Sunday, 24 June 2012

Broad Bean and Asparagus Bruschetta

Delicious mash-up of freshly cooked and skinned broad beans and asparagus, whazzed (technical term there) in the mini-chopper with mint, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a squirt of lemon juice to taste.  Spread on char-grilled slices of ciabatta, brushed with garlic-flavoured olive oil.  We served this with a cocktail called 'Mexican Mockingbird' (Tequila - Mockingbird.  Geddit?!), a delicious, if unlikely, blend of Tequila, Creme de Menthe, lime juice and soda in a tall glass with lots of ice.  This preceded a lemony, garlicky spatchcock roast chicken, and the meal was rounded off by the Strawberry Rhubarb Cake.  Delish!

Strawberry and Rhubarb Cake

Garden rhubarb is getting a bit long in the tooth at this point in the season, but this cake makes fine use of it, sliced thinly and partnered with strawberries.  Together, they cook in a buttery caramel with a light sponge on top, and the whole thing is turned out as an 'upside down' cake, delicious slightly warm with ice cream or whipped cream.  I use a classic 'pound cake' recipe, with 130g each of self-raising flour, soft unsalted butter and caster sugar, mixed in a KitchenAid with 2 eggs, 2 slightly heaped tablespoons of Greek yoghurt and a teaspoon of vanilla essence.  For the fruit bit, line a 20cm square or round tin with baking parchment, dollop in 40g of butter and 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar and put into an oven (180C fan) for 8 minutes until the butter has melted and the sugar is bubbling and starting to caramelise.  Now, take 1 large or 2 medium sticks of trimmed rhubard, cut cross-ways into pieces as thick as a £1 coin, and lay out over the caramelised butter/sugar.  Now top with 2 handfuls of hulled, halved strawberries.  Gently dollop the cake batter over the surface, spread with a spatula (don't worry if bits of fruit peek out a little) and bake at 170C for about 30 minutes or so, until the sponge is set and a skewer comes out clean.  Leave in the tin for 20 minutes or so to cool, then turn out onto a large cake plate or board, peel off the parchment and cut into squares or slices.  Eat with a dollop of vanilla or strawberry ice cream or whipped cream.  Any leftovers (who am I kidding!) are nice eaten cold as a regular cake.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Cod and Spinach Bake

Do you remember those little frozen blocks of boil in the bag cod in parsley/butter/cheese sauce when you were growing up?  Do they still make them?  Is it alright to admit a certain fondness for them?  It was the memory of this childhood/childish treat that inspired me to make this bake this evening - dead simple really.  Pour a kettle of boiling water over a bag of baby spinach, tipped into a colander.  Squeeze as much liquid out as you can and chop roughly.  Saute a small onion in some olive oil, then add the spinach, season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg and set to one side.  Make a lightly cheesey bechamel sauce from half a pint of milk.  Now mix half the spinach mix into the sauce.  Put a couple of sliced tomatoes in the bottom of a baking dish along with the remaining spinach, top with two chunky pieces of sustainably-caught cod and pour the spinach/cheese sauce over and around.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan and bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes (around 180C fan), until the fish is just cooked and the sauce is brown and bubbly.  Serve with new potatoes or crusty bread, and a glass of chilled white wine.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Sweet Chilli Prawns and Vegetable Cha Han

Sorry for the rubbish photo, taken quickly on my Blackberry.  This was a simple, quick and healthy supper.  Those of you who have eaten in Wagamama will be familiar with Cha han, or fried rice.  I love it, and use Basmati rice boiled for 10 minutes then cooled under a running cold tap.  The rice must be cold before you start frying or else the warm starches make it all gloopy, and we don't want that.  Use whatever veg you have, blanching the harder ones before frying.  I used finely chopped carrot, asparagus, courgette and fresh broad beans, blanched and slipped out of their skins.  Fry an onion in rape seed and sesame oil til turning golden, then add the drained rice and blanched veg, and fry, stirring occasionally, until piping hot and with some crusty bits.  Yum!  Season well with pepper and a good splosh of soy saucee, then mix through an omelette (made with one beaten egg) that you have rolled up and sliced.  Transfer to a dish in the oven and keep warm whilst you deal with the prawns.  Wipe the wok, then add a spoonful of rape seed oil and a splash of sesame.  Over a high heat, stir fry the de-veined prawns for a minute or so on each side until they are pink but still juicy.  Now add a tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce, a dash of soy and a squeeze of lime and stir to coat.  After just a few moments, spoon the prawns and their sticky glaze on top of the rice and devour, with more lime for squeezing over.  Totally scrummy.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Chocolate Banana Muffins

I made a batch of these to take to my brother's on Sunday, and I was glad we went, as we received some sad news of the death of a dear family member that afternoon whilst we were there.  It was so comforting to be together when the news came, and a salutory reminder of how important family is.  We were sad, and also joyful, as we remembered the lovely man, and toasted his memory with a stiff Amaretto liquer and these choc muffins.  Nigella writes in her book 'Feast' of the centrality of food and drink in all cultures when marking a death, and it was appropriate that this was one of her recipes.  I followed this but added a teaspoon of cinnamon and about 100g of chocolate chunks to ramp up the flavour.  Here is Nigella's recipe.  Make it, and share with those you love, and say a little prayer of thanks for their presence in your life.

Asian Carrot and Cabbage Slaw

A super recipe from Hugh F-W, this - I am sorry if you are all getting sick of his 'Veg Every Day' cookbook, but it is so good.  This sounded unpreposessing - grated carrot, shredded white cabbage and spring onion in a soy and sesame dressing - but the texture and flavour was marvellous, and a great counterpoint to a coconut chicken curry and noodles.  You shred or grate 3 medium carrots, half a small white cabbage (a really sharp knife here helps) and 3 spring onions, including some of the green tops.  Then you make a dressing of a tablespoon of soy sauce, a dessertspoon of toasted sesame oil, a tablespoon of rice or white wine vinegar, a dessertspoon of runny honey, and the juice of half a lime.  Add a small chopped clove of garlic and a good thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and grated.  Mix together well to ensure the honey dissolves, then pour over the shredded veg, stir well, and leave for 30 minutes to 'relax' as Hugh puts it.  Now stir again, add some chopped coriander and mint leaves, and dish up.  The veg releases a lot of liquid during its steeping, but you end up with tender yet crunchy, sweet yet pickled fresh veg that would also be great at a barbecue.  The two of us hoovered it up, but it would probably serve 4 comfortably as a side as part of a spread of other things.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Vegetable Biryani

A wonderful recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall, with some adaptation from me.  I made a vegetable curry base with a paste of an onion, 2 garlic cloves, a small hot red or green chilli, and a thumb of ginger, into which I stirred a teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander and turmeric, and a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon.  In a tablespoon of oil, I then quickly sauteed a teaspoon of cumin seeds and 3 crushed cardamom pods, then stirred in the paste.  Fry for a couple of minutes, and add about 300 mls or so of water, along with 2 large new potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes, 2 carrots, sliced, 4 tomatoes chopped and a red pepper, chopped.  Vary the veg depending on what you have available.  Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the veg is just tender and there is still some sauce.  Add a splash more water if necessary to keep it saucy, and add a handful of frozen peas and some chopped coriander.  Transfer to an overproof dish.  Now, put 300g of washed basmati rice in a pot with a good pinch of saffron and a teaspoon of salt.  Cover with water to 2cm above the level of the rice, cover, bring to the boil then turn the heat down really low and cook until the water is absorbed and there are tunnels in the rice, a matter of 7 minutes or so.  Now, tip the rice on top of the veg curry, cover with a lid or with foil, and bake in the oven at 160C for 20 minutes.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes then dig in.  Utterly scrummy. If you have the time and inclination, fry some onions for 15 minutes until deep brown and going crisp and sprinkle over at the end with more coriander and some almond. Serves 4 and definitely qualifies for under a fiver.  As this looked liked yesterday's risotto, I thought I'd give you a picture of a fluffy kitten instead.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Spring Vegetable Risotto

OK, this was only half spring vegetable risotto, as I cheated and used frozen peas and broad beans.  But the asparagus was freshly picked (in the rain) this afternoon by hubby, and I used beautiful fresh sweet young carrots from Riverford.  It is made in the usual way - saute a finely diced onion in a good knob of butter with a whole head of finely chopped wet garlic (much milder than maincrop, don't panic!).  Add a cup of risotto rice (I like arborio for this) and saute for another minute or two, then add 3 or 4 tablespoons of white vermouth or white wine and the finely grated zest of a lemon.  Once this is absorbed, start adding warm veg stock (Marigold is fine) in the usual way.  I cooked the veg separately and added them in with the final bit of veg stock about 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time (I slipped the grey skins off the broad beans first).  Then, whilst still a little all'onda or 'with waves' as the Italians so romantically phrase it, stir in another knob of butter, the juice of half the zested lemon and a good handful of grated Parmesan, cover with a lid and leave to settle for a minute or two - what the Italians called mantecare or 'mounting' the risotto.  Serve in warm plates or bowls with more Parmesan on top, pour a glass of something cool and white (no, NOT a glass of milk) and settle down to watch 'The Great British Menu' on The Beeb.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Rocket, Mint and Pecan Pesto

The original recipe for this is supposed to use walnuts, but I didn't have any, but pecans work well too.  You don't use a huge amount of mint here, but just a small handful adds a wonderful vibrancy to this pesto, which is great simply tossed through hot spaghetti or linguine.  I threw in some asparagus spears too into the pasta for a bit more substance.  A simple veggie dish (if you use a veggie alternative to Parmesan) and very quick to make too.  Easily qualifies for under a fiver!  Blanch 100g of rocket in boiling water just for about 5 seconds, drain and refresh under the cold tap, then drain again, and dry on kitchen paper.  Rinse a small handful of fresh mint leaves and dry on towels.  Toast 25g of pecans in a dry frying pan, watching them like a hawk and tossing frequently.  Tip onto a board and chop roughly.  Grate 50g of Parmesan or Pecorino, Grana Padano, whatever you have.  Now put everything in a processor bowl, with half a clove of raw garlic (I am using 'wet' garlic at the moment which is milder), a good grinding of black pepper and a little salt, then pulse once or twice to get things chopped and broken down.  Now, using the pulse action still, pour in good olive oil until you reach the consistency you like - usually about 4 or 5 tablespoons, I find.  Try not to mush it all up too fine but keep a little texture.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, and use as required.  Leftovers freeze well or will hold in the fridge for a day or so with a little more oil on the surface.

Rocket and Orange Salad

What is your view on frozen fish?  Living in land-locked Oxfordshire, our fresh fish supply is not brilliant.  Sometimes, you get good stuff from Hayman's fishmonger in the city's Covered market, but not always.  I long to live by the sea where you can get fish fresh from the harbourside, but until then, I certainly don't eschew frozen fish - some of it can be very good and cooks from frozen.  For example, Waitrose do fillets of Scottish mackerel, and they are superb - juicy, fresh-tasting, and crisply-grilled from frozen in 10 minutes.  We had some last night with a mustardy potato salad, and this lovely zingy green salad.  Get good, organic rocket with a bit of texture please, and a summer navel orange from South Africa.  Peel the orange with a sharp knife and then cut out the segments, over a bowl to save the juice.  Now, in a salad bowl, put the orange juice, salt and pepper, a tablespoon or so of chopped parsley and a tablespoon of rinsed nonpareilles capers.  Add a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil.  Toss in a couple of handfuls of washed, dried rocket and the orange segments.  Serve with the mackerel and spoon the orangey juices left in the bowl over the fish as it comes sizzling from the grill.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Quick Roasted Pepper and Tomato Soup

There is still sufficient nippiness in the air this dank Jubilee holiday to warrant a soup, and this one is simplicity itself, using some judicious prepared products.  We picked up some bargain roasted peppers in a jar the other day, and it is always worth scouring the supermarket shelves for these, either in a jar or in a tin - much cheaper than buying fresh peppers and no hassle with roasting, peeling etc.  Simply saute a large chopped onion and a couple of garlic cloves (keep them whole for ease) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Drain a large jar or can of ready-roasted peppers, and add to the onions along with a tin of tomatoes and a pint and a half of vegetable stock.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes and then blend with a stick-blender.  Stir in some chopped basil and serve with a swirl of good olive oil.  With Parmesan toasts and lots of fruit to follow, this makes a cheap supper or lunch.

Pork Meatballs with Creamy Mushroom Sauce

A somewhat Swedish vibe for this lovely supper, which can be served with rice or pasta.  For 4 people, mix 500g of minced pork, a thick slice of white bread turned into crumbs, a medium onion, finely chopped, 2 cloves of garlic, crushed, 1 egg, a tablespoon each of chopped dill and parsley, the zest of a lemon, and plenty of salt and pepper.  Mix well with your hands, then form into meatballs - whatever size you prefer, but I got 20 out of the mixture.  Brown the meatballs in oil, then finish off in the oven on a baking sheet at 180C for about 20 minutes to cook through.  Whilst that is happening, melt 40g of butter in a pan big enough to hold the meatballs later.  Over a medium heat, fry a finely-chopped medium onion for 5 minutes until soft and translucent.  Slice 500g mushrooms (I used chestnut mushrooms) and add to the buttery onions.  Stir and cook for a further 5 minutes.  Now stir in a tablespoon of flour and 300ml of vegetable or chicken stock.  Simmer for 5 minutes until thick and the flour has cooked out.  Now stir in a small (150ml) pot of double cream or equivalent of creme fraiche, along with a further tablespoon of chopped dill and parsley.  Taste for seasoning, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and stir in the now cooked meatballs.  Pork mince is good value, and can be substituted with turkey mince if you prefer. Either way, this qualifies for under a fiver!