Friday, 31 May 2013

Week 17- Going Green

One good thing about all this wet and cool weather we have been having this Spring, is that everything everywhere is so green! All the trees are sparkling and bright and the bushes and plants are looking lush.

Seasonal veg is looking good too- salad leaves are sprouting madly and herbs are flourishing.

Looking back on my last few blogs, the food all seems a bit beige- so I thought it's time to green things up a bit!

I'm indebted to a blog follower for today's starter recipe- Courgette and Coconut soup. I do love it when you send me recipes, because I need inspiration as much as the next person. Keep 'em coming!

I'm following this with lasagne verde, served with rocket salad- and pudding is filo baskets filled with yoghurt  and topped with kiwi slices and elderflower syrup.

For the soup, dice 4 small courgettes, 1 small potato and 1 leek or some spring onions..Soften gently in some butter or oil. Add 2 cups of chicken stock, 1 can of coconut cream and a good pinch of salt and pepper. I added chopped parsley, but the recipe suggests thyme or dill too. Simmer gently until the veg are tender, then blitz with a stick blender, thin down with some milk if too thick and serve with croutons or toasts.
Courgette and Coconut Soup

For the main course, I made a ragout with 450g minced beef, 1 onion gently softened, 1 carton chopped tomatoes, 1 tablespoon sliced stuffed green olives, 1 tablespoon red wine, 1 tablespoon tomato puree and some beef stock or gravy- all simmered together for about 25 minutes until reduced and thick. I then layered this in a gratin dish alternately with lasagne verde sheets, bechamel sauce, steamed leeks, and finally topped with some grated mozzarella.

Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) until golden and bubbling (about 30 minutes). Serve with a green salad of rocket or watercress and some bread for the sauce.
Lasagne verde
Layers of leeks
This makes enough for 6 - and both freezes and reheats well.


For the dessert- thoroughly grease a muffin tray or individual tartlet tins,  take 2 spring roll wrappers or small squares of filo pastry per person. and lay them in the tins at 90 degrees to one another so they form little pointy star shaped baskets. Brush with melted butter or Flora cuisine and bake in a hot oven (190 degrees) for about 10 minutes until brown and crispy. (Watch carefully, you don't want them to be too brown and bitter.) Allow to cool, fill with Greek yogurt and slices of kiwi (or mandarin, strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb etc)- whatever you want to use up!

For the elderflower syrup- take 2 tablespoons of  elderflower cordial and 1 tablespoon of water and boil together in a small pan until reduced and syrupy (about 10 minutes). Allow to cool and then spoon over the fruit in the baskets and serve.

Kiwi and Elderflower baskets

As for the leftovers- freeze the lasagne. have any leftover yoghurt and fruit for breakfast, and the courgette soup goes well stirred through pasta with a good grating of cheese on top.

Hope these recipes make you green with envy rather than green around the gills.

I'm hoping for strawberries and cherries to be in season next week- so we'll be seeing red soon!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Week 16- Take Half a Dozen Eggs...

Another busy Bank Holiday weekend approaches- so little time, so many loyal blog readers to write for!

What do you do when you need a quick menu?

I've decided to reach for a box of eggs.

This week's recipes try to make the most of  what's belatedly in season- asparagus, watercress, early tomatoes, rocket.. and put them together with the humble egg for, I hope, something quick and tasty.

Today's starter is boiled egg ( I know it sounds humble, but surprise yourself) with soldiers and asparagus dippers, followed by a salade composee of tomatoes, bacon and avocado on a bed of spinach, rocket and watercress with onion corn bread. Dessert is a brioche 'bread and butter' pudding.

Do you fellow foodies need me to tell you how to boil an egg? I know Delia did it and made money in the process- but really! Anyway, it all depends how you like it. I like mine cooked - but with still plenty of runny yolk for dipping. ( Brought to the boil from room temperature and then timed for 3 minutes- oops! I told you how to do it.) Steam some asparagus and make some toast strips (soldiers) to dip in. (My tummy is rumbling even now at the thought.) Forget your hollandaises and such like- asparagus dipped in egg yolk is sublime - especially if sprinkled with some fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper.
Asparagus and Soldiers on Parade

For the next course, I'm using seasonal leaves (watercress and rocket) mixed with some baby spinach and dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette (recipe on the blog). I top these with some fried smoked bacon lardons, some sliced mozzarella, a sliced avocado and some ripe tomatoes.Mmmm...

Delicious though this is, it is made all the more substantial and special if served with some golden corn bread.

Grease a 20cm baking tin generously and pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees.
Mix 110g of plain flour, 170g of cornmeal or polenta, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 1 tablespoon of sugar, a bunch of chopped spring onions (tired ones from the bottom of the salad drawer are fine) together in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Add 2 beaten eggs and a cup of olive oil or liquid Flora and a further cup of skimmed milk. Stir all the ingredients together and pour into the greased tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm to the touch, golden on top and a skewer inserted into the
Onion Corn Bread

middle comes out clean.
I only used a few slices of the corn bread- and sliced up the rest for the freezer. I will use slices variously with dishes that need soaking up- beef stew, ratatouille, baked beans, chile con carne- it will be delicious with any of these.

For pudding, I had a bag of brioche rolls in the freezer- the sort with sultanas in. I used 4 of them to make this pudding. They have the advantage over normal white bread as they already contain plenty of butter and sugar and they are very light and airy too. 
Break the brioches into pieces so they fit into your bowl. Beat 2 eggs, a generous cup of skimmed milk and 2 teaspoons  of vanilla essence together in a jug. Pour over the brioches and press down so they absorb the liquid. Sprinkle on a sachet of vanilla sugar if you have it, or any tasty sugar if you don't.

Bake in a moderate oven 170 degrees for 20-25 minutes until (you guessed it) golden, risen and firm to the touch. No need to insert a skewer as you want a bit of wobble in there.

Serve with cream or ice cream or stewed seasonal fruit such as rhubarb.

Brioche Pudding

So there you have it- my menu based around a box of eggs. 

Sorry to short change you this week on recipes and ideas - but you must have plenty of your own for using up a box of eggs. Do share them.

In the meantime, have a cracking Bank Holiday weekend!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Week 15- Greek Chic

Alright, I'm exaggerating a bit here!
It's been a funny old week- after a brief glimpse of summer over the Bank Holiday weekend, the weather has moved on to autumn with gales and rain. The sea has been roaring outside my window all last night.

It's hard to know whether to go for a seasonal spring menu or autumnal comfort food.
Also I was on the water (kayaking) most of the weekend- being buffeted by the wind- and unable to plan menus or shop. So it was very much a case of 'What's left over in the fridge or languishing in the freezer?'
I had frozen halloumi cheese (leftover from a couple of weeks ago), a breast of lamb in the freezer, olives, some yoghurt,  a bulb of fennel and some fresh fruit to use up in the fruit bowl.

Time to go Greek, methinks.

So today's menu is : halloumi bites with olives and balsamic vinaigrette to start, followed by slow roasted breast of lamb on a bed of braised fennel with orange- and fresh fruit with fudge fondue and greek yoghurt for dessert.

The starter is simple enough - cube the halloumi cheese and fry it in a little vegetable oil until brown and crispy. Put it in a bowl, next to a bowl of olives and a dipping sauce of vinaigrette made from 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard and some salt and pepper. I make it in a screw top jar, shake it up and then pour into the serving bowl. You can pour leftovers back in afterwards and keep in the fridge.
If you have other meze type nibbles eg. a tin of stuffed vine leaves, some grilled peppers in oil, cubes of ham etc then add them in to make the starter more substantial- or indeed into a main meal.

Halloumi Bites with vinaigrette dip

For the breast of lamb, I used the slow cooker. First, seal the meat all over in a dry frying pan until it is brown and some fat starts to run. Place it in the slow cooker with a glass of red wine and a glass of water ( or two glasses of stock), season with herbes de provence, salt and pepper and leave to cook on low for 4-5 hours. When it is tender, remove from the cooker and put in a hot oven (200 degrees) for 35-45 minutes to crisp up the skin.
 Meanwhile, slice the fennel thinly (keep back the stalks and feathery fronds). Soften 1 small white onion in some butter or oil in a saucepan and add the sliced fennel. Pour on 1/2 glass of orange juice and a good pinch of salt and pepper (some extra chopped olives go well too). Cover with a piece of baking paper and a lid - this way the fennel braises without drying out. Turn the heat right down and leave to braise.

Take the lamb out of the oven and leave to rest for 5-10 minutes, then slice into rounds and lay these on a bed of fennel. Decorate with the feathery fronds. (The stalks are for lunch tomorrow.)

Slow Roasted Lamb Breast with Fennel

For dessert, slice up whatever fresh fruit you have in the bowl- I had an orange, a kiwi and some grapes. Pineapple or banana would be good too- or melon.
Make the sauce by melting together 1 tbsp of muscavado sugar, 1 tbsp of golden syrup and 30 g of butter. Bring to the boil. Take off the heat and stir in 1 tsp vanilla essence and 2 tbsp of double cream. Pour into individual dipping pots and serve immediately- so you can dunk your fruit in whilst the sauce is still hot and runny.

Fruit with Fudge Fondue

The lamb leftovers were chopped up and made into 'Cornish' (or rather Sussex) pasties. (As they are made with lamb, they can't be called true Cornish pasties.) Soften 1 small white onion in a little oil, add the chopped lamb, 1 small potato diced and 1 small diced turnip or swede.( I blanched the potato and turnip in boiling water for 2 minutes first).Cook for a few minutes, but it doesn't need to be cooked through as it is going into the oven. Moisten with some of the leftover gravy from the lamb (but don't make it too sloppy).  Season really well with a tsp of salt and 1 tsp ground black pepper.Roll out some shortcrust pastry until thin, and then cut out rounds using a dinner plate (for a Pasty-zillah), or side plates for smaller versions. Lay your meat mixture along one half of the pastry, about 1 cm in from the side.

 Brush the edges with water,  fold the top half over, and crimp the edges tightly shut using a fork

Perfection in Pasties

. Lay on a greased baking sheet. Brush with milk or beaten egg and bake at 190 degrees for 20-25 minutes until golden brown all over.

Pasties are a brilliant way to use up leftovers- either, like here, with all the leftover bits from a roast dinner or with whatever you have to use up. I like vegetarian ones best- with potato, cheese and onion or with leftover stir fry veg for a fusion East meets West. Or you could continue the Greek theme with spinach and cream cheese.

The leftover fennel stalks were sliced into batons, added to cucumber and carrot sticks and had with hummus for my lunch.

Leftover lunch

Any leftover fudge sauce can go with ice cream or drizzle over fruit. I didn't have any left though.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Week 14- £1 a Day Challenge

Between 29th April and 3rd May this year, threw down the gauntlet to crafty cooks and savvy shoppers everywhere to see if they could feed themselves on just £1 a day- as that is what more than a billion people worldwide have to do.

I gave it a lot of thought- superscrimper supreme that I am- and came to the conclusion that it was a challenge too far even for me. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea- every day for 5 days on just £1- I'm not sure it's possible. Is it?

And yet- there are many, many people here in the UK trying to manage on just such small amounts, living below the poverty line.

So, it was with great interest that I read the blogs of those who took part. Some managed the challenge, others fell by the wayside. All agreed that the diet was uninteresting, repetitive ( porridge for breakfast, lentil soup for lunch...) and that it felt nutritionally poor. It was impossible to access lean meat, fresh fish, much fruit or fresh vegetables- and certainly no quality produce like free range eggs, wholemeal bread and so on.
All the participants complained of being hungry at the end of the day, feeling lethargic and lacking in energy as though they had not taken in enough calories.

Not the best physical state to be in if you need to pound the streets looking for work, or spend a day in school trying to learn.

I applaud those that managed- and so decided to make this week's blog menu as a tribute, particularly because I felt the task would have been beyond me.

I have prepared a three course dinner menu for four people, costing under £1 a head.

Starter is Carrot and Cumin Soup with homemade spicy tortilla chips, main course is Falafel Fritters with Pitta, hummus and salad and dessert is Wizard Chocolate Pud.

Total cost: £3.70.
Carrot and Cumin Soup

For the soup, chop 400g of fresh carrots and 1 small onion and place in a large pan (I use my pressure cooker). Gently soften in a tablespoon of oil and add 2 teaspoons of cumin powder, 1 teaspoon of turmeric and a vegetable stock cube. Pour on about 1and 1/2 litres of boiling water and simmer until the carrots are tender enough to puree. Blitz with a blender stick and adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve with a garnish of your choice- crispy fried onions, poppy seeds or whatever you have in the storecupboard. I used a dollop of the pea puree which makes up a part of the next course.

To make the tortillas, take the remaining 2 pittas from the pack (you will need 4 for the main course). Split them and then snip them into triangles with scissors. Lay them in a baking tray with a tablespoon of oil, chilli powder or flakes, salt and pepper. Toss them in the seasonings and oil and bake for 10 minutes or so- keeping them under close surveillance as you want them to very lightly brown but not burn and become bitter.
Pitta tortillas

For the falafel fritters you will need 1 tin of chickpeas (drained), 1 small bag of frozen peas, 2 spring onions or 1 small white onion, a clove of garlic. some cumin and chili powder and some oil. (Proper falafel use broad beans not peas, but these are much more expensive and not readily available.) Cook the peas with the onions in a little water or stock. Drain and place in the goblet of your food processor with the chickpeas and garlic, add a teaspoon of cumin and 1/2 tsp of chilli and pulse into a coarse puree. If it is too dry, add a little oil to loosen it.
With wet hands, take small balls of the mixture and shape into patties. Coat in seasoned flour or a mixture of flour and sesame seeds (for extra crunch).
Heat 1/2 cm of oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan and fry the patties in batches.
Drain on kitchen paper and serve in warmed pitta pouches, garnished with salad leaves and a spoon of hummus (if you have it.) I buy it whenever I see it in the reduced chiller, as it freezes well (even though it doesn't say so on the pack). I also make my own and the recipe is on the blog if you search the cloud at the top.

Falafel Fritters with hummus

The Wizard Chocolate Pud is truly magic.

You will need 1 bag of Basic Cake mix ( no apologies for this, it costs only 21p and is a lot cheaper than buying butter, flour, sugar etc...but make your own sponge if you wish.) You will also need some cocoa powder, some vanilla essence, sone dark brown sugar and 1 egg.

Grease a 1 litre pudding basin. Make up the cake mix according to the instructions on the packet, and add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 1 tsp of vanilla essence to the mix. Pour into the pudding basin, and if possible, allow to chill in the fridge for half an hour or so. When ready to bake, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of dark brown or muscavado sugar over the top of the cake mix. Then pour over 300ml of boiling water, don't stir but put straight into the oven at 200 degrees. After 20 minutes or so, the cake will be risen and firm to the touch when pressed and a skewer inserted into the middle will come out clean.

Wizard Chocolate Pud
However, when you spoon out the pudding, a rich chocolate sauce will have formed in the base of the dish and there will be no need for cream or custard- the pudding sauces itself. Genius!
True Chocolate Saucer-y!

As for leftovers, the pudding serves 8 people so can go round again- and the soup will serve 10 portions easily. Any leftover fritters are delicious with a little salad or in a bun for lunch.

If you make this menu- or one of your own where you spend much less than you normally would- why not put a few extra items in your shopping basket next time you are in the supermarket and donate them to your local foodbank on your way out of the store?

My local Sainsburys has a collection basket at the end of the aisles.Your supermarkets probably do too.

Or try the livebelowtheline challenge yourselves- and send me some of your recipes! Maybe next year I'll manage to do it myself.