24 December 2013

Rosie and Basil have gathered by the Christmas Tree to wish everyone a very happy Christmas time and to thank you all for being the loyal readers that you are.  :D

Here's hoping everyone has a safe, warm, tasty and fun time and that all you cooks are able to enjoy the fruits of your labours, along with some well deserved plaudits for all your hard work.


14 December 2013

BBQ Paprika Chicken with mushroom rice

I dunno - I don't post for ages and then suddenly I'm back with a double recipe post!  Ah well, I like to keep you all on your toes.

This 'ere BBQ paprika chicken with mushroom rice meal was really good.  I had a horrid sinking feeling that the rice was going to be a bit bland and dull - but no.  I think the addition of the ground cumin, turmeric and chilli flakes were sufficient to provide the layers of flavour that made my original mushroom rice recipe (which was good, but not quite there) into something a lot more interesting.

As for the BBQ paprika chicken, well that inspiration came from the brilliant Herbie Likes Spaghetti blog - and you can see the original recipe here : http://www.herbielikesspaghetti.com/2011/05/chicken-paprika.html.

I tweaked the recipe a bit here and there to suit our preferences - such as changing chicken thighs for chicken breasts, plus I used an Indian BBQ spice rub rather than a Cajun one.  However, the biggest change I made was that instead of mixing in some soured cream to the BBQ sauce at the end of the recipe, I served it separately.  Well, the BBQ sauce was so good, it would have been a crime to weaken the intensity of the flavours with the cream.  By serving it separately, it enabled you to add a little to each forkful or not, depending on which you wanted - which worked very well indeed.

I'll admit, I was skeptical as to how so much paprika would work with the BBQ sauce, as a good BBQ sauce has all the flavour you need without anything being added.  However, it blended in there perfectly and added that piquancy - supported by the sweetness of the onion and savouriness of the garlic - that makes this dish a very definite do-again one!

It was just a shame there wasn't any leftover chicken, as I've got leftover rice with no gorgeous BBQ paprika chicken to eat with it!

chicken thighs
2 tablespoons creole seasoning
1/4 cup olive oil
medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup paprika
1 cup bar-b-que sauce
2.5 cups chicken broth
1.5 cups sour cream
1/2 cup sliced scallion - See more at: http://www.herbielikesspaghetti.com/2011/05/chicken-paprika.html#sthash.tjqdcYH5.dpuf
chicken thighs
2 tablespoons creole seasoning
1/4 cup olive oil
medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup paprika
1 cup bar-b-que sauce
2.5 cups chicken broth
1.5 cups sour cream
1/2 cup sliced scallion - See more at: http://www.herbielikesspaghetti.com/2011/05/chicken-paprika.html#sthash.tjqdcYH5.dpuf

Ingredients :

3 skinless, boneless breasts of chicken
A spicy chicken dry rub (Cajun or an Indian BBQ rub are great)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 heaped teaspoonfuls paprika
1-200ml BBQ sauce (Bull's Eye BBQ sauce is good)
150ml chicken stock.

Method : 

1.  Take each chicken breast and cut into three pieces.  Place into a bowl and add sufficient dry rub to coat them.  I used approximately 2 tsp of Zaiqa's Al Faham BBQ spice rub, which worked beautifully.

2.  While the chicken marinates briefly, prepare the onions, garlic and other vegetables for accompanying dishes.

3.  Heat the oil in a wok until hot and fry the chicken for 3 minutes or so on each side - sufficient to create a lovely golden colour and a degree of caramelisation, but without any burning.  Remove from the pan to keep warm.

4.  Add the onion to the pan and cook on a medium heat until softened, whereupon you should add the garlic and continue to cook for another few minutes.

5.  Add the paprika to the pan and stir to combine.  Cook for a few minutes - no longer than 5 - and add the chicken to the pan.

6.  Add the BBQ sauce and the chicken stock and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a lively simmer and cook until the sauce has retained its stickiness and the chicken is cooked through.

Serve 3 pieces for each person, with sour cream and the mushroom rice :

MUSHROOM RICE  (serves 3-4)

Ingredients :
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2 x 10g pieces of butter
1 onion, chopped finely
200g basmati rice
1 fat garlic clove, chopped finely
200g mushrooms, diced
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
a pinch of dried red chilli flakes
a large handful of frozen peas
a tbsp fresh chopped coriander.

Method :
1.  Fill a large saucepan to 2" or so below the edge, with water.  Add a pinch of salt and place onto a high heat to boil.

2.  Whilst the water is heating, rinse the dry rice in a sieve under running water until the majority of the starch had been removed and the water runs clear.

3.  Place a frying pan onto a medium heat and add the oil and one knob of butter.  Once heated, add the onion plus a pinch of salt and cook until softened and just beginning to caramelise.

4.  The water will boil in the meantime, so add the rice and simmer for 7-10 minutes - then drain and replace into the warm saucepan.

5.  Add the garlic to the frying pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook until softened.

6.   Add a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper, the cumin, turmeric and chilli flakes and stir to combine.  Continue cooking on a gentle heat, until the rice has 2-3 minutes left to go, then add the frozen peas to the mushroom mixture and increase the heat to ensure they defrost and cook properly.

7.  Add the final knob of butter and the chopped coriander and add to the cooked rice.  Stir through and serve immediately.

Printable version

10 December 2013

Kievs, devilment, soup and salads ... meal planning in reverse!

I thought, because I haven't posted much in the way of anything just lately, that I'd give a quick rundown on what has come out of my kitchen recently.  With both successes and failures - sometimes both at once, depending on everyone's preferences - it makes an interesting mix!

So let's start with one which everyone liked at least one part of - my devilled sausages.  I served these little lovelies (see recipe here) with some home made coleslaw (white cabbage, carrot & onion all sliced finely, mixed with some raisins, Greek yoghurt & mayonnaise), beetroot and a really tasty rice salad.  The rice salad was made with a simple mix of cooked cooled white basmati rice, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, sweetcorn, chopped rocket and small cubes of cheddar cheese.  Once a lovely dressing had been added, along with seasoning to taste (I used a Suzanne's fat free dressing of blackberry, cardamom & chilli), the whole thing came together beautifully.  You can guarantee that even with a rice salad disliking teenager at the table, the sausages and coleslaw will go - and some rice salad went along with it, so I call that a success.

Travelling back on the school run one morning, hubby and I both were overcome with a mushroom lust.  Fortunately Sainsbury's is en route, so a quick stop for supplies meant we could have mushrooms on toast for brunch upon our return.  Yum.

Cooked until softened in a little butter, then seasoned with salt and pepper and given a quick splosh with a little mushroom ketchup, these little lovelies were gorgeous on some sourdough bread we had left over.  Toasted and buttered, it was simple and delicious.

Many moons ago, we made the mistake of introducing our son to chicken Kiev.  Not home made chicken Kiev, but the supermarkets' own version of chicken Kiev - one which is made of munched up and stuck back together again chicken, made into a dome with a tiny teaspoonful of garlic butter inside the cavernous waste that is each Kiev's centre.  He loved them then and every so often he requests them again.

Now for all that I have described them with an element of disdain, it is fond disdain as I really quite enjoy a Kiev myself.  It takes me back to when I had the horses and would come in at 9pm starving hungry.  I'd throw a couple of Kiev's in the oven and a packet of savoury rice into the microwave and 20-30 minutes later, sit down to a hot dinner.   I thoroughly enjoyed the Kiev dinner that hubby rustled together, as pictured above.  I know - I should be ashamed of myself and somewhere under the "Mmmmnnn...", I am.  Honest.

Surely everyone likes a jacket potato, don't they?  Even my hubby likes a twice baked Jacket Potato (more on those, in another post!).  In this instance, however, I was suddenly overcome with the desire for mackerel and as I had some salad left over, it made sense to combine the lot for lunch.  The mackerel came out of one of these little tins of mackerel fillets, but I'm fairly sure it still qualifies as being good for you!  In fact, if you totted up the inflammatory -v- non-inflammatory points, just putting the mackerel on the plate cancelled out any non-inflammatory points the remainder might have had!  A scrummy lunch.

So, how do you like the look of my thick chicken and vegetable soup?  It was intended to be chicken and dumpling soup, however like Topsy it kind of grew in the making and it seemed to us that dumplings would be overkill.

I basically emptied the vegetable drawer of the fridge onto the tray upon which I carry ingredients about the kitchen - and only put back things like cucumber and beetroot.  Following a quick rummage in the freezer, which gleaned the sweetcorn and peas, I was good to go.

The chicken was pan fried to a light golden colour, then shredded and finished its cooking in the soup stock.  Done this way, you gain flavour from the caramelisation on the chicken, but retain the softness that is inherent with chicken breast.

I included such lovely winter warmers as pearl barley and red lentils for thickeners and of course used the lovely Essential Cuisine Chicken Stock as the stock base.  Making the soup was a simple matter of chopping the vegetables to a suitably small size and putting them into the pot in the right order, depending on how long each took to cook!  I started off with the classic onion and garlic, followed by the celery, carrot and potato, then the stock, barley and lentils - finishing up with the softer vegetables and herbs.  With some crusty sourdough bread, the soup made a lovely hearty meal and it truly is the kind of soup that you can throw just about anything at.

Lastly - for this instalment, anyway - we have the sad case of the Merguez sausage.  Oh dear, what a tale of uncertainties, changes of mind and mistaken identities.  You see, hubby had a risotto in mind.  It involved lamb and possibly preserved lemon.  At this stage, it was just "in mind", you know - evolving.  I suggested to him that Merguez sausage might be good as the lamb component.  I knew that Asda do 4 or 5 Merguez sausages within the right price range and also knew that they were, to a large part, lamb.  However, what I didn't realise then was that Asda's Merguez sausages were, to a large part, beef.  ~rolls eyes~  I suppose they have to keep the price down somehow and there are cuts of beef that are a lot more economical to use than lamb.  However, being this charitable is with the benefit of hindsight.  That wasn't what I was saying once they were in my fridge and I'd read the ingredients list.

Being such a large part beef, made them useless for hubby's risotto.  So there they were, sitting in the fridge with no job to do.  Not only that, but because we'd never had them before and the ingredients list was unexpected, we had no idea how they tasted to be able to include them in a recipe somewhere.  There was only one thing to be done - cook them and eat them for lunch with a salad.

As it turned out, they were entirely wrong for the risotto hubby had evolving in his head - but would be great for another kind of risotto some other day.  They leach a gorgeous spicily flavoured, coloured oil once heated up - in the same way that chorizo does - and have a hint of lambiness in their flavour, but to be honest, I'd have been hard pressed to have told you what meat they tasted of.  They are certainly spicy - but not in a chilli sort of way.  More of a paprika and cumin sort of way that would make them ideal for all sorts of dishes.  So now we know - and I'm sure one day they'll appear in a more creative concept than beside some salad!

So just to whet your appetite, for my next instalment of meal planning in reverse, we've got some BBQ, more mackerel, that risotto and an awesome roast pork dinner amongst other things.  Can't wait!

3 December 2013

The Polish Bakery - I may be a tiny bit in love ...

We've just got back from our usual Tuesday shopping trip to Asda.  Now, for - quite literally - years, I've been eyeing up the bread made by The Polish Bakery and thinking "I must give some of that a go".

In the meantime, I've used various Polish foodstuffs and have been impressed by them all.  I've come to realise that - currently, at any rate - if it's Polish, then you can pretty much guarantee that it won't have any additives, sweeteners or any of the myriad of things that we try to avoid in most processed foods in it.  The same is true of The Polish Bakery's bread.

The loaf I brought home with me is a small round "Grandmother's Bread" or Chleb Babuni.

The ingredients list reads like a shopping basket of all the good things you are advised to get into your diet, where seeds and grains are concerned.  With sesame seeds decorating the top, it not only looks good and has an interesting colour but smells good too. 

However, the real winner is the flavour and texture.  The texture is interestingly stretchy and robust that gives a lovely spring to the slices.  There's none of that collapse which comes when you cut across a slice of commercially produced bread.  This bread holds its own and bounces back.  The flavour is really rich and, well, just bready!  That'll be the sourdough influence, then, I expect.  The additional seeds give such a lovely nuttiness and extra bite to the bread, it really feels as though it's doing you good as you eat it.

I went for a nosey around their website at The Polish Bakery and was hugely interested to see what they say as regards the bread - and I quote "Our products are hand-made freshly every day, and our unique traditional Polish recipes contain nothing but the finest natural ingredients.

Polish bread is a living thing. It is based on Sourdough, which needs to be kept alive to retain the unique flavour of our bread. This is where the love of real baking comes in. Our master baker will not use sourdough kept alive artificially, he tends his sourdough with great care, watching the temperature and balance of all of the key ingredients as only he can. This means his sourdough has years of history which gives the authentic taste and flavour so unique to our bread.

We bake additive free, and that is why all the varieties of the bread we make are healthy options. Many of them are specially made to help our digestive systems, adding to the base of sourdough with a wide range of seeds and grains

I immediately fell a little bit in love with The Polish Bakery, having read that.  :)  The big tester will come within a few hours when I discover whether the Grandmother's Bread makes my tummy bloat - as so many commercially produced breads do.  I couldn't wait for lunchtime and had a couple of slices of Grandmother's Bread as toast, so I'm crossing my fingers for a good reaction.

If you find more of The Polish Bakery's bread appearing on the blog or my Facebook page - you'll know it passed muster!  If you find some, give it a try.  Don't be put off by the fact that it's Polish, on current reckoning, it's an awful lot better than many of our bread offerings!

19 October 2013

Turkey & Bacon Meatloaf Open Sandwich with cheese!

Think "open sandwich" - and you'll be in the right area.

Hubby and I were pondering over what we had in the fridge that needed using and what we could do with these various things.  Having been blogging for the last three or four years - yes, it's been THAT long - we've got quite good at doing this kind of thing.   When hubby first suggested an open sandwich affair with the bacon, I pricked up my ears.  I've not done too many open sandwiches - and certainly not dinner varieties.

We'd been discussing meatloaves, as I recently made some Forfar Bridies (similar to a Cornish Pasty, except with no vegetables) that failed miserably - but the filling of them would have stood up against a fair amount of competition, as a meatloaf.  However, bacon meatloaf?  Bacon and what, though?  Not sausagemeat - too potentially salty and greasy.  Pork mince was mooted first, but then I remembered some meatballs I'd made with turkey mince and how successful they were.  Turkey mince has an inherent sweetness that would go nicely with the smoked bacon and it also has the ability to stick together, without encouragement such as egg.

I decided to do a little bit of research on what other people have put into their turkey meatloaves and decide from there what alternative ingredients to use.

So when hubby suggested we use the meatloaf on an open sandwich type affair, it sounded very interesting indeed.  We discussed whether to use a cut loaf like soda bread for the bread part, but decided the open texture of a ciabatta would be better suited to the close texture of a meatloaf - and even better, had a sudden brainwave to use a Leerdammer cheese melted on top which would serve to bring the whole sandwich together.  With something tasty under the meatloaf, it sounded like we were onto a winner.

Well, I made it this evening (actually, I started at about 3 o'clock this afternoon) and it was really good.  No, really, really good.

 The meatloaf ingredients were turkey mince, bacon (half minced finely, half chopped roughly), a small amount of breadcrumbs, a small amount of parmesan cheese, a red onion, a clove of garlic, some fresh parsley, some dried thyme, white pepper and four mushrooms.  I didn't use any salt at all, as with the bacon and parmesan cheese, I reckoned (and I was right) that there was already enough salt in the mix.

I used the food processor to finely chop (almost down to a paste), the onion, garlic, parsley, tail end of the smoked bacon rashers, thyme, white pepper and mushrooms.  This then got mixed with the breadcrumbs, roughly chopped bacon (for texture), turkey mince and parmesan cheese.  Packed into a silver foil lined one pound loaf tin and cooked for an hour in a hot oven, it was smelling wonderful.  I then drained the juice from the loaf tin and turned the loaf out into a roasting tin - upside down - and gave it another 20 minutes in the hot oven, just to give the outside edge some colour and dry the loaf out a little.

Hubby had some red onion marmalade on his toasted ciabatta, but son & heir and myself erred on the side of caution and went for a zig zag of tomato ketchup.  With the meatloaf slices laid on top and the cheese melted over, it really was so good.

Hence, the next time you're thinking "meatloaf" and decide against it because it's boring.  Think again and put it on some ciabatta toast with melted cheese.  Awesome.

I served ours with some home made coleslaw and watercress salad.  Beautiful.

The very best bit is that we've just under half the meatloaf left, for lunch tomorrow.  Yum.  The following recipe feeds three people, so remember to grill more ciabatta rolls and provide more Leerdammer cheese if you're making for more, or extra hungry people.  The meatloaf itself would happily make eight open sandwiches.


Ingredients :

1 red onion, cut into chunky pieces
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 small bunch fresh parsley (to make 2 tbsp)
400g smoked bacon rashers
1 tsp dried thyme
4 chestnut mushrooms, cut into quarters
half a tsp white pepper
2 large handfuls white breadcrumbs
20g finely grated parmesan cheese
500g minced turkey
2 ciabatta rolls, each cut into two equal halves
1 tsp red onion marmalade or tomato ketchup
4 slices of Leerdammer cheese.

Method :

1.  Take the bacon and trim away the majority of the fat, which should be discarded.  Separate the tail (streaky) end from the eye (lean) part and finely chop the tail end.  Cut the eye part into three long slices, then chop into decent size squares so that they will provide some texture to the meatloaf.

2.  Into a food processor, place the red onion pieces, chopped garlic, parsley (broken into a manageable size), thyme, the finely chopped tail end of the bacon rashers, mushroom pieces and pepper.  Chop until the mixture begins to resemble a paste, but stop just as that happens.

3.  Tip the paste into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and turkey mince.  Scrunch the ingredients together with your hands, until thoroughly mixed.

4.  Decant into a one pound loaf tin, previously lined with tin foil to make removing the meatloaf much easier.

5.  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200degC/400degF/Gas 6 for one hour.

6.  Once the time is up, gently tip the meatloaf tin and pour off the liquid.  Then gently remove the loaf from the tin - using the silver foil to lift it into a roasting tin.  Flip the meatloaf onto its head and replace into the oven for a further 20 minutes, to brown the outside and dry the loaf out a little.

7.  While the meatloaf is finishing cooking, grill the four halves of ciabatta roll and coat with your choice of either red onion marmalade or tomato ketchup.

8.  Once the meatloaf is baked, slice and lay a slice (or more) onto each half of roll.

9.  Cover the meatloaf with a slice of Leerdammer cheese, then place under the hot grill for 2-3 minutes, just enough to melt the cheese.

Serve with a watercress salad and coleslaw.

Printable version

13 October 2013

Tonight's Dinner : Marsala chicken with leeks, plus Rhubarb and plum sundaes!

It's been a funny old day today.  The weather has been chilly and wet, so not a day to do very much.

I was contemplating the menu plan for next week with hubby which inevitably involves taking a mental roundup of what vegetables we have left in the fridge.  I mentioned that I had quite a few plums that needed using up in some way and before I knew it, I was in the kitchen making a plum and rhubarb (which two sticks of rhubarb from the garden) compote for dessert!

That then progressed to slicing the kernels from one of the ears of corn in the fridge, to put into my small saucepan with just enough water for an Ainsley Harriott Cup a Soup - Wild Mushroom, in this case.  Once the kernels were cooked, just stir in the cupasoup mix, decant into a bowl and off you go for lunch.

Over lunch I got to thinking about this evening's dinner which was supposed to be a braised chicken dish.  However, it sounded fairly unremarkable upon second thoughts and I began pondering on how I could make it less "brown" and more interesting.

Inevitably, whenever I'm thinking about what to add to a meat dish to create flavour, my mind travels to the wine rack.  In this case, it settled upon the bottle of Marsala wine which I hadn't used in quite a while.  Marsala goes so well with chicken - and I'd used it in the past with my Velvety Marsala Chicken, with great success.  I didn't have any cream, so it would need to be a non-creamy version.  However, I did have a leek - and chicken and leek is just one of those classic combinations.  So, chicken, leek, Marsala wine ... add a few mushrooms for depth of flavour and we're sorted.  Lovely!

Lovely was indeed what it turned out to be.  I browned (or should that be "goldened"?) the chicken in the frying pan, then cooked the shallots, garlic, mushrooms and leek in the leftover butter/groundnut oil.  Then I deglazed the pan with the Marsala, added some chicken stock, parsley, freshly ground black pepper and a couple of teaspoonful of Bisto's Best Chicken gravy granules to thicken and add flavour.  Decant the whole lot into a casserole dish and cook, uncovered, in the Beastie combi oven at 200degC for 50 minutes with a pause half way through to give it all a stir.

Served with buttery mashed potato, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, swede and Brussels sprouts, it was a perfect Sunday dinner.

Hubby then disappeared into the kitchen to create his new masterpiece, the rhubarb & plum sundae.  Take a sundae dish and spoon in some home made (and cooled) rhubarb & plum compote.  Crumble in some broken (well, I knew they'd come in handy for something) meringue nests, add a large dollop of Cornish ice cream, more compote, broken chocolate digestive biscuit, more compote and a swirl of whipped cream - and the crowning glory of a cherry on the top.

As a spur of the moment, made up on the spot, Sundae (Sunday!) dessert, it was a triumph.  Not one ingredient was bought in specifically for it, they were all either growing in the garden or surplus to requirements in the fridge or cupboard.  Now THAT is the kind of thing that makes me proud.

9 October 2013

Bacon & Orzo Stuffed Mushrooms and Peppers

Pepper on the left, mushroom on the right.
I've not had a very good track record with successful "stuffed" things in the past.  I've tried stuffed marrow several times, some have been good, some pretty poor.  I've tried stuffed peppers in the past, again to mixed reactions.  So when I saw the Hairy Bikers stuffing mushrooms, it got my "I can do that!" indignation fired up again.

I came to the conclusion that it was simply a matter of not stuffing things with the correct stuffing for my family's taste.  You see, I like "juicy" stuffings such as a bolognese style mince concoction for marrow, which as the marrow cooks inevitably becomes all watered down.  Now I'm fine with that, but the rest of the family aren't.  It's taken me a while to get to grips with that, as I thought the objection was in the flavour of the stuffing, not the texture.  I know, sometimes I can be really dense.

Now I wanted to stuff peppers and tomatoes, but hubby correctly pointed out that tomatoes stood a very good chance of going the same way as the marrow (i.e. watery) and anyway, son & heir isn't keen on cooked tomato.  He suggested Portobello mushrooms instead and as I'm ALWAYS in the market for a mushroom, that made a lot of sense to me.

So what would go well with long red peppers and mushrooms?  Well, bacon immediately sprang to mind, with shallot to help the savouriness and sweetness along.  I didn't want to use breadcrumbs, as I was very wary of the sogginess that can sometimes accompany a breadcrumb stuffing.  Thinking of things that hubby likes, brought to mind orzo.  It is very rice-like (although is actually a tiny pasta) and rice is another good stuffing ingredient.  I hadn't seen orzo used in too many stuffing mixes (and there may have been a reason for that) but it seemed like a good idea.

Now what could I use to provide some cohesiveness in this stuffing?  I didn't want to use egg but I did want something that would stick everything together a bit.  Thinking along the lines of what does son & heir like, produced mozzarella cheese.  If I dice a ball of mozzarella, it would melt and do that "sticking it all together" thing in an unobtrusively cheesy fashion.  Perfect.  Add a few herbs and seasoning and we're in business.

Ah, but what about the tops?  You need something to make a crunchy top, without cooking the heck out of the orzo and making it inedible.   Hmmn.  A slice of mozzarella would do that, but it doesn't carry much flavour.  What about if I grate some cheddar on top, then top that with the mozzarella slice?  Yes!  That'd do it.

In this way, the recipe was born.

I decided to leave the peppers without the mozzarella slice, just to see whether the cheddar would have been sufficient.  However, in the tasting, I think the addition of the mozzarella was a very good thing as it melted over the lot and provided a great "cap" that kept the moisture in the stuffing while the stuffed vegetable cooked.  The peppers weren't dry, but the cheese would have kept them from being that little bit less "cooked" if you get my drift.

The orzo was great as stuffing ammunition and I'll definitely use that again.  The mushrooms were by far the best end result as the mushroom itself provided enough body to support the stuffing.  The peppers were a bit thin - could have done with being a bit meatier - and cooked up to being a little bit papery.  Still, the flavour was great!

I served the stuffed mushrooms and peppers with a simple sweet potato mash (into which I added a little nutmeg and lots of butter) and some peas.  Apart from the paperiness of the peppers (I'd use round peppers instead of long ones next time), everyone really liked this dinner.  Just goes to show that life isn't too short to stuff a mushroom - you just have to get the stuffing right!


Ingredients :

6 rashers of smoked back bacon, finely chopped
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
half a tsp dried basil
freshly ground black pepper
50g orzo
2 balls mozzarella cheese, 1 finely diced, 1 sliced thickly
2 red peppers
3 Portobello mushrooms
a handful of mature cheddar, grated.

Method :

1.  Place the bacon into a dry frying pan that has been heated to a moderate heat and fry the bacon until the moisture has totally evaporated and the fat has begun to render out.  Once the bacon begins to caramelise and turn golden, remove to a bowl using a slotted spoon, to retain as much of the bacon fat as possible in the pan.

2.  Add the shallots to the pan and reduce the heat slightly.  Cook, stirring regularly, until softened and beginning to take on colour.  Add them to the bacon in the bowl and allow to cool while you cook the orzo, according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Once cooked, spread evenly out on a plate, to cool. 

3.   Once everything has cooled but is not cold, add the parsley, basil and a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper to the bacon/shallot mixture and stir to combine.

4.  Add the orzo, taking care not to "drown" the bacon mixture with orzo.  You need to have a 50:50 sort of mix, which may result in your having some orzo left over, which you can make into a little pasta salad for your lunch.  

5.  Add the one ball of mozzarella that has been finely cubed to the bowl and make sure to give the stuffing a good stir so that all the flavours have as good a chance to combine as possible.

6.  Slice the pepper in half so that it will lay flat on a baking tray.  Remove the seeds and pith from the inside of the pepper, but keep the stalk base intact or your stuffing will all fall out.

7.  Remove the stalk from the mushroom by carefully cutting it free.  You don't want a huge hole in the middle of your mushroom!  Turn the mushroom over and cut a cross into the crown, which should go right through.  This will allow any excess liquid to escape.  Place it, frill side up, onto the baking tray.

8.  Now divide the stuffing mix between all the mushrooms and pepper halves, pressing it firmly into each.

9.  Place a sprinkle of cheddar cheese onto each - a little more on the peppers than on the mushrooms.

10.  Place a round of mozzarella cheese on top of the cheddar on the mushrooms - you can add mozzarella to the peppers too, if you like.

11.  Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for 40 minutes.

Serve with sweet potato mash and peas.

Printable version  


Quick lunch : sausage & vegetable pot

Lunch - two sausages, each broken into three pieces and fried, then removed from the pan and three mushrooms and half a sliced courgette went in to cook.  Once softened, a huge handful of curly kale went in, a shake of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of sea salt and a tablespoonful of double cream.  Toast a pitta bread, return the sausages to the pan for the last 30 seconds, then decant into a bowl and eat with a huge smile on your face.

Oh yes.

2 October 2013

Creamy Parsnip and Squash Bake

The first instalment of summer squash got used to make this fantastic - and soon to be made again - creamy bake of a side dish.

It all came about because I was looking for a simple recipe that would enable me to tell how the squash tasted and how it behaved during cooking.  The recipe was perfect for that and I was able to glean that it held together very nicely, was sweet and didn't dissolve into water once cooked.

I had four lovely little parsnips from thevegibox.com that were waiting to be used in something and I started to think about what hubby particularly likes.  Now it goes without saying that he likes chilli, and Mexican flavours, Spanish flavours, Mediterranean flavours and a whole raft of Indian and Chinese flavours.  However, none of those really matched up with parsnip and squash.  However, creamy flavours did - and hubby loves creamy flavours.  So then a picture came into my mind of Dauphinoise potatoes - but made with parsnip and squash.  Except, the garlic didn't really go.  Aha!  But finely chopped shallot would - and so would thyme and parmesan.  Bingo.

So what meat would go nicely with this combination?  Well, chicken was an obvious choice and I'm always keen to have a roast chicken dinner.  Plus, Vegibox had delivered some more lovely rainbow chard and this would be a perfect opportunity to try some cooked quite plainly and as a side vegetable.

I contemplated what to do with the chicken next.  Yes, I could have just roasted it with a little oil and seasoning, but that was a bit dull and if the bake didn't come off it would be a very disappointing dinner.  Lemon was out because of the cheese and cream in the bake, but I was already using thyme so that was a possibility.  So what goes with cream?  Well, you have mustard cream sauces but I didn't want to use more cream.  What do you use with chicken that would go with mustard and with the cream in the bake?  Honey!  Aha!  Honey mustard chicken!  Perfect.

So there we were - the creamy parsnip & squash bake, with honey mustard chicken, rainbow chard and carrots.  Yum.

Now assuming you're rather better with a mandolin than I am, you'll be able to cut your parsnips and squash into evenly sized slices without losing any skin - which is the recommended method.  I lost the edge of my little finger - and this is the not-to-be-recommended method.  Alternatively, you could just use a knife, but be sure to get your slices even widths or they will all take different times to cook.

Owing to the relatively few ingredients required for the bake, it came together really quickly (even with a first aid break) and my Nanna's lovely brown heatproof glass casserole was perfect for it.  I was able to control the browning of the cheese on top by use of the casserole dish lid and it sat very politely waiting to be served when it was done some 10 minutes early.

All that contemplation as to what hubby liked paid off when, after his first few forkfuls, he declared "this parsnip & squash thing is fabulous!".  After my first taste, I had to agree - it was fabulous.  You could still taste the parsnip, but it didn't take priority over the other flavours (as parsnip is wont to do).  The squash was there, adding sweetness and that lovely gentle flavour that is uniquely squash.  The cream, onion and thyme bound the whole ensemble together and the cheese added that richness to the flavour that just finished it off perfectly.

Oh, and for those who are interested in such things - the rainbow chard was really very good indeed!  I used the cooking juices from the honey mustard chicken as a light gravy over the chard and carrots and they went together beautifully.  People who have seen the photographs on Rhubarb & Ginger's Facebook page, have asked me what the "rhubarb looking" thing is - and it is interesting that chard has the same effect on your teeth that rhubarb does!  Rather less than rhubarb in fact, but it is nonetheless still there - that furry, odd feeling.  Its flavour is almost tinny, but in a nice, juicy, veggie kind of way.  I was expecting it to be more cabbage-like in flavour, but in fact it turned out to be much more spinach-like.  Really very acceptable - and it makes rather more sense as to how it can be used in flans and quiches now!

Everyone, without exception, really liked everything on the plate but particularly the creamy parsnip and squash bake.  To the point that, at washing-up time when I discovered a spoonful of it left - cold - in the dish, son & heir and myself were to be seen sharing it.  Well, it was too small to keep!  I think that was testament to how good it truly was.


Ingredients :

butter, for greasing & several small knobs for the surface
500g parsnip, peeled and finely sliced
500g butternut squash, peeled and finely sliced
1 banana shallot, finely chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
300ml double cream
25g parmesan cheese
15g strong cheddar cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 160degC/325degF/Gas4.

2.  Rub the bottom and sides of a gratin dish with butter.

3.  Place the parsnip and squash slices into the dish and toss together with the shallot, thyme and some salt and pepper.  Arrange the slices randomly but fairly evenly to give a fairly flat surface, in the dish.

4.  Pour over the cream and sprinkle on the cheeses.  Add a dot of butter here and there on top of everything else and give an additional sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.

5.  Cover the dish and put into the oven to bake for 45 minutes.  Remove the lid and replace into the oven for the remaining 15 minutes, to brown the surface.  The bake is complete when a knife will insert easily into the vegetables.


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30 September 2013

Introducing : The Beastie! My new combi oven.

Yes, this is my kitchen.
I hope you'll all forgive my not posting anything for a little while, but I've been getting to know my new Beastie.  It's a DeLonghi AC925EFY 25L Combi Microwave/Grill/Convection oven and it's been blinding me with science.

No, I wasn't planning on buying one of these.  Not at all.  However, I got chatting to two Facebook friends (hiya Marj, hiya Charliebigcat Milkbowl!) about how using the big oven on our cooker was becoming increasingly difficult because of the pain involved with getting down to it.  They both commented that they couldn't cook without their Combi ovens - and it went on from there.

Of course, I didn't think it would be remotely possible to buy one of these in the short term as we aren't all that flush with the cash.  To have a couple of hundred pounds sitting around just waiting to be used on an oven just isn't where we're at.  However, I went along to the Argos website to have a look at just how much we'd need for one.

Lo and behold, there was the DeLonghi, reduced from £199 to £99 - and I suddenly remembered that I had £50 of birthday money sitting in a side account.  We went out the following day and bought it.

My word what a Beastie it is.  It has so many different functions!  Grill and microwave.  Convection oven and microwave.  Grill and convection oven.  Microwave on its own.  The only thing it doesn't do, is the washing up, regrettably.  Of course, we needed to have a complete re-arrangement of one side of the kitchen to get it in, but eventually we settled on a position for it - and it sits there, all shiny and new.

The funny thing is, you think you're quite a good cook right up until you have to use a new oven.  Suddenly, all the rules you've been used to go right out of the window and it's a whole new world.  A whole new, exciting, bright and shiny world.

So, I think I've got my head around microwaving.  Perhaps even cooking bacon by using the microwave and grill function.  The convection oven has taken a bit of getting used to - example a) being the batch of Bacon & Cheese Muffins that just didn't bake right because the silicone muffin "tin" is a tad too wide for the oven and I had to remove the rotating plate to stop the "tin" bumping into the walls.  Wrong!  Twirling around is apparently essential to achieving an even bake.  Well, it would have been good if the manual had have told me so, but never mind, I know now.  We ate the muffins, even so.  Well - waste not want not.

I'm a lot more comfortable with it now - here's this evening's dinner of BBQ Sausages with Baked Sweet Potatoes and corn on the cob.  The Baked Sweet Potatoes took 1 hour using just the combi oven on 200degC.  I gave them 25 minutes on their own, then put the shelf in and the sausages in over the sweet potatoes for another 35 minutes.  The corn on the cob was from the Vegibox and was just gorgeous.  I cooked that on the cooker hob in a saucepan.  No bending, no pain (other than from getting to the freezer) and happiness all round.  That's got to be worth the £45 it cost.  

14 September 2013

Pumpkin Pie!

Such an innocuous, sugar coated little confection
In this week's delivery from vegibox.com there was a gorgeous summer squash.  Now, for all that I've cooked with Butternut squash for a fair old while, because our boring old supermarkets don't stock any other squash varieties, I've not ventured out into other types.

Yes, I've bought pumpkins from them - but only for carving, never for cooking!

It's a summer squash ... that looks like a pumpkin.
Being something of a novice to the world of summer squash, I thought the best thing to do would be to make something fairly middle of the road to begin with.  Really just to gain an idea of how this squash behaves when it is cooked - and more to the point, how it tastes.  For my first go, then, I made the very lovely creamy parsnip & squash bake - which I will blog very soon.

From this, I discovered that this squash has a mild flavour, is sweet and hangs together nicely when cooked.  Perfect ammunition for a pumpkin pie, then!

Now I have tried to make a pumpkin pie in the past - with parlous results.  However, this time, I'll be using fresh pumpkin (or squash) as opposed to the nasty tinned stuff - and I was hoping it would make a difference.

Just look how gorgeous the squash/pumpkin was inside ... amazing.

Having nearly severed the end of my finger on the mandolin when I was slicing veggies a few days ago, I thought it was better not to be making pastry right now ~wince~ and so we invested in a ready made sweet pastry shell.  However, the quantity of filling was sufficient for a standard pie dish (you know, the pyrex type ones) and my pie case was half the depth.  No worries though, I simply filled up the pie case and poured the rest into a small pyrex casserole dish - and baked it like that.  Extra middles!  However, don't feel you have to use a pastry case too - by all means make your own sweet shortcrust pastry and take the pastry case to a blind baked state - then carry on from there.

So - you know what I'm like when I'm making something for the first time.  I don't stick to just one recipe, I read a dozen or so and decide to make something that uses bits from each.  In this instance, however, I think either the squash was an awful lot wetter in structure than ordinary pumpkin, or I got the quantities of the milk wrong.  Basically, once I'd added the sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, butter and eggs to the pumpkin, it was looking pretty darned wet - so I only added 25ml of the milk, as opposed to the 75ml that I'd picked up from another recipe!  Well, it seems to have worked fine - but just be aware that if your mixture appears to be too thick or too dry, just add more milk and it will be fine.

The bake was easy peasy - it made the flat smell utterly gorgeous - and the filling set up beautifully into a mousse-like texture that was light and fluffy.

Well, it looks like the real thing!  Perhaps the filling could have been deeper, but there's certainly enough in there and I have a very strong feeling that it's going to be pretty rich!

Oh my goodness though - the flavour.  Oh wow!  Now I know why the Americans go so potty over pumpkin pie.  It's only a shame that it has taken so long to find out.  The nutmeg, the cinnamon, the soft, yielding unctuousness that just coats your tongue and says "everything is okay now" in motherly tones.  I know it is a Greg Wallace-ism, but it really does give you a great big, warm, fluffy, cinnamon scented hug.  Which is odd, considering I served it cold.

To a man - and one woman - we all took our first bite and chewed for approximately three seconds before rolling our eyes heavenwards and saying "mmmnnnhhhh" in that "oh, this is gooooood!" kind of way.  In fact, it isn't good - it transcends good.  It is amazing.

Go get yourself a pumpkin or golden summer squash and make it.  You have to.  You simply just have to.

PUMPKIN PIE    (serves 6)

Ingredients :

750g pumpkin (or yellow squash), peeled and cut into chunks
140g granulated sugar
half a tsp salt
half a tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, beaten well
25g salted butter, melted
25ml milk
Icing sugar to decorate.

Method :

1.  Place the pumpkin chunks into a saucepan and cover them with boiling water.  Place onto a moderate heat and simmer until tender.  Drain and place the chunks into a large bowl.

2.  Either mash, or use a blender, to render the chunks of pumpkin down to a puree.  Set aside to cool.

3.  Pre-heat your oven to 220degC(200degC fan)/425degF/Gas 7.

4.  In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

5.  Mix in the eggs, butter and milk.

6.  Add the sugar mixture to the cooled pumpkin and stir to combine.

7.  Pour into a part baked shell of sweet shortcrust pastry and bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180degC(160degC fan)/350degF/Gas 4 and bake for another 35-40 minutes, or until the filling is set.

Allow to cool, dust with icing sugar and serve chilled, with cream or ice cream.

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12 September 2013

Tonight's dinner : I cut my finger - does that make me a cook, now?

There is a train of thought in amongst the Shamanic fraternity that it takes a near death experience (preferably with lightning) in order to make a Shaman.  So, I was wondering whether nearly taking the top of your finger off on a mandolin, qualifies you as a Cook with a capital "c"?

I'll go with a "yes", I think.

I was slicing parsnips and squash (beautiful parsnips and squash from thevegibox.com), to make this creamy parsnip & squash bake.  Poor hubby and son & heir came back from walking the dogs, to find me hyperventilating whilst holding my right hand in the air with my little finger swathed in kitchen paper.  Yes, it did leak - copiously.  However, with the addition of a dressing, a plaster and a latex glove, I soldiered on like the brave likkle Cook that I now am.

Now, this 'ere bake very definitely deserves its own recipe post - so watch this space and it shall appear.  It was utterly delicious, incredibly moreish and comfort food to the Nth degree.  Like so many of my favourite recipes, it was so easy to make too!  (Well, not counting the first aid requirement).

I partnered the bake up with some honey & mustard chicken (gorgeous) together with some  steamed young carrots and rainbow chard from thevegibox.com.  This was our first go with chard as a side veggie and combined with the cooking juices from the chicken, it was really good.  It didn't taste how I was expecting it to - it has a definite spinach quality, whereas I was expecting more of a cabbage quality.  Very nice!

The chicken was rolled around in some runny honey that I'd combined with Dijon mustard, a little dried thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper.  It baked up well and provided some lovely juices that stood in well instead of having to make a gravy or jus.

The whole family enjoyed the meal and there were clear plates all round.  Can't ask for more than that!

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