Saturday, 23 February 2013

Week 4- Meat-Free Menu

Don't be afraid of your veg!
This has not been a good week for eating meat- unless you can be completely sure of its provenance and the integrity of your supplier (which alas few of us can.)
I don't have a problem with eating unusual meat- I've eaten horse, bull, donkey, goat, frog, deer and rabbit to name a few- but I've always done so knowingly.

Nobody likes a cheat- and that's how many people feel at the moment- cheated.

Time to explore other ways of eating-  and raid the vegetable rack!
Who could this be?

I live facing the English Channel- and swim and canoe in its icy waters. I can watch the fishing boats coming into the shore at high tide in the early morning- so close I can make out the fishermen's faces. (Then I remember that they can probably see me too- and that it's time to put on a dressing gown!) So I am also happy to eat fish caught in these waters right outside my window.

My menu this week then is a chick pea quiche (I like it's French title- Quiche Aux Pois Chiches- try saying that after a glass of wine!), followed by grilled mackerel with sweet and sour vegetables and a fruit fool with almond croquants.

For the quiche, bake a shortcrust pastry case blind and then add thinly sliced bell pepper (red, green or yellow), the contents of a tub of red pepper hummus (use the recipe tab at the top of this page to make your own simply and cheaply) mixed with 3 lightly beaten eggs. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) until risen and golden brown.
Serve warm, drizzled with some olive oil mixed with a teaspoon of paprika and some green salad leaves.

Quiche aux Pois Chiches!

For the sweet and sour veg- cut a selection of root veg into chunks. I used swede, parsnip, carrot and potato- along with a red onion (quartered). Heat a tablespoon of oil in a roasting pan in the oven and then tray bake the veg until soft and caramelized- 20 minutes or so.(Swede benefits from par-boiling before baking.) Mix the cooked veg with sweet and sour sauce to coat it. (If you had any left in the freezer from the Chinese New Year feast, as I did, then use that up.) If not, the sauce is easy to make- 1 cup of tomato juice, 1 cup of pineapple juice (or the juice from a can drained in), 1 tablespoon of rice wine or cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons of brown sugar boiled together until syrupy.

Grill your mackerel fillet for 3-4 minutes on each side until the skin is crispy and lay it on a bed of vegetables.

The acidity of the sweet and sour sauce goes really well with the mackerel. Try it.

Grilled Mackerel with Sweet and Sour Veg
For dessert, I made a compote of 2 apples, 2 pears from the fruit bowl and some blackcurrants from the freezer. (A compote is basically fruit stewed with a little sugar and water.)
When cool, I folded in 3 large tablespoons of Greek yoghurt and served it in glasses with croquant crumbs and biscuits for texture. (The recipe for almond croquants is in blogpost 'My Big Fat French Christmas.')
Fruit Fool with Almond Croquants

Now for the leftovers.

If you opened a can of pineapple for your sauce, then why not use up the pineapple rings in an old fashioned Pineapple Upside Down Cake?

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Line a 20 cm cake tin with greaseproof paper. Melt 50g of butter together with 50g of brown sugar and heat until boiling and beginning to reduce.
Pour it into the base of the cake tin and lay your pineapple rings in it (glace cherries optional!)
Make a basic sponge mixture by creaming 125g of butter with 125 g of caster sugar, mix in two beaten eggs and a tablespoon of milk, then beat in 125g of self raising flour. (Or use a sponge mix).
Pour the sponge mix over the pineapple and bake in a moderate  oven (170 degrees) for 25-30 mins or until it is risen and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool and then turn out carefully onto a plate. 

Delicious with creme fraiche.

If your roasting tray bake of veg was more than you needed- save some for either a minestrone soup or Bubble and Squeak cakes.


For the former, place all your leftover veg, finely chopped into a large saucepan. I used the leftover root veg plus some Savoy cabbage and some cavolo nero (or black kale) and some leftover baked beans (yes really!)Soften in a little vegetable oil and minced garlic, then add any leftover passata or tomato juice and 1 litre of vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer and then add a handful of soup pasta to the pan. Continue simmering until the pasta is cooked and then serve in bowls with garlic bread and grated cheese.

Bubble and Squeak is one of the joys of leftover cuisine: just take any of your leftover veg (although it is always good to have some potato in there), mash together thoroughly and shape into patties.Fry in a hot pan with a teaspoon of oil and serve with anything you like- poached eggs, a fry-up, scallops, haggis... you name it!
Bubble and Squeak
Wee sleekit bubble and squeakin beastie

Here it is - with haggis, mashed potato and whisky gravy- served up for Burns Night but good for any night of the week.

Vegetarian haggis is simple to make: grate 2 carrots then pulse together in a food processor- 2 shallots, 1 clove of garlic, 50 g mushrooms, a pinch each of cayenne or paprika and salt, 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, a grating of nutmeg, 1 can of brown lentils (drained), juice and zest of 1/2 lemon, a sprinkling of thyme and a small can kidney beans (drained). Tip into a bowl, mix in the grated carrot and add 1 egg and 50g of oats. Shape into patties and fry like little burgers.

Or you could use meaty haggis if you want.
At least with haggis you know you're eating mucky bits- instead of only finding out afterwards!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Week 3- Pancakes, Parsnips and People We Love

Pancake Day and Valentine's Day within two days of each other- without doubt an excuse for some good eating.

 February 14th is the day to feel the love- and I don't mean all that schmaltzy stuff with red roses and teddy bears- but just the appreciation of loved ones..far or near, with us everyday or sadly with us no more.

It's time for some care, some affection and some comfort.

As usual, I like to say it with food.

For my last two outings, I've been to the Middle East and the Far East (not literally of course... the furtherest East I've been recently is Hastings). So I thought it was time to go West.

My menu this week is Leek and Watercress Soup, Chicken Maryland and Lemon Tart.

Leeks are in season still (watercress is pretty much available all year round from many UK growers and anyway I got a big bag for 20p at the supermarket so couldn't resist!).
This entree is simple and healthy, and gives a warm glow to start the meal:

Soften 2 leeks in some vegetable oil, add 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock and bring to the boil, stir in the contents of a bag of watercress roughly chopped and let it wilt. Blitz to a smooth mixture and adjust seasoning to taste. You can add cream or milk to make it more velvety if you like.

Leek and Watercress Soup

I wanted to make my own version of Chicken Maryland- which isn't really Maryland-esque at all as the chicken is roasted not fried and I've substituted sliced parsnip for the fried banana. I also love to serve this with sweetcorn pancakes. So I've got a nerve calling it Chicken Maryland- but at least it does contain chicken and in the current 'food scandal' climate that makes me more honest than many!

Roast your chicken anyway you like it- I do mine in a cupful of water in a casserole dish so it poaches as well as roasts and makes lots of gravy. I squeeze half a lemon over it and put the squeezed half inside the cavity. Plenty of salt and pepper on top and then roast for 1 hour or so (depending on your chicken) until it is golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the thickest part of the leg comes out clean, with the juices running clear out of the puncture hole.

'Maryland' Parsnips
For the parsnips, par-boil in boiling water until beginning to soften. Drain and pat dry. Heat a tablespoon of oil and a knob of butter in a frying pan and fry the parsnips on one side for 5  minutes and then turn and fry until golden on the other. You can add honey or maple syrup to them as they fry if you aren't counting the calories.

For the sweetcorn pancakes- make a thick batter mix from 1 cup of plain flour, 1 cup of skimmed milk, 1 pinch of salt and 1 egg. If the batter is too thick, loosen it with a little milk or water but you don't want it as runny as for crepes. Mix in 1 tin of sweetcorn and I like to add a chopped spring onion or you could add a chopped red or green pepper if you like.

Sweetcorn pancakes
 Heat a teaspoon of oil in a pan until very hot, then place a tablespoon of pancake mixture at a time into the pan. Brown the fritters on each side and keep them warm as you fry batches.

Serve the roast chicken with parsnips, sweetcorn pancakes, a jug of gravy made from the chicken juice and some green vegetables.

Chicken 'Maryland'

For pudding I've chosen to make a lemon tart - as the shops are awash with lemons at the moment for Pancake Day.

Line a 20cm x 2cm flan dish (for a small tart) with shortcrust pastry and bake blind until starting to become golden. (You can make a bigger tart by adding 1 more lemon and 1 more egg plus a little more cream to the recipe.)
Grate the zest from two lemons and squeeze the juice. Combine the juice with 2 beaten eggs and 200 ml of double cream.
Pour into the tart case and bake at 170 degrees until the filling is set- about 25-35 minutes.
Allow to cool and eat with fresh or stewed fruit.

Lemon tart

You might need a bit of a rest after a comforting meal like that one- but, when you're ready, there's plenty to be done with the leftovers.

With some of the chicken, I made a Chicken, Leek and Bacon Filo Pie- a really easy after-work supper. Make your filling with the leftover chicken, some cooked leeks and a rasher or two of grilled bacon moistened with leftover gravy. Lay in a pie dish. Scrunch up some sheets of filo pastry and arrange over the top. Bake until crisp and golden in a hot oven (15 mins or less).

Chicken Bacon and Leek Filo Pie

Obviously, with any leftover parsnips you can make a velvety soup - blitzed in chicken or vegetable stock with a dessertspoon of curry paste added in- but we've had a lot of soups on the blog recently.

So, I decided to make a Parsnip and Leek Tarte Tatin. How difficult could it be?

Well, not difficult at all as it turns out. All you need is a frying pan that can go in the oven too- ie. without plastic handles that melt. (Who would do such a silly thing? Look back at past blog posts if you don't know.)

I sliced the parsnips and leeks into equal sized chunks and cooked them for a few minutes in the microwave to soften (or simmer in a pan of water). I heated up 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (but white wine vinegar would be fine) with 1 tablespoon of sugar and boiled it until the mixture became syrupy. I then arranged the parsnip and leek rondelles in the pan and wedged some black olives into any gaps. I placed a layer of ready rolled puff pastry over the top, tucked it in at the sides and baked for 30 minutes or so in a hot oven until golden on top.

Take care when removing the frying pan from the oven- the handle is uber-hot.

Allow to cool for a few minutes and then place a large serving plate over the top- turn out quickly and be amazed at your own skill!

Parsnip and Leek Tarte Tatin

Say it with flowers? Parsnips and leeks say it so much better!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Week 2- Chinese New Year Frugal Feast

So, 2013 is the Year of the Snake.

What do you think the year has in store?

Snakes are notoriously duplicitous creatures - and the horoscope from Chinese Feng Shui experts for this year is that it might be good but it could be bad.

Thanks guys- all bases covered.

Time for a feast to celebrate the coming of the New Year- but we don't want it to be too extravagant as we now know that we don't know what the future holds.

It might be good or it might not be.


I'm also aware that some of you in other parts of the world have difficulty obtaining some oriental ingredients, so I've chosen dishes which are easy enough to make with store cupboard substitutes.

My three courses today are: hot and sour chicken and prawn soup, noodle spring rolls with dips,  slow cooked sweet and sour pork with chow mein and egg rice.

For the soup, I made a clear chicken stock the day before using a chicken carcass, leeks and celery. I stripped any remaining chicken from the bones to use in the soup.
I put the clear stock on to simmer and added 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, a dash of rice wine (or cider) vinegar, 2 tsp brown sugar and a finely diced chilli (or 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes.) You can make it hotter and spicier to your taste. Into the soup, add 2 finely chopped spring onions, and some fine julienne of red or green pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave fine curls of carrot into the soup. Add the chicken and a handful of raw spinach (or bok choi or kale).
Hot and Sour Soup
Spoon the hot soup into bowls and add 2-3 cooked peeled prawns per person.

For Chow Mein- again, I made it the day before and then quickly refried it in a wok when ready to serve. I did this because I wanted part of the noodle/beansprout mixture to fill my spring rolls.

Chow Mein
Chow Mein couldn't be easier- fry a finely chopped clove of garlic and one onion in a little oil in a wok. Add vegetables of your choice- peppers, mushrooms, spring onions. If you want to make a chicken or beef Chow Mein you can add these at this point. Don't reheat any dish containing prawns though-serve these then and there.

Add a pack of fresh beansprouts (or a tin) and fry until soft (3-4 minutes). Sprinkle on 2 heaped teaspoons of Chinese 5 Spice powder (the 5 spices are cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, star anise and fennel seed so you can make your own if it is hard to find.) Now add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Moisten with a cupful of leftover gravy or stock. Soften two nests of medium egg noodles in boiling water, drain and add to the wok. Toss in the sauce until everything is fully amalgamated. Add more soy sauce or black pepper to your taste.

Put about 2 cups of the Chow Mein mixture to one side and allow to cool. This is your spring roll filling.

To make spring rolls (nems) you need won ton or spring roll wrappers which I bought at a Chinese supermarket - but as I plan to bake these as a healthier option rather than deep-fry them, you could easily substitute filo pastry instead.

The wrappers should be about 15 cm x 15 cm squares.Moisten these with water all over using a pastry brush. Place a heaped dessertspoon of filling in each one.

Fold over one corner to cover the filling.

Then fold in the sides, like doing an old fashioned nappy.

Finally roll up, and place on an oiled baking sheet, (covered with a damp tea towel until you are ready to bake).

Bake at 200 degrees for about 10 minutes until golden and then serve with dishes of soy sauce and ginger, or chilli sauce for dipping.
Spring Rolls

The next dish- slow cooked sweet and sour pork- is even easier!
I've used cubed pork shoulder steaks which are really inexpensive- but worth marinading overnight in a little sherry or sweet dessert wine before cooking. Allow 1 per person or 100g.

Fry the marinaded pork cubes briefly to brown them and place them in the slow cooker (or casserole dish) with 1-2 sticks of celery, chopped into 1 cm 'smiles', 1 red pepper- roughly chopped, 1-2 carrots in batons, 1 tin of pineapple chunks in juice (put 'em in juice and all), 1 cup of tomato juice or passata diluted with water to a similar consistency (you will need more liquid if you are casseroling rather than slow cooking), 1 tbsp rice wine (or cider) vinegar and 2 tsp of brown sugar.

Cook on high for 1 hour then on low for a further 4-5. (Or 1 hour in an oven at 180 degrees).

If the final result is a little thin, thicken it with 2 tsp of cornflour mixed to a paste with a little water. If it's too thick , thin it with a little water.

Slow Cooked Sweet and Sour Pork
Serve with the Chow Mein and egg rice (boiled rice with strips of omelette mixed in.  I don't fry it- it's healthier and not necessary.)

So, there you have it- my frugal February feast. It needs a bit of planning in advance- but the dishes are simple and easy to put together once the prep is done.

There won't be many leftovers- but they are just as nice eaten cold for your lunch box if there are any. The spring rolls freeze well too once cooked.

This much I know to be true!

Kung Hei Fat Choi (from me and the snake!)