7 December 2014

Turkey Tortilla Bake

I don't remember when I spotted the original recipe on BBC Good Food - which you can find here - but it was some time ago.  I bookmarked it, thinking it bore further investigation and only recently rediscovered it when I was having a bit of an American/Mexican thing going on with the menu plan.

You will, no doubt, have gathered that I tend to gravitate towards simple recipes.  Ones that don't require much "dotting about the kitchen", doing this bit over here and that bit over there - basically, because I just don't have the legs for "dotting about".  So I go for recipes that demand a) some preparation of ingredient activity, i.e. chopping, grating, etc. and b) some "putting in a pan in order, stirring and heating" activity.  Those sorts of recipes are just great for when my legs aren't behaving too well and trundling around the kitchen dragging my perching stool behind me is too much to contemplate.

Sometimes, however, these recipes that are reputed to be "simple" are rather more "dull" than "easy to make".  Once you have a bit of cooking time under your belt - I don't like to think how long I've got racked up now - you can spot these dull recipes before they ever reach the stove.  However, occasionally, one will still slip through the net.  So, when I was reading this recipe through and seriously contemplating cooking it, I was evaluating whether a) I had got the ingredients already, b) how much the required extra ingredients would cost and c) what the end result would be of combining all these ingredients.  Well, a) was good - I'd got almost all of the ingredients already, b) was "eminently affordable" and c) was "could do with a bit of help".

So.  What to do, to help the flavours along and boost this from what appeared to be a potentially mediocre flavoured dish, to something that would deliver a good old flavoursome meal.

Well, for starters, it was billed as being a "chilli con carne" with a tortilla top.  So, if you're making a chilli con carne, where's the garlic?  Got to have garlic!  The chipotle chilli paste they used would deliver quite a strongly smoky flavour, whereas I had just chipotle chillis and not paste.  So to bolster that smokiness - and a chilli has to have paprika in it - I thought I'd add some sweet smoked paprika.  Better to use sweet than hot smoked paprika, I thought, as I didn't want to overdo the peppery heat.  However, if you're into chillis that leave you feeling like one of Daenerys Targaryen's dragons, then by all means step up the chilli effect.

A chilli needs some herbage, in my opinion, so as my herb of choice at the time was oregano, that got included on the ingredients list.  Now thinking about the tomato side of things, tomato puree and tomato ketchup were a given - both of which aide and abet the whole tomato thing that goes on with chilli con carne.  The tomato puree richens the flavour base and tomato ketchup adds that tasty mix of spicy flavours and subtle sweetness.  If you have never put either of them into your chilli con carne, I recommend you give it a go one day.

After that, it was just a simple matter of bolstering the chicken/turkey flavour combo by adding some of Essential Cuisine's yummy chicken stock powder.  A half a low salt stock cube would do at a pinch, or a teaspoonful of chicken bouillion powder - but be careful that the stock you use doesn't taste too much of the stock vegetables and not enough of chicken.  It's the savouriness of the chicken flavour that you're after here.

So having decided to use that lot, the original recipe didn't really bear much resemblance to its new and improved version.

However, do you see how easy it is sometimes, to take what appears to be a jolly good idea of a recipe, but one that might not deliver on flavour - and with a few thoughtful additions and/or changes, upgrade it to something special?  I sincerely hope that is what happens to recipes of mine that you find here.  I'd love it if you took the recipe and did something different with it - and everyone approved.  Let me know if you do, as I'm as open to suggestions as the next person!

The end result of the recipe below, is a richly tomato flavoured, interestingly spiced but not challengingly hot, tasty and satisfying weekday dinner.  We loved it.  I'd have been very happy to have had any leftovers for lunch the following day, but regrettably, we ate the lot.  I really liked the tortilla chip layer on top, with the melted cheese that held it together.  The heat from the chilli layer below stopped the cheese from setting up hard and everything went beautifully with everything else.

I served the Turkey Tortilla Bake with a small garden salad and some gorgeous home made guacamole.  Any excuse to have guacamole always goes down well with hubby and I.  I think any kind of salad would go well with the bake and if you were feeling carbilicious, you could even put some potato wedges with it for an extra fill up.

Remarkable as it may seem, I don't have any Cook's Tips for you with this one!  It really is simplicity itself to make, with very few areas where a novice cook might potentially trip up.


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
500g turkey mince
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp paprika (unsmoked)
half a chipotle chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp chicken stock powder (or half a stock cube)
100g tinned sweetcorn
220g tinned red kidney beans 
lightly salted tortilla chips
150g mature cheddar cheese, grated (or to taste)
jalapeno chilli slices (if you like them!)
1 tbsp fresh chopped chives for garnish.

Method :

1.  In a deep flameproof casserole dish, cook the onions and garlic in the oil for 8 mins until soft. Stir in the mince and add a bit more oil, if needed. Turn up the heat and cook for 5-10 mins, stirring occasionally, until the mince is browned and just beginning to turn golden where it contacts with the pan.

2.  Stir in the cumin, smoked paprika, chipotle chilli and oregano.

3.  Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato ketchup, chicken stock powder and half a can of water, and simmer until the ingredients have combined nicely. Mix in the beans and sweetcorn, and bring to a lively simmer - stirring regularly - to reduce the liquid until the sauce is thick, piping hot and the mince is cooked.

4.  Heat the grill. Take the pan off the heat and quickly put the tortilla triangles randomly but evenly on top. Scatter over the cheese (and jalapeno slices if you like them) and grill for a few minutes until the tortillas are crisp, taking care that they don’t burn.

Sprinkle with a few chopped chives (which I didn't have, at the time) and serve.

Printable version

5 December 2014

Sticky Marmalade Chicken - the one that (almost) got away!

Now, this is a bit of a departure for me where blogging recipes is concerned.  Ordinarily, you see, I would get on with consigning a new recipe to paper almost as soon as I've put my knife and fork down.  However, I first cooked this dish quite literally years ago - when I was blogging on Multiply.  I cooked it again a few times over the years and in the meantime, started Rhubarb & Ginger.  However, when I came to look for the recipe in the Recipe Index, I was astounded to see that I hadn't included it here!

Thank goodness - because I can't remember where I found the original recipe - I still had a copy of all my Multiply pieces and was able to find the recipe.  I copied it over to Rhubarb & Ginger and then real life got in the way and I just didn't get around to blogging it properly.

So here I am fulfilling those good intentions of all those years ago - and getting on with it.  I think that really does take the biscuit for procrastination, but perhaps we should skip lightly over that.

Now because I've cooked the recipe several times, I have had the benefit of trying it with both salad and cooked vegetables.  I think - for all that the photographs are of the cooked vegetables version - my favourite version has to be the white rice and salad one.  The use of the marmalady sauce as a dressing through the salad (so note, not a lettucy salad as the sauce/dressing is warm and will wilt anything less robust than rocket, spinach or watercress far too quickly) is just such a satisfying thing.

This is one of those dishes that you think is going to taste one way - but then it turns out to taste completely different.  When imagining how it would taste, I forgot all about the garlic, chilli and thyme and the effect they would have.  Although, I do think that how it tastes depends entirely upon what marmalade you use.  If you go for a strongly flavoured, not so sweet one like the Oxford Vintage, then you'll wind up with a very strongly flavoured dish.  However, something like Golden Shred will give you a much sweeter end result that you may find requires a dash of lemon juice to add the required acidity and is perhaps better for a younger palate.  So in a way, you can tailor the results depending on what marmalade you use.  I reckon that Rose's Lime Marmalade would be awesome with a dash of lemon juice, lemon zest and a sprinkle of ground ginger - however, I haven't tried that thought yet!

Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed it - and its a 100% definite do-it-again.

If you decide to go with the rice version and want to be totally cheffy, you can make mounds of rice by lightly oiling the inside of a cup and packing the rice into it. Turn it upside down and bingo - cheffy mounds of rice!

The cooked vegetable version is good (and probably better, as we're in December and it's frosty outdoors!) however I'd stick with veggies that are compatible with Chinese style food.  Things such as broccoli, green beans, carrots, peas - you can dress them up however you like, maybe add some chilli to your broccoli or (as I have done in the photographs), sesame seeds and a little butter to your green beans.  However, be sure that your family enjoy citrus flavours with their potatoes!  Not everyone enjoys this combination, although I think it's the proverbial bees knees.

Something else to bear in mind (I suppose these are the Cook's tips!) is the size of the pieces of peel in the marmalade, in relation to everyone's preference.  My friend Marion, for instance, would need a marmalade that was totally bereft of "fishes", as she calls them.  For me, the bigger the pieces, the better! 

So there you are.  Do have a go at this one - it's taken for ever to get to you and it really didn't deserve it!


Ingredients :

3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, each cut into 3 similar sized pieces
sea salt & black pepper
2-3 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp olive oil
300ml chicken stock
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 chilli, chopped
4 tbsp fine-cut well flavoured orange marmalade
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or half a tsp dried
juice of a quarter of a lemon, if necessary, to taste.

Method :

1.  Place the chicken into a bowl and add the seasoning and cornflour.  Toss the chicken until liberally coated.

2.  Heat the oil in a frying pan and when hot, add the chicken pieces.  Fry for 8-10 mins,  until golden on all sides.

3.  Reduce the heat, add the garlic and chilli and cook for 1 minute more.

4.  Add the stock, marmalade and thyme.  Stir through until the marmalade has dissolved, then simmer for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.  

5.  Remove the chicken and reserve to keep warm.

6.  Boil the mixture hard to reduce to a syrupy sauce, serve the chicken and pour the sauce over the chicken.

Printable version

15 November 2014

Catalan Butifarra sausage pasta with chestnuts - thank you, Quiet Waters Farm

Wow.  These are by far and away the best sausages I have ever had the very great pleasure of sampling.  However, having said that, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.  As my Dad would say, "start at the beginning".

My lovely friend Marcus Bawdon, he of "Country Woodsmoke" blogging fame and a mean old barbecuing pal (if you've not been to his blog, do go - but be ready to salivate a LOT), has been singing the praises of Quiet Waters Farm and their produce, particularly the sausages, a fair amount just recently.  So when I spotted - on the Quiet Waters Farm Facebook page - a competition to win some of their sausages, I was quick to slip a late entry in and crossed my fingers.

Lo and behold - and much to my surprise - I trotted in as one of the runners up and won three packs of sausages!  Yay!  I even had a choice as to which sausages I would like and went for the Catalan Butifarra (a delicate balance of black pepper and sea salt in a pork sausage), the Toulouse (garlic and white wine) and the Siciliano (fennel, garlic and lemon).

Now because of Marcus' bigging them up on his blog, they had an awful lot to live up to.  However, I trust Marcus and know that if he says something is great - it's probably a little bit better than great.  So I was super excited to receive and try these sausages.

They arrived on the day they were supposed to, tightly packaged and still frozen inside a polystyrene box that made it very easy to put them straight into the freezer.  Because we'd arranged the day of delivery, I had been able to include them in this week's menu plan and had opted to try the Catalan Butifarra ones first.  Now I had also done a little research about the Butifarra/Botifarra sausage in general and discovered that there are a number of different kinds of Butifarra sausage that originate from different areas of the world - hence the slight difference in the spelling.  Having the "Catalan" bit there in the name enabled me to pinpoint the research and establish what the primary flavours were likely to be and what, generally, people put with them.  Of course, it goes without saying that whatever the general method of cooking and serving was, I would wind up doing something different.  However, I learned that these sausages are often eaten with broad (or fava) beans - so earthy type flavours - and did not necessarily require pan frying, as they were often simply placed into a stew type of dish and allowed to cook gently for a long time.

So, "earthy flavours" eh?  Immediately - and that'll be because of the time of year - my thoughts flew to chestnuts.  I adore chestnuts and so do piggies, so chestnuts were a definite.  Naturally, chestnut mushrooms were hot on their heels and would be just perfect, but I needed something that would give colour and sweetness whilst retaining that "close to the earth" theme.  Peas were no good, sweet yes but earthy?  No.  Butternut squash was the answer, but because it can be slightly bland I thought I'd roast it to gain that lovely intensity of flavour that roasting a butternut can bring.

So I'd got my main ingredients, but as of yet no sauce.  Pasta has to have sauce.  I also had no input from any herbs - and I love herbs.  The obvious choice for herbs was a pesto - and I debated red pesto versus green pesto versus home made herb pesto but with a nod towards the fact that I'd quite like you to be able to reproduce the recipe, I went with a common or garden basil and pine nut, green pesto.  The pesto would give the background herb flavour that I had in my imagination, whilst saucing the pasta - but I wanted more than just a potentially greasy pesto.

At this stage, I was still envisaging the contents of the sausage pan being mixed into the pasta prior to serving.  Right up until I had a flash of inspiration and considered saucing both the sausages and the pasta, but with different sauces that would combine sympathetically in the bowl.  Aha!  We're onto something now.  It was a simple matter of adding a small amount of quite intensely flavoured vegetable stock to the sausage mixture, which would deglaze the pan and gather all those lovely sausagey, savoury flavours that would otherwise be lost.  Then, serve the pesto pasta into the warm bowl and add the sausage component next, with its light sauce that would trickle through the pasta just perfectly.  A small sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley over the top to underline the freshness of the herb flavours and a light grating of parmesan for its umami and salt and I was there.

All this just totally relied upon the sausages being ace for pork flavour and not exceptionally fatty.  Now flavour is a subjective thing and all I could do was hope, however the fat content of the sausages I knew about, as in talking to Quiet Waters Farm on their Facebook page, I'd established that the fat ratio ran at around 75/25 percent lean to fat.  Well that sounded okay to me - I'd just keep an eye on the fat that was accumulating in the pan and use as little as possible to begin with, then prior to adding the stock, if there was too much I could easily remove some by spooning it off.  Perfect.

You see, I had thought about this recipe before attempting it.  Just a little bit.  *chuckle*

Oh my goodness - or ERMAGHERD! - it worked and it worked absolutely beautifully.

These Catalan Butifarra sausages are incredible.  There is a claim on the website that "we know you will not have tasted anything quite like them before" and they are absolutely right.  After I had tasted a piece during the cooking, I described them to hubby as having a porky flavour that is more roast pork than sausage pork and that they are quite intensely porky.  He got a bit concerned at that, as he hates (with a passion) sausages that taste of "old pork".  You know how pork can sometimes taste really "piggy" more than porky.  Well not these babies.  Having tasted their succulent gorgeousness, he declared himself both surprised and relieved at the cleanness of the flavour.  The black pepper is slow to rise to the surface, behind the gorgeous richness of the intense pork that is subtly supported by the sea salt.  However, when it does, the flavours just dance across your tongue.  The robustness of the sausage is everything you would hope it could be - even without their natural casings to contain them (which I removed), there's no falling apart, no mushiness (that'll be the lack of cereal, then!), just firm, succulent, tasty sausage.  Oh happy days.  Hubby even went so far as to declare that they were the best sausages he had ever sampled (and he's a sausage connoisseur, let me tell you) - and I agree.

Having done "the fancy thing" with the Catalan Butifarra, we both then had a terrible hankering for a couple of them, pan fried, in between two slabs of doorstep Farmhouse bread, with lashings of real butter, HP sauce and a huge mug of builders' tea.  Which, at some point, just HAS to be done. 

Now, having got all the superlatives out of the way, let's have a think about any "Cooks Notes" I might have for you.

Firstly, if you should invest in some of these wonderful sausages (whoops, another superlative slipped in), which I heartily recommend, then you can follow the recipe as written.  However, if you're intending on using another type of sausage, go for as high a percentage pork as you can afford.

Secondly, when cooking the shallots it is important not to think "the pan is a bit dry, I'll add more oil".  No, add a splash or two of water, so that the shallots steam for a while before returning to frying.  You can do this several times, without any fear of loss of flavour.  The most important thing is to keep the oil to a minimum.

Thirdly, as with the oil, you need to keep the salt to a minimum.  The sausages have a natural saltiness in their recipe and you have the potential to make the whole thing over salted if you take into account the stock, the salt in the pasta water, the salty pesto and lastly the saltiness of the grated parmesan - so you definitely don't need any additional salt.  Tie your hands behind your back of you think you're likely to over season!

If you fancy it, to up the gorgeousness, you could add some porcini mushrooms along with the chestnut mushrooms - and use their soaking water to make the vegetable stock mixture.  They would add another layer of earthy flavour along with making the recipe a little bit more special.

So there you have it!  I cannot recommend these sausages enough - do, please, to go the Quiet Waters Farm website (just click on the name) and check out their Farm Shop where you'll find the hundreds of different type of sausages that are on offer.  The next ones to cross my cooker will be the Toulouse - and I can't wait!


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil, split into 3 tsp
half a butternut squash (the thin end is best)
2 banana shallots, finely chopped
200ml warm water and 300ml warm water
1 pack of 6 Quiet Waters Farm Catalan Butifarra sausages, skinned and broken into small pieces
5 chestnut mushrooms
1 tsp vegetable stock base
250g pasta (spirali is good)
2 tbsp basil and pine nut pesto
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
parmesan cheese, for grating
sea salt and black pepper.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 220degC/425degF/Gas 7.

2.  Cut and peel the butternut squash, then slice into small bite sized cubes.  Put one tsp of olive oil into a bowl with the butternut pieces, add a touch of seasoning and stir until the pieces are all coated in the seasoned oil.

3.  Tip the butternut pieces out onto a baking tray and roast for 20-25 minutes.

4.  Fill a large saucepan two-thirds full with water, add a pinch of salt and place on to boil.

5.  In a large frying pan, add the last two tsp of olive oil and the finely chopped shallots.  Do not add any salt, as between the butternut and the sausages, you already have a fair amount of salt there.  Sweat the shallots down for 5-10 minutes or so, if you find the pan is a little dry, add 100ml of warm water to add a little steam which will hurry them along a bit, without the threat of excessive colour.

6.  Once the shallots are softened, but not coloured, add the broken sausage pieces.  Increase the heat to keep the pan going, otherwise the cold sausage pieces will reduce the heat in the pan and everything will just boil instead of fry.  

7.  Once the sausage pieces have started to colour, add the mushrooms to cook alongside.  Cook everything until the sausage pieces have changed colour and are just cooked through.

8.  Once the water in the saucepan has boiled, add the pasta and cook to manufacturer's instructions.

9.  Back to the sausages.  Add 300ml of warm water and the vegetable stock base.  Stir to combine and cover the pan.  Reduce the heat and simmer for as long as it takes for the pasta to cook, then remove the lid and stir.  If the contents are particularly wet, leave the lid off to evaporate some of the liquid while you deal with the pasta.  If there is just enough liquid to form a glossy sauce, replace the lid - you're ready to go.

10.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain it well and add the pesto.  Stir through.

11.  Serve the pasta into warmed bowls, then add the sausage mixture on top.  Then sprinkle on a tsp of chopped parsley and grate a little parmesan over the top.

12.  Sit, eat and enjoy.

Printable version

7 November 2014

Greek style gorgeousness - Chickaleekaka!

Well, what a thing of great beauty this recipe turned out to be!  I found it on Petit Chef, in a vegetarian version without the chicken (and other bits), here.  I really liked the combination of flavours and was intrigued by the use of the white wine.  However it didn't have enough "oomph" for my menfolk as a main course, yet seemed too heavy for a side dish.  So after a bit of mental juggling with a few protein sources such as ham (which I'm sure would be great, but good ham is hard to find for an affordable price), salmon, smoked haddock or sausage - I decided to continue the theme of delicate flavours and go with chicken.  After all, chicken and wine, chicken and leek, chicken and cheese, all go well together and it certainly isn't going to argue with eggs!

Just baked - and you can see the importance of the cheesy crust.
Yes, it takes a little bit of fiddling around as it's a three-stage dish where cooking and assembly is concerned, but if you start early and leave yourself a bit of time in which to give the ingredients the respect they deserve, it really isn't difficult at all.  I served mine with a tomato, spinach & red kidney bean salad (primarily for me!) and a few garlic butter doughballs (as a bit more carbohydrate for the menfolk).

Evaporating the wine.
This family all have a marked soft spot for a Greek recipe - there's something about the ingredients and the style of cooking that just hits the spot with us.  It must be the rich/healthy combination of a baked dish paired with a side salad, using indulgent ingredients like cheese and eggs, plus juicy tomatoes and healthy spinach.  Put it this way, not one person had an ounce of anything left on their plate, so it must have been good!

I was very interested to see how the wine infused itself into the chicken and suffused the leeks with a subtle but very much "there" flavour of sunshine and fruit which added the necessary acidity to cut through the richness of the Bechamel and cheese.  I added a small amount of thyme for an additional layer of flavour, which worked beautifully and didn't swamp the dill at all.

The additional mustard in the Bechamel was a great idea too, as it gave the mild, creamy sauce just that tiny edge which stopped it from becoming too much.

I can hear you wondering what cook's tips I might have for you about this one.  Well, as it happens, I do have a few!

Now you might wonder why I used skimmed milk, but added double cream.  Well, I wanted a richness through the sauce but not too much and considered that using semi-skimmed milk would mean I had to reduce the amount of cream I used.  Using the skimmed gave a perfect balance between milk and cream that didn't make the sauce too heavy.

However, the biggest tip I have for you is to make the Chickaleekaka (which, by the way, is a combination of "chicken", "leek" and "Moussaka-like-thing") in a dish which you've lined with non-stick silver foil, so that once cooked, you can lift it out of the dish and onto a chopping board.  From there, you can gently peel down the edges of the silver foil and the Chickaleekaka should stay, in one set piece, without collapse.  (The eggs are fundamental in this as they are what cause the lower layer to set).  You can then cut it into neat portions which helps to make it look that little bit more deliciously intriguing - and you don't lose those lovely crusty edges by leaving them in the dish!

A quick word about what size dish you choose might be in order, too.  You need to make the Chickaleekaka in a dish that is deep enough to give you a good 1-2cm of chicken & leek, with a nice deep layer of Bechamel on top.  Use too big a dish and it will be spread too sparsely.  Far better to go small - but deep - than too big and shallow.

My tomato/spinach/kidney bean/cress "hot plate" salad.
As for what would you serve alongside the Chickaleekaka, well I went for a "hot plate" salad, i.e. a salad that could be served on a hot plate.  This consists of items that can stand up to heat - so tomato, baby spinach, red kidney beans and cress were my choice on this occasion, but the possibilities are endless.  Just steer clear of things that wilt quickly like iceberg lettuce, if you're going to be serving it on a hot plate!

I know I'm going to be making this again very soon - and I'd really love to hear what you think of it, if you give it a go too.  So do leave me a message, if you try it!

CHICKALEEKAKA    (serves 4) 

Ingredients :

1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced small
500g leeks, sliced small
half a tsp white pepper
a tiny pinch of sea salt
half a tsp of dried thyme
100ml (or thereabouts) dry white wine
20g fresh dill, finely chopped
3 large eggs
250g mature cheddar cheese, grated.

For the Bechamel :
3 tbsp of salted butter
4 tbsp of plain flour
a generous pinch of white pepper
a tiny pinch of sea salt 
350ml of skimmed milk
2 tbsp double cream
half a tsp Dijon mustard
half a tsp of fresh grated nutmeg
20g parmesan cheese, grated
50g mature cheddar cheese, grated.

Method :

1.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and once hot, add the chicken.  Spread the chicken across the pan to cook evenly, as it won't take long, being such small pieces.  Toss the chicken a few times to make sure every side is coloured - but don't allow it to turn golden.

2.  Once the chicken is coloured but not cooked through, add the leeks and seasoning.  Continue to fry until the leeks are softened.  You will need to toss and stir regularly to prevent the pan contents from colouring further.

3.  Add the wine and continue to toss and stir until the wine has all but evaporated and the pan is almost dry.

4.  Decant the chicken & leeks into a large pyrex bowl  and set aside to cool for 5 minutes or so.

5.  Once cooled, add the dill, crack the eggs in and add the grated cheese.  Mix and stir until everything is evenly distributed.  Set aside, while you make the Bechamel sauce.

6.  In a medium pan, set the butter to melt and add the flour, salt and pepper.  Allow the flour to cook out gently for 3 or 4 minutes, but don't allow it to brown.

7.  Add a little of the milk and stir it through.  The mix will set up quickly, so take if off the heat and keep adding a little milk, then stirring - you will probably need to swap to a hand whisk - until you have a saucy textured mix which is somewhat wetter than you would require.  Add the cream, mustard and nutmeg and whisk them through, then put the pan back on the heat and keep stirring or whisking as it heats through to simmering point.  If the mix becomes too thick, add a little more milk - but not too much, or it will quickly become too thin.  You're after a consistency reminiscent of thick custard.

8.  Take your baking dish (I used a small roasting dish that I lined with non stick silver foil) and decant the chicken & leek mixture into it, making sure to push it into the corners and level off the top surface.

9.  Pour the Bechamel over the top and again, encourage it to form a smooth layer.

10.  Sprinkle first the parmesan, then the cheddar, over the top so that the surface is entirely coated.  This will form the gorgeous cheesy crust - too little cheese and the crust will be patchy at best.

11.  Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas4 for 30-35 minutes or until the top is a gorgeous golden brown.

12.  Remove from the oven and allow to settle for 5-10 minutes before serving with a side salad.

14 October 2014

Anzac biscuits - a terrific emergency biscuit recipe

You know, I'm sure hubby wasn't planning on making biscuits today.  Not as far as I was aware, anyway.  This morning we went and got the bulk of the week's food shopping in, then came home and hubby put the shopping away while I had a shower. Then, I discovered that he was busily making biscuits - Anzac biscuits, which turned out to be the scrummiest, most naughty thing! SO many calories per biscuit, but so yummy with their coconut and oats.

Do I hear you asking "what is an Anzac biscuit and why is it called so"?  Both of which are very good questions.

Well I first tripped over Anzac biscuits in a supermarket (can't remember which one) which was stocking packets of them around about Remembrance Sunday time.  A percentage of the proceeds were going to injured servicemen, as I recall.  Well, being soldier's daughter, I bought a couple of packets for the charity point of view, hoping they'd be nice.  They were more than nice, they're a fabulous accompaniment to a cup of coffee, or chai tea, or even builders' tea.  They're the old fashioned HobNob, made before HobNobs were even a twinkle in their creator's eye.

As for why they are called "Anzac Biscuits", well Anzac biscuits have long been associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) which was established in World War I.  It has been claimed the biscuits were sent by wives to soldiers abroad because the ingredients do not spoil easily and the biscuits kept well during naval transportation. So you can see the Forces connection.

It must have been a wonderful moment to receive a parcel from home which contained a package of these wonderfully, munchy, crunchy biscuits.  A little bit of heaven in an awful lot of hell.

Now from a current perspective, the speed at which hubby brought the biscuits together and baked them - probably around half an hour at the most - makes them one of the most agreeable "spur of the moment" or "last minute, Mother's on her way" biscuits to make.  The end result is certainly worth more than the time they took to make!

So, if you fancy some baking or you're cooking with your kids, give them a history lesson while they are baking and make some Anzac biscuits.  Your next cup of tea will thank you.

ANZAC BISCUITS   (makes 20)

Ingredients :

85g porridge oats
85g desiccated coconut
100g plain flour
100g caster sugar
100g butter, plus extra butter for greasing
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method :

1.  Combine all the dry ingredients except the bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl.

2.  Melt the butter in a decent sized pan (it needs room to expand) over a low heat.

3.  Add the golden syrup to the butter.

4.  Put the bicarbonate of soda into a small cup, add the boiling water and mix.

5.  Remove the butter mixture from the heat and allow to cool for 30 secs or so.

6.  Pour in the bicarbonate of soda mixture to the butter and watch it froth!

7.  Quickly mix all the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients before you lose the froth and stir well until completely mixed.

8.  Make a flattened disc out of a spoonful of the mixture and place onto a lined baking sheet.  Make sure to leave at least 1" between each disc.

9.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for 8-10 minutes, watching them like a hawk to make sure they don't burn.

10.  Put each biscuit on a cooling rack until absolutely cold.

Calories per portion (1 biscuit) : 118 (wince) - however, they do keep well in an airtight tin!  (Reference : Calorie Counter).

13 October 2014

Homity Pie - well, the low calorie version!

There has been a lot of interest shown on the Rhubarb & Ginger Facebook page, in the Homity Pie that I found on the Slimming World website and which I have now cooked twice.  So, I thought I'd open it up to a wider audience and blog the recipe.

Now, first thing I will say about this recipe is that the true Homity Pie is contained in a pastry case and is a vaguely Quiche-like "pie".  However, because this is the low calorie version, we've jettisoned the pastry case.  Don't let that stop you from putting the pie filling into a pastry case if you're not watching your weight, or want to present it to an audience other than the family.  I would recommend a shortcrust or filo pastry crust, as it could all get a bit heavy with puff or flaky.

So, what actually is "Homity Pie"?  Well, it has an interesting history - going back to wartime rationing, land girls and making use of what you've got available.  It is basically, mashed potato with added flavourings such as onion, leek, cheese, garlic, peas - whatever you've got by way of veggies, with eggs to provide a little rise and lightness.  So simple, but it works so well!

Both times I cooked it, I used it as an accompaniment to a roast chicken.  Well, sometimes you fancy something other than roast potatoes.  Not often, I grant you, but when you do - Homity Pie does the trick.  I could imagine it would go very well with whatever you want to add it to - sausages, chops, steak, braised beef, gammon - I can't think of anything that it would be out of place beside.  Well, discounting things like curry and apple crumble, of course!

The leftovers have been useful to accompany things like bacon, a fried egg, cold meats and pickles for lunch, too.  A quick turn or two in a dry frying pan to heat it up and draw off some of the moisture that inevitably accumulates and it is good to go.

Once again, another wartime recipe proves its worth in these times of austerity.  As with the rice pudding I recently posted, I do love a flexible recipe!  The ingredients of a Homity Pie are about as flexible as can be, the only essentials being the mashed potato, cheese and eggs.  After that, you can add whatever the heck you like by way of vegetables - however, I would recommend that any hard veggies like carrots are pretty much cooked before they go in.  Having your teeth bounce off a piece of uncooked carrot could easily ruin what was otherwise a great dish.

Cooks notes :  the original recipe (see Slimming World link above) is a really low calorie version, if you're interested in taking the recipe that far.  I have added mushrooms to my version of the recipe, which doesn't add much to the calories, but does add heaps to the flavour.  I have also used a full fat mature cheddar, as half fat cheese just isn't worth calling cheese, in my opinion.  I've also used olive oil instead of the recommended low fat cooking spray, as I'd rather know what I'm using - and anyway, olive oil is good for you!

So, the next time you're pondering on what carbohydrate to put with a meat, whip up a Homity Pie.  Your family will thank you for it.

HOMITY PIE  (Low calorie version)   (serves 4-5)

Ingredients :

400g potatoes, peeled and cubed
100ml milk
knob butter plus 10g butter
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp olive oil
225g onions, chopped
225g leeks, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 large chestnut mushrooms, halved and sliced
198g frozen peas
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
half a tsp dried oregano
2 eggs, lightly beaten
85ml of vegetable stock
160g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Preheat your oven to 220degC/425degF/Gas 7.

2.  Boil some salted water in a large saucepan and add the potatoes.  Cook on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Drain, return to the pan and mash with 100ml of milk, a good sized knob of butter and some seasoning, but a good deal of pepper. Set aside to cool until needed.

3.  Add the olive oil to a frying pan and cook the onions on a medium high heat with a pinch of salt to draw out the moisture, until softened and transparent.  Add the garlic, leeks and mushrooms and reduce the heat slightly once they have started to soften.  Add the peas to defrost and finally add the stock to deglaze the pan.  Set this aside to cool slightly.

4.  Grate the cheese then add half to the mashed potatoes, along with the parsley, oregano and eggs.  Give a quick stir to combine, then add the vegetables and stock.  Stir through quickly, so as not to allow the egg to set. Spoon the mixture into your ovenproof dish and scatter over the remaining cheese.

5. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until risen slightly and golden in colour.

Calories per serving : 275 (reference : Calorie Counter)

Printable version

12 October 2014

Easy peasy rice pudding

Well hello one and all!  I'm sorry for abandoning you all for so long - I have no excuse, other than sometimes the demands of finding time for blogging in amongst everything else are just too much.  So, we'll skip lightly over that and be happy that here I am again!

Now then.  What has brought me back to you all?  Well, something unusual for me - a dessert.  I wasn't anticipating blogging it, so didn't take many pictures.  D'oh!  I will admit that I'm not a great one for cooking desserts.  They are largely really bad for you calorie-wise and often require cooking at the same time as the main course is being cooked.  Well once upon a time I could multi-task, but it would seem not so much these days.  ~shrug~  Can't be helped - it's just one of those things that are sent to try us.

However!  This dessert - the humble rice pudding - is one of those lovely things that costs very little, takes the work of minutes to prepare, then can be left to chuckle along in a low oven for hours until done.  Perfect.

Another reason for liking this rice pudding recipe is that if you follow the straight, as published, recipe you wind up with a delicious, creamy, comfort food dessert.  However, it shows all sorts of promise for being dolled up in all kinds of directions, if you want to.  For instance, you could simply add a little cinnamon and some sultanas for a bit of a different slant, or serve with some baked apple, or melt chocolate into it, or take it down a Chai route with the appropriate spices.  Maybe even swap out the cow's milk for coconut milk.  I do love an adaptable recipe.

Looking good at half-time!
I had been wanting to make a rice pudding for the longest time, but it wasn't the right time of year (best made in Autumn/ Winter) and I hadn't found a recipe that I was entirely happy with.  Some recipes have the most ridiculous amount of steps in them for what seemed to me to be the easiest of things.  Then I tripped over a "cook with the kids" feature in my local Asda's magazine, which included a recipe for rice pudding.  (See here : http://recipes.asda.com/Recipes/classic-rice-pudding).  It involved rice, milk, evaporated milk and sugar.  Well that sounded a whole lot more like it!

Having decided to make it, I then had an internal argument over whether to use cow's milk or goat milk.  The cow's milk won on this occasion, as I felt it was better to go with the recipe 100% as it was something new to me.  Save the tinkering about with it until I'd cooked it once!  I was just crossing my fingers that the sudden intake of cow's milk wouldn't affect my tummy adversely (which, it would appear, it didn't - thank goodness).

If you, like me, have memories of your Mum making rice pudding and the kitchen filling with the most lovely smell of baking milky nutmeg - then you just have to make this.  It took me straight back to being a young teenager again.  Yes, it is a wee bit heavy in calories at 272 (reference : Calorie Counter) for a serving (a quarter of the pudding) - but it could be a whole lot worse!

CLASSIC RICE PUDDING (care of Asda's Recipes)  Serves 4

Ingredients :

15g unsalted butter 
75g pudding rice 
50g granulated sugar 
170g can Carnation Evaporated Milk 
530ml whole milk
Pinch (or more, to taste) ground nutmeg.

Method :

1.  Using a little of the butter, grease the inside of the baking dish.

2.  Mix together the rice, sugar, evaporated milk, milk and a dash of the nutmeg in the dish.

3.  Place into a pre-heated oven at 150degC/300degF/Gas 2 for 30 minutes.

4.  Remove, stir the contents gently and dot the remainder of the butter over the surface.  Grate on the remainder of the nutmeg.

5.  Replace into the oven to bake for another 2 hours.  You may need to turn the heat up for the last 30 minutes if you prefer your rice pudding top to have a darker hue.  I turned mine up to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 and the top was perfect.

The pudding can wait in the oven (make sure to turn it off!) whilst the family eat their first course.  It is also fabulous cold, the following day.

Calories per serving : 272

Printable recipe

3 September 2014

Making rhubarb cordial

As I am sure you are all aware, having followed Rhubarb & Ginger for a while, we very often have a complete glut of our very favourite fruit - rhubarb.  I dare say you even know all about Ruby and her daughter Rubytwo who reside in ground planters either side of our patio.

Well, over the course of the summer Ruby and Rubytwo have been busy growing like triffids and supplying us with the most beautifully textured and flavoured fruit.  However, as mentioned above, it does tend to come in enormous great instalments.  We give it away to neighbours and cook with it - of course.

Now in the last few months, hubby has become interested in making rhubarb cordial.  We get through a lot of cordial (or squash, as we know it here), mixing it with sparkling mineral water for a refreshing and "better for you than commercially produced fizzy drinks" kind of drink.  How better, then, to use a cultivar whose name is "Champagne" rhubarb!

Following some research, hubby established that there are two main methods that folk use for making rhubarb cordial.  The one is where the fruit is cooked - much in the way of jam production - and the juice is then separated.  The other is where the raw fruit is broken down by the use of a blender, the juice extracted and then cooked to separate out the impurities.  It seemed as though both tendered good results, so we resolved to give them both a go.

He started with the cooked variety, which certainly didn't offer much in the way of difficulty and definitely resulted in a very palatable, sweet and fruity - if a tad cloudy - cordial.

The second - raw, let's call it - variety however, really has taken the biscuit where results are concerned.  As such, this is our recommended version and hubby has kindly written up the recipe, which you'll find below.

Raw version on the left, cooked on the right - amazing difference!
The raw version has given a beautifully clear, pale pink elixir that is by a factor of some 50% stronger than the cooked version, much to our surprise.  The flavour is just incomparable, however.  There is certainly no missing the fact that it is rhubarb cordial!

We saved a little of the first, cooked, batch so as to be able to give a proper comparison.  My gosh but the difference is certainly apparent, even from just the look of the thing.  I thought that the first, cooked, batch was good - but this second version transcends good into sublime on both looks and flavour.

Hard to imagine that the paler of the two is the stronger in flavour!
So - if you're lucky enough to be parent to a rhubarb plant (or two!) or maybe you know someone with a rhubarb plant who always has too much rhubarb, why not have a go at making cordial.  You will need a little bit of specialist equipment - a collection of jam bags (cheesecloth is good) and a jam or jelly stand (which saves rigging up somewhere to hang the jam bag as the juice drains).  Both of these are available from Amazon - as that's where we got ours!

RHUBARB CORDIAL    (makes 1.5 litres)

Ingredients :

2 - 3 lbs
rhubarb stalks, washed very thoroughly
700g sugar
juice of 1 lemon, that has been passed through muslin to remove any solids.

Method :

1.  Take a liquidiser (or blender) with a 1 litre capacity jug and keep feeding it raw, washed rhubarb until the puree fills the jug to the 1 litre mark.

2.  Place a jam straining bag, or a piece of muslin in a sieve, over a large bowl and pour the puree into the bag or muslin.

3.  Cover the whole lot with a clean pillowcase or some other contrivance to keep the dust out and allow the puree to drain for at least 12 hours, in a cool place. 

4.  When fully drained, discard the rhubarb pulp or use it to make fruit leather or some such.  Pour the raw rhubarb juice into a large pan, add the sugar and bring the mixture to a slow rolling boil, skimming off any impurities.

5.  Boil for 3 - 4 minutes, by which time you should have finished skimming, which should leave a crystal clear pink syrup in the pan.

6.  Cool the syrup by placing the pan in a sink with enough cold water to come halfway up the outside of the pan.  Stir regularly until the correct temperature has been reached.

7.  When cooled enough, to about the temperature you'd have washing up water, add the lemon juice, stir well and decant into sterilised bottles.

As we've discovered, the resulting syrup is very sweet and very strong.  Dilute at about 10:1 and see how you get on!

Printable version

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