Pepped Up Veg

November 13th, 2014

Pepped Veg 1

The usual colds are starting to go round now and I’ve been feeling a little under the weather of late, trying to fend off sneezes and snivels. I’ve been taking the herbal remedy Echinacea, which really seems to be effective, along with vitamin C and zinc. Last night after another day at work I felt the need for a real boost of vegetables so I opted for a healthy dinner of low fat turkey steaks and a huge bowlful of sautéed vegetables, pepped up with garlic and a good few drops of Tabasco Sauce. I have to say it was really tasty and great to feed a cold with; the vegetable dish is definitely one I’m going to be repeating through the winter months.

You really don’t need a recipe for this as you can opt for any amount and combination of vegetables you like, but I’ll tell you what I did to give you a guideline. It was just me for dinner last night but I did make a huge portion with lots of broccoli as I seem to be having something of a love affair with it of late, which is great as it’s so good for you. I heated some olive oil over a medium heat in a big stir fry pan and chopped and threw in one red pepper, one leek, one small onion and a whole head of broccoli including the stalk. The stalk is perfectly edible and, so I’ve discovered, really tasty with a contrasting texture to the broccoli head so I always make a point of using it now. I just trim the sides with a sharp knife to ‘peel’ it and then chop it into small cubes. I added a crushed garlic clove to the vegetables and sautéed them until they were al dente. I then added drops of Tabasco Sauce until I was happy with the taste and kick. The turkey steaks I just sliced, seasoned and pan fried in olive oil until cooked through. To be honest the meal would easily have fed two people but it was so good I had two portions; so much for my intention of saving some for lunch today!

Pepped Veg 2

Stilton, Brocolli & Smoked Bacon Pasta

October 27th, 2014

image

I do like a quick and easy pasta dish for a mid-week dinner, especially when it’s as comforting and tasty as this one. The other great thing about pasta dishes is that they are generally very adaptable so if you haven’t gone food shopping yet you’re bound to find something in the back of your fridge or cupboard that you can add to or substitute ingredients. In this recipe, for instance, you could use as little or as much bacon as you like or omit it altogether, and I’m certain that a little leftover chicken thrown in would be fabulous. Just make sure to thoroughly reheat the chicken in the pan until piping hot all the way through.

Stilton, Brocolli & Smoked Bacon Pasta

Serves 2
160g pasta such as fusilli
4-6 rashes of smoked bacon
80g Blue Stilton
2tbls cream cheese
Approx. 200g broccoli

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and then add the pasta and simmer until al dente.

Roughly chop the broccoli and steam or simmer (I put it in the same pan as the pasta about 4 minutes before it was due to be drained.

While the pasta is cooking cut the rind and excess fat off the bacon and cut it into slices. Sautée it in a pan with a dash of olive oil over a medium heat until cooked.

Add the Stilton and cream cheese to the bacon and stir until the cheese melts. Add 2-4 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to losing the mixture and form a sauce consistency. Add the drained pasta and broccoli to the pan and mix well to coat it in the sauce. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Lemon Curd and Chocolate Twists

October 17th, 2014

Twists

I figured a return to food blogging wasn’t really legitimate until I post about, well, food. So here we have a quick, easy and totally scrummy recipe for a little something sweet to have with your mid-morning coffee.

Lemon Curd and Chocolate Twists

Makes 8

375g puff pastry, ready rolled

Lemon Curd

Chocolate spread

Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan

Lay the pastry with the longer sides facing you cut it down the middle using a sharp knife so that you have two equal pieces of pastry. Spread the chocolate spread over the bottom half of one piece of pastry then bring the top half down over the bottom so that it’s folded in half lengthways with the chocolate spread sandwiched in between. Repeat on the other piece of pastry with the lemon curd.

Twists 1

Using the knife, cut each piece of pastry into four strips. Very gently twist each strip, taking care not to squeeze the filling out, and then place them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake them for 10-15 minutes, until golden.

Turning Leaves

October 16th, 2014

Turning Leaves

It feels a little strange to be on this blog, in this space, typing these words. Time has past, the blog has stood still, waiting patiently for me. I’m finding my way back, fingertips feeling for keys, mind reaching for the words turning in my mind. I’ve had a long break and it’s been long enough.

It’s kind of inevitable that this is the time of year that I would feel the inspiration and desire to start writing again. Autumn is the season I embrace the quickest and firmest with almost overnight changes to home, attire and cooking. At the first sense of change in the air I pull chocolate leather boots over skinny jeans, paint my nails with deep blackcurrent polish, light sweet and spicy scented candles, slowly cook sausages in a pan until they turn brown and sticky, and beat butter into creamy mash. I look forward to the festivities of Halloween and Bonfire Night and to planning Christmas. Autumn, the season of change, blows in on a cooler breeze, curling in and around the trees, the flowers, the earth. There is nothing unaffected by its touch; the animals and even we feel its presence.

Autumn is not the only inspiration I have right now. I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer by the sea surrounded by the English countryside. Time with friends and family, time alone, time to reach inward and time to look outward. I can think of nowhere better to connect with inner creativity. This summer I have been painting the sea with oil pastels, capturing the beauty of my surroundings through my camera lens, creating pirate adventure days (with a three year old, I should add). And I’m very much looking forward to writing and sharing with you once again.

Yes, it feels a little strange to be here. But it feels like I’ve come home.

Shrove Tuesday

February 21st, 2012

Pancake

Whether sprinkled with sugar and squirted with lemon, filled with something savoury or drizzled with Maple syrup, warm pancakes fresh from the pan are pretty hard to resist. And what’s more they’re such fun; fun to make, fun to dress and fun to eat! I love them with lemon and also filled with banana and honey, and for a savoury version this steak, mushroom and Camembert filling is pretty damn good, if I do say so myself! Here it is in full:

Steak, Camembert and mushroom pancakes

Makes 4 pancakes

For the pancakes
60g plain flour
1 egg
150ml semi-skimmed milk
vegetable oil, for cooking

For the filling
2 large, flat mushrooms
olive oil
1 onion, sliced
250g rump or sirloin steak, thickly sliced into strips
100g Camembert, thickly sliced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C /Gas Mark 6.

To make the batter for the pancakes, sift the flour into a medium mixing bowl and make a well in the centre, then crack the egg into it. Whisk the egg, gradually incorporating the flour until it starts to form a paste and then slowly mix in the milk using a small whisk, so that you get a smooth mixture the consistency of single cream. Leave the batter to stand for 30 minutes.

Once the batter has rested you can start making the filling for the pancakes. Wipe any dirt from the mushrooms (never wash them as they’re porous and will absorb water) then slice them. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat then add the mushrooms and onion. Sauté them for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat up to high, add the steak and continue sautéing for a few more minutes, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, until everything is cooked through. Keep warm in the pan, covered with foil, while you make the pancakes.

To make the pancakes brush a little oil onto the bottom of an 18-20cm frying pan using a pastry brush or some kitchen towel. Heat the pan over a high heat so that it’s nice and hot and then turn the heat down to medium. Add a ladleful of batter to the pan and swirl it around so that it covers the bottom of the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the bottom of the pancake starts to turn golden. You can check this by loosening the edges with a palette knife and checking underneath. When the bottom of the pancake is cooked flip it over with the palette knife or by tossing it in the air. The other side won’t take as long to cook; only about 30-60 seconds. Place the cooked pancake on a plate with a sheet of greaseproof paper on top. Repeat to make 3 more pancakes, layering them with greaseproof paper as they are cooked.

Put a quarter of the steak mixture in the middle of each pancake with a quarter of the Camembert. Roll the pancakes up and place them on a medium non-stick baking tray and bake them in the oven for about 5 minutes or so, until the cheese starts to melt. Serve straight away.

What is Shrove Tuesday?
Shrove Tuesday is the day before the first day of Lent – Ash Wednesday – in the Christian calendar. It was traditionally the day when foods were used up and eaten before fasting started, and this is how it came to be associated with the making of pancakes.

However you eat yours tonight, enjoy.

Game for a Pie

January 25th, 2012

Game Pie

January. It’s a bit of a D month, don’t you think? Dreary, drizzly, dull. It’s not really A-list, not like, say, blossoming April or sultry August. OK, enough of the word play, you get my drift. Christmas has long gone, everyone’s broke…it is, officially, the most depressing month of the year. Still, we’ll soon be crossing the boundary into February, onto Valentine’s Day and one step closer to spring.

But January has got at least one thing going for it: game. Whether you go for deep rich venison, flavoursome pheasant or the more delicate rabbit, game feels like a real luxury in this bare month. Make the most of the season while it lasts and why not mix up the meats with a hearty, full-bodied pie like this one?

Game Pie

Serves 4

Olive oil
500g mixed game (such as venison, partridge, pheasant), diced
2 rashes of streaky bacon
200g mushrooms
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon plain flour
A good slosh of red wine (optional)
400ml beef stock
A generous pinch of Herbs de Provence
A packet of ready-rolled puff pastry
Salt and pepper

Add a little oil to a large pan and brown the game over a medium heat. Remove it and set aside.

Add the bacon to the pan and sauté it for a few minutes then add the mushrooms and onion. Continue to sauté for until the onion and the mushrooms start to colour and then add the browned game back to the pan.

Stir in the flour until everything is coated and then add the wine, if using, stock and herbs. Season well and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the game is tender and the sauce reduced and thickened. If the sauce thickens too much stir in a little water.

Preheat the oven to 200c, fan 180c.

Transfer the game to a pie dish and then top with puffed pastry. Put a small hole in the middle, using a knife, to allow steam to escape.

Bake the pie for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Slice of Game Pie

Chorizo and Savoy Cabbage Risotto

January 17th, 2012

risotto_4721
Photograph by Cristian Barnett

As the weather has turned frosty and wintery I thought I’d share this recipe from the ‘Snow Flurries’ chapter in my cookbook. It’s just the thing for cold, cold days.

Chorizo and Savoy cabbage risotto

I love this colourful and mildly spicy risotto in the winter when I want some warmth and cheer; it brings summer back for a fleeting moment. The crunch and deep flavour of the Savoy cabbage is robust enough to stand up to the chorizo and the rice marries them together in perfect harmony.

Serves 4

1.5 litre chicken stock
250g fresh uncooked chorizo sausage, skinned and diced
1 onion, finely diced
300g risotto rice, such as Arborio
100ml dry vermouth
6 Savoy cabbage leaves, shredded into bite-sized pieces
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
grated Parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

Heat the stock in a medium pan until it is hot but not simmering, ready to ladle into the risotto.

Sauté the diced chorizo in a large, non-stick, dry frying pan over a medium heat until it’s cooked through. Remove it with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil that comes out of the chorizo in the pan.

Next, add the onion to the pan and sauté it for a couple of minutes, coating it in the oil that has been released from the chorizo. Add the rice and stir well, coating it in the oil, until it starts to turn translucent then pour in the vermouth and stir the rice for about 30 seconds while the alcohol sizzles and burns off.

Start adding the hot stock, one ladleful at time, stirring continuously. Allow the rice to absorb each ladleful before adding the next. About halfway through add the cabbage to the risotto, stirring it in.

Keep adding stock until the rice is al dente, not totally soft all the way through but still with a bite in the middle, and the risotto has a sauce-like consistency. Different varieties of rice absorb differing quantities of liquid so you may not need all of the stock.

Add the chorizo towards the end and ensure it’s heated through before serving. Season to taste and serve with grated Parmesan cheese if liked.

Cook’s note
Chorizo is a spicy Spanish sausage made with pork and paprika, which gives it its characteristic smoky, spicy flavour and beautiful red colour. You can get lots of different types, varying in spiciness and flavour. Whichever you choose, make sure it’s fresh, uncooked chorizo so that the oil and juices can be released and absorbed by the rice, giving it that all-important flavour.

Lavender Milk with Vanilla Shortbread Biscuits

January 10th, 2012

Rose, Lavender and Vanilla

I am a creature who likes her comforts. A fire to warm my toes by; a soft wool throw to wrap myself in; a hot bath to sink my body into. But my greatest comfort of all is my bed. With a squashy duvet, puffy feather pillows, a bedspread and cushions this is my haven and when I sink into it I cocoon myself. And at the end of the day this sleep-inducing drink promises to bring peace and sweet dreams.

Lavender Milk

a mug full of milk
¼ tsp dried lavender buds
sugar, to taste

Pour the milk into a small pan and add the lavender. Slowly heat it through and then sieve it into a mug, discarding the lavender. Stir in sugar, to taste. Serve warm.

Lavender Milk and Vanilla Shortbread on Plate

Milk and biscuits, or cookies, is one of those ultimate pairings and for nursery comfort vanilla shortbread is wonderful with the lavender milk. The perfect bedtime story. Goodnight, my lovelies, sleep tight.

Vanilla Shortbread Biscuits

Makes approximately 16 biscuits

115g butter, at room temperature
55g vanilla caster sugar
150g plain flour, plus some for dusting
sugar, for dusting

Beat the butter and sugar together and then beat in the flour. Now bring the mixture together with your hands until you have a smooth dough.

Flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Carefully roll it out until it’s about 1cm thick and then cut it into circles using a biscuit cutter.

Preheat the oven to 150c/fan 130c.

Lay the biscuits onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment and back for 20-30 minutes until just set. They will continue to set as they cool.

Turn the biscuits out onto a wire rack and dust them with a little sugar before leaving them to cool.

Lavender Milk and Vanilla Biscuits on Plate

Roast Chicken & Shredded Sprout Risotto

December 26th, 2011

Roast Chicken and Brussels Sprout Risotto

Brussels Sprouts, nothing divides the family at Christmas quite like them. I’m not sure that any other veg consistently arouses quite a reaction: ‘urghhh’; ‘None for me’ (said with a grimmace); ‘You’ve got to have sprouts at Christmas’. I don’t think it’s quite as clear cut as saying you either love them or you hate them; how you cook them makes such a difference to their taste and texture. I’m sure many of us have been scarred by soft bordering mushy, greying overcooked sprouts force fed to us at some point in our lives as children. Those poor sprouts have been done such an injustice and are a million miles away from fresh, vivid green al dente orbs lightly seasoned or finished in a pan with pancetta and chestnuts. But the scars run deep and many can never get past the trauma of those sprouts boiling away to within an inch of their existence giving off a smell disturbingly like old socks being boiled in that pan.

Which is a real tragedy.

I’m convinced that cooked in a completely different way either as a star on their own or to mingle with other ingredients in a fine dish those memories can be overcome and sprouts can be seen, and tasted, in a whole new light. And I proved it with one of the biggest sprout-haters I know. My husband.

These days I don’t like to save sprouts just for Christmas day but I don’t buy them as much as I would like as it’s only me here that eats them. When I did buy some the other day I didn’t know what I was going to do with them but then an idea struck me like a bolt from the Sprout Elf King. Hmm, what’s that you say? You’ve never heard of him? I can’t believe it! Well I’ll have to tell you all about him another time. Anyway, as I was saying, here I was standing in the kitchen with divine inspiration: I would make a risotto with leftover roast chicken and use the sprouts in it like cabbage. And with the Sprout Elf King whispering mischief into my ear I decided I would tell Rob cabbage was exactly what it was.

I had to work quickly, shredding those sprouts like lightening until they resembled nothing of their former selves before Rob caught me. Job done I began working the risotto and when Rob came into the kitchen and saw the pile of shredded green veg I smiled serenely and nodded as he asked ‘is that raw cabbage? I love raw cabbage.’ and popped it into his mouth. Seconds passed in silence and I scanned his face for a reaction. None. As he walked out of the kitchen I breathed out. First psychological test passed with flying colours.

20 minutes or so later I watched with a twinkle in my eye as Rob devoured the risotto. ‘Did you like it?’ I asked innocently. ‘Yes it was really good’ he replied as he settled back in his chair. ‘Oh, you liked the Brussels Sprouts in it then? with the same innocent voice…’Brussels Sprouts?’ a flicker of surprise and then realisation that he’d been had ‘OK, you got me. Well I’m surprised, they taste different like that. Really good.’.

Mischief managed.

Serves 4

Approximately 200g Brussels Sprouts
1.5 litre chicken stock
Olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
300g risotto rice, such as Arborio
100ml dry vermouth
A couple of large handfuls of roasted chicken, cooked through
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

Finely shred the Brussels Sprouts using a food processor or using a sharp knife to thinly slice them.

Heat the stock in a medium pan until it is hot but not simmering, ready to ladle into the risotto.

Next, add a little oil to the pan then the onion and sauté it for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir well, coating it in the oil, until it starts to turn translucent then pour in the vermouth and stir the rice for about 30 seconds while the alcohol sizzles and burns off.

Start adding the hot stock, one ladle-full at time, stirring continuously. Allow the rice to absorb each ladle-full before adding the next. About half-way through add the cabbage to the risotto, stirring it in.

Keep adding stock until the rice is al dente, not totally soft all the way through but still with a bite in the middle, and the risotto has a sauce-like consistency. Different varieties of rice absorb differing quantities of liquid so you may not need all of the stock.

Add the chicken and Brussels Sprouts towards the end and ensure the chicken is completely heated through and hot before serving. Season to taste and serve with grated Parmesan cheese, if you like.

I reckon this would be fabulous with leftover turkey. Let me know if you give it a go.

Spiced Apple Strudel

December 7th, 2011

Spiced Apple Strudel

The summer warmth lingered longer than usual this year and November saw days brightened by a lemon sun hanging low in the sky. I enjoyed its presence, spending time sitting out in the garden, opening the windows to let the air flow through the house, taking lunchtime strolls. In this Indian summer I lost my sense of time; when the colder weather finally, and quite suddenly, blew in I felt a little disorientated, like waking up from a hazy dream. Is it really December? Christmas is on its way? Where did the time go?

As the cold air touched my cheeks and fingertips and brought me back to the here and now I embraced the new sense of season I had. Gloves and scarves were taken out of their storage box, Christmas lights hung, gifts purchased and candles lit.

And now I’m yearning for winter food and feel the need to bake, much to the delight of Rob and anticipation of my colleagues who have been badgering me for afternoon treats ever since they found out about my blog and book.

And so I have baked. And baked. In fact, I have made two strudels since Sunday, having never made one before. Sugar and spice was what I needed and I knew that a strudel, with a sprinkling of festive warmth, would hit all the right spots.

Having chosen my pud and looked up several recipes to get the gist I headed to the kitchen. If there’s one thing I really love in cooking it’s making something that doesn’t need to be bound by an exact recipe and allows me the freedom to play, which this certainly did. I’m never happier than when I’m opening my cupboards and adding a pinch of this, a dash of that, a spoonful of this and, oh, how about a dollop of that? Stirring, tasting, inhaling, like a white witch conjuring up a little magik.

Having pottered and added the ingredients to my filling that I felt would arouse a sense of Christmas – ginger; cinnamon; nutmeg; maple syrup; brown sugar; clementine zest – I went to the fridge for the ready made pastry Rob had picked up for me. And then I discovered that he had accidentally picked up puff instead of filo. Ah. I was momentarily thrown but with nods of agreement from Twitter decided to use the puff pastry anyway. Besides, the filo pastry the majority of recipes call for isn’t traditional anyway – a particularly dough is meant for strudels – so it didn’t seem to matter too much.

I waited with great anticipation as the strudel baked and the smells coming from the oven were certainly promising. I checked it after half an hour and saw that some of the juices were coming out but I wasn’t too concerned by this as in my research I found that this does sometimes happen. I just spooned them over the top, which turned out to give a great result. I was really happy with this strudel; it tasted as good as I’d hoped and was perfect for a winter evening pud. But sadly, the next day the pastry underneath went a little soggy from the juices which didn’t take away from the flavour but wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

I was keen to try the strudel again with filo pastry and to see if I could cut down on the soggy pastry, so this time round I drained most of the juices from the fruit (but reserved them to spoon over the top) and the result was much better. I do think, though, that this is a dessert best served warm.

Here is my finished recipe but please feel free to do as I did and go with your own sense of what will work for you.

Spiced Apple Strudel

120g sultanas
1 tablespoon rum
2 tablespoons Maple syrup
3 eating apples, weighing approximately 570g, peeled, cored and chopped into bite sized pieces
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
A generous grating of nutmeg
40g dark muscavado sugar
Zest of 1/2 orange
A packet of filo pastry, approximately 8 sheets
60g Nuts, lightly crushed
40g butter, melted
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Start making this the night before you want to cook it. Put the sultanas into a lidded container and pour over the rum and maple syrup. Stir well to coat the sultanas then put on the lid and leave them overnight to soak up the liquid.

The next day, when you’re ready to make and bake the strudel, preheat the oven to 180c/fan 160c.

Take the lid off of the container holding the sultanas and give them a good stir. They should have soaked up all of the rum and be coated in the maple syrup. Transfer them with the syrup to a large bowl and add the apples, spices, sugar and orange zest. Give it all a good stir.

Line a large baking tray with baking paper and then lay one of the sheets of pastry over it. Carefully brush the pastry with a little of the melted butter then lay over another sheet of pastry directly on top and brush this sheet with a little more of the butter. Repeat this until half of the pastry has been used and then sprinkle some of the crushed nuts over the pastry, reserving some to sprinkle over the top. Continue laying the sheets of pastry on top, brushing with melted butter, until all of the pastry has been used.

Next drain the fruit mixture of excess juices, reserving them for later, and lay the fruit down the middle of the pastry, lengthways. Tuck the shorter ends of the pastry over the fruit and then wrap the longest pieces over the top of the fruit, completely covering it and making a sausage shape. Carefully turn it over so that the pastry joins are on the bottom.

Brush the top of the pastry with the reserved juices and then sprinkle over the remaining nuts.

Bake the strudel in the oven for 30 minutes and then check it. If any of the juices are leaking out spoon them over the top. Bake for a further 5-10 minutes until golden.

Allow the strudel to cool a little and if you like you can dust it with icing sugar. Slice and serve it warm with a little whipped cream or ice cream, or serve it cold the next day.

Spiced Apple Strudel slice

Happiness Is…Colour Coordinated Cookbook Shelves

November 20th, 2011

Colour Bookshelves