Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Chick Pea Casserole

I wrote the following a while back (scarily, almost a year ago in fact!) but never got round to posting it. While the programme How To Stay Young may no longer be available on iPlayer, everything else is as relevant as ever:-

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Last night I came into the kitchen to shut up shop and get to bed and instead found myself drawn into a programme called How To Stay Young. It's currently available on BBC iPlayer and is well worth a watch but, to save you time, this is what it said, in a nutshell:-

The three keys to staying younger are:-

Exercise
Reduce stress
Become a vegan

Two of those are obvious enough (though it was encouraging to learn that 3 hours a week dancing is actually better for you than the equivalent time spent in the gym!). Becoming a vegan is more interesting. When you are young, it is important to eat meat because meat contains a growth hormone. However, as an adult, that growth hormone is no longer required and instead becomes an ageing factor. Do the math.

Another very interesting fact thrown up by this late night viewing was that women have a tendancy to lay down internal fat as they age. Thus Angela Rippon (one of the presenters), known for her great legs and looking a very youthful 72 and still dancing and playing tennis, underwent a full body MRI scan. All was looking good until they found the fat that she'd laid down around her heart (otherwise very healthy) and her liver. The presence of this fat is a very severe threat to the health of both these vital organs. The solution? Eat lentils and chick peas. When you digest these, they release an acid which helps break down this internal fat. True, you have to eat a helluva lot of them - but there is a supplement called Inulin which can be sprinkled on meals which does the same thing and avoids the need to consume industrial quantities of pulses.

So....tonight, when I had singularly failed to go to the supermarket (this has been going on for days), I had a look in my store cupboard to see what I had that could make a vegan and/or healthy heart meal. I had tinned chick peas. I had tinned ratatouille. I had fresh red peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, olive oil. With just a little thought, this could certainly make a meal...

Here is the full list of ingredients:-

1 small onion, peeled and sliced
Approx tablespoon of dark soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Teaspoon soy/chilli/garlic spray sauce (or just add the ingredients separately)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
400g tin chick peas
3 pointed red peppers
Tablespoon tomato purée

De-seed and slice the peppers and spread them on a roasting tray with salt and olive oil and roast them in the oven until they have fully softened.

Meanwhile pour the olive oil into a heavy-based saucepan or casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the onion, sugar and soy (or chilli soy spray if you have some). When the onions have softened add the chick peas, ratatouille, ginger, tomato and mascarpone soup, tomato puree and crushed garlic.

Once the peppers are cooked and softened, chop them into chunks and add to the casserole. Allow the flavours to meld, and then add a little parsley just before serving.

So there you have it: healthy and tasty.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Best Ever Chicken Thighs

Time is always short it seems these days. I don't know where it's gone between February and October. I have continued to cook daily and take photographs of anything that's particularly tasty but never find the time to write down what I've done there and then. So my computer is full of images of food which I then can't tell you about!

Still, last night's meal was so simple that even I can remember what I did. It is essentially a French classic: chicken and chips. Upgrading is easy enough.

I'd done cheese and ham toasties for the girls as they wanted to eat early and conveniently while doing whatever they were doing. Job done. After that, I switched on the telly in the kitchen and watched Nigella simpering away over 'fleshy, creamy avocados' and 'jewel-like pomegranates seeds' or some such thing and opened the freezer door: two skinless and boneless chicken thighs left over from a previous meal. Perfect for me and N to sup on. What to do with them? A quick glance in the fridge vegetable drawer suggested 'not a lot'. However, I did have a large bunch of fresh thyme, the inevitable garlic, a new bag of salad, some lemons and potatoes. Voila. Chicken and 'chips' it shall be.

First job, while glancing at Nigella's perfect little copper pans with only a small degree of envy, was to slice and chop the potatoes into smallish squares. If the potatoes are clean, I leave the skins on: better for you and a time-saver. Win-win. I chose about three quite large ones, sliced them first into 1cm thick discs, then quartered (or cut into six, depending on size) each disc. I smeared a spoonful of duck fat onto a roasting tray and then scattered the potatoes into it. I squished three garlic cloves by pressing down with the blade of a large kitchen knife (you could just as well use a pestle and mortar or any flat object - though preferably not your favourite recipe book), leaving the skin on, and added them to the roasting tray. Next I pulled the leaves off some thyme stalks and scattered them over, followed by a generous amount of home-ground black pepper and salt. Those then go into the top of a hot oven (or grill) and leave them to turn golden brown and a bit crispy, turning as necessary.

Meanwhile I defrosted the two chicken thighs and then put them in a bowl in a hasty marinade made up of a bit of white wine (about half a glass), some generous slivers of lemon peel, a squeeze of lemon juice, some crushed garlic and salt and pepper, together with a few more thyme leaves. While this was doing its thing, I took my last two banana shallots and peeled and sliced them into a heavy based frying pan, together with another couple of squidged garlic cloves (if you squidge them rather than crush them in a press they remain sweeter, according to Nigella's rather timely tip as she oozed on in the background). These I gently browned off with some cretan oregano-infused olive oil (happened to have about my person, but any olive oil will do) and some remaining garlic butter from a little pat I had lurking in the fridge. I know this all sounds very garlicky but I promise you it wasn't overwhelming at all - it was a subtle infusion of flavour rather than a strong hit. And if you didn't have garlic butter, plain butter would be fine as well. Once these had started to soften I added the chicken thighs and the marinade and let the chicken sizzle and cook through, pressing it down with a wooden spatula to help brown it off. The marinade liquid keeps it moist - and the brown meat of the thighs are juicier and more flavoursome than the breast meat. The shallots and garlic meanwhile are also browning up and possibly slightly catching (a little char is good, too much is bad, so watch it). I added a little more unsalted butter to the pan once the liquid had reduced and bathed it over the chicken thighs. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

And that's it really. Once everything is cooked, serve the chicken and potatoes onto a warmed plate and add the green salad tossed with a fruity, peppery extra virgin olive oil and balsamic dressing and plenty of ground salt and pepper. Spoon the remains of the buttery chicken juices from the frying pan over the meat, pour yourself a glass of red wine and tuck in.

It's all a marriage made in Heaven. Somewhat like my own. Ahem.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Chicken, spinach and rocket risotto

The main things to understand when you are thinking of making a risotto are:-

1. Simplicity of ingredients
2. Quality of ingredients
3. Timing

There is nothing more disgusting than a soggy risotto (well, truth to tell, I can think of many things worse but let's stick to the scale of relativity that we're on here!). 

Given my current status of non-chewing, a risotto was appealing this evening.

I knew I had arborio rice which is THE best rice to use. Reasons? It's from Italy's great rice growing region: the flat-as-a-pancake Po valley; and it's very starchy so absorbs all the flavours that you are cooking it with to make a gloriously tasty, starchy bowl of comfort food while retaining crunch in the centre of the grain.

I also had onions and shallots, butter, eggs, good olive oil, garlic, baby spinach salad, rocket salad, white wine, stock, good quality chicken soup and parmesan. Put those ingredients together and you're laughing.

So, first I selected a shallot over an onion (no reason, just because). I peeled and chopped it and cried copiously.

Then I peeled and crushed three fat cloves of garlic. The onions and garlic went into a solid non-stick pan with approximately a tablespoon of the olive oil and an equivalent amount of unsalted butter. These were stirred around until the onion was soft and clear and then I added about 200g of arborio rice, half a tin of good chicken soup (Tesco have a great one at the moment - 'British Roast Chicken Soup' in their Finest range - which actually has definable and good-looking bits of chicken in it) and the equivalent, at a guess, of a small glass of white wine (which happened to be a French Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc and available at Majestic Wines). Stir this lot around and as the rice starts to absorb the liquid add, in two separate goes, 300g of stock. If the stock you use is homemade then you will probably want to add a teaspoon of bouillon powder, as I did, just to boost up the salt and stock flavours. If, on the other hand, you have made it with a stock cube or wholly with stock powder, then you probably will not need to add any extra salt. Just use your tastebuds.

Keep an eye on it and stir from time to time to ensure that the rice is absorbing the liquid and not sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Next you need to grate about a cupful of fresh parmesan and put that in the risotto, followed by a couple of generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves and the same of rocket. Stir it all around and leave for another few minutes for them to soften.

The final ingredient to go in is an egg yolk. You could leave the egg yolk out as that's a very purist option, but what it does is bind the risotto together and adds a crucial subtle level of richness and silkiness. If you can't be bothered with the egg yolk, then an extra large knob of butter would do (but is a cop out!). The parmesan, meanwhile, adds a further layer of flavour and saltiness that is required to stop the rice being bland (hence I've added no extra salt in itself).

Then that's it.

The whole thing should have taken about 20 minutes to cook from scratch (hence NEVER order a risotto unless they tell you there will be an extra wait time - otherwise it means it's been sitting in a pan for God knows how long and will inevitably and disgustingly SOGGY!). Tip: check the rice from time to time by tasting it during the 20 minutes cooking time. Your aim is to achieve a rice that is al dente i.e slightly firm in the middle as you chew it, without being crunchy of course! A little resistance to the bite is what you are aiming for...

Serve it up with some fresh rocket on top and a generous slug of beautiful green, peppery extra virgin olive oil.

These quantities easily serve 3 people.





Thursday, February 4, 2016

Salmon Pasta

When you're tired of meat-based pasta dishes, salmon is a good, quick, healthy alternative. I knew I had a pack of unopened smoked salmon in the fridge so I popped into M&S on my way home from the dentist (can't eat anything at the moment which needs significant chewing due to brace work and fact that my molars currently don't meet) and got thinking about what would work well with it. I usually just add lemon and capers but the girls aren't so fond of the little green salty things, so I thought I'd come up with an alternative. This is what I bought:-

Flaked salmon (mild smoke)
Fresh peas
Leeks
Watercress sauce

The ingredients I already had in the fridge and larder were:-

Unwaxed lemon
100g smoked salmon
Head of chicory
Pink peppercorns
Lemon olive oil

So all I had to do was trim and slice a medium-sized leek and soften it up in a pan with about a tablespoon of the lemon infused olive oil:


Then I chopped the smoked salmon and added it to the softened leeks with a good teaspoon of crushed pink peppercorns:-


Then I opened the packet of flaked salmon and added that together with the the sliced chicory and 100g of fresh peas:-




Then came the grated zest of one unwaxed lemon (you won't die if you use a waxed one!), together with a teaspoon of lemon juice and the 150g packet of watercress sauce:-

And that was it! I added no wine, no salt. 

I'd boiled salted water at the start of this and while the sauce was melding its flavours, I added the pasta (use a fancy type if you want to big it up a bit) to the pan of boiling water. I used a posh one I'd found in M&S which was authentically Italian with no cooking time instructions and evocative black and white photos of the farmers harvesting the wheat and the bloke who makes the pasta and the place where it's made - with authentically expensive price tag attached! 



While the pasta cooked I awarded myself a nice glass of good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, courtesy of Majestic Wines - one which the tasting notes said would go perfectly with seafood: minerally like a Sancerre rather than overly sweet and zesty.


Always cook pasta in large amounts of water so that the starch that is released in the cooking process does not coat the pasta unduly and make it go clumpy and sticky. Another tip for reducing this problem is to put the pan under the cold tap once cooked: the cold water added to the pan makes the starch coagulate in the water rather than stick to the pasta when drained. 

The final touch was to drizzle a good tablespoon of the lemon olive oil over the drained pasta before serving.



Buon Appetito! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Corned Beef Hash - The Ultimate Comfort Food

I have always loved corned beef hash ever since the days of yore when my mother would make it for childhood suppers. I have always eaten it with baked beans and I have always simply mixed mashed potato with sliced fried onions and corned beef before frying it for what seems ages in a pan to get it browned off.

Then the other day I was having lunch in a local cafe, the very excellent Pear Tree Cafe in Whaley Bridge and one of their daily specials was corned beef hash. Sadly I didn't notice this until I'd already ordered my very scrumptious cheese on toast (never had a better one) but my neighbour had been more observant, so I had the chance to peer sideways at his while I tucked into my toast. What surprised me was that it appeared in a terracotta bowl looking more lumpy and juicy than the one I make, possibly with some carrot in it too. It clearly had been nowhere near a masher or a frying pan.

Intrigued, I decided to google some corned beef hash recipes to see what methods and ideas were out there. Many of them use diced potatoes and chunks of corned beef rather than the smoother mix using mash which I'd been brought up on. Some also added diced carrots - which most closely resembles the one I saw at the cafe - and a bit of parsley. Spurred on, I looked in the fridge and found some leftover new potatoes in their skins, some stir fried sweetheart cabbage and onion from the weekend roast and half a can of baked beans. 

All I had to do was chop up the potatoes (left the skins on) and a packet of corned beef and stirred them in with the cabbage and onion mix and some fresh chopped parsley from my herbs outside the back door. 

I also decided to add the baked beans rather than having them on the side as I normally do. 

I heated a small amount of oil in a sauté pan, squidged the mix into it with the back of a spoon and heated it through on the hob before sprinkling grated cheddar on top and popping it in the oven to heat through thoroughly and brown off. 




Incredibly cheap and simple, very tasty and totally comforting on a winter's night.

PS: this would also be lovely with a fried egg on top! 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Feng-Shui Leftovers Omelette

You know how irritating it is when your husband insists on squeezing a bowl of leftovers from the Sunday roast into your already overloaded fridge? Well, cease to be irritated and instead seize it as an opportunity for a quick and tasty lonesome lunch!
All you have to do is roughly chop the vegetables (in this case it was roast potatoes, carrot, and a couple of sausages) together with a small onion or a large shallot (depending what you have about your person) and a clove of garlic. Pour a slug of olive or rapeseed oil (currently all the rage) into a small heavy-based sauté or frying pan and add the ingredients to brown them and heat them through thoroughly. Meanwhile take a couple of eggs (mine were from a neighbour down the lane - I like to keep it local) and beat them by hand before pouring over the browned ingredients in the pan. Season with salt and pepper and add some freshly chopped parsley and chives, if you have them.
Let the egg cook and when just the top surface of it is still a little runny, pop it in the top of the roasting oven of the Aga (or under a medium grill in a traditional oven) just to finish it off which is more practical than trying to fold it in half with all those chunky bits in it. Leave it for no longer than a minute, or until the egg is just cooked. Serve onto a plate and sprinkle with a little more chopped parsley. Enjoy with some green salad leaves if you have any about your person.
So there you are: a quick and tasty lunch which also manages to de-clutter your fridge! Perfect.

 







Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Light Garden Ribollita

By definition, this soup is not technically Ribollita because I did not add any stale bread which is the heart of Ribollita, a tasty 'peasant' soup from central Italy. I did, however, choose to eat char-grilled bread as an accompaniment so you could just say I ate the bread 'without' rather than 'within'. It's a question of choice. Some might say that it's clearly a minestrone - but with no pasta added that's not quite true either! Anyway, who cares about categorisation? It's just a healthy, tasty soup based on things that needed eating up in the fridge (celery and fennel), some larder staples (tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, tinned pulses) and some fresh stuff straight from the garden (chard and herbs). It can be as flexible as you like.

These are the sort of ingredients you will need for a good large saucepan-ful of soup:-

200g chopped tomatoes (tinned or fresh)
Teaspoon of tomato purée
300g or 400g tin of borlotti beans (or cannellini beans, whichever you have to hand)
750ml chicken or vegetable stock (I used 400ml of homemade and 350ml of stock cube based stock)
Approx half a fennel bulb, sliced and chopped)
Approx 2 sticks of trimmed celery, sliced and chopped
2 small carrots, peeled and grated
1 banana shallot peeled, sliced and chopped (a small onion, white or red would do just as well)
Generous amounts of olive oil (I used a mixture of extra virgin olive oil with a good grassy flavour, some lemon oil, basil oil and rosemary oil) and a spray or two of Lurpak's 'cook's range' cooking mist.
Salt and pepper
Large bunch of chard, leaves and stalks, sliced and chopped
Large handful of fresh herbs - various types of thyme, rosemary, chives, mint, sage and sorrel.
Grated Parmesan

Firstly you need to put the oil and butter spray in a heavy based saucepan to warm up before adding the chopped shallot, fennel and celery. Once they have softened, add the grated carrot and the tomato purée. After another minute or two, add the sliced and chopped chard (which I picked from my own supplies), and then put in the tomatoes and the drained can of borlotti beans. Next add the stock and allow it all to simmer for 10 minutes or so. Meanwhile collect up some fresh herbs if you have them and chop them all up (but if you don't, then sprinkle in some dried ones) and add them to the soup. Leave to simmer for another 10 minutes.

If you have an Aga, toast some ciabatta or similar bread (I had some pumpkin seed bread from Tesco) so that is slightly charred and then put a slug of olive oil on it when it's still warm and a sprinkle of sea salt. (This can be achieved in the grill as well.)

Finally add a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan (about a cupful) before serving into bowls. Splash on some more good olive oil and another handful of grated Parmesan and you have a chunky, flavoursome, satisfying, healthy lunch.