Thursday, 30 June 2011

Italian Lamb Meatballs

I had half a pack (200g) lamb mince left over from the redcurrant burgers and decided to use it to make little meatballs in tomato sauce for dinner.

First thing, I wandered into the garden and picked some oregano and marjoram, to supplement the parsley and basil I already had in the fridge. Then I diced a couple of small onions, several cloves of garlic, a celery stalk and half a long chilli, along with the stalks from the parsley and basil.

I fried up that lot until cooked and then separated half out to cool on the side for a minute. To the remaining oniony mix, still in the pan, I added a tin of chopped tomatoes and a squeeze of tomato puree. Left that to simmer and got on with the meatballs.

The lamb mince went into a mixing bowl with plenty of salt and pepper, a handful of the herbs (chopped finely) and the rest of the onion mixture. Squished it all up by hand and then divided into eight little balls. These went onto a foil covered baking tray, coated in a little olive oil. Into the oven at 180 degrees for about 25 minutes.

I cooked some green beans and set them out on the side with the remaining herbs and a lemon. By this time, the tomato sauce was bubbling away, so I added a shot of vodka and a peice of parmesan heel, along with half a chopped red pepper. Down to a very low heat and left to simmer. 
The pasta went on about 15 minutes before the meatballs would be ready, I like spirali so I used them, anything would do though. I reused the bean water to cook the pasta.

When the meatballs came out of the oven I transferred them into the tomato sauce, along with the green beans, the herbs (torn, rather than cut, this time), a sqeeze of lemon juice, a few spoonfuls of pasta water, salt, pepper and a little sugar. Finally I served up with the pasta on the bottom and the meatballs and tomato sauce on the top. A grating of parmesan and it's done. Yum.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Mrs Beeton's Blackcurrant Jam

I joined freecycle last year and my first-found treasure was a copy of Mrs Beeton's Household Management, sweetly inscribed "From Auntie Daisy & Joan xmas 1948". I've no idea if the elderly lady who gave me the book was the original recipient, she wasn't very talkative, she could have been though.

I found a recipe for blackcurrant jelly (not gelatin jelly, jam jelly) in the book, p1100, and thought I would try it out. I did look up other references to get a general feel for this jam too, notably "Preserves" by Pam Corbin and the Historical Foods website (which I love by the way, it's a fab site).
I melded these together to come up with a final method that was mix of all three.

The one suggestion I'd make to anyone planning an attempt with this recipe, is to ignore the timings suggested by (any version of) this book. I used a thermometer as well but doubt their reliability. Either way, I've come to the conclusion that Mrs Beeton my have favoured rock hard jams, more suited to cutting diamonds or breaking windows than slathering over hot toast. Go easy on the boiling and keep a supply of frozen saucers handy.

First I washed and de-stemmed a pound (lb) of blackcurrants, then put them in my largest saucepan with a quarter of a pint of cold water. I brought this up to a gentle simmer and cooked for 10 minutes.

I then added 3/4 lb sugar and very gently simmered this mix for half an hour, stirring very frequently as it really does want to stick to the pan quite a lot.

Finally, after the half an hour, I kicked up the heat and brought the mixture to a boil for several minutes.

My thermometer never hit 104 degrees, but I started to get suspicious when I could see the jam flaking off the wooden spoon. I dolloped some onto a cold plate from the freezer and lo and behold, it set rock solid in a few seconds flat.

I now suspect that it's practically ready after that half an hour's simmer so, if you do make this, be vigilant as it's an easy one to over-set. Saying that, it tastes wonderful even if you do, so all is not lost!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Surf & Turf BBQ: Lamb burgers, Sea Bass & Prawns with Watercress Salad

When we looked out of the upper window of our house on Sunday afternoon we saw three things in common with all of them: laundry on the line, mowers running and barbecues out. Ok, so we didn't quite get around to getting the mower out, but we did do the laundry and wheel out the barbecue.

We went to the supermarket on the way home from the pick-your-own farm, primarily for cat food and compost baggies, but couldn't resist a couple of special offers on organic lamb mince, line-caught sea bass and large atlantic prawns. Oh yum. We were salivating already as we drove home, catching the smell of everyone elses barbecues on the way past.

The skewers are easy: take prawns, thread on skewer. Done. Major mistake? Using pre-cooked prawns. They were still tasty but dried out quite a lot on the coals.

Lamb, Redcurrant & Mint Burgers
I got the idea for these from the counter at waitrose, where they sell them pre-made. As we'd just picked some redcurrants at the farm these burgers came back to mind so I thought I'd give making them a go. I made it up as I went along but the results were really good.

I put a handful of redcurrants together with a handful of chopped mint, some salt and pepper, 200g of lamb mince, plus onions and garlic, pre-fried with a little sugar to help them brown and make them slightly caramelised. Squished up by hand and formed into patties, these were perfect.

Asian Style Steamed Seabass
This one's easy, just whisk up a couple of dashes each of light and dark soy sauce, the juice of a lime, a splosh of sesame oil and another of rice wine vinegar, a big dollop of grated ginger, some chopped coriander and a red chilli. 

Keep tasting it and adding the ingredients until it tastes good to you, if it isn't acidic enough add more lime or vinegar, if it's too acidic add more oil, if it isn't salty enough add more soy. Tweak away until you like it, that's why you're making it.

Lay the fish in a foil parcel and spoon over the sauce, wrap it up tightly so it won't leak and it's good to go on the barbecue.

Watercress, Herb, Blue Cheese & Walnut Salad
I love watercress and I love herbs, luckily I already had a lot of both. I mixed the watercress with the following, scavenged from the garden: chives, basil, oregano, marjoram, coriander, spinach, sorrel, parsley, fennel and nasturtium leaves.

Make up a dressing from balsamic vinegar, first cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, spoon this over and then top the whole salad with walnut peices and little peices of blue cheese - whichever is your favourite, but a slightly sweeter type goes best.

I garnished it with a nasturtium flower and borage and coriander flowers, because they're incredibly pretty and edible too.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Pick Your Own, a Sunny Sunday Outing

I can't think of many nicer things to do on a sunny, Sunday afternoon than hop down to the local pick-your-own farm, so we sauntered over to Garson's this afternoon for a fruit session. We both got very, very sticky and by the end were frankly surprised they didn't weigh us as well as the fruit. 

We came home with sizeable punnets of blackcurrants, raspberries, gooseberries and redcurrants (left), plus a dinner's worth of mange tout; all of them half the cost of the same produce at the supermarket, plus guaranteed fresh as a daisy, and local too.

Garsons, although not an exclusively organic farm, works on very sound farming principles and has an admirable environmental policy. I plan to wash the plastic punnets and reuse them the next time we go. There is petrol spent driving there but it's still less than refrigerated vans zooming across the country or, worse, aeroplanes coming all the way from Chile, Argentina, Zambia or Egypt. I don't require protective atmospheres to prolong my fruit's shelf life either, or non-recyclable plastic film to keep it fresh. That's a lot of positives to go with my lovely fresh berries.

I'm definitely going to make this a regular outing, as it's also really fun to do; there were a lot of families there enjoying an afternoon out together. We had fun hunting for the tastiest looking berries and chatting away in the sunshine, I'd recommend it to anyone. Next time we go, I'm taking a picnic with us.

Garson's PYO Farm 
Find a Pick Your Own Farm Near You
Independent Article: Organic vs Air Miles

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Spicy beef with Chinese pancakes & wasabi mayo

I was a bit lost as to what to make for a tasty Saturday night dinner. I knew I had a couple of beautiful organic rump steaks in the fridge though, so I flicked through a few recipe books and happened past a spicy beef stir fry recipe in Ching He Huang's Chinese Cookery.

She suggested that it could be served with traditional chinese pancakes but didn't provide a recipe, so I went searching on the nets and found one on BBC GoodFood, which I adapted to my tastes.

The pancakes were relatively simple in this recipe, although I did see more complicated ones.
I used a cup of mostly plain flour topped up with wholemeal, plus a teaspoon of caster sugar and 100ml of boiling water to bring it together. I kneaded it for a bit and then covered it in clingfilm and left it to rest for a while.

I then patted down my rump steaks with kitchen paper and sliced them, across the grain, quite thinly. I heated up a dry frying pan and added a couple of tbsp of cumin, one of dried chillies, a large pinch of salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. When they smelled wonderful I took them off the heat and coated the beef in them.

I settled down and de-podded my broad beans - all picked fresh from the garden which makes me smile, I've never grown broad beans before and these look great! A quick blanching for a few minutes and they were easy to shell. I also made up some wasabi mayonnaise, using 3 tbsp of mayonnaise, 1 tsp of wasabi powder, 1 tbsp of water and seasoned with caster sugar and a little salt. I chopped up fresh cucumber to go with the meal.

Then it was back to the pancakes, these are much easier than I thought they were going to be and came out perfectly first time. The dough needs to be divided into eight little balls, then two at a time, squish them a little flat and then brush one with sesame oil. Place a second one on top and, coating with flour, roll the two together until they form one really thin pancake. Keep going until you've made four.

Heat up a dry frying pan until very hot, then lay a pancake in for a minute, flip it and cook for another minute. Switch it for another pancake and while that one's cooking, find the seam where the two peices of dough were rolled together and pick them apart to make two wafer thin pancakes. Pop them onto a plate, under a damp teatowel. When you've made all the pancakes put them, still wrapped in the damp towel, into the oven on it's very lowest setting.

Back to the spicy beef: heat up a pan with a couple of tablespoons of oil in and stir fry the beef for a couple of minutes. Add 3 tbsp of light soy sauce and a teaspoon of shaoxing rice wine or sherry. When the beef is almost cooked, add a few sliced spring onions, the shelled broad beans and some chopped coriander.

Ching He Huang's Website
BBC GoodFood Homepage


Saturday, 25 June 2011

On-the-spot Thai Red Curry and Hot & Sour Mushroom Soup

Sometimes it's necessary to eat similar meals quite close together, in this case I still had half a pot of red curry paste left over from our Father's Day dinner, which needed to be used up. 
My husband and best friend both laugh at me whenever I say "Oh, I've got nothing in the fridge!", they're probably right though as I always seem to find more than I thought I had.

I had a few things that were thinking about going off, so I tried to use up anything that looked a bit wilty, including the enoki and buna shimeji mushrooms, a courgette, fresh peas, coriander and spring onions.

The soup is shockingly easy, I got the idea from the blurb on the back of the enoki mushroom packet and combined it with a recipe in Keith Floyd's "Thai Food". First of all I put a pint of veg stock in a pan with a spoonful of lime leaves, brought it to a simmer, then added in a chopped up long red chilli.

I left that to simmer for a while, so I could get on with the red curry. When I was almost ready to serve the soup, I added spring onion, enoki mushrooms, the juice of two limes, a little brown sugar and a dash of fish sauce (nam pla). Lovely.

I actually preferred the taste and texture of my completely made up red curry here, than I did the partly recipe based one I made at the weekend. First of all I fried off the curry paste in a big frying pan and added sliced shallots and diced garlic and ginger, frying until almost cooked. I then added a little water, a tin of coconut milk, a dollop of tamarind paste and a spoon of lime leaves.

When that was simmering nicely, I added a pack of frozen raw prawns and let them bubble away until not quite cooked. Then I piled batons of courgettes, the buna shimeji mushrooms, fresh peas, spring onion and fresh chilli in, gave it a quick stir and let them cook for a few minutes with a couple of squirts of fish sauce.

Both the soup and the curry get a generous handful of fresh coriander to finish them off. I served it with some plain, shortgrain rice (the method can be found at the bottom of my father's day thai dinner post). I'm starting to suspect you can make red curry our of almost anything, so long as you have the paste and a tin of coconut milk.

Useful frozen lime leaves @ waitrose