Monday, 30 March 2009

April - Whats in season?

Before I move on to April I thought I would briefly review how I did for March. I tried several new foods (and to my surprise liked them all!). They included purple sprouting broccoli, watercress and pineapple (I'd had it from a tin or an a pizza before and not liked it but this weekend we had it fresh and I really liked). We also ate a lot of leeks which are in season. It wasn't a total success as we did it some veg that weren't in season (mainly courgettes and aubergines) but I do feel I'm getting more informed and making seasonal choices where possible.So its officially spring now! I'm really looking forward to the difference in cooking from winter to spring and all the veg starting to come in to season. I already blogged about my chicken, lemon and pea risotto but this dish for me was fresh and zesty and spring like. I'm looking forward to cooking more dishes like this over the coming months.

Sources used to put this list together:

Sainsbury's Magazine April (& there 2009 recipe calendar)
Eat the seasons


Vegetables: Asparagus, Broccoli, Carrots, Jersey Royals, Kale, Leeks, Mint, Morels, Parsley, Pea shoots, Purple sprouting broccoli, Radishes, Rocket, Rosemary, Spinach, Spring greens, Spring onions, Tarragon, Watercress, Wild garlic

Fruit: Rhubarb (passion fruit, bananas, kiwis, pineapple)

Seafood: Clams, Cockles, Cod, Coley, Crab, Dover sole, Haddock, Mackerel, Monkfish, Oysters, Pollack, Salmon, Scallops, Sea bass, Sea trout

Meat: Spring lamb

There is certainly a lot of seafood in season and that is an area where I only eat a small range so needs expanding. Vegetable wise leeks and purple sprouting broccoli will be on my shopping list again and I'm determined to get some spinach in to our diet this month. But I am particularly looking forward to Jersey royals and asparagus. I still want to try rhubarb (we now have a rhubarb plant in the garden but that won't produce any for us to eat for 2 years) and of course lamb will be on the menu at some point this month hopefully.

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Friday, 27 March 2009

Chicken leftover - Chicken Noodle Soup

I've wanted to cook a chicken noodle soup for some time. As I've mentioned before though I don't cook a lot of oriental dishes. A few things have put me off cooking a noodle soup before, such as believing the recipe would involve a lot of oriental ingredients that I would have to buy for one dish (fish sauce, pickled bamboo etc), that it would take me ages to cook and then I wouldn't like the end result (I didn't like the noodle soup I chose in wagamam) and I don't like coriander! However I am glad I tried this recipe that I found in Leith's Simple Cookery. I think it is a little over simplified so any suggestions to make it more authentic without over complicating it (or involving pickled bamboo or coriander) would be welcomed. I'm thinking along the lines of replacing the sweetcorn with some other veg but not sure which. The soup element of this dish does have a really nice taste with a bit of a kick to it (from the chilli and the ginger) so I don't think I'll play around with that too much. All in all a simple week night dish (which in my house at least is a bit different to the usual pasta I serve!).

Chicken Noodle Soup
Adapted from Leith's Simple Cookery

Serves 2
800ml Chicken stock
1 tbsp root ginger, finely grated
1 red chilli, finely chopped (I used a dried chilli as that was all I had).
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 portions of vermicelli noodles, cooked according to the packet
cup of frozen sweetcorn
100g cooked chicken, shredded
1 tbsp soy sauce.
1/2 tbsp thai fish sauce if you have it (or if not available use extra soy sauce - as I did & as recommended by the original recipe).

  1. In a saucepan bring to the boil the stock, ginger, garlic and chilli. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. add the cooked noodles (drained), sweetcorn and chicken to the pan. Add the soy sauce, thai fish sauce (if using) and season with salt and pepper to taste. (I only added pepper as soy sauce and the chicken stock have enough salt in for me). Return to a simmer for a few minutes.
  3. Ladle in to bowls to serve.

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Meal planner -March 27th

This last week has been a bit hectic at work (and next week is set to be worse) so we're relying on simple nutritious meals. Unfortunately it has taken me a little longer than expected to post my chicken recipes but hopefully I will post the noodle soup recipe this afternoon. I have a well earned day off to, I'm planning to make the most of it. I have some soup on cooking for lunch (and for the freezer) and I'm planning to catch up on some of my favorite TV shows that I'm behind with, update the blog a bit and if I get time the ultimate indulgence of reading a book (for fun - rather than work/study) in the middle of the day. I have pretty stuck to last weeks meal planner -

  • The homemade ravioli was a bit of a disaster - the filling was nice, the fresh pasta wasn't the best I've made and it involved spending way too long in the kitchen both preparing and cleaning up after! I will be continuing to persevere with making fresh pasta but my hold off ravioli for a while!
  • The roast chicken was a success and there was enough leftovers for 2 main meals - lemon, pea and chicken risotto and chicken noodle soup - both delicious and on the list to be made again.
  • The balsamic courgettes were tasty as ever - another favorite, quick and nutritious pasta sauce.
  • frozen homemade lasagna was a real treat - reheated after a late night at work.
  • Slow braised leeks was served as a jacket potato topping for a change (it was still nice but my boyfriend felt is was messing with perfection - read not impressed!)
  • so salmon hot pot was pushed a side again!
So looking forward to the week ahead, another hectic week ahead so I will be cooking simple old favorites.

Friday - Salmon Hot Pot
Saturday and Sunday - spending the weekend at my parents
Monday - Pasta with Ratatouille style sauce
Tuesday - Balsamic courgettes
Wednesday - Pizza - topping likely to be Parma ham and pineapple but could change on the day
Thursday - spaghetti bolognese

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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Chicken leftovers - Chicken, Lemon and Pea Risotto

As promised below is the first of the two dishes I cooked to using up leftover chicken. I only started roasting whole chickens sometime last year, so I have fairly limited experience and so far the leftovers have been turned into nacho's or mixed with pesto and pasta (both great weeknight meals). Nacho's are a rare treat so pasta and pesto usually won out, so I felt it was time I expanded my range of recipes.

I often thought of adding the chicken to a risotto but never quite got round to it. After reading Donna Hay's Simple essentials Chicken, I decided to try a risotto inspired by one of her recipes (Baked chicken, lemon and pea risotto). Her's used uncooked chicken breasts and was baked in the oven, however I have tried a baked risotto before (a Bill Granger recipe - one of my favorite chef's no less) but it failed to win me over. A baked risotto takes roughly the same amount of time as the usual method but has the convenience of not requiring you to stand over it stirring. However for me the end result is not as good and I've grown to quiet enjoy the stirring! and it's quiet therapeutic too. I've been known to ring my mum and catch up whilst cooking a risotto before! After a particularly hectic day at work on Monday - 30-40 minutes in the kitchen (and all that stirring) was exactly what I needed to unwind. The finished dish was delicious and very spring like.

Chicken, Lemon and Pea Risotto
Inspired by Donna Hay

Serves 2
Olive oil
small onion, peeled and thinly diced
stick of celery, thinly diced (optional)
1 garlic glove, peeled and thinly chopped
zest of half a lemon
150g Arborio rice
Good splash of dry white wine
Approximately 600ml Chicken stock
Good handful of frozen peas
100g shredded cooked chicken, white, brown meat or a mixture
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
handful of parmesan cheese

  1. Heat the stock in a small saucepan.
  2. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Once hot add the onion and celery and sweat (with the lid on), stirring occasionally until soft but not brown (5-10 mins).
  3. Add the garlic and lemon zest and cook for a few minutes, again stirring frequently.
  4. Add the rice and turn up the heat. Stir to coat the rice (from here on you need to stir much more frequently to stop the rice sticking or burning and also to release the starch to make it deliciously creamy).
  5. You should notice the rice become translucent and at this point you need to add the wine and continue to stir.
  6. Once the wine has been absorbed by the rice, add the first ladle of stock and turn the heat back down to medium. Keep stirring.
  7. Once this ladle of stock has been fully absorbed by the rice, add another ladle, stir and repeat until the rice is cooked (try it - is it soft with a little bit of bite left? Yes - then move on to the next step, No - add more stock).
  8. Add the frozen pea before the last couple of ladles so they have time to cook.
  9. Once the rice and peas are cooked, remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and chicken. Stir to mix well, season to taste.
  10. Scatter the parmeson (and a few small knobs of butter if you like) over the top, replace the lid and leave to become oozy/creamy ( few minutes).
  11. Once the cheese and butter(if using) have melted, stir well and serve.


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Monday, 23 March 2009

Roast chicken - 3 ways

Over the next couple of days I plan to post the 3 meals I have made from one 2kg free-range chicken.

I love chicken for many reasons -

  • Its incredibly versatile and there are no end of different type of dishes you can produce.
  • It is a healthy lean meat - so long as you don't eat the skin!
  • It's easy to cook in a variety of ways and doesn't take hours to prepare.
  • Cooking a whole bird is really economical - I got 3 main meals and 2 lots of sandwiches for 2 adults from a 2kg bird that cost £8.
  • I simply enjoy the taste!
This weekend I roasted the chicken quiet simply - I squeezed the juice of half a lemon over the bird and put the 2 halves of the lemon in the cavity and roasted the chicken. We were out walking the day I roasted the chicken and got back later than planned, so I kept the accompaniments simple - frozen veg and mashed sweet potato - but when time permits I love roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnips.

I have used the left overs to cook 2 main meals - Sunday - chicken, pea and lemon risotto (inspired by a Donna Hay recipe) and tonight I made a simple chicken noodle soup (from Leiths Simple Cookery). We also had chicken sandwiches yesterday (flat breads with pesto chicken) and today (simply on wholemeal bread).

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Friday, 20 March 2009

Spicy egg, meatball and tomato Tagine

Kefta Mkaouara (Spicy egg, meatball and tomato tagine) is a Moroccan dish from Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes. I've only ever seen Rick Stein on Saturday kitchen - I've never watched his shows or read any of his cookbooks before. I got this book out of the library after seeing him cook pasta alla norma planning to cook this and some of the other Italian recipes. So you can imagine my surprise (not to mention my boyfriends delight!) when the first dish I cook is a Moroccan one and not only that but I really enjoyed the flavours in this dish.

The cookbook has loads of mouthwatering pictures of not only his recipes but of the places he visited. You may have noticed I love Italian food and Italy is top of my list of places I dream of visiting. The pictures and Rick Stein's commentary in this book (as well as the food) has made me want to visit even more - I will definitely be looking out for repeats of this series on UKTV food.

Kefta Mkaouara
(quantities halved from Rick Stein's recipe)
Serves 2
Olive oil
2 fresh medium free range eggs
salt and pepper
For the meatballs
225g minced lamb (could use beef)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp hot paprika
For the sauce
1 small onion
1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/Gas 6
  2. In a bowl use your hands to mix together the meatball ingredients along with some salt and pepper.
  3. Using wet hands shape the mixture into small (2.5cm) balls (12-14).
  4. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil (or as much as you think, I didn't measure this) in a small tagine if you have one, if not (like me) use a frying pan.
  5. Brown the meatballs briefly on all sides, remove and set them to one side.
  6. Add the onions to the frying pan (with extra oil if needed) a saute gently for 10 minutes until very soft but barely browned.
  7. Add the remaining sauce ingredients to the onions and leave to simmer for 15 minutes. The sauce will be concentrated and thick when ready.
  8. If using a tagine, add the meatballs to the sauce and mix.
  9. If using a frying pan, mix meatballs and sauce and transfer to an oven proof dish.
  10. Make two shallow dips in the mixture and break an egg into each one.
  11. Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until eggs are just set.
Serve with warm flat breads.

Rick Stein's flat bread recipe

Makes 8
350g plain flour
250ml warm water
1 tsp salt
2 tsp easy-blend yeast (I used fast-action dried yeast with no problems)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  1. Sift the flour salt and yeast into a large bowl.
  2. Add the water and olive oil and mix together to form a soft dough.
  3. Dip on to a lightly floured worktop and knead for 5 minutes.
  4. Return to the bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (around 1 hour).
  5. Once risen, knock the air out of the dough and knead briefly on a lightly floured surface.
  6. Divide into 8 balls and cover these and leave for 10 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 240C/gas 9, place 2 flat baking trays on the shelves.
  8. Use a rolling pin to flatten each ball until they are about 22cm across.
  9. Bake on the baking trays for 2-3 minutes each (check they are not hard after 2 minutes, remove if they are), spraying each one with a little water before putting in the oven.
  10. Remove and wrap in a tea towel to keep warm.
They should be soft and flexible not hard or browned.


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Meal planner -March 20th

So how did the last weeks meal planner work out?

  • as usual Monday-Thursdays meals were swapped around depending on how the mood took me.
  • Some tasty portobello mushrooms found there way in to my shopping trolley last week and so on Monday in an effort to use up the left over mascarpone, I improvised and came up with a delicious pasta dish (maybe not as healthy as I normally cook but the mascarpone would have gone to waste otherwise and I hate waste).
  • Salmon hot pot was therefore omitted from last weeks meals and will hopefully be making an appearance this coming week.
  • The pizza topping was another good dish for using up left overs - Portobello mushroom, caramelised red onion and some roasted artichokes (the one in jars of oil) - a nice mix of flavours but not my favorite topping (Parma ham and nectarines at the moment).
  • The left over walnut and watercress pesto never made it to the pasta and feta dish. At the request of my boyfriend we spread it on white fish again - so much for variety!
  • Sunday lunch at my boyfriends parents was roast chicken with some new potatoes roasted with lemon wedges and sprigs of rosemary - I will be trying that out myself some soon day.
  • The Butternut squash, Gorgonzola and Pecan risotto was just as delicious comfort food as the first time - post now with updated, better quality picture.
  • Moroccan spicy egg, meatball and tomato tagine with flat breads on Saturday was a great success and I plan on blogging that recipe this weekend.
So on to this week -

Friday - Homemade walnut and Gorgonzola ravioli - a first for me so cross your fingers for me!
Saturday - Roast Chicken (I have a 2kg free range one sitting in the fridge and there is only the two of us! so will be sandwiches for a few days and sunday's and possibly monday's tea)
Sunday - Leftover chicken - risotto
Monday - Leftover chicken - depending on how much is left or Salmon hot pot
Tuesday - Balsamic courgettes with pasta
Wednesday - Homemade lasagna (frozen the other week)
Thursday - Pasta with slow braised leeks

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Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A walk in the forest

Last weekend, one sunny morning we decided to get up and go for a walk in Macclesfield forest (on the cheshire/peak district boarder). Don't worry this is a food related post! We found a really tasty stall in the Trentabank car park - Nice Nosh and I thought I would share this with you in case any one is in the area.

After a good walk through the forest, we were feeling in need of a well earned sit down and some good food. Nice Nosh fits the bill well. It is a refreshment stall open most weekends and bank holidays, run my a friendly man, himself a keen walker with good local knowledge. There is a good selection of hot and cold drinks and food. Most of the food is home made (including a delicious looking selecton of cakes) and many of the recipes have Peak District Cuisine marks showing that local products have been used in the recipe. Some items on the menu have also been awarded the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark showing that the business actively support good environmental practices in the Peak District National Park. A good example of this is the recylcling facilaties for the food packaging - the stall has bins right opposite and you are kindly asked to seperate your waste into the appropriate bins for recycling. There was also a good selection of leaflets available of peak district food and the places producing and/or selling it.
Povey's (a Staffordshire brand) oatcakes were a big feature of the menu. Both hot and cold fillings were available for white, brown rolls or staffordshire oatcakes/ I had never heard of staffordshire oakcakes before and was struggling to imagine a sandwich made out of the scottish style oatcakes. However they turn out to be quite similar to pancakes (much better for containing stilton sauce with bacon!) but with added oatmeal.

The pictures show one of the ones we had but don't really do it justice.
Click here for further details.

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Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Feeding my enthusiasm....

or should that be addiction?

As I mentioned in a previous post I seem read a lot of cook books. Luckily for me the library's in Cheshire are a really good resource for those of us addicted to cook books but who don't have a) the space for 100's of cook books & b) the disposable income to buy every cook book we like the look of. My local one has a good selection and if they don't have the one you want in chances are you can find it on the online line database, reserve it and they will deliver it to your local library for only 80p! Don't get me wrong I own my fair share and there are still plenty out there I would love to own. But using the library allows me to read a greater number than I could ever afford to buy.

There is certainly lots of benefit to owning cook books. I love to sit down an flick through a cook book when I'm in need of inspiration. They're also good for reading when you just can't get to sleep, they're some how quite relaxing. Owning a book is also a benefit when like me, your food likes and dislikes and the type/complexity of dishes you like to cook is constantly expanding. For instance, yesterday I couldn't find much inspiration for my field mushrooms in my recipe file (where I file all the recipes I keep from books I've borrowed or pages from magazines) as I have only started eating them this year (I was brought up on button mushrooms and disliked their rubbery texture and lack of taste and wrongly assumed all mushrooms were as bad).

On getting a new cook book (either from the library, as a gift or purchasing it myself) I will often read it from cover to cover in one or two sittings, I've even been none to read them in bed instead of my current fiction choice!

Yesterday I was spoilt for choice! I had a hard job picking just a couple that I could easily carry home. There were books by the river cottage, Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson (I've yet to read one of hers but they had "how to eat" which I thought I had read was good), several by Tana and Gordon Ramsey and many more I had been on the look out for. I finally settled on Jo Pratt's In the mood for food (which I had been looking out for) and Donna Hay's Simple Essentials - chicken. I also got Andrew Whitley's Bread matters which I had reserved.

Donna Hay is new to me, I think I have read her name on the odd blog or two but other than that I don't know much about her. The book is full of gorgeous pictures of chicken dishes that sound so simple to prepare - chicken will definitely be on the menu next week! (assuming Tesco's have any free-range birds in when we do our next shop). Recently I have stopped buying chicken portions favouring the whole chicken route instead as this seems much more economical but I do crave some of the casserole or other chicken dishes that use chicken pieces or simply chicken breasts - can anyone recommend any good poultry shears for under £20? amazon have 3 pairs ranging from £9.99 (Judge), £11.26 (Taylors eye witness) and £16.59 (Oxo good grip) but I no very little about what to look for or which of these makes are likely to be the best. Any help appreciated. UPDATE - I found a pair of poultry shears in TX Maxx for just £2.99 (masterclass professional is the brand), I haven't tried tham yet so I will have to hope they are any good!

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Monday, 16 March 2009

Pasta with portobello mushrooms and mascarpone

Here is another quick and simple pasta dish I made tonight. I had some mascarpone left in the fridge from making the carrot cake frosting on Saturday that needed using up and thought it would make a tasty pasta sauce with portobello mushrooms. I did a bit of an Internet search as well as looking through my cookbooks and recipe file but drew a blank on an actual recipe that I had all the ingredients for. I decided to go with my instincts of what flavours would work well together. I used dried thyme, and garlic which I had in my store cupboard, a grating of lemon zest added with the mascarpone would have been nice but I didn't have any lemons in. Luckily for us this dish turned out to be really tasty and quick so I'm blogging it for future reference and to share with anyone reading this. This dish was some what of a treat for us, as I normally do not cook creamy pasta sauces.

Pasta with portobello mushrooms and mascarpone
Serves 2

2 Portobello mushrooms, sliced
Pasta of your choice, enough for 2
Dried thyme (fresh would have been good but I didn't have any).
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced.
good splash of white wine (or 2-3 ice cubes in my case)
2 heaped tablespoons of mascarpone cheese
Parmesan to serve

Tip: Use a soft toothbrush to brush away any dirt from the mushrooms before slicing them.

  • Put a large pan of water on to boil and once it reaches a fast boil add your pasta.
  • Meanwhile heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan, sprinkle in a good pinch of dried thyme.
  • Once the frying pan is hot (I cook mushrooms on a high heat so they don't release all their water) add the mushrooms, stir frequently.
  • After a few minutes add the garlic to the mushrooms and continue to stir at regular intervals.
  • Once the pasta is almost cooked, add a couple of ice cubes of white wine (from the freezer, or add a good splash of white wine if you have some to hand) and a couple of tablespoons of mascarpone to the mushrooms and stir to form a sauce. Don't worry if it is a little thick as you can add some of the cooking water from the pasta to thin it.
  • Drain the pasta and add to the mushroom sauce. Stir to coat the pasta well in the sauce and add pasta water as required to form the desired consistency.
  • Serve with a little grated Parmesan on top.

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Sunday, 15 March 2009

Mini carrot cakes

Carrot cake may have just become my new favorite type of cake (I'm a huge fan of chocolate cake!). This recipe is by Rachel Allen and is the second recipe I have tested from her latest book Bake. This one didn't disappoint and was equally as delicious as her bagel recipe. The cake's were moist and had just the right mix of raisins and walnuts and a really good spiced flavour to them. It certainly went down well after Sunday lunch round at my boyfriends parents.

This is the first carrot cake recipe I have baked (& I have only eaten carrot cake once before this). I offered to make a birthday cake for my boyfriend's sister's birthday a few weeks back and she chose carrot cake. There was no doubt in my mind that I would have to try Rachel's recipe as we both had seen her bake this on her TV show and it looked both simple to make and delicious to eat! What more can you ask from a cake recipe or any recipe for that matter!

My only worry was that whilst discussing my plans for my long weekend one of my colleagues told me how carrot cakes can go so horribly wrong (even the birds wouldn't eat her last attempt!). With this in mind I decided to make mini cakes using a muffin tin so that I could sneakily try one before the birthday meal (to make sure there were no nasty surprises once the cake was cut!). Fortunately Rachel didn't let me down and there was no need for a last minute dash to the supermarket for a ready made carrot cake on the way up!

Carrot Cake
Makes 12-14 muffin sized cakes

140ml vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing
2 eggs
200g soft light brown sugar
300g grated carrot, (grated weight)
100g raisins
75g pecans or Walnuts, chopped (optional)
180g self-raising flour
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I left this out as I had none in but the cakes still tasted fantastic)
1/2 tsp mixed spice

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C (reduce by 10% for fan assisted)/gas 2.
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the oil, brown sugar, grated carrot, raisins and chopped nuts.
  3. Sift in the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and spices. Stir well to mix.
  4. Line a muffin tin with paper cases and spoon the mixture into them.
  5. Cook for 20-25mins or until until a skewer inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
Mascarpone frosting with Vanilla and Orange.
Adapted from Rachel Allen's recipe.

125g Mascarponne cheese (straight from fridge)
140g icing sugar, sifted
few drops of vanilla extract
Zest of half an orange

  1. Use a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients well until a smooth icing forms.
  2. Use a palatte knife to spread each cupcake with the frosting.
  3. Decorate with walnut pieces.

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Saturday, 14 March 2009

Pasta with slow braised leeks

This has to be one of my favorite pasta dishes. It's reasonably simple to cook and tastes fantastic! Cooking the leeks in this way makes them so unbelievably tender and sweet that I have a hard time convincing myself to cook them any other way!

This is a simplification of a Jamie at Home recipe. The original uses fresh pappardelle (which I make to go with it when I have time but dried tagliatelle or tripolline, as used above, is a good substitute when time is short) he also usually finishes his off with a mushroom pangrattato. The original recipe is great and as he suggests would make a great dinner party dish but we really enjoy this modified version as well.

Pasta with slow braised leeks
Serves 2
2 leeks, trimmed, cleaned and sliced into 1cm thick semi circles.
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced (more or less as you prefer)
sprig of thyme (or 1/2 an tsp dried thyme - not sure Jamie would approve but that's what I often use.)
good splash of white wine
salt and pepper
250ml veg or chicken stock
4 slices Parma ham
Pasta of your choice

Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan. Once hot add the thyme, garlic and leeks. Stir to coat the leeks well, then add the wine, stock and season with pepper (and salt if you wish but I always think there is enough in the stock). Cover the top of the leeks with the Parma ham slices and the pan lid. You are aiming to try and keep as much of the steam in as possible so try to ensure there are as few gaps as possible between the slices of ham. I also usually cut a circle of baking paper with a diameter a few centimeters larger than my frying pan and place this on top of the leeks and ham. Reduce the heat to medium and allow to slowly cook for 20-30 minutes (by which points the leeks will be tender and sweet).

The picture below is after the leeks are cooked.Once cooked remove the ham, slice it up and return to the pan of leeks. Mix well. At this stage you can season if necessary, add a couple of small knobs of butter and a handful of Parmesan into the sauce and allow to mix together.Add the pasta to the sauce and a little of the cooking water. Stir well.
Serve with a sprinkling of parmesan.

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Friday, 13 March 2009

Meal planner - March 13th

Friday - Butternut squash, Gorgonzola and Pecan risotto (the purple sprouting broccoli pasta meant that this dish got moved to tonight).
Saturday - Moroccan spicy egg, meatball and tomato tagine with flat breads.
Sunday - Visiting family for Sunday lunch.
Monday - Pizza (topping to be decided on the day!).
Tuesday - Spaghetti Bolognese.
Wednesday - Pasta with Watercress and walnut pesto with feta.
Thursday - Salmon hot pot (or some other dish with fish).

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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Watercress and Walnut pesto

Another seasonal recipe! This time using watercress.

This was a recipe in March 2009, Essentials, Magazine. I love traditional basil pesto but I'm keen to try experimenting with different herb and nut combinations this summer (planning to grow my own herbs again). This recipe caught my eye whilst flicking through this magazine. It is really simple to make (like all pesto's) and although it doesn't beat basil pesto, it is a very nice, fresh tasting pesto. Not only is it a great tasting, seasonal alternative to basil pesto, it is incredibly good for you. Watercress has more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and more vitamin C than oranges!

I used some of mine to top some white fish fillets before grilling and there is twice as much again in the fridge for use over the next week or so. I'm thinking of using it with some pasta and feta or chicken or maybe just spread on some wholemeal toast.

Watercress and Walnut Pesto

(this is an adaption of the recipe from essentials)

In a food processor I whizzed 1 x 75g bag of watercress, 40g walnuts, 2 garlic cloves, 25g parmesan, a squeeze of lemon juice and enought extra virgin olive oil to form the correct consistency (the recipe in the mag used 1ooml but i didn't bother measuring). Salt, pepper and sugar can be added to taste but I was happy with mine without. Spoon into a sterilised, airtight container, pour a layer of oil on top and store in the fridge for a couple of weeks.


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Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Pasta with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Anchovies and Breaedcrumbs

This is a first for me and this blog in several ways - My first seasonal recipe, the first recipe I have tried from my "Recipes I want to try" section and the first time I have tried purple sprouting broccoli! You'll have to excuse the photo it was the best one from the bunch I took but I'm not happy with it - don't let it put you off this dish.

This is a recipe I found whilst putting together this months whats in season post. I bookmarked it and added it to my "Recipes I want to try" and less than a week later I'm eating it. The recipe is from Silvernutmeg a Lancashire based website selling professional cookware I can only dream of owning. Here is the original recipe and below is the recipe with my minor tweaks. I was a bit apprehensive of whether I would like this dish (mainly as I hate broccoli) but decided to give it a go anyway. I'm glad I did! Every mouthful tastes different, with hints of lemon, chili and salty anchovies coating the breadcrumbs mixed in with the pasta and broccoli.

Serves 2 (go to the original recipe for a recipe for 4 people)

  • 150g purple sprouting broccoli, trimmed into heads and stems of around 1-2cm.
  • Enough pasta for two, shape of your choice (I used wholemeal penne).
  • 35g wholemeal breadcrumbs, toasted in a dry frying pan.
  • 1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped.
  • 1 dried chili, roughly chopped.
  • 2 anchovy fillets,
  • squeeze of lemon juice,
  • Parmesan and extra virgin olive oil to serve.
  1. Boil or steam the broccoli until cooked (the original recipe recommended boiling for 10 minutes but I reduced this to 5-7 minutes).
  2. Boil the pasta in another pan until al dente.
  3. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan. Once hot add the garlic, anchovies and chili. stir until the anchovies breakdown and a paste forms.
  4. Add the breadcrumbs and cook until crisp (you may need to add a little more oil).
  5. Drain the broccoli when cooked and add to the bread crumbs mixing well.
  6. Drain the pasta and add to the broccoli/breadcrumbs. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice a handful of grated Parmesan and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Stir through. Serve with extra Parmesan to top the dish.


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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Bagels with cream cheese, pesto and sun dried tomatoes

This is inspired by the first bagel I had some 5-6 years ago now.

Cut a bagel in half, toast, spread one side liberally with cream cheese and the other with pesto, sandwich some sun dried tomatoes (in oil, drained) between the two half's and eat!

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Right now I can't think of a better way to have spent this Sunday morning than baking bagels - the house smells good enough to eat and I had a still warm deliciously chewy bagel for lunch.

I had my first bagel from a bagel van/stall on London bridge whilst visiting friends there during the long university summer holidays. It was filled with cream cheese, pesto and sun dried tomatoes and tasted great. I have had bagels a few time since that summer but none have compared to the first (I have never seen a bagel stall outside of London and have bought some from the supermarket occasionally but they never impressed me much) but all that changed today!

I chose a bagel recipe from Rachel Allen's Bake! (a much loved Christmas gift). I made the dough in my bread maker (which allowed me to start some of the domestic chores while the machine did the kneading!) but Rachel uses an electric mixer with a dough hook or suggests you can knead by hand too.

Bagels - Makes 7 good size bagels

450g strong white flour
1 x 7g sachet fast acting yeast
2 tsp salt
250ml warm water
2tbsp runny honey
1tbsp vegetable oil
3tbsp treacle or molasses (I didn't bother measuring I just poured a good glug of treacle from the tin)
maize or cornmeal for sprinkling (I had neither so had to use flour!)
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds, sea salt and poppy seeds

1. I filled my bread maker following the manufacturers advice. In my case this is water, honey and oil first followed by the flour with salt in one corner and yeast in a well in the centre. Set the machine to dough cycle and allow to knead for 10mins. Rachel suggests checking to see if extra flour or water is needed to achieve a stiffer than normal bread dough with elasticity.

2. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean tea towel or cling film.

3. Leave in a warm room for 1-3 hours until the dough has doubled in size.

4. When the dough is ready boil enough water in a kettle to fill a large sauce pan. Pour the water in to the pan and add the treacle or molasses. Cover and turn off the heat. Lightly oil two baking trays and sprinkle with maize or cornmeal (or if like me you have neither -flour!).

5. Knock the air out of the dough and knead briefly. Roll into a sausage shape and cut into 7 equal pieces. Cover the pieces you are not working with with a clean tea towel.

6.There are a couple of ways of forming bagels but I find the best way is to take each piece of dough, roll it into a ball.

7. Flatten it slightly.8. Make a hole in the centre.9. Use your two index fingers to expand the hole. (ensure the hole is considerably wider than you want it to finish up as the holes will shrink during cooking).10. Place each formed bagel on the baking trays and leave for 10-20 minutes. In the mean time pre-heat the oven to 220C (425F) Gas 7 and heat the sauce pan to a gently simmer.

11. Place 2-3 bagels in to the pan and poach for about 90 seconds on each side (turning carefully with a slotted spoon).12. Remove from pan and allow to drain briefly then return to the baking trays. Repeat with all bagels.

13. Brush with the egg was and the sprinkle with your chosen topping.Poppy seedsSesame seeds14 . Bake for 15 minutes then turn over to cook the base for a further 10 minutes.
15. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Rachel's tip - cut in half before freezing so they can be put in toaster straight from the freezer!

I have also submitted this to YeastSpotting (possibly the first of many as I make my own bread most of the time).


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Friday, 6 March 2009

Meal planner march 6th

Friday: Penne with Ratatouille style sauce (sauce made in big batch and defrosting as I type)
Out shopping so either eat out or something quick from the store cupboard
I'm planning on batch cooking a big pan of Ragu style sauce so either lasagne or cottage pie
Monday: Leek and Parma ham Tagliattelli
Pork stir fry
Walnut and Watercress Pesto either with pasta and feta or possibly on some white fish
Butternut squash, Gorgonzola and Pecan risotto

One of these dishes may change if we can get hold of some purple sprouting broccoli I want to try a pasta dish from Silver Nutmeg.

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Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Information overload?

Can you have too many recipes? As an inexperienced, self taught cook most of the things I cook/bake are other peoples recipes. I am always finding recipes and thinking "I must try that sometime" and yet I never get round to it or forget where I saw it. This no doubt has something to do with the huge (an forever growing!) number of recipes I find.

  • I watch a significant number of cooking programmes (Market Kitchen, Jamie Oliver, River cottage, Rachel Allen - to name just a few of my favorites I watch regularly),
  • I buy at least one monthly food magazine (sometimes 2),
  • I read the food section first in other magazines and newspapers,
  • I keep up with an ever growing list of food blogs and food related websites,
  • I have a constantly increasing shelf of cookbooks and regularly borrow cookbooks from my local library!

Is it any wonder I can't keep up? I can't help it though I just love cooking and reading and watching shows about it. For me reading recipe books/magazines is not just inspiring but also relaxing. From reading other food blogs I know I'm not strange (although a few people do seem to think it is).

So how do you all organise yours?

Now you see why I started a food blog! Today I have added a section to my blog to record recipes I want to try. I am also hoping that this blog will inspire me to keep trying new recipes and making sure I don't fall in to the trap of rotating the same 7-10 recipes.

I am also adding a new feature this week of adding my meal plan for the following week. Mostly this is for my benefit as I always write a basic meal plan on the back of my shopping list so I know what I need to buy and my OH does the shopping and often loses the list. We shop on Thursday nights most weeks and by Monday I'm often struggling to remember what I had planned! Publishing my meal plan should also motivate me to include new ideas.

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Monday, 2 March 2009

March - what's in season?

I think most of us would agree that to some extent we all cook and eat seasonally. Soups, stews and casseroles feature heavily on the menu in both restaurants and homes around the country in winter, where as in summer we all crave something lighter. I have decided to make an effort to take this further and at the start of each month look in to what is in season that month and try to incorporate seasonal food in to my meal planning. I hope this will not only lead to cheaper, more nutritious and tasty food but also encourage me to try different things. So I won't waffle on about the benefits of eating seasonally as there are many good books and websites out there that can explain it better than me.

Sites I have used to put this list together:

River cottage seasonal guide - The Guardian
Eat the seasons


Vegetables: Purple sprouting broccoli, cabbages, chicory, spring and winter greens, cauliflower, celeriac, spring onions and leeks

Fruit: forced rhubarb, watercress, nettles, (bananas, blood oranges, kiwi fruits, lemons, oranges, pineapple, pomegranates)

Seafood: cockles, wild salmon, crab, pollack, oysters, sea trout, hake, john dory, lemon sole, mussels

Meat: Hare

I have to say I'm not feeling that inspired by this months offerings but I am determined to try purple sprouting broccoli this year (I don't like normal broccoli but I will give it a try anyway). Leek will be on the menu as it has been regularly all winter and I will also try getting some watercress and possibly rhubarb in to our diet this month. With this in mind I'll be off to look through some cookbooks for further inspiration!

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Salmon hot pot

A few months back my OH came home from work with a new cookbook he bought from one of the many book clubs that come in to work places around the country. At first I was excited (I love a good cookbook and can often be found flicking through one) until I saw which one - The Wagamama cookbook. A few weeks earlier in the middle of a shopping trip he had taken me to said restaurant. I really wanted to like the food but I didn't enjoy the particular noodle soup I ordered. It was by no means the fault of the restaurant chain but more down to the fact that I'm not a fan of Asian food. I put it down to two things - 1. I'm a fussy eater especially when it comes to veg (which play a big part in many of the dishes) and 2. I was brought up on a diet of meat and 2 veg (limited to potatoes, carrots, peas and sweetcorn!) with very little herbs and spices. Since getting in to cooking I am constantly challenging myself to try new dishes, vegetables and fish with a good amount of success (and some failures!).

So one cold, winters night I sat down with the wagamama cookbook. The first thing that struck me was how well presented the book is. Lots of glossy pages with lots of clear pictures of well presented food. I really like the concept of healthy food that is simple to prepare and this book is filled with them. The only down side is a lot of the recipes need ingredients only available from oriental stores (not great in a small country town or for those wanting to dip in to these recipes occasionally without having to have a large oriental store cupboard!). However for keen cooks regularly cooking good quality oriental food this would be a great addition to the book shelf.

I did however find one dish that took my fancy, one of the few dish's in the book not on the menu in their restaurants! Salmon hot pot. It is not on the menu as it takes 30 minutes to cook! To me this is still a very convenient, quick week night supper, as 15 minutes of this time the dish is in the oven leaving you free to do other tasks (usually washing up or preparing the next days lunch boxes in my house). I have altered the recipe slightly as the book recommends serving with brown rice but I preferred to serve it with noodles. There is no picture here or in the book because it isn't the most attractive dish however it does taste delicious so don't be put off. It has become a regular week night supper in our house and although I have as yet not cooked anything else from the book I do still flick through it ocassionally and have made simpler stir frys etc from other sources. Overall it has inspired me to keep trying oriental food (especially noodles) but at the moment for me atleast they will be inspired by this book but simplifed ingredient wise.

Salmon hot pot
(from the wagamama cookbook with a couple of alterations by me in brackets)

400g salmon (I never way them, just use 2 salmon fillets)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (Again I don't measure and probably use less, just a good splash in the wok/frying pan)
1 leek, trimmed and finely sliced
1 tbsp finely chopped shallot (or small onion in my house!)
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 tsp sugar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
salt and white pepper (I use black and omit salt as soy sauce has enough)
75ml light soy sauce (I found this amount too salty so I use reduced salt dark soy sauce and only around 30-40ml topping up with water)
300g cooked brown rice (or noodles)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
Remove the skin from the salmon and cut in to bite-sized chunks.
Heat the oil in a frying pan/wok or ideally a casserole dish which can be used on the hob and in the oven.
Once hot, add the leek, onion, carrot and celery and saute over a medium heat for 10 minutes to soften but not brown the vegetables.
Add the garlic and sugar, mix and continue to cook for a minute or so.
Transfer to an oven proof dish/casserole if necessary, add chunks of salmon mix and season with salt (if desired) and pepper.
Pour over soy sauce (or soy/water mixture).
Cover and bake in oven for 15 minutes, I often remove the foil for the last 5 Min's.
Cook the noodles as per instructions on the packet.
Mix noodles with salmon hot pot and serve.


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