31 August 2011

Making a little go a long way - or trying to! Meal Plan for week beginning 30 August 11

There are a couple of things going on with our income this week that mean it would be good if we could try to just tighten our belts a little.  Hence, I'm afraid you won't be finding expensive cuts of meat, or fancy fish (well, apart from Scampi - but that's our one indulgence for this week!) on the menu list.

However, you will find a great deal of involvement with the wonderful thing that is mince.  Beef mince, turkey mince, pork mince - it's all there, in various incarnations.  That and the wonderful bacon we get from our local butcher.  It's not only cheaper than the supermarkets and so unbelievably good, but you get almost twice the amount in rasher size, too!

So.  Here's how this week of semi-frugality is shaping up :

Tuesday : Son - Lasagne, Adults - Pork Noodle Stir-fry
Wednesday : Tenderstem broccoli & bacon quiche, lemony new potatoes and salad
Thursday : Scampi and salad
Saturday : Turkey meatball & sweetcorn curry, rice & naan bread
Sunday : Cornish Pasties and salad
Monday : Chilli con carne with rice.

I'm still not quite back firing on all four cylinders as I was prior to contracting Shingles, plus my right knee seems to have a life of its own in that it suddenly decides to not have anything to do with what we're trying to achieve.  It has brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion, just lately.  I have resolved to deep breathe and carry on, once it has decided to let me.  Oh the trials of arthritis!  As such, I've kept my recipes to things that are easily achieved and don't require much time spent in the kitchen - or much walking to and fro.
We opted to utilise "Pizza Tuesday" at the beginning of the week and indulged in a Stir Fry.  We had already put aside a Lasagne in the freezer for Son & heir for just such an occasion, which when he came to the kitchen to ask what was for dinner, he was heartily relieved to learn was headed in his direction.  He'd been looking very dubiously at the stir fry out of the corner of his eye, with a distinct air of consternation in the enquiry.

The Pork Noodle Stir Fry wasn't a resounding success, regrettably, as hubby found the sprinkling of fresh mint to be a challenging flavour too many.  Everything else he was relatively happy with - even the dressing of lime juice, soy sauce, wine vinegar and honey.  The recipe used pork mince and I took a short cut and bought a fresh stir fry mix (with bamboo shoots and water chestnuts - yum!) to take the place of the vegetables.  I was enjoying the meal to begin with, but found I quickly got bored with the flavours.  So, we won't be indulging in this one again - not when there are much nicer stir fry recipes out there!

This evening, we've just had a lovely Tenderstem Broccoli & Bacon Quiche (see the original recipe here on the Tenderstem website) accompanied with Lemony new potatoes and salad.

You know, hubby said it and I completely agree with him - Tenderstem Broccoli is almost as nice as Asparagus.  I won't go into raptures here over it, as I'm intending to do a blog post specifically for both the quiche and the potato recipe, as they went together so well.  Plus, if ever the Tenderstem website disappears at least I'll have the recipe on my blog!

I'll be at work on Thursday and we had been wracking our brains to try to think of something easy for hubby to cook that evening.  Suddenly a shaft of inspiration came down from on high (or from somewhere, anyway!) and hubby exclaimed "scampi!".  So, scampi it is - with salad and lovely crusty bloomer bread.  Yummy!

Last Sunday I had been reading other folks' blogs and came across "Senses in the kitchen".  Detailed thereon, was an intriguing and deliciously simple recipe for Pasta with Bacon, Peas and mint.  You can find the recipe here if you're curious.  Now I won't deny that following on from hubby's problem with the mint in the stir fry, I'm not as confident as I was.  However, this is a much simpler mix of flavours which are all compatible, so I've got my fingers firmly crossed!  As for son & heir, well, he's a different matter - there is no saying whether he'll like it or not, so I'll carry on and hope for the best.

Saturday's Turkey Meatball & Sweetcorn Curry has been trying to be made for the last couple of weeks, without success.  Turkey mince is so economical and the meatballs stay together most beautifully when they are cooked, so they are perfect ammunition for a curry.  I suspect I'll add a few curry spices to the meatballs, just to get them headed in the right direction.  As for the inclusion of sweetcorn - well, there's so much of it about and it is so deliciously sweet, it seemed a perfect accompaniment to the gentle flavour of the meatballs.

The Cornish Pasties are a request from hubby.  Again, they are relatively easy to make - I'll have to get hubby to do the rolling out of the pastry this time, as it nearly did for me the last time!  With the addition of the mandolin which makes slicing so easy, it should be a fairly easy job.  Fingers crossed!  (If I've any left, having used the mandolin!).

Last, but far from least, we've booked in a Chilli Con Carne for Monday.  The advantages of having a chilli on a Monday are that we won't be needing to try to keep any vegetables fresh for use in it (other than an onion!) and hubby can make chilli with one hand tied behind his back - and a cracking good chilli, at that.

We'll have it with your standard boiled rice, but Son & heir and myself like to sprinkle our chilli with grated cheddar cheese and, um, weasels.  Yes, you read that right - weasels.  When Son & heir was just a little 'un, he couldn't pronounce sultanas - and for some unknown reason, they wound up being "weasels".  So - chilli with weasels and cheese, anyone?


30 August 2011

Cauliflower Cheese : making my mouth water!

You know what the best thing is? I've got half left for tomorrow!
You know how I said that hubby would be making a Vegetable curry on Monday?  Well, I was beset by a sudden raving lust for Sweet 'n' Sour Pork Balls whilst at work on Monday and, as a result, we wound up having a Chinese Takeaway.

Very nice it was, too!  We tried out "Canton" in the Ashley Road, Upper Parkstone, for the first time and apart from their getting Son & heir's rice wrong (should have been fried, instead he got steamed) which wasn't a critical error, everything was blinking gorgeous - especially the Beef Rendang.  I think we'll be going back there again!

So.  That left a whole cauliflower sitting in the fridge, looking all sad and unloved, without a curry home to go to.  Now I have added a curry to the menu list for this week (see next blog post!) but its ingredients aren't best palled up with cauliflower, so that wasn't any good.

Neither hubby nor son & heir will countenance cauliflower outside of a curry, so it's not even as though I can just include it in the vegetable rota.  So, there it sat, looking increasingly forlorn.

Fast forward to my sitting in the car waiting for hubby to return from the Dry Cleaners, when a huge great Cauliflower Cheese thought hit me.

Now I absolutely adore Cauliflower Cheese and will happily eat one for breakfast, given the chance.  Hubby and son, see above comment about not countenancing.  However, what I did know was that hubby was keen to try making a roux-based sauce, so that he can be armed and dangerous with regard to making a Lasagne, or even a Moussaka.  I am finding that, these days, I just don't have the legs to be able to cope with the amount of time that they take to prepare and so we haven't had one for ages.

I put the suggestion to hubby upon his return and he was keen for the Masterclass.  So, just before lunchtime today, we made a joint effort of a Cauliflower Cheese - and boy, was it good.  In fact, my mouth is watering at the very memory - as it did a moment ago when I sorted out the photographs for this blog post.  God, it was good.

I dug everything necessary out when I was putting the shopping into the fridge and we got started.
All ready to go in the oven

I began by removing all the green leaves from the cauliflower (well, all the gnarly ones, anyway!) and cut it into quarters, then into bite-sized florets.

Next, we par-boiled the cauliflower for around 3-5 minutes (and five sticks of Tenderstem Broccoli, which also needed a home to go to, had 2 minutes), then drained and placed in the oven dish.

In the meantime, hubby had got started with the sauce.  He firstly melted the butter, then added the flour and stirred while it cooked gently until it had lost its sandiness and was feeling smooth.

Next, he began adding the milk, a little at a time.  We used full cream in this instance, as hubby had inadvertently picked up a pint of it instead of our normal semi-skimmed, the previous day.  He began stirring with a wooden spoon, but soon swapped to a hand whisk to ensure no lumps survived.  Once the sauce had bubbled (just a simmer, no frantic boiling) and thickened, he added loads of black pepper, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a tablespoon or so of double cream.  He mixed that all in and allowed it to thicken some more.

Next, we added the grated cheddar cheese and allowed it to melt into the sauce.  Then we tasted and added a little salt.  It's important not to add salt until after you have added your cheese, just in case the cheese is terribly salty!

If you find that your sauce is too thick at this stage, it is easy to stir in a little additional milk.  Far easier to do it that way, than to try thickening it!

In fact, hubby's sauce was absolutely perfect for the job and it poured over the cauliflower in ribbons of thick cheesy loveliness.  I topped off the dish with a handful or two of breadcrumbs taken from my favourite bloomer loaf, and a grating of Grana Padano cheese - just because I could.

Then, it went into the oven for some 25 minutes or so, before devouring half of it for lunch.  Hubby and son & heir both tried a piece of cauliflower and decreed it to be "not half bad!" - which was what I'd been trying to tell them for years.

I was chuffed to bits with my "leftovers lunch" - and pleased for hubby that his first go at a roux-based sauce came out so well.

We've agreed that I'll make a Cauliflower Cheese the next time we have a piece of roast bacon for Sunday lunch - which is quite something, for two cauliflower-phobes!  It really makes you wonder why we're growing dozens of the flipping things out there in our vegetable patch!

CAULIFLOWER CHEESE (feeds 2 for lunch or 3-4 as a side dish)

Ingredients :

1 cauliflower head, cut into same-sized pieces

25g of butter
3 tbsp of plain flour
1 pint of milk
freshly ground black pepper or
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp double cream
150-200g Mature Cheddar cheese, grated
sea salt
a handful of breadcrumbs
enough Grana Padano, or Parmesan, or Cheddar, to grate over.

Method : 

1.  Place a saucepan of salted water on to boil and pre-heat the oven to 220deg C/180deg fan/gas 4.

2.  Remove all the green leaves from the cauliflower and cut it into quarters, then into same-sized florets and once the water has boiled, par-boil the cauliflower for around 3-5 minutes, then drain and place in a deep oven dish.

3.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir while it cooks gently until it had lost its sandiness and is feeling smooth - around 2-3 minutes.

4.  Begin adding the milk to the butter/flour mixture, a little at a time.  Make sure to stir like crazy, so that no lumps survive.  The sauce will begin to thicken and once your favoured thickness has been achieved, stop adding the milk unless it thickens further and you need to let it down a little.

5.  Once the sauce had bubbled (just a simmer, no frantic boiling) and thickened, add black pepper to taste, the Dijon mustard and double cream and stir to combine.

6.  Next, add the grated cheese and allow it to melt into the sauce.  Check for seasoning and add a little salt if necessary.  If you find that your sauce is too thick at this stage, stir in a little additional milk.

7.  Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower, taking care to cover each floret.  Then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over and finish with some grated cheese of your choice.

8.  Place into the oven for some 25 minutes or so, until browned on top and bubbling.

9.  Serve whilst still piping hot.


28 August 2011

From Cottage Pie to Chicken & Bacon Stew : a round-up of the last two weeks

Medicinal Cottage Pie - just what the doctor ordered!
As I had been struck down with a case of the nasties, my meal planning for the last two weeks has been a bit different to normal.

For the first week, I had to come up with meals that Hubby could make without too much difficulty, as it was quite apparent that I wouldn't be doing very much in the kitchen other than making toast!

So, on that Monday we had shop-bought chicken in spicy breadcrumbs, in a wrap with lettuce, salsa and guacamole.  Son & heir was very happy with this (well, apart from the guacamole, but hubby very wisely put his guacamole separately on the side of the plate as he'd anticipated problems there) and it was a doddle for Hubby to put together.

Son & heir was going on his first parent-free visit to the cinema on the Wednesday, so when we'd collected him and his friend, we wheeled them off to Macdonalds for a celebratory burger.  I had one of their sweet chilli chicken wraps, which was actually quite palatable.  We got home and I went back to bed.  LOL

I was paying for the outing the following day, so Hubby prepared a medicinal Cottage Pie, with carrots, broccoli and celeriac (for Shepherd's Pie, just use lamb mince instead of the beef mince used for Cottage Pie).  Unfortunately, the potatoes let him down in that they simply disintegrated in the pan, but the meat part of the pie was delicious as ever.  I felt much restored, thereafter.

Friday was good old Bacon & Leek Pasta.  It is one of the simplest recipes to cook and Hubby did a great job with it.

He'd got the bit well between his teeth come Saturday, and ventured into curry!  We had a really lovely chicken curry with rice and shop-bought puppodums.  There was intentionally nothing fancy, nothing special about the curry, but it was saucy, flavoursome and rich - a perfect everyday curry.

Is that not a very creditable looking roast dinner?  :-)
We've recently discovered that Hubby makes a great line in roast dinners, so for Sunday, he cooked roast chicken breasts with roast potatoes, parsnips and assorted vegetables.  He did the Marco Pierre White thing with the chicken breasts, in that he let down a stock cube with a little water and rubbed it into the meat, together with a little lemon juice.  It was really yummy!   He even found some yorkshire puddings hiding in the freezer, so they went into the oven too.  A cracking good dinner.

Monday is always a "rely on storecupboard goods" day, as either the veggies have all been used up, or it's too long (from shopping on Friday) to expect salad to keep nicely.  So we had good old sausage, mash, baked beans and peas - using Spring Fields lovely Cumberland sausages, of course.

So that was the first week, successfully completed.  I think Hubby deserves a medal, as he was carrying the entire household on his own two feet.

The second week, I was starting to feel a bit more human and anticipated being able to return to kitchen duties.  So, when I was planning the meals I went for ones I've done successfully before, that barring catastrophe, would be almost guaranteed to turn out how they should and be enjoyed by everyone.

Tuesday was cop-out day and we all had frozen supermarket pizza.  Well, it's easy!

See the purple basil?  Cute!
Wednesday was my first day back in the kitchen and although my legs really weren't ready for all this, I struggled on through and made a Sicilian Pork Ragu with Spirali pasta.  I had only made this once before, but it ranks right up there with my favourites.  Hubby did a lot of the getting stuff out and putting stuff away again, so I can't claim to have done it completely on my own - but it was a start.  I was a little concerned about how the Spirali pasta would behave with the Ragu, as the original recipe (care of "A Glug of Oil") uses Tagliatelle and knowing how Willie insists on using the right pasta for the right sauce, I was firmly crossing my fingers.  Happily, it behaved impeccably and everyone cleared their plates (well, all except for a few pieces of pasta - which the dogs soon took care of in their dinners!).

Thursday, I was back at work and Hubby was exploring further along the curry route.  This time, he made a chicken Biryani.  See how artistically he presented it?  I absolutely love boiled egg with curry (well, boiled egg with just about anything really!) and the tomato - which looks a teensy bit overpowering in the picture - in fact was a lovely juicy counterpoint to the rice mixture.  Hubby polished off the leftovers the following day for lunch, so that proves how nice it was!

Friday dawned and we had a guest for dinner that night, as Son & heir had a friend staying over for a sleepover.  I had booked in my Turkey meatballs in a tomato and fennel sauce for that night, which proved perfect as we just had to buy a little extra Turkey mince and the rest stretched.  I found the cooking a little easier to do, this time, too.

Mmmn - tenderstem broccoli!
So that brings us to last night, which was my lovely one-pot chicken & bacon stew, which I served with tenderstem broccoli.  I set off doing the prep. for the dish and suddenly it dawned on me - but not until I was pretty much half-way through - that I should be using half the quantities stated!  It was the 1 litre of chicken stock that alerted me - for 3-4 people, it would have been swimming!  So I had to back up a bit and do some adjusting of the quantities that I had prepared, but even so, I put too much onion, bacon, tomato puree and bay leaves in the mix.  Oddly enough, the result tasted absolutely gorgeous - and a marked improvement on the original (which was pretty darned good, as it stood!). In fact, I've just eaten the leftovers for breakfast, which might tell you how good it was!

Tonight, I'm planning a Pork and Caramelised Apples dish which will be started on the hob and wind up in the oven, just to ensure the pork is tender.  I'll be serving it with mashed potato, runner beans (hopefully some from our garden), carrots & broccoli.  I'll get some vitamins and minerals into those boys if it's the last thing I do!

Tomorrow, Monday, Hubby is back on the curry trail - this time he's planning a vegetable curry, in which he'll use up whatever is leftover in the vegetable drawer and has a secret weapon - a cauliflower!  Curried is the only denomination of cauliflower he enjoys, so a cauliflower was a must for a vegetable curry.  He's planning on serving it with rice and naan bread and I'm really looking forward to it.  There's quite a selection of bits and pieces of vegetables in the veggie drawer, so it should have plenty of variety!

Now, all that leaves me to do is to work out what the heck we're going to be eating this coming week!  Wish me luck!



23 August 2011

The ever-adaptable Bloomer!

When you’re poorly, food becomes something of an issue – depending on what you’ve got wrong with you, needless to say.  In my case, along with the Shingles, I had the oddest sore throat in the Universe.  I could eat without bothering it – and in fact, eating improved the sore throat situation.  It didn’t matter what I ate, it could have been a packet of crisps or a slice of fresh lemon, nothing aggravated it except coughing (and, perhaps, snoring – but we’ll skip lightly over that).

Of course, what you might want to eat is another matter.  In this instance, I was happy enough to eat whatever was put in front of me (so we knew I wasn’t dying, put it that way) but my very definite preference was for high carbohydrate “comfort food”.

Enter the Bloomer.

A bloomer loaf (of bread, for those from abroad) is one of the most adaptable things.

Over the last few weeks, we have eaten slices of bloomer in many and varied ways and, to be quite honest, I’ve wondered what I would have eaten in certain situations, had we not have been all bloomered-up in the bread bin department.

I’ve had toasted bloomer (toasted under the grill, instead of in the toaster.  Makes a far superior piece of toast) as a late-night “keep the wolf from the door” snack with just plain old butter on, or rather more exotically, with marmalade.  Breakfast at 10pm.  Naughty, but nice!

Speaking of breakfast, toasted bloomer has accompanied many denominations of same.  With butter and accompanying a boiled egg, it forms perfect “feel better” food.  Again, buttered but with scrambled or a fried egg (in olive oil, of course!) it always hits the spot.

A couple of tinned tomatoes with lots of freshly ground black pepper are a superb breakfast when twinned with toasted bloomer.  Crunchy, tart, savoury – it wakes your taste buds up from their virus-induced slumber.

Good old baked beans will make an admirable plate-fellow for two slices of bloomer, for breakfast or with some grilled cheese hiding under the beans, for lunch.

When you’re deep in the worst of your malaise, good old warming, comforting soup always comes to the fore.  Team it with some lovely soft bloomer with its chewy crusts and you’ve the best of all worlds.  Eaten in bed is by far the best way, but beware the fallen crumbs!

Needless to say, the meal planning went a tad A.W.O.L. during this time.  Hubby manfully took over the stove duties and as such, looked at several of my planned meals and artfully down-sized them to meals with just as much taste appeal, but with far less work involved.  I don’t blame him, either.  Poor soul had enough to do, without working out how small he should be chopping his parsley.

Inevitably, this meant that we had several ingredients sitting aimlessly in the fridge, all lost and without a recipe to go to.

Like the large vine-ripened tomatoes, the olives and the mozzarella.

Cue, for lunch one day, grilled mozzarella on vine-ripened tomatoes and sliced olives, with Worcestershire sauce sprinkled over.  All on slices of toasted bloomer, of course!

In fact, I’ve just waded my way through two slices of toasted bloomer, covered in chicken in white sauce, which has brought about the following (which should be read with a discontented pout hovering around one’s mouth) :

Whatever happened to the tins of “Chunky Chicken”, made by Shippams, that you used to be able to get?  The Princes’ variety just didn’t shape up well against the memory of the pieces of actual chicken, taken from the bone, that Shippams used to cover in their gorgeously savoury sauce.  Yes, Princes’ version had used breast of chicken, but it was in boringly square pieces.  No leg meat in evidence at all.

I can remember my Grandad taking the whole family on a tour of a Shippams factory, once, many, many moons ago.  We saw the chicken paste being made as well as the cans of Chunky Chicken being sealed.  I remember there was a vast pile of chicken wishbones in one corner of the factory, just waiting to be used in some (hopefully lucky!) way.  I can only have been around 8 years old (or maybe less!).  We had the whole canning process for the Chunky Chicken explained to us and I’ve been a fan of the product ever since.

But I digress.  The next time you’re poorly, get someone to bring you a bloomer loaf and a bread knife.  Apart from the pleasure gained from eating it, just think of the fun you’ll have working out how you can use it!

16 August 2011

Darn it, I knew I wasn't well!

Just a quick line to let you know that if I seem to have abandoned Rhubarb & Ginger, think again!  It's just that I've been diagnosed with Shingles, which can take it out of a girl.

I won't be cooking so many interesting dishes, but relying heavily on ye good olde family favourites for the next week or so.  However, I'm sure you'll hear from me, just not as regularly as I would like!

So, until my shoulder stops doing an impression of a swamp monster and starts behaving itself!


14 August 2011

Crunchy Baked Pork, Baked Sweet Potato and Tomato Salad

It's a bit of a long title that one, isn't it?  However, the title is the hardest part of this meal - and I'll treat it as a meal, rather than three separate dishes, as it all went so well together.  With no pots or pans to wash up, this one is definitely a winner in my book!

To begin with, I set to with scrubbing the sweet potatoes.  Their skins never appeal as far as eating them is concerned - although they're very tasty, in fact - but I like to make sure they're scrupulously clean, all the same.  I always top and tail them too, as these bits always seem so gnarly, I can imagine dirt can't help but hide in there.  If I was dirt, I would.

I then dry them off, rub them with olive oil, liberally sprinkle with salt & pepper and into the oven they go for their first half an hour.

Next, I tackled the pork steaks - which was easy enough.  They just needed the bulk of the fat trimming from their backs and they were good to go.  Dustbin 1 (Jonty) was on hand for this operation, just in case there wasn't enough room in the actual bin for the offcuts.  He's a thoughtful dawgie, like that.

Next job was to make up the flour/egg/breadcrumb plates.  The flour was easy enough, or so I thought.  It seems that the abortive gnocchi attempt had used up all our plain flour, but fortunately we had lots of bread flour, which got used instead.

I consulted the recipe (which again, I can't remember where I got it from.  I am SO going to have to keep a note of recipe sources)  as to how much dijon mustard to use in the egg mix.  I had copied down three tablespoonfuls!  Surely not!  I pondered this for a while, then decided on three teaspoonfuls as being the far more sensible alternative.  As it was, I would only use two teaspoonfuls in future, as it had far too obvious an influence on the overall flavour, I felt.

Next, was the breadcrumbs, garlic and herbs.  I quickly ran two slices of Oatilicious bread across the grater to create the 1 cup of breadcrumbs.  Next, I grated two cloves of garlic in there, then chopped a tablespoonful of fresh parsley and a teaspoonful of dried tarragon.  If I could have found fresh tarragon, I'd have used it.  However, Mr Asda hadn't heard of fresh tarragon, so that was that.  In retrospect, I'd cut the garlic down to one clove, as it did tend to slap you around the face a bit.  Between the garlic and the mustard, I'm afraid the tarragon took a very back seat - which wasn't how it was supposed to be, I'm sure!

So, on with the dipping.  First in the flour, then the egg mix, then onto the breadcrumbs.  It occurred to me then, that I had no idea whether I was supposed to be breadcrumbing one side or both sides.  Although the one side I had done, had used an enormous amount of the breadcrumb mixture and I really wasn't sure it would last for all six.  Still, it didn't seem to make sense to do just one side, so after a bit of judicious dusting off, I breadcrumbed both sides.  In fact, I ran out of breadcrumbs towards the end and the last two had just one side breadcrumbed - so I'd make a little more, the next time I do this one.

Something else that I would make sure to do, is to turn the steaks halfway through cooking.  Because I didn't do this, one side was crunchy and the other a tad soggy - which was a shame.  However, you live and learn.

Once the Pork was safely in the oven and the Sweet Potatoes had been turned, I got on with the Tomato Salad.  It was a simple matter of slicing two large vine ripened tomatoes and some cherry tomatoes.  Then add liberal amounts of freshly ground pepper, a sprinkling of sea salt, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and likewise of extra virgin olive oil.  Next, slice up a red onion and sprinkle that over the top, along with a little of the parsley - or basil, if you've got it.  Leave to let the flavours mingle for some 15-20 minutes before serving.

So, the last thing to do was the Chilli cream to go in the Baked Sweet Potatoes.  Again, this is incredibly easy.  Decant a small pot of soured cream into a bowl, add finely chopped fresh red chilli and some finely chopped parsley.  There is an alternative, which involves coriander instead of the parsley and lime zest.  I love this particular version, however son & heir isn't good with lime, so we had the parsley version.

I loved this meal, even though the Pork was way too garlicky for my taste.  Hubby had problems with the garlic too, and found the Pork wasn't tender enough for his preference.  He loved the Baked Sweet Potato and chilli cream, plus the tomatoes.  Son & heir ate everything except the last half of his sweet potato, which was incredible considering what a fussy-pants he's becoming.  He even ate the cherry tomatoes with balsamic on them!  Mind you, I didn't tell him about the balsamic.  *wink*  I thought I'd just wait and see.

So, apart from the problems I've outlined above, I think next time I'd flatten out two of the steaks in the hope that they would be able to become more tender during the cooking process.  I can't think of any other way of ensuring they come up more tender that doesn't include par-cooking them before adding the egg and breadcrumb mix, which isn't the best route!

Here's the recipe for the Pork, if you need the recipe for either the potatoes or the tomato salad, just let me know and I'll include them.


Ingredients :

6 pork steaks, or 3 pork chops
1 cup of plain flour
1 egg, whisked lightly
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 cup of breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180deg C/350 deg F/Gas mark 4.

2.  Trim the pork of the majority of its fat and prepare a roasting tray to receive it once coated with breadcrumbs.

3.  Then, prepare three plates - one with the flour, plus some seasoning.  The second with the egg and mustard mixture and the last with the breadcrumbs, garlic and herbs.

4.  Dip each steak or chop into firstly the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs and place it onto the roasting tray.

5.  Once every one is coated, place the roasting tray into the oven for 15 minutes.  At the end of that time, remove from the oven and flip over onto its other side.  Replace and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until they appear to be done.

6.  Serve.


Sausage meatballs in Thai style sauce

Hold onto your hats, here comes another recipe from hubby - Chillibob!

I have to admit that I didn't like this recipe at all the first time he made it, but this latest time, he swapped from using the tin of coconut milk to using creamed coconut that he let down with sufficient water.  The difference was quite remarkable - and turned this recipe from one which I didn't ever want to see again, to one which I'd be quite happy to have again.  Amazing what a little change like that can do!

Son & heir loved the recipe the first time around and loved it just as much the second.  He cleared his plate.  Mind you, I think that has a lot to do with the fact that there wasn't any discernible vegetable matter on the plate!

If, perhaps, you don't fancy the sausage meatballs, then there's absolutely nothing to stop you making your own meatballs from any kind of mince.  I'm quite sure that whatever you made them from, they'd go just as well as the sausage versions.


Ingredients :

1 large or 2 medium onions, finely diced
25g butter
1 tsp Olive Oil
1 Tin Tomatoes
1 Tin Coconut Milk or 1 pack Coconut Cream, let down with some water
1 small Jar Red Thai Curry Paste
500g best quality Sausagemeat, rolled into walnut sized balls

Method :

1.  In a large wok or deep frying pan, melt the butter and oil together and then gently fry the onion until tender and slightly coloured.   Add the thai curry paste and allow to cook out for a minute or so, stirring frequently.

2.  Add the tinned tomatoes and coconut milk (or cream) and stir until well combined. Drop the meatballs into the sauce, one at a time stirring very gently to coat each one.

3.  Bring the pan to a simmer and cook until the sauce has reduced to your taste, stirring occasionally to prevent the meatballs from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Serve with rice.


13 August 2011


Well, just one bloomer (singular), in fact.

However, it's a lovely bloomer loaf that the Artisan Bagel Baker turned out to have with our dinner the other night.  Somehow it got missed off from the roll call of honour, so here it is in solitary splendour.

Looks good, doesn't it?  He's not made a Bloomer before, so was understandably proud of this one.

I reckon he should make another one, just to prove it wasn't a fluke.  *wink*


This week's meal plan .. has changed .. and again .. and again ..

I know it's Saturday and it's hardly worth publishing a blog post regarding the meal plan for this week, when you consider that we've only got three days left of it!  However, I thought it'd be fun to demonstrate just how flexible you can make a meal plan, for those who say "I could never meal plan, we change our minds too often".  Well, welcome to the meal plan for those who can't make their mind up.  (Like us, at the moment!).

So, Tuesday started as being a Chicken Curry.  Then, because Son & heir was going to be coming back from a few days' away visiting his cousin and we couldn't be sure when he'd get back, it changed to Pizza.

We'll get to you - eventually!
Wednesday inherited the Chicken Curry, right up until my parents spent a thirty five minutes on the phone to me, thus using up the majority of the time I had in which to cook it.  So, we had fish and chips.

Thursday was Thai Meatball Curry - which turned out to be heaps better than the first time Hubby tried it, so it has gained a foothold on our "regulars" menu.  I'll have to ask hubby for the recipe now that he's refined it a bit, so that we can share it with you all.

Friday was originally going to be Corn & Bacon Pasta Bake, but then I had the Chicken Curry looking for a day to appear on, so the Pasta bake got bumped in favour of the Chicken Curry.  That is, until we realised that Son & heir would be out at a friend's house for dinner that night.  So the Chicken Curry got bumped until next week, in favour of the world's biggest and loveliest bacon sandwiches.

See this bacon sandwich? Well our were far, far better than this.
Regrettably, we didn't catch a photograph of these sandwiches.  They consisted of : white bloomer bread, cut thickly.  One half of which had cheddar cheese melted on to it.  Next came our butcher's lovely, lovely bacon.  Huge pink rashers of gorgeous back bacon that doesn't shrink, doesn't leak fat everywhere and tastes fantastic.  Next - and this is the piece de resistance of this particular sandwich, in my opinion, came a Portobello mushroom which had been baked in the oven with a little olive oil.  Top that with another slice of Bloomer bread and tuck in.  Flipping gorgeous - and it left us both feeling as full as if we'd just eaten a plate of dinner, never mind a sandwich!

Baked boats of golden loveliness.
Saturday has always been the day for Crunchy Baked Pork with Baked Sweet Potatoes and tomato salad.  Amazingly, that is still what's on the menu for tonight!  I'm crossing my fingers that it will turn out to be really tasty (it's another new recipe) and I'll be able to share it with you all.

Sunday is the spot where the Corn & Bacon Pasta Bake landed.  I had intended to be making a chicken & sweetcorn pie, but until I'm feeling a little bit better, I think I'll probably err on the side of wisdom and leave it for a while.

This particular pasta bake is my own creation - never made before.  So we'll have to wait and see whether it is a winner or not!  I've talked through the proposed recipe with Hubby and he feels it's worth a go, so keep your fingers crossed for Sunday!

Monday is another day where the intended meal has stayed put, but if you consider that it's only fish in batter with potato croquettes and peas, you'll probably understand why.

Poor old Chicken Curry!  It really was the casualty of this week's menu plan, but considering we've got everything either in the cupboard or freezer for it (except the fresh coriander), I'm sure it will make a bid for freedom in next week's meal plan.

Doesn't it just demonstrate how our meal plans are based around Son & heir, though?  When you take him out of the equation, our immediate response is to jettison what we were due to have and conjur up something fabulous (to us) that we know he would have hated and so wouldn't have appeared on the menu list.  Roll on the days when he's grown out of his teenage faddiness and we can eat a wide selection of foods again!


12 August 2011

Unexpected Mackerel!

I think it must be that time of year. The time of year when people tend to have too much of something and – if you’re lucky – your neighbours come knocking on your door, asking whether you’d like some rhubarb, or runner beans.

The best part about this particular year, though, is that we’ve found ourselves able to join the “Glut Club” and have had the benefit of Frank the Fisherman’s bounty of mackerel, whilst being able to reply in kind and sent him happily off with a pile of rhubarb.

We’ve never been able to do that before – and it’s remarkably satisfying. For sure, we’ve taken pots of lemon curd around to friends’ houses, made ginger cakes and knitted warm scarves for other friends’ birthday presents. However, it’s not the same as being able to reciprocate with something you’ve grown yourself.

The mackerel was simply marvellous. There we were, sitting chatting in the garden one evening, when from next door we heard Frank call out “want some mackerel?”.  You bet we wanted some mackerel!

So, over the garden hedge came five fresh mackerel (which were adeptly caught and juggled into the kitchen by Son & heir – which is no mean feat with five wobbly fresh fish) which had been swimming around in the sea not an hour before.

Of course, they had to go back to Frank to be gutted but he was good enough to give me a master class in unzipping the little lovelies. So I’ll be good to go if some more manage to swim over the garden hedge.

We put them on ice in the fridge and ate them for lunch the following day. I pan-fried five fillets in a mixture of butter and olive oil and put the remaining five en papillote (or in a silver foil envelope) in the oven with a slice of lemon and olive oil.

We ate them with some lovely crusty French bread and fresh butter whilst feeling quite bohemian – and considered ourselves to be extremely lucky. 


Pea & Bacon Risotto, using gorgeous home grown peas

Aren't they lovely?
Needless to say, you don't HAVE to use home-grown peas!  Ours were ready to pick and a risotto was the first thing that came to mind when I was considering what to use them with.  Got to say, it was one of my better ideas.  :)

There really is little nicer in the vegetable line, than a fresh pea taken straight from the pod.

I can remember, as a child, my Nanna buying fresh peas from the greengrocer and giving them to me to "shuck".  I'm sure she must have bought more than we needed, as I worked on the premis of one (at least) from each pod going down my gullet.  They really are one of nature's little treasures.

Now, before I go any further, let me introduce you to Chillibob (on the right there - don't worry, he's fairly harmless) - who you know as "Hubby" - who will take you through this recipe : 

This is a very simple risotto, the keys to how good it can be are the quality of the ingredients and the attention given to the cooking.  The peas for this dish came from our garden and the bacon is from our local butchers and is consistently fantastic quality (and cheaper than from the supermarket).

Of course, the central plank of any risotto is the stock.  I use Marigold swiss bouillion powder for its clarity and complexity of flavours but, as a rule, the better the stock the better the risotto.  As a final note, many risotto recipes have a splash of vermouth or white wine included.  I have deliberately omitted the wine from this recipe as I had a feeling it would just be one flavour too many.

Aaah, happy memories!
Bacon and Pea Risotto

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 large banana shallots (or 4 small ones)
50g butter
300g Arborio rice
1.7 litres of good hot vegetable stock
400g smoked back bacon
200g freshly shucked peas (thats 200g after being de-podded)
50g grated parmesan cheese plus a few shavings for garnish.


1.  Blanch the peas in rapidly boiling water for two minutes and then refresh in a bowl of iced water.

2.  Grill the bacon until crisp, reserving a small amount of the resulting fat.  Once cool, cut four long slivers of the cooked bacon for garnish and then chop the remainder into smallish bits (or largish, depending on your preference).

3.  Very finely chop the shallots.

4.  Prepare the stock so that it is hot when added to the rice.  Never add cold stock to a risotto as it will stop the rice from releasing its starch.

5.  Melt the butter and the bacon fat together in a deep saucepan before adding the finely chopped shallots.  Cook gently until the shallots are soft and then turn the heat up before adding the rice.

6. Swoosh the rice around the pan, making sure that each grain is coated and hot.  Keep the rice moving to prevent it from sticking to the pan.  Once the rice is coated, sizzling hot and begging for mercy, add a ladleful of the stock and stir rapidly.  This first ladle of stock will be absorbed very quickly, so be ready with a second ladleful.  Add the chopped bacon and then reduce the heat to a highish simmer (not a boil).  As each ladle of stock is absorbed by the rice, add another, stirring gently but continuously.

7.  Continue this process until the rice is almost cooked, at which point the peas can be added.  Once the peas have warmed through, the rice is fully cooked and the risotto is nicely oozy, place a lid (or a plate) onto the pan and take it off the heat to rest for a minute or so.  It is important that the peas are added as late as you dare to in order that they retain their freshness and colour.

8.  Finally, stir the grated parmesan through the risotto, season with freshly ground black pepper only (there's enough salt in the bacon already) and then serve onto hot plates, garnished with a bacon sliver and the shaved parmesan.

Serve with the man/woman of your dreams and a nice glass of chilled white and a side salad (in exactly that order of preference).


10 August 2011

See those Runner Beans, there?

They are our runner beans, they are.


Well, I should really say that they are hubby's runner beans - as he slaved over a hot shovel in order to get them planted, gave them a climbing frame to romp over and legged it out into the garden to stop the blackbirds trying to pull them back up again!

Forgive my excitement and pride, it’s just that we’ve never grown vegetables before and everything hubby planted is something of an experiment to see whether it will come to anything.

To begin with, we realised that the runner beans had real, honest-to-goodness lovely green beans on them!  I know, I shouldn’t really be surprised, but what a result when we honestly had doubts that anything would do even remotely what it was supposed to.

We ate them with our shop-bought pie on Sunday.  For me, the pie paled into insignificance beside their lovely freshness, greenness and beautiful sweetness.

To think, they were growing on the bean vine just an hour before we ate them.

~happy sigh~


Beef & Spinach Pasta Bake : sounds good, doesn't it?

Shame it didn't live up to expectation!

I found this recipe on www.foodwhine.com and, although it contained both a condensed soup and a pasta sauce, for some reason I felt it sounded like it could wind up being a bit of a surprise hit.

It looked interesting, saucy, cheesy and lovely.  I felt that with the addition of our local butcher's great beef mince, we couldn't go wrong.


What was even more galling was that I used our own home-grown Spinach Beet leaves, instead of the straight spinach.

The whole thing was just a huge disappointment.

Instead of including the spinach in with the meat mixture, I (just) wilted it and added it as the first layer in the casserole dish.  It still retained a teensy bit of crunch.

Next, I gently fried off the onion and garlic, setting that aside to brown the mince.  I then added the onion and garlic back to the pan, adding the pasta sauce and soup.

Next came the cooked pasta, stir it all through and into the casserole dish.  I topped it with mozzarella cheese and the parmesan and baked for 20 minutes or so, to melt the cheese and make sure everything was piping hot.

Now, I know I did certain moves in a different order to the original recipe, but the whole thing turned out to be terribly (no, terribly) bland.  The pasta sauce just disappeared and the soupy mixture appeared to have no flavour either.  The beef (which, in the frying pan, had tasted great) was tasteless.  The spinach beet went slimy and in fact, the only bit worth eating was the bit with mozzarella on it!  Anything lower than the mozzarella layer just wasn't worth the effort.

Common sense was telling me that mixing a pasta sauce and a condensed soup couldn't possibly end in anything other than the bin, so maybe next time I'll listen to it. 


Devilled Sausages & Fruity Quinoa Salad

Time has run away with me again!  How does it do that?  ~scratches head~  Well, I suppose it's down to having Son & heir home from school.  Tending to the requirements of his social life can leave you with little time left to do anything else!

So.  We'd got up to the Devilled Sausages with Fruity Quinoa Salad, I believe.  Hmmn, well, the sausages were great as ever (see recipe, below) but the jury is still out as regards the Quinoa.

I've said in previous blog posts how much I dislike having anything gritty.  Well, that includes quinoa with little tiny pieces of grit in it.  Does quinoa usually contain small pieces of grit, or was I unlucky, or maybe I bought a cheap & cheerful variety?  Certainly, if grit is a feature of a quinoa salad, you can count me out of future quinoa adventures.  I darned near broke a tooth on a small stone I encountered while I was tasting for seasoning.  I know the packet recommends that you rinse the quinoa very well before cooking, but I was under the impression that this was to improve the flavour, rather than wash out the gravel!

So, gravel aside, quinoa seems to have another problem.  I don't much like the way it stayed wet (yes, I drained it very well and it was still hot when I drained it).  Pasta and rice both dry off when you drain them, however not so quinoa.  Having put the dressing onto the salad, everything was becoming somewhat waterlogged and soggy.  I was very careful to not over-cook the grains, but of course, being the first time I'd cooked it I don't rule it out as a  possibility.  So, looking at the photograph here - what do you think? Does it look over-cooked?

Apart from those two problems, the quinoa salad wasn't exactly a hit as the dried fruit mixture proved to be way too sweet and dominated the flavour.  Even with fresh coriander, lemon juice, garlic and Dijon mustard involved, the sweetness just stomped all over that lot, regrettably.  As such, I won't be passing on the recipe.

I'm in two minds as to whether to give quinoa another go, mostly because of the grit problem.  So I'll be interested to hear your feedback!


Ingredients :

6 cumberland sausages (working on 2 each)
2 tsp brown pickle (Branston type)
1 tsp marmalade
1 tsp mango chutney
2 tsp peanut butter
1 heaped tsp curry powder
1 tsp mustard (your favourite type - I use English)

Method :
1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180deg C/350deg F/Gas 4.

2.  Line a roasting tray with non-stick silver foil.  Lay the sausages onto the tray and commence to splitting them from nose to tail - until they resemble boats (i.e. still joined at either end).

3.  Take a small bowl and include all the remainder of the ingredients, then stir to combine.

4.  Fill each sausage "boat" with the devilling mix, which should be quite thick.

5.  Place into the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes or until the sausages are quite brown and the devilling is showing signs of caramelisation.

6.  Serve with salad.

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