Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Brodetto (Italian fish stew)

I was wondering what to do with the wonderful fresh clams I had delivered on Friday and, quite randomly, came across a recipe originating from the Italian province my Grandparents lived in, Ancona. I remember having this for dinner as a child and just had to make a version of it.

I was lucky enough to have a few squid and queen scallops in the freezer, courtesy of The Fish Society. I defrosted these along with some homemade fish stock I cooked up a few weeks ago. I also had some pancetta and dab fillets in the fridge, so I figured that with the clams this would make a pretty decent meal.

For something so tasty it really doesn't take a lot of effort. A bit of chopping: garlic (I used wet garlic because I'm lucky enough to have had some in my veg box this week), onion, celery, chilli and carrot. And then straight into the cooking part...

I heated up some olive oil in a big pan and added the garlic and chilli, a few moments later the pancetta, celery and onion went in and, on not too high a heat, cooked almost through. Then the carrots and a glass of white wine, letting it sizzle until almost (but not quite!) evaporated. Then a tin of plum tomatoes, chopped up a bit with scissors, and some tomato puree. I let that cook for a bit and then added the stock, about a pint, a handful of chopped parsley and a shot of vodka (once again I must say please trust me on this... the vodka works).

I left that to bubble away for a good twenty minutes to reduce before adding the squid, scallops, dab fillets, clams and a huge handful of fresh basil. It was only few minutes before they were cooked, ready to be served in giant bowls with freshly sliced homemade bread - perfect for scooping up all of the lovely sauce.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Laziest Fruit Tart Ever

I had some blueberries delivered on Friday, I was intending to eat them as they are but, when I was in the supermarket earlier due to cat food and shampoo shortages, I walked past some Spanish nectarines and had a sudden craving. 

I'm sure I've seen Nigella make a fruit tart with blueberries and nectarines before, and I decided this was exactly what I wanted to eat tonight. 

I picked up three nectarines and some pre-made puff pastry (super-laze), knowing I already had cream and sugar at home. There is definitely a gap in the market for organic pre-made pastry, not even waitrose sell any. 

Rolled out the pastry and scored a border, covered it with thinly sliced nectarines, topped with the blueberries and lots of muscovado sugar. Baked it in the oven at 220 degrees for 20-25 minutes. 

I cut us a huuuuge slice each, covered them with double cream, ate the lot, felt deliciously fat and fell asleep on the sofa. Aaah, bank holiday weekend.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Lucky Unfried Chicken

When I lived in a shared flat in Reading we dubbed the offerings of the local takeaway "unlucky fried kitten". There was an eerie shortage of cats in the area and one time I swear I got a cat leg - it had a knee and fur on it. I think I stuck to chips after that. 

My husband's favourite sneaky, not-allowed-in-the-house, horrible treat is still KFC though. I hate it, but thought I'd make him a homemade version to satisfy his evil cravings.

I can't guarantee this dinner will be entirely cat free, ours went mental at the smell of it, but it is guaranteed to be made of chicken.

The coating is made of a cup of breadcrumbs and one of flour, with loads of thyme, basil, oregano and a heaped teaspoon each of paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, white pepper, black pepper and a fair amount of salt.
Take the chicken and coat it in natural yoghurt, then roll it in the crumby mixture until utterly covered.

The wedges are just sliced up potatoes, coated in oil and pepper with a few garlic cloves. Both the chicken and the wedges go into the oven at 180 degrees for half an hour. 

Serve up with beans; I got the best tip ever from my friend's lovely Romanian husband, Cosmin - cook up your beans with a couple of bay leaves. Try it, seriously, you'll never eat them without again.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Fancy Dress Crab

Crab is one of my husband's favourite things, so I ordered some beautiful dressed crab from Seafood and Eat It, via Abel & Cole. The thing about this is that it's the easiest meal in the world to prepare - I mean what can you possibly do to improve it? The only thing I wanted with it was a lovely salad and some home made mayonnaise.

The salad's base was a finely sliced baby gem lettuce and cubed cucumber, with lots of things from the garden added in to give it a bit of extra interest. Doing the rounds of the garden I picked up: coriander, mint, garlic chives, ordinary chives, parsley, basil, fennel leaves, thyme, oregano, marjoram and nasturtium leaves. To this chopped greenery I added quartered vine tomatoes, black olives, a finely chopped spring onion and a basic dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, a little white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

This time my mayo was made with rapeseed oil and just the basics of mustard, egg yolk, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Rapeseed oil gives it a lovely nutty flavour and has a great aftertaste.

Follow with a hot cup of herb tea and an episode of doctor who.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Baked Lentil Stuffed Peppers (serve with wine)

I had some really gorgeous looking romano peppers in the fridge and, as I also had an overwhelming craving for lentils plus a veggie coming for dinner, I thought I'd try putting peppers and lentils together. There is precedent! I found inspiration on The Vegan Foodie's blog, and although, as always, I need to work with what I have rather than to someone elses recipe, I think this turned out pretty well.

I fried up some garlic, celery and onions, with cumin, ground coriander, dried chilli, sliced spring greens, cubed carrot and courgette until sort of half cooked. Then I added a load of green lentils (about 2 cups), a tin of tomatoes, a few bay leaves and about a pint of vegetable stock. Brought it up to a bubble and eft it be with a lid on for about 20 minutes. Reduced it down a bit towards the end and added salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

After cutting the peppers in half lengthways and scooping out the seeds, I laid them on an oiled baking tray and spooned the lentil mix in, topping it with a mixture of bread crumbs, parsley and grated pecorino and drizzled a bit of olive oil over the top.

Popped it in the oven for about half an hour at 180 degrees. Served with green beans and a nice bottle of wine (or three). 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

White Truffle Tricolore

My husband was out last night: fleeing to a friend's house to watch the apprentice as I absolutely hate it! He was also going to get an Aroma, which is possibly the best kebab in the world, without me. Damn. 

Again the thought of an easy takeaway floated through my mind, before I remembered that we're going for a Chinese dinner with his parents on Sunday. So, a quick scrabble about in the fridge and I came up with this comforting dinner.

The concept is inspired by something I saw Nigella cook once, she used cream, egg and white truffle oil for a pasta sauce. Genius.

I haven't used particularly fancy pasta: I like the tricolore because it's so pretty, but homemade this is not. Get it on to boil first, as the sauce doesn't take long to make.

Heat up a pan and add some thick cut bacon or pancetta. Once mostly cooked, add a diced stick of celery, a sliced purple onion and some thinly sliced mushrooms. 

In a separate bowl, beat a raw egg with cream, white truffle oil, lots of pepper and salt, and some grated pecorino (or parmesan, or hard cheese of any kind really).

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, dump it in the pan with the vegetables, turn off the heat, and stir in the sauce. It's lovely. It's quick. And it's a little bit naughty.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Not another boring salad!

This is, I promise, not a boring meal. Salad can sound dull. My husband asked me "what's for dinner" and frankly I wasn't really that hungry and didn't fancy a long stint in the kitchen. I said "how about a salad" and his face fell, as though I had just suggested we eat shredded cardboard.

This one did do the trick though and he ate the lot without any complaints, by which I take it he didn't mind "just salad" for dinner after all!

The base of it is shredded cos lettuce, sliced yellow pepper, quartered tomatoes, cubed cucumber, julienned carrots and black olives.

The things that made it special were:

1) Parmesan shavings.
2) Pan-fried squares of bacon.
3) Croutons, made by cutting slices of bread into cubes and grilling them with a drizzle of garlic oil

Finally, a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice, whisked up with salt and pepper.

It isn't gourmet dining, but it is reasonably healthy, filling and fast as lightning to make.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

What I did with the lamb joint I was too lazy to cook yesterday

I was feeling a bit down so when I got home from work my lovely husband offered me a chinese takeaway. Hot and sour soup, pancake rolls, monks vegetables, oooh lots of my favourite things danced before my eyes for a moment. And then I thought about the lovely lamb joint in the fridge, and the heart-pounding, insomnia-inducing after effects of MSG overload... so I changed my mind...

Once I'd stopped dithering I could turn my mind to how easy dinner would be if I just got on with it. I plonked the lamb in a baking tray, made slits with a knife and stuffed the poor beastie with garlic and rosemary. Salt, pepper and olive oil to coat and straight in the oven at 180 degrees, covered in foil.

Got the hubby to scrub the potatoes (I hate that job!) and put them in a pot with some torn up mint from the garden. I picked some thyme too, and prepared the leeks with some extra garlic.

Then I plonked myself on the sofa to watch Modern Family and the Simpsons to cheer myself up. By the end of the Simpsons the lamb had been in the oven for about an hour, so it was time to take the foil off the lamb and put the potatoes on to cook in boiling water. 

Then I heated up a frying pan with some oil, added the garlic and then the leeks and thyme, just to brown a little bit. Then, the happy sizzling noise of a glass of white wine, left until almost all of it has boiled away, then a pint of veg stock and the lid on to let them braise.

Twenty minutes later, the lamb came out of the oven to rest - it does make a difference you know, I used to think it was a load of baloney but it isn't. And it gives you just enough time to stick the pan on the hob, add a bit of water and make some gravy. Add the broth from the leeks too, with the garlic and thyme it just works beautifully.

Lamb, minted jersey royals and braised leeks with gravy. Not bad at all. I didn't miss having a takeaway that's for sure. 

Monday, 23 May 2011

How to fatten up your parents (Part II)

For Sunday lunch I went middle-eastern in theme, feeling really inspired by a great cookery book I got for xmas last year: "Stuffed Vine Leaves Saved My Life" by Nadia Sawalha, the quirky masterchef winner.
Luckily, I'd been sensible enough to make a couple of things the day before, so I didn't have much work to do this morning.

First, I made the tabbouleh, which took the longest out of everything to make. It involved skinning, deseeding and finely chopping a few tomatoes, skinning plus cubing the cucumber and salting the peices (to firm them up). The bulgar wheat is easy, just shove it in a bowl with some salt and hot water for half an hour, then drain and squeeze it dry in a teatowel. Then chopping and chopping and chopping of a handful of mint and the largest amount of parsley ever. Mixed together with lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It stored in the fridge overnight perfectly.

Personally I think this is a nice salad, but it needed more sweet tomatoes to offset the slight bitterness of the raw herbs.

I made the houmous / hummus this morning, which is a matter of five minutes work with a food processor. A can of chickpeas, a huge clove of smashed garlic, a squeezed lemon, salt, a few tablespoons of tahini and some olive oil, whizzed up until fairly creamy. Taste and taste again, if it seems bland a bit more lemon juice and salt is usually what mine needs.

The felafel mix was next and again is really easy with a food processor. A couple of tins of chickpeas, a couple of teaspoons each of cumin and ground coriander plus one each of allspice, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and bicarb, a handful each of parsley and coriander, a few spoonfuls of flour, plus the usual salt and pepper. I added a little water until the mixture would easily form into balls and then stashed the lot in the fridge.

About half an hour before I wanted to serve up, I rolled the mixture into balls with a light coating of flour. I don't have a deep fat fryer so I just heated up some oil in a baking tray in the oven, dropped them in when it was hot enough to sizzle and then turned them over half way through. In the photo you can still see the flour on the outside of a couple of them but seriously you can't taste it, especially when squished into a pitta bread. They cooked perfectly in half an hour at about 200 degrees.

Finally, a simple cold salad of grated carrots tossed with briefly fried black onion seeds, salt and lemon juice. I also served up a plate of dolmades which I bought ready-made (I will give making them a go at some point!) and a small bowl of black olives. A few wholemeal pitta breads, toasted until warm, provided the perfect transport vehicle for a heady mix of felafels, tahini, houmous and carrots.

We could barely waddle to the sofa afterwards, although we did manage to force down a few medjool dates between us for pudding. Mmmmmm, that's what Sundays are all about.

Nadia Sawalha's tv programme "Eating in the sun"

Sunday, 22 May 2011

How to fatten up your parents (Part I)

My Mum and Dad came to visit us this weekend so, as neither have been feeling well lately, I thought I'd use this visit as an excuse to cram them both full of as many heart lifting, summery foods as I could. It can be tricky making something that will appeal to both of them but, as they both love mediterranean food, I took that as my theme.

I went out and bought some very traditional Italian antipasti: parma ham, milano salami and fat sicilian olives, marinated in chilli and garlic.

With this I served a traditional tricolore salad of ripe vine tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle of first cold pressed, unfiltered olive oil.

To go with this I made fresh grissini, which are basically breadsticks but honestly nothing like the bland throat-parchers you get in plastic packs at restaurants.

I was making a loaf of fresh bread to go with the meal anyway, so I just used the other half of the dough to make grissini. The only difference in the process is the shaping - cutting them into long strips, crooks, twists, plaits and the like, which are small enough to cook through without rising very much. I brushed them with olive oil and then topped them with, variously, smoked paprika, rosemary & sea salt and pepper or sesame seeds.
They only take 20 minutes in the oven, whereas the loaf takes around 50 mins.

For the main course, and to go with the fresh bread and soft unsalted butter, I made chicken cacciatore. The one I make is really different to my Mum's, who makes hers with a thick tomato based sauce, whereas mine is browned chicken simmered, with lots of rosemary and tons of garlic, in white wine and chicken stock. 
The inspiration for it came from Angela Hartnett's "Cucina" and it really is wonderful, especially with crusty bread to mop up the sauce. 

In this instance, the one thing I regret is having deviated from usual choice of chicken thighs, the breasts were a little too lean for this dish and lack the stronger flavour of darker meat. 
However, we shredded the breasts and loaded them onto fresh, buttered bread which had been smothered in the sweet garlic, it tasted fabulous.

Finally, because my Mum is so fond of it, I roasted a load of fresh-boiled, skinned, beetroots for about 20-30 minutes, with balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Everyone was so full that it was hours before pudding was mentioned! It was a simple thing to make though, fresh blueberries and raspberries, topped with greek yoghurt and honey.

The above represents my best effort to make good on my promise that, after dinner, they would be too fat  to drive home (they were, it was a good thing they'd planned to stay over)!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

No Knead Needed

I learned a new way of making pasta, courtesy of the lovely chef Steve Watts: a stronger dough which made perfect ravioli that absolutely could not burst, and beautiful tagliatelli too. It's the no-knead-needed method!

Bizarrely, the trick to this was making the pasta dough really really dry, even more so than pastry. I think we only used 3 eggs and 3 yolks in 500g of flour. It was a bit of a struggle to get it to stick together but it does happen with enough handling.

We formed it into five patties, flat enough to be able to go through the pasta machine at its widest setting, so it doesn't need any kneading or rolling out.

After it had sat in the fridge for at least half an hour, we could feed each patty through the pasta machine. If any bit flaked or broke off, it could just be reintegrated on another pass through the same setting. To get flat edges, we folded the pasta over and fed it in turned 90 degrees (see picture right).

Several rollerings through the first setting sees the pasta become silky smooth, although still tough enough to resist tearing. Run it through to the last but one setting and it's ready to go.

We made ravioli, stuffed with a mixture of watercress, bacon, chopped hazelnuts, mature cheddar, onion and garlic. These stored for a day, laid out separately and coated in semolina.

We also made tagliatelli - dried overnight it would stay perfectly edible for ages. We cooked it up with green beans, thinly sliced new potatoes and home made pesto.

Best carb crash ever

Friday, 20 May 2011

Quicky Chicky

We've got to the end of the week and the fridge is a bit bare, so this is what I came up with based on what we had left. 

This is another quick and easy dinner, so long as you can wait half an hour, smelling the roasting chicken and veg with your tummy rumbling...

A couple of chicken breasts go into a foil parcel, with sliced garlic, sprigs of marjoram and some olive oil, pepper and salt.

Into a deep baking tray go a thinly sliced courgette and aubergine (I'm having loads of fun with my new mandolin), a bell pepper, onion, garlic and a little more marjoram, olive oil and black pepper.

Pop both of them in the oven at 200°C and leave for 30-40 minutes.  

Serve the chicken breasts on top of a pile of vegetables, pour the chicken juices over the top and scatter a few black olives around. 

It's really good, I promise! 

A Note on Chicken
A free range or organic chicken breast doesn't need much treatment to taste wonderful and I don't believe that the simple kind of preparation above works well with cheap, badly reared chicken. 
Quite apart from the (I hope obvious) ethical issues around battery chicken, this kind of cheap poultry doesn't have enough natural flavour to carry it off. 

The fillets also tend to turn out dry instead of juicy and I think this could be due to the added water injected into it (up to 37%) which leeches out during cooking. This leaves a tough peice of meat behind, along with residues of the polyphosphates and hydrolysed proteins that were used to get the water to absorb in the first place. Yum.

Panorama - "Chicken Run" (2003)
Transcript of the above programme
Panorama - how chicken is adulterated
Telegraph article (2003)
FSA Report on study into contents of chicken
Headline from the Independent (2009)
Column from the Guardian (2009)
Chicken Out campaign   
Soil Association: Chicken & Turkeys

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Lazy Latin Lunch

This is a wonderfully easy and healthful lunch, especially on a warm day when you'd rather be in the garden than the kitchen. Thought it was worth a mention as it is really, really delicious.

Quartered baby tomatoes
Torn watercress
Cubed cucumber
Torn lettuce
Slices of prosciutto
Black olives
Shavings of parmesan

The dressing is literally just unfiltered olive oil, white wine vinegar, sea salt and pepper, whisked up and poured over the top.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Dinner for Bees

I normally focus on growing food that we can eat but, without some pollinating friends, we wouldn't get any fruit or vegetables for ourselves. I thought I'd widen the variety of plants growing in our garden that are both beautiful for us to look at and, more importantly, provide something good to eat for the nice insects that work so hard in our garden.

We had an overgrown and weed-filled flower bed running the length of the back garden: a prime site for an overhaul. 

There are a few lovely plants that we had to work around though, a most beautiful yellow rose with a little bit of mint growing around it (been there since we moved in), a really elderly lavender plant, another rose - a pinky white one - and the plum tree that we planted a few weeks ago, "Czar".

There is also this very small, ground covering succulent sort of plant with pretty white flowers (above left). Does anyone know what it is?

We took a trip to the garden centre and loaded up on beautiful plants. I know you are supposed to do tons of research and spend days planning what you are going to grow but I am far too impatient for that. My plant choosing principles were simply to pick flowering plants that have a cottage garden feel to them, some that will grow tall, some short and most of them hardy perennials.

We chose: gypsophilia "festival pink", silene "rolly's favourite" (campion), osteospermum "cape terracotta", delphinium "guardian white f1", dwarf pink "fusilier", scabious "butterfly blue beauty", potentilla "jackman's variety" (cinquefoil), devon pink "lily the pink" and hybrid tea rose "simply the best".

I pulled out as many of the weeds as I could, leaving a few that I like the look of (which I guess makes them not weeds any more). I read the labels on each pot and, according to the projected height and width of each one, placed them in the arrangement I thought looked best. I left them for a week before planting them permanently, to make sure I still liked the arrangement after a while, and make sure that none of them immediately showed signs of hating their new home.

After getting the hubby outside with a spade, to dig plant-sized holes in the bed, I planted everything up with a handful of potting grit and some compost at the bottom, followed by a thick mulch of compost.

Fingers crossed they all like it here, they do look lovely and the bees are already all over them, hooray!