Thursday, 16 June 2011

I know, it's been a while...

Possibly the oldest story that there is, but it's always different when it happens to you - meeting someone quite unexpectedly, the initial squeeziness of heart and belly as you try to behave in your natural, fabulous (yet best behaved) way, falling in love and having that person putting a whole new spin on life.

Oh, and he's also pretty good in the kitchen, so there's been the added bonus of having someone to cook for and even better, with.

So, easing back into things with a recipe that I read once, years ago, but thought might be a bit different for the spread that's being put on at work tomorrow - think meaty, herby, olivey, cheesy goodness, all wrapped up in puff pastry.


These are rough measurements. Makes around 30.

150g sliced salami - German and Danish are both good
80g shaved or grated parmesan cheese
70g pitted olives - kalamata are good here
2 good sized sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 good sized tsp wholegrain mustard
2 to 3 tbs good olive oil
4 sheets of puff pastry or one 500g block, defrosted but cool

Turn the oven on to 180 degrees celsius for fan forced, 200 degrees if not.
Paste - tasty!

Put all ingredients except for the pastry into a food processor and blend to get a thick paste. You may need less or more oil, so try 2 tbs to start with.

If using a block of pastry, start rolling it out on a lightly floured surface. Cut it in half to make it easier to deal with. You want a rough square that is around 20cm by 20cm and about 3mm thick (basically, go for what you would have got if you'd managed to find ready rolled sheets).

Paste spread onto pastry
When you have your square, spread the salami mix from the end of the sheet that's away from you, down to the end closest, leaving around 10cm clear on each of the other sides - see the photo. You want an even covering with the paste, but not a thick layer.

Roll the left side (one of the sides with no salami paste) in towards the middle, as tightly as you can without stretching the pastry. Stop once you get to the middle. Roll the other side to the middle in the same way and gently push the two rolls up against each other.
Rolled up, sliced and pinched

With a sharp knife, cut 1cm thick slices from the pastry.

On a lightly greased, non-stick tray, arrange the slices, cut side down, lightly pinching at the base of the two rolls to get the circle bits to slightly flare out - very technical description, I know.

Bake for around 15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm if possible.

This is an easy one to muck around with - a bit of pesto, some parma ham spread out on top; chopped, blanched baby spinach with some grated romano, a bit of pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Run riot!

The finished product

Monday, 9 August 2010

Elle's Fish Pie (aka cheat and put a piece of puff pastry on top!)

This is one that I've cooked a couple of times now - it's somewhat faster than a traditional fish pie as there's no potato involved. Well, not as the top of the pie, anyway. It's also less claggy than the potato version which makes it eminently edible during summer. Bonus - dress it up with some artfully arranged vegies, or just have it with a green salad and some crusty bread. Wow. I have just shoed and handbagged my plate. Hmmm...


Serves 4

1 sheet butter puff pastry, semi defrosted (easier to work with)
50g butter
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
320g fish pie mix - Sainsbury's is good (salmon, smoked haddock and pollack)
400g raw, peeled prawns (I tend to go for king prawns)
1/2 cup dry white wine - make it good so you can drink the rest!
2/3 cup double cream
1 tbs finely chopped fresh dill or chives
freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Following the directions on the packed for the puff pastry, turn on the oven (if there aren't directions, around 180 in a fan forced should do it) and while it's heating, cut the sheet of pastry into four squares and lightly score all the edges. Put the pieces onto a baking tray or two if easier, and bake until golden brown. Around 15 to 2o minutes should suffice.
While the pastry is doing its thing, melt the butter in a deep frying pan on medium heat. Saute the garlic and when you're getting that lovely garlicy smell, add the mustard and stir in, then add the seafood. Gently turn until cooked through - this shouldn't take more than a few minutes. Add the wine and simmer for a minute, then remove the seafood to a bowl, keeping the juices in the pan. Turn down the heat and add the cream. Stir in and allow to reduce a little, so the sauce coats the back of your spoon. Add the herbs and pepper and return the seafood to the sauce. Bring it all up to a good bubble, then turn off the heat.
Arrange a good ladle full of the seafood and sauce on a dinner plate and stick the pastry square on top. Or you could put the pastry first and artfully tumble your seafood and sauce over the top. Up to you.
This time around I served with new season baby potatoes and slightly fancified chopped, wilted spinach and baby peas.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Stuck on the bus, a 10 minute journey taking an hour, no food in the house and a house guest salad

You know when you have one of those days? The ones where you've got things nicely planned out, you stay back at work to get ahead on stuff for the next day, you get on the bus to go home and then... traffic chaos! The nice, easy trip home via the grocery shop to grab a few bits and pieces for dinner with one flatmate and one friend who's staying a few days is all of a sudden a flat out pelt around past Victoria station, sprint through Sainsbury's (cheating by grabbing tins of ready cooked lentils), high-tail it home, drain, chop, crumble and throw it all in a bowl.
Two things on the plus side - I know it's going to taste okay and there's very little washing up!
Thank you to Hoochie Mama's in Newtown, Sydney (who apparently no longer serve the salad that inspired this one).

Puy Lentil Salad with Chorizo, Feta, Beetroot and Greens

2 400g tins prepared puy lentils
1 long, dried chorizo (the sort you can eat without cooking)
cooked beetroot (around 350g - I get the traditionally prepared ones in a packet at Sainsbury's)
1 block of feta
1 bag of salad greens - water cress, rocket, baby spinach, all are nice

salad dressing
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 clove freshly crushed garlic (optional)

Tip the lentils into a sieve, rinse and drain. Make up the dressing in a jar and shake well. Chop the chorizo into bite sized chunks. Do the same with the beetroot. Put the lentils, chorizo, beetroot and greens in a serving bowl. Crumble the feta over the top. Pour over enough dressing to coat and toss (I'm big on using hands here). Serve - can go with crusty bread if you like.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Warm weather - salad time!

The World Cup is in full swing and the weather is breezy. And balmy, at a nice 27 degrees. It was kind of funny walking from Pimlico to Sainsbury's down near Victoria at the same time the Germany/England game was playing. I didn't need to see anything to know each time a goal was almost scored, I only had to listen.
Anyway, in a salute to the lovely day and the lack of people grocery shopping (note to self - a big match is a great time to do a really fast shop [and I'm in a bit of a snit at having lost pretty much all chance of getting any of my money back in the office World Cup sweep stake and am therefore not watching games]), I decided to treat myself to lamb neck fillet, served as a warm salad.
Turned out quite nicely - if I don't blow my own vuvzela, who else will?

Warm salad of lamb neck fillet with baby potatoes, spinach and watercress

Serves 2

2 lamb neck fillets
salt and freshly cracked pepper to season
1 tsp olive oil
10 - 14 baby potatoes (depends on size and hunger)
2 good handfuls of baby spinach
1 good handful of water cress

For the dressing:
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
1 tsp French Dijon mustard
1 tsp runny honey

balsamic glaze/reduction

Pat the lamb neck fillets with kitchen towel to remove any moisture. Season with salt and pepper and leave on a plate to come to room temperature - I'm cooking for me and I prefer my lamb tender, so I like it not to go from one temperature extreme to another. Turn a fan forced over to 200 degrees and place an oven-proof dish in it - the lamb will be finished off in the oven.
Put the potatoes in a pot with enough cold water to cover. Place a lid on the pot, bring the potatoes up to a boil and then simmer for around 20 minutes, until tender when stabbed with a fork. Drain the potatoes and leave uncovered to cool off a bit.
On the stove, get a medium sized frying pan on a medium heat. Once the pan is hot, put in the olive oil and then sear the lamb on all sides, should be about 30 seconds per side, just so it's caramelized. Put the lamb into the ovenproof dish, back into the oven and cook for 12 minutes for lamb that's still pink but not running around the place, baaing its little head off. This is one for you to cook to your preference. Around 15 minutes should see it getting to medium, if not well done.
While the lamb is in the oven, make the dressing. I use a glass, screw-top jar to do this (high tech, I know). Place the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, mustard and honey in the jar and shake well.
Put the warm potatoes onto two dinner plates, lightly smash with a fork to break them open and pour over around half the dressing between the two plates. Just let it sit and soak up.
When the lamb is done, take it out of the over and very loosely cover with a piece of foil while it rests for around 10 minutes. The idea is to allow steam to escape in order to stop the lamb from continuing to cook.
After the lamb has rested, uncover it while you place the salad leaves on top of the potatoes, drizzle on some more of the dressing (you don't have to use it all, it will keep quite happily in the fridge for a week) and toss with your hands to get things evenly distributed.
Slice the lamb diagonally, into something like 1cm wide strips. Place on top of the rest of the salad, drizzle with the balsamic glaze and serve (you may need to mop up round the edges with some kitchen towel). I had mine with a glass of rose - lovely!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Quick, easy and quite good for you - I'm talking Quorn!

Relatively new to my repertoire, mainly due to it not being available in Australia I suspect, is Quorn. Read all about it on the website, but in really simple terms, it's a meat substitute that's made from mycoprotein, which is a type of fungus. I get mine from Sainsbury's.
I've been using the chicken style pieces for a while for easy lunches for work - fresh egg noodles, frozen Quorn, stir fry veg and sauce of choice (usually a few splodges of ketsup manis) in a microwave-proof container. Stick the lot in the microwave when you're ready for lunch, with the lid loosened, nuke it on high until everything is piping hot and enjoy.
Today was my first go with Quorn mince. The really great thing is that aside from two ingredients, you're fairly likely to have most of the ingredients in your freezer or cupboard (okay, so the Quorn may be a new thing, but I'm betting you'll soon have it as a staple). So, Middle Eastern Quorn with spinach and couscous. Took me all of 15 minutes to cook and be sitting down to eat, very little washing up and although it's not the prettiest of dishes, it's proving to be pretty tasty!
Turns out that Quorn IS available in Australia - not quite the same variety at this stage, but the mince is there. Coles has the full range, Woolworths has some of it, and then various independent grocers.


1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp vegetable oil
300g bag Quorn mince - you cook it from frozen
1tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 lamb stockcube (I'm not veggie at the mo, but by all means use a vegetable one instead)
8 lumps frozen spinach (Sainsbury's frozen spinach portions)
2 tbs sultanas
1/2 cup water approx - plus more on standby
good handful of baby spinach leaves
enough pistachios to scatter over the top

rice or couscous to accompany

Heat oil in a frying pan on a low medium heat and add the garlic. Saute to flavour the oil, then add the Quorn mince. Add the spices and crumble the stock cube in. Stir for a minute or two to stop from sticking and to make sure the stock and spices are mixed through. Add the frozen spinach and the water. Let the spinach break up a bit and stir through.
In the meantime, make up some couscous according to directions. Or rice. Whatever takes your fancy. Pide (Turkish bread) would be nice too, lightly toasted.
Back to the Quorn, make sure that the spinach is thawing and cooking in through the mince. Add water to keep things moist. Add the sultanas. When everything is piping hot, you're ready to serve.
I just put some couscous in a bowl, added some baby spinach leaves that I had in the fridge, put the Quorn mince on top and then a scattering of pistachios.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Sunshine on a not so sunny day

It's a bank holiday weekend in the UK, so of course, after last weekend's show of sunny skies and temperatures well into the 20s, it's cold, a bit wet and grey.

This sees me sitting, cup of mint tea in hand, pondering my navel and thinking about what would bring a little warmth into the sitting room right now. Enter one special kind of cheese cake - honey, ricotta, saffron. Kind of sunshine on a plate, really. And yes, I know, I'm on a bit of a saffron kick, but life's for living and even though saffron's not the cheapest ingredient in the world, a little goes a long way and for me, the restorative powers are always a consideration. Apparently it's a bit of a goer in the come hither department as well. And if I could find my book about herbs and spices right now, I'd even be able to back that up.

Then I guess there's the bit about this cake being North African in origin, or at least that's what the recipe I read once in a book, a long time ago, and managed to store for later use in my brain, said. Place of origin conjures heat, sun and blue skies, and quite frankly, that works for me!

Two cautionary tips - do not under any circumstances get the cheese ratio back to front. I have managed to do that only once. There is nothing like removing the spring-form tin to see your pride and joy hold together for about ten seconds before almost audibly sighing and collapsing to fill an entire baking tray. Number two - do make sure to run a spatula around the cake before undoing the tin.

So, to the kitchen and the making of the sunshiny goodness.

North African Cheesecake

1 and 3/4 cups raw couscous
2 cups just boiled water
50g slightly salter butter
2 medium eggs
500g ricotta
100g grated mozzarella (grate it yourself - much nicer that way)
1 tbs clear honey
pinch saffron
1 tbs just boiled water
3/4 cup clear honey
1/4 cup water
1 tsp orange blossom water or rose water
1/2 cup unsalted pistachio kernels, belted around so that you've some whole nuts and some crumbs

Place the couscous in a good sized pudding basin, pour on the just boiled water. Cover with cling wrap and leave for around 10 minutes.

In the meantime, place both lots of cheese into a mixing bowl and with the tablespoon of honey added, stir until well combined.

Uncover the couscous and fluff up with a fork. You're not really after anything as grand as individual grains, just not a big lump of the stuff. Add the butter and stir it through. Leave to sit uncovered so that the couscous cools down.

Turn your oven to 190 degrees celsius (fan forced). Butter a 28cm spring-form tin (think that's about the right size).

Once the couscous has cooled down to around body temperature, stir the two eggs through the mixture. Place half the mixture into the spring form tin and flatten to an even layer. Put this in the oven for 8 minutes. When the time is up, take the tin out, put the cheese and honey mixture on top, flatten out to the edges of the tin. Then do the same with the rest of the couscous mixture. Bake for 20 minutes. At the end of the baking time, place the cake, still in its tin, under a grill until the top is golden. Remove from grill and allow to cool in the tin for at least 2 hours.

Place the saffron in a cup or mug and pour the tbs of just boiled water over. Allow to sit.

In a small saucepan on a medium heat, bring the honey and the water to a simmer. Add the saffron and its water and the orange blossom or rose water. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.

When you're ready to cake up, release the spring-form tin after you've run a metal spatula around the cake and place the cake onto a plate. Sprinkle the pistachios on top and pour a few tablespoons of the syrup over the cake. Put the rest of the syrup into a pouring jug of some sort and allow everyone to help themselves - the cake itself isn't too sweet, so this is a nice way for people to control how sweet it ends up being to their own taste.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A Little Sydney Something

After a bit of a break on the blog front (cooking whilst trying to remain in charge of a nose with a cold is not conducive to being able to taste stuff), I'm back in Australia for a few short weeks, and have decided that cooking up a feast for the Parental Units is a good thing to do.

Enter today's edition of The Sydney Morning Herald's Good Living (which apparently doesn't exist online - rude!), and a rather tasty sounding recipe for chicken with saffron, honey and macadamias. Which I will be doing with almonds. Because it's more fitting and that's what's in the cupboard - any problems, you can talk to my Mum!

The chicken has been sitting for an hour, having a little bonding time with all sorts of flavours, and is now in the oven, doing round one of the cooking. Here's the recipe to follow:

2 onions, halved and cut into 1cm wedges
1 red capsicum, cut into thick strips
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp allspice (ground by hand by moi)
good pinch saffron strands, crushed (I gave them a withering glance and a stern talking to)
4 tbs olive oil
2 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
4 chicken marylands (although due to some trick photography, you'll only see 3 in the photos)
100ml water or white wine
150g nuts (almonds, macadamias, mixed - whatever works)
1 tbs rose water
2 tbs honey
2 tbs coriander leaves

The recipe says for the first step, combine the list to follow in a large bowl. I say cut down on washing up and just put it in a large, shallow, ovenproof dish that you'll then use for the actual cooking. So, combine onions, red capsicum, spices, saffron, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a large baking dish. Slash the drumstick of each maryland in two places, place the chicken into the mix as above, massage in all the yummy flavours and leave to sit for at least an hour, if not overnight in the fridge. If you leave everything in the fridge, allow the ingredients to come up to room temperature before placing them in the oven.

Heat the oven to 190 degrees. Add the wine or water to the baking dish, place in the heated oven and bake for 35 minutes.

Scatter the nuts onto a baking tray and roast in the oven for three minutes until golden. Roughly chop the roasted nuts (I just used flaked almonds to keep things simple). Whisk the honey and rose water together, add the nuts and spoon over the chicken at the end of the 35 minutes. Bake it for another ten minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the nuts are golden.

Serve with the coriander. I did basmati rice with it and a simple green salad with a few mint leaves torn through it. Only one photo as it's very slow to upload for some reason.

N.B. I would suggest at least three hours for marinading and make sure to put salt in with the rice. Also, flaked almonds are perhaps not the best choice here - go with whole nuts, roasted and then roughly chopped (the original recipe got it right).