Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Budget Buffet

Wait a minute! Are you just heading out to the supermarket to buy 'party food'? Well, stop right there and ask yourself- 'Could I make it at home for nothing?'

Well, within reason, you could.

Not that I object to supermarket party food- in fact, I think it's brilliant. Some of the ideas created by their chefs are inspirational, and deserve to be copied. I wouldn't even object to Peter Andre delivering party food to my door.

But the point is - it's expensive for what it is, and could be rustled up at least in part by what you already have in the fridge.

So, with a mixture of judicious purchases (like this caramelized onion hummus for 16p in the reduced cabinet!)

and a bit of home cookery, I reckon you can lay on party food for 12 for well under a tenner.

Here's how.

I'm following the trend for 'mini' meals as canapes by making mini lamb burgers with hummus
( thanks to the above bargain!), mini fish and chip cones with salt and vinegar, mini croques-messieurs, a centre piece quiche or lattice, home made pitta crisps and dips, blinis with toppings, home made vegetarian sausage rolls, cocktail bites and home made Twiglet grissini.

Sound good? Here are the recipes.

Mini lamb burgers 

I made lamb burgers as a meal this week and kept back a portion to make mini versions for the freezer. These will be served with hummus to dip, or possibly in mini buns (made from garlic dough balls).
To 200g of lamb mince, add 70g fresh breadcrumbs, 1 egg blitzed together in the food processor with 1small chopped onion , 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce, 1 crumbled stock cube and  1 each tsp salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands until thoroughly incorporated.
Take a small piece and fry in hot oil in a frying pan until cooked through- taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.
If you're happy with the mix, make four burgers and 12 mini burgers from it and fry in batches.
We ate the burgers for dinner, and I froze the cooked mini burgers in preparation for the buffet.
And mini lamb burgers for the buffet

Lamb burgers for dinner

Fish and Chip Cones

My gym very generously provides paper cones at the water cooler (although they may be less keen to do so if they ever get to see this blog) as I use these for holding little parcels of fish and chips. (You can easily make your own of course from circles of stiff paper).

Cook oven chips and scampi pieces in the oven as you would normally, pop them into the cones and serve on a platter with little jugs of vinegar and fleur de sel for seasoning.
Very chic!
Mini fish and chip cones

Mini Croques-Messieurs

I buy little toasts (sold for foie gras) in French supermarkets when I am on holiday and freeze them to use for mini-toast meals- but you can easily make these by cutting circles or squares of bread using a scone cutter.
Whenever I have leftover ends of cheese, I make some little croques (cheese and ham sandwiches ) and freeeze them uncooked ready for a buffet.
Frozen mini sandwiches
Toast them in a sandwich maker, or fry gently in butter and serve warm.

Toasted mini croques-messieurs


Here's a selection with a link to the blogpost containing the recipes

Tarte a l'indienne

Pissaladiere Tart
Spinach and Bacon Quiche

Sausagemeat lattice

For this recipe- which does look impressive as a centrepiece- you need to make your own flaky pastry.(Don't be scared- it's remarkably easy.) You then use half for this dish and half for the vegetarian sausage rolls. At a push you can use ready-made puff pastry but it won't be the same.

You need 300g plain flour, 200g block butter or baking marge, a pinch of salt and some cold water.

Keep the marge rock hard in the fridge and only take it out once you have weighed out your flour and salt. Holding the foil wrapper, grate the marge quickly straight into the flour using a cheese grater.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and marge mix and pour in about 2 tablespoons of cold water.

Using a palette knife, mix together and add a dribble of water at a time until the mixture starts to come together. Just at the end, squish it together with your hands until the bowl is clean and then cut it in half (one for the lattice and one for the veggie rolls), wrap it in clingfilm and put into the fridge until ready to use.

When you are ready, divide one of the halves again into two thirds/one third.
Roll out the larger piece into a big rectangle and brush the edges with water. Lay it on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees.
Mix up 400g of sausagemeat with a good teaspoon of salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives and parsley and a teaspoon of dried mixed herbs.

Form this into a rectangle slightly smaller than the pastry and lay it on top.

Now roll out the smaller pastry piece and either cut it with a lattice cutter or cut patterns in it with pastry cutters, or cut strips and lay them criss-cross across the sausagemeat to make a lattice.
Crimp the edges well together, brush with milk or beaten egg and dust with a really good grating of nutmeg.
Bake until golden and crispy. For the party, I suggest trimming the edges with a sharp knife to make it neater!
Sausagemeat lattice

Home made Crisps for Dipping

What have you got in your cupboards, bread bin or freezer? If you have tortillas, pitta bread or naan bread lurking, then you have the basis of home made dipping chips. Just snip them into triangles with kitchen scissors, put them in a bowl with a glug of oil, loads of salt and pepper and any seasoning you like (eg chilli flakes, curry powder, herbs etc) and then spread them out on a baking sheet and bake at 190 degrees for about 10 minutes- but watch them closely as they should come out just as they are turning golden and must not get too brown or they will be bitter.
Naan Bread crisps
Tortilla Chips


A carton of natural yoghurt is all you need this time for a trio of dips.
Mix up one bowl with a tablespoon of coarse grain mustard and drizzle it with runny honey.(Honey and Mustard dip)
Mix another with a tablespoon of korma paste for a mild Curry Dip.
Mix the third with chopped chives, mint and cucumber for a Raita-style dip.


Now that I've gone all Russian, it's time for blinis. The recipe is easy-s ift together 50g of buckwheat flour, 100g of plain flour, a pinch of salt and a a tsp of baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add 1 beaten egg, 80g of melted butter or margarine and 185ml of milk. Mix well until you have a creamy batter. 
Fry in batches- you should get about 30 from this mix. They freeze well, so can be made well in advance.

Top with a spoonful of creme fraiche and some little fish eggs (small jar costs under £2 at this time of year), or smoked salmon trimmings (same sort of price).

30 blinis or more
Blinis with toppings

Cocktail Bites

Whilst we are looking at this lovely photo of blinis (courtesy of laBarbe), her idea of wrapping dried apricots in some Italian deli meat and securing with a cocktail stick is very pretty and tasty too. You can do the same with whatever you have in the cupboard and fridge eg. dates or prunes perhaps wrapped in ham, smoked cheese etc

Home Made Twiglet Grissini

I used some bread mix I had in my larder for this, but it is simple enough to make using flour and fresh yeast.
 You need 250g plain flour, 1 tsp salt, 75g butter or marge, 1 x 7g fast acting yeast, 75g grated cheese, 150ml warm milk (or water if using a bread mix) and 1 tablespoon of yeast extract (Marmite).
Put either the bread mix or the flour, salt and yeast into a bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips, mix in the cheese and then add either the warm milk or water (if using bread mix).
Bring together with first a palette knife then your hands. Knead for 5 minutes until pliable, then put back in the bowl, cover with a plastic bag and put somewhere warm to rise for an hour.
When doubled in size, take out of the bag, knead again for another 5 minutes, put back for a second prove for 30 minutes.
This time, when you take it out, roll it out into a large rectangle, spread with the Marmite, fold over and roll again.
Cut out short strips, then roll these strips between your hands like you used to do with plasticine when you were little, to make long thin sausages. Lay these on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or so until lovely and golden.
You will find it hard to resist eating them then and there- but they do freeze well.

Twiglet grissini

Non-Sausage Rolls (makes 20)

Lastly, take the remaining pastry from the fridge, roll it into another large rectangle and cut it into two strips.
Now make your veggie filling from 200g fresh breadcrumbs, 200g grated strong cheddar cheese, 1 small onion chopped and softened in some olive oil with 1 tsp minced garlic, 1 tablespoon creme fraiche or natural yoghurt, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs eg. chives, parsley, thyme or sage, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, lots of salt and pepper.
Mix it all together and squish it with your hands to make two long sausages, which you lay on each of the pastry strips. Brush the edges with water and then roll up the strips and press well to seal.

Slice each sausage into ten, and either freeze the uncooked pastries until you need them or bake at 190 degrees, brushed with milk or beaten egg, until golden.

Cut on the diagonal to look pretty!

Phew! That was quite a cookathon, but all simple and cheap. Let's not forget of course, that the main reason we enjoy a good party is the company and the conversation, so if you're spending too much time cooking and not enough chatting, you're not doing anyone any favours.

After Christmas, the blog is going to take on a different (possibly garlic scented) flavour as I am relocating to France for a while.

Expect recipes with a different accent, as Lizsleftovers takes French leave!

Got to go now- I just heard the doorbell. Could it be Peter Andre with my delivery?

Ding dong!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Christmas Puddings with a Twist

And I'm not talking Oliver.

If anyone wants some more in my household this Christmas, I'll be only too pleased.
What worries me though, is that I may have the opposite problem.

You see, I have guests coming from abroad and, whereas usually my foreign friends tuck heartily into Sussex pub grub washed down with gallons of Harveys bitter and would eat fish and chips with their buckets and spades if they could, this time I fear it may be different.

My guests have never been to the UK before, never eaten British food (or think they haven't) and, although they avow that they want the full Christmas experience, I'm concerned it might all prove a bit heavy for more delicate constitutions.

Particularly, by the time we get to Christmas pudding.

So, with that in mind I've been experimenting with puddings which are still Christmassy, but are a little bit lighter.

I began by caramelizing some clementines marinaded with a little rum. They were good and would be enhanced by some Cointreau cream or suitably rich ice cream.

Peel your clementines (or tangerines or satsumas) and slice them across the diameter, to make rings. Soak them in a couple of teaspoons of rum. Meanwhile boil up 1 tbsp caster sugar and 2-3 tbsp water until the mixture begins to turn golden. Quickly pour over the clementines and leave to cool.
Caramelized Clementines

Continuing with the clementine theme, I made a Caramel Clementine Upside Down Cake- and this time, I can honestly say it is the best cake I have ever made! I have to share the recipe with you so you can try it yourselves.
Instead of flour, I used part ground almonds and part pulverised almond biscottis (croquants for French readers) plus breadcrumbs for the mixture. I've never made a cake without flour before- but may never go back again! The almonds and the breadcrumbs made for a moist sponge- but the biscottis added a grainy texture which was scrumptious!

Caramel Clementine Upside Down Cake

Caramel Clementine Upside Down Cake

150g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
50g pulverised almond biscuits
50g soft white breadcrumbs
2 tsp baking powder
4 beaten eggs
175ml sunflower oil
5 clementines- all 5 zested and 3 of them juiced, 2 of them peeled and sliced into rings
1 tbsp caster sugar and 2 of water for the caramel

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and grease and line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper
2. Make the caramel by boiling 1 tbsp of caster sugar and 2 of water until golden, then pour into the bottom of the lined tin
3. Lay rings of the sliced clementines in the caramel

4. Mix together the sugar, ground almonds, pulverised biscuits and baking powder in a bowl
5. In a separate bowl, whisk the beaten eggs, oil, zest and juice together
6. Combine all the ingredients well and pour over the clementine slices in the tin
7. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean
8. Allow to cool completely before turning out

I also experimented with a Rum Punch sauce to go with it. I wanted a jammy, fruity, rummy, spicy flavour to the sauce so -guess what- I used jam, marmalade, fruit juice, spice and rum to make it!

Rum Punch Sauce
This is a great way to use up the last remnants in a jam or marmalade jar too.
 Mix together a tbsp of jam, a tbsp marmalade, 2 tbsp fruit juice, 1 tsp rum and 1tsp mixed spice and a sachet of vanilla sugar (25g). Boil until syrupy and pour into a serving jug. Serve warm.

This sauce went beautifully with the cake- but was also good the next day poured over ice cream. Or indeed both!
Clementine Cake with rum punch sauce and ice cream

Mincemeat (the traditional British fruit version- which has nothing to do with meat!) is an acquired taste. I thought I might introduce it into one of the meals, just to see how it goes before unleashing the full might of mince pies with brandy butter.
A gentle introduction would be in a crumble- as here. (Crumbles are very vogue at the moment in Europe, believe it or not!)

I make my crumble topping from 180g flour, 100g butter and 75g sugar blitzed or rubbed togther.

In a bowl or individual ramekins, combine apple compote (apples stewed with a little water and sugar until soft) with 2 tbsp mincemeat.

Top with the crumble mix and bake in a hot oven (190 degrees) until the topping is golden.
Mincemeat and apple crumble

Lighter still- but equally simple- would be mincemeat milles-feuilles, made with baked wontons rather than pastry.

Bake wonton wrappers quickly in a hot oven until golden and dust with icing sugar once cool. Layer with mincemeat and whipped cream.

Mincemeat mille-feuilles

And finally- there's jelly.
It's light, it's fruity, it's Christmassy- and I shall bring it out if all else fails.

Now to get into Christmas pudding mood..

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Going with the grain

So, back to the blog.

I thought I'd look at different types of carbs today- to go with your mains or as dishes in themselves. I'm focussing on 4 different grains (or pulses)- polenta, buckwheat, lentils and couscous. There's two recipes for each.

I'm hoping that these recipes become ingrained into your cooking repertoire!

I'm starting with polenta- (which is  pre-cooked maize meal) -with its bright yellow colour and  creamy consistency when cooked.

For 3-4 portions, bring 1 litre of water to the boil and add a tsp salt. Pour in 225g of polenta.
Continue cooking and stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until the polenta becomes creamy like mashed potato. Beat in a generous knob of butter (and a good grating of Parmesan cheese and/or nutmeg) depending on whether you like those ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve with anything that has a good hearty sauce which needs mopping up (stew, gravy, ragout, even baked beans) Leftovers can be fried and cut into slices like chips.

Creamy polenta mash

For a different take on polenta, I've baked it in a cornmeal loaf, flavoured with spring onion and cheese (some bacon lardons would do well here too).Again, this makes a lovely accompaniment to anything which needs soaking up. (And leftovers are good fried as part of a brunch or blitzed to crumbs to coat chicken or pork escalopes)
Corn bread loaf
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, a cup of grated cheese 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 middle comes out clean.

Next, I'm looking at two different ways with buckwheat.

I recognise buckwheat (or ble noir) when I eat in creperies and order galettes de sarrasin although didn't realize at first that they are not made with wholewheat flour but something quite different- light and nutty in flavour (buckwheat flour).
To make crepes or blinis-

Once you have your crepes- you can top them with anything you like or have left over : a full English breakfast with scrambled egg, tomato and bacon as here, cheese and tomato for a quick lunch, leftover ratatouille..just open the fridge and away you go!

Another form of buckwheat is soba noodles- which you probably have eaten in Japanese restaurants. They are simple and quick to prepare- especially if you have stir fry veg waiting to be used up. Again, they make a nuttier alternative to egg noodles - as here in yaki soba:

Yasai Yaki Soba

Just boil the noodles for a couple of minutes in a pan (no need for salt), drain and refresh with cold water in a colander. Meanwhile, stir fry peppers, beansprouts and spring onions in a wok, add 1 beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of soy sauce and stir until the egg is cooked and evenly distributed. Mix in the drained noodles and add a dressing of your choice: soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, peanut butter (for a satay style sauce) etc Decorate with crispy onions and sesame seeds.

Yasai yaki soba

My third alternative for you is lentils. I did a whole blog on this back in August when I had just returned from the Auvergne (home of the Puy lentil).

Indeed my recipes feature Puy lentils - as they have a lovely mineral flavour. I'm also using lentil flour (which you can find in health food stores).

My first dish is Parma wrapped chicken with creamy Puy lentils- one of my dinner party favourites.

Allow 2 boneless and skinless chicken thighs per person.

Parma wrapped chicken with creamy Puy lentils


skinless and boneless chicken thighs
Parma ham to wrap each one
green pesto
cream cheese with herbs
a glass of white wine
Puy lentils
creme fraiche
salt and pepper

1. Open out the chicken thighs, spread a teaspoon of pesto on each one and then a teaspoon of cream cheese. (Keep all your teaspoons and spreading knives separate so you do not cross-contaminate the pots with raw chicken.)
2. Roll them up and wrap each one in a slice of Parma ham. Secure with cocktail sticks and place in a baking tray, along with the white wine.
3. Bake at 190 degreees for 40 minutes until the ham looks crispy.
4. Whilst the chicken bakes, finely chop the leek and soften in some olive oil.
5. Bring the lentils to the boil in ...water, turn down to a simmer and cook for ...minutes until all (or most) of the liquid has been absorbed and the lentils are tender to taste. (Do not add salt until they are cooked, as they will toughen).
6. Mix the lentils and leeks together and season. Mix in a tablespoon of creme fraiche.
7. Lift the chicken portions out of the roasting pan, pour in the lentils and mix them with the chicken juices and wine before replacing the chicken pieces.
8. Put back into the oven to heat through (10 minutes) then serve.

This recipe goes really well with fish too- trout in particular or cod as in the picture.
Cod with lentils

Second lentil recipe uses lentil flour to make crepes- which can be filled as for the buckwheat crepes or topped as blinis for a canape. Click here for the link:

Use the recipe to make blinis for canapes.

Finally, I've got a couple of couscous recipes for you. The first one uses this grain as a stuffing for vegetables and the second one takes the leftovers, binds them together with a little beaten egg , coats them in egg and breadcrumbs and deep fries them as arancini.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Savoury Cakes, Muffins, Scones and Tartlets

Scones, butter and a cup of all helps.

It's been a sad week for me and I haven't felt much like communicating. But friends have said to me that at times like this it is important to do a few 'normal' things and normal for me is cooking and blogging, so I've conjured up this blog from the archives.

There are certain recipes on my blog which have proved much more popular than the rest: a recipe for courgette tart has been shared most often on Pinterest, my recipe for mushy peas (extraordinarily) caused the most controversy and comments on the Guardian website, several other recipes have appeared on other people's blogs - but by far and away the most clicked-on recipe on this blog remains the one for olive cakes.

Olive Cakes

This recipe was given to me by French friends after I'd eaten these delectable savoury muffins at an al fresco lunch in the South of France.

The lunch that launched 1000 clicks
Since then I've made it again and again - as a dinner party starter, smaller versions for a canape at a buffet, or just as a supper meal in its own right.

I've also made lots of variations on a theme and that is what I would like to share with you today on the blog.

First of all, of course- the olive cakes themselves.

Ingredients: (to make a dozen medium muffins)
160 g olives (green or black according to your preference) chopped coarsely
100 g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
1 pot of natural yogurt or 100ml of milk
80 ml olive oil
100g grated emmental or cheddar
1. Sift the flour and baking powder together
2. Mix in the olives and cheese
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until you have a thick batter
4. Spoon or pour into silicone (or paper) muffin moulds
5. Bake at 200 degrees for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden
6. Serve warm or cold with a green salad.

Now that you have the basic mix, there are lots of ways to vary it- experimenting with different flavours: sweetcorn and cheddar, red and green peppers, aubergine 'mud pies' (so called because of their beigy-brown colour!) made with aubergine puree added to the mix,  and here black pudding, apple and cider.
Black Pudding and Apple Muffins

The mix works well incidentally with a variety of different cheeses- so if you are lactose intolerant, you can use goat's cheese or Pecorino, (or indeed not bother with cheese if you don't like it- the other flavours are strong enough to carry the little cakes whatever).
If you are gluten intolerant, then substitute lentil or chickpea flour for a nuttier but equally tasty version (and achieve a similar effect with wholemeal or buckwheat flour too, if you like a denser cake.)

You can also bake the mix as a loaf and slice it to serve. Here I've made Courgette and Pesto Cake which I urge you to try as it was scrumptious!

150g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 courgettes
2 tbsp green pesto
juice of half a lemon
2 eggs
200ml natural yoghurt
100ml olive oil
100g grated Parmesan or Pecorino
1 tsp each salt and ground pepper
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees
2. Sift together the flour and the baking powder and salt
3. Add the eggs, yoghurt and olive oil and beat well
4. Wash and grate the courgettes using a coarse grater or food processor.
5. Wrap in a clean J cloth or tea towel and squeeze hard to remove all excess liquid
Squeeze out the moisture
6. Add the courgettes, lemon, pesto and cheese to the cake mix and beat well.
7. Pour into a buttered and lined loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes until golden and when a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. (Cover with aluminium foil for the last 10 minutes if it is browning too quickly.)
8. Cool on a wire rack and serve warm.

Mix and pour into the mould

Bake until golden
Courgette and Pesto Cake

You are probably thinking of other flavour combinations now to try. Here's a few ideas (which I haven't tried yet- but why not beat me to it!): chorizo and black olive, smoked salmon and dill, bacon and cheese, ham and mushroom, 3 cheese or pine nut and sun dried tomato.

The same principle applies to scones: once you have your basic savoury scone mix (as below) then any of the above flavour combinations will enliven them.
Savoury scones
Cheese Scones:

225g oz plain flour
60 g butter
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
125g grated cheese
1 tsp mustard
150ml milk (approx)

1. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl
2. Rub the fat into the flour
3. Mix in the cheese and mustard
4. Add the milk until you have a soft dough
5. Roll out to 3cm thickness and cut out scone shapes
6. Place on a greased baking tray, brush with milk and bake at 180 degrees for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Vary it any way you choose.

 I like spring onion and cheddar, but am also partial to marmite and cheese scones too.

On a cookery course, I took part in a Scon-athon- all of us baking our signature scones and there were so many variations it was like the Galapagos Islands of Baked Goods. (I'm the one hiding in the blue stripey apron. I made sure my scones were at the back).

Zoom in for some scone ideas

Finally, I just want to share some scrumptious tartlet ideas with you.

As an experiment, instead of shortcrust pastry, I used puff pastry (as I had some to use up) as the base for some smoked salmon and asparagus tartlets- and was very pleased with the result.

Salmon andAspargus Tartlets
Here is the recipe:

For 4-5 tartlets

1 roll of ready-rolled puff pastry
10 asparagus spears (steamed till tender)
50g smoked salmon trimmings
2 eggs
100ml milk

1. Cut tartlet shapes from the pastry, place in tartlet tins and bake blind for 10 minutes or so
2. Lay the asparagus spears and the snipped up salmon equally in the tart cases
3. Mix the eggs, milk and seasoning together in a jug and carefully pour into the cases
4. Bake at 180 degrees for 15 minutes or so until risen, firm and golden.

Again, once you've got the idea then try some variations- smoked haddock and sweetcorn for little chowder pies, or anchovy, onion and olive for Pissaladiere tartlets
Pissaladiere Tart
- are two that spring to mind.

All of these are great for using up leftovers- just look in the fridge, see what's there and let the ingredients guide you to success.

Sorry it's a short blog today. I hope I'll be back on form soon.