Saturday, 13 October 2012

Molto Veloce!

My children love their Saturday suppers.  Because we eat our main meal of the day at lunchtime on the weekend, this means that the order of the evening will generally be something-on-toast, a bowl of soup or a quick pizza. These pizze* are easy enough for the boys to assemble by themselves, only needing my help to slide it into the searingly hot oven and to remove it a few minutes later.  They take hardly any time to make and therefore can easily be provided for a crowd; their being so thin means that you can squeeze quite a few shelves into the oven at once to hold them!  The pizza sauce, I've written about before and always keep a batch handily stashed in the freezer, in a flattened ziplock bag so that I can break off a bit when I need some.  Being so thin, it defrosts quickly, meaning that I can reasonably consider this an almost-instant supper...

A Very Fast Pizza

One large flour tortilla
1 tbsp love-it-and-leave-it pizza sauce
your choice of favourite toppings: sliced olives, torn-up salami or ham, chopped mushrooms, roasted peppers or aubergines (from a jar!), anchovies, etc.
handful grated Mozzarella or (my boys' preferred option) Edam 
sprinkling of mixed dried herbs

Put the tortilla on a baking sheet and spread it with the sauce.  Arrange your chosen extras on top and cover with a good layer of cheese.  Scatter a pinch of herbs over the top and transfer to the oven.  Four to five minutes should be plenty, then slide the tortilla off the baking sheet and directly on to the oven shelf for a minute longer, just to crisp up the underside.  Remove to a board, slice and serve!

Cath xx

*Yes, I know I'm a terrible old pedant, but it is the correct plural for pizza.  Seeing signs advertising "pizzas" or, even worse, "pizza's", drives me, possibly unreasonably, mad with irritation...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Honey-Mustard Chicken

When you look at this in the clear light of day, it is actually, rather disturbingly in some ways, pretty close to being 'chicken pieces baked in salad dressing'.  Mmmm, sounds nommy...  However, I would add, somewhat pleadingly, that it is simply not done justice by that description.  For a dinner that takes mere minutes to get ready to cook, and under half an hour in the oven, it is a very tasty treat and tarts up cheap chicken thighs a treat.

I'm trying not to be too prescriptive about the ingredients, because I know from reading certain writers' recipe books, among my hundreds, how irritating it is to be told that you need the best of everything in your kitchen at all times.  Most of my kitchen substitutions are borne of empty-jar-necessity, so as far as I'm concerned, the type of oil and the type of mustard you decide to use are fairly irrelevant.  Certainly the meal will be different, but that scarcely need suggest worse, or better, for that matter.  I use Dijon and wholegrain mustards with equal regularity in this dish and have made it occasionally with English mustard, though I would say halve the quantity specified unless, like some, you like it hot!   Likewise the oil, I am keen on rapeseed oil, especially the cold-pressed variety, but if you prefer olive, sunflower or vegetable oil, I can't see that it would make a huge difference.  I fact, it occurs to me now, as I type this, that you might possibly skip the fresh garlic altogether and use garlic oil instead...

Honey-Mustard Chicken

The number of thighs you use is dependent on your family's needs and appetite; I find one each for children, with two each for teenagers or adults is plenty.  This amount of sauce will easily do six, eight or ten thighs, the only difference will be the size of tin you need and how much juice will be left at the bottom of the dish to pour over your vegetables...

6-10 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
2 tbsp oil 
juice of 2 lemons
2 tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp mustard 
leaves stripped from a few sprigs of thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
good grinding of white pepper and fat pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Mix all the ingredients, bar the chicken pieces, together in a large bowl.  I prefer a whisk for this, but use a spoon or a fork if you prefer.  Turn the chicken pieces in the sauce, then put them skin-side up in a roasting tin or oven dish that takes them snugly.  Pour over the rest of the sauce and bake for 25 minutes.  If you've cooked some sort of (especially green) vegetables or prepared a salad to go with the chicken, I can't begin to explain how lovely it is if you spoon some of the still-warm juices left in the pan over the top...
Cath xx

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Pudding Emergency!

Required at short notice to provide a pudding for today's lunch, I fell back on a favourite which can be conjured up pretty quickly from mainly storecupboard ingredients.  This is, I suspect hardly the 'proper' way to make frangipane, but hell, it works for me.  If it's easy and it tastes good, I'm one very happy Distracted Housewife!  The shop-bought sweet pastry cases are a storecupboard staple (actually, they live in the bread bin) and I cannot see that there is any point in being snobbish about them; while I never buy shortcrust pastry in the supermarket because I find it easy to make, I always buy puff and filo because, you know, eek!  Sweet pastry also gives me the heebie-jeebies, I have never managed to get the desirable shortbread texture without everything disintegrating into infinitesimal crumbs like, well, shortbread...

Tinned pears (in juice, never syrup for my tastes) happen to be a fruit that I keep in the cupboard habitually as I love their grainy texture.  They are wonderful with whipped cream or ice-cream and a quick, hot, chocolate sauce as a very basic Poires Belle Helene (which, after holidaying in the Loire Valley as a youngster, remains for me the most respectable way to fill a crêpe).  Pears and chocolate is a classic combination for me; hence the chocolate included here (although you can happily leave it out if the idea doesn't fill you with the greedy excitement that it does me!).  I would have rather like to have a scoop of ice-cream with this pudding today, rich yellow in colour and flecked with vanilla seeds, but sadly no amount of praying to the freezer could force some into existence so we 'forced it down' without...

Pear and Almond Tart with Chocolate

1 ready-made sweet pasty case from the baking aisle at the supermarket
50g dark chocolate, grated or very finely chopped (I used the processor)
1 tin of pear halves in juice, drained
2 eggs, beaten
80g each butter, ground almonds and caster sugar

Heat the oven to 180ºc.  Put your unwrapped pastry case onto a baking sheet.  Scatter the chocolate over the bottom of the pastry case.  Thickly slice each pear half widthways, but keep it 'together', as it were, and arrange them on top of the chocolate.  Melt the butter and stir in the ground almonds and sugar. Mix in the eggs, forming a nubbly paste with the consistency of double cream.  Gently (although this is a counsel of perfection for me, being both clumsy and impatient) spoon and spread this over the pear-and-chocolate filled pastry case and pop it in the oven for 20-25 minutes.  Take it out and leave it to rest for a few minutes as this is SO much better warm than hot.  Any leftover slices (ha!) are perfect with a cup of tea later, but don't put them in the 'fridge, something awful seems to happen to them if you do!
Cath xx

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Sunday Lunch on Two Rings

Or, frankly, just the one ring if you lose the peas and serve it with a salad... The worst things about Sunday lunch (for me, anyway) are, one - the amount of time it takes to organise (this takes under an hour, and most of that you can spend playing Ravin' Rabbids on the Wii with the children!) and two - the mountain of pots to wash afterwards (two pans at most, plus a chopping board, a peeler, a knife, a skewer and your tableware).  Not such a big thing if you have a washing-up machine, I appreciate; we don't have one, so it remains a consideration if I'd like any sort of Sunday afternoon sit down...

Easy Sunday 'Not-Roast' Duck

4 duck legs
3 medium potatoes, cut into quarters
8 small parsnips, peeled, trimmed and halved
3 mugfuls of frozen peas

Stab the duck legs all over with a skewer, making sure to prick every lumpy pocket of fat.  Fry, on both sides, over a medium heat. to release the fat, don't try to turn the pieces until they release easily from the pan, or the skin will tear.  When the legs are brown and crisp, there will be a nice pool of fat in the pan.  Remove the legs and pop them on a plate for a moment, then add the prepared potatoes and parsnips to the pan.  Stir well to coat everything in the yummy duck fat, the pop the legs on top of the veg and pop the lid on the pan.  Leave it for half an hour, shaking the pan occasionally when you remember.  Don't remove the lid. Don't.  No, not even for a little peek, trust me!

When your bleeper goes off, remove the lid, add some seasoning, turn up the heat and cook for a further 10 minutes to reduce the liquid.  Cook the frozen peas in a different pan (ooh, how I love duck with peas).  Run a sinkful of hot, soapy water to sling all your cooking utensils into  Dump the food in a serving dish and the pans into the aforementioned sink, to make washing-up a breeze later.  Take lunch to the table, feeling smugly efficient...
Cath xx

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A Perky 'Paella'

I, uncharacteristically, wasn't quite sure what to cook when I got home this evening...  I picked up some irresistibly plump chicken breast fillets in the butcher's earlier, which was worthy of comment because I (almost) unfailingly choose thighs, legs or wings if I'm not buying a whole bird.  A quick forage in the 'fridge on return to Distracted Towers revealed a vac-pack of 'cooking' chorizo and a few pieces of black pudding which I had intended to cook for breakfast over the weekend until life got in the way.  With a few store-cupboard bits and some chicken stock from the freezer, I was away!

Chicken, Chorizo & Black Pudding Sort of 'Paella'

170g cooking chorizo, cut into chunks
400g chicken breast fillet, sliced
1 onion, sliced
splash white wine or dry sherry
150g paella rice
350ml hot chicken stock
170g black pudding, cut into chunks
chopped parsley
lemon wedges, to finish

Put the pieces of chorizo in a wide, deepish pan and slowly heat it, from cold, so that the vividly orange oils begin to run out.  Remove the chorizo pieces with a slotted spoon and chuck in the chicken slices, allowing them to brown and crisp on the underside before turning them.  Set these aside, also.   Fry the onion until soft, golden and tangly, then pour in some wine or sherry.  Mind the steam!  Tip in the paella rice (which, if I can get it in deepest, darkest Mid-Wales, should present no problem to anyone) and stir very briefly; we are not making a risotto here.  Add the chicken stock and then lay the chorizo, chicken and the piece of black pudding on top of the rice.  Turn the heat right down and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the lid and continue to cook until all the liquid has been soaked up and the rice is tender.  Quickly, though gently, stir in the parsley and surround the rice with wedges of lemon for squeezing over as you eat.

As far as dinner on the fly goes, this was a definite success and something I have a feeling I'll be cooking again and again.  It's meaty and rich so, as well as the lemon to squeeze over, I felt it definitely needed a sharply dressed and crunchy salad to go with.  A glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Sacred Hill, if you're interested) accompanied it perfectly.
Cath xx

Thursday, 14 June 2012


This is a dish that I used to make loads and loads, then I somehow forgot about for a bit.  It came up in conversation with a friend a few days ago, and ever since then I've been positively craving it!  I've no idea, now, why I ever stopped doing it, because it's one of those dream recipes; really straightforward, very quick and proper impressive, like...

Fantastic Stuffed Chicken

If the cheese doesn't float your boat, these are also brills with pesto (red or green) in the middle

6 chicken thigh fillets
12 - 18 slices pancetta or thin-cut streaky bacon
garlic & herb soft cheese (like Boursin or le Roulé)

First, 'unfold' the thigh fillets and bash each one a bit, to flatten them to an even thickness.  You don't need a proper meat mallet, just a rolling pin, wrapped in foil or clingfilm to protect it from the raw meat (though, yes, you do still have to wash it!), will be fine.

Next, lay out strips of bacon on a board and top with a flattened thigh. Put a blob of the cheese in the centre of the chicken and roll the whole shebang up.  Place on a rack in a roasting in.  I usually bung it in the fridge for a bit to firm the cheese up, but don't worry... Pop it in the oven at 180 for 30-35 minutes until the chicken is cooked right through.

I like to serve these on a heap of buttery mashed potatoes, with some nice veggies on the side.  Easy as.

Cath xx

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Boing, Boing!

Just one more day of half-term for us today, thanks to an additional INSET day and for the first time in what feels like ages, the sun has been shining and not a single drop of rain has fallen 9crosses fingers, touches wood, etc.).  If you're in the UK and have seen any news in the last week, you'll know that this seems almost unprecedented for West Wales... Our house being up a hill, we've not had any trouble at home, but friends have seen the waters creeping worryingly up the garden and others have been stuck at home, or in cars, amidst rising flood water.  And this is JUNE, for goodness sake (shakes fist at sky).

Tonight's supper may seem more suited to winter weather, but as that's what we've been having, that is what I cooked... I did the wine reduction this morning, but you can do it a few days ahead, keeping the resulting brew in the fridge until you need it... this is very good to impress visiting in-laws, btw!

Beef Boing

This is my version of boeuf a la bourguinonne, affectionately known as 'boing' at Distracted Towers...

 For the cooking liquid:

75cl bottle red wine
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
garlic cloves, peeled and squashed a bit
pinch peppercorns
2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
few sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme

Bung everything in a large pan and bring to the boil.  Carefully ignite with a long match to burn off the alcohol.  Wait until the (rather exciting) flames die down, then simmer for 15  minutes or so to reduce the wine a bit.  Strain the bits out and keep until needed (and see above)

For the rest:

4 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tsp mustard powder
salt and pepper
600g shin of beef , cut into large-ish pieces
2 tbsp cooking oil
25g butter
1 pig's trotter, split by the butcher
2 tbsp bacon fat (optional)
1 large onion, sliced thinly
8 large, flat mushrooms, quartered

A few hours before you want to eat, toss the pieces of beef in the flour, which you have mixed wituh the mustard powder and some salt and pepper (I find it easiest to bung it all in a big placcy bag and shake it about a bit).  Heat the butter and oil in a large pan.  Brown the piece of beef, then set aside.  Brown the split trotter and set aside with the pieces of beef.  Put the sliced onion and mushroom bits in the pan and cook, stirring while they soften and absorb the juices.  I like to stir in a couple of tablespoons of bacon fat at this point, but I always melt it down and save it when I cook bacon (perhaps another post, another time), so I have a jar in the fridge to use for cooking..  Return the beef and the trotter to the pan and pour in the wine liquid.  Cook for 2 hours at 140c.

I know it sounds like a lot, but it's actually not much work and it tastes soooooooo good.  Serve with mashed potatoes, or baked spuds, if you're lazy like me.  I like a big dollop of horseradish cream, too Enjoy!

Cath xx

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Simple Pleasures

Really, on a warm, sunny evening, what better dish could you find than a simple, juicily inviting tomato and mozzarella salad. Ripe tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, sliced and artfully arranged, sprinkled with torn fresh basil leaves and seasoned with good, flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Not flash or fancy, not fiddly or time-consuming; just straightforward perfection on a plate.  Enjoy!!
Cath xx

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Freezer Burn (Baby, Burn!)

I'm an avid fan of my freezer, seeing it as an extension of the store cupboard for all sorts of things.  A few things are just basic essentials for me and these live in the top drawer.  Ice cubes are obvious (I have reusable, water-filled coolers for the children's drinks and a burgeoning collection of novelty ice trays besides - lego bricks being the current favourite). I also like to keep frozen half-slices of lemons, limes and oranges bagged in the freezer for drinks.  Rinds of Parmesan are stored in a bag for adding to oven-baked risotti, simmering with soups or chucking into sauces (especially tomato).   A box holds stalks from bunches of parsley, so useful for infusing milk for white sauces; they freeze brilliantly and can be used from frozen. The RapidIce wine bottle chiller lives here, too, as does the clingfilm!  I find it so much easier to find the end of, and otherwise manage, clingfilm that has been kept in the freezer.
I buy a lot of things specifically to add to my freezer stock; joints of meat, fish, blocks of puff pastry, certain types of frozen fruits and vegetables.  I do actually 'shop from the freezer', to an extent, when I plan the meals for the week ahead on a Sunday.  This means that while things get use before their quality diminishes, there is usually enough stock 'held back', as it were, to allow for a week or so of meals without having to shop, if circumstances so dictate.  If you use the freezer to store portioned-up leftovers, as I often do - having a husband who works nights means that homemade, microwaveable meals must often be provided to compensate for the lack of 'lunch' options in the middle of the night, and the need for something rather more appealing than an unimaginative and hastily thrown-together sandwich.  The danger, I feel, that one must always guard against is using the freezer as an alternative to the bin because you feel guilty about throwing food away.  If nobody ate much of the casserole or whatever at supper, try to turn it into a meal for a night or two after; a pasta bake, say, or a soup - rather than shoving it in the freezer where it will take up space and eventually be thrown out anyway because you've forgotten what this enormous icy lump even is!

Soup is, I think, best frozen flat in zip-lock bags (labelled, of course!).  I use small ones that take two good ladlefuls of soup per bag (so one bag will feed two children or one adult). The flat bags then stack neatly, giving you a little library of soups to choose from; the large surface area also means that the packages defrost really fast, a total joy if, like me, you often forget about preparing lunch until the last minute.  Soup with bread and cheese also provides a great easy supper when you're up against it!

Speaking of which, I cut up large pieces of cheese and freeze them in portions the right size for the cheeseboard; cheeses frozen at the peak of their ripeness can be defrosted in the fridge and return to their same point of perfection - ideal to pull out ready for the following evening's supper rather than having to go to the shop for one thing, isn't it always the case that when you quickly pop to the shops for one thing (without a list) you come back with bags and bags of stuff, having spent an absolute fortune?
Cath xx


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