Share in the trials and triumphs of a home cook

Browse the Recipe Index for inspiration or recipes you've forgotten about and take a look at The Travelling Hamper, for recommendations of foodie places both local and on the web.

16 March 2015

"Woodsy Quiche" - a creation for hubby's birthday

It was dear hubby's birthday this last weekend and he'd agonised for weeks - literally - over what to have for his birthday dinner.  Finally, the night before we went shopping for it and in what amounted to something of a desperate moment of being backed into a corner over the whole thing, he decided upon a quiche.

Not just any old quiche though.  He wanted a quiche that contained tiny sausage meat meatballs, along with chestnuts and a British white cheese.  Something of an artisan quiche, it seemed like!

Now I'm not exactly a dab hand with quiches, but I have made some creditable attempts at them in the past.  So I had a good idea of what to put with these ingredients to make a proper quiche-like texture and the additions of some curd cheese (bought from our local Polish shop), creme fraiche, a shallot and chives seemed to me to have the potential of doing the job.

We debated over adding mushroom, but didn't want the filling to become squishy.  Mushrooms are such a high percentage of water, this seemed highly likely unless they were fried off first and with the sausage meat, we were a bit leery of everything becoming too fatty.  Mind you, the sausage meat was 90% pork - so not much room for fat there.  As it turned out, I had a last minute good idea and added a couple of mushrooms as decoration - which because they were on top of the filling mix, were able to dry out under the fan of the cooker and so not cause any soggy problems.

Cooking and combining the ingredients for the filling was a simple matter of a bit of cutting and a-chopping, a little bit of rolling and frying and a lot of mixing - so no great difficulty there.  For some reason, the pastry had turned to concrete in our fridge (I think it may be turned up a little too cold) and it took a good few minutes of heaving and grunting over the rolling pin before it succumbed (warmed up, more like) and rolled out.  I was using a large quiche dish and had literally just enough pastry to line it, rolled really thin.  However, the thin pastry was a good thing, as it gave the filling lots of room to shine without having a mouthful of thick shortcrust pastry to contend with.

The flavours matched up really well.  The sausage meat loved the chestnuts, the chestnuts loved the cheese and the cheese loved the well seasoned egg mixture.

I don't recommend eating the quiche when it has just come out of the oven, as it is too bubbly then.  Allow it to calm down and cool to warm before you serve and it will be a lot more agreeable.  In fact, I ate the remainder for lunch today - cold - and it was excellent, so I can see the recipe would be well suited to a picnic or as a pot luck contribution, too.

I served ours with hubby's choice of vegetables; minted new potatoes, buttered asparagus and mange tout and it ate very well.  Cold, it would be just as nice with a potato salad and any number of green leafy or garden salads.

Summer is just around the corner, so why not tuck this recipe behind your ear for then!

WOODSY QUICHE    (serves 5-6)

Ingredients :


165g plain flour
pinch of salt
75g butter (if you're using salted butter, leave the pinch of salt out), at room temperature
100ml or so of cold water.


3 eggs
100g curd or cottage cheese
100g creme fraiche
pinch of sea salt
half a tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
1 small shallot, chopped finely
100g chestnuts, halved
250g (4 sausages) of 90% pork sausage meat
100g good Wensleydale cheese, crumbled into pieces
10g chives, chopped
2 mushrooms, sliced, to decorate.

Method :

1.  Begin by mixing up the pastry.  I use a food processor for this, but you can do the entire process by hand if you wish, in which case rub the butter into the flour until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.  If using a food processor, add the flour, salt (if using) and butter and process for as short a time as possible, or until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.

2.  Add the water little by little, mixing it through or by pulsing the processor and adding water in between pulses, until the dough has come together in a fairly dry, sandy, ball.

3.  Wrap the pastry in cling film and place into the fridge to rest for 20 mins minimum.

4.  In the meantime, mix up the filling.  Begin by rolling the sausage meat into tiny meatballs the size of your thumbnail.

5.  Then, pour the olive oil into a small pan and add the shallot.  Cook on a gentle heat until the shallot is beginning to soften, then remove it with a slotted spoon and reserve.

6.  Add the sausage meatballs and increase the heat a little.  Cook until the outer surface has turned golden on at least two sides.  There is no need to ensure the balls are cooked through.  Remove them and reserve to cool.

7.  Roll the pastry out and line your quiche dish.  Cover the pastry with some baking parchment cut to fit and pour in some baking beans or rice.  Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas4 for 20 minutes or until the pastry has turned a light golden sandy brown.

8.  Remove the baking parchment and set the baking beans or rice aside to cool before going back into storage.

9.  Break the eggs into a large bowl and whisk to combine.

10.  Whisk in the curd cheese, creme fraiche, shallot, chopped chives and seasoning.

11.  Add the chestnuts, sausage meatballs and crumbled cheese to the mixture and stir to combine.

12.  Pour the filling mixture into the casing and gently spread everything around evenly.

13.  Add the sliced mushroom in a decorative pattern atop the mixture and press lightly into the mix.

14.  Place into the oven (still at 180degC/350degF/Gas4) for some 30-40 minutes or until golden in colour on top and, when pressed, the surface feels firm.

15.  Set aside to cool slightly and serve warm, not directly from the oven.

Printable version

11 March 2015

Navarin of lamb - at long last!

Way, way back in the olden days (also known as "when I had horses"), I didn't have a lot of time for cooking but did have a great relationship with my slow cooker.  I would prepare the ingredients the night before, then throw them all into my little slow cooker, turn it on and leave it to chuckle all day while I was at work - much to the annoyance of my dogs, I dare say.  Coming home to a ready to eat meal, usually around 9pm and once I'd walked the dogs and put the horses to bed, was just such luxury.

One of my absolute favourite meals cooked this way was Navarin of Lamb.  However, not the authentic kind of Navarin of Lamb, but a Colman's Casserole Mix - yes, one of those from a sachet, just add water, pour over ingredients and cook.  I would whip up some mashed potato and cook some frozen runner beans and sit down to a fantastically comforting hot dinner.  Just perfect.

Then there came a bit of a hiatus in my lamb cooking as I swapped from horses and one person cooking, to babies and two persons (and a baby!) cooking.  Over the course of this period, eating lamb was a once in a blue moon experience owing to the price - we didn't have a lot of cash at the time.  Well, babies cost more than horses to run y'know.  Who'd have thought it!  So I lost touch with my favourite Navarin of Lamb and in the meantime, sadly Colman's decided to discontinue production of the casserole mix.  I never forgot that particular dish though - and would often hope that I'd be able to re-create it one day.

Over the years, various cuts of lamb came (largely due to special offers and money off counters) and were devoured.  However, none of them were really suitable for a voyage back in time to the lovely Navarin of the past.

I found recipes that seemed as though they would get close to how the casserole mix tasted, but there was always something missing.  I'd think about the recipe and, over the years, had pretty much got the recipe in mind.  All that I needed was the right cut of lamb - for the right price.

Then came Farmer's Choice (Free Range) Limited and as we got to know one another through working together over various recipes, I plucked up the courage to ask for the correct cut of lamb for my Navarin - the fillet (see here for details).  Lo and behold, two perfect fillets arrived for me to wreak creative havoc with.  I was in quiet transports of anticipation at finally being able to (fingers crossed) get back to the halcyon days of satisfyingly lamby deliciousness.

Now, if you look at various recipes and photographs of Navarin of Lamb on t'internet, you will see different cuts of meat, some bone in, some bone out, but largely all in a broth type of liquid, accompanied by spring vegetables of different shapes and sizes.  Yes, I am sure that is a perfectly authentic Navarin of Lamb, but the one I was aiming for was nothing like this.  (As is often the way with sachet casserole mixes).  I make no apology for this, because I was on the trail of a food memory, not authenticity.

My Navarin of Lamb was in a fairly thick sauce, that was orangey red in colour, contained flecks of herbs and tasted very lamby.  Nothing like these Navarins looked.  So I had to back-engineer the flavour that was in my memory.

I will admit that I included one ingredient that wasn't part of my memorised recipe, but was included in most up to date recipes - and that was beans.  Because I was aiming for a real comfort food vibe, I went for butter beans.  Is there anything nicer than butter beans for delivering that comforting substance in a casserole?  I don't think so.

I also wanted the flecks of herbage, but without being inundated with tasty greenness and as most recipes recommended the use of a bouquet garni, it made sense to follow along.  However, I also used some fresh parsley (love parsley) to give that "herbs in here" feel.

The flour in the recipe gave the sauce the opaqueness of the original casserole mix, while the tomato puree gave it the colour.  The real stroke of genius, that made the flavour just right, is the inclusion of the whole shallots.  Over the course of the cooking period, the small shallots just melt into the sauce whereas the larger ones stay around for a supporting role to the lamb once on the plate.

The long slow cook (even though it wasn't THAT long or slow) was perfect for this cut of lamb as it enabled the marbling through the meat to render down, adding its perfect lamb flavour to the sauce.  The meat was as tender as butter and the flavour was sublime.  All those years of virtual recipe development carried out in my head were worth every minute.  It was even better than I'd hoped and so very close to the original flavour that I'd held in my memory for all those years.  Satisfied?  I should say so!

I don't even have any cook's tips for you.  The recipe is so simple, it is difficult to imagine how it could go wrong for anyone, so long as you follow each instruction and include all the ingredients listed.

Even if you've experienced the authentic Navarin of Lamb, do give this one a go.  Comfort food at its best - and then some.

NAVARIN OF LAMB    (serves 2)

Ingredients :

2 tbsp olive oil
300g lamb fillet (neck fillet is perfect), cut into centimetre thick medallions
1 onion, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced finely
8-10 small shallots, peeled
15g salted butter
20g plain flour
1 tbsp tomato puree
pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
600ml strong low salt lamb stock (Essential Cuisine lamb stock is perfect for this)
2 bouquet garni
400g tin of butter beans
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley.

Method :

1.  Heat the oil in a frying pan until very hot.  Gently add the lamb pieces and leave them where they fall, to gain a golden crust.  Once the crust has formed, turn them onto their other side and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Remove to a casserole dish.

2.  Reduce the heat under the pan to moderate and add the onions, garlic and shallots along with a pinch of sea salt.  Cook until the onion (not the shallots) is transparent and softened - around 8-10 minutes.

3.  Add the butter and, once melted, the flour and tomato puree.  Stir to combine and cook gently for 2-3 minutes, taking care not to let it burn.

4.  Add one half of the stock and stir well to combine with the flour mixture without forming lumps.  Add the other half of the stock mixture and stir until a smooth, thickened sauce has formed.  You may need a little more stock or a little less, depending on your flour.

5.  Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt if required, plus a good helping of pepper, to taste.

6.  Stir in the two bouquet garni plus the drained butter beans and decant the sauce into the casserole dish.

7.  Stir to combine with the lamb, then add the lid and bake in a pre-heated oven at 160degC/325degF/Gas 3 for two and a half hours.  Check the casserole contents half way through, to make sure the liquid level is still good.  You can take this opportunity to give the contents a bit of a stir, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the casserole.

8.  Once the cooking time is up, remove the casserole dish from the oven and add all but a pinch of the chopped parsley.  Stir through and taste for seasoning, adding a little more if necessary.

Serve with the remaining parsley sprinkled over, with mashed potatoes, runner beans and carrots.

Printable version

9 March 2015

Pork, aubergine & porcini ragu - natural umami!

I have a very embarrassing confession to make. I can't remember what inspired hubby to make this Italian style, porky, auberginey, mushroomy deliciousness - not because I am singularly forgetful (which I am!), but because he made it *blush* on the 26th January 2013.  Yes, it is now the 8th of March 2015.  *hangs head in shame*  I'm a bit behind with some ~koff~ of my blog posts.

Because these "forgotten" posts (which aren't really forgotten, but have just slipped on by in the rush of other things) are burning their unsung presence into my brain, I have decided that I must bring them to the forefront of existence.  Hence, I am going to do my best to remember at least something of the why's and wherefores of their creation, but the more important thing is to get them out there where they can be enjoyed by others!

I do recall that hubby was really keen to make a dish which did justice to the wonderful woody, rich flavour of the porcini mushroom and who who better to pair it with than with pork?  After all, both of them live in wooded areas (well, given the chance the piggies would!).  The aubergine, we felt, would give the ragu a smokiness and subtle creaminess - and so it proved.  My memory of this ragu is of a really intensely mushroomy, savoury, umami-filled forkful that was both satisfying from a comfort food angle and complex from a flavour angle.  It wasn't a simple combination of flavours, but one that developed on the tongue depending on how much of what was in your forkful.  Now you don't find that every day!

I have a few Cook's Tips for you with regard to this one :

Firstly, when you're char-grilling the aubergines, always oil the aubergines and not the pan.  Aubergines are total sponges and will soak up as much oil as you want to give them, so make sure to brush on just enough to help them to cook, or you'll end up with a greasy ragu.

Secondly, with regard to soaking the Porcini mushrooms.  When it comes to adding them to the dish, take care not to disturb the bottom of the soaking liquid.  Porcini's are renowned for containing little pieces of grit which will sink to the bottom of the bowl as the dried mushroom softens.  Pour the liquid gently and leave the last little bit in the bowl and you will be as sure as you can be, that your ragu will be grit free.

Lastly, be aware that as the ragu sauce reduces, the intensity of salt and pepper will change accordingly, so be sparing with the salt to begin with.

We didn't serve ours with any Parmesan cheese for sprinkling, but if you particularly enjoy a dash of Parmesan, then by all means feel free.  The flavours can certainly cope!

I have just received notification that this recipe has been awarded "Recipe of the Day" by!  ~curtseys and composes a winner's speech~



Ingredients :

Olive oil

500g minced pork
1 large aubergine, cut into 7mm slices and chargrilled
2 banana shallots, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
a handful dried
porcini mushrooms, soaked in a little boiling water
3 chestnut mushrooms
75ml red wine
500ml pork stock (or 1 pork stock cube, dissolved in 500ml water)
400g tinned tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried sage
half a tsp smoked paprika
half a tsp dried basil
half a tsp dried rosemary
a dash of Worcestershire sauce

sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Method :

1.  Firstly, prepare the aubergines.  Using a blisteringly hot griddle pan, barbecue or cooker grill, cook the aubergine slices until they are softened, ideally with dark griddle marks.  Once cooked, place onto a plate, cover with clingfilm and allow to cool.

To make the Ragu :

2.  Dry fry the minced pork in a large wok or deep frying pan until lightly browned, then remove from the pan and set aside.

3.  Add a little olive oil to the pan and cook the shallots, chestnut mushrooms and garlic until soft but not coloured.

4.  Return the pork to the pan and turn the heat up to high.  Once the pan is sizzling, add the red wine and stir for five minutes to allow the majority of the alcohol to cook off.

5.  Add the tomato puree and stir well to combine with the pork for a couple of minutes.

6.  Now add the paprika, herbs, tinned tomatoes and stock.  Bring the pan to a lively simmer before adding the porcini mushrooms along with their soaking liquid.

7.  Season with the Worcestershire sauce and simmer until the ragu sauce has reduced to a thick consistency.  Once at your preferred consistency, taste for seasoning and add more if necessary.

Serve with freshly cooked pasta.

Printable version

28 February 2015

Rich chocolatey coffee flavours with a Vietnamese Coffee Phin

If you already know what a Vietnamese coffee Phin is, you'll be nodding your head wisely and agreeing already.

I have to admit that at the beginning of this year I had never heard of a Vietnamese Coffee Phin and we were sublimely happy with our Aeropress coffee maker.  Now I'm not saying that the Aeropress has been pushed into second place, but the Phin has very definitely made it shuffle over on the podium for a joint first.

Hubby alerted me to the Vietnamese Phin, his curiosity having been piqued by seeing them in action in a BBC2 programme "The Coffee Trail", presented by Simon Reeve - which was all about how Vietnam has emerged as the largest coffee producer in the world and the shaky future that coffee has there.  He did a bit of research and reading about Vietnamese coffee and the use of a Phin and once we'd discovered they could be had via Amazon, well that clinched the deal.  I bought him one for Valentine's day - along with some beautiful and amazingly flavoured Vietnamese coffee and I'll tell you more about that a little later. 

So, what IS a Vietnamese Coffee Phin?  Well, it is primarily a one-person coffee brewer/maker, made from stainless steel and comprising very few parts - ours has three, the main cup, a lid and a screw down pressure plate.  Already you can tell that it is simplicity itself.

Making coffee with a Phin is not a matter for the hurried.  As with everything good, it takes time, relaxation and a little bit of love.  However, the mechanics of it could not be any easier.  Measure your ground coffee into the bottom of your brewing cup then screw down the pressure plate.  Initially, simply add a touch of your just boiled water which will scald the coffee grounds, causing them to swell and ingeniously form their own filter.  No messy filter papers with this little baby!

If you're doing it authentically, the brewing cup should be placed over a tall glass into which you've added a teaspoonful of sweetened condensed milk.  Now don't go all sharp intake of breath on me, if you take sugar in your coffee you won't need to - and if you don't take it, you're in for a surprise.

Wait for some 30 seconds or so for the coffee to swell, then fill the brewing cup.  Add the lid and then find something else to do for around 5 minutes.  Instructional videos we watched recommended singing, or dancing to your favourite tune.  I applaud this recommendation, although have yet to try it.  We are generally occupied in letting the dogs out in the garden, yelling at them to stop barking at the squirrels and then letting them back in again.

In the meantime, your coffee will have dripped languorously through the last pressure plate and be resting somewhat haughtily on top of the milk, patently refusing to have anything to do with it.  The two colours do look enticing, however!  Oh - and I must add that at this stage, real hard core Vietnamese have been known to drink the coffee neat and black.  Much respect to those die-hards!  In our case, a quick twirl with a spoon sees the two substances combined - and a top up with more boiled water finishes off the process.  Mind you, if you're my Hubby it doesn't stop there.  Out comes the squirty cream and just to finish the process, a dash of sprinkles.  Never let it be said he would spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar.

So okay - that's how you do it.  But how does it taste, in comparison with something like the Aeropress, or more commonly used brewing methods?  Well, the difference between it and any other is that the slow brewing method seems to knock any raw edges off and produces a superbly smooth coffee even with a Force 5 Java going through it.  The contrast is remarkable, notable and unique.

Now - about the coffee we used, which was Mr Phong's Private Reserve Premium from Weasel Premium Vietnamese Coffees.  If you are curious about Vietnamese coffee, this is a perfect starting point because of its seductively velvety, deeply chocolatey complex flavour notes.

Why "Weasel" Premium coffee?  Well, I can do no better than to quote the Weasel website, which says : 

Sharp looking little fella!
"Somehow, it was discovered that certain weasels (or civets, or 'luwak', depending on the country), dine nightly on the best, ripest coffee cherries. At some point in time, some brave person decided to try and make coffee from the partially-digested beans that had passed through the weasel. The result was the amazing transformed coffee that we know as "Kopi Luwak, or "Weasel", with its distinctive rich aroma and smooth, mocha flavor and texture.

So, the reality is that authentic Weasel coffee does in fact exist. It is safe and thoroughly clean, probably cleaner than regular coffee, and it does taste wonderful if you like smooth, mellow, rather sweet coffee that is more like mocha than "cafe Americano".
We picked the Weasel to represent Weasel brand Premium Vietnamese coffees, because he (or she?) represents the best coffee that Vietnam has to offer. Our coffees are blends of the finest, small-plantation, small batch, roasted coffee cherries, selected by the farmers and the Weasels. Our two top prepackaged coffees do contain a small amount of authentic, Weasel coffee. It's what gives them their earthy, smoky, mocha-like flavor and texture".
So there you have it.  Touched by weasels?  A little bit!  Try it and before long, you'll love your Weasel, too.

26 February 2015

Kashmiri Spiced Chicken Pittas

Kashmiri spiced chicken pitta, that worked out even better than I thought it would!

This is an idea that got carried over into this week's menu list, having been bumped from last week's good intentions.  I have done similar things with meat and pitta bread very successfully in the past (see Spicy Chicken In Pitta Bread, Kibbeh Meatballs in Pitta Bread and Minty Aromatic Pulled Lamb Pittas), so I had a good feeling about this one.

As dinner concepts go, it really is simplicity itself.

Good sized chicken breast chunks are marinated in goat yoghurt, lime juice, Kashmiri chilli powder and curry powder, then oven baked.  Easy peasy!  Plus, don't be worried about making too much of the chicken, as it is just as good the following day as a cold sandwich filling.  It is very well worth finding the Kashmiri chilli powder, as it has an interesting flavour being not terribly spicy hot at all but very flavoursome.  It also has an amazing red colour that is particular to the Kashmiri chilli and I've put a link at the bottom of the page to Amazon, where they have a number of different suppliers.  We found our Kashmiri chilli powder in our local ethnic shop (one of these shops that sells all kinds of spices, fruit and tins of things you've never heard of) so do keep an eye out for it.

The wholemeal pitta (it's worthwhile using wholemeal as it adds to the nutty flavour and tend to stay softer than the white versions) has hummus and a home made raita - plus the chicken of course - inside of it.  Serving everything is the work of minutes to grill the pittas, then smear in some hummus, add the chicken pieces (a pair of tongs works very well here), drizzle over the raita and you're done.

I served them with some home made salt & pepper potato wedges and a watermelon & tomato chopped salad with a pomegranate molasses dressing, which provided a nice freshness.

Everyone loved these pittas - the heat of the curry spices, cool cucumber and mint together with the nuttiness of the pitta and hummus was a complete winner.


Ingredients :

3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks
3 dessertspoonfuls of goat yoghurt (or Greek yoghurt)
2 heaped tsp of mild curry powder
1.5 tsp of Kashmiri chilli powder (or 1 tsp ordinary chilli powder)
half a tsp of Garam Masala
a pinch of sea salt
the juice of half a lime
4 wholemeal pitta bread
8 heaped tsp hummus.

For the Raita :

2 inch piece of cucumber, peeled and seeds removed, chopped fine
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped fine
pinch of sea salt
pinch of black pepper
2 dessertspoonfuls of goat yoghurt (or Greek yoghurt).

Method :

1.  Mix the goat yoghurt, curry powder, chilli powder, Garam Masala, lime juice and sea salt together in a bowl.  Add the chicken chunks, stir to coat in the mixture and leave to marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

2.  To prepare the raita, mix all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside for the flavours to get to know one another.

3.  Place the chicken pieces along with the remains of the marinade, onto a baking tray with sides, as there will be liquid produced as the chicken cooks.

4.  Cook the chicken at 200degC/400degF/Gas 6 for 25-30mins, until the edges are just beginning to char and the chicken is cooked through.  Half way through the cooking time, remove the chicken from the oven and pour the cooking liquid away.  Return to the oven for the remainder of the time.

5.  Grill the pitta bread and slit down one side.

6.  Spread 2 tsp of hummus onto one side of the pitta bread.

7.  Fill the pitta with chicken pieces, then drizzle with raita.

Serve the pittas with a side salad of your choice and salt & pepper potato wedges.

Printable version

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...