18 September 2015

Watermelon & lime marmalade

I'm a bit in the habit of posting photographs of a particularly yummy breakfast or lunch to the Jenny Eatwell Facebook page.  Well, I like to share.  What can I tell you?  Having done so of hubby's new brew of Watermelon Rind & Lime Marmalade, quite a few people have shown just as much interest in it as we did when we first saw the recipe, here : http://food52.com/blog/13793-stop-throwing-out-the-best-part-of-the-watermelon .  The recipe has had quite a journey, having originated with Olia Hercules' cook book Mamushka, then been slightly adapted by Food 52's Kristen Miglore, before coming to roost with us!

A typical Facebook breakfast post - duck egg & marmalade.
The words "watermelon rind" caught my attention to begin with, as it begs the question "the green bit?".  Apparently not, however.  You peel off the green bit and use the white bit that's in between the fleshy layer and the outer green rind.  So, truth be told, it should be called "Watermelon pith and lime marmalade", but that doesn't sound very appealing.

So having established we're talking about a semi-edible bit of the watermelon, my attention is next caught by the idea of pairing it with lime.  I love lime.  Anything lime gets my vote, instantly.

Well hubby was so intrigued, it became one of those "it has to be done" things.  So he did and I love it.  It has a really strong, bitter flavour that is akin to Frank Cooper's Vintage orange marmalade, which I love.  However, hubby finds the lime peel to be sliced too thick and the melon pith to be cut too small.  I do agree with him that slicing the lime ultra-thin, maybe just zesting some of the peel and leaving the watermelon pith a lot bigger, would have altered the balance of power between the two flavours, bringing the watermelon to the fore.  The watermelon undergoes quite a transition in the cooking process, becoming glassy and almost crystalline in structure, winding up looking like little square sweeties.  It tastes divine, but does have a tendency to be knocked sideways by the lime, currently.

Once I've eaten this batch (because I'm the only one who likes it), we're going to give it a go with the thinner lime zest and bigger watermelon pith - just to see what happens.  I can't say whether it'll work - but even if it doesn't, you'll still have a fantastic marmalade for your toast!

The fallback position of "hmmn, it's just the same" is fine by me!

WATERMELON & LIME MARMALADE  (Makes two 450ml (3/4 pint) jars)

Ingredients :

500g watermelon pith (sweet red flesh removed, green skin removed), diced
300g golden caster sugar
4 limes, halved and thinly sliced (or quartered and finely sliced).

Method : 

Mix all the ingredients together in a container (plastic or glass, preferably), cover with cling film, and leave in the refrigerator overnight.

Using a non-reactive saucepan, pour in the ingredients and cook gently over a low heat until the sugar is all dissolved.

Bring to a boil and cook at a lively simmer for 50 minutes or until the watermelon skin turns translucent.

The marmalade should reach setting point (where a small amount dropped onto a cold surface will develop a skin as it cools) before you remove from the heat.

Once at setting point, pour into 2 warm sterilized 450-ml (3/4 pint) jars, seal and cool.

The marmalade should be stored in the refrigerator and should keep, unopened, for several months.

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12 September 2015

Herby lamb and pea pie

I love this pie.  Now I know I sound like I love every recipe I make - which I do - but I just love this pie a little bit more.

I've had my issues with pies over the years and yes, granted, this one is just a top-only pie and not a top-and-bottom version so that's easier.  However, it hasn't always been the pastry that has been a problem, but the filling too.

Mostly, to be honest, it has been the gravy or sauce where I've failed.

However, in the Game Pie and with this lovely example here, I got the gravy right.  None of the "gravy like water", where it has been diluted in the cooking.  Equally, none of the "gravy like glue".  No, just a perfectly thick, covering, tasty, unctuous pie gravy that means every forkful will be as delicious as the last and with no resorting to gravy granules.

So I'm pleased.

The pie itself had been simmering on a low heat in my head for a couple of weeks, while I worked out what "interesting" departure from a usual lamb pie I would use.

Mint and Rosemary - home grown, don'cha know!
I was convinced that it would be the juniper berries that I bought for the game pie, right up until - with a stroke of inspiration - I remembered the pomegranate molasses.  Even when I was cooking the filling, I had the juniper berries sat there beside the pomegranate molasses, as I really wasn't sure which one to choose.  Ultimately, I had a little taste of the way the sauce was going, then a little taste of some of the molasses on a teaspoon.  The combination of the two was just so good, I didn't consider the juniper any further.

Lamb often needs something a little bit sweetly acidic to complement its own earthy sweetness and this is why redcurrant jelly does the job so well.  So, if you don't want to invest in a bottle of pomegranate molasses just for this pie (although why not try it drizzled lightly over strawberries and Greek yoghurt - it's otherworldly), add a teaspoon or more of redcurrant jelly instead.  The difference the pomegranate made to the sauce was just incredible, bring it alive in a subtle but definite kind of a way.

Another departure from the norm, is cooking the lamb in pale ale.  So often, you will find lamb cooked in wine - usually red, but I wanted to use something different.  I also wanted to keep to a "country kitchen" kind of a theme, which ale suited so much better than wine.  My plans for the pie didn't suit a very strong, hoppy kind of ale, but a lighter, milder flavour - so a pale ale was fine and the English Pale Ale (from Marstons brewery) that I chose was perfect for the cause.  If you're in a place where Pale Ale doesn't come easily, choose as light a beer as you can find without venturing into lager territory.

Now one other very important thing regarding this pie is that it takes a fair old while from beginning to end, if you want to do it properly.  So it's definitely something that you don't want to attempt when you've only got a couple of hours to spare.

Having said that, however, you can devoted two days to it and cook the filling the day before, so stretching out the effort and making it a little easier to cope with.  Plus, it means you'll be ahead of the game on the day.

Now, as for Cook's Tips, as ever I have a few for you :

Ordinary frozen peas will do if you don't have petit pois.  Nobody's going to quibble over the size of a pea.

You might be surprised that I don't recommend dusting the meat with seasoned flour, rather than adding the flour later.  Well, what I'm avoiding is the burned flour on the base of your pan.  Maybe it's just me, but it so often happens that way - and I didn't want any acrid burned flavours in my softly flavoured lamb.

Now, when you add the ale/flour mixture, if lumps do form (and it often happens), don't panic over it - just break them down into pieces that are as small as possible with the whisk and think no more of it, as they will finally dissolve during the baking.

Even if you've never made pastry before, do give this pastry a go.  It really is so easy to make!  There's no fiddling about with it, no kneading, very little mixing and so long as you add the water in one go to begin with (the 50ml), mix it lightly, add a little more, mix it lightly (just two or three passes of the knife) and keep the water to as little as possible - just enough to keep it together, you can't go wrong.  It really is SO good and suits this pie perfectly.

My last advice to you is to read the recipe a couple of times before you embark upon the bake.  It is always good to have a good idea of what you're doing, before you do it!

I do so hope you enjoy the process of making this pie and that the end result is as successful for you, as mine was.  I shall be crossing my fingers for you!  (Which makes it very difficult to type, but I'll persevere - as it's you). 


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
450g diced lamb or lamb neck fillet, diced
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 medium carrot, diced finely
2 leeks, halved and sliced
500ml pale ale (I used Marston's English Pale Ale)
200ml water
1 heaped tsp tomato puree
1 lamb stock cube (low salt, preferably)
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp plain flour
3 tbsp petit pois.

For the pastry :

150g plain flour
50g Atora vegetable suet
50g salted butter
a pinch of sea salt
50 ml cold water as a minimum.

Method :

In a deep frying pan, heat the olive oil until smoking hot.  Gently add the lamb and spread it out into one layer.  Season with a light pinch of salt and a good pinch of black pepper.  Leave it to cook, only moving it once the pan side has begun to caramelise, then turn it.  Leave until the lamb has browned, then remove the meat to a bowl using a slotted spoon to retain the oils in the pan.

Add the onion, garlic and carrot to the pan and fry until the onion is transparent.  Do not allow it to caramelise or burn.

Add the leeks and reduce the heat slightly.  Return the lamb to the pan and stir through.  Fry the leeks until softened, then decant the pan contents into a casserole dish. 

Add all but 150ml of the pale ale to the pan and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to moderate and add the water, tomato puree, lamb stock cube, rosemary, mint, parsley and pomegranate molasses.  Stir through and allow to simmer whilst you mix the remaining ale with the plain flour.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the ale/flour mix.  Whisk through as you are adding, to prevent lumps forming.   Place back onto the heat and stir well as the gravy thickens.

Pour the gravy into the casserole dish and stir through.  Cover the casserole and place into a pre-heated oven at 170degC/325degF/gas3 for 90 minutes.

Once the time is up, remove the casserole from the oven and set aside to cool.

(It is at this stage, if you are making the pie in two instalments, that it would be possible to refrigerate the filling until the following day.  Just remember to bring the filling back up to room temperature before you bake the pie).

Make the pastry for the pie, by placing the plain flour, vegetable suet, salted butter and sea salt into a large bowl.  Rub the butter into the mixture until you have a cross between breadcrumbs and cornflake shapes.

Make sure to stir the pastry with a knife and under no circumstances knead the pastry dough.  Add just enough water to bring the pastry together - just stir a few times with your knife, then pat and push the remainder of the flour into the ball.  Wrap the ball in cling film and leave in a fridge to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Once the meat filling is cool, add the petit pois and decant into the pie dish.

Paint the edge of the pie dish with egg yolk.

Roll out the pastry until it is just slightly larger than the pie dish, then lay it on top of the dish, making sure it meets the edge all the way around.

Press down lightly on the edge, to seal the pastry.  Trim off any excess.

Cut several holes in the centre of the pastry to let out any steam (otherwise the pastry will detach in places) and egg wash with the remainder of the egg yolk.

Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degF/350degC/gas4 for 35 minutes, until the pastry is golden and crisp.

Serve with roasted parsnips, Savoy cabbage and baby corn - or vegetables of your choice.

Printable version

7 September 2015

Trialling Nem Viet's Vietnamese Pho Kit - what a little beauty!

Well, there was a total sea change for dinner this evening as we trialled Nem Viet's Vietnamese Pho kit.

Available from certain Waitrose and Sainsbury's stores, plus via Amazon.uk, they retail at a fairly reasonable £2-£3 each.  Even if you're making the beef version - which requires a quality piece of steak - it still works out not too terribly expensive as you require just a small amount of meat.  We shared a £4.00 rump steak, which although we could both have eaten more (it was so good!), was actually sufficient.

Inside the pack, there is a small bag of rice noodles (which I was sure weren't going to be enough, but to my surprise proved perfectly adequate), a sachet of seasoning mix and a sachet of sauce mix.

I was somewhat taken aback to note (rather belatedly) that there was no stock involved in the kit and you had to make (for "make", read "concoct") your own.  I suppose, in retrospect, it makes sense as if you're intending on making a seafood Pho, there's little point in having a beef stock mix in the kit.  However, I hadn't though that far at the time.

So, for my stock - and it's worth remembering this if you're ever in the same situation and in Britain - I used a Knorr Rich Beef Stock Pot, plus 1 tsp of beef Bovril in 500ml water, which did the job admirably.  I dare say it wasn't the quality stock that a good Pho demands, but considering the pinch I was in, I thought it did perfectly well.  In fact, with the added seasoning and sauce sachets from the kit, it made a surprisingly tasty broth that was rich with star anise, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom flavours.

Hubby sat this one out as brothy soups aren't his favourite thing.  Our son joined in the Pho party and we both gave it a very distinct thumbs up.  In fact, our exclamations of delight attracted the attention of hubby, who - after a cautious taster - was very happy to polish off the remainder of our son's bowl, so that's a distinct positive vote for the kit!

As mentioned above, I made my kit into a beef Pho, for which I used a beautiful rump steak - sliced as thinly as I could manage -  and beansprouts, julienne of carrot, quartered baby corn, diagonally sliced spring onion, Thai basil, sliced red chilli and lime quarters as our additional flavours and veggies.  However, you could go any way you like with the kit - seafood, chicken, pork - as you provide your own stock, it is subsequently very flexible.  I also liked that it wasn't blisteringly hot from chilli.  Just a natural, gentle warmth that you could either dress up with the addition of sliced raw red chilli, or omit the chillis and leave it mild and warming.

I cooked the beansprouts, carrot, baby corn and spring onion in the broth for just 3 minutes and poured the boiling stock onto the pre-soaked noodles and raw beef, which was enough to cook the meat to a perfect tenderness.  With home-made beef bone stock, I should imagine it would be utterly to die for.

As my very first Pho experience, it was perfect.  NOW I understand why everyone loves Pho.  It's unashamedly comfort food - but healthy, interesting and spicy comfort food!

I will definitely have the kit again.  We're already planning a seafood version, with a chicken version upcoming in the wings!

5 September 2015

Chicken Penne Pasta Bake

We've had a few tummy issues in the family just lately, so I've been trying to avoid the heavily spiced, full of chilli, rich with tomato sort of flavours so as to give everyone a chance to recover.  Inevitably, my first port of call is always what my hubby refers to as "brown food", or "something in some sort of gravy".  Now that is okay by me because I love gravy of all kinds, but it's not necessarily so okay with the remainder of the assembled throng.

So I began pondering the thought of how to adjust foods that we normally eat but that are very tomatoey, or contain a hefty whack of chilli for instance, but exchange something else for those troublesome ingredients.  Something that will deliver a good flavour in exchange for the tummy-troubling effect.

Amazingly - I think probably because I've a talent for comfort food - I've been fairly successful in most of these "calmer" dishes and this one proved to be particularly good.

Cooking the chicken through
Now I know that some of you will raise your eyebrows and move on at the mention of the use of a tin of condensed cream of chicken soup.  Well, if that's the way you feel about it then fine, I won't try and convince you otherwise.  However, for those of you who are left, the use of the soup as a sauce base is invaluable when you're either a little bit pushed for time, or are just worn out and can't face the "from scratch, infuse with chicken, add an hour to the cooking method" version.

I don't recommend that you use the soup alone for your sauce - although it would do at a pinch - but if you work on adding complimentary flavours, you can create a multi-layered flavour profile resulting in a really quite interesting sauce which will keep your taste buds interested through to the last bite.

Mmmmn ... had to stop myself from "tasting" too often!
I started my layers of flavour with sweated down onion and garlic in olive oil, then added chopped celery and a green pepper (which was a late addition, but made all the difference).  The tarragon made a huge impression on the sauce flavours, of course, as did the use of goat's milk instead of cow's.  You just get that slight tang of goat's cheese coming through - and the little bit of Philadelphia helped that along by providing the creaminess.

Again, it was one of those "put things into the pan in order, boil some pasta, combine the two and eat" dinners that are always so welcome.  Plus, with the extra little bit of breathing space that you get when it goes into the oven, you've got time to beat back the washing up or put together a little side salad, if the idea moves you.

As for Cook's Tips, well I've a few :

With any vegetable that you are using for flavour, chopping them finely instead of just chopping them into bite sized chunks, will increase the flavour they can deliver by a factor of many.  So don't be tempted to leave your onions, celery and green pepper in large chunks - small pieces will work so much harder.

It really isn't necessary to use goat milk for the sauce, cow's will do the job perfectly well - and if you're using a semi-skimmed of whole milk, then there is no need to add the Philadelphia as that was really just there to provide the creaminess lacking in a skimmed milk.  Likewise, if you're using skimmed milk but don't have any Philadelphia but do have some cream - use that!

Do try to find - and use - low salt chicken stock granules or cubes.  It makes all the difference if YOU can say how much salt you want in the mix, rather than some manufacturer deciding for you.

Again, it isn't essential to use petit pois - ordinary peas will do perfectly well.  Petit pois are just smaller and sweeter, but were what we had in the freezer at the time.  If you don't have any peas, then some frozen sweetcorn would do a similar job!

Also, it isn't essential to use the mozzarella ball.  It just provides some "stringy cheese" which my son always enjoys and adds a nice creamy flavour to the cheesy layer on top of the bake.  However, if you're strapped for cash or can't find any - don't worry about not including it, nobody will notice.

It's a great mid week dinner, this one.  It can be dressed up for more than four by the addition of a side salad and garlic bread, or just eaten as is.  Very flexible where ingredients are concerned and forgiving to cook, it's a very civilised little recipe.  The evenings are beginning to draw in and the temperatures have dropped, so I think it's time for a little bit of comfort food.  What say you?


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 stick celery, de-strung and chopped finely
1 green pepper, cored and diced
10g salted butter
half a tsp ground black pepper
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced
1 tsp dried tarragon
295g can of Batchelor's condensed cream of chicken soup
250ml skimmed milk (I used goat milk)
1 tbsp Philadelphia cream cheese
1.5 tsp Knorr reduced salt chicken granules (stock powder)
2 tbsp frozen petits pois
300g penne pasta
125g mozzarella ball, sliced
150g mature cheddar cheese.

Method :

Two thirds fill a large saucepan with water and put on to boil over a high heat.

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan over a high heat and add the onion, garlic, celery and pepper.  Make sure to stir the contents regularly so as not to allow them to brown, but cook until the onion is transparent and the celery & pepper have softened.

Add the black pepper and stir through.

Add the sliced chicken and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the chicken has all turned from pink to white.

Reduce the heat to moderate and add the dried tarragon and stir through.

Once the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.  You don't want it to be cooked all the way through, as it will finish cooking in the oven.

Add the soup, milk, cream cheese and stock powder and gently stir until all is amalgamated.  Allow the combination to come to a gentle simmer.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, but remember that there will be cheese on top - so go easy on the salt!  Add the frozen petit pois and stir to combine.

When the pasta is done, drain and make sure to retain a little of the pasta water, just in case you need to reduce the thickness of the sauce a little.

Replace the pasta back into the hot saucepan and add the sauce contents.

Stir through gently.

Decant into an ovenproof dish and lay the mozzarella slices over the top.

Cover with the grated cheddar and put into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas4 for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is melted, bubbly and just beginning to turn golden.


Printable version

1 September 2015

Egg & Bacon Croissant breakfast

Does bacon ever get old on a breakfast menu?

No, of course it doesn't!  What a silly suggestion.  Even if you're watching your weight, bacon for breakfast is a good, relatively low calorie protein to utilise, believe it or not.

Until this morning, I really thought that the egg and bacon sandwich was the best weekday use of bacon for breakfast.  Now of course, the Full English Breakfast takes the overall title, but you can't eat one of those every day.  Not these days, at these prices and with a relatively sedentary lifestyle of office work, anyway.  No, the egg and bacon sandwich was it.

Or so I thought, right up until today.  We went grocery shopping early and I missed breakfast to achieve that.  So I bought myself a croissant to have with a cuppa once I got home.  Except, hubby bought some bacon to have in sandwiches once we got home.  Now as I am sure you understand, once offered bacon it is impossible to reject.  Can't be done.  It's the law.  But I wanted my croissant.  Hence, the egg and bacon croissant was born.  (Well, it might have been born elsewhere at another time, but not in my kitchen).

So listen up, one and all!  Forget your bacon & egg sandwiches, that's so yesterday.  Today, the bacon & egg croissant is the contemporary, hip and happenin' breakfast.  400 calories?  Aaah, just have a salad for lunch - it'll be worth it, I promise.  This was SO good. I thought that perhaps it would be nice - but hadn't reckoned on just HOW nice.

The recipe is simple - slice your croissant across lengthwise, grill two slices of smoked back bacon and fry an egg in olive oil.  Lay the bacon across the croissant, lovingly lay the egg on top, add sea salt and black pepper and enclose it with the other half of your croissant.  Take it somewhere quiet and enjoy your breakfast whilst holding the plate closely under your chin, to catch the golden, delicious drips.  Happy sighs will ensue.

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