Sunday, 27 January 2013

52 Weeks- 52 posts!

Incredibly, it's a year since I took my first tentative steps into the blogosphere. And what a year it's been!

To begin with, the blog was private - only viewable by those invited. I'd heard tales of wicked trolls just waiting to send abuse to the unwary. But when I eventually plucked up the courage to step out into cyberspace- I found a whole wide world of lovely people who enjoy my recipes, share theirs and read my pages regularly.

If any of them are trolls, then they must like the food.

Over the last year, I've published more than 150 recipes and ideas- and had more than 2000 pageviews. I find the stats mindboggling- I have regular readers from all over the world, not just the UK: USA, Australia, Germany, France, Russia, Poland, Canada, Israel, Indonesia and even Macau!

Hi to all of you.

Before I begin my new challenge, I thought it might be fun to look back at the highlights of the  blog year.

So what were the most popular recipes and the most clicked-on posts?

Olive cakes in the sun

And in the oven!

By far the most popular recipe, clicked on many hundreds of times is my recipe for olive cakes.(And don't forget you can find all the recipes just by using the Search option at the top of the page.)

Mini Croque Messieurs

Next most popular are my canape and nibbles ideas:
Mini salt and vinegar chip cornets

Home Made Tortilla Chips

As far as popular posts go, many many people enjoyed Fruit and Veg to make you Smile:

13 desserts!
And many more enjoyed 'The Party Dress 'Diet' ' and it's antidote 'My Big Fat French Christmas':

Indeed the most popular posts have been those celebrating festivals- Christmas, Bonfire Night, Hallowe'en and most recently Burns Night.

Pumpkin and Parsnip Soup- second most clicked on recipe post
My own personal favourite posts were from the summer- celebrating the Olympics, my golden summer in Provence and the bounty of French markets:

Grilled bream- my favourite fish pic
But this is after all a blog about using up leftovers and my top three recipes for leftovers however are:

Chow Phan
1. Chow Phan (for using up leftover roast chicken, pork or duck)

Tarte a l'indienne
2. Tarte a l'indienne (for using up leftover curry)
3. Pie! (For using up just about anything!)  
Meat Pie
Do you have any personal favourites? They may well be completely different from those featured here. I'd love to hear.

But what of the next year?

Well, I'm setting myself a new challenge: 52 weeks - 52 menus. All different, all seasonal or featuring what's plentiful in the shops and markets, all with 3 courses, all frugal. 

And of course, all with ideas for how to use up the leftovers.

I hope you keep on reading!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Here's Tae Us!..... Burns Supper Ideas

We go back a long way, Rabbie Burns and I.

I lived for many years in Alloway in Ayrshire- and spent my teenage summers working as a tour guide in Burns Cottage, his birthplace. There wasn't a lot to tour- two rooms and an animal barn- but I learned to flesh it out with detail, if there was any hope of a tip.

I wasn't hugely respectful of the Bard in those days - a bunch of us used to meet in the Auld Kirk, prop ourselves up on his father's gravestone and slurp a can of Special Brew before going to Cricket or Rugby Club discos. I don't know if Burns Senior would have appreciated that or not. Possibly.

Like I say, we're going back a long way.

I'm much more appreciative of Burns' poetry and his genius for social commentary now I'm older and I hope a little wiser. I've often found myself musing on:

'Oh wad some pow'r the giftie gie us - to see oursel's as others see us'. 

It took Jean-Paul Sartre three volumes to say that. So I reckon Robbie deserves his laureate.

So here is my tribute to him- a post of Scots recipes for you, if you should be hosting a Burns Supper on the 25th January or just planning a few Scots themed meals in his honour.

As a starter, there is so much to choose from as Scottish seafood is second to none. You could begin with smoked salmon with soda bread:
Soda Bread

This is one of the easiest breads to make and is delicious with salmon or a crumbly cheese. Just mix 225g of granary or wholemeal flour, a pinch of salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda in a bowl. Add a small pot of natural low fat yoghurt made up to 200 ml with some skimmed milk. Mix to a soft dough, form into a bun and place on a lightly greased tray. Make a deep cross in the top and I like to then press some pumpkin seeds and rolled oats into the surface. Cook it in a hot oven (200 degrees) until brown and crusty (30 mins or so.)

Kipper pate would go well with this too- cooked Scottish kippers, cooled and blitzed with juice of half a lemon, a good grind of black pepper and half a small tub of low fat cream cheese.

A more substantial starter would be Scottish mussels cooked a la mariniere. This is a simple dish, and fresh mussels are in season in January too.

Scottish Mussels a la Mariniere
Just wash the mussels in several changes of water, rub them with a scouring pad to remove any grit  or seaweed. Pull off their little beards and rinse them again. Do not use any which are damaged, or remain open when scrubbed.

Soften a chopped onion in some olive oil in the bottom of a large heavy pan, add half a bottle of dry white wine and bring to the boil. Throw in the mussels and put on a lid. After 4-5 minutes, take a look- if they are all steamed open, throw in a handful of parsley, give them a good stir and serve in bowls with bread and napkins for messy fingers!

If you don't like fish, then Cock-a-Leekie soup is a good starter. Poach a small chicken or 3 chicken legs in water. (4-5 hours in a slow cooker, 45 minutes to an hour on the hob).

Remove the legs and take off the meat, then shred it. Skim the clear stock and then set it to simmer with half the chicken meat back in and 2 shredded leeks.

When the leeks are tender, serve the soup with the remainder of the shredded chicken as a garnish. (It is traditional to garnish with prunes too.)
Cock-a-Leekie soup
The soda bread goes well with this too!

Now for the main course- that 'great chieftain of the puddin'race' - the haggis.

Haggis is widely available in supermarkets- either whole or sliced. It can be microwaved very successfully (or boiled according to the butcher's instructions.)
It is traditionally served as a trio- haggis, bashed neeps and champit tatties (mashed swede and mashed potato.)
It's difficult to make this look good- as it is basically three dollops- but I liked this presentation idea from the Visit Scotland website:

Haggis Neeps and Tatties

I'm playing around with texture this year and am serving my haggis on Friday fried in slices with a side of roasted root veg (most notably swede and potato of course, but also onion and carrot and maybe sweet potato as these are all in season.)
Neeps and Tatties 2013-style

Leftover haggis is lovely re-fried and added to a green salad, perhaps with some lardons or even a poached egg.

Haggis Salad
With a poached egg

For dessert, pears are still good in the shops- so why not a pear and oat crumble? Or poached pears with some whisky cream (cream with a drop of whisky whisked in).

Pear and Oaty Crumble
Poached Pear

You could make a whisky trifle, with a very little whisky soaked into the trifle sponges instead of sherry. (Leave off the strawberry garnish- it's January!)


Shortbread with wine or whisky

If you just want a simple pud- try shortbread fingers dipped in whisky or sweet dessert wine.

But how about this for the piece de resistance- a  sticky marmalade and whisky cake (maybe served with some heather honey ice cream.) Both my shortbread and ice cream recipes are in the July blog if you want to make your own incidentally.

The cake is made from 175 g self raising flour, 175 g of butter or margarine, 175 g of caster sugar, 3 eggs, a pinch of salt, 1 tsp baking powder and 3 tablespoons of chunky marmalade. (Good for using up sticky jars of marmalade that are half empty.)

Sticky Marmalade and Whisky Cake
Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, add the beaten eggs, mix in the flour, salt and baking powder, then the marmalade and fold together until well mixed. Pour into a greased and lined 20 cm cake tin and bake for 50 minutes or so in a medium oven (180 degrees), until a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into the top.

Allow to cool for 30 minutes or so, then spike the top with your skewer. Boil together a capful of whisky, 1 tsp of marmalade and 2 tsps of icing sugar. Pour over the warm cake and allow to seep in and drip down the sides.

I can guarantee that you will be neither wee nor sleekit after this pud!

So, here's tae us!
Enjoy the 25th! 

Friday, 11 January 2013

Veggie Makeover

Doing something different with veg!
So, did you make a New Year's Resolution?

Are you stopping smoking/drinking/eating chocolate?

Have you resolved to trim your budget or your waistline?

Our NYR here is that we've decided to eat even more fruit and veg-  to eat in season, and to try something different as often as we can.

Different shouldn't mean exotic or imported or weird- just veg or fruit that we don't usually think to buy, or regular staples cooked different ways.

For example, as a child growing up I don't remember often being served cabbage or spring greens- and so didn't cook them much myself. But now I've discovered them- I love them and am always looking for new ways to cook them- stuffed, wilted, mashed or steamed.

Potato,cabbage and leek ready for mashing into Colcannon cakes

Colcannon cakes with Sticky Sausages
Cabbage leaves with stuffing

It's the same with mushy peas- I'd never had them, but when I discovered them pureed with a little stock or cream and maybe some mint or dill, there was no going back. They are lovely with scallops or, as here, with home made fish fingers. chips and tomato sauce:

Fish fingers, chips, mushy peas and sauce

Knowing what is in season though is not always easy- supermarkets stock imported fruit and veg all year round- and price is not always a good indicator either as these are artificially manipulated to get us to buy what the supermarkets want us to buy.

 There are many good websites which can give you that information though- try this one:

For January, there's a fair choice of root vegetables and leafy greens.

So, for me,  today's vegetable vedette is celeriac- fat and ugly - but definitely shouldn't be left on the shelf!

Celeriac- or Doctor Who monster?

One of these misshapen roots goes a long way- cooked or raw.

It can be grated and coated in mustardy mayonnaise for a remoulade or the grated flesh can be shaped into floured patties and fried as a rosti:

But I began by peeling the beast, chopping it into cubes and placing it straightaway into acidulated water (ie with lemon juice) to stop it going brown. It is then boiled until tender (15 minutes or so). I passed it through a potato ricer, added one cooked mashed Maris Piper potato and lots of seasoning. The mash was a lighter alternative to potato puree and went really well with  roast chicken.
Celeriac Mash

This used about 1/3 of the mash.
The second third was mashed with cabbage, leeks and carrots to make Bubble and Squeak the next day.

Bubble and Squeaky Celeriac

The final third made a rich celeriac soup- cooked with 1 leek, some celery stalks and leaves,
parsley and chicken stock.
I served it with smoked bacon lardons and croutons.

Celeriac Soup with Lardons

I've already bought my next unusual veg- cavolo nero or black kale. I've never cooked it before and certainly never eaten it- so I'm looking forward to being creative with it.
I'll let you know how I get on next week.

In the mean time- why not try some new vegetables  and give me some ideas? After all, they can't bite!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Full Fat Spread

Now, I promise this will be the last post with 'Fat..' ( or even Big Boned) as it's title.

Posts in 2013 will henceforth be leaner, meaner and moodier.

But as the party season has ground on relentlessly for the last month, there is just one more feast to fit in before we wobble to a halt with Twelfth Night upon us.

Since December 6th - when it all kicked off with the Work Christmas Do- I have eaten and drunk my way through parties, birthdays, Pub get-togethers, dinner dances, Christmas, soirees de raclette,
restaurant lunches and dinners, Boxing Day Dinner, New Years Eve and now at last the final buffet.

The Final Buffet

Despite the blog title, I did try to make this a reasonably healthy and frugal affair- inspired by the thirteen gorgeous nibbly desserts from my French Christmas, and supplemented by the generosity of le Papa Noel Provencal (who gave me the tapenade, the caviare d'aubergines, the almond biscuits and sweets and the lovely soft nougat which made up some of the dishes.)

There was some full fat there though- such as these vol aux vents (filled with mushroom and aubergine.)

Mushroom and aubergine vol aux vents
 4 large button mushrooms are finely chopped in the food processor with parsley and then dry-fried in a pan for a few minutes before adding two heaped tablespoons of caviare d'aubergine ( aubergine puree, seasoned with garlic). Add a capful of white vermouth or wine to the mix and cook on a high heat for a couple of minutes until the liquid has evaporated. Fill cooked vol aux vents cases with 2 teaspoons each of the mixture.

(I use the same mushroom/aubergine mixture as the base for a vegetable lasagne later on.)

Also naughty but nice are these retro cheese and pineapple/Brie and grape sticks:

Home made toasts with tapenade or smoked salmon pate (made from smoked salmon trimmings blitzed with 1/2 tub low fat cream cheese), olive cakes, and home made cheese biscuits made from wholemeal pastry and grated cheddar- topped with reduced fat liver pate.
Smoked Salmon toasts

Other  buffet dishes were kinder to the waistline though- crudites (raw vegetables) with a curry dip (made from 1/2 carton low fat natural yoghurt mixed with 1 teaspoon jalfrezi paste), home made tortilla chips with tomato dip, and radishes with fleur de sel.

The centre piece of the desserts was- alas- a chocolate moelleux - a soft chocolate cake similar to a chocolate brownie (recipe in blogpost' The Other Half of the Egg'- or use the search option for it.) But I did only add 3 eggs and 100 g of butter, rather than the recommended 4 eggs and 150 g butter. I substituted skimmed milk and the end result was just as good.

Chocolate moelleux
Other desserts were simpler- dried fruits and dates, nougat, calissons (marzipan sweets), shortbread and - the surprise hit of the evening- almond croquants dipped in sweet Muscat dessert wine. These biscuits were from my Papa Noel Provencal but are actually simple to make (and a good use for leftover egg whites from the freezer.)

Almond croquants
Mix 2 egg whites with 200g icing sugar, 60 g of flour and 125g of coarsely chopped almonds. Form the mixture into sausage shapes, place on baking parchment and bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) for about 15 minutes or until lightly golden.

My guests joked about what I would do with the buffet leftovers- wondering if it would all blitz up to make some exotic soup. Oh they of little faith!

First off, lunch the next day (once a good portion of leftovers had been taken round to my elderly parents. whose daily feed is part of my routine these days).

No need to mess around- this made a lovely lunch with little effort:

Leftover lunch

For evening meal- a vegetable lasagne with garlic bread (using up the French bread, peppers, mushrooms and aubergine puree)

I used a tip I'd seen on the TV ('Hairy Dieters') and replaced the top layer of lasagne pasta with a layer of steamed leeks for added flavour and a softer texture. It worked.

Vegetable lasagne

Top layer of leeks

Final topping

There is still chocolate cake (and now 4 more portions of vegetable lasagne left.)

Dessert is sorted for the rest of the week - and lunch too (once the lasagne is portioned up and frozen.)

Well. the Christmas tree has gone now, my bag is packed ready for work tomorrow and the holiday season comes finally to an end.

It's time for New Year's Resolutions. I'll share mine with you next post (but you can be sure it is food related!)