Friday, 24 February 2012

Golden Vegetable Tagine with Couscous

A nice sunny day in the kitchen, making cheap, cheerful and very filling Veggie Tagine with Couscous.  Vegetable tagines are moveable feasts, depending on what's in season.  In the summer, I make them a little like a spiced ratatouille with peppers and tomatoes and aubergines.  In the winter, though, squashes and root veg take very well to warm North African spices so I used up some carrots and a butternut squash in this version.  I peeled and diced a large Spanish onion, 4 cloves of garlic and a 'thumb' of fresh ginger, and chopped them all quite fine.  Then I peeled and diced equal quantities of butternut squash and carrots.  Saute the onion, garlic and ginger in 3 tablespoons of olive oil - do this gently and slowly so it remains sweet and pale in colour.  Now prepare your spices: crumble a good pinch of saffron stamens in a tablespoon of hot water and let it sit for a few minutes to steep.  Measure out a heaped teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground coriander and paprika (not the smoked variety).  Add to this a quarter teaspoon each of Cayenne pepper and ground cinnamon.  Add all the dried spices to the sweated onions and stir for a moment or two to 'awaken' the spice.  Now stir in the squash and carrots, the saffron water and a pint of veg stock (Marigold is fine).  Stir in a dessertspoon of tomato puree and a handful of chopped dried apricots (optional, but I like the sweetness in this dish).  Also tip in a 400g tin of drained, rinsed chickpeas (I like the East End brand). Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes or so until the veg is becoming tender.  Remove the lid and bubble off some of the liquid if it is watery.  Serve with rice, in which case add lots of chopped fresh coriander to the tagine, or I like to serve it with Lemon and Coriander couscous - instant couscous soaked in equal quantity-by-volume of boiling veg stock, into which a clove of garlic has been grated, lots of black pepper and a couple of spoons of olive oil.  Cover well and leave for 10 minutes, then squeeze in the juice of a lemon and masses of chopped coriander.  YUM-MEE!  If you have any ras-al-hanout spice mix, add a teaspoon to the tagine 5 minutes before serving, and if you like it really hot, add harissa to taste.

Toffee Cake

This was one of the cakes I made for the work Valentine's Day charity bake.  It is an unassuming little cake, generally brown in colour, and one that you might pass by for the more tarty delights of the passion cake (the pink loveheart-sprinkled confection above the toffee cake squares in the photo).  But, it is devastatingly good for those of us with a sweet tooth - assuming you have any teeth left, that is, after eating this.  So here, by popular request (actually, demand) is the recipe - just for you, Anne!  Sorry for the mix of Imperial and Metric.  I'm an old bird, set in her ways/weighs.

8oz chopped, pitted dates (the square block variety is fine)
300mls water
1 teaspoon bicarb of soda
6oz soft light brown sugar
4oz salted butter, very soft
1 teaspoon good vanilla essence
2 large eggs, beaten
6oz self-raising flour
6 tablespoons double cream
3oz soft light brown sugar
2oz butter
2oz icing sugar, preferably unrefined

Heat the oven to 170C or equivalent.  Grease and line a 20cm square tin or brownie pan.
Chop the dates, put in a pan with the water and boil for a few minutes until soft and the water has evaporated.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so and then stir in the bicarb.  It will froth a bit.  Now put the soft butter, the sugar, the eggs, vanilla and flour into a mixing bowl of a stand mixer or use a hand held mixer, and cream everything together for a minute or two until well combined.  Don't overmix, though, a minute should do it.  Fold in the dates using a metal spoon, turn into the tin, and bake for 30-35 minutes until lightly springy when pressed with your finger, and coming away slightly from the edge of the tin.  Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Make the icing: put the cream, brown sugar and butter in a pan, bring slowly to the boil, stirring, to dissolve the sugar, then boil for 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes - no more or it might set into toffee.  If it does, add a spoonful or two of milk to the pan and gently reheat, stirring, to liquify it again.  Add the icing sugar and beat with a wooden spoon until incorporated.  You want a fudgy toffee icing, so add a little more icing sugar if it is too runny.  Spread over the cooled cake and allow to set.  Cut into squares and consume in sugary bliss, deluding yourself that dates are good for you, full of iron, and 1 of your 5 a day.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Linguine with Prawn, Tomato and Fennel Sauce, and Lemon Dill Pangratatta

Phew.  Long name, but an easy and delicious pasta sauce inspired by a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.  In her version, she baked the prawns and sauce with feta cheese and the breadcrumbs on top, then served with crusty bread, but I thought it would be good turned into a pasta dish - I ditched the feta as I don't think it goes well with seafood myself!  Anyway, make a good tomato sauce with a finely chopped onion and also a chopped head of bulb fennel -saute in olive oil, add a tin of good tomatoes (Cirio brand for me) and a couple of cloves of garlic and simmer until the fennel is tender and the sauce is reduced.  If you have any Pernod in the house, add a slug just before the end to highlight the fennel flavour.  Make the pangratatta by sauteeing about 4 tablespoons of fresh white breadcrumbs in a tablespoon of olive oil until crisp, season well with salt and pepper and grate in the zest of half a lemon and some chopped dill or parsley if preferred.  You can set everything aside at this point.  When ready to serve, reheat your sauce, cook the pasta and 3 minutes before it is ready, add about 100g of chopped, ready cooked prawns to the sauce and reheat.  (Or you could put raw ones in a minute earlier).  Drain pasta, toss with the sauce and serve with the pangratatta sprinkled over and the halved lemon for squeezing.  NO PARMESAN PLEASE!!!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Spiced Parsnip and Butternut Soup

Curried parsnip soup is a classic, invented by the late, great Jane Grigson.  The original recipe calls for 1 parsnip and I always puzzled about that, thinking it was an exiguous quantity for a whole pot.  And then I got my Riverford deliveries and realised that she meant proper parsnips, great big beasts, with the earth clinging damply to them.  Anyway, I had some to use up, along with half a butternut squash.  They both take well to spicing and, together, made a lovely sweet, silky soup that would easily serve 4 people in big bowls with lots of crusty bread or a warm buttery naan.  It is made in the usual way - 1 large onion, chopped, a large or 2 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped, and an equivalent quantity of butternut, peeled and chopped (a small specimen or half a large one).  Sweat in a tablespoon of oil and a good knob of butter until softening.  Stir in a couple of cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped and an inch or so of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped.  Add a teaspoon each of cumin seeds (ground or whole, according to your preference), a teaspoon of ground coriander and a little chilli powder (to taste - you don't want it too hot, in my opinion).  Now, just cover with veg stock (marigold, as always, is fine) and simmer for 20 minutes.  Blend, add masses of chopped fresh coriander or parsley, squeeze a little lemon in and serve with a blob of yoghurt.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Baked Marmalade Chicken

This is a simple and tasty way of injecting flavour, colour and succulence into skinless chicken breasts, which can sometimes look a little like those defective silicone breast implants that keep popping up (out?) on the news at the moment.  It helps to start with good organic, or at the least, free-range, chicken breasts, on or off the bone.  For two, marinate in a mixture of a heaped tablespoon of good marmalade (preferably homemade), the juice of an orange (preferably Seville, but an ordinary one will be fine), a heaped teaspoon of wholegrain mustard, and two teaspoons of honey.  Let the chicken sit for at least an hour, overnight if possible.  The acid in the orange helps tenderise the meat and keeps it succulent.  Heat an oven to 200C and lift the chicken out of the marinade onto a small baking tin, lined with a bit of parchment (otherwise you will be scrubbing for weeks).  Drizzle the chicken with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper, and roast for 20 minutes (25 if on the bone) until just cooked and the juices run clear.  Whilst it is roasting, tip the marinade into a pot and reduce over a high heat until it is a thick sticky glaze.  Pour this over the chicken in the oven for the final 5 minutes of cooking to produce a golden, burnished, glistening finish.  Low fat and really tasty!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Aloo Tikki

Oh. My. Goodness.  Where have these been all my life?  Now, mashed potatoes are delicious, FRIED mashed potatoes are on the way to heaven, and fried mash with Indian spices, dipped in breadcrumbs, is surely Nirvana.  Well it is for me.  After our duck-fest over the previous 3 days, we were in serious need of some veggie food, and had lots of Riverford veg to use up.  I also had some mash lurking in the fridge from Sunday that needed using - probably the equivalent of two large potatoes, mashed.  Well, to this, I added a finely chopped spring onion, and a tablespoon of finely chopped coriander, with half a finely chopped hot red chilli.  A mini-chopper is very handy for this stage.  This is mixed into the mash with a wooden spoon, along with half a teaspoon each of turmeric, ground cumin and garam masala.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Now, divide the mixture into 4 or 6 equal portions, oil your hands and shape each into dumpy little patties.  Dip in breadcrumbs - no egg needed, cos of the light coating of oil left from your hands.  Use fresh breadcrumbs or good bought Panko ones, not the orange stuff in a packet!  Heat a couple of tablespoons of light oil in a non-stick pan over a medium heat, and fry the patties until golden-brown, flip carefully and cook the other side.  Serve hot from the pan with a saucy curry (we made a cauliflower, red pepper, pea and tomato curry) and some Naan bread to scoop everything up with.  The little Aloo Tikki were sooooooo delicious.  The whole lot, including the cauli curry, came in under a fiver, and would have fed 4 - we have leftover curry too.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The lifecycle of roast duck: Quick Cassoulet

A proper cassoulet is something you should make once in a lifetime.  Freshly soaked and cooked haricot beans, proper confit duck, chunks of braised pork belly, authentic, coarse garlicky Toulouse sausages.  It is a wonderful, rich and complex dish, quite fatty, cooked for ages and probably not for the faint-hearted.  This version, on the other hand, is simple, quick and healthy, and made perfect TV supper fodder in a bowl.  Don't skimp on the quality of the ingredients, though, as simplicity exposes cheap products.  So, I started with the remaining 2 roast duck legs from the weekend, skinned and pulled from the bones in large chunks.  Then I halved three fresh Toulouse-style sausages - most supermarkets do them these days - mine were from Waitrose.  The sausages were browned in a cast iron casserole in a tablespoon of olive oil and a very finely chopped onion and carrot.  Next, half a tin or so of good chopped tomatoes were added - I use the Cirio brand.  To this was added a clove of garlic, chopped, the duck meat, about 300mls of veg stock and a big jar of good white beans - mine were from the Reflets du France range at Ocado.  Drain and rinse them, then chuck into the sauce.  Add a handful of chopped parsley and bake, uncovered, at 180 for half-an-hour.  Now, blend a tablespoon of parsley with a slice of white bread and sprinkle on top of the casserole.  Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes until the crumbs have gone brown and crusty.  Let everything settle for a few minutes then scoop into bowls and eat with a spoon!  Enough for 2 with leftovers for hubby tomorrow.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The life-span of roast duck: Peking -style Duck Pancakes

I got a bargain deal from Ocado of 6 duck legs for a tenner.  Sadly, this won't qualify for the under a fiver challenge, but it is still a snip, and I have lots of delicious duck to use up.  Yesterday, the crisp roasted legs were served with a sauce made from the pan juices boiled with Vouvray white wine, and the juice and zest of a Seville orange, with just a touch of honey.  Scrummy.  Tonight, I shredded another couple of cooked legs, including the skin, which was crisped in the oven along with some home-made crepes from the freezer - just as good as the more authentic Chinese pancakes.  The shredded duck meat was quickly stir-fried with some hoisin sauce, and all was served with shredded spring onion and cucumber, and a big bowl of stir-fried greens, red pepper, shallot, ginger and garlic.  Yum!  Quick cassoulet tomorrow with the remaining 2 duck legs.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Herbed Potato Stacks

Now pay attention.  You will thank me for this recipe for years to come.  In a bowl, crush a clove or two of garlic.  Chop some fresh herbs very finely - a sprig or two of rosemary and thyme, for example.  Or even (whisper it) use dried herbs!  Mix the herbs with the garlic, some salt and pepper and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Take four medium potatoes with the skin still on, well washed.  Desiree or King Edward's will do.  Slice them into thin slices, across their middle.  Add to the bowl and toss well, with your hands, so each slice gets coated in herbs and garlic and oil and seasoning.  Now, cover a baking sheet with parchment and start to reconstruct the potatoes by laying slices one on top of the other - you will probably get 8 stacks out of four potatoes.  Bake in a hot oven for about 30 minutes (200C).  If the stacks tip over during cooking, use the tip of a knife to nudge them back into place.  You will end up with crisp stacks of potato, seasoned all the way through and meltingly tender inside, yet brown and crispy and rustling on the outside.  Yummy with anything and on their own too!  Because the oil covers each slice, you can make these an hour or so in advance and the spuds won't discolour, then time them to be ready, all hot and fragrant and crisp from the oven.  You're welcome!

Baked Salmon with Lemon and Parsley Crust

I have made a variation of this for years, but with a breadcrumb topping of olive oil, parsley, garlic and Parmesan.  It is delicious, but this version was altogether fresher and lighter and made a welcome change.  It is based on a recipe from Lorraine Pascale's latest book, "Home Cooking Made Easy".  For two, all you do is blitz a slice of good white bread with about 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, a clove of crushed garlic, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, the finely-grated zest of a lemon, and 15g of melted butter.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Put 2 fillets of salmon on baking parchment or buttered foil on a baking sheet and pile the crumbs on top.  It doesn't matter if some tumbles off, you will just have some extra crisp crumbs to serve along-side.  Now bake in a hot oven (200C) for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish and how well done you like it.  I don't mind mine a little rosy in the middle, but leave them in up to a further 5 minutes, watching so the crumbs don't burn.  Serve straight away with the zested lemon cut to squeeze over at the table.  Simple and delicious, served with stems of purple sprouting broccoli and some sauteed potatoes.