Festive Gingerbread

 

My weekend involved making this gingerbread to send to my lovely older sibling who is currently living far far away; they were s a labour of love to post some festive cheer her way!

I used the gingerbread men recipe from Hummingbird bakery, and then did a Christmas make-over on them with my cutters and icing.

Use melted marmalade jam to stick the icing onto the baked gingerbread.

 

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Quick Fix: What I’m Eating Tonight

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Chop the stem off your large mushroom. Dice it into pieces and mix in a bowl, along with:

1 bacon rasher, roughly chopped

a chunk of goat’s cheese, diced (or mozzarella/brie/camembert),

handful of fresh herbs, chopped (parsley/basil- whatever you have, fresh or dried),

handful of breadcrumbs (I usually just roughly grate whatever stale slice is around)

a small clove of garlic, rushed

Stuff this mixture onto the top of the mushroom. Season. Place in the oven at 180 degrees, for 25 minutes. The mushrooms should be soft, and the stuffing golden brown.

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On a Budget

Sticky Slow-Roasted Pork Belly

This weekend I decided to go for the mother of all comforting roasts: pork belly. These days, a roast can seem like an expensive treat. However, choose the right cut and you don’t have to spend much to be rewarded. This fed 5 people, and only cost £6.

Alarmingly, the raw product prior to cooking really does look like you’re about to eat one hell of a big chunk of bacon. Technically, that’s true. However, once slow cooked for hours the fat melts into the meat making this succulently tender and giving the ever-important crackliest of crackling. I’m not saying it’s healthy, the opposite in fact, but there are moments to be healthy, and moments to gorge on ye suckling pigge.

Buying your pork from a good butcher really will make all the difference here, for both taste and price. My lovely local Butcher provided me with this beautiful hunky-looking piece, and scored the fat for me so it was easy to carve once cooked; ask yours to do the same.

 Feeds 5.

700g pork belly

2 tbsp honey

½ red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

2 tsp cumin

olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

2 onions

5 carrots

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

1. Place your pork on a rack in a roasting tray- this is important so that the cooking juices and fat drip down into the tray and the pork can crisp rather than roasting in its own juice. Rub a good pinch of sea salt, pepper and olive oil onto the skin. Roast for 1 hour.

2. After 1 hr, spoon the juices over the skin (basting). Cook for another hour and a half, basting every half hour.

3.  Finally, mix the honey, cumin and chilli together, before spooning it over the skin. Add the onions and carrots to the bottom of the roasting tin. Return to the oven for a final 40 min.

4. Remove from the oven, leave to rest for 15 min.

5. Set the pork aside, and place the roasting tray with the juices, onions and carrots directly onto your hob on a low heat. Add a mug of boiling water and stir, careful to scrape all the goey bits off the bottom of the tray.

6. Carve the pork into think slices and serve with the sauce.

Potatoes Boulangère

 They sound French, they sound fancy, they are however incredibly easy. The skinny cousin of dauphinoise potatoes, these don’t have any cream but a stock sauce instead, so that they are still goey and comforting but not rich. I partnered them with the slow-roasted pork for this reason, as they cut through the richness well.

I haven’t given amounts here, as I usually pick the size dish I want depending on how many I’m feeding and proceed to fill it accordingly. Choose a baking dish about 2 inches deep.

potatoes, finely sliced but unpeeled

onions, finely sliced

vegetable or chicken stock

fresh thyme

s & p

1. Butter your baking dish. Start with a layer of potatoes, followed by a layer of onions. Season with salt and pepper. Continue this way, remembering to season each layer.

2. Pour over enough stock to just reach the top layer.

3. Dot liberally with butter and the thyme.

4. Cover, and cook in the oven for 1hr. Uncover and continue cooking for another 30-45 mins.

The potatoes should be golden on top, and the stock absorbed into the potatoes to make them goey and soft.

 *Try it with mixed mushrooms added to the layers, goes well with roast chicken*

Posted in Meat and Poultry, On a Budget | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pearls of Wisdom

Healthy: pearl barley risotto with roasted butternut squash, garlic, goat’s cheese and thyme

Now that winter is upon us, for me the silver lining under this grey, wet cloud is winter food- we can all stop pretending to feel fulfilled by salads and badly cooked barbeques and throw ourselves into the huggable arms of casseroles, soups and roasts. Yet, this is also the month when stodge can take to the fore. I hope to guide you, yoda style, through these troublesome winter months and search for alternative sides than the usual potato, potato and yet more potato.

First up, introducing: pearl barley. It’s whole-grain rather than that naughty refined grain (e.g white rice), thus it is a excellent source of fibre and contains more vitamins than normal rice. It takes on other flavours well so it’s good thrown into casseroles and soups, and bulks them out so less meat is needed, making it thrifty too.

But, it also works well as the centrepiece of a meal. Here, I’ve used it to make a risotto. It is just as goey and comforting as rice, but has a slightly nuttier flavour that goes well with bold, wintry tastes like roasted vegetables or mushrooms. I used pumpkin here, to make the most of it being in season, but butternut squash works just as well.

Serves 3.

 You will need:

1 onion, finely chopped

½ stick of celery, finely sliced (optional)

½ butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes

6 cloves of garlic

a large handful of fresh thyme

200g pearl barley

1 glass of white wine

600ml chicken stock (or vegetable stock to make the dish vegetarian)

1 small goat’s cheese, crumbled/sliced

olive oil

s & p

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

1. Put your chunks of squash into a roasting tin, scatter on the thyme and garlic cloves- as they are, NOT peeled, and keeping aside a couple of thyme strands for the end. Season with pepper and add a good glug of olive oil, enough to coat the squash. Place in the hot oven for 30-45 mins, until the squash is golden and crisp on the outsides.

2. Once the squash has cooled down, take the garlic cloves and squeeze or peel away the skin- it should peel away easily leaving the sweet, softened centre of garlic.

3. Meanwhile, whilst the squash is roasting, gently fry the onion and celery on a low heat in 2 tbsp of olive oil.

4. When the onion is softened, add the pearl barley, stir to coat it in oil.

5. Turn up the heat, and add the wine. Allow it to bubble for a couple of minutes so that the bitter alcohol cooks off.

6. Now simply add the stock and leave it to simmer away for about 30min. Check on the barley towards the end so that it isn’t overcooked- it wants to be soft, but with a slight bite to it still.

7. Turn the heat right down, and stir in the squash, garlic and thyme. Check the seasoning. Stir in the goats cheese, reserving a small amount.

Serve immediately, with the remaining cheese crumbled and the thyme sprinkled on top.

Posted in Healthy, Rice, Pasta, Risotto | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

New Year/ Apocalyptic Feed

At the dawn of a New Year you can be certain of several things:

  1. Students will mysteriously be looking smarter and shinier than usual for a short while  after the flurry of Christmas presents.
  2. There will be some new theory revolving around the date the world will end this year.
  3. And everywhere you look there will be another diet being thrust in your face on how to lose that ‘excess Christmas bulge’.

Now, in general I am of part of the population that prefers healthier food. I unashamedly love vegetables, and all those other bizarre foods relegated to that aisle in the supermarket which they just don’t quite know how to categorise. However, the post-Christmas food diet strikes me a fairly pointless. January is by far the worst month of the year; it’s months until we’ll see sunlight again, most people either have exams or have to drag themselves to work once more and we’ll all be dismally failing our New Year’s resolutions. If there ever is a time for comfort food then that is now.

Risotto is a great winter supper- there is something about gooey rice that never fails to comfort. This particular risotto is ideal for the night after a roast- it uses up leftover chicken and makes use of stock (see below on how to make chicken stock). I think it’s a common misconception that risotto is hard. I promise it isn’t. It shouldn’ t take much longer than 40 minutes and the only thing it requires is patience. And patience is really just a more acceptable form of laziness so there really is no excuse.

Plus, if the world is indeed ending this year-and as it’s the Mayan’s turn to make the announcement I am more inclined that usual to believe them…after all, they discovered chocolate- then, quite frankly, I would rather shuffle off this mortal coil having had a darn good feed.

Creamy Chicken, Pea and Parmesan Risotto

Serves 2

olive oil

x1 onion, finely chopped

1 ½ mugs of Arborio (risotto) rice

x1 mug white wine

roughly 800ml chicken stock

a couple of handfuls of left-over cooked chicken, in strips

large handful of frozen peas and/or Sugar-snap peas

1tbsp philadelphia

x1 lemon

roughly two handfuls of grated parmesan

1. Gently heat the olive oil in a deep pan. Soften the onion slowly until it’s looking translucent.

2. Add the rice, stir, then pour over the wine and turn up the heat slightly. The wine should simmer so that the bitter alcohol taste cooks off.

3. Once the wine has been absorbed by the rice add a ladle of stock. Each ladle of stock needs to be slowly absorbed, only stir occasionally and gently. Repeat with the stock, ladle by ladle.

4. When the rice is almost cooked (taste to check) add the frozen peas and chicken. Cook until it is piping hot.

5. Lower the heat, squeeze over the lemon juice, tasting after half to see how lemony you like it. Stir in half the parmesan and all the philly. Season to taste- go easy on the salt as parmesan is very salty.

6. Serve sprinkled with the rest of the parmesan.

*If you don’t have cooked chicken you can use raw chicken breast sliced into thin strips. Add this after the second ladle of stock. Check it’s cooked all the way through before serving*

Chicken Stock

A fair few of the recipes I make include ‘good-quality chicken stock’. This isn’t an attempt to sound pompous, for though stock cubes are great, ‘real’ stock made from the carcass is ten-folds better both flavour- and health-wise. Stock freezes really well so whenever you have a roast use the carcass to make stock and keep a stash in the freezer. The carcass itself can also be frozen if you don’t have time to make the stock immediately.

Here’s how to make it:

Simply place your chicken carcass in a pan along with: a bay leaf, pepper, a carrot roughly chopped, a halved onion (no need to peel) and

Top up the pan with water until the carcass is covered. Place lid on pan.

Now simmer this gently away for at least 45min, longer if you have time.

Cool once done and sieve the liquid to remove the carcass etc.

Posted in Meat and Poultry, Rice, Pasta, Risotto | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Spiced Parsnip Soup

It’s that time of year: Man-flu season is upon us. Now, living with five male housemates this presented more than the usual problem of a couple of snotty Kleenex lying around. At the sound of the first sniffle came the realization that an epidemic was, quite literally, within sneezing distance. I tend to use soup in a similar fashion as I do tea. In the face of any impending disaster or illness- Just Add Soup. In my humble opinion it has to power to cure anything: scientifically so because when it is home-made it’s packed with veg and vitamins and less scientifically so because it quite simply warms those cockles of the heart.

In looking for a hearty cold-busting soup this was no time for a refined minty- pea. Instead, it was a moment to reach for the big-boys of the vegetable world: the Root Veg. Rather like a Bouncer with an ‘I love my mum’ tattoo, the rather uncouth and knobbly-looking root vegetables like squash and parsnip are surprisingly sweet. They do well then with bolder flavours like garlic and spice to give them an edge. Moreover, these veg are in season at this time of year, which makes them good value and, more importantly, can be bought British-grown.

If you don’t like your food to be too spicy, leave out the fresh chilli, the paste and spices alone will give it a slight kick. And fear not if you don’t have any lentils to hand, they are not essential, but I do recommend trying them; like the spice they prevent the soup from being too sweet by giving an earthy depth to the flavour.

 

olive oil

x1 onion, chopped

clove garlic, crushed

½ red chilli, sliced and deseeded

4 carrots

¼ squash

(Try a different variety from Butternut, British-grown seasonal squash are delicious at this time of year)

500g parsnips

1tsp cumin

1tsp turmeric

1tbsp curry paste (I strongly recommend Patak’s)

a handful of green lentils

about 1 ½ pints of good-quality chicken stock

1tbsp crème fraiche

Remove the woody centre of the parsnips- this is easily done by quartering the parsnip, then slicing this central woody part out. Peel and chop all the vegetables into small chunks.

In a large pan heat 2tbsp olive oil, add the onions and garlic, and cook slowly to soften.

Add the spices, curry paste and red chilli, stir, and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add all the chopped vegetables and lentils, pour over enough chicken stock to come an inch or so above the veg.

Cover the pan with a lid, and simmer until the vegetables and lentils are soft. Season.

Remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool for five minutes.

Blend your soup to however smooth you like it. Personally, I prefer it so there are still some lumps in there for texture. Stir in the crème fraiche.

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Viva Mexico!

Tequila, Pinatas and Fajitas.  Perhaps not the definitive cultural list of reasons to go to Mexico, but they were enough to convince me to go this summer. I was lucky enough to spend five weeks travelling there and found that not only the country itself  was beautiful but that its food was utterly delicious. Perfect comfort food with its lashings of cheese, refried beans and tortilla bases, yet also vibrant and fresh; aided predominantly by the extensive use of chilli’s that varied as much in taste as in size, shape and colour.

In my post-travel depression and in a bid to chase away the descending winter weather I’ve been cooking up some Mexican-themed dishes, so here they are for you to try too. Go forth and, in the immortal wisdom of the Spice Girls, spice up your life.

 

Holy-GuacaMole-y

Mash, Mushy Peas, Guacamole; how, by simply mashing something, does it magically taste so much better than the original I will never understand. I imagine it’s probably something deeply psychological about going back to our pre-teeth infanthood. Science aside, Mexico’s famous green mush certainly didn’t disappoint. Below is my classic guacamole recipe; brilliantly quick to make, it’s perfect as a healthy snack or part of lunch spread on toasted pitta.

One thing to watch out for- once peeled avocado goes brown fairly quickly, the lemon juice helps with this, but this isn’t something that can be made too far in advance.

x1 ripe avocado, halved and peeled

x1 ripe tomato, roughly chopped

x1 small red onion, finely chopped

½ lemon

½ red chilli, finely sliced (optional)

small handful of coriander, roughly chopped

s&p

Simply mash up your avocado and all the other ingrediants together, it’s entirely up to you how smooth or chunkyyou want it. If you like a creamier dip, mix in a spoonful of crème fraiche. Season.

Frying-pan Fajitas

This is my twist on just a classic faijita. I like to see it as a sort of Mexican version of a toastie; a perfect quick lunch, easy to do for friends and a great way of using up leftovers- such as cooked chicken from a roast as I used below. If you’re not a fan of spice scrape out the seeds from the chilli.

Chicken, cheddar and caramelised spiced Onion Frying-Pan Fajita

serves 1.

x2 flour tortillas (wholemeal tortillas are available in most supermarkets if you want to be healthier)

x1 onion, finely sliced

½ red and yellow pepper, sliced

½ fresh red chilli

tbsp sugar/ tbsp balsamic vinegar

a handful of cooked chicken

large handful of fresh spinach, roughly chopped

large handful of grated chedder

Begin with caramelising the onions and peppers. Gently heat a spoonful of olive oil in a pan, when hot add the onions with the sugar/balsamic vinegar. After 5 minutes of gentle cooking turn up the heat and add the peppers and chilli. Watch it doesn’t burn and stir occasionally until the onions are well cooked and a deep golden brown.

Slowly heat up a frying-pan that has been wiped with a little olive oil. Place one tortilla flat in the pan and add fillings: Start with half the cheese, then the onion mixture, cooked chicken, spinach and finally the rest of the chedder.

Place the other tortilla firmly on top like a lid. After 5 minutes, carefully flip over the ‘toastie’; an easy way is to hold a plate firmly over the pan with one hand, then flip the pan over. The tortilla will be flipped onto the plate, slide it back into the pan so the other side gets cooked. Give it another 5 minutes to heat the contents through and brown the tortilla. Slice and serve! Great served with the guacamole and salad.

 Other good fillings:

Ham, cheese and chutney

Tuna mayonnaise with finely sliced red onion, black olives and cheese

Stir-fried vegetables, pesto and mozzerella

Pan-fried leeks and spinach with chedder or feta

Posted in Meat and Poultry | Tagged , , | 4 Comments