Thursday, 24 October 2013

Week 37- Hallowe'en Recipes for Grown-ups

Well, grown-up is a relative term.

These recipes do still have a slightly silly theme to them- but you can make them sensibly if you want -without all the ghoulies and ghosties.

If you are planning a Hallowe'en drinks or dinner party this year, I've put together some creepy concoctions for you to give you some ideas- starting with cocktails and nibbles, followed by wild mushroom pate with creature crackers. Main course is stuffed snail bake with blood-stained garlic bread and dessert is chocolate and plum cake with oozy bramble glaze (served with toffee apple ice cream).

Does it all sound appetizing? Probably not. But I assure you it's good really. (And it's a vegetarian dinner party too).

For cocktails, I'm offering mulled red wine or kir (not shaken or stirred so it keeps it's layers). There are lots more ideas on

A kir is a mixture of creme de cassis and white wine- I poured the wine in first, then the creme de cassis so as to keep them separate. Then added a garnish of a little olive spider- made from a black olive and some cocktails sticks.
Kir cocktail and friend
Black olive spider garnish
To go with the mulled wine, I made some tapenade spiders. I found this spider biscuit cutter in a cookshop and made a dough from 150g of plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt, 30g of butter, 1 tablespoon of tapenade (black olive paste) and a little milk to mix. (Put the flour, baking powder, salt and butter in a food processor and pulse till fine. Add the tapenade and drizzle in some milk slowly until the mixture comes together as a dough.

Cut out the shapes, bake them on a greased baking tray for about 15 minutes until crisp and starting to brown. Serve with some extra tapenade to dip if you want.
Creepy-crawly nibbles

Moving from spiders to other creepy creatures, I made some crackers to go with my wild mushroom pate from a similar mix to the biscuit one above- but used granary flour and no olive paste. This time I cut out circles and then pulled them into weird shapes and cut eye holes etc with scissors before baking.

The mushroom pate serves as the starter and also the filling for the snail shell bake so make twice as much as you need for the entree.
Soak a handful of dried porcini mushrooms in warm water for 15 minutes or so. Squeeze them out and chop them finely (but keep the soaking liquid). Pulse 150g of portobello mushrooms, a clove of garlic and 1 small onion in the food processor until it is a fine duxelle. Add the chopped porcini and then place in a frying pan with a little olive oil and fry gently. As it begins to dry out, add the strained soaking liquid and a dash of dry sherry and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated.
When cool, mix with a small tub of cream cheese and adjust the seasoning with lots of salt and pepper to taste. Chill well before serving in dishes with creature crackers (or sensible crackers if you prefer). This mixture is enough to serve two- so double it or triple it according to your party numbers.
Wild mushroom pate with creepy crackers....

....or sensible snacks

Meanwhile, put some large snail shell pasta (conchiglioni rigati) on to cook in some boiling water. Cook it until it is nearly al dente- then drain it, and cool it under some cold running water.
When cool, pipe or spoon the leftover mushroom pate into the shells and arrange in a baking dish.
Pour over some tomato sauce and some grated cheese and bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes until golden and bubbling.
Snail shell bake
Serve with blood-stained garlic bread- garlic bread slices with sun dried tomato paste drizzled over. I left two unstained for more sensible eaters.
Blood-stained garlic bread

For dessert, I made a chocolate sponge cake (various recipes on the blog if you click on the cloud above) with some fresh plums, halved and stoned and dropped into the mixture. When cooked and still warm, I drizzled over the remains of a jar of bramble jelly mixed with a teaspoon of icing sugar.
Chocolate plum cake with bramble drizzle

To serve with this I also made a toffee apple ice cream by churning leftover creme anglaise, stewed apple compote and caramel sauce in the ice cream maker.
Just churn for toffee apple ice cream

So, there we are:  a hallowe'en menu (or autumn dinner party) depending on whether you want to trick or treat your guests.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Week 36- Midweek Meze

Our local Turkish restaurant does a lovely meze meal- lots of little dishes of hummus, dips, falafel, halloumi, flatbreads, olives, garlicky beans, fritters, vine leaves and yogurt. It often inspires me to cook food from that part of the world.

Although I have featured various Middle Eastern and North African recipes on the blog- I have just started reading Yotam Ottolenghi's book 'Jerusalem' which is a fascinating look at both Jewish and Arab recipes from that city. It made me want to be more adventurous.

But it is the middle of the week- and there are leftovers to use up- so I've gone for a tagine-spiced lamb and white bean soup, served with sweet potato and carrot falafel and salads- and finished up with iced berries in hot chocolate sauce.

We had a lamb tagine at the weekend (recipe on the blog- just click on the cloud above) and only a few pieces of lamb lurk at the bottom of the jug- but there is plenty of lovely spicy gravy left over and so I'm making it into a soup- made creamy with pureed cannellini beans.

Thin down your leftover gravy with some vegetable stock and add half of the can of rinsed cannellini beans. Blitz with a stick blender. Then add the remaining beans whole and warm through.
Serve with warm pitta bread and sprinkled with coriander leaves (if you like them) or crispy onions. Easy and quick for a mid-week meal.

Tagine spiced lamb and white bean soup

For the sweet potato falafel- bake 1 small sweet potato per person in the oven or microwave until tender. Peel and place the flesh in a bowl with 1-2 grated carrots, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp chili powder,  some chopped sultanas or currants, a tablespoon of peanut butter, 1 tsp each of cumin, coriander and turmeric and some flour to bind (you could use chickpea flour to be authentic but plain flour will do). Mix together until the mixture can be handled and rolled into walnut sized balls.
Leave to set for an hour or so in the fridge.

When ready to cook, heat 2 cm of vegetable oil in a wok or deep pan and fry batches of the fritters until dark golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
Sweet potato and carrot falafel

Fritters with pitta and hummus
Serve wrapped in a pitta bread or flatbread, with a dish of hummus on the side and salads- such as carrot and nut, tabbouleh or roasted aubergine and pepper with pine nuts.
Roasted aubergine, pepper and pine nuts

Carrot and nut salad

Alternatively, I squish my fritters flatter and serve in a bun with chutney and crispy onions for a veggie burger treat.
Sweet potato burger

For pudding, I got this idea from a restaurant - where the dish was being sold for £4.50 a portion- and was being ordered left, right and centre- so people clearly liked it. It's about the easiest dessert in the world to make though- iced berries with hot chocolate sauce.

First make your hot chocolate sauce: use dark, milk or white chocolate according to your likes. You will need 100g of chocolate, 25g of unsalted butter and 2 tbsp of icing sugar. Break the chocolate into pieces and put it, the butter, sugar and 100ml of water into a small saucepan and heat until melted. Pour into a little serving jug.

Take your frozen autumn berries straight from the freezer, pour into a bowl and serve with the jug of hot sauce. The berries melt as they hit the sauce. Simple!

Iced berries with chocolate sauce

So, some quick and tasty ideas for a midweek glimpse of the Middle East- using mostly store cupboard ingredients, salads from the vegetable drawer and leftovers.

There were so many wonderful looking recipes in the book though, I shall definitely be looking more closely for inspiration from this part of the world over the next few months.

Have a look for yourselves too:-

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Week 35- Harvest Festival Recipes

We've ploughed the fields and scattered...well, I haven't personally, but good people have on my behalf...and now it's time to reap the harvest.

This really is the best time for fruit, veg, fish, shellfish, nuts and seeds. Take a look at your local farm shop or fishmongers- virtually everything you can think of is either coming to the end of its season, or coming into season. Hence the celebration in many cultures and countries of plenty from the land.

Traditionally, harvest festivals occur in the week following the Harvest Moon- whether that is Jewish sukkoth, Chinese Autumn Moon celebrations or any number of similar feasts and thanksgivings. This year the Harvest Moon was early- 18th September- so I'm a bit late with this blog but, a bit like Bonfire Night, here in Sussex we spread these things out over a period of a month or more.

Golden Vegetable Soup*
Chicken and rice Soup*
Spicy Pumpkin Soup*
Bloody Mary Soup*
Celeriac Soup with bacon*
Hot and Sour Soup*
Leek and Watercress Soup*
Miso Ramen Soup*
This week has been a tricky one for me, as I had my wisdom teeth out and have been existing on soup sucked through a straw for a few days now- but soup is a good thing at this time of year with so many vegetables to choose from. So it gave me a chance to re-visit many of the soups which have featured on the blog: spiced pumpkin soup*, french onion soup*, courgette and coconut* aubergine and white bean, golden vegetable*, chicken noodle*, miso ramen* and many others featured in these pix.

Chicken Noodle Soup*
Carrot and Cumin Soup*
Aubergine and White Bean Soup with croutons
Courgette, Pea and Mint

With soup, and with harvest, you need bread. I've already featured soda bread* and corn bread*- so now we let's have some focaccia- to soak up our soup.
(All recipes starred with * can be found in the cloud above or by using the Search option)
Soda bread

Corn bread
Focaccia is one of the easiest breads to make. I've flavoured mine with chopped fresh rosemary- but any herbs, olives, garlic etc go well.

Warm 250g bread flour for 1 minute in the microwave and add some salt, pepper and chopped rosemary. Mix in a tbsp of olive oil. Mix a sachet of yeast with 150ml warm water and then add to the flour. Mix in well with a knife and then turn out onto a work surface and knead well until smooth and elastic. Put in a warm place to rise. When it has doubled in size, turn out again and knead again. Then place it on an oiled baking sheet, make dimples in the surface with your fingers, spray with water and leave to prove again until it has re-doubled. Bake at 200 degrees for 25 minutes or so.

For main course, I have made stuffed marrow and/or courgettes. (These latter are getting quite large now and easily substituted for marrow if you prefer). Stuff either with beef ragout (leftover from lasagne or bolognaise earlier in the week perhaps) and slather with cheese sauce or make a cauliflower cheese (with or without bacon) and do the same.
Courgette stuffed with ragout
Topped with cheese sauce

For either recipe you will need a good cheese sauce- and this is simple to make yourself:

Melt 20g of butter in a saucepan, mix in a tablespoon of plain flour and stir quickly to absorb. Then splash in a cupful of milk and keep stirring over a low heat until it thickens. Add more milk, stirring all the time until you are happy with the consistency- a good coating sauce is needed, not too runny. If it goes lumpy, just whisk with an egg whisk until the lumps disappear.
Season well with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of mustard and then add 1-2 cups of grated cheese (mature Cheddar or Emmental). Stir to melt.

Slice your marrow or courgette in half lengthways and into smaller chunks if it's a real giant.

Steam for 15 minutes or microwave for 6 minutes and then scoop out the seeds (if it's a marrow) or the flesh (if it's a courgette) until you have a fillable trench. Keep the courgette flesh and use it for soup- as I did with the above pea, mint and courgette soup.

Fill your trenches with either beef ragout or steamed cauliflower (with fried bacon lardons if you want) and pour on the cheese sauce. Bake in a moderate (180 degree oven) until brown and bubbling. Lovely with garlic bread and salad.
Cauli cheese and bacon stuffed courgettes

Dessert is plum clafoutis- made with autumn plums.

Grease a pudding dish well with some butter and lay about 8 plums, stoned and halved in the base. Make a pancake batter from 50g of flour, 50g of caster sugar, 2 beaten eggs, a pinch of salt, 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 275ml of milk. Pour it over the plums and finish with a dusting of brown sugar. Bake in a hot (200 degree oven) until risen and golden. Serve warm with custard, cream or ice cream. Equally good the next day cold for breakfast!
Plum clafoutis

So, a harvest menu to celebrate all that's good from the land: vegetable soups, bread,  stuffed vegetables and autumn fruit.

Happy Harvest Time!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Week 34- Chicken or egg?

The old question- which came first?

Answer for today- both.

My menu this week features eggs to start, chicken for main course, then eggs again used in the pudding.

I'm starting with eggs florentine- a toasted English muffin topped with spinach, a poached egg and drizzled with hollandaise sauce- mmmm!

Next is a coq au vin done in white wine, with bacon.

To finish off, we have a cafe gourmand- but featuring little pancakes and sauces (with various leftover bits of pud added to them.)

First, make your hollandaise:  Melt 60g of unsalted butter in a pan or microwaveable dish.Take one egg yolk, the juice of half a squeezed lemon, a pinch of cayenne pepper if you have it and half a teaspoon of salt and put them in the goblet of the food processor or blender. Start the motor running and quickly but steadily trickle in the melted butter. Just watch the sauce emulsify. If it gets too thick, add a squeeze more lemon or a teaspoon of warm water.

Don't throw away your egg white- freeze it to use in meringues or cakes later.

To make eggs florentine- steam or microwave some spinach leaves, squeeze them quickly in a J cloth, then lay them on top of a toasted English muffin. Top with a softly poached egg and a good slather of the sauce.
Eggs Florentine

Now, it's the chicken's turn to star.

I like to make coq au vin in the slow cooker, gently casseroled for 6-7 hours- but you can achieve the same effect in a moderate oven for 2 hours or so in a casserole dish.

You need- 2 onions chopped, 150 g of smoked bacon lardons, 2 chicken thighs and 1 drumstick per person, 2 bay leaves, a good large wine glass of white wine, 1-2 cups of chicken stock. I like to add mushrooms too- but leave those out if you're not a fan.

Simply soften the onions in some oil, brown the chicken pieces and lardons in the same frying pan and place them in the crockpot. De-glaze the pan with the wine and pour over the meat. Add the stock and the bay leaves and leave to simmer away.

About half an hour from serving time, add some lightly browned mushrooms and taste the sauce- adding more salt or pepper if you want. Thicken if you need to with cornflour or gravy granules and serve with either mashed potatoes or potato gratin.
Coq au vin

Pudding is one of my favourites- cafe gourmand or a cup of coffee with lots of little bits of puds.

You can make this dessert with any leftover puds you have- cake, tarts, rice pudding, a bit of chocolate mousse, ice cream, sorbet, cheesecake, fruit salad etc 
The only requirement is that they should be cut or plated up in dainty fairy-sized portions.

In the photo I have some tiny little pancakes ( think making drop scones or fritters rather than pan-sized crepes), some slices of lemon tart, fruit tart and chocolate tart (recipes for lemon and summer fruit tart on the blog- look in the cloud at the top of the page to find them) and an artistic swirl of sauces- chocolate, caramel, strawberry - whatever you fancy or have to hand.
Cafe gourmand with pancakes

By the way, a quick and easy way to make tartlets for this dessert is as follows: with leftover pastry trimmings,line some little tartlet pans and bake blind for 10-15 minutes or so
until just golden and crisp on the bottom. Switch off the oven. Spoon in a tablespoon of chocolate spread, jam, lemon curd or jam and coconut combi as I have here:
Return the tarts to the warm oven until the jam/chocolate spread goes liquid and fills the tartlet case. Take out and cool. Voila!
Chocolate or jam tartlets

Of course you will have leftovers from this meal- hollandaise sauce ( too good to waste a drop) and chicken.

I used the hollandaise with salmon the next day, and also poured over broccoli- which was as scrumptious as over asparagus. It's lovely over new potatoes too.
Salmon and broccoli with hollandaise sauce

With the chicken I made one of my latest favourite recipes- pastotto!

This is like a risotto- but made with pasta. It's a delicious way to use up any leftovers and make them do another meal- great with fish, mushrooms and in this case chicken.

All you need is the right pasta- so use orzo or avoine as it is called in French- little rice shaped pasta pieces.

Soften 1 onion and some garlic in a frying pan, add the orzo and stir well to absorb the flavours. Then add a little white wine and stir until absorbed. Now add your leftover chicken sauce and stir in well. Allow to bubble away for 10 minutes or so, then stir well and add more stock or liquid as you need to. Taste the pasta from time to time, and when all the liquid has been absorbed and the grains are tender- serve. (I stirred through some rocket at the last minute.)
Chicken Pastotto

So, I hope I've solved the problem of what's for dinner tonight- now, what about that chicken and egg?