Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sunday 17th January: Beef and puy lentil stew

I'm a bit behind with my blogging, but determined to catch up!

A couple of weeks ago the weather was still really cold, and thanks to a buy one get one free offer at Ocado, I had some stewing steak in the freezer, so I decided to make a beef stew. Here's roughly what I did.



Serves 3-4.

Ingredients
500g stewing steak, cut into cubes
1 onion, sliced
2 large carrots, thickly sliced
1 large leek, thickly sliced
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tbsp tomato puree
600ml beef stock
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
100g puy lentils
Salt and pepper to season

Method
Heat a large pan/casserole to a medium-high heat, then brown the meat. Add the veg and cook for 5-10 minutes until starting to soften. Stir in the dried herbs and the tomato puree. Cook for a minute or so more. Add the beef stock and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, add the Worcestershire sauce, cover and leave to cook for about 2 hours.

About 25 minutes before the end of cooking time, add the puy lentils. Remove the lid at this point if you want the sauce to thicken a bit. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potato.

NB. I didn't use any oil, as there was enough fat from the beef to cook everything in.


This was a pretty simple dish, but it did the job. It was much more flavourful after reheating for lunch the next day!

Bake yourself proud for Sport Relief 2016

Apologies that things have been a bit silent on here for the last couple of weeks. It's partly because I was away on holiday last week, but more on that later.

Hopefully by now you have all been getting stuck into The Great Sport Relief Bake Off (Wednesdays, 8pm, BBC1). I'm already rooting for Victoria Coren Mitchell for the next episode!

I was lucky enough to be sent a Limited Edition Orla Kiely Sport Relief apron to try out.* Here's a picture of me wearing the apron, ready to get my bake on:



Unfortunately you can't see the Sport Relief logo on the apron because I had to fold it over due to my lack of height! I love the design of the apron, though, and it is very good quality. It retails at £12.99 with £5.25 going to Sport Relief - you can buy it here, or from HomeSense, TK Maxx stores and TKmaxx.com. I'm looking forward to having some protection when I am cooking and baking now!

Go to http://www.sportrelief.com/ to find out about more ways that you can support or fundraise for Sport Relief, including more fun stuff to buy in the shop, and a place where you can donate.

If you want to hold a bake sale and are looking for ideas for what to bake, I often find inspiration from the BBC Good Food website and they have a whole section on cakes and baking!

Happy baking/eating everyone!

*Disclaimer: I was sent the apron for free in order to blog about it. I have also made a donation to Sport Relief (but was not required to).

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Saturday 16th January: Mincemeat cake and Roast chicken breasts with winter veg

Despite making an apple and mincemeat crumble the other week, I still have a fair bit of mincemeat to use up. Getting back into food blogging means reading other food blogs again more regularly as well, and fortunately for me, Phil from As Strong As Soup wrote about a mincemeat cake recipe from the blog C'est moi qui l'ai fait! I'm not great at baking, but I do dabble every now and again, and the simpler the recipe the better, so this looked right up my street. Yesterday I got my bake on, and this was the result.

Caaaaaake!

The cake tin I used was slightly too big, so I think the cake ended up flatter and I ended up baking it for a little too long. However, it still turned out pretty yummy. The boozy, spicy flavours of my homemade mincemeat turned into a nice fruitcake. Also, as Phil points out in his blog post, you can also buy very cheap jars of mincemeat at this time of year, making this a very economical cake. I noticed today that you can pick some up here from Ocado for 25p!*


*At the time of writing.

***

For dinner we had another dish that I cook variations of a lot: roasted chicken breasts, with roasted vegetables and cous cous. I used winter vegetables because that's what I had in the fridge, but in the summer I tend to do a more Mediterranean style dish.

Serves 2

Ingredients
1 onion, chopped into quarters
150g mushrooms, chopped into quarters
2 carrots, sliced into large chunks
2 leeks, sliced into large chunks
1 tsp rapeseed oil
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
2 chicken breasts
100g wholewheat cous cous
chicken stock cube
120ml boiling water
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Arrange the vegetables in a roasting tin. Drizzle over the oil, sprinkle over the herbs and mix well. Add the chicken breasts to the middle of the tin and season with salt and pepper. Put in the oven and roast for 30-35 minutes until the chicken is cooked all the way through and the vegtables are tender.

Meanwhile, place the cous cous in a bowl/dish/pan (I usually use a Pyrex jug), crumble in the stock cube and add the boiling water (adjust quantities depending on packet instructions or how wet/dry you like your cous cous). Squeeze in the lemon juice and stir well. Leave for 5 minutes, give another good stir with a fork to loosen and then serve alongside the chicken and vegetables.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Friday 15th January: Pizza-making at Pizza Express

It's turned a bit nippy, hasn't it? Part of me is very pleased that we now seem to be having a Proper Winter, but another part of me wants to hibernate because of the cold and dark.

Yesterday I found myself in the lovely city of Oxford on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny but frosty day.

A view of the Oxford canal
While in Oxford, I took part in a pizza-making activity at Pizza Express Oxford - Golden Cross. The Golden Cross is a historic grade-II listed building, with some original medieval wall paintings inside. Worth a visit for that, even if nothing else!

The pizza-making activity was good fun too, aided by a glass of prosecco and starters consisting of doughballs and an anti-pasta platter - yum! We were each given a piece of dough and shown how to stretch it into a pizza shape. I was a bit rubbish at this, as I found my hands were too small to get it to a good size. Then once it was in a tin and covered with tomato sauce (there was also a technique to getting the sauce to cover the pizza base, which I didn't quite master...), we were allowed to choose and add our own toppings. I chose mushrooms, olives, red peppers and a few jalapenos. I probably put a few too many mushrooms on my pizza and I certainly didn't really make it look very pretty (I'm not a neat cook at the best of times, so it probably wasn't a great idea to give me prosecco beforehand...). The pizzas were then whisked away and cooked and then came the best bit: eating our pizzas.


Mine tasted pretty nice. I probably could have balanced things a bit better on the pizza, but ultimately it was doughy, vegetably and cheesy. And it was fun to make too! If you're interested, there's more about Pizza Express's pizza-making parties here.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Tuesday 12th January: Leftover chicken gumbo

My cold continued apace this week (it's starting to get better now, thankfully), which meant that some of my plans had to be, erm, revised. This was mainly because I didn't manage to get out of bed early enough to make sandwiches from the leftover chicken, so I ended up using it in a dinner instead.

I had bought some okra with the intention of making an entirely different dish than this. Okra is now perhaps one of my favourite vegetables after trying it in a lamb stew in a local Lebanese restaurant. I decided to make this Chicken gumbo, which I have made before using chicken breasts, but thought it could work well with the leftovers too.

I didn't have any green pepper or celery, but I sliced a couple of small carrots instead. I substituted the dried thyme and sage for dried mixed herbs. I also didn't bother with the flour, and just added the cooked chicken in along with okra towards the end. I served it with brown rice.

I found this very tasty - perhaps not an authentic gumbo as some have pointed out in the comments on the website, but it still makes a good meal. The chicken was very flavourful and I love the combination of spices in this dish. It was a very warm, comforting bowl of chicken and vegetables, suitable for the cold weather and indeed someone suffering with a cold.


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Sunday 10th January: Spanish Chicken Pot Roast

On Sunday afternoon, I started feeling like I was developing the start of a cold, which was decidedly unfair given that I had the flu about a month ago. I had bought quite a big chicken (not on purpose - one of the downsides to online shopping is not being able to choose the exact size of meat products) and fancied doing a pot roast but wanted to try something a little different with it. I found this recipe for a Spanish chicken pot roast, which I thought sounded good. Fortunately, the recipe was pretty light on physical work: chop up a few veggies, add some wine, vinegar and spices, and whack it all in the oven, and sit down and relax.

The only problem I had is that my casserole dish is not the largest and the chicken was quite big... so with the veggies in the bottom, I wasn't actually able to put the lid on the casserole. I was worried that this would mean some of the vegetables would burn, particularly as the chicken needed cooking for 2 hours 10 minutes. But in fact, apart from a few particularly singed edges, it was all fine, and there was even still some juice in the bottom. I loved the flavours of this pot roast and it really did add something a little extra to a roast chicken. I had never cooked with sherry vinegar before, but I loved the depth of flavour it added. I served it with some boiled new potatoes and kale on the side.

And, of course, there was lots of left over chicken...

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Saturday 9th January: Stuffat tal-Laham and Apple & Mincemeat Crumble

Yesterday my in-laws came over for dinner. I quite often like to cook Maltese dishes for visitors, and I decided to do Stuffat tal-Laham (or meat stew) for the main, as it's a rather good dish to eat during colder weather, and the mixed spice and red wine give it a little something extra special, I think. I think I might have blogged about this dish before, but my recipe has evolved somewhat over the years, so here's roughly where it stands now.

Serves 4

Ingredients
knob of butter
500g stewing beef/steak
2 onions, sliced
3 large potatoes, cut into chunks
3 large carrots, cut into chunks
2 sticks of celery, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp mixed spice
500ml beef stock
250ml red wine
handful or two frozen peas

Method
Melt the butter, add the beef, and cook over a medium-high heat until the meat is nice and brown. Add all the vegetables, give it a good stir and let the veg cook for a few minutes. Add the tomato puree and mixed spice, stir and cook for another few minutes. Add the stock and wine, bring briefly to the boil, then turn the heat down and cover and simmer for about an hour. Remove the lid and simmer gently for another 45 minutes to an hour until the beef is tender and the sauce has reduced to a nice, think consistency (feel free to add more water or cover again if it starts to dry out too much though). Add the peas for the last 5 minutes of cooking time. Serve with sourdough bread.

***

We don't often have desserts at home, but as we had guests coming over, I thought it would be nice. I have a load of leftover homemade mincemeat from Christmas (this is my go-to mincemeat recipe), so wanted to use that somehow. I decided an apple and mincemeat crumble might be a good idea, and I based it on this recipe from Frugal Feeding. I used a lot more mincemeat than it said (I had a lot to use up and still do...) - about 8 tablespoons, rather than 3. I used slightly less sugar in the filling because my mincemeat is really quite sweet - I used about 40g of demerara and I left out the cinnamon and ginger in the crumble topping. The result was very good - perhaps a little too good, as the four of us managed to polish off the whole lot, along with some vanilla ice-cream. There goes the healthy-eating plan...

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Thursday 7th January: Maltese pasta sauce

Tonight's dinner is a recipe that has been passed down through my family. It's a simple recipe and I've made it so many times I don't even have to think about it. Which is nice when it's getting towards the end of the week...


Serves 2

Ingredients
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
150g mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
250g lean minced beef
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp capers (optional)
8 -10 green pitted olives, sliced (optional)
5 sundried tomatoes (optional)

Method
Heat the olive oil over a low-medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened (5-10 minutes). Turn the heat up, add the minced beef and the dried herbs and cook until the meat is brown all over (5 minutes). Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, and capers/olives/sundried tomatoes if using (I just used capers today as that's all I had in the fridge). Turn the heat down to a simmer and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve with the pasta of your choice (wholewheat penne for us today).

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Wednesday 6th January: Pistou soup

Good old BBC Good Food. I've been doing that New Year thing where I bought loads of veg, without exactly 100% planning what I was going to do with it all. This recipe for Pistou soup, helped me use up an awful lot of that veg.

As ever, I adapted this according to what I had in the fridge. I left out the turnip and the celeriac. I also didn't make the pesto, but instead added a couple of roughly sliced cloves of garlic at the beginning of cooking, and some chopped fresh basil at the end. I also used flageolet beans instead of haricot beans and I added the whole 400g tin. I crumbled a vegetable stock cube into the water to add a bit of extra flavour. It smelt and tasted pretty good, although I didn't make it a day ahead as was suggested. However, I do have plenty of leftovers for lunches, so I will be giving the re-heating a try, and am sorted for lunch to take to work for the rest of the week.


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Monday 4th January: Sweet & sour tofu stir fry

Back to work yesterday. Getting out of bed in the morning was hard.

A quick dinner following a tiring day at work and with the added bonus of being light and healthy following the excesses of Christmas. I make variations of this quite often, after I got fed up with packet stir fry sauces. I use different kinds of vegetables each time and sometimes serve it with rice or with noodles, depending on what's available. But this is (roughly) what I did last night.

Serves two.

Ingredients
200g chestnut mushrooms, chopped into quarters
200g pack of marinated tofu (I used Dragonfly), cut into cubes
1 onion, sliced
100g baby sweetcorn
100g sugarsnap peas
50g fine green beans
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tbsp honey
lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
Dark soy sauce to taste

Method
I like to cook the mushrooms in  stir fry for the longest, because I prefer mushrooms a bit soft. So I usually add them to the pan first, then after a couple of minutes add the tofu. After a few minutes more, add the rest of the vegetables and the garlic. Cook for about 1 minute more, then add the honey, lemon juice and soy sauce. Cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes more or until all the vegetables are cooked but still firm and crunchy, stirring constantly. Stir in cooked rice or noodles at the end.

(NB - I quite often also add a pinch of dried chilli flakes in with the veg, which adds a nice bit of warmth.)



Sunday, 3 January 2016

Sunday 3rd January: Guinea fowl with mustard & lemon roots

Today we took the decorations down, wrangled the fake Christmas tree back into its box and tried to come to terms with the fact that we have to go back to work tomorrow after a delicious two-week break.

I'm making an effort to eat less processed meat, so I decided to make use of the season's produce and roast a guinea fowl along with some seasonal veggies - the idea being that leftovers could be used for packed lunches during the week. I used this recipe from BBC Good Food as a template, but I added parsnips, left off the bacon and used less oil (about half a tbsp). Grain mustard is a staple in our cupboard/fridge now after discovering that we really like it in sandwiches, as well as it being a very versatile ingredient in cooking.



I would normally parboil roast potatoes, but out of sheer laziness I followed the recipe and just added them raw to the tray with the rest of the vegetables, which made it a very easy-to-prepare roast with little washing up.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Friday 1st January: Golden Veggie Shepherd's Pie

Yesterday I tried to start as we mean to go on. I'm not one for New Year's resolutions but after the excesses of Christmas, it's always good to try and get back on track with eating slightly more healthily again!

We went for a slightly hungover walk in the gardens of a National Trust property and spotted our first snowdrops of the year (due to the mild weather I have heard reports of snowdrop sightings last month...).

Snowdrops
For dinner I made this Golden Veggie Shepherd's Pie from BBC Good Food. I was surprised by how tasty it was. I scaled it down quite massively to make about enough for 3 people. I used baby Chantenay carrots, which worked really well in this dish, and I used a packet of ready-cooked puy lentils, which made the cooking time a lot shorter. I left out the wine because otherwise it would mean opening a bottle and then drinking would happen. I felt it could have done with the flavour boost that the wine would have provided. But I also noticed in the comments section, after I cooked it, that other people had added Worcestershire sauce, which I think seems like a fabulous idea (although obviously makes it non-vegetarian) and I will have to try it next time. The BBC Good Food website is one of the few websites where it really is worth reading the comments.

New year, new goals

I haven't posted in here much over the last couple of years. I think it's been a combination of having less free time and really just having run out of steam with the blog.

I still cook all the time, and I make up a lot of my own recipes, but have got out of the habit of writing them down.

I plan to start using this blog as a record of what I cook each day. A bit like a crap version of Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries series. I'm doing this mostly for myself really - to record what worked and what didn't. Perhaps it will be of interest to other people too, though.

General cooking aims for this year are to cook more vegetables and less meat (same as every year, really!), and to cook a bit more from scratch, as I'd got out of the habit a little due to having a longer commute to and from work now.

Happy new year, all!