Sunday, 26 April 2015

Lettuce not forget - twenty-one ways to pimp your salad

Dull salads?  Never! ....  here are some ideas to add a little more va va voom to your salad days...

1.    Dollop on some dips, hummus, mayonnaise; guacamole, salsas.


2.    Sprinkle on some seeds or nuts (dry roast nuts in a frying pan first) -walnuts, pinenuts, cashews, sunflower seeds.


3.    Slice in some fruit - oranges, satsuma, melon, grapefruit, grapes, pear, peaches (fresh or tinned).


4.    Add grains - giant cous cous, fusilli pasta, red camargue rice.


5.    Add pulses  -kidney beans, chick peas, cannellini, black eyed beans, lentils.


6.    Fry up some croutons - slice up squares of bread and fry in olive oil until crispy as a topping.


7.    Always olives any other marinated delights – artichoke, gherkins. 


8.    Just tomato?  Plate alone, ideally at room temperature, with some balsamic, olive oil and a pinch of sea salt (nobody loves a cold tomato!).


9.    Alchemy up some dressing –olive oil with added herbs, lemon juice, mustards, vinegars, garlic, salt, pepper – have a play around, bung ingredients in an empty jam jar and give it a shake.


10.  Sneak in some finely sliced cabbage (savoy is my favourite) or scallions (spring onions) for added crunch.


11.  Include some fresh herbs -parsley, coriander, dill, chives, basil, mint.


12.  Use leftover cold potato as a base for a salad Nicoise (avoid adding boiled egg to salad, unless it is a Nicoise). 


13.  Splash some colour with raw spinach or beetroot – slice, grate or oven roast.


14.  Introduce cheese -cubed feta, grated Leicester, slithers of parmesan, grilled halloumi, crumbled stilton, slices of mozzarella.


15.  Don’t be afraid of vegetables – peas, sweetcorn, chopped green beans.


16.  Marinate raw broccoli in olive oil and lemon juice and eat with chopped cherry tomato and some tuna fish.


17.  Make a coleslaw with sliced carrots and cabbages (red and white) add raisins, mayo and lemon juice.


18.  Crack open a tin of fish - tuna, sardines, mackerel, salmon, anchovies.


19.  Mix in some dried fruit such as chopped apricots, dried prunes, figs, raisins.


20.  Add some cold meats and go all mezze.

21. Bash up some breadsticks or crackers in a plastic sandwich bag with a rolling pin and sprinkle over your salad for some crunch.




Pork escalope with peanut sauce, sticky rice and green beans

"Come; give us a taste of your quality” Hamlet (to a Player).
This one is from memory, very simple and it’s quite nice as it doesn’t use coconut milk.  Finely chop an onion and sweat in oil or butter in a frying pan that has a lid.  Once the onion is slightly cooked, add the pork and seal/ brown the meat for a couple of minutes each side.  In a separate bowl dissolve three table spoons of peanut butter in approx 300ml of chicken stock.    It does actually dissolve and goes a lovely thick consistency.  Then add to the pork, cover the pan and simmer for approx 20 minutes.  I made the sticky rice in the Aga and served the pork and sauce on top in a large dish.  I dislike serving portions to people, particularly adults, preferring to let them help themselves – we’re eating at home here and not in a restaurant.  I sprinkled some chopped coriander on the top and served it with steamed green beans and sweetcorn. The pork and peanut sauce is also good served with noodles.  You could garnish with whole or bashed peanuts.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Fish finger butty with watercress and home-made tartar sauce

As Beatle fans will know; if a Liverpudlian asks you ‘four a fish n’ finger pie’; they may not be referring to lemon sole goujons.

Back to basics this evening; an embellished version of a classic comfort dish.  The secret of a fish finger butty (sandwich) is the bread must be white, soft and spread with real butter.  The fish fingers should be chunky as possible and straight from the oven so they melt the butter and contrast with the bread.  A handful of something green adds some posh and it all starts to get a bit gastro-pub.  I used watercress which was ideal for adding a peppery crunch.  
A homemade tartar sauce lifts the whole thing up a notch and is just a simple variation on mayonnaise.  Add finely chopped shallot or onion, chopped gherkins, capers, fresh parsley and lots of lemon juice and seasoning.  As on this occasion, it can often be pulled together from store cupboard ingredients.  I rarely make my own mayonnaise, and I don’t think that would work for this use either – too buttery.  I only added shallot, lemon juice and chopped watercress to tartar this evening and it was a last minute addition.  Keeping it simple worked just fine.  Serve tartar straight from the fridge as it needs to be cold to contrast with the warm fish.  Kids and husband loved it.  Also served a bowl of peas and chopped watercress mixed in, which everyone ate.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Cob loaf with 20% wholemeal flour

I need more bread proving baskets as all my loaves are starting to look the same.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Baked Polenta with Crimini Mushrooms and Fresh Sage

‘Do not do unto others as they would do to you; their tastes may not be the same’, George Bernard Shaw.  (Painting - Polenta Makers - by Pietro Longhi (1751).

I’ve always been on friendly terms with polenta, but my enthusiasm for bringing it to the supper table as dinner guest hasn’t always been so warmly greeted by my nearest and dearest.  Polenta is a way of life in northern Italian, and has been for generations (see painting of polenta makers from 1751), so surely we can find room in our hearts for a little?
Uncooked, polenta is a grainy, bright yellow maize.  I think it’s beautiful’; it actually sparkles and glitters.  I usually make up the stuff in a sauce pan from the grain, stirred and then bake it and cut it up into shapes to embellish.  The advantage of this is that you can add stock or herbs to the base.  However, it does then become a three part process – make it up on a stove, bake it and then re-bake or fry it for your dish; for something so, well, utility, it can seem a little over laboured.  I bake mine in parchment lined roasting trays.  I’ve never tried to spread it on a cheese cloth like in Pietro Longhi’s painting, but this does look fun.  Once cooled, I’m sure you could build gingerbread style polenta houses with it, as it becomes quite architectural.    Unfortunately, on this occasion, I could only buy pre-cooked slabs of it in the supermarket, which was disappointing, but in hindsight, as I was feeding twelve, a few shortcuts was actually helpful.  It sliced easily into neat rectangles and I placed them on buttered parchment on a baking tray. 

Meanwhile, I fried some mushrooms in butter. We are rather sold short on mushrooms in the UK as there are hundreds of different types of edible types of mushrooms, but only around ten types are grown commercially and therefore make it to our tables.  They are good high source of vitamin B & D and treated gently, have unique, delicate flavours that are lost when they are so often drowned in unimaginative (usually cream) sauce.s  I used firm Crimini mushrooms (they look like button mushrooms, but with a pale brown skin) that retain their shape after frying.  I drained some of the liquid off as I didn’t want them soggy.  I also added some fresh sage to the frying pan.  I then drizzled olive oil over the polenta and put spoonfuls of mushrooms and fresh sage onto the polenta rectangles.  I baked the trays in the oven until the polenta started to brown and sizzle.  It all went and the kids ate it.  I did tell them it was a kind of pizza (true).  Husband was sceptical, but the taste won him over.  I served the polenta with a warm beetroot, orange, feta, cucumber and lettue salad.  What’s the point of having family and friends over for supper if you can’t inflict your taste on them?  My adventures will polenta will continue and I pledge to go mushroom foraging with an expert at some point.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Cover of Elizabeth David's Classic cookery book; Italian Food

Genovese Beef Stew (Stufato di manzo all Genovese)

“April is the cruellest month”, TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, 1922.
There is almost nothing in the fridge and I cannot face going to the shops on a sunny day during the school holidays.  I’d pulled some casserole beef from the freezer last night and after a little flicking through some cookery books, decided to make this simple Genoese stew from Elizabeth David’s Italian Cookery:  Slice up onions and sweat in melted butter in a large casserole dish for about five minutes ( I used four medium sized onions).  While the onions are cooking; prepare garlic, a thinly sliced carrot (sliced, not diced), celery and a couple of skinned tomatoes.  The easiest way to skin a tomato is to score it with a knife, put it in a mug and then cover it with boiling water straight from the kettle for a few minutes.  It might seem a slight faff, but it makes a subtle difference to the texture of the dish and barely takes a couple of minutes.  You’ll then be able to peal the skin off the tomato easily. 
When the onions are translucent, add the beef to brown for a few minutes until the meat is sealed and the garlic.  Elizabeth David says to put the beef in as whole steaks, but I preferred to slice ours.  Then add the carrots, celery, tomatoes and some basil (dry, or fresh chopped) and stir for a few minutes. Ideally you’ll have some fairly inexpensive dry wine for cooking, rather than raiding the wine store and using a rather fine Pinot Grigio, as I did.  Add one large glass, just enough to just cover the ingredients.  Once it is all simmering, slam on the casserole dish and bung in the oven for 2-3 hours.  I actually left mine to slow cook in our Aga for about 6 hours.

Once cooked, the smell of onions and wine is divine.  I also like the subtle use of tomato in this stew.  The secret of this dish is not to use more wine than is necessary so it becomes a dense stock rather than the other ingredients swimming in the wine.  I sprinkled some chopped fresh basil over the top before taking to the table.

I was going to serve it with a sweet potato gratin but to be honest, the sweet potatoes were looking slightly after their ‘best before’ and I was done with chopping.  Instead, I kept it simple; I cooked up some fusilli pasta with olive oil and a bowl of peas with a knob of butter.  Husband was happy with an opened bottle of Pinot Grigio and enjoyed the stew.  He was less impressed with pasta and peas which he felt let the stew down.   I was tempted to invoke the words of John Lennon “give peas a chance” but he had a point.  However, I felt the fusilli was in the Italian spirit and would please the kids who enjoyed trying to say ‘Stufato di manzo’.

Eliot’s ambiguous opening line; “April is the cruellest month” probably meant that April is an in between time, a pause, as the seasons change.  There is the promise of Spring without it’s treasures being in full bloom. I have been reading the Wasteland backwards the last few days, to see if makes any more sense.  It is still beyond me. 



My dolls house kitchen with real egg.