28 February 2017

Bacon, blueberry, Cheshire cheese & maple syrup American style blueberry pancakes

Yes, it's a bit of a mouthful of a name, but I couldn't bear to leave anything out.  Our favourite pancakes for today's pancake day and hubby even requested them for his birthday last year, which demonstrates how good they are!  The pancakes themselves are really light and fluffy and as the melted butter is included in the batter mix, this means you can use the lightest smear of oil (or even a low calorie oil spray, which I used) in the pan to cook them - and the butter makes them taste fab.

Hubby's birthday pancakes!
With harmonious flavours throughout, the white, crumbly Cheshire cheese lends that slightly sour, tangy but also creamy note that works so well with both the bacon and the blueberries and of course, maple syrup goes with everything.

So why spend time debating whether to serve savoury or sweet pancakes? Serve these babies and you've combined main course and dessert in one fell swoop. Plus, your family will thank you - and no messy clearing up from lemon & sugar or jam!

My Cook's Tips are as follows :

Make sure to put your bacon in the oven before you start cooking the pancakes, so that it is rendered lovely and crispy in time to be broken up over the finished pancakes. You don't want to be waiting, with pancakes ready, for the bacon to finish cooking.

Also, make sure to crumble up the cheese before you start cooking the pancakes. It's so much quicker to just grab a handful of cheesy bits and sprinkle, rather than taking time with crumbling. More to the point, your pancakes will stay hotter and fluffier!

The recipe is incredibly simple and will make six pancakes of approximately six inches each. I use a pan that is the perfect size for each pancake. It takes slightly longer doing them one at a time, but it's easier to measure out the batter and ensures one isn't burning while your attention is on another. Right then, to the recipe!


Ingredients :

250g streaky bacon
200g Cheshire cheese (or any white crumbly cheese)
300g self-raising flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
2 small eggs (discard half the white of the second egg if using medium or large eggs)
450ml milk
10-15g melted butter
200g blueberries
light vegetable oil or a low calorie cooking spray
maple syrup to taste.

Method :

Begin by lining the inside of a large baking tray and the outside (or reverse) of a slightly smaller baking tray, with silver foil. Lay each rasher of streaky bacon onto the large baking tray until the tray is covered or the bacon runs out! Place the foil covered side of the smaller baking tray on top, to sandwich the bacon between the trays. Place into a 180degF/350degC/Gas 4 oven for 20-25 minutes.

Crumble the cheese into a bowl, making sure to have both larger chunks and smaller pieces.

Next, for the pancakes, place the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and stir together.

In another bowl, add the egg(s) to the milk and beat until combined.

Melt the butter in the pancake pan.

Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in half the egg/milk mixture. Stir with a hand whisk until combined, then add the remains of the egg/milk mixture. Again, stir in until combined and the batter is lump free.

Add the melted butter to the pancake batter and whisk it in until well combined.

Stir in 150g of the blueberries.

Heat the pancake pan (which should still be buttery) over a moderate heat and add a ladleful of the pancake batter, making sure to catch a good helping of the blueberries.

Wait - without poking, stirring or otherwise bothering your pancake - until bubbles have formed on the surface and you can see the edges have pulled away from the pan slightly. Insert a fish slice under the pancake and quickly flip it over. The pancake will rise as it cooks and you can slip the slice underneath and lift it slightly to check the colour. Make sure that the pan doesn't become too hot - you may need to turn it down slightly from time to time - or the pancake will colour on the outside but still be wet on the inside.

Each pancake will only take a couple of minutes on each side, depending on how hot the pan is.

Place each pancake onto a warmed plate and cover with a sheet of kitchen paper, adding the next one on top and repeat until all the pancake batter is used up.

When all the pancakes are cooked, serve two to each plate and sprinkle with Cheshire cheese, then bacon pieces, then extra blueberries from the remaining 50g.

For the final flourish, tip a good swishing of maple syrup over the lot and get stuck in!

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27 February 2017

Chestnut & aubergine stew - big, punchy flavours.

I seem to be having a bit of a Mediterranean leaning at the moment where cooking is concerned.  So much so that everything seems to have at least one red pepper in it and my olive oil stocks are depleting rapidly.

It has even crept into my Sunday dinner plans.  You see, we're currently shopping at Lidl as our primary supermarket - they've just opened a nice big store quite close by where you can get most things and what you can't get, you can either stop at Sainsbury's (if you go home one way) or Tesco (if you go home the other!) for.  Now Lidl has a regular weekly special offer on four items of fruit/vegetable and four items of meat/fish, which I keep in mind when it comes to creating the menu plan.  Hence, the pork being part of the special offer dealio was why I was focused on roast pork loin for our Sunday dinner this week.  I'm going to have to buy another piece and do a blog post on successful roasting of pork loin with rosemary and sumac, because it was by far and away the nicest piece of pork we've had in a long time.

Anyway, I digress.  I didn't want to do a standard roast pork with all the trimmings, as that is so much up and downing to the oven that I'm exhausted by the end of it.  No, this week I thought I'd couple it with delicious sweet potato and nutmeg (with outrageous amounts of butter) mash and some kind of vegetable stew.

Now I know that the name "vegetable stew" is an instant turn-off for a lot of people and understand why.  However, the stew I wanted to create wouldn't be that dull and boring.  Oh no. It was to have deliciousness like red onion, saffron, chestnuts and aubergine in there, along with the carrots and mushrooms and all in a delicious richly sweet tomato sauce.  Oh alright, it also had a red pepper.  I admit, I couldn't resist.

Now you may raise your eyebrows at the idea of humble chestnuts along with such exotic ingredients as saffron and aubergine, but the phrase "they were brought in by the Romans, don'cha know?" (the chestnuts, that is) was all the encouragement I required to place them in what turned out to be a very appropriate recipe.

You will need a fair old amount of time to create this stew because, well, it's a stew.  It needs time to hubble, to bubble, to toil and well hopefully not create trouble, but to cook all those ingredients to a stage where they're all very good friends.  It needs to stew.  It's no good throwing all the ingredients into a pot and hoping for the best, although you would get something more closely resembling a weak soup.

However, your reward for that time spent stirring (plus lifting the lid hopefully and having a wee soupcon as a taste - which is essential, of course) is such an unusual and delicious accompaniment to just about every meat and fish that's on the planet (bearing in mind I've not tried them all, but of those I have tried ...).  It would even be brilliant with eggs.  Perhaps a little odd as an accompaniment for a pineapple cheesecake, so let's just stay with the savouries, I think.

Anyway, as you will see from the photographs, I paired mine with the roast loin of pork (which I roasted for 35mins per pound, plus 35 mins, at 180degC/350degF/Gas4 covered for the first hour then uncovered for the rest, if that helps) and the sweet potato mash.  The combination made for an excellent Sunday dinner that made a lovely change from the standard roasties etc.

A closer look at that roast pork because, well, it deserves it.
So, whether you're choosing to eat it with roast pork, sausages, or salmon, I just hope that you like it as much as we did!


Ingredients :

1 tbsp plus 2 tbsp olive oil (used separately)
1 small aubergine, diced
1 red onion, finely diced
2 big garlic cloves, sliced finely
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 medium red pepper, cored and sliced
a pinch of sea salt
half a tsp ground black pepper
2 large tomatoes, tough cores removed and diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 pinch of saffron strands
a quarter of one preserved lemon, sliced into fine shreds
300ml hot water
1 heaped tsp of chicken stock powder (or 1 stock cube)
90g halved chestnuts (I use Merchant Gourmet brand)
5 large white mushrooms, quartered
1 tsp runny honey (if required)
2 tbsp fresh Basil leaves, torn
1 tbsp fresh Parsley leaves, chopped, for garnish.

Method :

Heat the one tablespoonful of olive oil in a large, deep frying pan or wok until very hot.  Gently add the diced aubergine and fry until quite deeply coloured on at least three sides.  Remove the aubergine from the pan and set aside.

Heat the two tablespoonfuls of olive oil to a moderate heat and add the red onion, garlic, carrots and red pepper with the sea salt & black pepper.  Cook until the onion is softened, then add the diced tomatoes, tomato puree and saffron.  Stir occasionally until the tomatoes are beginning to break down.

Add the preserved lemon shreds, hot water and stock and stir through.  Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook - stirring every so often - for around 20-30 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down completely and the carrots are al dente.

Add the aubergine, chestnuts and mushrooms and stir through.  Replace the lid and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste for seasoning and add the honey if the sauce seems acidic.

Remove the lid and allow the liquid to evaporate, until the sauce has become thick and is covering the vegetables and the carrots are cooked through - around another 10 minutes or so.

Finally, stir in the torn basil leaves and serve, sprinkling with a little fresh parsley as garnish.

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23 February 2017

Chicken Jalfrezi - a lighter but still tasty version!

Over the last few months, my hubby has slowly taken agin the curry pastes that are widely available for home made curries.  He's begun to find them very one-dimensional but more importantly to him, they don't taste of curry. Now this curry flavour is a very definite thing that we have yet to quite pin down, but this Jalfrezi got the closest to it in any curry for a long time.  We're still not quite there, but as I liked this recipe a lot for its flavour and use of fresh vegetables, I thought I'd pass it on to you all.

This recipe doesn't result in a heavy, thickly sauced curry but one that is a lot lighter in texture and without the pools of oil that characterise so many curries these days.  Oh and I'm really not sure how much of a Jalfrezi it really is, but I'm hoping that it is close at least.  As it uses curry powder, my first word of warning is to make sure you are using a good curry powder.  One which has a number of different flavours to it is by far and away the best.  I have yet to find - and yes, I will admit that perhaps there is one somewhere - a supermarket own brand curry powder that would even remotely fit the bill. My favourite curry powders come from our local ethnic shop, where I'm hoping that the curry powders on offer are close to the "real thing", but are certainly a long way from bland.

Secondly, make sure to use tomatoes that have flavour.  Vine ripened are the best of the supermarket choices, but it is worthwhile throwing in a few cherry tomatoes just to boost the profile a bit.

Lastly, make sure to leave yourself enough time.  Once the tomatoes get cooking, you need time for them to cook down, then time for the juice to reduce and intensify the flavour.  If you take the pot off the heat and think it's finished too soon, you'll just have a vaguely spicy tomato stew and not a curry.  So, give yourself and your curry time to chuckle, burp and spit tiny blobs of curry into random spots in your kitchen, you'll be glad you did even if the clean up is tricky.  (Of course, I could have got out the splatter guard which would have made sure no blobs escaped, but I was comfy and would have had to have moved.  What can I tell you?  ~shrug~).

From first putting the coconut oil into the wok, to calling everyone to attention in order to get them sat down and ready for the meal, my curry took around 50 minutes (with a good 30 minutes of chopping beforehand).  So it's not an earth-shattering amount of time, but if you only have half an hour, you're going to be in tomato stew land.  So leave sufficient time.

I really liked this curry.  Hubby wasn't so enthused, but I've already told you about the quest for curryness that we're on there.  When cooking it, I was concerned that it didn't have enough curry character, but as our son came home from college and immediately knew it was curry for dinner, I'm assuming it was just that my nose had got used to the aromas.  It tasted good right from the off and really came together in the last 10 minutes, once the liquid had reduced and the proper curry sauce texture arrived.  It was amazing the difference that reduction made to the overall flavour.

So, enough blathering and on with the recipe!


Ingredients :

2 red peppers, one roughly chopped into chunks, the other sliced
1 large onion, half roughly chopped into chunks, the other half sliced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced
a pinch of sea salt
4 heaped teaspoonfuls curry powder
1 heaped teaspoonful garam masala
a quarter of a teaspoonful of ground black pepper
2 very large sweet tomatoes, chopped
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp chicken stock powder (or 1 stock cube)
150ml hot water
1-2 tsp runny honey (optional)
10g butter (optional)
15g fresh coriander, chopped (reserve a little for garnish)
cooked white rice to serve.

Method :

Begin by placing the chunks of red pepper, the chunks of onion and the garlic into a food processor and blitz until a purée is achieved.  Set this aside.

Next, heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan or wok until really quite hot and gently add the sliced chicken breasts and sprinkle with the sea salt.  Spread the pieces across the pan and leave them to achieve a little colour, then turn and do the same again.  The slices do not need to be cooked through at this stage.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a bowl and reserve.

Add the sliced red pepper and sliced onion to the wok and cook, covered, for 5-6 minutes stirring half way through, until they have gained a little colour and begun to soften.

Add the puree to the wok, along with the curry powder, garam masala and black pepper.  Stir well to combine and fry, stirring occasionally, until the juices are released and the mix has dried out considerably.  This should take around 10 minutes if your wok heat is high enough.

Add the chopped tomatoes and stir through, along with the chicken stock and the water.  Once combined, add the chicken pieces and stir through.  Now this is where the patience is required.  You need to have the pan hot enough that the tomatoes will cook and release their juices, then the juices (and the chicken stock) will reduce and the full flavour be created.  You will start with a quite considerable quantity in the pan, but once everything has cooked down and reduced, the sauce will thicken and the liquid will evaporate.

Marginally before the sauce reaches its final few minutes, taste for the salt level and add a little more if necessary, but remember that there will be a little salt in the butter that if you're using, should be added now.  Taste also for acidity and add the honey to your preference to correct that.  If you consider there's no sweetening required, then don't use the honey.

Once everything is combined and happy to be there, the sauce is thick and there are no pools of water on the surface of the curry, then you're ready to serve.

Serve with plain white Basmati rice and sprinkle with the reserved chopped fresh coriander as garnish.

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22 February 2017

Tomato & Bacon Bruschetta - majorly epic flavourness

Is there such a word as "flavourness"?  If not, then there needs to be, if only to describe truly epic loveliness in the epicurean department such as this tomato and bacon bruschetta.  Oxford English Dictionary - in the words of the inestimable Captain Picard, "make it so!".

There now, having dealt with that, let's have a closer look at this Italianised bacon & tomatoes on toast.  Because that's what it is, really.

It all came about from our weekly staff meeting (that is, hubby, myself and the dogs) when I posed the question "what would you LIKE to eat, if you could".  Having got around the "lark's tongues in aspic" and "T-bone steak", not to mention "a Pavlova as big as my head", we came down to things that were rather more achievable.  Hubby mentioned the griddled sourdough that we had a little while ago, (that time with Coronation chicken on board) and we promptly had a bit of a brainstorm as to what you could put on griddled sourdough.

Well, the end result of pan fried, chopped bacon rashers with roughly chopped raspberry tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, all cooked in olive oil, just made my mouth water.

Now, if you're tempted to give this a go (and why wouldn't you be - it's beyond fab!), don't be put off by the fact that you can't source any raspberry tomatoes.  Just find the best flavoured tomatoes you can - any combination thereof will work.  Raspberry tomatoes are approximately the same size as a big old beefsteak tomato, but with 100% more flavour.  I reckon three or four normal sized vine ripened tomatoes would equal one raspberry tomato, if that helps.  If your tomatoes wind up being a tad acidic, never fear, just add a teaspoonful of honey to the pan and they'll taste like they were picked in the middle of summer.

It is important to drizzle the sourdough bread with a tasty extra virgin olive oil and rub it with garlic, but don't worry if you don't have a griddle pan.  Just toast it under the grill and it'll do the same job.  I adore my cast iron griddle pan and grab any excuse to use it, but I do appreciate that not everybody has one.

I paired our bruschetta up with an avocado based salad because it was served as a dinner.  However, this bruschetta recipe is perfectly adequate as a lunch without the salad.  A glass of something refreshing alongside is all you're likely to require for a fabulous lunch.

My favourite thing, apart from the gorgeous bacony, tomatoey, garlicky olive oil flavours, is the relationship between the sourdough and the tomato juice.  The toasted sides along with the chewy crust maintain the integrity of the bread whilst the gorgeous tomato juice just soaks, willy nilly, into the centre and shuffles around causing the bread and garlic to instantly fall in love with it.  Chunky salty bacon and sweet tomatoes on juice soaked garlicky toast with flakes of parmesan cheese on top.  Serious, extra large deliciousness.


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
345g smoked back bacon, chopped into chunks
2 extra large raspberry tomatoes (6-8 vine ripened tomatoes would do), chopped into chunks
6 sweet cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small garlic clove, sliced finely and 1 large garlic clove, left whole
half a tsp of freshly ground black pepper
half a tsp of dried basil (oregano is good, if you don't have basil)
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp runny honey (just in case your tomatoes need help in the sweetening department)
3 good, thick, slices of sourdough bread
extra virgin olive oil
shards of Parmesan cheese
finely chopped fresh parsley
a mixed salad, to serve.

Method :

If you are serving salad alongside, prepare said salad before you begin to cook the bruschetta, as it really doesn't take long.

Heat the olive oil (not the extra virgin olive oil) in a frying pan and, once hot, add the chopped bacon.  Fry on a moderate to hot heat, so evaporate any water and begin to caramelise the bacon.  Once the pieces have begun to take on a golden colour, add all the tomatoes, the sliced garlic (not the whole garlic), black pepper, dried basil, tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce and stir from time to time as the mixture cooks.

The juice will escape from the tomatoes, which is good.  However, you want this liquid to reduce so as to intensify the flavour so keep the heat fairly high and stir regularly.  You are aiming for a fairly thick, chunky tomato sauce kind of texture.  When the tomato liquid has reduced by at least half, taste for acidity and add the teaspoonful of honey if necessary.

Once the consistency of the bacon & tomatoes is to your liking, reduce the heat to a tickover and turn your attention to the toast.

Taking the whole garlic clove, rub both sides of each slice of bread liberally with the clove.  Make sure to rub around the edge as the crust will help to shred the garlic.

Next, drizzle generously with the extra virgin olive oil on both sides.

Heat your griddle pan (or grill) and toast each slice on both sides to your own taste.

Place each slice of toast onto the plate you're going to serve them on and pile the bacon & tomatoes on top.  Make sure to catch the juice as you're piling as that's where a lot of the flavour is.

To finish, sprinkle the top with shards of Parmesan cheese and finally with the chopped parsley.

Serve with your pre-prepared salad and a glass of something refreshing.  Be happy!

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