Thursday, 16 May 2013

Thursday 16th of May 2013

A simple roast tonight, just a lovely piece of pork shoulder, some baked potatoes and one vegetable; some sprightly-looking spring greens that I couldn't resist when I was out shopping..

Take a whole head of garlic, the cloves separated but unpeeled, two or three lemons, quartered, and 3 shallots, skins left on and halved. Add to this several fresh bay leaves and, if you can, a pig's trotter, split. I get these easily from my butcher, and they cost next to nothing (and often actually nothing).  Rest the pork on top, I unrolled the joint to allow for quicker cooking and maximum output of crackling. Pour over a little oil, then sprinkle with crumbled dried bay leaves (I dry the leaves from our bay tree in the microwave, giving them 30-second bursts until dry and crunchy) and a good grinding of white pepper. Obviously the cooking time will vary based on the size of your joint; I work on 20 minutes per pound (or 450g, if you prefer) in a hot oven.

Pouring a glass of white wine over the pork after about 20 minutes and later still adding 350ml, give or take, of stock (I used pork stock, but chicken would be fine too, as well as fine crackling (the secret to which, strange as it seems, is regular basting with the juices from the roasting tin) it produced an easy gravy that was not as thick and meaty as some, but aromatic and flavoursome with a kick of sharpness from the lemon.  Hubby wasn't as keen on this as he is on my more usual thicker and 'meatier' gravies, but the children and I adored it.  When the pork is cooked and resting, strain the juices into a saucepan.  Add a splash of boiling water to the roasting pan and, with a wooden spoon, scrape up the 'burny'- looking tasty bits from the bottom.  Strain this liquid into the pan too, then cover and boil hard for a few minutes to emulsify the gravy.  Season to taste and pour into a warmed jug.

Serve the pork, sliced, with shards of crackling, baked potatoes and simple steamed greens.  Perfect.

Cath xx

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Sunday 12th of May 2013

Today we're having a lazy, chilled-out day; the children have a birthday party to go to later on and my lovely, lovely Husband has relieved me of the need to take them, meaning that I will - for once - get a bit of actual weekend time to myself, and at home to boot!

This morning I've done only a very little kitchen pottering, mainly making the boys' lunch - baked sweet potatoes with cream cheese and pesto filling - but also refreshing my bottle of garlic vinegar and making up a fresh batch of seasoned salt, which I use often.  It started out as 'chicken seasoning' (and is, still, superlative scattered over chicken before roasting), but since finding more and more uses for it (not least scattering over potatoes before baking, whether whole or cut up), I've taken to calling it seasoned salt, though in reality it's more like salty spice-and-herb-mix. That hardly trips off the tongue though, does it?

My Seasoned Salt

9 tbsp fine sea salt
6 tsp paprika
1 tbsp garlic salt
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 dsp dried oregano
1 tsp English mustard powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp (freshly ground) black pepper
1 tsp dried dill

Mix everything together.  I tend to give it all a good whirl in the processor, to eliminate any streaks of salt. Bung it in a jar.  Use liberally and often.

The garlic vinegar is a precious substance that I was first introduced to by the late Laurie Colwin's wonderful book More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, which I bought in 2004 when I was pregnant with our first child. Ibecomes, over time, a liquid essence of garlic which can be dangerously addictive.  Poke 3 peeled garlic cloves into a clean glass bottle and top up with cider vinegar.  I imagine you could successfully use a wine, sherry or even rice vinegar instead, but I never have. When the bottle is nearly, but not quite, empty I like to strain out the remaining vinegar and replace the garlic cloves with fresh ones before returning the 'old' vinegar to the bottle and topping up with 'new'. Hope you've enjoyed your weekend, and Happy Mother's Day to moms in the U.S.A. (and everywhere else too, we deserve it!)

Cath xx

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Saturday 11th of May 2013

I love avocados.  Popping a couple in my shopping basket and bringing them home, to be tucked away in a brown paper bag on the kitchen counter until they are perfectly ripe has become something of a weekly ritual.  Sliced into salads,  quickly mashed to spread on a tortilla for a fast quesadilla or just eaten, greedily,  with a splash of vinaigrette,  I've yet to find a way to eat them that I've not liked. Jeffrey Steingarten informs me, in The Man Who Ate Everything, (a corker of a book, by the way, and highly recommended) that "Brazilians eat avocados for dessert,  mashed up with sugar". Haven't tried it yet, but maybe one of these days I will...

Last night, for supper, I grilled a stack of lamb leg steaks and made a couple of different salads to go with.  In the interests of gilding the lily,  I also toasted some pitta and knocked up a batch of this gorgeous avocado houmous.  Smooth and mildly nutty-tasting, this knocks guacamole out of the park as far as I'm concerned, and is A.Mazing with lamb.  It also has the huge advantage of staying perfectly green for days,  rather than mere minutes,  so can be handily stashed in the 'fridge for hungry moments (or, quite frankly, for those standing-by-the-open-'fridge-with-a-spoon moments!).  Cooking the already-cooked, tinned chickpeas for a few more minutes makes for a desirably smooth houmous, plus you can fish out as many of the papery skins as possible (they seem to detach easily when cooked) for an even better texture.

Avocado Houmous

410g can chickpeas,  drained and rinsed well
2 ripe avocados,  flesh scooped out and roughly chunked up
1 dsp tahini
1/2 - 1 tsp salt
juice of a lemon
avocado oil, as needed (and see below)

Put the drained,  rinsed chickpeas into a saucepan and cover with water.   Bring to the boil and cook for 3 minutes,  or until very soft.  Scoop out as many of the skins as you can or want to.   Drain and allow them to steam dry for a few minutes.  Put everything, bar the oil (and you can use a different mild oil if you want, I just always use avocado oil here) into the processor and whizz to a smooth and creamy looking paste.  Drizzle in oil to achieve the texture that you want,  I prefer my houmous to be on the softer side, rather than standing up in stiff peaks.  Serve immediately, or seal in a tub in the 'fridge for later.

Cath xx

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Saturday 27th of April 2013

Another lovely sunny day here today, so a light lunch was called for, in order to allow for maximum time spent in the garden and minimum time spent actually having to do anything.  Baked eggs are, anyway, a bit of a weekend lunchtime favourite at Distracted Towers and this is a lovely version.

Baked Eggs on Mushrooms and Spinach

large lump of butter
200g chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
150g spinach leaves, washed and shaken dry
1 tbsp whipping cream
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon (optional, and see below)
8 small-to-medium-sized eggs
25g grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 180ºc. Melt the butter and fry the mushrooms over a high heat.  I have some rather wonderful porcini mushroom powder called, endearingly, Shake O'Cini, and I added a few shakes here to boost the mushroom flavour, but you don't have to be as elaborately specialist if you don't want to be..!  When the mushrooms are brown and almost 'squeaking' as you stir them, pack the spinach into the pan and put on the lid.  Remove from the heat and leave for a few minutes.  Remove the lid, stir well and then replace the lid for a few minutes more until the spinach is well wilted.  Tip the vegetable mixture into a sieve over a bowl, and press down on it with a spoon, allowing the scant, but flavoursome, juices to drain through the sieve.  Stir the cream into the strained juice.  You can just as easily use double cream instead, but whipping cream is what I mostly have in the 'fridge.

Arrange the vegetable mixture in shallow ovenproof dishes and make a 'hole' for each egg, as shown in the picture, left, and scatter over the chopped tarragon, if using.  Tarragon is a great addition to the triumvirate of mushroom, spinach and egg, but leave it out if you don't have it, or don't fancy it.  There's no mileage in using dried tarragon here... Put the dishes onto a baking tray (I lined mine with one of my silicon mats to provide a non-slip surface, stopping the dishes from sliding around on their short journey to the oven. Crack each egg into one of the 'holes'.  Drizzle over the cream-swirled cooking juices, then scatter over some parmesan.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, then remove from the oven.  The eggs will continue to cook in the dishes, so err on the side of their being slightly underdone when you take them out of the oven, rather than risk overcooking them.  Serve with a nice loaf of bread and some crunchy salt to sprinkle over the eggs.

Cath xx  

Friday, 26 April 2013

Friday 26th of April 2013

 Well, Happy Friday everyone!  After a gruelling week, I was (well, to be frank, we all were) ready for something wonderful.  Duck is something that I crave as a special treat, spoiling supper; that fatty richness, that crisp skin, it gets me every time... Roasting duck legs over potatoes provides, for me, the best of both worlds; the soft, creamy potatoes with a crisp and  flavoursome carapace of crunch, along with the rich, meaty flesh of the legs provides the perfect Friday night supper. A vibrant dish of mixed green veggies sits perfectly alongside...

Be sure to prick the skin covering the fatty deposits on the duck legs prior to roasting;I use a large safety pin kept for the purpose, but a darning needle or fine skewer would do just as well.  Sit the duck legs, skin side down in a tray, on top of your parboiled potatoes for the first twenty minutes of the forty-five that the dish will need in total.  This will allow the gorgeous duck fat to ooze and seep out of the legs to flavour your roasties.  Keep basting the meat and potatoes and it will surely become its own reward...

For a truly fabulous accompaniment to the duck and potatoes, try this brilliant green vegetable medley, that I have shamelessly pinched from my Mum; the best cook I know, and the undisputed maker of the world's best roast potatoes and gooseberry mousse.  Love you, Mummy!

Cook handfuls of fine green beans, broccoli florets, chopped asparagus, sugar snap peas and (frozen) soybeans until each is tender.  Serve combined in a large dish.  I, personally, like to swish over some cold-pressed rapeseed oil just before serving and add a smattering of Maldon salt, for crunch and savour.  This medley makes for a fabulous lunch the following day if you eschew any leftover cooked broccoli (add it to the soup box) and crumble over some feta and, perhaps, a few toasted walnuts.  Nommy weekend treats!

Cath xx

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Thursday 25th of April 2013

Tonight we ate Toad-in-the-Hole for supper,  with gravy and a buttery mound of sweetcorn.  The toad was hugely boosted by the presence of a pack of pancetta languishing in the 'fridge, the slices just waiting, begging, to be wrapped around the chipolatas before they started their toad-ly journey... Pop the sausages in a roasting tin with some lard or dripping,  heat until sizzling and then pour over a simple batter; a pint of milk beaten with two eggs, then mixed with 200g of plain flour and a good pinch of salt. 40 minutes in a hot oven and clean plates all round!

Cath xx

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sunday 21st of April 2013

The weekend has been very half-and-half here.  Yesterday (unlike today, grr!) the weather was glorious and we spent all morning and a large chunk of the afternoon in the garden.  I eschewed the chicken pie that I'd planned to make for lunch and instead served up a huge bowl of chicken salad with bacon, avocado, green beans and new potatoes.  Scattered with tarragon and dressed with my all-purpose honey mustard dressing, it was a hit with everyone present and much lighter eating than pie would have been on a warm day.

Of course, the abandonment of my pie plans did mean that there was a sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry now languishing, without purpose, in the 'fridge.  With leek and potato soup on the cards for lunch today, I decided to knock up some Blue Cheese and Hazelnut Palmiers to go with it

My Latest Leek and Potato Soup

lump of butter
6-8 thin slices of pancetta, chopped
6 thin leeks, halved and sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
1.2 litres chicken stock
2 bay leaves
white pepper

Melt butter in a large pan, fry the pancetta for a few minutes to let the fat begin to run, then turn the prepared leeks in the juices until well coated. Add the potatoes, mixing in well, then pour in the stock, add the bay leaves and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are really soft. Remove the bay leaves and purée. I use my BAMIX with the 'C' blade, but use what you like.  Season with white pepper only (the pancetta is, I feel, quite salty enough).

Now for the accompaniment.  Palmiers are dead easy to make with a ready-rolled sheet of puff pastry and the folding is straightforward.  I've taken loads of pictures to show you what I mean, because I think it would be very difficult to explain clearly with words alone.  I hope you give them a go, you can change the fillings easily to suit yourself, my boys are rather keen on pesto palmiers with extra pine nuts and parmesan.  Just remeber you need something 'spready' and one or two 'scattery' things and you're away...

Blue Cheese & Hazelnut Palmiers

150g Danish Blue cheese, at room temperature
25g unsalted butter, really soft
handful of hazelnuts, two-thirds chopped roughly, one-third finely

Mix the crumbled cheese and the butter together, mashing and stirring to form some semblance of a paste.  Using three-quarters of the cheese mix, dot teaspoons of this across the whole sheet of pastry, spreading it out as best you can , then scatter over the roughly chopped nuts.  Fold the long edges of pastry into the centre.

Now spread the remaining cheese over the uppermost surface and sprinkle with the finely chopped nuts. Fold the entire sheet in half (I use my silicone pastry mat to help), then wrap it up and chill it for at least an hour to firm up.

When it's had a good rest, cut the log, with a very sharp knife, into half-centimetre slices.  Put these, well-spaced and as shown, onto a lined baking sheet (parchment is absolutely fine and dandy if you don't have silicone mats) and bake for 25-30 minutes at 180ºc until golden, crisp and toasty.

Remove the palmiers to a cooling rack as quickly as you can.  

These are good either warm or cold; they are fabulous to go with drinks before dinner and keep for a few days in a tin (or they would, if my lot weren't so flaming greedy..!).  You can also prepare the logs, slice them and freeze the slices to cook from frozen. Just allow a little extra cooking time.

Cath xx

Friday, 19 April 2013

Friday 19th of April 2013

This was one of those dishes that came to me out of nowhere,  just an inkling of a thought scribbled in my little 'Field Notes' notebook one afternoon. 

Marrow is a vegetable that, I think, either gets ignored in favour of the more glamorous 'Mediterranean' vegetables, or is ruined by being alternately stuffed with underseasoned mince or drowned in 'white sauce'.  As with so many vegetables. I think that the way to bring out its true flavour is to chop it up and roast it (in this case, anointed with a tiny amount of oil  and cooked for about half an hour at 190ºc).  I decided,  today,  to go with my jotted-down instinct and added, halfway through the cooking time,  some sliced 'cooking' chorizo.  Finished just before serving with a scattered handful of roughly chopped basil and some toasted pine nuts,  it went beautifully with our roast chicken and will,  I suspect,  become a regular standby.  Happy Friday, everyone!

Cath xx

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Sunday 14th of April 2013

The final weekend of the school holidays has been, for me, split between relaxing before the chaos hits and cooking up a bit of a storm to prepare for busy days ahead.  We enjoyed my Lamb Stew with Summer Flavours on Friday night, helped along by a steaming mound of couscous, some salad and a scattering heaping pile of my Herby Cheese.

Saturday Lunch was a courgette and goat's cheese tart; made to my usual recipe, but using my lovely new rectangular tart tin from Lakeland.  The new tin made the tart much more presentable and neater to slice, though I found it rather more difficult to get the tart out of this tin than with my workaday round tins.  We ate the tart with some salad and steamed new potatoes (I normally eschew potatoes with party, but I ran across these spanking Charlotte potatoes and was irresistibly drawn to them...  In the evening, the boys and I enjoyed a casual supper of cheese and biscuits with salad and fruit in front of Doctor Who and The Voice.  I like a cheeky weekend fix of Sir Tom, I do (even if his tendency towards name-dropping is worse than ever!).

Now, with school bags packed and ready for the morning, I can truly relax, having cooked an enormous batch of Slow-Cooked Onions (and I used red onions today) to see us through the next couple of weeks, prepared a very nice-looking vegetable curry to go in the slow-cooker tomorrow and served up a bacon and mushroom risotto for lunch.  In advance of school starting tomorrow, the boys and I are looking forward to a 'last supper' of mussels in garlic butter sauce with some crusty bread before it's back to metro, boulot, dodo. Back to the grindstone...
Cath xx

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Wednesday 10th of April 2013

Okay, so we had good ol' roast chicken for supper (again), but owing to my increasing aversion to potatoes-with-what-feels-like-absolutely-everything, I needed to cook something that came up to scratch in the hearty, satisfying stakes without being an obvious, 'I just don't want to make potatoes' thing.  Now, I appreciate that a celeriac is not something that, ahem, normal people necessarily have just knocking about in their vegetable basket, but I did - still on a bit of a Francophile tip, I was planning to make celeriac rémoulade later this week but, hey, them's the breaks... Celeriac & Mushroom Gratin it was!

In actual fact, as far as side dishes for roast chicken go, this one is a definite keeper.  I peeled the celeriac, halved and then sliced it.  I popped the pieces in a pan of cold water along with a couple of chopped shallots and brought it all to the boil.  Once drained, I layered the celeriac and shallot in a roasting pan with some sliced mushrooms, scattering a bit of chopped tarragon (mmmm...) between the layers.  Poured over a 284ml carton of whipping cream (though double would also be fine, that's just what I had to hand), ground over some (white) pepper and covered it with a handful of grated parmesan.  That was it; ready for 45 minutes in the oven at 180ºc (which was, helpfully, the second half of the chicken's cooking time).  I allowed the gratin to rest for 10 minutes alongside the chicken after taking them out of the oven; I always think that baked dishes like this benefit from being served on the warm side, rather than searingly hot, they seem to taste more of themselves, somehow.

Cath xx

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Sunday 7th of April 2013

Home from a lovely week staying with my parents and guess what? I'm straight back into the kitchen!

For some reason at the moment, I've gotten a bit obsessed (again) with French food, so today for lunch we ate one of my personal favourites, poulet à l'estragon (chicken with tarragon).  This is such a French classic, and it's a shame that this herb is often so overlooked, as it really is magical when combined with chicken like this.

For my Distracted version of this dish, I marinade eight chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on) in about 100ml of rapeseed oil mixed with a dash of vinegar, a minced clove of garlic, a good pinch of sea salt flakes and a teaspoonful of dried tarragon.  Leave this for an hour or two.  I like to cut some potatoes up and parboil them during the marinading. then put them in the bottom of the tin I'm going to cook the chicken in.  When you're ready to cook, put the chicken pieces, skin-side up, on top of the potatoes and pour over the remaining marinade.  Cook at 180ºc for 20 minutes, then pour a glassful of dry white wine into the roasting tin.  Cook for another 25 minutes, then transfer the chicken and potatoes to a serving dish and keep them warm while you make the sauce.

Tip all the juices from the tin into a small saucepan and bring them to a simmer.  Whisk in the juice of half a lemon, a little white pepper to taste and 2 tbsp double cream.  Add some chopped fresh tarragon.  Simmer, still whisking, for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly, then pour over the chicken and potatoes in the serving dish. Throw over a bit more fresh tarragon and serve with a green salad.

To follow lunch, and in keeping with the obvious (though admittedly unintentional) theme of the day, we ate some madeleines that I made this morning.  I then proceeded, in clearly-obsessive Francophile mode, to make gougères for supper, but that's another story...

Cath xx

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Wednesday 27th of March 2013

Tonight, I tried a recipe from a cookery magazine.  BBC Good Food carried this recipe for Roast Carrot Soup with Pancetta Croutons ages ago and, as is my way, I ripped it out, stashed it in a drawer and promptly forgot all about it.  Until tonight that is, when it was just too cold for anything other than a massive pan of soup. I'd already found a huge bag of carrots lingering in the cupboard; luckily I had some sliced pancetta in the 'fridge and had just baked a loaf of lovely granary bread.  Job done! The recipe is highly recommended by the way...

Cath xx

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Tuesday 26th of March 2013

A favourite recipe tonight, or a riff on it at least, adapting it for the slow-cooker... This is based on Mary Berry's 'Chardonnay Chicken with Artichoke Hearts' from Cook Now, Eat Later, but is very much my lazy-arse 'distracted' version.  Somehow all my regular 'book recipes' suffer this fate eventually, with the exception of those written by my kitchen God, the sainted Mr Simon Hopkinson (or Si-Ho, as he is very affectionately know at Distracted Towers).  I simply do not muck about with his recipes; he wrote them that way for a reason and I love every single one of them just the way it is, whether for late-night, drool-inducing bedtime reading or for spattering with butter, flecks of chopped herbs and roasting juices while I cook yet-another much loved favourite.

200g slow-cooked onions or 1 can EAZY fried onions
250g small chestnut mushrooms
8 chicken thighs, bones left in but skin pulled off
2 x 280g jars of chargrilled artichoke hearts in oil
200ml dry white wine 
1 tbsp cornflour
3 tbsp crème fraîche

Put the onions and the mushrooms in the bottom of the slow-cooker pot.  Add the chicken thighs in as close to a single layer as you can manage, then add the drained artichoke hearts (I recommend saving the oil to use in salad dressings).  Whisk the wine, cornflour and crème fraîche together, adding a twist or three of pepper, then pour this into the pot.  Cook on LOW all day.

I served this with couscous and a big green salad, but a bowl of rice or some crusty bread, along with a green vegetable of some sort, would be an equally good option.

Cath xx

Monday, 25 March 2013

Monday 25th of March 2013

Well, what a hectic (and BLOOMING FREEZING COLD) few days we've had at Distracted Towers.  The weekend consisted, mainly, of trying to keep the children occupied indoors when the weather was so dismal, which usually, for me at least, means roping them into some kitchen activities.  We cooked a huge batch of my slow-cooked onions.  We did them, this time, with red onions, as I especially love their sweet flavour, combined with stickiness when cooked this way.  A large portion of the onions went into the base of an ovenproof dish and was topped with chicken thighs with some soft goat's cheese pushed under the skin.  This was roasted for 45 mins at 180ºc and served with a basket of baguette chunks and some salad leaves for a surprisingly warming and really very satisfying meal.

Of course, we needed something sweet as well, and that came (as it so often does) in the form of my Fabulous Chocolate Brownies.  I had prepared some Jam Ice-Cream (strawberry as usual, but with a hint of amaretto for a change) with this weekend in mind, but what with the weather and all, serving ice-cream would just feel downright silly!

Tonight is, of course, a Monday so, armed with a batch of My Big Fat Chilli con Carne from the slow-cooker, I laid on a mini Tex-Mex fiesta with taco shells (bought-in!), grated cheddar, salad leaves, sliced avocado and soured cream.  Plates all clean, and out of the door on time...  Result!

Cath xx

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Wednesday 20th of March 2013

Tonight was, most definitely, a risotto night. Comfort food at its finest.

That is all....

Cath xx

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Tuesday 19th of March 2013

I tried out another new meal idea in the slow-cooker tonight.  I've seen the idea of a crock-pot lasagne on Pinterest, not to mention on various other websites and blogs I dip in and out of.  I rather fancied the idea.  So, I got to concocting my own version.

All in all, I considered tonight to be a successful first attempt; the flavours were good, if a little under-seasoned.  What let the dish down, rather, was the rather 'solid' texture.  Not dry, exactly, but I prefer my lasagne to be rather sloppier; oozing across your plate and into the salad.  I also must confess that wiping juicy sauces up with my garlic bread (shop-bought, tonight, for speed) is, to my mind, one of the very greatest pleasures of a pasta supper.

So it's back to the drawing board, not for an entirely new sheet of (metaphorical) paper, but perhaps a little fine-tuning and redrawing of lines.  I'll keep you posted...

Cath xx

Monday, 18 March 2013

Monday 18th of March 2013

Another slow-cooker meal tonight and, feeling a little stuck in a recipe rut, I've decided to try out a couple of new ideas this week.  Tonight's meal, luckily, turned out well; a layered concoction of chicken, ham and cheese topped with a crust made using shop-bought stuffing.  I used one with lemon and garlic, but choose whichever you fancy, natch...

295g can condensed cream of chicken soup
125ml milk
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped
5 thickish slices of ham, cut up roughly
200g Gruyère,thinly sliced
130g pack stuffing mix (and see above)
30g butter, melted

Mix together the condensed soup and the milk.  I think I might try using white wine instead of milk the next time I cook this.  Smooth a thin layer of this mixture into the bottom of your slow-cooker pot, then add the chicken, in as much of a single layer as you can manage.  Next, a similar layer of ham, and finally a layer of cheese.  Pour over the remaining 'sauce' and smooth the top.  Scatter the dry stuffing mix over the surface, then drizzle with the melted butter to help it crisp up a little (as always, you can 'fridge it all night at this point).  Cook on LOW all day.

I served this with (yet) another batch of the herb butter-tossed potatoes that I mentioned last Wednesday and a bowl of peas.  Delicious...
Cath xx

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sunday 17th of March 2013

I find it hard to believe that I've never posted a recipe for good old macaroni cheese but, probably assuming that it isn't beyond the reach of anyone over the age of about 10, I just appear not to have bothered.  In any case, that is what we had for lunch today, accompanied by a very simple tomato salad.  I cannot urge you enough to consider mint as well as basil, in your tomato salad, these two herbs in combination, along with a smattering of flaky sea salt, make for a truly superlative salad (even if the tomatoes you have are slightly less than desirable perfection...)

Macaroni Cheese (just in case...)

250g macaroni
40g butter
30g flour
2 tsp mustard powder
500ml milk
100g grated strong cheddar
50g grated parmesan

Cook the macaroni in plenty of salted, boiling water.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large-ish saucepan and stir in the flour and mustard powder to make a roux.  Pour in the milk, still stirring, and bring the sauce to the boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer the sauce until it thickens.  Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheddar.  Drain the pasta and tip it into an ovenproof dish.  Pour over the cheese sauce and mix thoroughly to coat the pasta completely.  Top with the grated parmesan and bake at 190ºc for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is crisp and golden.  I like it to be slightly scorched in places, too... Leave the dish, out of the oven, to rest for five minutes.  This will improve the flavour, as it won't be napalm-hot when served.

Cath xx

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Saturday 16th of March 2013

Today's lunch was planned to be a nice and easy affair; I cooked the Tuna & Pea Kedgeree that I've written about before, which has become a staple favourite at Distracted Towers, not only of ours, but of more than one friend to whom I've introduced the recipe,  It would have been a lot more straightforward had I not, in some kind of completely demented fit, decided to make a garnish of deep-fried, shredded leeks.  The leeks were a lovely addition (yay!I was right!), but the only problem now is that I suspect that they will now be *necessary* at every serving.  Rod for my back, or what!

The afternoon passed in a haze of homework and assorted nonsensical whining, before the rugby kicked off at 5.  This was the big part of my day, and I had cunning;ly provisioned a supply of supermarket chill-cabinet stuffed-crust pizze to, effortlessly, keep the troops quiet while I watched y bechgyn (the boys) win so convincingly.  Wales 30 - England 3!.  That is all...
Cath xx

Friday, 15 March 2013

Friday 15th of March 2013

Happy Red Nose Day, everyone.  This recipe for gingerbread men has served me very well over the years and today proved popular at the children's school's 'Bake-Off' for Comic Relief.  These little guys have occupied a lot of brain-space, if not time, over the last few days, so I was actually quite glad to see the gingery little backs of them... They do taste good, though.

300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
100g soft-ish butter, diced
150g light muscovado sugar
4 tbsp agave nectar (or honey, or golden syrup)
1 large egg
currants and icing, to decorate

Mix the flour, bicarb, and spices together and rub in the butter. Stir in the sugar, then mix the  beaten egg with the agave nectar and mix to a workable dough.  Leave to rest briefly, then roll out to half-a-centimetre thick.  Cut out whatever shapes you like, re-rolling the scraps.  Decorate, as you see fit, with currants.  Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 180°c for 15 minutes or until the biscuits are a pale golden brown.  Cool on a rack, waiting until the biscuits are completely cold before you even think about icing them.

Tonight, just because it's Friday, we had steak with onion rings, salad and garlic mushrooms (prepared as for my Barbecued Garlic Mushrooms and cooked in a hot oven for 15 minutes).  I opened a bottle of good red and sank into the pleasure of the weekend...
Cath xx

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Thursday 14th of March 2013

Tonight, largely owing to the exhaustion brought on by a marathon baking session to provide dozens and dozens of gingerbread men for the children's school tomorrow, I decided that a simple and homely supper was on the cards.  My recipe for  Toad in the Hole is a great favourite with the whole family, and it is a suppertime stalwart that I return to often.  It is especially good with a good slosh of onion gravy; you can make a quick(ish) one by gently frying a halved and sliced onion in 40g butter until very soft, stirring in 1 tbsp flour to make a sort-of roux, and then, still stirring, adding a pint or so of stock (I used pork stock because,happily, I had some in the 'fridge, but use what you like).  Bring to the boil and then cook on the lowest heat possible until you are ready to eat.  Toad in the Hole, by Husband's decree, must be served with sweetcorn.  Sometimes I sneak in a dish of steamed cabbage too, but tonight I was, frankly, too lazy.  The serried ranks of the gingerbread army have defeated me...

Cath xx

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Wednesday 13th of March 2013

Owing to a marathon baking session inspired by the children's school's 'red nose day' request, which saw us making 40 (!) gingerbread men to ice, with red noses,. tomorrow, tonight's dinner needed to be a quick, and relatively effortless production tonight. A bag of chicken thighs sitting in the 'fridge, plus a couple of lemons and some soy sauce from the storecupboard easily made this Soy-and-Lemon Glazed Baked Chicken, then all I had to think about was the side dishes.

8 chicken thighs (though I think you could use up to 12 with this amount of glaze)
juice of 2 lemons
120ml soy sauce

Put the chicken pieces in an ovenproof dish.  Pour over the lemon juice and soy sauce.  Bake at 180°c for 45 minutes, basting often.  Lift out of the liquid to serve.

I served this with steamed broccoli and some steamed new potatoes, which I had tossed in melted (salted) butter that I mixed with lots of very finely chopped herbs; I vary these according to what I have on the kitchen windowsill, but tonight it was lots of parsley , chopped with a smaller amount each of fresh basil, mint, dill and thyme.  This is my favourite way to eat potatoes at the moment...

Cath xx

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Tuesday 12th of March 2013

We had another really good meal from the slow cooker tonight.  I'm particularly proud of this one, because it ticks lots of boxes for me; it's done in the slow-cooker, it uses mainly storecupboard ingredients and it is a meat-free meal, thus providing both variety and economy.  You can use a bought curry paste with no problems (and I do on occasion), but I really like   Jamie Oliver's recipes for homemade curry pastes, which I find can be frozen very successfully 'for a rainy day', as it were.  I tend to use the tikka masala variety, though I do reduce the amount of chilli by half and eliminate the coriander leaves.  The former, for the sake of the children's taste buds, the latter because of my personal aversion to coriander leaves.  Love the seeds, but I find myself nauseated by the leaves.  Apart from chips and tinned baked beans, it is my only real food aversion.  My Dad would certainly mention andouillette at this point, but since I was tricked into eating some (on a mere technicality, I might add) as a child I, still shuddering, will never, ever touch it again.  Anyway, moving swiftly on...

Chickpea & Spinach Coconut Curry

I like to serve this with my Relaxed Raita and a basket of warmed chapatis, all the better to scoop up the curry and transfer it, slurpily, to waiting mouths...

250g slow-cooked onions or 1 can EAZY fried onions
150g curry paste (and see above)
2 x 420g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 400ml can coconut milk (use 'light' if you prefer)
1 160g bag baby spinach leaves, washed

Now, this really is the easy bit.  Put the onions in the slow-cooker pot and mix with the curry paste.  Add the chickpeas, stirring well to coat them in the oniony, spicy, oily juices.  Tip in the coconut milk and mix well.  Refrigerate overnight at this point, if you like.  Cook on LOW all day.  Ten minutes or so before you want to eat, fold the spinach leaves through the curry in the pot, then replace the lid until time to serve.

Cath xx

Monday, 11 March 2013

Monday 11th of March 2013

Another week begins, meaning Beavers, Cubs and more slow-cooker meals to arrange.  Today, while Husband slept (he works nights!), the children were educated and I worked, the glorious machine pottered along with Teriyaki beef for our supper.  This is so easy to put together; you need to nothing more than cut up the beef and stir the sauce together. I do it all the night before, stick it in the 'fridge and then just transfer it to the cooker in the morning, switching it on just before we leave the house.  I sometimes do this dish using chopped up chicken thighs instead of the beef, which is also very tasty.

4 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp sake, Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp mirin
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp grated ginger root
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp cornflour mixed with 50ml water

Mix everything together in the slow-cooker pot.

350g braising steak (I like beef skirt for this recipe)

Cube the beef and add to the pot, mixing well to coat it in the sauce.  You can refrigerate it overnight at this point.  Cook on LOW all day.  Scatter with shredded spring onions just before serving, if you like, then serve with rice and greens.

Cath xx

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Sunday 10th of March 2013

Mothering Sunday started beautifully at Distracted Towers.  Sunshine was streaming through the bedroom window as Husband and my gorgeous children brought me breakfast in bed and a lovely potted orchid.  After I'd placed it on the windowsill in our newly decorated bathroom,  I came downstairs for a morning of being brought cups of tea while I lounged, sybaritically, on the sofa. 

For lunch I cooked one of my favourites;  Crôque Monsieur Maison.  I got ahead by making the béchamel yesterday,  so that it would be cold and spreadable when it was needed.  This is not altogether necessary,  but it's how I prefer to do it.  The quantities I give are for four crôques.

30g butter
30g flour
250ml milk
pepper (white for preference)

Make a thick béchamel by melting the butter in a smallish saucepan,  then stirring in the flour to make a roux.  Cook,  stirring constantly for a minute or two until the roux colours only slightly,  then pour in the milk.  Keep stirring (I use a whisk) while the sauce thickens.  Remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Trust me on the nutmeg,  it's what makes this taste right.

When you're ready to make the crôques...

8 slices of bread
40g butter,  melted
4 slices of ham
100g gruyère, grated

Brush the bread with the melted butter,  then spread each slice thinly with a little of the béchamel.   Use these to make four ham-and béchamel sandwiches,  then spread the top of each with a rather thicker layer of béchamel.   Sprinkle with the gruyère.

Bake, on a buttered oven tray,  for 10-12 minutes at 200ºc.  Serve cut in half, with a bit of a side salad.  If you fancy a Crôque Madame instead, fry some eggs while the sandwiches are in the oven and top each with a freshly fried, runny-yolked egg to serve.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mummies out there!
Cath xx

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Saturday 9th of March 2013

Weekends, by my choice, invariably find me in the kitchen.  This morning, after my breakfast of muesli, toast and coffee,  I sorted out the chicken stock which had been cooking overnight in the slow-cooker.  I find this the easiest way to make stock these days; putting the bones in the pot which a halved shallot or two (leaving the skin on to colour the stock a rich brown colour), covering them with water and leaving them to blip on LOW while we sleep.  Then, in the morning, all I need to do is strain the stock into a pan and boil it to reduce to a litre or so.  I usually make chicken stock once a week, and this method allows me to do it even when we are really busy, which is pretty much all the time.  I also took the opportunity to make a bara brith this morning, as I had the oven on anyway, baking bread rolls for lunch.

We usually eat our main meal of the day at lunchtimes on the weekend. Today for lunch we enjoyed a meal of Simple Tomato Soup and a basket of cheese-topped Fast & Furious Rolls , which I topped with some grated parmesan after brushing on the melted butter.  I served it with the remaining Herby Cheese from Thursday's dinner and a bowl of pea shoots.

Then, after I took the children to the village playground to run off some energy in the sunshine, we returned home for a lovely, relaxing afternoon.  I love just 'being' with my boys, while they  do their own things; pottering around playing, reading, drawing or watching a film together. It's sometimes the smallest moments that matter the most...
Cath xx


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