Friday, 28 September 2012

Maman des Sauces

Apologies to Marcel Pagnol for my corruption of his beautiful title!

Unapologetically however, this week's blog is, as you've probably guessed, all about using up leftover sauce.

After last week's quick meals, I found I had some tubs of sauce languishing in the fridge or freezer: half a tub of carbonara, half a jar of tomato sauce, some watercress sauce and some frozen chicken korma.

This must be a common dilemma- what to do with these half-jars or tubs? Obviously you could do the same meals again- spaghetti carbonara, pasta with meatballs and tomato sauce, chicken curry and salmon with watercress sauce. Nothing wrong with any of that.

But I thought it might be fun to come up with some inventive uses for these ready sauces. (Within reason of course- I'm not suggesting painting a canvas with them or making a hat.)

I know the watercress sauce goes well in a fish pie: prawns,salmon and white fish mixed in with the sauce, topped with mash and sprinkled with cheese and breadcrumbs. Simple!

It also goes well, mixed with some cream, 3 eggs and some extra chopped watercress or spinach and poured into a pastry shell for a lovely quiche. (Baked at 180 degrees until risen)

With the tomato sauce, I first made a fennel ragout. Soften some garlic and onion in a little olive oil and add 2 bulbs of sliced fennel. Pour over a glass of  red vermouth (to give it a nice, herby scent) and bring to the boil. Add the leftover tomato sauce and some seasoning to taste. Leave to simmer until the sauce has reduced to a thick consistency and the fennel is tender. We had this first with fish and then again with chicken- it was so popular with the family!

I also experimented with a Bloody Mary sorbet. 1/2 a jar of  tomato pasta sauce, Worcestershire sauce and vodka- with a hint of chilli too. Make the sauce up to 500 ml with some water and a couple of tsp of vodka. Add plenty of Worcestershire sauce and 2 tsp of chilli jelly or sauce. Churn in an ice cream maker for 20 minutes or so until spoonable. Freeze in a shallow container.

     Interesting. And really delicious. You can serve it on its own, garnished with a Parmesan or Gruyere crisp- or as part of a another dish. Here I made it part of a Prawn cocktail: a layer of shredded lettuce, a layer of sorbet, cucumber, some prawns and some Marie Rose sauce.

 To make Parmesan crisps is incredibly easy- grate some Parmesan finely, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, put heaped tablespoons of cheese onto the paper and press down a little with your fingers to make rounds, bake at 200 degrees for 5 minutes. That's all there is to it!

It seems obvious to use leftover creamy pasta sauce with more pasta- but I wanted to do something different.
So then I wondered about making a risotto: with bacon and leek. Fry the leek and bacon in some olive oil, mix in a cup of arborio rice grains and stir until well coated with oil. Add a glass of white wine and stir until absorbed. Gradually add 1/2 litre of  hot chicken stock (or more or less depending on how it is absorbed) and keep stirring until it is all absorbed and the risotto is creamy-looking without being too wet. Mix in the sauce, heat through, and serve with some Parmesan grated over the top

.Leek & bacon risotto
This was lovely! The extra sauce added at the end gave the risotto a lovely creamy consistency - as it should be- but somehow more savoury and delicious than if I had just added cream. I'm going to make this again- and adding extra creamy sauce will be an integral part of all my risotto recipes from now on.

Finally, and I make no excuses for featuring this recipe before, I currently love this tarte a l'indienne (or chicken curry tart). Just chop any leftover chicken and spread over the base of the pastry shell, mix the leftover sauce with 3 eggs and a little cream (optional). Bake at 180 degrees until risen and golden and firm to the touch. It couldn't be simpler- but people will swoon at the taste!

So there we are- simple stuff made from jars from the fridge- and not a penny wasted!

Cesar and Uggolin would approve!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Meals in minutes

Today has brought the first real storm of the autumn. The schools are back, work has resumed it's familiar pattern and the golden days of summer, with its figs, plums and berries , are finally gone.

Time to think about speedy after-work suppers, rather than leisurely aperitifs on the terrace.

And this is where leftovers come into their own: the wonderful thing about leftovers is that often they are already cooked- and just need assembling into something appetizing.

For example- this is my 3 Minute Biriyani:

Put a pouch of pilau rice into the microwave for 2 minutes, meanwhile fry some onion and peppers in oil and then add leftover chicken strips which have been tossed in tikka seasoning. When the ping sounds, mix the rice with the chicken (add sultanas or  toasted almonds if you like) and your meal is ready. I served this with some leftover Bronze Vegetable Curry (one of my 'Olympic' dishes which I had in the freezer.)

The same chicken, pepper, onion mix would also go well in a warmed tortilla or flat bread.

Fish is another speedy standby- try my Six Minute Salmon:

Coat salmon fillets in either chilli dipping sauce or soy sauce and a little honey (for a teriyaki style).
Microwave for 4-5 minutes or grill, turning through 90 degrees each minute to cook through.
Meanwhile, boil a kettle and cook medium egg noodles in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Drain and dress with sesame oil. When the salmon is ready, toss in a couple of chopped spring onions and a spoonful of crunchy peanut butter, mixed with hot water to make it into a coating consistency. Hey presto- spicy Six Minute Salmon with satay noodles. (The picture here shows the salmon with  leftover stir-fry veg mixed in.)

If you prefer, cook the salmon plain and flake it into some pasta, add some cream, some seasoning and some grated cheese (parmesan, emmental or grana padana):

Or serve it with butter bean mash- super speedy! Just heat some olive oil in a pan with a little grated lemon zest. Add a can of drained butter beans and some chopped spring onions. Warm through and then crush with a fork or masher. Season well with salt and pepper and chopped parsley.

Nice glazed with honey and some coarse grain mustard - as in this picture.

You can make pronto pizzas too from whatever is in the fridge: olives, ham, mushrooms, peperoni etc . A really simple base can be made very quickly and crisped up in the frying pan.
Mix 4  heaped tablespoons self raising flour with 1 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Mix to a dough with some milk or natural yoghurt. When it is smooth, flour a board and roll the dough out thinly to fit the shape of your frying pan.
Oil the pan, slip in the dough circle and begin frying- then arrange your toppings as it fries. After a few minutes, lift it with a palate knife at one side to see if it is golden and crispy. If it is, slip the pan under the grill and grill until the toppings are bubbling and cooked. Less than 15 minutes all in I reckon.

There are plenty more speedy recipes on the blog- have a browse around and see.
mushroom risotto
duck and lentil salad
spaghetti carbonara
galette complete

I noticed in the paper today that Jamie Oliver is doing a new series and book called '15-minute Meals' or some such. Nice to know I'm on-trend. I wonder if he'll use any of mine?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

In Small Packages

You know the saying- good things come in small packages.
It's also true to say that something which is nicely wrapped up is always appreciated- no matter how small the gift.

The same is true of food- wrapping it up (whether metaphorically speaking with beautiful presentation or actually wrapping it up, as in these recipes) makes a little go a long way and turns the ordinary into the splendid.

This week I was asked to go round and cook a birthday meal for a family member: the only brief being that it should be fresh fish for the main course.

I decided to cook salmon wrapped in pancetta- a recipe from blog follower The Doctor. (I always appreciate recipes sent in by blog followers!)

It really has to be pancetta for this recipe because this Italian bacon is cut really thinly and so it crisps up whilst the salmon steams within its little package.

Wrap the pancetta round the salmon fillets ( I removed the skin but you don't have to) and fry gently over a medium heat until the bacon is crispy all over (keep turning the fillets through 90 degrees to make this happen) and the salmon is just cooked through and opaque if you slice it carefully and peek inside.

The dinner guests sat down happily to eat- and I headed for home with  some leftover new potatoes and pancetta to use up.

I decided to make Sort of Saltimbocca. (The original dish from Italy uses veal, sage and prosciuttio- but I used turkey, sage and pancetta- close, but no cigar. Thank goodness!)

I took turkey breasts and butterflied them ( a slice down the thickest part to enable the breast to be opened out like a book), put them between 2 sheets of clingfilm and beat them flat with a rolling pin, placed 2-3  fresh sage leaves in the middle, closed them up again and wrapped them in pancetta, like I did the salmon.

When gently fried, the turkey steamed, the sage released its oil and the bacon crisped. Magic!

Once you've mastered butterflying- and there really isn't much to master if you have a sharp knife- then you can put all manner of bountiful things inside your chicken/turkey breasts: Boursin cheese for a chicken Kiev, or tapenade , or pesto. After stuffing, roll the meat in flour, beaten egg and then breadcrumbs (which of course you always keep in ready supply in the freezer if you are a true devotee of this blog!) Fry in hot oil- and enjoy!

Fish responds really well to the wrapping in bacon bit too- use a firm white fish such as cod, pollock (known as  river cobbler, colin, or lieu) hake or monk fish tail (if you're feeling rich).

Use pancetta or prosciuttio (Parma ham)

 I watched the Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) on the Food Channel making stuffed cabbage leaves and decided to have a go myself.
I made a batch of beefburger mix (saving some for burgers and some for stuffing cannelloni). I took the remaining 200g or so and made them into 8 sausage shapes. I then took the outer leaves from a spring cabbage (about 8-10) and blanched them in boiling water until beginning to tenderise ( a few minutes). Laying them on a flat surface, I cut out the 'rib' from the centre of the leaf (this makes them easier to roll and more digestible too.) I placed a 'sausage' in the centre of each one and rolled it up. I then laid the rolls in a gratin dish, poured on a rich tomato sauce ( chopped tomatoes, onion and a little red wine vinegar ). Keep the sauce fairly liquid so as to poach the cabbage and cook the meat within. Cover with foil and cook in a medium oven for 35 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle on some grated cheese and breadcrumbs and cook uncovered until the topping is crisp and golden.

This is a classic dish from Jewish cuisine. or rather my own version of a classic.

Many different cuisines have ways of wrapping things up to either make them more delicious or to make them go further.

Spring rolls or gyoza from Asia:

Tortillas from Mexico:

Galettes from Brittany:

All of these recipes can be found by using the Search box at the top of the page.

Whilst we are talking galettes, here's another picture from a creperie where we ate in the summer. I wasn't impressed with the fillings, but I was impressed with the presentation. The chef had used an offcut of pancake, moulded round a small bowl and baked for 5-10 minutes in the oven unti it crisped,  to make a bowl for the salad garnish. I thought this was cute and am going to try it myself.

Finally, if you enjoyed the blog posts I sent from France you are sure to enjoy this new blog I am reading :

It's all about Provence written from the perspective of a young English woman.

Move over Peter Mayle- there's a new kid on the block!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

For My Younger Readers..

I had dinner a few weeks ago with a lovely French family from Bordeaux. The mum and dad ran a charcuterie-traiteur (delicatessen and ready-meals) business. Dad also specialised in magnificent centrepieces - sculptures from pate, or intricate tableaux from cooked meats! The two little girls had been brought up in a food environment- their holidays spent helping in the shop or kitchens.

The girls were hugely enthusiastic about this blog-they liked nothing better than making things out of 'les restes'- especially their own tableaux and centrepieces, just like their dad -some of them a little wacky I admit, like the idea of making dresses for their Barbies out of Parma ham and saucisson- very Lady Gaga!

Suitably inspired, I found this photo of the USS Entreprise made from charcuterie ! Somebody in the pork world has a good sense of humour!

Soon we were swapping recipes for party ideas- and the girls were truly inspirational. They also reminded me of all the fun children's party dishes and family meals that I made with my children long ago.

Now there are those who turn their noses up at children's cookery- children should not be presented with silly smiley face pizzas or dressed up dishes just to get them to eat, they say. If you ask children however, you would get a different response. They love making and eating that sort of thing! And anything that gets children in the kitchen, cooking, involved in entertaining and of course, using up leftovers, has to be a good thing for their future. My children have grown up to be excellent cooks - and this is where it starts.

Yes- with a cheese and pineapple hedgehog! (Coincidentally, a favourite with my little French friends too.)

Children love being involved in preparing for entertaining friends- whether it's making cheese or Marmite straws from leftover scraps of pastry, or carving tomato water lilies for salad or cocktail nibbles like the above.

And the humble hedgehog makes a splendid sausage and mash dish too- Desperate Dan style:

Hedgehog popularity is only surpassed by dinosaurs- here the mighty T Rex surveys his carnivorous kingdom:

(I admit I was influenced by my little charcutieres here!)

If you prefer a more benign veggie dinosaur, here's one made from a baked potato:

Bake a King Edward or other floury potato. Slice the bottom off to make it sit nicely on a plate and use the bottom slice, cut into wedges, to make the neck, tail and head.
Scoop out a tablespoon of potato and mix it with your filling- cheese, corned beef, tuna, cauliflower cheese - or whatever your children like in a baked potato. Add the head, neck and tail (you can secure it in place with a cocktail stick) and maybe some scales made from peppers. Voila!

And whilst we are on the primeval theme- 'The Lost World' was a perennial favourite in our house- both the book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and this dish: corned beef hash with a broccoli forest and 'erupting' cheese and ketchup topping. Can you spot the mammoth? 

Arguably my greatest party triumph however- and one that is often mentioned particularly after a few sherries- was shark infested jelly.
I got the idea from a TV programme (Richard Cawley, I think) but the concept grew from there and there was no going back. Firstly, I made the eponymous Shark Infested Jelly by making up a green jelly (lime) according to the instructions (or you could make it with fresh fruit juice and 4 leaves of gelatine per 500ml). Once cool and beginning to set, drop the jelly sweets (shark shaped) into the bowl and leave to set completely.

Here's a picture I found on the web, my supply of jelly sharks having dwindled over the years:

 Next I made a Swamp Snake jelly - with jelly snakes half in/half out of the mix as if crawling out! Just be inspired by whatever is in the sweet shop- I saw jelly bones this week and thought they would make a good 'Time Team' jelly - with an archaeological dig unearthing the finds!
To illustrate the concept, here I've made a Jelly Baby Jacuzzi, with the little sweets enjoying a dip in the tub. (I also made a milk jelly -which we used to call Fluffy Ruffle as children- by whisking in a small tin of evaporated milk into the jelly before it sets, thereby giving it a foamy surface.) This gave the babies a bit of foam fun too!
You could make a Haribo Hot Tub or a Gummi Bear Glacier (although that needs extra ice cream), depending on the jelly sweets on sale near you.
You must have memories of childhood foods to share- or perhaps your children make entertaining dishes for their friends. I'd love to see some pix.

Or perhaps you can make a good Smiley Face Pizza? 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Who ate all the pies?

How do you like the new blog style, by the way? I'd love your comments.

I like the Search option at the top- just put in an ingredient eg. chicken, rocket, breadcrumbs, curry or whatever you want some ideas for- and hey presto! it shows where you can find the relevant blog page. Genius!

Anyway, back to the pies.

I was visiting family in Exeter recently (in the West Country) and I was strolling along Cathedral Green when to my astonishment one of my favourite chefs walked by- Michael Caines! (To be fair he does have a restaurant in Cathedral Green so I shouldn't have been too surprised- but I didn't know that at the time!) My jaw dropped, I pointed rudely and said 'Omigod! Michael Caines!' (So uncool- I'm really ashamed.) He, however, was the epitome of cool. He said 'Hi! How are you?' as if he knew me well. I would have loved to have discussed the blog with him and talked recipes, but he scurried off. . He is a busy man after all.

The reason why I admire him so much as a chef is because he has achieved Michelin stars despite having only one hand- he lost his arm in a motorbike accident. (Family members will know why this might be significant for me.) Also I like his recipes.

Anyway, I'm putting a link here to Michael's recipe for beef, ale and oyster pie to say thanks for being such a gracious celeb:

I had a request from a blog follower a few months back ('Pub Classics') as to how to cook a good steak and ale pie- the answer is simple. A good pie is made from a good casserole- either made especially for the pie as in the above recipe or - as in the spirit of this blog- from leftovers.

First, make your pastry case: roll out shortcrust pastry to fit your pie dish. I like to bake the bottom half 'blind' to make sure it is not soggy. (Line with greaseproof paper and baking beans or rice and cook at 180 degrees for 15-20 mins until it starts to go golden.)

Take your leftover beef casserole (or pork or chicken or whatever you want to use up) and fill the case. If there is not quite enough, you can eke it out with extra vegetables, stuffing balls (good with chicken or pork), mushrooms etc

Roll the lid over the top, brush with beaten egg wash or milk and sprinkle with paprika for a brown crust.

I use shortcrust pastry for this- but you could mix and match with shortcrust on the bottom and puff pastry for the lid. Just seal and crimp the edges well (using milk to make a 'glue').

Favourite savoury pie fillings for me are Steak and mushroom, Chicken ,bacon and leek, and Pork and cider with onions. Mmm! I make a good 'Christmas Dinner' pie too, with the festive leftovers ....but I think you've probably guessed how, when and what goes into this. It won't stop me posting it up though when the time comes.

Incidentally, I do exactly the same method for sweet pies (I don't make a sweet shortcrust pastry for these)- I just fill them with apples, rhubarb or  sweet mincemeat and sprinkle the top with sugar and cinnamon. If you're in a hurry, you can make a good fruit pie using puff pastry squares: mark out a smaller square inside the pastry with the point of a sharp knife but don't cut all the way through. Lay thinly sliced fruit on the small square and brush with apricot or nectarine jam. Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) until risen and golden.

And what about a chocolate pie (here with bananas but raspberries or pears go well):

Bake your pastry case blind, as recommended above. Beat together 150g butter and 150g caster sugar. Mix in two beaten eggs and 50g of plain flour. Melt 150g of dark chocolate (1 minute in the microwave is the easiest way) and mix it in with the rest. Lay out your fruit in the pastry case and pour the chocolate filling around it. Bake at 190 degrees for 25-30 minutes until the cake is risen but a cocktail stick inserted into it still comes out a little chocolatey. This means it will be lovely and gooey when the cake cools.

Little pies are good too- either individual lidded pies made in suitable dishes (tapas or creme brulee dishes are the right short of shape and size) or pasties.

Other pies and tarts already featured on the blog (but you might have missed them) are: tarte a l'indienne ( a curried chicken tart- excellent way of using up leftover curry), quiche lorraine (classic bacon and egg tart with cheese), tarte aux framboises, fig tart and nectarine tart. Here's the gallery, just use the Search option to find the blog post.

So, the question remains: who ate all the pies?

Alas, I think I know the answer to that one.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Leaves and fishes

Since the Spring, I've been wrestling with a rocket (arugula) monster in the greenhouse- no matter how savagely I cut it back, it just keeps on growing. It's now been joined by a parsley monster and a mint monster too.

It's time to use up those leaves!

Fresh parsley makes all the difference to moules marinieres:

To prepare this simple but special dish- buy fresh mussels from the fishmonger, wash them in plenty of cold water and pull off their little beards (seaweed-y hair protruding from the shells). Discard any mussels which remain open despite being given a sharp tap on a hard surface and plunged back into the cold water- and any with broken shells.
Soften a small shallot in some olive oil (with some finely chopped garlic if you like) in a large saucepan, pour in a glass of white wine and bring immediately to the boil, toss in the mussels and put on a lid. After 3-4 minutes, give them a good shake, open up the lid and if they are all open, serve immediately with lashings of fresh parsley. (If they are still shy, give them another few minutes until they are all steamed open.) Pictured above is one made with a few clams as well.

Mint and parsley go with practically everything- and mint is great just steeped in hot water to make mint tea of course.
 You may not have tried mint with courgettes- but the bland flesh of the courgette absorbs mintiness really well..just braise them in a little vegetable stock, seasoning and mint until all the liquid has been absorbed and the courgettes are tender.

Tabbouleh ( a middle eastern bulgar wheat salad) uses up plenty of parsley and mint:


  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 2 teaspoons salt  
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup olive oil

  • Directions

    1. Place cracked wheat in bowl and cover with 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Cover and leave to absorb water.
    2. In a mixing bowl, combine the wheat, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, parsley, mint, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil. Toss and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Toss again and add more mint and parsley prior to serving. 

Rocket of course goes well in any salad- mixed with a variety of leaves such as watercress or spinach or lambs lettuce or added to pasta salad with tuna:

And whilst we are talking salads- my partner's favourite is a salade nicoise: leaves with tuna, egg, olives, anchovies, green beans, potatoes and tomatoes in a mustardy vinaigrette:

Fish and green leaves have a good affinity- whether it's spinach, rocket, lettuce or (one of my favourites) dill.
Dill is great with oily fish like salmon- here I've mixed it with mayonnaise to make a potato salad to accompany smoked salmon:

It also goes well with crushed new potatoes and butter to accompany any fish dish, or in a baked potato with creme fraiche (served here with sea bream.)

Fennel is often paired with fish- here we barbecued some trout stuffed with fennel and lemon.

But enough of those fishy pix!

Now it's time to cut down some more of that rocket monster and dress up a salad!