Wednesday, 30 July 2008

900 Degrees in the Kitchen

There seems to be a distinct lack of recipes coming out of the 21st Century Housewife's kitchen this week and I'm beginning to feel more than a little guilty about it. I haven't even updated the "Recipe of the Week" page on my main website http://www.21stcenturyhousewife.com/ .

The thing is, it is just too hot to cook. It's almost too hot to think. England just doesn't do happy mediums. It seems people eat too much, drink too much, it rains too much and the temperature is either too cold or too hot. Once in a blue moon we get a lovely day which everyone waxes lyrical about until they are either drenched with a passing shower, frozen or boiled to death.

I do find there are kitchen solutions for when it is unbearably hot and humid and they don't have to involve salad as a main course. Monday night I avoided using the oven altogether by boiling up some lovely Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli. It only takes 3 minutes on the stove top. I microwaved some Fresh Tomato and Mascarpone Sauce and served it on top. A bit of salad on the side and a fresh loaf of bread from the local bakers and we were set. Yes, I know the whole meal was a massive cheat but it tasted delicious and I was not even slightly wilted when I sat down at the table.

Last night, Guy was away so Alex and I resorted to our favourite Fish Finger Wraps (see my entry for Friday 27th June). We didn't have any wraps in the store cupboard though so we resorted to toasted pita breads. I found that experiment entirely successful, but Alex was not really in agreement as although he enjoyed them he said "the wraps taste better". If you fancy trying my version, just cook about 2 or 3 fish fingers per person (preferably nice big fat ones made from sustainably fished cod or haddock) and then serve them in a toasted pitta bread with some lettuce and cucumber. It's nice to add a sauce to them as well - again Alex and I are not quite in agreement here. He likes ketchup, but I prefer tartar sauce, mayonnaise or Heinz salad cream.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope your weather today is lovely and that you are neither drenched by a passing shower, frozen nor boiled to death!

Monday, 28 July 2008

I Haven't Really Disappeared!

Despite appearances to the contrary, I have not disappeared, nor have I stopped eating! My five day absence was due to the busy-ness of the summer holidays. Over the last few days we've been out and about and enjoying ourselves, but I have still been cooking.

I conducted a very successful experiment with raw prawns on Thursday evening. I had a lovely fillet of organic salmon to cook and planned to do it in my usual way by wrapping it in foil (see the blog entry for 2nd July). However I also had some wonderful raw prawns. As I have never actually cooked raw prawns before I was in a bit of a quandry as to how to cook them, but I knew they would taste wonderful with the salmon.

Prawns by another name are shrimp. I never know what to call these lovely little treasures from the sea actually. I remember when I first came to England all those years ago, my Canadian ears balked at the term "prawns". Where I found the work "shrimp" very appetising, "prawns" sounded to me like something rather awful, perhaps even a bug of some sort. I had visions of some weird creature with strange apendeges sticking out at all angles. Although I use the word "prawns" regularly now, I still sneakily think of them as "shrimp"!

To me, shrimp were something we had at Christmas, when my parents would buy pounds and pounds of them raw. We often had between 30 and 45 people come to the house at Christmas, and the shrimp were always a feature of our midnight buffet (which was never actually at midnight, but was always referred to as such!). I used to help shell and devein the shrimp late Christmas Eve after Mom had cooked them. We would then chill them and serve them the next day with a fantastic sauce Mom made with ketchup, horseradish and lemon juice. This was a phenomenal treat and I rarely ever ate shrimp any other way. So, to find on my arrival in England that British shrimp not only had another name, but that they were actuallly being served in a sauce that bore no resemblance to the delicious one I was used to, was something I found very hard to become accustomed to. You see, in England "prawn cocktail" is generally served with a Marie Rose sauce. Traditionally, Marie Rose sauce is a fairly complicated sort of Thousand Island Dressing-esque sauce, but often British cooks will simply mix together mayonnaise or salad cream and ketchup to make it quickly. I now find it delicious, but at the time, I was horrified.

Anyway, back to my experiment Thursday night. I wondered if I could simply wrap the prawns up with the salmon in the aluminium foil and cook them that way. So I prepared the foil as usual, laying slices of onion and lemon on it, and then placing the salmon on top. I deveined the shrimp and sprinkled them on top of that. Dotting the whole lot with butter, I placed it on a baking tray and put it in the oven.

The result was delicious. Flaky pink salmon with luscious tender prawns tumbled over top - yum! I served the fish with new potatoes and some green vegetables. My experiment was entirely successful and I urge you to try it for yourself!

The 21st Century Housewife's
Salmon and Prawn (Shrimp!) Parcels
Serves 2 - 3
1 fillet of skinless and boneless salmon (preferably wild or organically farmed)
a handful of raw prawns (shrimp)
1 lemon, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 tablespoon butter, diced
Lay a large piece of foil on a baking sheet. Lay the sliced of onion and lemon on top. Now place the salmon fillet on top of the lemon and onion. Tumble over the prawns and dot with butter. Wrap the foil around the fish to make a package and fold the edges to seal. Bake in a 175C or 375F oven for about 20 to 25 minutes. The salmon should flake easily with a fork and the prawns should be cooked to pinky perfection.
I'm sure this would taste lovely served with a Hollandaise or Dill sauce if you fancied it.
Oh, and just in case you would like it, here's my Mom's recipe for yummy shrimp sauce. This is great served over shrimp in shrimp cocktail, or serve it as a dip with big shrimp at a cocktail party. The first time I did this in England the sauce raised some eyebrows as it is so different than a Marie Rose sauce, but I've never seen shrimp disappear so fast in my life! Now I get asked to make my Mom's sauce regularly. The beauty of this sauce is you can adjust it to taste. I like it with a good hit of horseradish, tempered lightly with lemon, but you can adjust the quantities to make it taste milder or to focus the attention on the tomato side of things instead. I recommend a light hand with the horseradish. You can always add more ketchup to make it milder, but my Mom and I occasionally ended up with far too much sauce this way!
Mom's Shrimp Sauce
1 cup of ketchup (and it just has to be Heinz!)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (you may not use it all)
1 - 3 tablespoons mild horseradish (or use hot if you dare!)
Mix the horseradish into the ketchup one tablespoon at a time. Keep tasting here, you want a nice horseradish hit but you don't want it to take your head off. The tomato should still be a tangible presence. When you think you have just the right amound, add a bit of the lemon juice. Taste. Add more lemon if you want it. The idea is to mix up a zingy sauce, but nothing too too hot. This is amazing with shrimp, and it will always be my very favourite way to eat them.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Joy of Leftovers - Part Two

As I said yesterday, I love cooking a big joint and then having leftovers. Cooled quickly and kept refrigerated, they are usually good for two days after the dinner, and they can make some fabulous meals. I know when I was a kid, leftovers were a thing to be dreaded as they were often just a repeat performance of the same meal, but today we are masters and mistresses of re-invention in the kitchen. Most of my meals with leftovers bear almost no resemblance to the original meal they are leftover from.

Which leads me to tonight's meal, with the last of the leftover leg of pork. I used to hesitate to make stir fries with meat that was already cooked as I was afraid it would dry out, but I've discovered that if you slice it very thin, and add it right at the very end of the stir fry with the sauce, it can taste utterly delicious. Remember the secret of a good stir fry is the "stir" part. Have everything ready and close by before you start so you can stir the ingredients almost constantly.

Please note that the quantities in this recipe are very flexible. The amounts below serve two to three, but you can obviously adjust quantities to suit your diners and their appetites!


The 21st Century Housewife's
Leftovers Stir Fry
2 tablespoons oil - preferably light olive oil (not extra virgin) or Canola (rapeseed oil) or sesame oil is nice if you have it
a handful of leftover pork, beef or chicken, very finely sliced or shredded
one onion, thinly sliced (red onions are nice if you have them on hand but it doesn't matter)
a couple handfuls of raw vegetables (whatever you have on hand - last night I used 3 carrots, a red pepper and a yellow pepper), thinly sliced
a couple of handfuls ready prepared noodles (from a packet) -or leftover spaghetti if you have it
1 sachet or jar of your favourite stir fry sauce OR
3 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce mixed with 3 tablespoon soy sauce

Heat the oil in a wok or large high sided frying pan. When it is very hot, but not smoking, add the onion and stir fry until it begins to soften a little. Now add the vegetables. Stir fry until the vegetables are beginning to soften but still have a bit of crunch.
Add the noodles or leftover spaghetti and heat through. When they are hot, toss in the meat and sauce of your choice. Stir just to mix and heat through.
Remove from heat and serve. We always try to eat this with chopsticks, which I can do up until I am near the end of the bowl and then I usually give up and use a fork!
It goes without saying that if you prefer rice (or have some leftover rice from the day before that you have cooled quickly and refrigerated promptly), you can use it instead. One word of caution, never keep leftover rice for more than a day and always keep it refrigerated. It's one of the easiest things for bacteria to grow in. Enough said!
If you are using leftover rice, mix it in with the stir fry to make Fried Rice (at the point where I say to add the noodles) and make sure it is thoroughly heated through.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Joy of Leftovers

I like having leftovers, and in view of this cooked a 3 kilogram leg of pork for Sunday lunch with our friends. This did cause some hilarity when I mentioned that I was cooking such a big joint. I was asked things like, "how big was the pig if each leg weighed 3 kilograms"??? To be fair, that is 12 kilograms of legs alone, before you even start with the body. Poor little (okay not so little) pig!

Anyway, we did have leftovers and I was delighted. So yesterday evening I took the opportunity to make one of my favourite dinner sandwiches.

The 21st Century Housewife's
Hot Hoagie Sandwiches
Serves 4

I large baguette or4 rolls (if the rolls or baguette are a bit on the stale side that is okay as they will be warmed in the oven and this will revitalise them)
Butter
Several slices of cold leftover pork or beef
1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
Leftover roasted peppers or vegetables
Grated cheese

Slice the baguette into 4 pieces and split it so that you can put the fillings inside. If you are using rolls, slice them in the same way. Butter the baguette or rolls. Place each baguette on a piece of aluminium foil big enough to wrap around the entire sandwich. Preheat the oven to about 150ºC or 325ºF.

Melt the 1 tablespoon butter in a frying pan and gently fry the onion until it begins to take on a golden colour. Sprinkle with the sugar and cook a little longer. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Fill each piece of baguette or roll with a quarter of the meat, roasted vegetables, fried onions and cheese. Now wrap each sandwich firmly in the foil. Place the foil wrapped sandwiches on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 1o to 15 minutes or until heated through.

Unwrap the sandwiches carefully (they will be steaming hot!) and enjoy. These taste great with a cold beer and some crisps or potato chips on the side.

I enjoyed these so much last night that today I used leftover baguette to make a vegetarian Hoagie for lunch. I just used a couple of tomato slices, some roast peppers and Monterey Jack cheese as the fillings. Delish!

Saturday's Dinner Party

We had friends come for the weekend, so I wanted Saturday dinner to be special. Having said that, I was critically short of time this week. Added to this was the fact that these are friends I have cooked for on dozens of occasions (and who have done the same for me) so I wanted to cook something I either had not made for them before or something I had made so long ago they might have forgotten it!

After much deliberation I decided to dispense with the starter entirely. As I often do, I served Kir Royale as an apertif and scattered some bowls of nuts around for people to pick at instead.

For the main course I served Beef Stroganoff on a bed of Basmati rice. I used Nigella Lawson's recipe from her fabulous first book "How to Eat". It's easy and it tastes so good! I highly recommend that recipe, and indeed the book. It's one I think everyone should have. The only variation I made was to throw some frozen peas into the stroganoff at the last minute so I did not have to worry about serving a separate vegetable. They tasted lovely and gave the dish a nice colour.

(I must admit I rarely have any other rice except Basmati in the house anymore. It has so much more flavour than ordinary rice, and is no more difficult to cook. I do, of course, keep Arborio rice for risotto. )

I served the main course with a lovely Shiraz.

For the pudding, I made Pear Tart, an old favourite. It's one of the recipes in the book handmade by Guy and his sister when they were little that was given to me years ago. I must admit, I have fiddled with the recipe over the years. I do like the bits I've tweaked though, so I'll include my version at the end of this entry. I served the pudding with Brown Brothers 2006 Orange Muscat and Flora, a lovely dessert wine that everyone seems to like.

And of course there was cheese and Port to finish!

Pear Tart

For the pastry:
250 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
125 grams soft butter (unsalted for preference)
2 to 3 tablespoons cold milk
Pinch of salt


For the filling:

100 grams of granulated white sugar
90 grams ground almonds
10 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
40 grams butter, melted
3 tablespoons double (heavy) cream
1 teaspoon almond flavouring
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
1 medium tin of pear halves in juice or syrup, drained
(You want about six to eight pear halves)
2 tablespoons Demerera sugar

You need a 20 cm (8 inch) flan dish. You can use a slightly smaller one if you don’t have this size, but be careful the filling does go over the edges.

Cut the flour and butter together in a bowl. I use a food processor - much easier! Add the pinch of salt. Gradually add the milk until a soft, pliable consistency is reached (you may need more or less milk than specified). Work the pastry into a ball. Press it into the flan dish (using some flour on your fingers to keep it from sticking if necessary). Be sure to work it up the sides of the dish so that you have a proper crust. Set aside.

For the filling, mix the sugar, almonds, flour, eggs, melted butter, cream, almond flavouring and Amaretto together until blended. Pour this mixture over the pastry base. Arrange the pear halves on top. Sprinkle with the Demerera sugar.

Bake in a 325ºF (160ºC) oven for 20 to 25 minutes, watching carefully during the last ten minutes. You want this tart to be lightly browned, with the filling set. Cool in the pan. May be served warm or cold, and is delicious with cream or ice cream.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Much Maligned but Never Beaten...Roast Chicken

Last night I desperately wanted comfort food. The trouble with wanting comfort food is that in many cases, making it involves so much effort that the comfort is all but lost in the exhaustion of the preparation, resulting in it being comfort food for everyone but the cook! What I really, really fancied was roast chicken. But a roast dinner is far too much effort on a weeknight...or is it?

A streamlined version of roast Sunday lunch is actually easier to prepare than you might think. To be fair, I've always found preparing Sunday lunch is the sort of torture I prefer to avoid. I'm really not a big lunch eater; I like my big meal in the evening. Plus I find the effort involved in cooking any Sunday lunch causes me to feel like it's the weekend for everyone but me. It's not just the cooking, it's the cleaning up afterwards, when everyone else is too exhausted to help and just wants to fall asleep on the sofa. (I'm the sort of person who is utterly disappointed if I ever do fall asleep on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon as I feel I've missed out on part of the weekend. Falling asleep on the sofa is, for me, a kind of failure.)

Anyway, I digress. I wanted comfort food, specifically, roast chicken, but I wanted it quick and easy. I toyed with the idea of chicken breasts, but I really do love roasting a whole bird, not least of all because I believe the meat is more tender than when you just cook chicken pieces. So I decided to start with the best whole chicken I could find, so that it would cook easily and be tender and delicious. I must admit, paying nearly £9 ($18+ dollars) for a free range bird did bring tears to my eyes, but when the "sensitively farmed" birds are only a few pounds cheaper it does seem a waste not to go whole hog and get the free range version. I did stop short of organic though. I honestly can't taste the difference, and the cost has always been astronomical. Now though, it's right out of the galaxy with the way food prices are rising. So I took home a beautiful free range bird, all ready to cook (no giblets!) and settled down to thinking about how I could make my comfort dinner without ending up exhausted in the process.

Well dear reader, I'm pleased to report, I found a way. When you think about it, roast chicken itself does not take much effort. You just rinse out the cavity of the bird with cold water (I know some folks don't do this, but my parents always did, so I do too - not that I'm a creature of habit!), anoint it with a little olive oil, grind on some rock salt and pepper and put it in the oven. Most of the grocery stores here have even calculated the cooking time on the label of the package so I don't even have to do that anymore. Although, if you are wondering, chicken needs to be cooked at about 200 C or 375 F for 20 minutes per 500 g (approximately 1 lb) plus about 30 minutes just to round it out. When cooked, the juices should run clear if you puncture the leg. I always use a meat thermometer just to double check - the temperature should read in excess of 160 C when you stick it in the chicken leg.

So, without much effort at all I had the bird in the oven. Now for vegetables and potatoes the quick and easy way. I had some new potatoes from Marks and Spencer so they were completely prepared and washed. As they were fairly tiny, I just put them in a roasting pan with one red pepper, cut in chunks, a red onion similarly prepared and five peeled parsnips, cut in quarters. (We love parsnips even when they are not in season!) I tossed all this with some olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar and put the pan in the oven after the chicken had been in there for about half an hour.

A little more than an hour - and one light tossing of the roasting vegetables half way through the cooking time - later, my comfort food was ready. The only effort involved was carving the chicken and as it was a small one, it was very easy.

Alex made the gravy for me. It was a powdered mix we always bring back from Canada - Swiss Chalet gravy. Please do not wrinkle up your nose, this really is delicious. Of course, you could always buy one of those lovely tubs of ready made gravy from the supermarket if you are not planning a trip to Canada or don't know anyone who is!

So there you go, roast chicken with very little effort. I was suitably comforted, and once Guy and Alex got over their surprise at eating roast Sunday lunch for dinner on Wednesday, they were pretty comforted as well.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Bits and Pieces

Five days since my last blog entry! And have I not been eating? Au contraire! I've been doing loads of stuff, including eating, which is why this poor blog has been so neglected.

Last Friday I made salmon parcels again and it reminded me that I forgot to mention when I blogged the recipe for my salmon parcels that I often make salmon hors d'oeuvres the next day with left over salmon. Even if it's just the three of us for dinner, they are really yummy with a drink before we eat. And if we've got folks round for cocktails, these are the hors d'oeuvres that always go first (along with my Devilled Eggs - but that's a recipe for another day!). Here's the recipe for the salmon hors d'oeuvres - the quantities are flexible as only you know how much salmon you've got left over!
Salmon Hor D'Oeuvres
Leftover cooked salmon
Mayonnaise (I use Hellmann's Extra Light to keep things in line calorie wise!)
celery and red pepper, finely chopped
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
a selection of biscuits/crackers of your choice
(I like Ritz or TUC biscuits for these but please yourself!)
Mix the salmon with the celery and red pepper and enough mayonnise just to bind it without making it gloopy (technical term!). Add a squeeze of lemon juice and taste the mixture. Add a bit more lemon if it needs it and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture on the biscuits and serve them along with something cold and delicious to drink.
We had these on Saturday night before our dinner of Turkey Steaks and Spaghetti. It's one of our family favourites and is a recipe of Guy's. It was one of the first things he ever cooked for me just after we met. I love it (and him!) even more today than I did then.
Guy's Turkey Steaks
Serves 4
4 turkey escalopes – about one to two centimetres in thickness
1 egg
Matzo meal (available in many supermarkets, but if you can’t get it, just use breadcrumbs)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup of mild olive oil (not Extra Virgin)
375 grams of spaghetti
¼ cup melted butter, 1 teaspoon Very Lazy Garlic and 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning OR ½ pesto OR about 1½ cups of tomato sauce

Mix the Matzo meal with the salt and pepper and place on a plate. Break the egg into a large bowl and beat lightly. Heat the oil in a large shallow frying pan until it is very hot, taking care not to burn yourself. When the oil is hot, dip the escalopes first in the egg, and then in the matzo meal mixture. Place them straight into the hot oil. Cook for about three minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the escalopes, until no pink remains inside.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti in boiling water according to package directions. Drain and toss with EITHER the melted butter mixed with the garlic and seasoning OR the pesto OR the tomato sauce.
We usually serve this with a side salad or a portion of green vegetables - broccoli is really good.
So that's what we've been up to...and I promise to try not to miss so many days at a time again!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Dinner in a Dash

I had to travel up to Birmingham with Alex for an orthodontist appointment yesterday, but Guy had invited an old business colleague for dinner. I wasn't going to be back with Alex till nearly 6pm, and our guest was arriving at 7pm. So it was going to have to be an easy dinner!

The night before, I made Nigella Lawson's Damp Almond and Lemon Cake, from her book "How to Be a Domestic Goddess". When it was cool, I wrapped it up in foil as instructed. So that was dessert nearly taken care of.

On the night, I decided to go for the easy option of pasta for dinner, despite the fact Guy and I had pasta the night before (see previous entry!). I used a Sacla sauce again - this time it was their green pesto. The recipe for my pasta dish, which is extremely quick and easy, is below. I have been making it for years and it turns out wonderful every time. I served it with a green salad (from a bag, but don't tell anyone!) and part baked bread rolls which I just finished cooking in the oven. Okay, I cheated like mad, but it was a great dinner!

The Damp Almond and Lemon Cake tastes incredible but it is less than beautiful au naturel. So, to dress it up a bit, I mixed together some fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. I then got some good vanilla ice cream out of the freezer. Instead of taking dessert to the table, I served it from the kitchen, presenting each person with a plate containing a small piece of cake, a handful of fruit and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I sprinkled both the cake and fruit with icing sugar. It looked, and tasted, just wonderful.

We had a really nice evening, washing the pasta down with a nice merlot. There were clean plates all round. Here's the pasta recipe for the next time you find yourself in a similar situation of needing a dinner suitable for company on the quick and easy!

The 21st Century Housewife's
Chicken and Bacon Pesto Pasta
Serves 4
3 chicken breasts, cut in small chunks
(or buy a package of chicken mini fillets and cut each one in half with clean kitchen scissors)
1 small package pancetta chunks (or use bacon lardons)
300 grams of penne pasta or other pasta shapes
1 jar Sacla green pesto
3 to 4 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 cup of frozen peas
8 spring onions, sliced
Cook the pasta in boiling water as directed on the package. Meanwhile, in a medium sized frying pan with a lid, fry the chicken pieces and the pancetta over medium heat until chicken is no longer pink inside (about ten minutes). Stir in the jar of pesto, creme fraiche and the peas. Lower the heat, pop the lid on and let everything cook together for about five minutes. Don't let it boil.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pan. Then stir in the hot chicken and pesto mixture. Sprinkle the spring onions over top and cover the pan with a lid for a couple of minutes.
Serve with salad and/or crusty bread.

9th July 2008

Last night was pretty chaotic, which is part of the reason Alex made his own dinner (see previous entry). Guy's ETA kept changing, and I had to worry about getting Alex to his music event and collect him, so I was in a real state of confusion about what to cook for Guy and I. Luckily, I had some roasted vegetables in the fridge. I always try to keep some ready. They are so easy to prepare. Just cut an assortment of peppers, courgettes (zucchini) and onion up, toss in about 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and roast for about 40 minutes at 350 F or 170 C. Give them a stir half way through and that's about it. They are so useful. You can use them on pizzas, in risotto, pasta, sandwiches and salads. They are good hot or cold, and will keep for up to three days stored in the fridge.

So I used my handy stash of roast veg to make an old favourite, vegetarian pasta bake. It was a great success, and being a bake, sort of "held" in the oven until we could eat it.

Vegetarian Pasta Bake
Serves 2 - 3

200 grams penne or other dried pasta shapes, cooked according to package directions
2 cups roasted vegetables
1 jar Sacla vine-ripened tomato and mascarpone stir through sauce
1/4 cup cream (single or double) OR creme fraiche
1-1/2 cups grated cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere or any combination thereof)
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Mix the roasted vegetables into the drained, cooked pasta. Add the jar of sauce and the cream or creme fraiche and stir through. Put this mixture into a casserole dish.

In a small bowl, mix together the cheese and bread crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over the pasta mixture in the casserole dish. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at about 350 F or 170 C, or until the cheesey topping has melted and turned a light golden colour.

Serve immediately, or, if you need to "hold" this for a while, turn the heat back to about 275 F or 125 C and just let it sit in the oven, keeping an eye on it to make sure the topping does not get too brown. It's best served fairly quickly, but in my experience it will hold quite happily like this for up to forty minutes. If you know you are going to have to "hold" dinner, the other option is to set the heat a bit lower from the beginnning and just let the topping melt and cook more slowly to start with.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Omelette Update!

Alex had to go out early again tonight and decided that not only did he want to cook his own dinner, but he wanted to experiment with omelettes some more. Last night we had eaten real comfort food - sausage and onion sandwiches on ciabatta - and there were two cooked sausages left over. So the omelette evolved from there...and here it is!

Alex's Amazing Sausage and Caramelised Onion Omelette
Serves 1 hungry young man
or 2 folks with smaller appetites!
3 eggs
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut in slices
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 cooked sausages, cut in thin slices
Beat the eggs with the milk and set aside. Heat the oil in a small oven-safe frying pan. When it is hot, fry the onion slices until softened. Sprinkle with the sugar and continue to fry until nicely caramelised. Pour over the eggs and push them round in the pan until they begin to set and "catch". Sprinkle the sausages over top. Cook until the bottom of the omelette appears to be going a nice golden colour when you lift the edge using a spatula. Place the pan under a hot grill until the top is puffy and golden. Serve and enjoy!
I tasted this and it was just incredibly delicious. I'm hoping Alex will make one for me too next time! It would make a super brunch dish. I'm loving this - we are making family food memories of our own now!

Cooking with My Son

I've always believed that young people should be taught how to cook delicious, healthy food, and that the responsibility for that teaching lies in the family home - not with school. After all, there is a lot more to cooking than just learning how to boil an egg. Family cooking takes into account your family history (including Grandma's famous trifle or Grandpa's amazing barbeque ribs), stories and culture. It isn't just about food, it's family life itself.

Alex has always helped me to cook from time to time, but recently, at his request, he has been helping in the kitchen most days. I'm taking the opportunity to teach him how to make things that are easy, healthy and nutritious, plus slip in a few of the "secret" family recipes and the stories that go with them.

Being the talented young man he is, Alex has taken the bull firmly by the horns, and has begun developing his own recipes as well. Guy and I have been very willing tasters! Alex very kindly agreed to allow me to share one of his new recipes today. All I said was "let's make an omelette" and gave Alex the eggs and free access to the fridge. This is the recipe he developed. (It's always a challenge flipping an omelette, so I shared my trick of grilling (broiling) the top with Alex and he decided this was a very good idea!)

Alex's Asparagus Omelette
Serves 1

2 teaspoons oil
3 eggs
glug of milk (about 1 - 2 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons diced red onion
2 tablespoons diced red pepper
4 stalks of asparagus, steamed and cut into medium size pieces
handful of grated cheddar cheese
Heat the oil in a small oven safe non-stick frying pan or omelette pan over medium heat. Break the eggs into a bowl. Add the milk and beat until light and fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
When the oil is hot, add the onion and pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat until they are beginning to soften. Now add the egg. Push the egg mixture away from the sides of the pan gradually and allow the uncooked egg to run back over the space you have created until the egg begins to cook and starts to "catch" on the pan. Preheat the broiler or grill to medium.
Sprinkle the asparagus over top of the cooking egg and top with the cheese. Slide an egg lifter under the edge of the omelette. If it is beginning to brown on the bottom, remove the pan from the heat and place under the grill.
The omelette will begin to puff up and brown. When it is a nice shade of goldeny brown, remove the pan from the oven and fold one half of the omelette over the other. Serve with toast, or for a more substantial meal, serve with a baked potato and salad.



Monday, 7 July 2008

5th July 2008

Last night, our friends John and Maureen treated us to dinner at The Compleat Angler, a famous waterside hotel on the Thames in Marlow. The situation is idyllic and we wer very lucky to get a table with a view of the river and out on to the church on the other side. It was gorgeous, especially as the light changed when dusk fell. We get on really well with John and Maureen and thoroughly enjoy their company so it was bound to be a super evening regardless.

I must say, I was a bit thrown by the starters. Most of them had ingredients that were not my favourites – even the asparagus (which I love) had a goat’s cheese sauce. I loathe goat’s cheese. So I ordered a yellow fin tuna Salade Niçoise. Sadly, the tuna had been cured, not cooked. I know this is the fashion, but I just cannot do raw fish. The little quail’s eggs, mini potatoes and crispy green beans were lovely though. The main course was much more to my taste. Maureen and I both had the steak, and Guy and John had the lamb. I’m told the lamb was wonderful and I certainly enjoyed my steak. It was very tender, cooked exactly as I like it and served with caramelised onions that just melted in my mouth. For dessert I had a honeycomb concoction which was just wicked. (I mean that in the nicest possible way!) It was light, beautifully presented and completely delicious. We also had some lovely wines with our meal. It was a long evening, ending just after 2am, with coffee and liqueurs, but we had a wonderful time in great company.

I'd recommend The Compleat Angler. The staff were very attentive and even held our table for over an hour for us when traffic kept us from arriving as planned. It's expensive, but it's a lovely dining experience in a fabulous setting.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Busy Days

It's an incredibly busy week for us this week and dinners have to be quick, easy and flexible. We are not necessarily all eating at the same time and I have very little time to cook. This recipe is a brilliant one for weeks like this. It all cooks in one pan and is made from ingredients you probably already have on hand (feel free to vary the vegetables!) It also requires next to no effort - aside from a little light chopping - and tastes amazing.

The 21st Century Housewife's Emergency Spaghetti
Serves 4 - 6 (depending on size and appetite!)
500 grams lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 x 500 ml jar ready prepared spaghetti sauce, such as Ragu
3 x 500 ml jars full of water
2 good "fistfuls" (about 300 grams) of spaghetti, broken into small pieces
1 teaspoon dried herb mix such as "Italian seasoning" or about 1 tablespoon of an assortment of any fresh Italian herbs you have on hand (try basil, oregano, chives etc)
2 handfuls of grated cheese of your choice such as cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan or gruyere - or a combination of any of these
Brown the beef in a large frying pan. (I like to use my electric frying pan for this recipe.) When the beef is no longer pink, add the chopped onion and peppers. Saute for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the jar of spaghetti sauce. Now fill the empty jar with water and add it to the pan. Do this three times. Stir this all together and then add the broken spaghetti.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until the spaghetti is starting to become tender. Now add the frozen peas. Cook together for a few minutes.
Stir in the cheese until it is melted. Serve with a salad and/or crusty bread. Any leftovers can either be frozen or served the next day. But with this recipe, I find leftovers are a rare thing indeed!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Day by Day in the 21st Century Housewife's Kitchen

Last night Alex had to go out for a music lesson and band practice, so I gave him his dinner ahead of time. For a treat I bought him a pasty (meat and vegetable filled pastry) and let him have French fries with it. Of course he always has vegetables. I'm so lucky he likes vegetables - he even pesters me for brussel sprouts!

So Guy and I took the opportunity to have something Alex hates for dinner - salmon! He says it tastes like river water - but it's still one of our favourites! I must admit, I love cooking fish in parcels. By this I mean, just wrapping up the fish fillets with some flavourings in aluminium foil, placing them on a baking sheet and baking at 350 F or 170 C for about 20 minutes, until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Last night I just laid some onion slices on the aluminium foil, laid the skinned salmon fillet on top, and then put lemon slices and a few dots of butter on top of the fillets. I then just fold the foil over top into parcels and that's it - into the oven. I always check after 20 minutes and they are usually done. Bearing in mind the fish still cooks until the parcel is opened, even if it is out of the oven, 20 minutes is usually more than enough time, but do check carefully as you don't want raw fish. You can always put the parcels back in the oven for a few minutes to be sure. Once I'm ready to serve, I just lift the salmon out of the parcel, and serve with some new potatoes and some vegetables. Last night it was green beans. Delicious!

Tonight it was Alex and I on our own as Guy is in Paris for the day. I decided it would be a good night for my homemade French bread pizzas. All you need is some French bread, sliced in portion size servings. Slice the servings in half and place on a baking sheet. Spread some tomato sauce on top of the bread, and then top with whatever you fancy. Tonight it was red onion, asparagus and tomato slices. (Other ideas include roasted vegetables, artichoke hearts, sweet corn and/or pepperoni slices). Season and sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese. Bake at around 350 F or 170 C for about 10 minutes. If the cheese is now brown enough, just place under the grill or broiler for a few minutes, watching carefully. These are so delicious, and so easy and economical, I don't know why anyone orders take-away pizza anymore!