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


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