28 May 2011

"Health in a bowl" : I bow to thee, Anthony Worrall-Thompson

I think the "Health in a Bowl" is about the only meal to have stayed where it was planned, this week!

If I was to tell you that I was more than a little nervous about delivering this dish to Hubby and Son & Heir, it would be understating the case by a factor of thousands.

For starters, Hubby isn't a great fan of broth-type soups.  Neither is he a fan of dishes which contain a large amount of vegetable matter - unless it's a vegetable curry.  Son & heir, well he's a verging-on-teenager, so putting anything before him other than a pizza, fried breakfast or meatballs, is verging on culinary suicide.

However, I am a fan of vegetable matter and I am a fan of broth-type soups.  I am also a fan of trying to improve our diet.  So, in the face of these monumental odds, I sallied on forth with Anthony Worrall-Thompson's "Health in a Bowl".

If you look at the ingredients list, you'll understand my nerves.  It begins well, with some thick cut ham and chicken stock.  However, the challenge begins there - pearl barley, Puy lentils, onion, carrot, parsnip. swede, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, new potatoes, savoy cabbage, leek and red kidney beans.  Yep.  In the one bowl.

You can't begin to imagine (or maybe you can! lol) how odd it felt to be just loading up the saucepan with ingredients at 15-minute intervals.  Nothing was fried beforehand, nothing had to be oven-baked beforehand.  Just boil up some stock and start adding stuff.  Weird.

I tasted the stock after I'd added the ham (or gammon, in this case) and was pleasantly surprised.

In went the pearl barley and the lentils.  Apart from the lentils turning the stock an interesting colour (*cough* - try "dirty dishwater"), everything was fine.

I'll admit to having a serious wobble about the success of this venture after I added the onion, carrots, parsnip, swede, thyme, bay leaf, parsley and a whole heap of black pepper though.  The smell of the raw onions heating up on the stock was a bit stomach-churning.  However, I'd chosen to use a red onion as I felt their innate sweetness would be helpful as opposed to the relative coarseness of a standard brown onion and the smell soon turned from "oooer, gak!" to "interesting!".  I tasted the stock again just before the 15 minutes were up and boy, but it was good.

From there, the addition of the other vegetables just added to the flavour of the stock, which became sweeter and gained depth as it cooked along.

I served the stew (as that is really what it is) with a loaf of pumpkin seed & carrot bread, which was absolutely gorgeous and complemented the mix of the stew beautifully.

As for reactions, well, Hubby said it was "alright, but he wouldn't race to have it again" and "after the first few spoonfuls I was looking at it thinking OMG, I've got all that to go yet".  He found the flavours dull and boring.  Surprisingly, he was relatively okay about the broth part.

Son & heir said he definitely wouldn't have it again, but I noted that he ate his entire bowlful without once asking whether he could stop.  This is a very definite measure of whether he can tolerate whatever he's got in front of him.  For sure, the yummy bread helped, but as he ate all that first and was left with his bowl of stew, I am left thinking that he didn't dislike it as much as he wanted me to know.

As for me, I adored it.  If it wasn't so blinking filling, I'd have been back at the stovetop heating up the remainder!  I loved that you could taste every single ingredient as an individual entity, as well as they're fitting so well with each other.  I loved that the only fat that we ate was what was still attached to the ham (and I trimmed it to within an inch of its life), the spread that went onto the bread and whatever was used in the bread when it was baked.  I loved that something so healthy was eaten by everyone - it kind of makes up for the fish & chips!

I can imagine that, made with a smoked ham hock, this recipe would be unbeatable - provided you really enjoy your vegetables!

"HEALTH IN A BOWL" (or Ham & Vegetable Stew)  Serves 4
based on a recipe from Anthony Worrall-Thompson.

Ingredients :

450g thick cut ham or gammon, chopped
1.2 litres chicken stock
2 tbsp pearl barley
2 tbsp Puy lentils
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots (or a handful of baby carrots), peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
a quarter of a swede, peeled and diced
1 sprig or half a tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 sprig parsley, chopped
1 tsp ground black pepper
200g new potatoes, quartered
a quarter of a small Savoy cabbage, shredded
200g tin red kidney beans, rinsed & drained.

Method :

1.  Make sure the ham or gammon is trimmed of all fat, then place in a big saucepan and cover with the stock.  Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that has risen to the surface.

2.  Add the pearl barley and lentils and bring back up to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

3.  Add the onion, carrots, parsnip, swede, thyme, bay leaf, parsley and pepper.  Stir to combine, then bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for a further 15 minutes.

4.  Add the potatoes and leek and bring back to the boil.  Simmer until the potatoes are just tender, which should happen inside of 15 minutes.

5.  Add the shredded cabbage and the red kidney beans and bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a further 3 minutes or until the cabbage is tender.

6.  Decant into warmed bowls and serve with a tasty bread, for dipping.


Indonesian fried rice with Mackerel

Well, our week's menu planning went right out of the window as of Wednesday evening.  I had bought ten chicken breasts so that I'd be all ready for two of the dishes booked onto the menu and could put one set of three and a single one into the freezer for next week.

However, hubby needed collecting from town with his newly acquired stereo - it was way too big to juggle all the way home on the bus - which broke into the time I would have been cooking the Paprika Chicken, before putting it in the oven.  So, we had sandwiches and some hastily purchased cake, instead.  A kind of high tea.

The stereo has proven to be a little gem, by the way - and a complete bargain.

Thursday evening, after a hugely busy day at work when I dealt with all the invoices for May (received so far, anyway) in the one day - never done that before! - I was absolutely wiped out when I came home and very definitely not in any fit state to make dinner.  I'll have to remember that when I'm pushing myself to get all the invoices done, in future!  ~slaps own forehead~

So, Thursday became a fish & chips day - and my menu planning was thrown into complete disarray.

However, bearing in mind that when Asda delivered the shopping on Tuesday, they forgot to deliver all of Friday's ingredients (and the pie for Monday!), I moved the Indonesian Fried Rice with Mackerel to Friday and bumped the Chicken Jalfrezi and Paprika Chicken to next week.

When Son & heir realised that it was Smoked Mackerel that we were going to have with the rice, he wasn't impressed.  So, because I'm a kind and thoughtful Mum, I defrosted the one lone chicken breast for him.  ~takes a curtsey~

I marinated it in a little sesame oil, some oyster sauce, soy sauce and honey, then put it in the oven at 200deg for 20-25 minutes.  He ate the lot and declared it yummy, so that was that job done.

This is very definitely one of those dishes that requires you to commit to a mise en place (or getting everything chopped and prepared before you start cooking).  I'd have totally lost the relatively small plot, had I have been trying to chop stuff as I went along.  Once you've got everything chopped and ready, then it's just an easy matter of picking it up, throwing it in and mixing as it cooks.  Of course, it makes a bit more washing up - which dear Hubby did for me.  Bless him!

As ever, I added a few ingredients and did away with one ingredient from the original recipe.  It just made it nicer from our point of view - plus it used up a few leftover veggies, which these fried rice dishes are so good at!

The ingredient I did away with, was some sliced and halved cucumbers which were used as garnish.  In truth, I forgot to slice them and in actuality I'm sure they would have been nice, so I've left them in the recipe as detailed below.  It's up to you whether you would like to include them, if you have a go at this.

I've also just eaten the leftovers for lunch, the day after.  I can confirm that it is even nicer the next day - so if you've got time on your hands and space in the fridge, it is probably worth doing it that way!

From BBC Good Food website.

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
pinch of caster sugar
800g cooked basmati rice
bunch spring onions, sliced
4-5 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
140g frozen peas
2 tbsp soy sauce (approx - you may need a little more)
4 smoked mackerel fillets, bones removed and flaked into chunks
half a cucumber, sliced into half moon shapes.

Method :

1.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok.  Tip in the eggs (I used each egg individually) and swirl to coat the base of the pan.  Cook for 1 minute, then flip and cook the other side until set.  Remove and roughly chop into ribbons, then place to keep warm.

2.  Add the mackerel to the warm place (under the grill, is good) to gently take on some heat.

3.  Add the curry paste to the pan with the sugar and fry for 1 minute.  Add the onions and mushrooms and stir to coat in the paste.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, before adding the cooked rice and folding gently to mix everything in and heat everything through well.

4.  Add the soy sauce, the omelette ribbons and mackerel.  Fold them through, gently.

5.  Serve, adding the cucumber sprinkled over the top.

Bacon & Goat's Cheese Pasta

This is one of my favourite lighter pasta dishes, at the moment.

It has the benefit of the lovely gently flavoured mild goat's cheese (I use the £1.50 soft goat's cheese log from Asda, which I believe originates in France) which melts beautifully and doesn't soak into the pasta, resulting in a claggy, sticky mess as the pasta cools.  Because the goat's cheese has a sharpness, it doesn't cling to your palate and each mouthful goes down as well as the first one did.

I hate pasta in thick cream sauces (particularly cream cheese-based ones) which begin to set as the pasta cools on your plate, resulting in a clagged up lump of pasta pieces that need to be cut with your fork.  Bleaugh.

The recipe originally stated to use Kale, and although I love Kale, hubby has some issues with its leatheriness.  As such, I swapped onto Savoy cabbage - which if you make sure to give it just 3 minutes in the pasta water, is perfectly fine.

So, it's just a brief chopping job, then a two-pan cooking job - and onto your plate.

Couldn't be easier!  Which is why I booked it in for a Monday - after a day at work, I need a meal that's going to come together easily.

Don't be frightened of the goat's cheese - if you get a mild flavoured creamy one, you'll hardly notice the goatiness of it.  It really is streets ahead of plain ordinary cream cheese.


Ingredients :

400g penne or fusilli pasta
200g shredded Savoy cabbage
150g streaky bacon, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
150g soft mild goat's cheese
grated parmesan to serve.

Method :

1.  Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil.

2.  Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions, however, 3 minutes before the pasta is due to be cooked, add the cabbage to the pasta water.

3.  In the meantime, dry-fry the bacon pieces in a frying pan until starting to brown, then drain the fat off (into a cup for roast potatoes!).  Remove the bacon to keep warm.

4.  Put the onion into the frying pan with 2 tsp of the bacon fat and fry lightly until softened and transparent.  Return the bacon to the pan.

5.  Add the goat's cheese to the bacon/onion mixture and heat slowly, adding a little milk, to help break the cheese down and make it saucy.  Add seasoning (salt & black pepper) to taste.

6.  Once the pasta & cabbage are done, drain (retaining a little of the cooking water) and replace in the cooking pan.  Add the bacon mixture and lightly fold it through, adding a little of the cooking water if the sauce appears too thick.

Once you're happy with the consistency, serve with a bowl of grated parmesan for sprinkling over.


25 May 2011

The menu plan for 24 - 30 May 2011

Coming along! Our Gooseberry bush.
It suddenly occurred to me to include the date in the title to these menu plan posts.  At least, that way, if I ever want to analyse how I'm doing on the "cooking seasonally" front then I've got half of the information!

I'd been looking at recipes in the low fat and "healthy" range, but it occurred to me that "low GI" is another category of healthy meal that it would be worth investigating.  Not least because of hubby's mild diabetes.  If we can keep it at the "mild" stage, then that'd be fantastic.

The weather doesn't seem to be able to make up it's mind whether we're in summer or still in spring, at the moment.  However, with summer in its infancy, it's a foregone conclusion that we're heading into a time of salads and a lighter style of eating.  Personally, I'd love to eat the Mediterranean way - lots of fish, lamb, lovely vegetables and bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Gorgeous!  However, it's not that easy to do when you're having to balance your meals around everyone's likes and dislikes.

Jonty sunbathing on a warm day

Still, I figure that if I try everything in lots of different orders, eventually I'll hit on a repertoire of styles that suit everyone!

So, this week's menu looks like :

Tuesday : Pasta with Bacon, Goat's Cheese & Savoy Cabbage
Wednesday : Paprika chicken with Jacket Potatoes
Thursday : Indonesian fried rice with smoked Mackerel
Friday : Chicken Jalfrezi with rice
Saturday : Health in a Bowl with Ciabatta
Sunday : Dinner with my parents
Monday : Pie, new potatoes and vegetables.

Beginning with Tuesday, this Pasta dish really is the epitome of simple.  Just fry off the bacon, drain all but a teaspoon of the bacon fat (into the fat cup again) and cook the red onion.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta to which you add shredded cabbage in the last couple of minutes.  Melt a creamy goat's cheese in with the bacon & onions, let it down with a little of the pasta water and combine.  Add loads of parmesan to the plate and tuck in.  Does it get any more simple than that?  I don't think so!

Wednesday was originally meant to be the Paprika Chicken, however as I write this it is Wednesday evening and the chicken dish got bumped owing to the fact that I was needed to drive into town and collect hubby and his new stereo (brilliant bargain!) at exactly the time I would normally have been cooking.  ~gallic shrug~  What can you do, eh?  Couldn't leave the poor chap to juggle it all the way home on the bus!

In the end, we had a sort of mini high tea.  Ham sandwiches and a swiftly purchased box of cakes.  Son & heir definitely approved - that's his sort of dinner!

So tomorrow, Thursday, is the Indonesian fried rice with smoked mackerel.  It is another really simple dish to prepare - I'm pretty sure that the longest thing involved in it is picking the bones out of the middle of the mackerel!  This is one of the low GI meals, so it will be interesting to see how well received it is and whether it manages to keep us full for long.

Friday was to have been another low GI dish - Chicken Jalfrezi.  However, as Asda forgot to send me all the ingredients for it, I'm tempted to make this one into the bumped Paprika chicken - as I've got all the ingredients just waiting to go for that!  It'd save us having to shop for the Jalfrezi until next week, anyway.

Saturday brings about the return of Health in a Bowl.  Unfortunately it got bumped from last week for a very similar reason to the Paprika chicken.  I was supposed to be driving to collect a telescope for Son & heir's use, but unfortunately the chap decided not to sell in the end and we didn't go.  Shame really, because I had intentions of taking a quick spin around the New Forest to see some foals, plus Son & heir would have had fun looking at the stars - and I'd have been able to make the Health in a Bowl.  Hubby thinks I'm stark raving mad to even consider this dish, as he reckons it will contain everything that Son & heir dislikes in a meal.  For me, I reckon that if you combine ingredients in the right way, then you've every chance of a recipe turning out to be delicious.

Now I've seen Anthony Worrall-Thompson making his Health in a Bowl on t.v. and it intrigued me then.  It looked absolutely bursting with flavour and so very good for you, that as a Mum trying to feed her brood (and "brood" includes hubby) healthily, it is just too much of a temptation.  Of course, there's every possibility that the way in which the ingredients are combined for this dish, isn't the way that either hubby or son & heir enjoy having said ingredients presented - but as I said at the beginning, I'll try anything once!

Sunday is easy for me, as we've been invited over to my parents' for the day.  Hey, as they live in the New Forest, I might get that spin around, looking for foals after all!  I'll just lay in some nice sandwich fillings for when we come home.

Monday, even though it is a Bank Holiday, is a work day for me but hubby will be at home for Son & heir, who is on holiday that week.  Hence a nice easy pie with vegetables (as yet undecided) and new potatoes.  Fingers crossed we can get hold of some Jersey Royals still with their dirt on - as they seem to be the ones with the best flavour!  I know the season for Jerseys is almost over, but knowing how the supermarkets delay seasons, I'll keep my fingers crossed.

So there you have it.  Even before I've managed to blog the week's meal plan, it's gone awry - but I'll keep on trying to make the best of what I've got before me!


Pepperpot Beef & Orange Stew

We had this for dinner on Sunday last.  As you'll know if you've been reading along for a while, I got bored with doing the same old roasts on a Sunday and went looking for more interesting recipes to try.

However, I think I'm going to have to ban myself from buying Brisket of beef for a while, as that seems to wind up being the meat of choice for a Sunday - and that's getting just as boring as doing the same old roast chicken!  In fact, I found myself hankering for a lovely pot-roast chicken, but that may also have something to do with the fact that my reservoir of chicken stock is running low!

Anyway, the reasons I chose to do this Pepperpot Beef & Orange Stew are as follows.  For starters, it's beef and oranges.  Now you don't often find those two in the same cooking dish.  Secondly, it involved mashed red kidney beans being used as a method of thickening the gravy.  An interesting idea and one which I was keen to try out.  Lastly, it had Caribbean overtones and I'm very interested in Caribbean cooking, as I really like the combination of meat and fruit which they are very good at.

So that all amounted to an interested "I'll give that a try!".

As a first go, it didn't turn out too badly.  I made one or two mistakes which I would remedy the second time around - and which have been incorporated into the recipe below.  For example, I used the aforesaid Brisket of beef rather than the braising steak that was originally suggested.  Do you blame me? There's a whole heap of difference in the price of the two!  However, that meant that the dish would require a minimum of 2 hours cooking and a maximum of 3 hours.  Regrettably, it never occurred to me that in that time the red and yellow peppers would have been cooked away to nothing more than an ingredient in the gravy/sauce, which was a shame.  It would have been nice to have had them more prominently in the dish.  As such, I have suggested adding them a lot later into the cooking process.

I was also a little leery of putting too much chilli in - and as it happened, I would have been absolutely fine to have included the seeds, rather than binning them.  I did test the chilli on my tongue (for heat), but couldn't have paid much attention to the result, as a) I don't remember it and b) if I had have done, I'd have included the seeds!

What you wind up with, is a casserole dish full of lovely tender beef in a thick pinky-brown gravy (that's the red kidney beans) that is multi-faceted in flavour and well worth the effort of making it.


Ingredients :

700g brisket of beef, trimmed and cut into small cubes
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
25g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 small red chilli, de-seeded (if it's a hot one!) and chopped
400ml beef stock
410g can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 small orange, cut into six wedges
1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and chopped
2 tbsp roughly chopped coriander leaves.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180deg C/Gas 4.

2.  Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a non-stick frying pan and add half the meat, browning all over.  Decant into a warmed casserole dish.

3.  Repeat the process with the second batch of meat, but when browned, sprinkle with the flour and add the tomato puree.  Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes without burning.  Decant the lot into the casserole dish.

4.  Give the frying pan a wipe out, then add the remainder of the oil and the onion,  ginger and chilli.  Cook gently until softened and golden brown - around 10 minutes.

5.  Take one half of the red kidney beans and mash them with a potato masher, then add them to the casserole dish, along with the whole beans.

6.  Add the stock and tip into the casserole dish, add the orange and stir to ensure everything is amalgamated.

7.  Cover the casserole dish and place into the oven for 1 hour.

8.  In the meantime, add the peppers to the frying pan and fry them lightly until just beginning to soften.

9.  At the end of the first hour, remove the casserole dish from the oven and give the contents a good stir.  Add the peppers and stir again.  Season, cover and replace into the oven for another hour and a half.

10.  Remove from the oven and test the beef.  If not tender enough, return to the oven for another half an hour.  You may need to add a little water at this stage, if the gravy/sauce has reduced too much.

11.  Once the beef is tender, remove and serve with rice and green peas with a blob of sour cream on the side.


24 May 2011

Easy peasy dessert : Spiced Rhubarb Crisp

Ruby : overflowing her planter somewhat!
I had been pondering over what to do with the rhubarb when hubby decided to crop Ruby, our Timperley.

One bagful has definitely got to go to my parents, as we forgot to give them the last one!

Other than that, I needed to think of something yummy - and something out of the ordinary (for me!) that would showcase the rhubarb in all its glory.

It was too soon to do the Pork & Rhubarb dish, and I wasn't feeling like anything savoury with it anyway.  So a sweet dessert was what was on the cards.

Hence when this last weekend, hubby decided to strip poor Ruby down to all but four leaves (although she has got a whole heap of baby leaves coming along!), I was halfway there with a recipe.

I had seen photographs of a dessert dish that a friend of mine over in the States had done, called Apple Crisp.  I couldn't remember the details of how to make it, but that was what provided the inspiration for this.

I'm afraid I have no idea how much rhubarb went into it - "three long sticks and three short sticks" doesn't really describe it terribly accurately for you.  However, the important thing with the rhubarb is that it is laid in one flat layer in the bottom of whatever dish you're using - which is why I used a Lasagne dish.  The object of the exercise is that the rhubarb doesn't dissolve into mush, nor does it produce so much juice that the breadcrumb topping dissolves.  Put in one layer like this, the juice can (pretty much) evaporate before it soaks the breadcrumbs.  Equally so, it is important not to put too many breadcrumbs on top.  You don't want to be ferreting around under breadcrumbs, looking for your rhubarb!

Another point worth mentioning is that the breadcrumb topping is the focus of where the sweetness is.  As such, you don't want to over-sugar the rhubarb.  Let is retain a lot of its tartness so that the change in texture from soft, tart rhubarb to crisp, sweet breadcrumbs is really apparent.

This is definitely a dessert dish to be eaten hot, straight from the oven.  Allow it to cool and you allow the breadcrumbs to soften as they absorb the juice from the rhubarb.  Also, it's very good with double cream!  So naughty - but so nice!


Ingredients :

Enough rhubarb to cover the bottom of a Lasagne dish in one layer of pieces chopped to around 1cm.
2 tbsp & 4 tbsp granulated sugar
Two dry crusty bread rolls, grated to breadcrumbs (food processor does this in a second)
20g soft butter (room temperature)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180deg C.

2.  Lay the rhubarb into the bottom of the Lasagne dish, making sure it is all flat.  Sprinkle the 2 tbsp sugar over.

3.  Put your breadcrumbs into a bowl and add the spices and remaining sugar.  Mix them in with your fingers, then add the butter and rub that in like you would for crumble.

4.  Once everything is combined, tip the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the rhubarb in an even layer.  Do not press it down, it wants to remain lightly laying on top.

5.  Bake in the oven for some 25-30 mins or until the top is browning and the rhubarb juice is just beginning to become evident.

6.  Serve straight from the oven.


Weekend baking with your son : Spiced Apple Muffins

One jolly little muffin, with serried ranks of muffin-ness behind
Hubby and I had been discussing the issue of Son & heir's breaktimes when at school.  Or, more specifically, what he is eating at said breaktimes.

I had found myself falling into a trap of simply getting a cereal biscuit bar from the cupboard and sending him off with that.  Now, okay, the cereal biscuit bars I had chosen weren't the worst in the world, being low in fat and sugar, but then they weren't great either.

So I resolved that as, for the next few years, I shall be responsible for what goes into him at times such as this, I'd better get my act together and provide something "healthy", or watch him disappear into obesity - which is a family trait.

I think the slide into grabbing something from the cupboard is a symptom of my gradual slide towards ill health, as it is infinitely easier to spend the few seconds doing so than fixing up a healthy snack which inevitably takes longer and costs more to me in energy etc.  However, I can't help but think that it costing me in energy etc., is probably a good thing as opposed to a bad thing - even though it may hurt like hell in the long run.

Now I won't claim to have hit upon the answer, but this is a topic upon which I shall be returning to for regular performance reviews.  (Oooh, that takes me back to working for the Civil Service and their regular performance reviews.  ~shudder~).

The programme I'm working to at the moment, is fairly easy.  Well, it has to be really.  In the same way as I meal plan for each week, I shall snack plan too.

So, here's how this week is shaping up :

Monday : Spiced Apple Muffin
Tuesday : Peach
Wednesday : small pack of plain savoury biscuits
Thursday : Spiced Apple Muffin
Friday : Apple

On the occasions when I haven't been able to bake, I'll break out the cereal biscuits.  However, I'm aiming to change the plan to include three items of fruit in a week - but I've got to go slowly, or there'll be complaints!
The plain savoury biscuits are one section from a Party Snack Pack.  Each section is easily cut away from the rest and as the biscuits are baked, not fried, and don't contain cheese, I figure they're not too terrible at 114 calories a section.  The crackers are mainly a selection of wheat, sesame and poppy seed crackers and at £1 for a pack of eight sections, it's pretty darned economical, too!

So, from reading along, I'd say you've probably guessed what this recipe is all about - the Spiced Apple Muffins.  They've got to be healthier than the cereal bars, and even if they're not, at least I know exactly what went into them!

Don't worry if you don't have a set of American style measuring cups - just use a teacup! So long as you use the same cup throughout, you'll be fine.  Try to resist sprinkling more sugar on their tops - it's nice, but it's just more sugar.

We made these together, in that I cut up the apples and son & heir did everything else - including licking the bowl clean.  Well, it just has to be done when you're 12, doesn't it!
SPICED APPLE MUFFINS (makes around 12)

Ingredients :

2 cups grated apple (did mine in a food processor : 1 bramley, 1 cox, 1 gala!)
2 cups plain flour
half a cup of sugar
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch salt
half a cup of raisins
half a cup of dessicated coconut
half a cup of vegetable oil
quarter of a cup of olive oil
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
3 eggs.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat oven to 180deg C.

2.  In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together.

3.  In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs and oil together.

4.  Add the oil mixture and grated apple to the dry ingredients and stir until it has all combined.  Don't over-stir.

5.  Spoon into muffin cases and bake for approx 20-25 mins or until a skewer comes out clean.

21 May 2011

Broccoli chicken - far, far nicer than it's name implies

Last night's dinner was very nearly a complicated messup.  This was largely due to my appalling memory skills, in that we ate the greater part of a head of broccoli that was meant to be for that night's dinner, the night before with the Cottage Pie.

I had completely forgotten that I'd scheduled peas & carrots with the Cottage Pie.

So, yesterday morning dawned and as I was considering what needed to be got out of the freezer in preparation, I realised that we'd eaten most of the broccoli.  Hubby wasn't terribly pleased by this news, as we'd had broccoli twice that week and he was then looking at yet another dose of broccoli.  This is not a good thing, apparently.  Then Son & heir chimed in and declared that he didn't like the sound of the Broccoli Chicken anyway and why couldn't we have something else?


So, while I was still gritting my teeth and trying not to snap, Hubby came up with a compromise that was (puts tongue firmly in cheek) painful for me, but would save the day the cheapest way possible.  His suggestion was that Son & heir had (~sob~) the leftover Cottage Pie (~sob~) that I was angling to have for lunch, instead of the Broccoli Chicken and we got some Green Beans for him to have and to bolster the little bit of broccoli we had left.  Having mopped my tears (I absolutely LOVE leftover Cottage Pie cold the next day) and made Hubby swear to buy some mushrooms to go with the chicken too, that problem was solved.

Another problem turned out to be that all of my shallots had gone manky.  Thankfully, I had half a bunch of Spring Onions, which made a lovely stand-in.

This is why the Ken Hom Broccoli Chicken turned into Jenny Eatwell's Chestnut Mushroom, Green Bean and Broccoli Chicken - based on a Ken Hom recipe.  LOL

I'll tell you what, though, it was jolly lovely - and far more interesting than just broccoli would have been.

However, the best and most useful part of cooking this dish was not matching the vegetables, but learning - quite by accident - how to "velvet" chicken.  This is the process by which your local Chinese takeaway manages to keep chicken so soft and moist - and is well worth learning.  I'd seen Ken "velvet" chicken on the Good Food Channel's "Perfect" t.v. show and had tucked the information behind my ear to examine at a later date.  However, completely unnoticed by me when I gave the recipe its first read-through, the first bit of real cooking involved in this dish is to do just that - velvet the chicken.  It's basically to marinate the strips of chicken in whatever flavours you want, so long as it includes cornflour and sesame oil, for around 20 minutes.  Goodness, but it made all the difference!  I'll definitely velvet chicken again when I'm doing a chinese style dish - it only takes a second and is very worthwhile.

I paired the chicken dish with Jasmine rice which was very acceptable, although it has to be said that a good special fried rice would have been better - and even better than that, from the chicken's point of view, would be to include some water chestnuts with it.  Because of that, I've added them as an ingredient in my recipe.

12 April 2013 : I've just made this again (see photograph on the left there) and this time, as I didn't have any green beans I added two small sweet red peppers and left the water chestnuts out (again).  I didn't have any basil in either, so just left it out.

I also used my favorite stock - Essential Cuisine's fantastic chicken stock and the lovely vegetable stock in which I cooked the rice.  This time, I paired the chicken up with lemon rice - which son & heir absolutely loved.  He ate the lot, chestnut mushrooms, broccoli, everything.  You see?  What a couple of months (or so) will do for a boy.


Ingredients : 

2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 skinless & boneless chicken breasts, sliced thinly into strips
half a bunch of spring onions, trimmed and sliced along the diagonal
1 clove of garlic, grated
half a tsp finely ground black pepper
1 tbsp Mirrin, rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp Oyster sauce
100g small broccoli florets (cut them smaller, if they are large and also include the stalks, cut on the diagonal)
100g green beans, chopped into 4
4 chestnut mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
a small tin of water chestnuts, sliced
150ml chicken stock
handful of basil leaves.

For the marinade :
2 tsp low salt soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornflour. 

Method : 

1.  In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the marinade ingredients and leave to marinade at room temperature for 20 minutes or as long as it takes to prepare the vegetables.

2.  Heat the wok over a high heat, then add one tbsp of the sunflower oil and the chicken.  Stir-fry for 5 minutes or so until the chicken is golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to keep warm.

3.  Reheat the wok and add the other tbsp of oil.  Stir fry the spring onions and garlic for 2 minutes until softened.

4.  Add the pepper, mirrin (or whatever you are using) and oyster sauce and stir-fry for a minute or so.

5.  Now add the vegetables and the chicken stock.  Bring to the boil, cover and cook for around 5 minutes.

6.  Return the chicken to the wok and cook for a minute or so until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.  Finally, add the fresh basil leaves and serve immediately.

Printable version

20 May 2011

Bonus dish : Mouttabal or Baba Ghanoush - you tell me!

If you've read about the Char-grilled Vegetable Couscous I made earlier this week, you will know that the Aubergine I was sent in this week's supermarket order, was E-NOR-MOUS.  It only required half (and the smaller "half", at that) for the couscous, which left me with a huge great lump with no home to go to.

I was mentally half prepared for this eventuality, however, as I had already flagged up (just in my mind - although how I can remember these things, when I can't remember names or words I've known for donkey's years, is beyond me) the roasted aubergine dip (whose name is a matter of contention, as you'll see) for occasions such as this.

So, I char-grilled the remainder of the aubergine at the same time as doing the vegetables for the couscous, and put it in the fridge to await a proper recipe.

It seems as though finding a "proper" recipe for Baba Ghanoush is about as easy as finding a "proper" recipe for Cottage Pie.  Everybody agrees on three ingredients, which are aubergine, olive oil and lemon juice.  After that, it seems like it's open season on ingredients, which is all very confusing.  However, having read what felt like a whole bookload of recipes, I settled on one which seemed to show the most promise where flavour is concerned, without being terribly complicated.

However, having read Oliver Thring's treatise on the humble aubergine this morning, I am now wondering whether I made Baba Ghanoush, or its very similar cousin, Mouttabal!  It would seem as though the only difference between the two is down to the addition (or not) of Tahini paste.  Well, my recipe definitely included Tahini paste, from which I detect that I may very well have made Mouttabal.

Either way, it's really rather delicious.  I won't claim to have made the best ever and I am sure that if I made it again, I'd change the quantities to those set out below, which I am convinced would result in a more balanced flavour - but it's definitely a "do again".

BABA GHANOUSH or MOUTTABAL (Smoked aubergine dip)

Ingredients :

1 aubergine, sliced and char-grilled, then removed from its skin.
half a garlic clove, grated (add more, if you like more garlic)

2 tsp Tahini paste
extra virgin olive oil, as necessary
sea salt
lemon juice to taste.

Method :

1.  Take the aubergine flesh and pop it into a food processor capable of reducing it to a paste.

2.  Add the garlic, Tahini paste and as much olive oil as is necessary.  Blitz to a paste - you might want to add some more oil if it isn't loose enough, but remember you are adding lemon juice next, so don't overdo the oil at this stage.

3.  Add a pinch of sea salt and the juice of half a lemon and blitz again.

4.  Taste and add more salt, oil or lemon juice, if necessary.

5.  The end result should be a light, mousse-like consistency that can be used as a dip or spread onto flatbreads.


19 May 2011

Cottage Pie - surely it's everyone's favourite?

I know it is one of my favourites!  In fact, Cottage Pie and Shepherd's Pie have taken on legendary status in this household, as they have been proven to be of medicinal benefit when taken in extremis.

Many times when I have been really quite poorly, a good dollop or two of a Shepherd's Pie has restored me back to health.  On occasion, it has made the difference between living and dying (or so it seems).

There are as many recipes for Cottage Pie as there are pebbles on the beach.  Everybody either has one, or knows someone who has one.  For me, apart from the minced beef and the mashed potato, there are two essential ingredients - baked beans and Worcestershire Sauce.  I also like my Cottage Pie to be a fairly dry mix to which we add gravy if necessary.  This goes down well with Son & heir, as he's not overly keen on gravy.  It sullies the perfection of each separate constituent on his plate, you see.

I have many lovely memories involving Cottage and Shepherd's pie, but one which I must recount to you - because I'm sure you'll find it amusing (fingers crossed) is from some 15 or so years ago when I still had my horses.

In the stable yard where I kept them, my best friend at the time was a lady called Marilyn.  We kept our horses in adjacent stables and would coincide as often as we could, mainly because we got on so well and just couldn't stop laughing at one another.  The weekends were always the best, as we'd often spend all day together, riding our horses and just frittering away the time with doing "horsey stuff" and having a good old laugh.

I would often go to buy the horse feed first thing on a Saturday morning, spending an hour or so chatting and giggling with the girls at the shop, then pick up fish & chips for Marilyn and her daughter Tara and myself.  I'd get back to the stables and we'd tuck in, before all going out for a ride.  

One weekend, Marilyn's horse couldn't be ridden for one reason or another so Tara and I were riding in the indoor school, so as not to leave Marilyn out.  It wasn't a horse feed weekend, so I hadn't bought supplies - but unknown to me, Marilyn had.  Lunchtime arrived and out came this wicker picnic basket.  Opening it with much ceremony, Marilyn took out three china plates, three sets of knives and forks - and the leftovers of a considerable Cottage Pie.  We sat there, in the yard and on the suitcases in which we kept our horses' gear, eating cold Cottage Pie off of china plates with posh knives and forks.  Brilliant.

26 July 2015 : I have made this Cottage Pie countless times in between writing the recipe and now, but I thought I would share a photograph of the latest incarnation with you.  Just gorgeous.

COTTAGE PIE  (serves 4)

Ingredients : 

1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
500g low fat minced beef
1 large onion, chopped finely
2 sticks of celery, chopped finely
1 medium carrot, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
5 mushrooms, two chopped finely, three sliced
200g of baked beans from a tin
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 Knorr rich beef stockpot (or 1 low salt beef stock cube)
1 tsp Bovril
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
a splash or two of Worcestershire Sauce
half a tsp dried thyme
half a tsp paprika
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped finely
1 tbsp Bisto Best beef gravy granules
water, as necessary.

For the mash :

4-5 potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters (Maris Piper are excellent)
a knob of butter
50ml milk
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
100g or so of grated mature cheddar.

Method :

1.  In a deep frying pan, heat the vegetable oil and add the minced beef.  Cook on a high heat until all the mince is browned and the water has evaporated.  Fry the beef until the bottom surface has caramelised three times and been turned each time.  Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and reserve.  Keep as much of the leftover oil as is required to cook the vegetables - approximately 1 tablespoonful.

2.  Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot and chopped mushroom to the pan and fry on a medium heat until the vegetables are softened and the onion is transparent.  Take care not to let the vegetables burn.

3.  Once everything is cooking nicely, add the sliced mushrooms, baked beans, tomato puree, tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Bovril, wholegrain mustard, stock pot (or Oxo cube), thyme and paprika plus 300ml of water and mix well. 

4.  Allow to cook on a low heat for as long as it takes you to peel and boil the potatoes.

5.  Once cooked, drain the potatoes and add the knob of butter, milk and season to taste.  Mash the potatoes until smooth.  Don't be tempted to make the mash too creamy, or it will disintegrate when it meets the gravy from the meat.

6.  Add the parsley to the meat mixture together with the gravy granules and stir through.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. 

7.  Place the meat mix into the bottom of a deep casserole dish, then place blobs of mashed potato on top.  Using a fork, lightly join each blob until the meat is completely covered - but don't press it into the meat mixture - then sprinkle on the grated cheese.

8.  Place into a pre-heated oven at around 180degC/340degF/Gas4, for 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden and crispy.

Serve with vegetables of your choice and a little extra gravy.

Printable version

Charred Vegetable Couscous

I managed to get a reasonable shot of the leftovers from last night's yummy Couscous dish!

There was just enough for lunch today - and by way of experimentation, I added a little Balsamic & Red Pepper Dressing over the top of it.  Mmmmn, it certainly added the sharpness that the lemon juice had hinted at, but not particularly delivered but that the red wine vinegar would certainly have delivered, had I have used it.

But I'm rattling on too fast.

Owing to the success of the Ottolenghi Green Couscous, I was filled with enthusiasm to try another recipe now that I know the kind of degree of flavour that makes Couscous good.  I found Jun Tanaka's recipe for Charred Vegetable and Couscous salad on the Good Food Channel's website and it definitely looked a likely candidate - with the added benefit that it allowed me to play with my new griddle pan, too.

However, I was a teensy bit concerned over the addition of red wine vinegar to the mix, as Son & heir is completely anti-vinegar at the moment.  In truth, I should have just added it, as he left all his vegetables and just ate the couscous.  I can't think it would have mattered.

However, the char-grilled veggies were glorious just on their own - and deliciously yummy when added to the moistened couscous.  I kept half of the aubergine aside for another day (char-grilled) as the aubergine I'd been sent with the order was humungous and would have fed an army, I suspect.

I am just SO glad I've found my way with couscous now!  It's always good to have an extra string to your culinary bow when trying to set the dinner menu for the week.

Here's Jun Tanaka's recipe.  I made it as is except for the garlic & vinegar, which I omitted.


Ingredients :

150g couscous
50ml extra virgin olive oil
half a tsp of dried thyme (or a sprig, if fresh)
175ml water
half a chicken stock cube (or vegetable, for a vegetarian option)
1 red pepper, seeds removed and cut into small cubes
1 courgette, cut into small pieces
1 aubergine, cut into small pieces
8 asparagus spears, trimmed & cut in half lengthways
75ml red wine vinegar
6-8 spring onions, trimmed and sliced finely
small handful of parsley, chopped fine
small bunch of basil, chopped fine
lemon juice to taste.

Method :

1.  Place the couscous in a bowl.  In a small saucepan, heat the water, 25ml of the olive oil, the thyme and the stock cube until the stock cube is dissolved and the whole thing comes to the boil.

2.  Remove from the heat and pour the contents over the couscous, tipping the bowl this way and that to ensure all the couscous is made wet.  Cover in cling film and leave to steam for 20 minutes or so.

3.  (I did stages 3 to 4 lots earlier, as it took a long time - longer than the 20 minutes you've got for the couscous to steam).  Place the pepper, courgette, aubergine and asparagus in a large bowl.  Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the remainder of the olive oil.  Toss to ensure all are coated evenly.

4.  Heat a griddle pan and cook the vegetables on the griddle for 8-10 minutes, turning them over occasionally.  Once all the vegetables are cooked, put them back in the bowl and cut the asparagus into 4 smaller pieces.

5.  Add the red wine vinegar and the spring onions.

6.  Remove the cling film from the couscous and fluff it up with a fork.  Add the vegetables and mix well, together with the parsley and basil.

7.  Taste to check for seasoning and add a good squeeze or three of lemon juice.  Give a final stir, and serve.

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