Monday, 29 April 2013

Week 13- Lucky for Some!

The number 13 should hold no special fear for me- I spent my teenage years living at number 13 and, by and large they were OK times.

I was successful in my exams, had some fun and made lifelong friends (some of whom read this blog regularly- hi guys!)

But there are always a lot of superstitions around food- and I thought I might explore the idea for this week's blog.

Which foods are considered particularly lucky, I wondered?

Well, take your pick from this list:
 green vegetables (supposed to resemble folding money like dollar bills), 
beans and lentils ( which look like coins), 
grapes and pomegranates (jewel-like fruits)
pork ( because pigs are round and forage optimistically..stretching things a bit thin here, I think!)
noodles ( eaten whole -not cut- to symbolize long life)
fish (silver scales represent money again)
cornbread (gold bars)

So, I've planned this week's menu around many of these ingredients: chicken noodle soup, followed by steamed cabbage parcels with pork filling and dipping sauces (veggie version using lentils and butter beans), and mulled wine jelly with frosted grapes and pomegranate ice.

Chicken noodle soup
For the noodle soup, I used chicken stock made in the slow cooker from a chicken carcass- but you can use  stock cubes or those little Knorr stock pots are good too. Add a tablespoon of miso paste to the hot stock and a dash of soy sauce. Cook a disc of wholewheat or soba noodles in boiling water for two minutes until tender and then drain and refresh with cold water to prevent them clumping together. Add 1 cup of shredded cooked chicken (mine came off the carcass once stripped down), 1 cup of baby spinach leaves and 1 chopped spring onion to the hot stock. Put the noodles in the bottom of each serving bowl and pour over the hot stock. Remember to slurp your noodles without cutting them to preserve your long life!
Two of my younger diners slurping it up!

The steamed cabbage parcels require: 3 Savoy cabbage leaves per person, 300 grams of pork mince (or 1 tin each of lentils and butter beans for the veggie version), 2 spring onions, minced garlic clove, a dash of chilli sauce, 1 cup soft breadcrumbs and 1 beaten egg.
Finely chop the spring onions (or pulse them with two slices of bread in the food processor to make your breadcrumbs at the same time.) Add them along with the seasoning and beaten egg to your pork mince (or crushed beans and lentils). You might want to add extra garlic or chili to the veggie version. Mix together well and form into (meat)balls using wet hands.
Fry in hot vegetable oil until brown all over- but not necessarily cooked through- as they are going to steam in a minute.

Ready to rock..
....and roll
Take your cabbage leaves and blanch them for 2 minutes in boiling water. Lay them out on a tea towel and cut out the coarse rib from the centre, then place a meatball on each one. Roll up into parcels and place in the steamer.
Steam over simmering water for about 10-15 minutes and then serve sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and dipping sauces (ginger, chilli and soy in this case.)

Asian Pork parcels
For dessert, I made a mulled wine jelly by boiling half a pint (250 ml) of red wine (the leftovers from a bottle) and adding some warming spices (ginger, cinnamon or mixed spice according to your taste or store cupboard) and some vanilla sugar. Once up to the boil, I added it to a sachet of blackcurrant jelly crystals (or you could use gelatine leaves) and made it up to 1 pint (500 ml) with cold water. You could add grape juice if using gelatine.
I poured it into moulds (old fashioned wine glasses in this case) and set it in the fridge overnight. I served it with frosted grapes.(Very grown up, was the tasting panel's verdict!)

Mulled Wine Jelly

I also made a pomegranate ice (pictured here) to go with it, but it was very disappointing. It tasted watery and more like a granita than a sorbet with lots of ice crystals - so I think I need to refine that recipe before I share it with you.

Pretty in pink- but not very nice!

The meal yielded loads of food- leftover soup for my lunch, a chili and sesame dressed noodle salad also for lunchboxes and enough pork meatballs for another dish another day :
Spaghetti meatballs

Lunches galore

There's also plenty of  jelly -mmmm.

So, fuelled with all this lucky food , it's probably a good week to buy premium bonds or lottery tickets.

Let me know if it pays off for you!
No rabbits were harmed in this week's blog- all feet intact

Monday, 22 April 2013

Week 12- Ne'er cast a clout...

Kitten Wraps
Sigh... who remembers sunny days and warm evenings? In the UK, we haven't seen a dancing sunbeam or felt the warm rays on our backs for nearly a year.

I've been looking longingly at my summer clothes- and at summer recipes- and this week I cracked.

 I put on a skirt and let my legs see the fresh air ( this clout-casting lasted for about an hour before I shivered my way back into jeans) and I weakened and bought summery fruits and vegetables :
 melon, strawberries and courgettes.

Inevitably, I was disappointed. The ratatouille I made from the courgettes was OK- but made mainly from tins and jars so it had more of the feel of a storecupboard standby than a sunshine supplement. And the melon and strawberries looked and smelled good - but were flavourless to eat.

Good looking- shame about the taste!

Ratatouille with meatballs and chorizo

I was reminded of course that we buy in season for a reason. Two reasons really- price and taste.

So, lesson learned, what is in season in chilly British April? Well, lots of nice things. My rocket has started to grow again vigorously and is ready for picking. Rhubarb is now making its fragrant way into the shops and farm stalls. And lots of  shellfish and white fleshed fish are in the fishmongers.

Rocket springs up eternal

This week's menu then is a rocket and halloumi salad, followed by pan-fried fish wrapped in Parma ham with a lemon butter sauce and colcannon, and rhubarb and ginger muffins with rhubarb compote to finish. Yum!

If you've never cooked with halloumi- give it a try. This cypriot cheese is wonderful fried in a little oil and added to a salad as here: with a good balsamic vinaigrette and lots of fresh rocket leaves to complement it. Halloumi is salty and crispy - and the rocket is peppery- a perfect match.

Halloumi and rocket salad

Halloumi hallo's!
Fried halloumi is great with some spicy tomato relish and served on sticks as a canape too:

Coley, monkfish, plaice, pollock and John Dory are all in season too- so get yourselves some white fish fillets, wrap them in a slice of Parma ham and fry them in a little sunflower oil until the Parma ham is crispy all round and the fish is translucent and cooked through.

I served mine with colcannon made from mashed potato, combined with a head of chopped spring greens which had been steamed with a chopped spring onion and stirred together to make a savoury mash-cake.

I also made a lemon butter sauce- bring a very generous glass of dry white wine to the boil for 6 minutes to boil off the alcohol and reduce it a little. Whisk in some walnut-sized pieces of  unsalted butter one by one until the sauce begins to emulsify. When thickened and unctuous, add the grated zest and juice of a lemon and some chopped parsley and pour in a puddle around your mash and fish:

Parma wrapped fish with colcannon and lemon butter sauce

For the pudding, make a basic sponge mix with 125g self raising flour, 125 g of butter or marge and 125g of caster sugar and 2 eggs (usual mixing-in method- butter and sugar creamed  followed by beaten eggs and then flour). Chop 3 stems of rhubarb into 2cm chunks and place in a pan with a scant tablespoon of water and 100g of sugar or use 1 tablespoon of golden syrup and no water. (I prefer this as the rhubarb releases lots of juice).

Bring to a simmer and after 5-10 minutes the rhubarb will be completely tender.

Mix 2 teaspoons of ground ginger into the cake mix and then add 2-3 tablespoons of the rhubarb compote. (The rest will be served with the muffins, and the leftovers made into a crumble and/or pie).

Pour the mixture into prepared muffin cases- this will make 10-12. Sprinkle the tops with some sugar mixed with a teaspoon of ground ginger and bake at 190 degrees for 10 minutes or until risen and golden.

Serve with a compote of rhubarb on the side and some creme fraiche.

Rhubarb and ginger muffins with compote

The leftover rhubarb goes well in a crumble or pie - I add a tablespoon of polenta to my crumble mix to make it extra crunchy and to absorb any of the excess liquid from the rhubarb as it cooks in the oven.

Rhubarb with polenta crumble topping

So, as miserable March has given way to inauspicious April- I'm hoping that by the time May is out we can cast our clouts with abandon and look forward to asparagus, salads, new potatoes...and a warm garden to sit and eat them in!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Week 11- Cooking for a Crowd

Whether you cook for large numbers regularly, or just occasionally- it's always worth having some recipes at the ready so you can rustle up a meal for a crowd without too much stress- or expense.

I found myself cooking for ten last week- ranging in age from under 8 to over 80! And with as much variation in tastes in food too.

I decided to go for the following menu- 'Bubbles and Nibbles' to start, pasta bake and tarte a l'indienne (chicken curry tart) with salads for the two mains, and a choice of spiced apple cake, jelly or chocolate eclairs for pudding.

Many of these recipes have featured before on the blog- because entertaining the hordes might not be the best time to experiment with something new. Stick with what you know.

When I say 'Bubbles and Nibbles'- I'm talking about canny canapes which can be washed down with loads of sparkling wine or water- and make an impressive start to the meal. They can mostly be prepared in advance - with just a few hot ones to add interest- and people can pick and choose what they like.
We had blinis with onuga caviar and creme fraiche and dill, spring rolls, mini croques-messieurs, red pepper hummus with vegetable sticks and sausages and cheese and pineapple on sticks (put together carefully by the children at the feast.

Cheese and pineapple hedgehog

Spring rolls toasting in the oven

Mini croques toasties

I filled up the table with salads- green salad, tabbouleh, rice salad, garlic bread - and brought out the centre pieces: penne pasta tray bake with mozzarella and meatballs and a chicken curry tart  (tarte a l'indienne)- just click on the cloud at the top of the blog or use the search option for any of these recipes.

When you need to feed a lot of people- pasta is definitely your best friend. 

Boil 500g of penne pasta in a large pan until tender. Drain and pour into the largest gratin or baking dish you have. Mix in one carton of chopped tomatoes (I used one with oregano and olives added) and a jar of passata. For the meatballs, mix 500g of minced steak with some seasoning sauce (soy or Worcester or Maggi), the crust of a loaf made into breadcrumbs (I always have some in the freezer ready) and a finely chopped spring onion. Knead together until you have a good 'meatloaf' texture and then wet your hands and roll the meat into walnut sized balls. Fry in a dry pan- they will release fat of their own accord. Press them into the pasta randomly. Do the same with a tub of mozzarella balls. Then  sprinkle 200g of grated cheddar or gruyere/emmental over the surface. Bake in a moderate oven (170 degrees) for 10-15 minutes until the surface is golden but the pasta is still tender.

The chicken curry tart is just as simple. I made the pastry shell the day before- baked blind. 
First take a carton of chicken curry ready meal- korma is best. Separate the chicken meat from the sauce and distribute it evenly over the base of the tart. Mix the sauce with 4 beaten eggs and a splash of milk and pour into the tart shell.
Carefully bake at 170 degrees for about an hour until set and firm and golden on the top.
Do this well in advance of your party - as it is nicest served at room temperature with the salads.

Both of these dishes are really good as vegetarian options- just forget about the meatballs ( or add mushrooms instead) and use a vegetable korma rather than a chicken one for the tart. In fact, I think it could be better that way.

And so to pudding.

For the children  (who had been on a visit to the zoo the day before) we had Nile Crocodile infested jelly and ice cream- and for the adults we had spiced apple cake with cream or chocolate eclairs (not homemade this time!) in case neither of the options appealed.

The jelly is just lemon jelly poured over jelly sweets and set overnight in the fridge.

The apple cake is made from 2 dessert apples, finely chopped, 125g of butter, 125g of self raising flour, 125g of demerara sugar, 2 eggs and 50g of cinnamon sugar (caster sugar mixed with equal parts cinnamon and mixed spice powder.) Grease and line a 20 cm cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale. Add 2 beaten eggs, the flour, half the spiced sugar and the apples. Loosen the mixture with a splash of milk if it seems too stiff. Pour into the cake tin and sprinkle the remainder of the spiced sugar over the top. Bake at 170 degrees for 35- 40 minutes or so, until the top is risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin before taking out and then serve warmed up (the next day) with some cream.

The feast was well received - and large amounts consumed. However, there was still enough to see us in leftover meals for the next few days.

The pasta did another two meals- as it reheats well, and can be bulked out with some french bread or garlic toasts. The tart and salads did another meal- and the salads made up lunchboxes too.

The hummus made part of a tapas-y style meze meal- with cheese and pate, parma ham and melon:

Check out the lovely Scottish slate serving tray- one of the perks of entertaining is that sometimes people give you lovely presents in appreciation, as in this case!

All in all, this frugal feasting (16  or more meals) works out at just £1.50 per head per meal (not counting the bubbly!)

But then who counts bubbly when you're having fun?

Monday, 8 April 2013

Week 10- Souffles, Salad and Sweet Sandwiches

I was asked recently if I could feature some souffle recipes on the blog- and of course I agreed. But then I tried to remember when I last cooked one- and realized it was probably in the early Eighties. The dish seemed to fall out of fashion after that.

I used to make souffles often as a student- because they were cheap, actually pretty easy to do but looked impressive. It also occurs to me now that they are a perfect way to use up leftovers ( cauliflower cheese, cubes of ham, vegetables, tomatoes, an overripe avocado,  the end of a nice bit of cheese, even risotto goes well into the mix.)

So today's 3 course menu is a smoked trout and lentil salad to start, followed by a cheese and ham souffle and coconut macaroon ice cream sandwiches for pudding (another Seventies classic- the ice cream sandwich!)

For a simple salad starter- boil a few new potatoes until tender and allow to cool until just warm. Mix in half a tin of lentils, a chopped spring onion and a handful of finely chopped parsley. Toss in a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil and Dijon mustard. Serve on a bed of salad leaves with some slices of smoked trout or salmon  and some buttered brown bread.

Smoked trout and lentil salad

Now for the souffle. It is best to serve this immediately on coming out of the oven, so don't keep it waiting whilst you prepare the accompaniments- we just had some steamed buttered greens with it.

Thoroughly grease a souffle or casserole dish and preheat your oven to 170 degrees. Separate 4 eggs, putting the yolks in a cup and the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Beat the whites (preferably with an electric whisk) until they form stiff peaks. In a saucepan, melt 50g of butter and make a roux with 50g of plain flour and 225 ml or so of milk, gradually whisked in until you have a thick sauce. Season with lots of pepper and a teaspoon of mustard and allow to cool for a few minutes. Beat in 175 g of grated  mature cheddar cheese and 100g of cubed ham. When the mixture has cooled for a few minutes, beat in the 4 egg yolks.

Now add the sauce to the egg whites, carefully folding in with a metal spoon until the sauce is marbled through but the egg whites still have plenty of volume.

Pour into your greased dish and bake in the centre of the oven until it is risen and golden (20-25 minutes or so). Do not open the oven in the first 15 minutes- and try not to at all until you are ready to serve.

Souffle rising 

The souffle will fall a little as you cut into it - but don't worry, it will still taste fluffy and delicious.

Cheese and ham souffle

If you want to make souffles for a dinner party- try doing the twice-baked variety. You can make them the day before and just pop them in the oven 10 minutes or so before serving to your guests.

Thoroughly grease individual ramekins and pour your mixture into these. Place them on a baking tray and pour some boiling water into the tray until it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins (to make a bain marie). Cook for 20 minutes at 170 degrees as above. Remove from the bain marie and place on a cooling rack.
At this point, the souffles will fall and look like sad little Yorkshire pudding puddles. This is fine- don't worry!

Souffles rising up

Deflated souffles

When you are ready to cook them again- gently slide them out of their ramekins using a pallet knife to loosen the sides ( hope you remembered to grease really well!) Place them on a baking sheet, pour over a teaspoon of cream per souffle and a good dusting of grated cheese (parmesan is good here mixed with gruyere or cheddar). Put them in the oven for 20 minutes or so at 180 degrees and they will rise up and be all bright eyed and bushy tailed for your guests!

Twice baked cheese souffle

If you like strong cheese, then a circle of goats cheese goes well on the top of each souffle before the second bake instead of the cream and parmesan. Blue cheese is much liked in a souffle too.

Twice baked blue cheese and walnut souffle

Once you have mastered this simple recipe- let your creativity take over and add whatever you want to use up/have at hand/like to make the sauce.

Sweet souffles are just as easy- Delia has a good lemon curd souffle recipe- but you can adapt it to use marmalade, fresh raspberry sauce, jam etc

And so to pudding.

I think coconut macaroons were one of the first things I ever learned to bake. I must have been younger than five years old- and we used to call them coconut dibdabs. I don't know why.
So, when I watched a Donna Hay cookery prog the other day and saw her making these ice cream sandwiches I thought- "I want that". And so I made some.

So easy- and scrummy, if a little calorific.

For the macaroons- beat 2 egg whites until at the soft peak stage. Add a teaspoon of vanilla essence, 100g of caster sugar and 200g of dessicated coconut. Mix together until it all binds.
Grease two baking sheets and line with baking paper. Place spoonfuls of the mixture into biscuit rings and press down firmly with a spoon to make round shapes. Bake at 170 degrees for 10 minutes or so. Watch carefully and remove from the heat as soon as they are golden.Allow to cool.

Coconut macaroons

For the pudding- sandwich a scoop of your favourite ice cream (I used salted caramel) between two macaroons, drizzle over some caramel sauce, maple syrup, chocolate sauce, cream- whatever you fancy et voila!

Coconut macaroon ice cream sandwich

You can do the same with any biscuits, slices of cake or gaufrettes that you have in the storecupboard.

Out of this world!
Hoping some of these recipes hit the spot- if not leaving you breathless ( a bout de souffle!)