25 July 2012

Lean on Turkey challenge no. 3 - Roast Turkey Mufaletta!

No, that's not a made-up name (like the Petuba Canneloni was) but an actual, real, honest-to-goodness recipe.

The latest Lean on Turkey challenge was to cook a summer turkey meal for just £10 and in so doing, demonstrate how turkey is a great meat for summer cooking that's suitable for the whole family.

I had seen Rachel Allen preparing a Mufaletta on t.v. some time ago, so when hubby began to describe a dish that he'd seen on a Pinterest board, I knew exactly what it was he was talking about - and liked the idea straight away.  I felt sure that summer had to arrive in England soon (and I was right - it is absolutely roasting out there today) and picnics would be hurriedly assembled, before it can rain again!

To explain, a Mufaletta is basically an entire loaf of bread which has had the middle crumb removed and then stuffed with a selection of different meats, salads and cheeses - anything you fancy, basically!  You then wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for some 3-4 hours with a heavy weight on its head.  This compresses the layers and - amazingly - when you come to cut it, everything holds together beautifully and the flavours are just mind blowing.

We compressed ours with a marble slab and "A Social History of Great Britain", which seemed to do the job perfectly.

So, what did our Mufaletta have in it?  Well, firstly I gave the entire inside of the loaf (once it was empty, of course!) a light drizzle with our favourite Rapeseed oil and smoothed it into the bread crumb with the back of a teaspoon.  I then seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

The very bottom layer was a green olive tapenade, then going up through the layers, we had thick cut ham, sliced tomato, chunks of thick cut roast turkey breast, redcurrant jelly, Applewood smoked cheese slices, more sliced tomato, with slices of oven roasted red and yellow pepper to finish.

The filling had rather overflowed the top level of the loaf, but once I'd put the lid back on and it was compressed, it all fitted beautifully.

In retrospect, I think I'd include a layer of something like rocket leaves for that nice peppery crunch as you bite through - but it was completely fabulous all the same.  Both my two chaps loved the Mufaletta and gave it a very definite thumbs up of approval.

You would think that all those different flavours would just amalgamate into a globular, undefined whole - but quite the opposite occurred.  As you worked your way through, you would find that the first bite was an amazing mix of flavours, but then individuals would appear - the first being the smoked cheese, then tomato, then turkey and so on.  The best bit, for me, was when you would hit upon a bit that had the redcurrant jelly.  It - not surprisingly - went so well with the cold roasted turkey breast, the cheese and the ham.  To have a little burst of intense sweetness amongst all that savoury, was really delightful.

As a picnic dish, you just can't ask for more.  It would travel perfectly, all wrapped up in its cling film and just require a sharp knife to cut it once you got down to eating.  A fork is optional - depending on whether you mind eating with your fingers or not.  Surely, though, a picnic is all about eating with the fingers?  I had no problems marshalling my fallers and stuffing them into the action department - all done with decorum, of course!

As for the price, the entire Mufaletta came to £9.83 - and we shopped at Asda and Sainsbury's for the ingredients, so you will find that prices vary.  Where items like the oil are concerned, I have priced out the amount we used, rather than the entire bottle :


Loaf of crusty bread
Rapeseed oil
Olive tapenade
Thick cut ham
Roast turkey breast (from the Deli)
Redcurrant jelly
Applewood smoked cheese
Red & Yellow Peppers
 £ 9.83

As for ease of preparation, well it doesn't get a lot easier!  The trickiest part is not removing too much of the crumb of the bread, so as to leave enough to soak up the juices from the tomatoes etc., without being soggy.  I made sure that I didn't go down as far as the crust anywhere and would say that the amount of bread we had in there was about perfect.

After that, it's a simple matter of deciding which meats would go with which accompaniment and layering them up in even layers.  With the redcurrant jelly, I gave it a good mix in the jar first, to ensure it was nicely spreadable, and plopped three or four teaspoonfuls onto the turkey and spread them around with the back of the teaspoon.  This meant that as it fell between the pieces of turkey it became random in its delivery when being eaten - which made for the above mentioned hits of sweetness that worked so well.

I also made sure that the tomatoes were seasoned well before being included, as I find that a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper can transform the flavour of a vine ripened tomato into something very special.

I'd say that, from the start to putting the finished article in the fridge, probably took me around 15-20 minutes - which is probably about the same as making a few rounds of ordinary sandwiches!

We ate ours sitting on the patio enjoying the first of these few days of sunshine, for which it was just perfect.

ROAST TURKEY MUFALETTA   (serves between 4-8, depending on slice size!)

Ingredients :

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
a loaf of crusty bread (8" across, round loaf preferably)
Rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tsp green olive tapenade
120g thick cut honey roast ham
2 vine ripened tomatoes
130g roast turkey breast (from the deli - ask for it to be cut in one thick slice)
3-4 tsp redcurrant jelly
200g Ilchester Applewood smoked cheese slices.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.  While the oven is heating, cut the peppers in half and remove the stalk and pips.  Place them onto a baking tray and drizzle with oil.  Season.

2.  Cook the peppers for 30 mins or until they are softened and collapsed.  As soon as you remove them from the oven, place them into a plastic bag and seal.  After some ten minutes or so, you should be able to peel the tough skins off, leaving the flesh in one piece.  Set them aside to cool completely.

3.  Take the loaf of bread and cut the top off, sufficiently far down that it forms a good "hat", but not so far down that you don't have much room for the filling.

4.  Pull the crumb of the bread out of the middle of the loaf and the "hat", leaving a half to a quarter of an inch of bread inside of the crust.

5.  Drizzle with a little rapeseed or olive oil ("hat" included) and smooth over with the back of a teaspoon.  Season.

6.  Begin the layers by smoothing on the olive tapenade, then layer in the ham.  I found to work in a spiral was the easiest way.

7.  Next, cut the two tomatoes into thin slices and season them.  Place one tomato into the loaf as the next layer.  Reserve the other tomato.

8.  Take the turkey slice and break it into roughly bite sized pieces.  Scatter them on top of the tomato, for the next layer.  Press down gently to compact the layers slightly.

9.  Add the teaspoonfuls of redcurrant jelly in different places, then smooth over with the back of a teaspoon.  It doesn't matter if some areas wind up with more than others - this adds to the randomness of the flavours.

10.  Lay on the cheese slices (again, I found a spiral pattern worked well), the last tomato and finish with the pepper slices.

11.  Give the contents a little drizzle of rapeseed or olive oil and place the "hat" on top.

12.  Wrap the loaf, in its entirety, in cling film and place into the fridge under a very heavy weight for some 3-4 hours.

13.  Take to somewhere lovely, and serve!


23 July 2012

Chicken & Fennel Ragu using a French chicken from Westin Gourmet

When Westin Gourmet offered me one of their "One time only" selection packs of meat, I didn't have to think twice.

After all, it really isn't every day that you have the potential for so many terrific dishes sent your way!

In the insulated cold box, there was real treasure :

• 1x 6oz Hereford Sirloin Steak
• 1x 6oz Aberdeen Angus Sirloin Steak
• 1x 1kg Packs of Steak Mince
• 2x 7-8oz Pork Loin Steaks
• 1x 1.5kg Whole Corn Fed Chicken
• 10x 4oz Gourmet Steak Burgers
• 24x Award Winning Cumberland Sausages.

Everything went into the freezer, apart from the chicken - which I'd got designs on using for the following two evenings' meals.  As you can imagine, you'll be seeing the name "Westin Gourmet" on a number of blog posts to come as I work my way through the pack!

It was a beautiful chicken - but I was considerably surprised to discover that it was a French chicken, rather than one of the many gorgeous British chickens that are available these days.  With the ordinary price being £9.68, I felt it would have been perfectly possible for Westin Gourmet to have sourced some British chicken and felt rather disappointed that they hadn't.

However, I had a beautiful plump corn-fed chicken sitting there just waiting to be made into something luscious, so I'd better get on with it.

I had decided that I would probably make the most of the chicken by, initially, cooking it in the slow cooker where a) it would be guaranteed to be tender and b) it would generate some lovely stock whilst cooking.  I could then use that stock in whatever recipes I decided upon.

So hence, it started its culinary journey by being tucked up in the slow cooker with two carrots, two celery sticks an onion, some garlic, some fresh sage, fresh parsley and a Knorr herb infusion stock pot which would bring additional parsley flavours, along with thyme and bay.

Don't you think it looks lovely, all cosied up with its pals?

I was cautious with the salt at this stage as the stock pot will have its own salt content and only seasoned the meat a little, but did give the whole thing a good sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Some 6 hours later, I had a chicken that was just falling apart and some truly gorgeous stock.

I divided the chicken up into two quantities - one amount which was heavy with breast meat (for the Chicken & Fennel Ragu) and the other which contained mostly leg meat for a Chicken & Sweetcorn pie for the following day.

In taking the chicken meat from the bones, it was absolutely apparent what good quality the meat was.  The difference between a standard supermarket chicken and this chicken was just chalk and cheese.  The meat was softly tender - the breast was almost butter-soft - and superbly moist.

One downside was my surprise at how bruised the meat was in places - and wondered about this poor old chicken's end.  It didn't appear to have come particularly comfortably, if the bruises were anything to go by.  Another reason for using a British chicken that has been despatched under our more humane welfare system, methinks - and something that Westin Gourmet would do well to investigate further.

Having drained the stock from the vegetables, I decanted a certain amount into a saucepan to reduce for the ragu's sauce and the rest went into the fridge for the pie.

Making the ragu after that was a relatively simple matter of sweating down the vegetables (onion, fennel and button mushrooms) and thickening the stock into a sauce with the addition of some cream and mushroom ketchup.

We had found some "out of the ordinary" pasta - Casarecce - in the supermarket and I had decided to give that a try-out with the ragu.  It certainly was robust and took considerably longer than it said on the packet to cook!  The Casarecce was interesting, however, in that it made a change from our standard Fusilli or Spirali pasta and also proved a good pairing with the ragu as it held the sauce perfectly.

Aside from the couple of niggles regarding the origin of the chicken and how it met its end, as above, I was overall very pleased with it.  The flavour was streets ahead of your standard chicken which, of course, you would expect but not necessarily receive.  It was good to find a product that almost lived up to the supplier's claims.

As for the Ragu, well, does "yum!" cover it?  Oh yes, I think so.

CHICKEN & FENNEL RAGU   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 onion, sliced finely
2 bulbs fennel, cored and sliced finely
150g baby button mushrooms, each sliced into 3
400ml chicken stock (reduced home made is best, but a good shop-bought will do)
1 tsp tomato puree
1 tbsp mushroom ketchup (or if using Worcestershire sauce, slightly less)
2 tbsp double cream
1-2 tbsp cornflour, slaked with a small amount of water
half a previously cooked chicken, meat removed from the bones and sliced
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped parsley, to serve.

Method :

1.   In a large frying pan, heat the oil and add the onion.  Cook on a gentle to medium heat until the onion is transparent, but not taking on colour.

2.  Add the sliced fennel and button mushrooms and continue to cook on a medium heat until the fennel has softened but is al dente.

3.  Add the chicken stock, tomato puree, mushroom ketchup and cream and season to taste.  Heat through until simmering.

4.  Simmer until the fennel is completely soft, then remove from the heat and add half the slaked cornflour.  Stir through quickly, then return to the heat to cook the cornflour out.  The sauce should thicken through this process.  Continue to add cornflour and stir until your preferred consistency is reached.

5.  Keep the sauce ticking over on a gentle heat and add the sliced chicken.  Allow it time to heat through properly, until piping hot.  You may need to increase the heat under the pan.  Try not to stir the mixture too often, or you might break the chicken pieces too much.

6.  Taste once more for seasoning and serve with plain boiled pasta and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.

18 July 2012

Taste test : veal meatballs -v- lamb meatballs

Veal meatballs right, Lamb meatballs left
In the package of veal that Farmers Choice sent to me, was a small packet of veal mince.  Now I'd been pondering over what to do with this.  It wasn't enough to use for an entire meal for the family, but I didn't want to dilute it by adding another type of mince - I wanted to sample the flavour and texture unsullied by outside influence.

Then, the obvious answer struck me.  No, not burgers (which I admit was my first thought), but meatballs.  How about I find a generic kind of meatball recipe that would suit the veal as well as another meat - and do a direct taste test comparison.

So that's what I did.

Close enough for you?  lol  Veal meatballs
I found a recipe on BBC Good Food, for Greek style lamb meatballs with tzatziki, that used just grated onion, garlic, lemon zest, mint and cinnamon in the meatballs.  All of these ingredients would go very well with the veal, I thought - so that's what I did.

I kept the two minced meats apart and put exactly the same amount of flavour ingredients into each, mixed them both by hand (washing my hands in between types) and rolled them up.

On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is poor and 10 is excellent, the lamb rated a 10 for rollability (i.e. forming a meatball without crumbling or otherwise breaking) and the veal a 9.  The veal was just slightly lighter in texture and much leaner.  Without the fat content, the meatball was slightly harder to get to stick together - but unless you were comparing the two, I doubt you'd notice.  It certainly wasn't a problem at all.

Veal meatballs
I cooked the veal meatballs first, so that they went into a clean pan.  This avoided any contamination from the lamb, which is a much stronger flavour.  The two types of meatball were identical where the cooking was concerned, as both held together perfectly and both achieved a nice colour in roughly the same time scale.

This recipe used just plain meatballs without a covering sauce.  I didn't want anything to affect the flavour of the veal, you see.

Once cooked, the two types of meatball were almost identical.  The veal had a very slightly darker colouration to the lamb, which I put down to the structure of the meat.  The veal meatballs had much less fat involved in the mince, which meant that the majority of the meat in contact with the heat of the pan was veal, as opposed to the fat in the lamb meatball.

Where flavour is concerned, the veal scored as best in both hubby's and son & heir's opinions, but I just couldn't get past my love of lamb, I'm afraid.

Don't get me wrong, however, because I really liked the veal meatballs.  Without the influence of the lamb to compare it against, I'd have been as happy as Larry with the veal.  I can't help being true to my love of lamb.

It was very interesting to have the context of the lamb to compare the veal against.  Most of us have sampled lamb at some point of another and know how lamb tastes.  Veal, however, is a different matter as it's not a meat that has been readily available.  The veal meatballs were lighter in flavour to the lamb.  For all that, though, they weren't one-dimensional, in that the veal very definitely had a mild, gentle beef flavour - but it truly is a unique flavour.  Veal doesn't taste like anything else, except veal.  All of which doesn't really help you if you've come here to try and decide whether you might like it.  In my opinion, if you like beef and you like pork, then without a doubt you'll like veal.

It is my hope that, if bloggers and the like continue to promote the consumption of British Rose Veal, that eventually (it may take some time!) the consumer will pick up the idea and demand for British Rose Veal will grow.  This will, in turn, make it possible for the millions of bull calves who are currently shot at birth, to be raised for veal in the humane and ethical conditions that are in force in the U.K.  Don't be tempted to spend a fortune on veal from the continent, as by doing so you may well be supporting the use of the barbaric veal crate system of raising veal calves and not buying the best product.  British Rose Veal is so much nicer than meat that has been produced in such a high stress environment.  You would think that the way an animal has been kept wouldn't be directly attributable to the quality of the end meat product - but believe me, it is.  Do a quick search online for farms in your local area that produce and sell veal direct from the farm, to cut out the middle man who always puts his percentage on top and you'll be getting veal in the most economic way possible.  It's not cheap at the moment, but is very well worth the cost.


Ingredients :

500g minced veal (or lamb, or beef, or any combination)
half a red onion, grated
half a garlic clove, grated
half a lemon, zested
half a small bunch of mint, chopped gently
half a tsp ground cinnamon
1-2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil.

For the Tzatziki :

150ml plain Greek yoghurt
3cm chunk of cucumber, skinned, deseeded and diced
half a sharp apple like a Braeburn, cored, sliced and cut into matchsticks
half a small bunch of mint, chopped gently
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Put the mince, grated onion, garlic, lemon zest, mint and cinnamon into a bowl.  If using different meats, use different bowls for each and divide the other ingredients equally between them.

2.  Season very well, then use your hands to mix the ingredients until distributed evenly.

3.  Using wet hands, roll individual meatballs about the size of a walnut and set aside.

4.  To make the Tzatziki, combine all the ingredients with some seasoning to taste and mix well.  Refrigerate until serving.

5.   Place the oil into a frying pan and heat until a meatball, when placed into the pan, lightly sizzles upon contact - but don't overheat or the meatballs will burn on the outside before the inside can have cooked sufficiently.

6.  Fry until the meatballs are well coloured and cooked through.  Place onto a plate covered with kitchen paper and keep warm until serving.

I served my meatballs with the Ottolenghi's Green couscous.

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17 July 2012

Back to menu planning as we kick the takeaway to the curb!

Do you know, I'm sure I heard a little pained whimper from hubby, as I wrote that title.

We have, over the last couple of weeks while we've been dashing hither and thither, had a shameful reliance upon the local takeaways in the area.  We've had some utterly fabulous Chow Mein from The Alma Fish Bar & Chinese Takeaway in Winton (more than once), we've had fish & chips from an assortment of places, plus Doner Kebab (for hubby) and BBQ ribs (for me and which were the best BBQ ribs I've ever had from a takeaway) from our local Californian Chicken place.

We've also had takeout supermarket pizza, plus takeout curries (which weren't bad at all) from Asda.

Now, all this fun has to stop.  This mad carousel ride of rejecting the perfectly nice, balanced meal that we'd scheduled for that night, in favour of some mad and potentially disgusting (but often extremely moreish) concoction that someone else has cooked.  Just bung it in the microwave before sitting down and vacuuming up in ten minutes of guilty pleasure.

So, now we're back on a more even keel, we've managed to devise a menu plan for the week and have every intention of sticking to it.  No, I didn't have my fingers crossed as I said that, because if I did, I wouldn't have been able to type!

What is it, then?  Well, I think it all sounds rather nice ...

Tues : Chicken & sweetcorn pie with new potatoes, broccoli & carrots
Weds : Lasagne & chips
Thurs : BBQ pork wraps with salsa & sour cream, plus cheese & chilli cornbread
Fri : Sausage meatball pasta
Sat : Turkey Mufaletta with Caesar wedge salad
Sun : Slow cooker braised veal, roast potatoes, carrots, green beans & peas
Mon : Veal & ham pie with mashed potato & vegetables.

I'm working my way through a selection of meat products I was given to try, plus there's a Blogger's challenge in there and an "end of the school year" celebration dinner, too.

A previous chicken pie incarnation that was pretty good, too!
Firstly, the Chicken & sweetcorn pie.  This is going to be a home-made pie, in which I'll be using the other half of a French chicken that was given to me to try as part of a Westin Gourmet Variety Selection Box.

We made use of the first half of the chicken in a Chicken & Fennel Ragu which we ate last night - and which was absolutely fabulous.  To say it was really, really chickeny might sound a bit odd - but then there are flavourless chickens and there are chickens that have great flavour.  I cooked the chicken in the slow cooker for some 5-6 hours, surrounded by a selection of flavour enhancers for the stock - and both chicken and stock are superb.

So I'm holding out some hope for the chicken pie tonight.  I've saved enough stock to make the gravy with and it's going to be a "pie dish pie" i.e. top and bottom shortcrust pastry, as opposed to just a puff pastry lid.  So a "real" pie, not a shorthand version of one!

Photo c/o Westin Gourmet
More Westin Gourmet produce appears on Wednesday, as we try some of their Steak Mince in a Lasagne which will be crafted lovingly by hubby.  You might have noticed the chips involved with this Lasagne.  We had a somewhat intense few minutes while I argued for salad and hubby argued both his and son & heir's case for chips, before I gave up in the knowledge that we'd got plenty of salad and vegetables to come later in the week.  Choose your arguments, that's my advice.

Thursday is the last day of school for this year before son & heir moves up into year 9 in September.  He's done brilliantly well this year, having scored mostly A's and B's in his end of year report, so we're having a little celebratory dinner of some of his favourite things - including wraps made with pork mince and Mic's Chilli El Loco BBQ sauce.  Some silver may cross his palm at the same time - he'll have to wait and see.  *wink*

Mmmn, Cumberland sausage, mash & onion gravy.
Friday sees another batch of Westin Gourmet produce - this time it's the turn of their Cumberland sausages.  I'll be posting a blog about these sausages very soon, as we had them last week as plain old sausage & mash and I have got to say that I really - no really - like them.  They're reminiscent of sausages of old - the sausages that my Mum used to dish up to us when we were kids.  Hubby is going to be converting them to sausage meatballs to go with some interesting Mafalda Corta pasta that we found in the local supermarket.

Now, the Turkey Mufaletta for Saturday is a bit of a work in progress.  "What's a Mufaletta?" I hear some of you cryWell, it's basically an entire loaf of bread that's been hollowed out and the inside crumb replaced with meats, cheeses, vegetables - you name it.  It it will go in a sandwich, it'll go in a Mufaletta.  Once filled, the top is replaced and then a heavy weight is placed on top for some 3-4 hours to compress it.

Ours is part of the the Lean on Turkey summer challenge, where we have been asked to think up an original recipe for summer food (not barbecue food) costing £10 or less.  It really didn't take us long to think of the Mufaletta - but boy, did it take some negotiating to decide what was going into it!  *chuckle*  I won't spoil the surprise by detailing it now - just suffice to say that it's going to involve turkey in one way or another - but not your common or garden sandwich turkey!

In line with our desire to keep the complication of cooking to a minimum (we might have got a tad carried away with some things just lately, so decided to rein back to food which doesn't need a day's worth of effort!) we've decided to follow on from the Braised Beef Silverside that I cooked in the slow cooker and go for the same approach with the socking great piece of Veal which the lovely people at Farmer's Choice sent us to try.

I've bought a bottle of Fuller's Organic Honeydew Ale to cook the veal in and I'm looking forward to it.  The gentler more subtle notes of the lighter ale, as opposed to a dark stout which you'd use for the stronger beef, should be interesting!

It's such a huge piece of veal that I am quite sure we'll have more than enough left over for a veal & ham pie the following day.  I suspect I'll approach it in the same way as the chicken pie I'm making, in that I'll hang onto some stock for the gravy.  Should be fab!

Now, as for other bakes and makes, well hubby has been plaintively bleating about wanting, nay needing, some chocolate & banana muffins.  I've had some bananas going suitably black on the window ledge and they're about ready now, so maybe tomorrow?

I've also been intending to make a rhubarb & ginger crumble for weeks, but keep being foiled by our random relationship with the local takeaways.  Maybe this weekend.  Cross your fingers for me, because Ruby (the rhubarb) is beginning to take over the garden.

So there you have it!  Feels good to have a menu plan again.  :)


16 July 2012

Curried Pasta Salad

Once upon a time, we used to eat quite a bit of pasta salad.  I do think, though, that we overdid it, as the very thought of a pasta salad has everyone groaning in that "oh gawd, not again!" kind of way - me included.

However, just recently, my tastebuds have been tickled by the idea of some pasta salads - mostly the type that have some twist or edge to them and aren't made with just mayonnaise.  My tolerance for high fat dishes has significantly reduced in the last few years, in direct correlation to how my waistline has disappeared, it would seem.

I remember last summer (remember summer?  You know, sunshine, barbecues, long tall glasses of cool citrus drinks?  I agree - it's difficult to recall when the rain is coming horizontally across the garden) when we had a barbecue and I made a pasta salad to go with the barbecued meats.  I ate some and we wound up throwing the rest away after two days of it sitting in the fridge.

As such, you might understand my nervousness at serving up this pasta salad.

However, it was a resounding success.  The big difference lies in the greek yoghurt that cuts through the richness of the mayonnaise, along with the curry flavours, sharpness of the apple and sweetness of the mango chutney.

As son & heir commented - it's a bit like a pasta salad version of Coronation Chicken, which is one of his favourite things to do to some leftover roast chicken.  In fact, if you were looking to make a more main course of this salad, just add in some cold roast chicken!

We had ours with some roasted pork chops and halved Tomkin tomatoes and it went down very nicely indeed.  Incidentally, if you ever come across the Tomkin tomatoes do give them a go, as they were deliciously sweet and juicy.

The recipe (from BBC Good Food Magazine) called for celery, but I didn't have any celery on hand at the time and the shops didn't have any either.  Apparently the dire "summer" we're having of torrential rain is causing havoc amongst the vegetable growers and loads of celery is just dying in the fields.  I did have a Braeburn apple, however, and cut that into matchsticks to use instead.  Next time, I'd definitely include the apple along with the celery as it gave a lovely piquancy and welcome juiciness to the mix.

We had a little left over that I didn't get to until a day and a half later, but it was just as good.  As such, it'd be a great salad to make in advance of a barbecue or pot luck buffet.  The apple didn't leak juice and the whole thing was, if anything, better for having sat for a while allowing the flavours to marry up nicely.

I won't push my luck and have this again too soon - but I will do it again and if you're going through a pasta salad liking phase, I would recommend it!


Ingredients :

200g pasta (penne or spirali are good)
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp rogan josh curry paste
100g unflavoured greek yoghurt
juice of one quarter of a lemon
1 tbsp mango chutney
25g sultanas (or a large handful)
a large handful of fresh coriander, chopped finely
quarter of a large cucumber, deseeded and diced finely
1 Braeburn apple, cored, peeled and cut into matchsticks or fine dice
1 celery stick, de-stringed and cut into fine dice
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Boil the pasta in salted water to manufacturer's instructions.  (Usually around 8-9 minutes).  Drain, then spread out in a flat layer on a plate, to cool.

2.  Mix the mayonnaise, curry paste, yoghurt, lemon juice, chutney and sultanas with plenty of seasoning.

3.  Add the pasta, coriander, cucumber, apple and celery and gently stir together until coated in the mayonnaise mixture.

4.  Serve.

Printable version

14 July 2012

Tenderstem Gnocchi al forno - a Tenderstem in Ten challenge dish!

Unfortunately, this is the last of the "Tenderstem in ten" dishes that we made - but only because we ran out of Tenderstem!

I've got at least two more ideas that I want to try out - so I'll have to find some Tenderstem broccoli in the shops and carry on.

This one was another of hubby's brilliant ideas - and it worked beautifully and can be done in the ten minutes.  Well, so long as you're quick on your feet, that is!  I am sure it would take me a whole lot longer, at the speed I amble around the kitchen!

Well, what's not to like?   Italian gnocchi, blue cheese, tenderstem broccoli and bacon - seems like a match made in heaven, to me - and so it was.

Gnocchi are brilliant little things, in that they take a fraction of a second to cook (oh alright then, two to three minutes tops) and are just divine in a cheese sauce.  The thing that takes the time with this dish is making the roux and grilling the bacon - but if you're able to multi-task and do the two at once (which I'm not), then you too should be able to put this dish together in just ten minutes.

The recipe is fairly flexible, too, in that you don't need to use just blue cheese if you're not keen on it.  A lovely mature cheddar would be gorgeous, as would some of the Swiss cheeses that melt well, like Emmental or Gruyere.  Don't forget to give the sauce a good pinch of some freshly ground black pepper, as that gives the lovely depth and warmth.

Equally, if you have some leftover chicken or gammon - then substitute that for the bacon.  I'm quite sure they would be just as delicious - and would have the benefit of already being cooked - so saving you a couple more minutes.

The sprinkling of breadcrumbs over the top of the gnocchi was a masterstroke, in that it gave another texture to the dish.  The soft gnocchi are always gorgeous and the Tenderstem broccoli is sweet and juicy, but to have a little crunch every so often kept your interest going.  It was only a shame that we ate this for lunch, or we could have had a glass of some chilled white wine with it - which would have rounded the whole thing off deliciously.


Ingredients :

250g streaky bacon
150g tenderstem broccoli
700g gnocchi
25g butter
25g plain flour
600ml milk
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
200g Castello blue cheese (or your cheese of choice)
2 handfuls of fresh breadcrumbs
a small grating of parmesan cheese for sprinkling.


1.  Boil a kettle.  Whilst you wait for the kettle to boil, begin grilling the bacon rashers.  Once cooked, cut into chunks and reserve to keep warm.

2.  Once the kettle boils, pour into a warm saucepan and bring back to the boil.

3.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour.  Stir to combine, then add the milk bit by bit stirring all the time, until thickened to double cream consistency.  Add a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and the cheese.  Stir to melt.

4.  Once the water has boiled, drop in the tenderstem and the gnocchi, as both take the same amount of time to cook.  2-3 minutes later, when the gnocchi are all at the surface of the water, drain and return to the hot saucepan.

5.  Pour the cheese sauce over the gnocchi & tenderstem and add the bacon.  Stir gently to combine, then pour into a flat serving dish that will go under the grill.

6.  Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, then grill until crispy and golden.

7.  Serve.

We ate ours with a simple side salad of lettuce, tomato and cucumber.

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12 July 2012

We're sold on the Rootbeer Float, so now we try the Wedge Salad!

Wedge salad.  So what's that all about, then?

Well, you get an iceberg lettuce, cut a humungous wedge out of it - and dress it.  Done.

No, seriously - it's as easy as that.

I too, was a tad surprised when I learned that this "Wedge Salad" that I'd been hearing mentioned in various American blog posts was as simple as that.  After all, it was American!  Where was the dry soup base, or the American cheese, the sweetened condensed milk, or the pre-mixed seasoning?  But no - the classic American wedge salad contains none of these things.  Just lettuce, a creamy dressing of some sort and whatever extra bits you fancy.

So I included it on the menu list for that week.  After all, we were going to be pushed for time on a lot of those days and a simple salad was just the job.

Hubby had the great idea of pairing it up with some Scampi and his home made Crunchy Krauters (or crunchy croutons, as they are probably known everywhere else).  With the last minute addition of some cherry tomatoes, it made an absolutely lovely meal.

On our Wedge Salad, we went for a blue cheese dressing along with some grilled streaky bacon pieces, spring onion and sweetcorn.  Now you seriously wouldn't expect something that was just cut differently, to be quite so successful.  However, I think the thing with this salad is indeed the shape.  When the dressing is drizzled over, it seeps in through the cut sides of the wedge of lettuce and when you cut through, every leaf has had its own little bath in dressing.  Some rather more, some rather less.  Add together a few of the bits and pieces that are sprinkled over and adhering to the dressing - and you've got an amazingly satisfying salad forkful.

Hubby's crunchy krauters are simplicity itself to make.  You take a piece of two day old baguette and cut it into large cubes.  Pre-heat the oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 and while it's warming up, place the cubes into a bowl and drizzle over some Rapeseed oil or extra virgin Olive oil.  Add some seasoning - this is definitely one for the sea salt flakes - and toss to coat each cube in seasoned oil.

Tip the cubes out onto a baking sheet and spread them out into one flat layer.  Bake for just 5 minutes, then check them to see how they're doing.  They should be golden and crunchy on the edges.  If not, leave them for - literally - just another minute or two.  Don't leave the kitchen or take your eyes off them, or they'll burn.

As soon as they're done, serve.  They make a delicous and crunchy change from potatoes or pasta!

Oh, and the rootbeer float?  Easy peasy.  Get yourself some root beer (most major supermarkets sell it now) and if you like the stuff (I think it's redolent of cough mixture and hate the stuff, but the chaps love it) pour into a glass.  Take vanilla icecream and scoop out a good sized ball and drop it (carefully) into the glass.  Add a straw, a deckchair and some sun.  Sorted.

WEDGE SALAD  (serves 3)

Ingredients :

A fresh, clean, whole Iceberg lettuce
3-4 rashers streaky bacon
Blue cheese dressing (feel free to make your own - I didn't have either time nor inclination)
2-3 spring onions, sliced finely
3 tbsp sweetcorn (from a can is easiest).

Method :

1.  Grill the bacon rashers until crispy, then cut into small pieces and set aside to cool.

2.  Take your Iceberg lettuce and trim off the brown stump end, to 2-3 leaves back.  Remove the outer leaves and discard (or give them to your rabbit/guinea pig/goat etc).

3.  Taking a sharp knife, make one cut from top to bottom through one side of the lettuce, then make another cut some 2-3 inches away - again from top to bottom, so removing a wedge of lettuce.

4.   Place the iceberg on its back on your serving plate and trickle the blue cheese (or dressing of your choice) over it.

5.  Sprinkle over the bacon pieces, spring onion and sweetcorn.

6.  Serve.

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10 July 2012

Sausage & Butternut Casserole - one for Nanna!

As I expect you know by now, my Dad has been in hospital for heart surgery (and now is back home, doing brilliantly!)*.  So as to help out a little bit, we made a few meals that could be extended to serve four people and put one serving into a freezer box for my Mum.  Doing this just meant that when she came home from a potentially stressful day of getting to and from the hospital and visiting (because it can wear you out, visiting people in hospital!), she wouldn't need to worry about making anything good to eat.  She'd just need to get one of the dinners out of the freezer in the morning, then pop it in the microwave in the evening.  Done.

This is one of those "easy but yummy" meals.

I suspect that everyone has a Sausage Casserole recipe tucked behind their ear for the moment when nothing else will do.  My Sausage Casseroles always involve beans in some form or another - well, sausage & beans?  They're one of those matches like cheese & pickle, or chicken & stuffing!  I tend to make them as a true "one pot" dish that contains all the necessary protein, carbohydrate and vegetable in one.  However, it's a bit like Cottage Pie - everyone has their own ideas as to what goes into one and they all taste that little bit different.  In the case of Sausage Casserole, they all contain sausages and vegetables.  After that, the world is your oyster.

This version of Sausage Casserole, which was one of hubby's creations, involved using the other half of a Butternut Squash that didn't have a home to go to.  We'd bought some decent quality Cumberland sausages (Cumberlands are less herby, more black peppery and contain a good quantity of pork) and together with onion, celery, carrot and some green peas for colour, it made a lovely combination.

He also made use of one of the Stock Pots that Knorr had kindly sent us recently - a chicken version - which together with a teaspoon of tomato puree, some mushroom ketchup and a little thickening from a teensy touch of chicken gravy granules (don't faint - they have their place!) it made a lovely flavoursome gravy.

Mum broke this one out as the first of the "meals on wheels" as we called them and said it was delicious and just the job.  Inevitably, we'd packaged up far too much for one person - but as I said at the time, better to have too much than too little!

We ate the casserole with plain white rice, whereas Mum made a couple of potatoes to go with it - so the choice is yours.

Sept 2015 : I made this casserole again today, but jazzed it up a little bit as Mum wasn't going to be eating this one!  Not "jazzed" by much, but I added two sliced mushrooms, two cloves of finely chopped garlic, a tbsp of chopped chargrilled peppers in oil and a tbsp of chopped sundried tomatoes in oil.  Of necessity (because I didn't have the chicken stockpot), I used a Knorr Ham Stock Cube and a tsp of reduced salt Knorr chicken stock powder.

As you can see, I served the casserole with mashed potatoes this time and the clean plates all round were testament as to how good it was!  I really should make this one more often, as it really is a perfect autumn dinner.

* Updated since to say that in April 2015 he sadly passed away following a fall at home.


Ingredients :

8 Cumberland sausages
1 tbsp rapeseed oil (vegetable or olive oil would be fine)
1 onion, chopped small
1-2 sticks celery, diced small
1-2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1cm chunks
half a butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into 1cm chunks
1 tsp tomato puree
a Knorr chicken stock pot (or 200-300ml chicken stock)
200ml water (leave out if you're using liquid stock)
1 tbsp mushroom ketchup or Worcestershire sauce
1 dessert spoonful of good quality chicken gravy granules
2 handfuls of frozen peas
freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Begin to heat a large wide-bottomed saucepan and add the sausages and oil.  Fry until the sausages are coloured all over, then remove and retain somewhere warm.

2.  Add the onion and fry on a gentle heat until transparent, softened and just beginning to colour - around 5 minutes or so.

3.  Add the celery and continue to cook until the celery has begun to soften.

4.  Add the carrot and butternut squash.  Cook gently and stir, until the vegetables are heated through.

5.  Add the tomato puree, stock pot (or liquid stock), water (if appropriate) and mushroom ketchup and stir to combine.  Bring up to a lively simmer.

6.  Cut each sausage into three or four pieces and add to the saucepan.  Again, stir to combine.  Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover the pan.  Continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the carrot and butternut squash are tender.

7.  Add the frozen peas and bring back up to a lively simmer.

8.  2-3 minutes later, if necessary, stir in the chicken gravy granules to thicken and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Once the gravy is at your preferred consistency, serve.

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