready for school tomorrow, lay out uniforms for the morning and get my babies off to bed, ready for the last week of school before half-term (and, blimey, hasn't that come around quickly!).

Harvest Braised Steak

2 tbsp oil or dripping
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
600ml beef stock
20g cornflour, dissolved in 100ml cold water
500g carton passata OR 400g can chopped tomatoes
200g mushrooms, chopped roughly
320g can sweetcorn, drained
handful of uncooked  macaroni
800g braising steak, cut into portion-size pieces

Preheat the oven to 150°c.  Heat the fat in a large casserole pan on the hob and cook the onion and carrot until softened.  Pour in the stock and the cornflour mixture.  Add the tomatoes, mushrooms, sweetcorn and macaroni and stir well.  Lay the pieces of braising steak on top and transfer the pan to the oven.  Cook for two hours, checking occasionally that it is not becoming too dry.  Top up with a little water or stock if necessary, then serve straight from the pan at the table.

Cath xx

Friday, 14 October 2011

Friday Night Fakeaway: Meatball Pizza

My eldest son came home from school a week ago, having been on a field trip to taste the food at a local Italian restaurant (I know! How good is that? We never had cool trips like that in my day! *feels old*).  One of the dishes the children had tried, which had made a very serious impression on my lad, was "a really nice pizza with meatballs and lots of stringy cheese, Mummy".  It soon became clear that the mere notion of this full-on 'man' pizza was enough that the males of the household; from the tallest to the shortest, would pester me mercilessly until I caved in  ask me very, very nicely if I would please make a similar pizza for the Friday Night Fakeaway this week.

Pizza is, it has to be said, a favoured option for Friday nights; I have used my bread machine pizza dough recipe for almost as long as I have had the machine itself, and this simple no-cook pizza sauce is easily thrown together and left to do its thing morning, noon or night.

Love-It-and-Leave-It Pizza Sauce

1 tube tomato purée
250ml water
4 tbsp cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried thyme
fresh black pepper

Stir everything together in a bowl.  Cover it with clingfilm (which I hope, by now, you have learned to keep in the freezer) and then pop the dish in the 'fridge for a few hours; overnight or all day is fine too, just leave it for a bit for the flavour to really develop.  Spread liberally onto your prepared pizza base and cook as normal.

Meatball Pizza

For tonight's meatball pizza, I defrosted some meatballs that I already had, as is my habit, in the freezer, but you can use whatever you have, buy some or make some specially.  Use as many or as few as you like, naturally.

Cook the raw meatballs in the oven at 180°c for 15 minutes until cooked through, then remove from the oven and set aside.   Turn the oven up to 220°c.  Dust your baking trays with cornmeal (polenta) or regular flour, then place the rolled-out pizza bases on to the trays.  Prick all over with a fork, then spread evenly with the tomato sauce.  Dot  the sauce-smothered pizza bases with the meatballs.  Cover the pizzas with grated mozzarella (for the 'stringy cheese' of my son's description), sprinkle with a few mixed dried herbs and finish with some grated parmesan for an extra 'cheesy' flavour.

Transfer the trays to the preheated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked; crisp around the edges with the golden, sizzling cheese settled around the nubbly forms of the meatballs.  Throw a salad of some kind together (I'm still very keen on my Black Bean & Sweetcorn Salad).  Remove the pizzas from the trays to a board,  and slice them into wedges.  Pour a glass of something lovely and enjoy the start of the weekend.

Happy Friday, everyone!  Cath xx

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Chicken, Chickpea & Spinach Curry

This straightforward dish feels like real cooking, somehow.  Pootling about in the kitchen for a while, wearing an apron; sounds of sizzling and amazingly delicious smells wafting through the house.  Even better, the simmering time is sufficient for me to put two cups of basmati rice and a few cardamom pods into the hallowed rice cooker with some water and switch it on for a perfect, no-tears side dish;  my relaxed raita is easily stirred together, leaving me plenty of time for a cheeky pre-prandial while I straighten up the kitchen.  

Chicken, Chickpea & Spinach Curry

3 tbsp cooking oil
a few cloves
a few cardamom pods
2 fresh or 1 dried bay leaf
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
about an inch of ginger root

2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
500g carton passata

150ml carton single cream
400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tsp garam masala
500g chicken thigh meat, sliced 
250g spinach leaves, washed

Whizz the garlic and ginger, with about 4 tbsp of water, in the blender to make a runny paste.  Heat the fat in a large pan. Add the cloves, cardamom and bay leaves to the pan and sizzle for a few seconds.  Add the the onion and fry until soft but not coloured.  Scrape the garlic-ginger paste into the pan and stir everything together well, then mix in the spices and cook briefly; the smell really is brilliant!  Pour in the passata, add the rinsed chickpeas and swirl in the cream.  Sprinkle in the garam masala, then add the chicken to the pan.  Simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring only occasionally, then fold the spinach into the curry until wilted.  Serve with rice and a dollop of  raita.  It tastes even better than it smells, believe me.

This curry really does freeze amazingly well; so much so that I often do a double batch, squirrelling half of it away for a future meal.  It's great when you can just defrost a really nice home-cooked evening meal in an emergency!

Cath xx

Monday, 10 October 2011

Courgette & Salami Pasta

My mandoline slicer is one of those things that comes out only rarely, but when I do use it, I wonder why don't I use it more often?  I suspect the answer is probably that it lives in its box in a cupboard, whereas the KitchenAid and the Magimix are out on the kitchen worktop.  And I forget all about it, sometimes. And I'm a bit lazy.

Never mind, because 'the mandoline' really is the perfect tool for the job in the case of tonight's recipe.  Take the courgettes and use the fine julienne blade to cut them into the thinnest matchstick strands imaginable.  And if my distracted and oft-cackhanded self can manage this, so can anyone!.  The heat of the pasta water will soften them as the pasta drains through the colander, no problem.  If you don't have a mandolin, don't worry - you don't have to buy one!  However, please don't try to knife-cut these incredibly thin strands of courgette; it'll send you potty, I should imagine.  Just coarsely grate the courgettes instead; the texture will be a little different but the recipe will still work and taste good.

Courgette & Salami Pasta

150g short pasta (such as penne or fusilli)
150g salami, cut into thin strips
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
3 courgettes (prepared as above)
handful mixed fresh parsley & basil, torn up
handful freshly grated parmesan

First, put some water on to boil for the pasta.  Now, 'frizzle' the salami.  Put the strips into a dry frying pan and heat gently until the oil starts to run.  Turn the heat up and cook, stirring, until the edges of the salami start to 'catch' and curl then remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and drain it on kitchen paper.  Add the chopped garlic to the oily juices in the pan, stir well, then remove it from the heat   Tip the pasta into the now boiling water and cook until tender.  Put the prepared courgettes into a colander in the sink and then, reserving a small cupful of pasta water, drain the pasta into the same colander (i.e. emptying the pan contents over the top of the shredded courgettes).  Return the contents of the colander to the pan and put over a low heat.  Pour in the garlicky salami oil and toss well to coat the pasta-and-courgette mixture, then stir the salami pieces through, along with the torn herbs, adding a splash of the reserved pasta water if it seems at all stodgy.  Tip into a warmed serving dish and scatter with the parmesan.

Cath xx

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Pre-prandials: Americano cocktail

Not to be confused with the caffe Americano (espresso topped off with hot water), an Americano cocktail is one of my most regular pre-prandial whistle-wetters, though I must confess that I drink mine in the non-standard way (i.e. with red vermouth rather than the classically-stipulated sweet).  It is a refreshing long drink, no good with a meal to my mind, but a less solid drink, to paraphrase one James Bond, speaking in Ian Fleming's short story From a View to a Kill, ideal for killing time in a Parisian café.

Ah, yes, 007.  Much as he is associated in the main with the vodka martini (shaken, not stirred, yada yada...), the first drink he orders in Casino Royale** is, in fact, an Americano!  It reappears in From Russia with Love and again in the aforementioned novella, and as a long-time Bond fan, Fleming's drink-related authorial influence has clearly rubbed off on me.

Americano Cocktail

1 part Campari
1 part red vermouth (rosso)
sparkling, or soda, water - to top up

Mix the Campari and vermouth in a highball (i.e. tall) glass.  Top up with fizzy water.  Drink deeply, considering the possibility of another.

**It should be taken as read that I refer, above, to the novels and not to the films.  Fleming was much more exacting about the drinking habits of his most famous character than United Artists or MGM have ever been (apart from the, frankly, now oft-repeated, almost hackneyed martini-ordering sequences which seem  to recur almost constantly (or is that just how it feels to me these days?). Sorry, geek rant over...
Cath xx

Sunday Soldiers

I love a man egg in uniform!  Admittedly, this isn't really much of a post, this, just a quickie...  How fabulous is this soldier egg cup and toast cutter set? My boys were lucky enough to be given one apiece by my parents and it continues to prove, almost every weekend, that it is just the thing for 'dippy' boiled egg and soldiers.  The soldier sets are widely available on the interweb and the sort of cool gifts-homewares-and-novelty shops I spend far too much money in.

Eggs are easy enough to boil, but hobs are fussily awkward about producing them until you get the timing and temperature just right for the stove you're using.  Luckily (?), with two small egg-o-holic boys, I get lots of practice!
Cath xx

Saturday, 8 October 2011


Much as I drink tea by the bucketload (and I drink what has become known, chez moi as 'naked' tea; black, with no milk or sugar), I do, rather love my coffee as well; more specifically, my latte.  My lovely husband bought me a coffee machine with a steam nozzle a while back and now I am never far away from one if I so fancy (which is often).  The children are fascinated by the way that the steam nozzle works and the resultant clouds of cloud-like milk foam (and, yes, they have been warned about steam being dangerous, burns being horrid, not to touch the machine, yada yada yada...).  After discovering the bambinoccino on the 'piccolo menu' at Pizza Express, they were unable to believe their luck when I pointed out that I was able to make these at home too.  These are always popular, at any time, but seem to go down best with them at weekends, making them feel 'grown-up', watching a favourite film while the rain rattles against the windows.

I serve what we call 'babbaccinos' in their very own little cups;  Maxwell & Williams demi cups, from the Cafe Culture range.  I bought these in my lovely local coffee shop, Y Mecca / The Mecca, which is well worth a visit should you ever happen to be in the Aberystwyth area!.  The sprinkle of cocoa mixed with cinnamon is de rigeur, and non-negotiable, as far as my boys are concerned.  As you can probably imagine, they feel much the same way about the biscuit perched on the saucer alongide their 'babba'.

Cath xx

Friday, 7 October 2011

Friday Night Fakeaway: Homemade Cheeseburgers

I've written before that I can't go very long without getting major cheeseburger cravings.   Having instituted the concept of the 'Friday Night Fakeaway' at home recently; feeding our cravings for curries, burgers, pizza, fried chicken and the like, without flaking out too much on our 'homemade is best' principles or busting out on our food budget.  It's proved so popular that, quite often, the menu for the following week's 'Fakeaway' is discussed and decided while, or occasionally even before, we eat this week's! I used to make beef burgers exactly as below, but using salt and pepper for seasoning, until I read Nigella Lawson's Feast and was wholly won over to the Zuni Café method she writes about in that book.

Beef Burgers

700g lean 'steak' mince

3/4 tsp caster sugar
3/4 tsp salt

Split rolls, sliced cheese and Special Burger Sauce (and see below), to serve

Put the meat in a large bowl, sprinkle it with the salt and sugar, squidging it all together with your hands. Form the meat into six burger patties.  Place them on a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Cover with clingfilm and chill them in the 'fridge until just before you need them, but do give them a chance to return to room temperature before cooking them. Brush them lightly with oil (I, almost exclusively, use British rapeseed oil in cooking now, but I just use the ordinary stuff here and save the cold-pressed for 'best') before cooking them under a medium-hot grill.  You could also fry them in a dry non-stick pan, barbecue them (though maybe not in this dismal weather) or even bake them in the oven. Keep an eye on them, though - you want them only just cooked through, still juicy and possibly, even, still slightly pink in the middles.

We like to eat our burgers in split rolls (cut-sides lightly toasted, please) with slices of Monterey Jack cheese and dollops of Special Burger Sauce, the recipe for which is taken from The Takeaway Secret by Kenny McGovern; a lovely book and an absolute must for any 'Fakeaway' aficionado.  The brand recommendations given in this recipe are Mr McGovern's; I have to say, I agree with him.

Special Burger Sauce
(American Fast-Food Style)

4 tbsp mayonnaise (recommended brand: Hellman's)
2 tsp yellow mustard (recommended brand: French's)
2 tsp tomato ketchup (recommended brand: Heinz)
1 tbsp finely chopped gherkin

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, yellow mustard and ketchup.  Add the chopped gherkin and mix well.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before use.

I also cook some Real Oven Chips to go with burgers; while I have never been especially enamoured of chips, the same cannot be said of the rest of the household who LOVE them.  I would possibly be ousted from the pedestal I happily occupy if I ceased my provision of bowls of chips!

Happy Friday, everyone! Cath xx

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Fast and Furious Dinner Rolls

I love freshly baked bread with supper, it somehow seems to make a fairly basic meal of soup or pasta feel like so much more of a 'dinner event'.  Rolls are always a great option for me, easily portion-controlled and saveable for the next day (if 'saveable' is indeed a real word, which I somehow doubt).  For the longest time, I've been making the Quick Mixer Rolls that I've written about before but in recent months I've moved on to these babies; a slightly smaller batch of dough and easily adapted to suit different meals perfectly.  Sometimes we have these as very basic round rolls, but these 'knots' are extremely easy and very popular.  I have had some, limited, success cutting the dough thinly and plaiting the strands, but it was way too much like actual effort for my liking.  The knots are ridiculously simple and give the false impression of hours spent tending dough.  It's our little secret, dear reader...

.I generally just brush the unbaked rolls with melted butter before they go in the oven (as below), but there are numerous ways to tart them up to better match your meal.  One of our favourites is cheese, herb and garlic rolls to go with tomato-based pasta dishes.  Simply sprinkle the butter-brushed rolls with a mixture of garlic salt, mixed dried herbs and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  You can also scatter over either, or a mixture of, poppy seeds and sesame seeds, or make a naughty 'weekend breakfast' version by mixing a tsp of cinnamon with 2 tsp of sugar and sprinkling this over.  Gorgeous with freshly brewed hot coffee!

Fast & Furious Dinner Rolls

I must confess that the thing that makes these fastest is that I do the kneading in the KitchenAid.  They work well in the processor too, or even by hand, they just won't be quite as immediate.  More like 'national  speed limit rolls' rather than '100mph instant ban rolls', I suppose!

300g strong white bread flour
100g granary flour (or use all white)
1 tbsp easy-blend dried yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
300-350ml warm water
melted butter, for brushing

Mix the dry ingredients together and then add as much water as you need to form a softish dough.  Knead for 3 minutes in a mixer or by hand until smooth, silky and springy.  Set aside in a covered bowl for 10 minutes.  Cut into eight, roll each piece into a thin sausage shape and tie loosely in a knot.  Place on floured baking sheets and cover.  Leave to rise for 30 minutes, brush with melted butter (adding any flavourings you like, and see above) and bake at 180°c for 15-20 minutes until the bottom of the rolls sound hollow when tapped and the crust is nicely burnished brown.
Cath xx

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Risotto alla Carbonara

Yes, it's been a while. I won't go into boring details, nor will I make excuses for my time away, just know that I'm back, hopefully for good!

This is a lovely recipe that can be easily thrown together from ingredients that can be kept in the 'fridge or the cupboard for a good while.  I am wholly won over to the oven-method for risotti; I love the therapeutic stirring of a trad risotto but more and more often, especially on a week-night, there are more pressing tasks to attend to than standing over a steamy pot for half an hour. My mascara is grateful, let me tell you!. 

'Oven risotto' is very straightforward, and ideal if you have guests too, as the bulk of the work can be gotten out of the way, a dish bunged in the oven and a good time had by everyone (rather than by everyone else, while the cook stirs, cursing, in the kitchen). This risotto alla carbonara feels rather indulgent with its creamy texture and is almost a one-pot meal, though of course you do need hot stock, so if you're using homemade you'll need to heat that in a pan too, soz.  I've moved away over recently from my previously much-admired Touch of Taste bouillon liquid to another Knorr product, the oh-so-convenient Stock Pots; these are now my storecupboard emergency stock replacement of choice. 

The Black Forest Ham is not, I know, at all authentically Italian, but it eliminates the need to fry pancetta (thus saving on washing up) and gives a wonderfully rounded, smoky flavour  Anyway, I tried it once because we had a pack in the 'fridge that needed using up and the rest is, as they don't say but should, merely a matter of geography.  As for the cheese rinds, I find that they are a wonderful addition to this kind of risotto.  They impart a delicious, deep flavour to the risotto and are very popular with my children, who both love the savoury chewiness of the cooked-down rinds.  To this end, whenever I finish a chunk of Parm., I scrub the rind well under hot water, then transfer it to a bag in the top of the freezer set aside for cheese rinds.  Just fish out one or two and add them to risotti when you add the stock.  They can also be useful in certain soups, but do remember to remove the rind(s) before using the stick-blender.  I write from scalded experience...

Risotto alla Carbonara

30g unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped 
1 stick celery, finely chopped 
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped (optional)
300g risotto rice
100ml dry vermouth (or white wine)
200g pack Black Forest Ham, chopped
2 Parmesan cheese rinds, if available (and see above)
1 litre hot stock.
3 eggs, beaten with 100ml double cream and 50g freshly grated Parmesan, 

Melt the butter in a large ovenproof casserole and soften the onion and celery.  I sometimes add a little chopped garlic at this point, sometimes not.  As with so much, food is all about how you feel!  When the onion and celery are very soft, tip in the rice and stir to coat in the buttery pan juices.  Pour in the vermouth, stir in the chopped ham and pour in the hot stock.  Stick the pot in the oven and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes at 180°.  Remove the pan from the oven and vigorously stir in the egg mixture. Cover the pan with a lid and leave for five minutres while you  pour a(nother?) drink and finish setting the table or whatever.  With risotto, I like a salad and a glass of wine, both crisp, nothing more.

Cath xx


Related Posts with Thumbnails