Sunday, 8 July 2012

Pork, Fennel Seed and Oregano Baked Pasta

This was a Friday night experiment and it came out really nicely, I thought.  Sadly it was SO nice there were no photos (also I was pooped by the time I'd got it into the oven - long, long day).  On the other hand it was so nice we will definitely be making it again.

It DOES look like a lot of ingredients but actually most of it were things we had knocking about in the cupboard or fridge; I would highly recommend getting the herbs and fennel seeds in anyway as they are reasonably inexpensive and you can make so many things using them.  Veg-wise, you can mix it up how you like really.  No mushrooms?  Fine, use an extra pepper.  No courgettes? Whatever, you'll live.  You see how I mean.


1 pack lean pork mince
2-3 rashers streaky bacon
3 cloves garlic
1 large onion
2 carrots, grated
2-3 sticks celery, sliced
1 green or yellow pepper
1 large courgette
1 pack mushrooms (about 200g), sliced or quartered, however you like them
1 carton (or can - about 400g) chopped tomatoes in their juice
Squirt of tomato puree
splash balsamic vinegar (optional)
pork stock cube (if you've got one)
Dried oregano (I would have used fresh, they had none in ASDA, I used dried, it was great)
Fennel seeds - a heaped teaspoon
Dried marjoram

For the topping:

1 large carton of plain cottage cheese
Parmesan for dusting BUT -if you have none, just use a bit of whatever cheese you've got in the fridge.  Seriously, you just need it to give it a bit of a textured top.

Also, enough pasta to fill you up - you're going to make the sauce, cook the pasta, stir the two together, pop them in an oven dish covered with the instant cheesy topping and bake it for 20 minutes so I suggest just doing your normal portion size.  As an aside, if you don't have an oven dish I noticed in the supermarket the other day that Bacofoil do 2-packs of re-usable sturdy reinforced foil oven "dishes" for a couple of pounds so you could give this a shot in one of those.  I reckon you could fit at least 2 or 3 portions in so if you are a couple or a small family they would be adequate, especially with a bit of salad, or bread on the side.  Anyway, I've digressed.

Frazzle the bacon to within an inch of its life in a large pan, and add the pork mince, breaking it up so it browns.  While that is happening slice up your onion and crush your garlic and add them in.  While you're at it add the fennel seeds and the oregano - a VERY generous shake, probably a heaped teaspoon.  I also like to melt the pork stock cube in at this point and swizz it about.  If you haven't got a pork stock cube don't sweat it.  When everything is looking like it's cooking down a bit add a little slosh of balsamic vinegar (not the expensive stuff, just the cheapy version from the supermarket) and give it a good stir.  Add your grated carrots and celery, stick the lid on, and get on with preparing (ie chopping up) the mushrooms, courgette, pepper etc, opening your tomatoes and so on.

When the onions, celery and carrot have cooked into the meat, add all your other veg and tomatoes and tomato puree, along with the marjoram and a generous seasoning of black pepper, stick the lid on and turn your attentions to your pasta.

Measure it out accordingly and stick the kettle on.  While you are at it, put the oven shelf in the middle of the oven and put it on to about 180-190 degrees.  Get a pan out for your pasta and heat it up so the boiling water from the kettle doesn't have to reboil when it hits a cold pan.

Cook the pasta to your liking.  I used pasta twists but shells, macaroni, or whatever you've got are fine.  I wouldn't use long pasta but actually if it's all you've got you could just break it up.  Your call!  My preference is for wholemeal pasta since I like the texture better.

When your pasta's cooked, stir it into your sauce so it's all well mixed together.  Then transfer it into your oven dish and smooth it over.  Open your carton of cottage cheese and carefully pour off any watery whey from the top, then carefully using a big spoon smear it as evenly as you can over the top of your pasta to make a creamy cheesy layer on top.  Grate a bit of parmesan over and finish with a final sprinkle of oregano, then stick it in the oven for 15 minutes for the cheese to melt and for it all to bake in together.

Enjoy!  It's very nice, and a lighter alternative to a traditional beef ragout.

Also...FREEZING!   As with all the non-creamy sauces here the meat sauce bit, without the pasta and the cheese, is perfect for freezing so if you wanted to make a big batch and pop some in the freezer for an easy dinner one night then this is great for that.  All you'd have to do is go from the cooking your pasta and heating up the oven stage.  And of course, you COULD just eat it as is with some pasta  or even on a baked potato - it's pretty easy going :)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

My mom's hot and sour soup

1 corn on the cob
veg oil
1 red chilli
1 shallot
2 stalks lemongrass
3 baby leeks or slicing spring onions
1 red pepper    
400ml coconut milk (I used light)
11/2 pints veg stock
175g fine egg noodles
juice of 1 lime
bunch coriander

(this is supposed to serve 4)

Fry corn, spring onions, pepper, shallot, chilli, (all chopped) and lemongrass (bruised) in oil for 3-4 minutes

add coconut milk and veg stock, season and bring to boil and simmer 15 minutes.
cook noodles and add to pan.

Remove from heat and stir in lime juice and coriander. Serve straight away.

Easy peasy and we had this with some chicken and I added extra noodles to make a main meal.

I'm trying the fennel and bulgar wheat tonight so I'll let you know how it turns out. Dad's having a jacket potato - he's tried one new recipe this week.

Slow cooked venison

This is rather like a Beef Oxford, but with venison; we have a very good local farm shop where they sell all kinds of game.  Last week when we went they had diced venison, so we bought some and this is what I made with it (we're having it for dinner later).

500g diced venison, trimmed
Sliced smoked bacon - probably 3 or 4 slices
Slug of balsamic vinegar
Mushrooms, halved or quartered
2 red onions
Small bottle red wine
Carrots, halved lengthways and cut into bite size pieces
Green pepper, chopped
Garlic, 2-3 cloves, crushed
Fresh rosemary
Salt and black pepper

This really is a bit of a one-pot wonder; as long as you've sealed the meat, all is well.

Frazzle the bacon, and then add the venison.  Once it's nicely sealed, pop the onions, garlic, and a slug of balsamic vinegar in and let it cook down.

Add the wine and let the alcohol bubble off, and then put the rest of the veg and the rosemary in, put the lid on, turn it down and go and do something else for a bit.  At least an hour :)

We'll be having some of this with some baby potatoes and some sauteed courgettes I think.

Smoked haddock chowder a la Jamie Oliver

This is another of the recipes from Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals and it was very easy (and something a bit different as we don't eat fish all that often unfortunately).  Again, I think I'm about right but I was writing it down, and this is as I made it (and it came out dish-licious).

For 2-4 people you need...

1 good sized fillet of smoked haddock (or other smoked fish) with the skin off and the pinbones out
250ishg of potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into small, 2cm ish pieces
Some sliced spring onions
4 corn cobs, with the corn kernels sliced off ready
3 bay leaves
4 rashers of streaky bacon
teaspoon thyme (I am sure Jamie used fresh but I didn't have any)
1 litre of chicken stock (with a cube is fine)
small bag frozen prawns (or a small pack of non frozen ones, no rules!)
teeny carton single cream


Frazzle the bacon in the bottom of your saucepan and then add the onions and potatoes, stirring them about so they start to soften.  Then, add the stock, the piece of fish (don't bother faffing about breaking it up, just whack it in), and the sweetcorn.  Jamie Oliver demonstrates how to prepare them - just take a sharp knife and run it down the sides of the cob to shave the kernels off.  If you do this onto a clean tea towel it stops them bouncing about and onto the floor :)  Also, put in your bay leaves and the thyme and bring it up to a boil before reducing it to a simmer.

It should take about 12-15 minutes; when your potatoes are soft and cooked through you're good to go.  Add the prawns and give them a couple of minutes to reheat through throughly.  You don't need to defrost them first, they are only little.  Take your bay leaves out, pop your cream in, make sure it's piping hot, and it's ready!  You might like to get a potato masher and mash one third or so of the pan to give it a bit more of an interesting texture, but it's your call.

Serve it with some of those big Matzo crackers broken up to thicken it.  Super quick and easy and it tastes amazing.

Chili chicken soup, again

I made it again, and took a better photo :)

Tuscan Bread Salad

So - last week (or maybe the week before),  I was doing some college work with the TV on in the background and ended up accidentally catching some of Jamie's 30 Minute Meals.  I happened to look up and it was too late: hooked!  This recipe, and another for chowder which I'll post in just a moment, were scribbled down frantically so they are my take on his recipes.  I've not seen the book, so the quantities might not be quite right, but all credit to Jamie Oliver, I've just cobbled them together :)

We had this with some grilled chicken.  For two exceptionally greedy people who aren't really having much else but a chicken breast, you need:

Ciabatta bread - we used individual rolls from Sainsbury's. A bit stale is fine.
Fresh rosemary (I think Jamie uses oregano but I didnt have any)
Fennel seeds
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Tomatoes - good flavoursome ones, all colours and shapes, no rules
Fresh basil
Balsamic vinegar (I think Jamie uses red wine vinegar actually but this was good too)
Baby capers
Anchovies in oil - one of those little diddly cans
Sliced sweet or Spanish onions (I think this might have been my addition - I am pretty sure Jamie uses those cooked skinned peppers that come in a jar)

Okay so it's really easy.  First put your grill on to heat up.

Rip up the ciabatta into bite sized pieces and put it into a roasting dish with the rosemary (it's easier if you strip it off the stalks), a crushed clove of garlic, salt and pepper and olive oil and fennel seeds.  Mix it up with your hands so that the bread is coated and everything is mixed in together.

In the meantime chop your tomatoes up roughly, perhaps reserving a few of the pretty ones for decoration later.  Put them into a big bowl (big enough to hold the bread in a few minutes too).  Add a good slug of the vinegar, salt and pepper, the finely sliced onions (or peppers), and give it a stir.  While you're at it add most of the basil too, again keeping a bit back for finishing at the end.

At this point pop the bread in but KEEP AN EYE ON IT.  Golden is good.  Crunchy is good.  Well done is good.  Black and smoking is not so good.  Anyway while that's doing, moosh up the anchovy fillets with a fork into a paste and add a tablespoon full of capers, again mooshing up.  Add them, and maybe half the oil from the anchovy can (do it by eye, you don't want it super oily but you do need a bit), and one more crushed garlic clove for luck, and stir everything round really well so the flavours get chance to blend together.

When your bread's done, scoop it into the tomatoes and stir it all up.  When it is cool enough to get your hands in, do so, and make sure the bread's soaked up some of the tomatoey juices and the oil and all that savoury loveliness.  Make sure you've scooped all the crunchy fennel seeds and garlic in too.

When you're ready, add the few reserved tomatoes and nice tidy basil leaves, give it a final drizzle of balsamic vinegar and shave parmesan over the top.  It is amayonnaising.  Also, don't worry about the anchovies/capers; I know some people are sure they don't like them but actually when they are all mooshed up together they're just savoury and delicious and not fishy or capery if that makes sense.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Manpreet's Glazed Madeira Birthday Cake

My colleague Manpreet's birthday was last week and she had been making I want cake noises a few days earlier, so I made her one.

It is my tweaked version of Nigella Lawson's delicious Madeira cake that features in her book How To Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking And The Art of Comfort Cooking, which is one of my favourite, never-fail baking books.  This version is more lemony and vanilla-y, but I will include the original recipe as it is below, and then point out which bits I have added, as the basic recipe is amazing too.

Basic recipe:

240 unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
200g caster sugar
210 self raising flour
90 plain flour
zest and juice of one lemon

My version:
Use the zest of TWO lemons and the juice of one - the juice of the other lemon will make a glaze
Add vanilla essence - to your taste; in my mind things can never be too vanilla-y, it's just one of those things!
Some icing sugar, sifted, for the finish - we'll come to that shortly.


Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees (GM3).

In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar and then add the beaten eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of the flour.  Turn off the beater and go to spatula.  Add in the vanilla essence, lemon zest and the flour, carefully folding it in.  This is not a light and airy cake so don't panic, but don't whip it either.  Finally stir in the juice of one lemon.

Put it into the loaf tin (I use a silicone mould) and into the oven for about 50 minutes-1 hour.  I always check at 50 as my oven runs a bit hot.  Just do the skewer test - if it comes out clean you're good.

A few minutes before you're ready to take it out completely - say at about 47 minutes or something (you know your oven), whip it out and make a few little holes in the top, and then glaze it before popping it back in to finish.

The glaze is dead easy - just add enough icing sugar to the juice of the remaining lemon to make a very thin runny icing, and pour it over the top, aiming for the holes!  Don't worry if there's any left over, you can pour it over the cake as it cools to make a delicious sticky crusty glaze.

We ate it with blueberries and a cup of tea.

Ms Leno's Marvellous Mexican Chili Chicken Soup

Quantities variable depending on how much you want, and what you've got in really, but this is what I used. Obviously you don't HAVE to wait for the vegetables to be near death before you use them!!
1 floppy courgette (large)
3 floppy sticks of celery (floppy)
1 sad onion
3 red peppers (1 healthy, two squishy)
1 nearly-full punnet of over ripe cherry tomatoes (a can or two would be fine too though)
4 cloves of garlic
1 largish breast of chicken, shredded ( but any cooked chicken fine)
1 chorizo sausage, sliced up
1 large can of sweetcorn
1 can kidney beans
2 big scoops of Ms Leno's Delicious Black Beans (recipe below)
1 big mild green chili (optional)
1 litre cold water
1 chicken stock cube
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp oregano

You also need a hand blender.


In a bit of olive oil slowly fry off the chorizo sausage until it is a bit crispy and has released all its garlicky oil. Fish it out but leave the oil behind. Add the peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chili, celery and kidney beans and allow to soften slightly before adding the litre water, stock cube and spices to the pan. Bring it up to the boil then turn it down and leave to simmer til the veg are cooked through. Blend to your preferred smoothness and then add in the shredded chicken, chorizo slices, sweetcorn and black beans. Stir well to combine and enjoy!

This would be amazing with some fresh coriander on top. But I don't have any. Or some tortilla chips (I did have some of those).  And some leftover cottage cheese.


Ms Leno's Delicious Black Beans

WELL. As you know I already have a recipe for black beans but I've finally honed my recipe to one that I use regularly, and this is it:
 1 bag dried black beans (500g)
1 large onion
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 red pepper
1 big mild chili (optional)
5 or 6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 litre chicken stock made with two cubes

 This is a bit of a long process but actually very easy. You need to soak the beans first in lots of cold water and if I am going to make this for Saturday morning for example I'd put the beans to soak at bedtime on Thursday. At bedtime on FRIDAY I'd drain them and stick them in the slow cooker with all the other ingredients, flip the switch to twelve hours and go to bed.

 I eat these through the week for breakfast with rice, cottage cheese, eggs, veggies, wraps, whatever I've got knocking about. I am not very fond of traditional English breakfast food (ie sugary cereal or too much toast, as it messes my blood sugars up too much).

Friday, 15 June 2012

Never Seconds shut down

Well, I've been very quiet as I've been studying frantically since Christmas and things have been somewhat hectic. However, as things start to wind down towards the summer I shall be updating the million and one things I've cooked since then. In the meantime please go and read this article on Wired, about Martha Payne's brilliant food blog being shut down by the local council. Bloody shameful.