23 May 2018

Best ever Moussaka - with a little bit of help!

Now, before going any further, if you've come here looking for the original version of my recipe for Moussaka and are aghast to find it has been replaced by this one - do let me know and I will reinstate it.  You see, in my opinion, this new recipe is such a totally different kettle o' lamb deliciousness, it quite outstrips the old recipe.  Although, having said that, this recipe carries an awful lot of the previous incarnation along with it - just with a few tweaks and twists that have made such a difference.  So anyway - to horse!  Or kitchen.  lol

You'll be wondering what makes the big difference.  Well, firstly, I've got a new way of preparing the aubergines that works so beautifully well.  Instead of brushing the aubergine slices with olive oil and having them absorb half a bottleful, I am now taking advantage of that wonderful thing, the low calorie cooking spray.  In my case, a 1 calorie coconut oil version.  Spray the tray, lay the aubergine slices on, spray each slice, sprinkle with salt and pepper and into the oven they go.  They come out beautifully toasty, sweet and soft without being greasy in the slightest - which of course, then cuts the amount of oil your Moussaka is dealing with.  Perfect.

Secondly, I've included some garlic.  Now don't go looking all horrified, what I'm looking for here is flavour and it's only one clove.  Some traditional Moussaka recipes ask for it, some shun it completely.  Believe me, it makes a difference so go for it.

My third big improvement is that I have been using a pre-prepared bechamel sauce, to which I add two egg yolks and a good amount of nutmeg, plus as much seasoning as is required.  Yes, I have a taste just to test how much seasoning to use.  Now if you're hale and hearty and able to make your own bechamel by all means be my guest and do so.  If, however, you're like me and a short cut to deliciousness can only result in your not feeling so trashed later on in the day, then buy some.  I heartily recommend Lidl's Italiamo Besciamella as being one that is a gorgeous texture and delicious flavour.  A great starting point for any white sauce!

Now comes the big discussion point.  To potato or not potato.  For me and for all that I love potatoes, they are not welcome in my Moussaka.  I reckon that potato was only included because the price of a) lamb and b) aubergines became prohibitive and to make the dish more of a meal, potatoes were introduced.  I can respect that - I've done things like that myself, over the years.  However, I can't help but think that a true Moussaka should be just meat (and sauce), aubergines and bechamel sauce with nutmeg & cheese.  However, if you're trying to feed a big family and sliced potatoes will help make your Moussaka go further, then use them.  (It helps to add them to the aubergines being baked in the oven to par-cook.  Makes sure they cook through in the Moussaka).

There are two ingredients that it is important you don't skip.  One is the wine - absolutely essential.  Two is the teaspoonful of mint jelly.  The sweetness of the jelly helps to round out the acidity of the wine and as we all know, mint and lamb are a combination made in heaven.

Now I've used Grana Padano cheese for my Moussaka, but that is by no means set in stone.  I would have used Kefalotyri if I could have found any, or Parmesan if my son didn't hate the stuff.  To be honest, I dare say a good mature Cheddar would do the trick as you don't use very much.  So, I shall leave the cheese up to your own taste - but don't leave it out!  It is essential for getting that beautiful golden crust on the finished article.

Yes, this recipe takes time and yes, it makes a prodigious amount of washing up, however you can easily combat both of those points by making the dish up to the point of putting it in the oven and set it aside (even overnight, if needs be!) until required.  (I make mine in the morning, ready for eating that evening).  You just pre-heat the oven and in it goes.  As for the washing up, well hopefully you'll have had time to deal with that in the meantime, making clean up after dinner itself a relatively simple matter.

Choices of things to serve alongside your Moussaka include garlic bread, chips (a.k.a. fries) and of course, the ubiquitous side salad or even better a Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumber, olives, red onion and feta cheese sprinkled with dried oregano.  Delicious.

Oh and another plus point (as if you needed another one), is that it freezes really well.  So make an enormous dish and freeze half for another day.  Can't do better than that!

MOUSSAKA (serves 4)

Ingredients : 

2 large aubergines, sliced thinly
low calorie cooking spray
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
500g minced lamb
1 tsp ground cinnamon
half a tsp dried thyme
2 vine ripened tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp of lamb stock powder (or 1 lamb stock cube)
200ml red wine
1 tsp mint jelly
500ml carton of Lidl Italiamo Besciamella (or other equivalent)
2 egg yolks
1 tsp grated nutmeg
grated Grana Padano cheese for sprinkling.

Method :

Preheat the oven to 180degC/350degF/gas mark 4.

Line two large baking trays with silver foil and spray with cooking spray.  Place the aubergine slices onto the baking tray and spray liberally with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with sea salt & black pepper then bake for 20 minutes or until they feel cooked through when a knife is inserted. They should hopefully have some browned areas, which adds to the flavour.  Set aside to cool.

Heat the rapeseed oil in a large frying pan and add the onions & garlic. Cook gently for around 15 minutes, stirring often, until golden and soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the minced lamb to the pan and fry on the highest heat, stirring often, until browned and slightly caramelised. Remove some of the fat that will have accumulated (if necessary) and return the onions & garlic to the pan.

Reduce the heat to moderate and add the cinnamon, thyme, tomatoes and tomato puree.  Stir to combine and cook on for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the lamb stock powder or cube and the red wine.  Bring everything to the boil and cook briskly, stirring often, until the red wine is reduced by half. Season with the mint jelly, salt and pepper to taste.

Using a lasagne dish, layer the aubergine and mince, starting with mince.  You should have sufficient for three layers of mince and three of aubergine, finishing with an aubergine layer.

Tip the bechamel sauce into a bowl and stir in the egg yolks, nutmeg and some black pepper.  Pour the sauce evenly over the top of the aubergine & lamb mixture and level the top surface.  Sprinkle liberally with the grated Grana Padano cheese.

Now, at this stage, you can leave the Moussaka to one side until you are ready to bake it.  It will cope with being refrigerated until the next day, if you so wish.

Making sure the oven is pre-heated to 180degC/350degF/gas mark 4 and the Moussaka is at room temperature, bake the Moussaka for around 45-50 minutes, until the top surface is golden and the edges are bubbling.  Remove from the oven and allow to settle for some 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

Serve with chips (fries) or garlic bread and a side salad with olives and feta cheese.

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14 April 2018

Grilled Curry Chicken Skewers (well, they almost made it onto the skewers!)

Isn't it funny how I go for weeks not blogging a thing, then all of a sudden I have a mad rush of blood to the head and bingo, there's three blog posts in quick succession.  I have no idea why it happens, but it certainly seems to!

Now, these almost kebabs were so blinking tasty that they just had to be committed to blogdom straight away.  You won't have any idea the tussles I have had with yoghurt marinated chicken, but they have been almost on an epic scale of disappointment.  Hence, having had a taste of these little babies and realised that I'd reached nirvana, I just knew I had to write down the recipe and write it down fast - before it sank without a trace.

Now by rights, I should have laced these pieces of chicken onto kebab skewers and grilled them that way.  However, I discovered at the last minute that the majority of my little wooden skewers had left home, so they just went onto the baking tray and were grilled like that.  I don't think it harmed them any - in fact, I know it didn't.

Usually - and by "usually" I mean "in the past" - my attempts at yoghurt marinated chicken have been pallid at best and watery at worst.  However, in this new and exciting dawn, I am so excited to report that they were neither pallid, oh no, nor were they watery!  Well, they did exude a little water when being cooked, but that soon burned off.

They were deliciously spicy hot, with the warm curry spices singing along in harmony with the tang of lime juice and intense fruitiness of the tamarind.  The acidity of both yoghurt and lime juice had tenderised the chicken and the use of garlic granules meant there were no horrid lumps of half cooked garlic in the mix.  The slight charring on each piece brought out the best in the Tandoori spices and that spoonful of hot curry powder meant you were left in no doubt as to the worth of the sweet & fruity salad, along with the buttery rice.

I am seriously chuffed - maybe even "chuffed as nuts" as Dave Myers (he of Hairy Bikers fame) often says - with this recipe.  I might even need to cook it again, just to make sure it wasn't a fluke.  LOL  So if you give the recipe a whirl, do let me know how you get on with it!

Oh and incidentally - if you put your chicken onto the skewers, they'd be just brilliant cooked on a barbecue!


Ingredients :

4 dessert spoonfuls of full fat unflavoured Greek yoghurt
juice of half a lime
2 tsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp tamarind sauce
4 heaped tsp tandoori curry powder
1 heaped tsp hot curry powder
half a tsp of ground turmeric
1 tsp of dried garlic granules
a pinch of sea salt
pinch of ground black pepper
2 large skinless and boneless chicken breasts, sliced across the grain.

Method :

Firstly, in a large bowl, make up the marinade by stirring together all the ingredients except the chicken breast slices.

Add the chicken slices and stir gently, ensuring that the marinade reaches every piece.

Cover with cling wrap and set aside in the fridge for a minimum of 4-5 hours.

To cook, cover a baking tray with silver foil and spray with a little cooking spray.

Using tongs, remove each piece of chicken from the marinade (taking as much of the marinade with each piece as wants to come) and lay it in a blob on the baking tray, leaving a little space in between each piece.  Alternatively, lace each piece onto a bamboo skewer that has been previously soaked in water (to stop it going up in flames) - not too tightly - and lay the skewer on the baking tray.

Distribute any leftover marinade over the pieces that need a little more coverage.

Grill, under a hot grill (or a hot broiler, if you're American), until each piece has begun to char slightly.  You don't want to have a lot of charring, just a few spots on each piece's high points.  Turn the pieces and grill again.

Serve with buttery savoury rice and a fresh, fruity salad.

Printable version

13 April 2018

Fully Loaded Nachos - the turkey version!

I'm a bit of a novice at the Fully Loaded Nachos game, however I do love them!  This evening's version was so good, its recipe definitely requires blogging.  Well, I say "recipe" but in truth it's more of an assembly job than a recipe!

Along with the luscious goodies that are included in this turkey version, I also contemplated adding things like beans - red kidney or cannelini - sweet corn, fresh coriander, avocado and sliced red chilis.  All the kinds of things that you might find in a Mexican dish.  While I can see all of those things working, I'm glad I didn't add everything because it would have been far too much - so hark to my word of caution that Fully Loaded, whilst encouraging heaps of ingredients, can easily become too much to eat!  As it is, these nachos came in at around 725 calories per portion which required some jiggery pokery of the other meals, in order to fit it in without exceeding my daily calorie limit!

Anyway, the best thing about this meal is that you can include or exclude whatever you like.  So long as there are nacho chips and cheese, whatever else you add is entirely up to you.  My recommendation is that you use this recipe as help regarding how you make the dish, but free wheel about what you include.

Oh and it's worth knowing that these are like iron filings to a magnet for teenagers.  They just can't resist!  :D


Ingredients :

1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 small red onion, chopped finely
half a bell pepper (any colour), diced
250g turkey mince
a pinch of sea salt
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
sufficient barbecue sauce to coat
half a tsp of hot smoked paprika
150g or thereabouts, of nacho chips
100g of grated cheddar cheese
100g of grated Mexicana cheese
2 small tomatoes, sliced finely
sliced jalapeno peppers, to taste
100g approx of tomato salsa
150ml of sour cream
2 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
crispy fried onion bits (optional)
fresh lime wedges.

Method :

Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.

Heat the rapeseed oil in a frying pan and add the onion, bell pepper pieces, salt & black pepper.  Cook over a moderate heat until the onion is softened and the bell pepper has begun to soften.  Move the vegetables to one side, increase the heat to high and add the turkey mince.  Fry until the mince has changed colour by 90% and stir in the vegetables.  Continue to fry until all the liquid has gone and the mince mixture is beginning to caramelise.

Reduce the heat to moderate and add the barbecue sauce & smoked paprika.  Stir everything together and cook until you have a fairly dry mix, which should only take a few moments.

Remove from the heat and set aside.

Take two baking trays and cover each with a sheet of baking paper.

Arrange a handful of nacho chips in the centre of each sheet, in a relatively flat layer.  This is the "plate" upon which the dish will be built - so don't take it too broad or you'll use too many chips, or too high or you won't fit the end result in the oven!

Next, sprinkle on a quarter of the cheese onto each bed of chips.

Then, heap on a quarter of the mince mixture onto each bed of cheesy chips.

Arrange the tomato and jalapeno slices across the mince mixture.

Dollop on the salsa, dividing between the two batches of chips.

Take another handful of chips and heap them on top of everything, on both trays.

Add the remaining quarters of the mince mixture, balancing it on top of the piles.

Sprinkle everything liberally with the remaining cheese, again dividing it between the two trays.  You can even add more jalapenos at this stage, if you're keen!

Carefully place the two trays into the oven for 10-15 minutes.  Keep an eye on them at half time, as you don't want the chips to burn.

When the cheese is melted and the mince is sizzling, remove the trays from the oven and have some warmed plates waiting.

Taking the baking paper, make it into a chute and slide the nachos onto the warmed plate.  They should go in one fell swoop, so be brave!

Add dollops of sour cream, sprinkle with the sliced spring onion and crispy onions, if you're using them and add the two wedges of lime, for squeezing at the table.

Prepare to accept the grateful and adoring thanks of the masses.  

Printable version

12 April 2018

Mexican rice - another aide memoire!

I have found the recipe for Mexican rice to be so useful - we have it a lot as accompaniment to all different types of protein - that I thought it was about time I gave it the credit it deserves and blogged the recipe!

Here's some examples of where I've used it ....

with Quorn Southern Fried (which get baked) flavour nuggets ...

with sausage incorporated into it ...

with a Mexican style baked lime chicken and side salad ...

with fajitas ...

and even with a fried egg & avocado, for lunch!

As you can see, it's a great accompaniment to all kinds of Mexican inspired dishes.  I love it - and it can be taken up a few notches with the addition of beans, or mushrooms, or peppers, anything you like really!  I tend, these days, to add a red or yellow pepper as a matter of course, anything to increase the vegetable intake of the menfolk.  They love the spicy flavours and the Mexicana cheese that melts on top, so any additional veg tends to just get eaten along the way.

If you can't find Spanish rice, paella or short grain rice is an acceptable substitute.  Oh and interestingly (well you might not find it interesting, but I thought it was!) and while we're talking about rice, I discovered today the difference between Mexican and Spanish rice dishes.  For ages I've thought they were one and the same, however it seems that the Mexican is red (because of the tomato) and the Spanish is yellow (because of the saffron and no tomato).  So there, now you know.  You'll thank me one day when you're at a pub quiz and that question comes up.  LOL

MEXICAN RICE   (serves 4)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 red onion, chopped finely
1 bell pepper (any colour), diced
10g butter
150g Spanish or Paella style rice
1 tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp dried oregano
half a tsp ground cumin
half a tsp garlic granules
1 tsp chicken stock powder
half a tsp vegetable stock powder
freshly ground black pepper to taste
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
two thirds of the empty tomato tin of hot water
100g of Mexicana cheese, sliced finely
3 spring onions, sliced finely on the diagonal, as garnish.

Method :

In a deep saucepan or wok (non-stick is great), heat the rapeseed oil and add the onion and pepper.  Fry over a medium heat until the onion is soft and the pepper has begun to soften.

Add the butter and rice and continue to cook, so as to achieve a toasted effect on the majority of the rice.

Add the chilli powder, dried oregano, ground cumin, garlic granules, stock powder and black pepper and stir through.

Add the chopped tomatoes and a two thirds of a tomato tin of hot water and stir through.  Cover the pan and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, over a slightly reduced heat, until the rice is 99% cooked and the liquid has reduced and thickened.  You may find you need to add a little more water before the rice is finally ready for the next stage.

Turn the heat off and lay the Mexicana cheese on the surface of the rice.  Sprinkle the spring onion over the top and replace the lid.  Some 10 minutes later, once the cheese has had time to melt, serve.

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11 April 2018

Pork, apple & mustard sausage rolls - an aide memoire!

I was so sure there was one, I just came to find the link for my pork, apple & mustard sausage rolls - and was absolutely astounded to find that I haven't blogged them!

Yes, I have several sausage roll recipes on the blog here but none of them are with my family's favourite pastry - a mix of flour, vegetable suet and butter.  This pastry is hugely calorific but so delicious with savoury recipes.  It's also not as much of a mouthful as puff pastry can be and not as claggy in the mouth as a light shortcrust can be, all of which is a very good thing.  Once baked, it also has a strength to it - particularly when judiciously coated in an egg yolk wash - which can be really useful when out on picnics or just plain old eating in the car.  Nobody wants a collapsible sausage roll in those circumstances.

As such, here now follows an aide memoire of this sausage roll recipe, including the correct quantities for the pastry - which will save me from having to work it all out for the umpteenth time!


Ingredients :

For the pastry

225g plain flour
75g vegetable suet
75g salted butter
a pinch of sea salt
a good pinch of black pepper
60-80g of carbonated mineral water.

For the filling 

6 quality pork sausages, skins removed
half a Braeburn apple, peeled, cored and finely diced
6 tsp wholegrain mustard (or thereabouts)
an egg yolk, for glazing.

Method :

At least an hour before you require it, make your pastry.  Add the flour, suet, butter, sea salt & black pepper to a large bowl and rubbing between your fingers, rub the butter into the mix.  You should wind up with a mixture somewhere between cornflakes and breadcrumbs.

Stir in approximately half the water, adding a little more and a little more, until the mix is damp enough to come together when pressed.  Erring a little on the dry side is infinitely better than having it too wet, so add cautiously!

Lay out a large piece of cling wrap and dump the pastry into the middle.  By patting and pushing, make a rough log shape and close the cling film over it, tightening up either end to compress it.  Place the pastry into the fridge for a minimum of 30 mins before using.

When ready to make the sausage rolls, set your oven to pre-heat to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.  Take the pastry from the fridge and cut into two halves and set aside.

Skin the sausages, disposing of the skins, and set the sausage meat aside still in its sausage shape.

Peel and core the apple and chop one half into fine dice.  Eat the other half.  Well, someone has to!

Roll out one half of the pastry on a floured board, to make a rectangle long enough to take three sausages, laid end to end, and with enough pastry on either side so that you can roll them up and have the sides meet.

Spread half the mustard onto the middle of the pastry, creating a "bed" for the sausages to lay on.  Add half the apple pieces to the mustard and lay the sausages on top, pressing down lightly onto the apple.

Brush a little water onto the side of pastry that is furthest away from you.  Lay the dry side of the pastry over the sausage mix and continue to roll onto the dampened side.  You may need to trim any excess pastry, rather than have too thick a layer around the sausage mix.

With a sharp, wet, knife cut the roll into three (or smaller, if you want picnic versions).  Lay each sausage roll onto a baking tray, join side down, and repeat the whole process with the second half of pastry, remaining mustard, apple and last three sausages.

Brush each sausage roll liberally with the egg yolk and pierce the top with a fork or make a knife cut, to let the steam out as the sausage cooks.

Place into the oven for 35-40 minutes, after which you should place the sausage rolls onto a wire rack to cool.  Beat off all comers until ready to serve.

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