Thursday, 29 October 2009

The 21st Century Housewife's© Pasta with Pancetta, Cauliflower and Cheddar Sauce

I’ve been making a version of this recipe for years, but the other day it evolved into the best one yet. I decided to make it healthier by using whole wheat penne, and the bonus was that this actually added a lot of flavour and body to the dish. I also used Italian pancetta instead of the chopped bacon I have always used to use before. You can buy packages of ready-cubed pancetta in most grocery stores now. I’ve used lots of different cheeses in my recipe in the past, but this time I decided to go for the unashamedly strong flavour of mature cheddar in the cheese sauce. It was the perfect foil for the whole wheat pasta.

Do please read the whole recipe before you start as it requires several pans and quite a bit of multi-tasking. Once you have made it the first time though, you will find a pattern of doing things that makes it very easy. For example, after I have drained the cauliflower and set it aside, I give the pan I cooked it in a quick rinse, dry it and use it to make the cheese sauce. (Anything to save on the dishes!) This dish is so delicious though it is worth the little bit of extra trouble it takes to make.

My recipe will serve three to four.

1 medium cauliflower, washed and broken or chopped into florets
250 grams whole wheat penne
4 ounces Italian pancetta, cubed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
approximately 300 ml milk
2 generous teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 generous handful of grated mature cheddar cheese

Cook the cauliflower in boiling water until just tender. I always add a teaspoon of sugar to the cooking water, as I like how it makes the cauliflower taste, but this is purely optional! Drain and set aside.

Cook the penne in boiling salted water according to package directions.

Meanwhile, start making the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir in with a whisk. Cook for a couple of minutes just to take the “raw” taste away from the flour. Stir occasionally and don’t leave the pan unattended. Now whisk in a tiny bit of milk. When the sauce begins to thicken, turn the heat up to medium and add the rest of the milk gradually, stirring constantly. (You may not need it all.) You want the sauce to stay fairly thick so don’t get carried away – you can always add more milk, but you can’t take it away once you’ve added it! Whisk in the mustard, and then stir in the cheese. Turn the heat back to low and allow the cheese to melt, stirring occasionally.

Now this is the tricky bit because you are doing two things at once (actually three if you count the pasta, although it does tend to look after itself). While you are making the cheese sauce and the pasta is cooking, cook the pancetta in a small frying pan over high heat until nice and crispy. Drain.

The pasta should be done by now, so drain it and return it to the saucepan. Add the drained cauliflower, the cheese sauce and the pancetta. Stir gently so everything gets coated in the yummy cheese sauce. Keep the saucepan over a very low heat just to ensure everything gets and stays piping hot, but don’t allow the mixture to burn.

Serve directly from the pan with hot crusty bread and / or a crisp green salad.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The 21st Century Housewife's© Pear and Almond Muffins

We are still enjoying the wonderful fruits of the autumn season in our house, especially the wonderful pears we have been getting. I have a lot of pears to use up before we go on our holiday to Athens though, so I decided to do some baking this afternoon. I love the flavours of pear and almond together, and as I also had some ground almonds in the store cupboard, I decided to experiment. The result was a batch of cake-like muffins which were a lovely tea time treat. (It’s not just me who thought so, my family thought they were so tasty that I almost did not have enough muffins to photograph!)

This recipe makes about fifteen large muffins. I tried to just make twelve and as you can see they over-flowed the muffin cups a bit! I like to grate the pears as it distributes them very evenly throughout the batter, but if your pears are very ripe it might be easier to chop them in small pieces as very ripe pears can disintegrate if you try to grate them. Wait until the last minute to prepare the pears, grating them into the dry ingredients just before you mix the wet and dry ingredients together in order to prevent the pears from going brown.

I have not tried it, but I am almost certain that if you did not have any buttermilk to hand, ordinary milk would work. The flavour might be slightly different, but I doubt it would make the muffins any less delicious!

I have to say, despite their cake-like sweetness, I would have absolutely no objection to having one of these for breakfast - and will do so tomorrow if there are any left!

2 eggs, lightly beaten
125 ml buttermilk
50 grams butter, melted and allowed to cool slightly
1 teaspoon almond flavouring
200 grams plain (all purpose) flour
150 grams ground almonds
150 grams light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 or 3 pears

Preheat oven to 170℃ or 350℉. Line muffin cups with paper liners.

In a medium bowl or pitcher, mix together the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter and almond flavouring.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, ground almonds, sugar, baking powder and salt. Peel and core the pears, and grate them into the dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and the pears in the large bowl. Fold in gently but firmly. Do not beat, but make sure everything is thoroughly mixed together.

Divide the mixture between about 15 large muffin cups or about 20 smaller ones. I like to use an ice cream scoop to get the batter into the muffin cups with as little mess as possible.

Bake large muffins for about 20 to 25 minutes, watching carefully to make sure they do not get too brown. (Smaller muffins will take less time to cook.) Muffins are done when a piece of dry spaghetti inserted into the middle comes out without any batter clinging to it.

Remove from muffin tins and allow to cool on wire rack - although these smell so good (and taste so yummy warm) they may not last long enough to cool!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Grandma Ruby's Lemon Sponge Pudding

Rhoda over at Southern Hospitality is hosting a recipe party today, and I thought I would post one of my favourite recipes ever. I'm also linking it to Foodie Friday on the Designs by Gollum blog for Friday. It’s my oldest family recipe – at least I think it is – at any rate it is the only one I can date so accurately. I made this recipe loads when I was a little girl, using a recipe card written in my Grandma’s hand. When I got married, my Mom gave the recipe to me written out in her own handwriting. Later, she gave me the card Grandma had written. Then, after my Mom died and I inherited her recipe collection, I found a small, yellowing newspaper clipping from the 1920’s for a recipe very similar to Grandma’s! She had clearly made a few changes to make the recipe her own, but it must have been her inspiration. As you can see from the stains on the cards in the photograph, all the recipes have been well used!

Now I’ve seen lots of variations on this theme over the years for a pudding cake that creates its own sauce “magically” as it bakes, leaving you with a lovely light sponge on the top and a sauce underneath. This is the best I have ever tasted though as the cake is angelically light, and the sauce has a marvellously sweet yet refreshingly tart taste. Following the family tradition, I have “tweaked” Grandma’s recipe a little to bring it into the 21st Century and also used more modern measurements (my Grandma’s recipe was measured out in “dessert spoons”). However the essence of the recipe is still my Grandma’s, inspired by something she clipped out of a newspaper by a young bride back in Canada in1925, before my own Mom was even born. Every time I make it I think of my Grandma, my Mom and I, making the same recipe all down the generations. I’ve taught my son to make it too. I love a recipe with a history!

Like many good recipes, this one is a bit labour intensive, but the spectacular finish is well worth the effort. To cook it, you need to put the baking dish you are cooking the pudding cake in into another larger empty baking dish. You then pour boiling water into the larger pan, so that it comes half way up the side of the outside of the pan the pudding is in. This slightly fiddly step makes all the difference to the results as it helps the “magic” to happen. This recipe will serve 4 people.

¼ cup butter
2/3 (two thirds) cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
1/3 cup all purpose (plain) flour
1 cup milk
½ cup lemon juice
Pinch salt

Butter a medium size baking dish or casserole. You can use just about any shape or depth dish, as long as it will fit inside another larger baking dish. Preheat oven to 325 F or 150 C.

Cream butter with all but 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a large bowl. Beat the egg yolks into this mixture. Beat in the lemon rind and the flour until just mixed. Add the milk and lemon juice. Stir well until you have a smooth mixture.

Put the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until light. Now gradually beat in the remaining two tablespoons of sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.

Fold the egg white mixture very gently into the lemon mixture with a wooden spoon. The mixture will be quite loose and uneven. Take care not to over-mix. Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish. Now place the dish with the pudding in it into the larger dish. Boil the kettle and very carefully pour boiling water into the larger outside dish until it is just half way up the sides of the dish with the pudding in. (Take great care not to get any water in the pudding.)

Very carefully, place both baking dishes (the one inside of the other) in the preheated oven. Bake for about 45 minutes until gently firm and brown on top.

Remove from the oven carefully (any remaining water will be boiling hot) and take the baking dish or casserole with the pudding in it out of the outer baking dish. Pat the outside of the baking dish with the pudding in it dry as best as possible and take the pudding to the table. Serve immediately, making sure everyone gets some of the lovely lemon sauce that is hiding under the spongy pudding.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Autumn Salads

It is autumn in England and the hedgerows and orchards are full of nature’s bounty. Blackberries, plums, apples and pears are ripe and plentiful. Apple varieties with evocative names like Ellison Orange, Peasgood Nonsuch, Norfolk Royal and Micklemas Red are easily available, as is the ever-popular English Cox apple. Pears start with the early Onward variety followed later in the season by Beurre Hardy and Conference. It is also a great season for nuts, particularly chestnuts, walnuts and cobnuts.

Now, the words ‘autumn’ and ‘salad’ might not immediately spring to mind as ones that go together, but trust me, they do. By combining autumn fruits, nuts and leaves you can make wonderful side - and even main course - salads that are perfect for the autumn season.

This recipe is one of my favourite side salads for this time of year. It juxtaposes the tart, crisp flavour of the fruit against pungent nuts and tangy Balsamic vinegar. Even people who normally don’t like salad like this one. It’s also incredibly good for you. Aside from the nutrients and antioxidants in the fruit, walnuts also contain good for you omega three fatty acids and antioxidants.

For some reason I always peel the pears but never the apples. I find pear skin can be a bit tough, but apple skin gives a nice crunch to the salad and I love the colour it adds. Be sure to prepare the fruit at the last minute though, just before you toss the salad in the dressing, to prevent it from going brown. I also like the way whole walnut halves look in this salad, but if you prefer to chop them, or only have walnut pieces to hand, that is absolutely fine too. This recipe makes enough for four to five generous servings.

The 21st Century Housewife's©
Nutty Apple and Pear Salad with Balsamic Dressing

2 crisp red skinned apples, cored and chopped
2 pears, peeled, cored and chopped
½ cup walnut halves
1 large bag of ready to use mixed salad leaves

For the dressing:-
3 tablespoons walnut oil
2 tablespoons good Balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white sugar

Shake the dressing ingredients together in a jam jar or other container with a lid.

Put the salad leaves in a serving bowl and add the walnuts and chopped fruit. Pour the dressing over the salad and lightly toss to mix. Serve immediately.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The 21st Century Housewife's© Pear and Walnut Bread

This is a lovely Autumnal bread, which tastes fantastic served with a bit of butter spread on top of it. It is fairly savoury, but the maple syrup and pears give it an echo of earthy sweetness. It makes a delicious breakfast bread but also tastes lovely with a cup of tea in the afternoon. The addition of whole wheat flour and wheat germ mean it is healthier than many other sweet breads and the walnuts it contains are rich in B vitamins, magnesium, Vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids.

To make one loaf, you need:-

50 grams butter, melted and allowed to cool slightly
5 tablespoons maple syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
One 284ml container buttermilk
(Buttermilk comes in 284 ml containers in my local grocery store, but if your sells containers of a different size, simply measure out 280 ml.)
175 grams plain (all purpose) flour
175 grams whole wheat flour
25 grams wheat germ
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
75 grams of walnuts, roughly chopped
2 large pears ( or three small ones), peeled, cored and grated
(wait until the last minute to do this so that the pears do not brown)

For the topping:-
1 tablespoon Demerera sugar
1/4 teaspoon ginger

Preheat the oven to 375℉ or 160℃. Grease and flour or line a large loaf pan with greaseproof paper or a liner.

In a large jug, mix together the butter, maple syrup, egg and buttermilk.

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, wheat germ, salt, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and nutmeg. Stir in the walnuts. Grate the pears into this mixture and stir them in thoroughly.

Pour the wet ingredients from the jug over the dry ingredients in the bowl and fold in until thoroughly mixed. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan.

Mix together the topping ingredients and sprinkle over top of the loaf. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the loaf is beginning to turn golden brown and is cooked through. (You can check by inserting a piece of dried spaghetti into the middle of the loaf. If it comes out without any batter clinging to it, it is done.)

Remove the loaf from the pan as soon as you can do so without burning yourself, and cool on a wire rack. Wait until it is almost completely cool before attempting to slice it. In fact, this loaf benefits from some time to rest and tastes even better if you wrap it in foil after it has cooled and keep it until the next day.

It will keep in a cool place for a couple of days or longer in the fridge.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

My Mom - Barb's - Turkey Burgers

Actually, last night these were chicken burgers, because although it was Thanksgiving in our house on Monday night, it wasn't Thanksgiving in England where we live. Fresh turkeys are really not easily available in England in October (or November if you happen to come from the US) - only at Christmas. Requesting them brings you strange looks except in the friendliest of butcher shops, and even then all they can really offer you is a turkey roll. Much to our butcher's dismay, I "forgot" to order one of those in time as I really could not face a large sausage shaped mass of meat on the table at Thanksgiving. It needs to be bird shaped. So I bought the biggest chicken they had. It was lovely - richly flavoured and juicy - and it left me with lots of leftovers, which I was very pleased about.

I publish this recipe in memory of my mother, who I miss like crazy. It is entirely hers although I know she would not mind me borrowing it. In fact she would have told me to tell everyone I invented it, but I am pathologically incapable of lying. (Seriously, ask anyone who knows me. I just can't do it. It's very inconvenient.) Anyway, my Mom's name was Barbara, but everyone called her Barb, hence this recipe's title. She was a wonderful cook, and invented this recipe to use up Thanksgiving and Christmas leftovers. It is particularly good for those little pieces of meat you pull off the carcass that are not very pretty but taste really good. It's definitely one of those dinner sandwiches you eat with a knife and fork though. Don't be tempted to pick it up; things could get really messy.

Actually, my Mom left me a whole box full of recipes and two cookbooks full of notes. It could be a whole other blog working my way through those....and a really delicious experiment. Food for thought.

But on with the turkey (or chicken) burgers. The quantities are of course flexible, and you need as many rolls as there are people (or more if you are serving those with big appetites). The only thing I do differently to my Mom is to use seeded rolls made with whole wheat flour. My Mom used what we would call "hamburger rolls", those white rolls you get in multi-packs for barbeques. They taste lovely with it too, so please yourself. The wholewheat flour rolls were not easily available when Mom used to make these, and as I recall I had a childhood aversion to whole grains which probably influenced her choice as well.

This is not a recipe to stress over, so please don't be making gravy especially for it. This is a great use of leftover gravy, or you can use canned or gravy from a packet mix. Seriously, it tastes better for its lack of pretension.

Barb's Turkey/Chicken Burgers

To serve four people you need:-

1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 onion, very finely chopped
1 red pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 or 3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
about 2 cups cooked turkey or chicken cut in small pieces
about 1 cup of gravy
4 rolls

Heat the oil or melt the butter in a large saucepan. Saute the onion in the oil or butter until it is beginning to become translucent. Add the red pepper and celery, stirring to coat with the oil. Cook until they begin to soften, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken and half the gravy. Cover and let warm through over low heat, stirring occasionally. After about ten minutes, check the consistency of the mixture. It needs to be reasonably thick but still juicy, so add some more gravy a bit at a time if it needs it. Taste the mixture and season with salt and pepper if you feel it needs it. (Many ready-made gravies are quite salty so go carefully.)

Toast the rolls (you can butter them too if you like but my Mom never did so neither do I), and put the bottom of the rolls on the plates. Top with spoonfuls of the turkey/chicken mixture and then the top of the rolls. Don't overfill though as the mixture has a tendency to spread out.

I like to serve these with salad, just like my Mom did.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The 21st Century Housewife's© Pork Tenderloin on Balsamic Roast Vegetable Pasta

Although it can be very rewarding to make your own pesto, there are some very good ready-made ones out there. I recently discovered the “Dress Italian” brand at Waitrose. They make a Red Pepper and Walnut pesto that is absolutely delicious. It is not a combination I would have thought of at all, but I’m very glad they did. If you cannot get hold of it, then by all means just use red pesto as it would work equally well, as would any green pesto, although of course there will be a difference in the flavour. Or try another brand of red pepper or walnut based pesto.

I almost always keep roast vegetables in the fridge. They are so easy to make. Simply cut up a red onion, two or three multi-coloured peppers and a courgette (zucchini). Toss them in about two tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and roast in a hot oven for about thirty to forty minutes - stirring occasionally - until the vegetables are softened and golden, but not charred. You can read my previous entries about roast vegetables by clicking here. These can be used immediately or cooled and stored in the refrigerator for three or four days.

To serve four with this recipe you need:-

1 pork tenderloin
2 cups roasted vegetables
250 grams pasta, preferably whole wheat (I use fusilli or penne)
1 jar Dress Italian Red Pepper and Walnut Pesto,
or other pesto of your choice
2 tablespoons low fat crème fraîche or sour cream
(or full fat if you prefer)

You can serve four people with one pork tenderloin but I usually cook more than one at a time as the leftovers make delicious sandwiches and salads. To cook tenderloin, just place it/them in a roasting pan and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven at 180℃ or 375℉ for about 40 minutes until a meat thermometer inserted in the centre of the tenderloin reads at least 160℃ or 320℉. I like to turn the tenderloin halfway through cooking, but this is not essential.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil and season with salt. About fifteen minutes before the end of the cooking time, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to the pan. Add the roasted vegetables, pesto and crème fraîche. Stir to coat the pasta and heat very gently over low heat to warm the vegetables and heat the sauce through. At this point the tenderloin will most likely be cooked, so remove it from the oven, cover and allow to rest while the pasta heats through.

Slice the tenderloin. Serve the pasta in warmed bowls, topped with three of four slices of tenderloin.

Monday, 12 October 2009

A Canadian Thanksgiving in England

It’s Thanksgiving Monday in Canada today, and nearly everyone will be celebrating with a big turkey dinner. When I was a kid growing up in Canada, I loved Thanksgiving. I have many fond memories of Thanksgiving with my family, and they are especially poignant for me now as my parents passed away less than two years ago.

I’ve always tried to keep Thanksgiving in England, although I must admit it is challenging. First of all, whole fresh turkeys are non-existent here in October. Even my wonderful butcher can’t get one for me. He did say he could get me a sort of turkey roll thing, made up of the best bits of more than one turkey, but I really didn’t fancy that at all. Apparently the turkeys are not very good at the moment as they are all being fed up for Christmas. If you get them too early they are kind of stringy. Good news for the turkeys I suppose, but not for me. Of course, that was after he suggested I might be mixed up, as wasn’t Thanksgiving in November?

That happens a lot over here. Many of people seem to think that Canada and the US are pretty much the same country and have exactly the same holidays – something that upsets both Canadians and Americans alike. Don’t get us wrong, we like each other well enough, but it would be kind of like suggesting to an Englishman that he was Scottish or Irish. It’s not true and it kinds of winds us up.

So after explaining that Canadians and Americans do actually celebrate Thanksgiving during different months, I did what I do every year and ordered the biggest chicken they could get for me. I will refer to this chicken as the “turkey” and for just this one day my family will indulge my delusion. After all, it will taste fairly similar to a turkey, and be served with the usual Thanksgiving fodder – mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing and vegetables. I’ve even found some canned pumpkin to make some pumpkin pie. You can get it in the odd supermarket over here, usually ones in areas that have a high population of ex-pats.

Most British people don’t understand pumpkin pie, and I admit, it is an acquired taste. I also, possibly controversially, firmly believe that pumpkin pie is best made from canned pumpkin and not by hollowing out a fresh pumpkin. I remember one British friend who went to an awful lot of trouble to get pumpkin pie one year when we were going to his house for dinner in October. I was incredibly touched by the gesture and very grateful. The only thing was, the bakery that had made the pie had used a fresh pumpkin to make it. For some reason, pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin just does not taste like pumpkin pie to me. You see, we had some amazing cooks in our family, and all of them - to a woman - agreed that canned pumpkin was the only way to go. So pumpkin pie made with fresh pumpkin tastes very strange to me. Certainly it is probably the more evolved culinary choice, but I remember I struggled to eat the pie my friend had bought. It seemed so savoury to me, and was spiced very strangely. However, I will always be touched by his thoughtfulness, and of course I never said a word.

In my family, pumpkin pie was always served with whipped cream – and we kids thought it was the best treat if we were allowed to squirt the cream from an aerosol container. One year, the person who cooked the family Thanksgiving dinner whipped actual whipping cream as a special treat. We kids were heathen enough to be disappointed! Thankfully I can get aerosol cream here, and I will use it today in memory of our childish lack of any culinary pretension whatsoever – although I must confess that I would never serve it to guests, and my own tastes have evolved so much as to make me admit (although the kid in me is loathe to) that freshly whipped cream does taste better and have a better texture. I know some people do prefer Cool Whip non-dairy whipped topping with their pumpkin pie, but I definitely cannot get that here and a whipping cream versus aerosol cream versus Cool Whip debate is not something I want to be responsible for starting. That could be very dangerous indeed.

I must admit, it is easier to celebrate Thanksgiving now than it was when I first arrived in England twenty years ago. Although they are not widely available you can get most of the familiar North American brands if you look hard enough. There’s Stove Top stuffing (admittedly at an extortionate price, but hey, it’s only once a year), Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce, and as I said before, canned pumpkin. Heck, I even found Pillsbury Crescent Rolls in the supermarket chiller cabinet the other day – not that they are anything to do with Thanksgiving, but I’m pleased that more and more of my favourites are starting to cross the pond.

Of course, now that I have lived pretty much half my life in England, most of my cultural identity is British. I was naturalised nearly fifteen years ago, and I no longer even possess a Canadian passport, although I am entitled to one if I ask nicely. My husband and son are British (although my son does officially have dual nationality) and it was easier, and indeed something I desired, to allow myself to be assimilated. Dual nationality isn’t something I think about much, and for convenience I prefer to refer to myself as British. However I have never forgotten where I come from. It is a place I am proud to say I grew up in - and on this one Monday in October – well, my name is April, and I’m a Canadian.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Warming Autumn Soup

My weekly organic vegetable box was delivered to my doorstep this morning, and as I put away the beautiful treasures contained therein, I suddenly realised I still had some of the vegetables from last week’s box. We’ve been eating out a lot this week and I just didn’t get them used up. Most of them were still okay, but they were beginning to look a little wilted and sad. As we are out again this evening, I was at a bit of a loss about what to do with them, but I did not want to waste them. Then I had it – soup!

Soup is delicious, filling, economical and comforting. It is also just about the easiest way to use up extra vegetables that I know of. Potato and leek, carrot and coriander (cilantro), celery, parsnip – all of these are favourites in our house. However, one of the easiest soups to make is a mixed vegetable soup – and all you really need are the vegetables lurking on the bottom of your fridge plus some stock and a bit of milk or cream.

You really can use just about any vegetables in this soup, depending on what you have. I do like to include an onion (even if the soup involves leeks) as I think a good onion flavour is an asset to just about any soup. Purists might deride me , but I use stock concentrate, stock cubes or ready-made containers of stock, whatever I have to hand. Like most other people, I just do not have time to make stock from scratch these days. If you are making a vegetable soup for vegetarians obviously you need to use vegetable stock, but if not, I recommend chicken stock as it gives any soup just that little bit more flavour.

Seasonings are entirely up to you. Ready made stocks can be high in salt, so do check before you add any more. Pepper is a nice addition to any soup; just add it to taste. I often use oregano and thyme as it makes the vegetable flavours more intense. You could also use spice blends – like an Italian seasoning blend or herbes de Provence. It does not matter whether the herbs are fresh or dried, however you may find you need less if you use fresh, as their flavour is more intense. A bay leaf could be added if wanted to imbue your soup with a deeper flavour -. just remember to take it out before you puree!

If I am using carrots I like to grate them in because it helps them to cook more quickly. Potato can also be grated, but I tend to add it in small slices as it is quicker for me. I do like to include a potato, just to give the soup some extra body, but it is not vital. Other vegetables should be as finely chopped as possible, or use a food processor if that is easier for you. I don’t mind a bit of light chopping if I have the time, but if you do not feel as I do or you are rushed, then a food processor is definitely the best option.

This is the soup as I made it today. The vegetables are literally what I had to hand. Feel free to be creative – with homemade soup just about anything goes!

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Easy Vegetable Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 leeks, washed and finely sliced
4 – 6 stalks of celery, washed and finely sliced
1 potato, peeled, halved and sliced in thin slices
4 -5 carrots, washed, peeled and grated
1 to 1-1/2 litres of stock
salt and pepper to taste
spices to taste (I like to use about a teaspoon each of oregano and thyme)
water, milk or cream (roughly 100 to 200 ml)

Heat the butter and olive oil together in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook for two or three minutes, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften. Add the remaining vegetables, and stir so they get coated with the buttery oil. Cook with a lid on over low heat for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the stock, cover the pot and cook for another half hour over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the seasonings and herbs, tasting as you go. (Be careful, the soup will be very hot.)

Remove from heat and take off the lid. Allow the soup to cool a bit so that it does not damage your liquidiser/blender. Puree the soup in batches to your desired thickness. I like to leave it a little bit chunky so it has some texture, but if you prefer your soup very smooth, puree it just that little bit more. It is entirely up to you.

If you are going to serve the soup immediately, put the batches of pureed soup directly into a clean saucepan. Add more water, milk or cream to get the soup to your desired thickness and re-heat over medium heat until it is piping hot.

If you are making the soup ahead, put the batches of pureed soup in a container. Cool completely, refrigerating as soon as possible. The soup will keep (without added milk or cream) in the fridge for up to three days. You can then reheat the soup all at once, or a bit at a time as you need it, adding water, milk or cream to get it to your desired thickness. Be sure to heat the soup until it is piping hot.

This soup is lovely served with the Maple Syrup, Pecan and Apple Loaf (made without the cinnamon sugar topping) in the previous entry. Served spread with butter alongside a steaming hot bowl of this comforting soup, it makes for a gorgeous Autumn lunch.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The 21st Century Housewife's© Maple Syrup, Pecan and Apple Loaf

I invented this recipe, based on one of my own banana muffin recipes, to help use up some lovely cooking apples I bought at a farm shop near my home. I get so tempted by the delicious produce when I go there that I sometimes overbuy, and I am always looking for new and delicious ways of using up the bounty I bring home. Although for me this seems the perfect recipe for Autumn, it could easily be made all year round as the variety of cooking apple you use really does not matter. It smells delicious when it is baking, perfuming the kitchen with a warm nutmeggy air.

Baked in a loaf pan, it is a cross between a bread and a cake. The use of a small amount of maple syrup means that although it is slightly sweet, its mellow flavour allows it to also be served as a savoury bread – particularly if you omit the dusting of demerera sugar and cinnamon I sometimes put on top. The slightly acidic nature of the buttermilk also adds to its savoury edge. It is delicious for breakfast, spread thickly with butter or as a tea bread. I also like to serve it with a cheese board as it is absolutely scrumptious with just about any cheese – particularly cheddar and also, somewhat surprisingly, Brie! I would definitely omit the sugary topping if you plan to serve it with cheese though.

It is best baked the day before and allowed to rest before serving. Simply wrap it tightly in foil once it is cooled to keep it moist. It does taste lovely warm from the oven, but attempts to slice it while it is still warm usually result in a crumbly mess, so I do try to restrain myself and save it till the next day!

50 grams butter, melted and allowed to cool slightly
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
250 ml buttermilk
175 grams plain (all purpose) flour
175 grams whole wheat flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
2 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and grated
(wait until the last minute to do this so that the apples do not brown)
75 grams of pecans, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon demerera sugar + 1 teaspoon cinnamon mixed together (optional)

Prepare a loaf tin by buttering and flouring it, or line with greaseproof paper or a liner. Preheat the oven to 175℃ or 350℉.

Whisk the butter, maple syrup, egg and buttermilk together in a large jug. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the flours, salt, bicarbonate of soda and nutmeg. Peel, core and grate the apples into the flour mixture and blend together. Add the nuts and stir in. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and fold together gently until well mixed.

Put the mixture in the prepared loaf pan, and if using, sprinkle the Demerera sugar and cinnamon mixture over the top.

Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes until the top is slightly golden and a piece of dried spaghetti stuck into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. Take the loaf out of the oven and allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before removing it and cooling completely on a wire rack. The loaf will keep, well wrapped in foil in a cool place, for two to three days.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The 21st Century Housewife's© Cherry Tomato and Shallot Salad

When most people think of cherry tomatoes, they picture sweet red baby tomatoes, the ones that you see most often in supermarkets. However, there are a large number of breeds of cherry tomatoes available, all different sizes, colours and flavours.

Cherry tomatoes, so named because they are roughly the size of cherries, are usually sweeter than larger varieties of tomatoes. They are not all round; some are oval or have a shape more similar to a small plum tomato. They also come in many different colours, from the bright red of the most common kind of cherry tomato to yellow, orange and even the streaky green colour of heirloom tomatoes.

This recipe is best made with at least two different types of cherry tomatoes. I used red ones and “Sungold” ones for the recipe in the photograph. Sungold cherry tomatoes range in colour from yellow to a more orange shade; these ones were definitely heading towards the orange! However it you only have red cherry tomatoes, do still make this salad. It is too delicious to miss out on, and even though a variety of flavours enhances this salad, it is very nice made only with the red cherry tomatoes as well.

You definitely need shallots for this recipe. Their strong deep flavour is the perfect foil for the sweetness of the tomatoes. Do please use a good Balsamic vinegar for the dressing. It really does make a difference, and as most recipes only call for a small amount of this tangy yet mellow vinegar it is worth buying a more expensive bottle if you can. Also, the better the Balsamic, the less of it you need to get a good flavour.

This recipe is delicious served alongside just about anything, but particularly fish, and provides a lovely shot of colour on an autumn buffet. It is best stored in the fridge, but please bring it to room temperature before eating as tomatoes really do not taste their best icy cold.

Obviously these quantities are flexible - you can make as much or as little as you wish. However I generally follow the rule of one shallot for every two cups of tomatoes.

About a cup or small punnet of red cherry tomatoes, washed, dried and sliced in half
About a cup or small punnet of any other colour cherry tomatoes, washed, dried and sliced in half.
1 shallot, peeled and very, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon good Balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Prepare the tomatoes as directed and place in a medium bowl. Add the chopped onion. Shake the olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper together in a small jam jar. Pour over the tomatoes and shallots and mix very gently. Cover and set aside for at least an hour before serving to allow the flavours to mellow and blend together. (If you are not going to be serving the salad for a few hours, it is best to put it in the fridge to mellow and then remove it about an hour before serving.)

Gently stir the salad and serve it in a pretty bowl.

Friday, 2 October 2009

In Praise of Potatoes

The American author of 'Little Women', Louisa May Alcott said, "Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes".

I’m not sure why I am thinking so much about potatoes these days. Perhaps it is the cooler weather and the nights drawing in. They are the epitome of comfort food. It is funny we see them that way because back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they were rather looked down on. A British journalist of the time, William Cobbett, wrote, "As food for cattle, sheep or hogs, this is the worst of all the green and root crops; but of this I have said enough before; and therefore, I now dismiss the Potato with the hope, that I shall never again have to write the word, or see the thing." In 1783 French author Legrande d'Aussy wrote “The pasty taste, the natural insipidity, the unhealthy quality of (the potato), which is flatulent and indigestible, has caused it to be rejected from refined households and returned to the people, whose coarse palates and stronger stomachs are satisfied with anything capable of appeasing hunger." Ouch. Poor potatoes. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been much kinder to them. Everyone seems to love them. I mean, imagine a world without potatoes. No chips or French fries, no fluffy baked potato interiors to smother in butter or sour cream and dive into with your fork, no comforting plate of mashed potatoes on a cold day...It just doesn't bear thinking about.

I’m not that big a fan of cooking potatoes actually. I really hate peeling them, which is lazy I know, but it’s the truth. Having said that I do love how they taste, and my family love them too, especially the mashed variety, their absolute favourite. In addition to copious quantities of these, I like cooking small new potatoes as – oh joy! - these do not require peeling. Baked potatoes are good for this reason as well actually.

One thing I do love about potatoes is the many wonderful things you can do with the leftovers. In fact, just like with roasts of beef, I often cook more of them than I need just to ensure I have some.

Leftover new potatoes can become a wonderful salad, or be re-warmed and mashed with a fork, some melted butter and a bit of salt and pepper for a delicious variation on mashed potatoes. My latest craze is roasting new potatoes in the oven. It could not be easier. Simply pop heat some olive oil on a roasting pan in the oven. Put some washed and dried new potatoes on it, carefully rolling them in the hot oil with a spoon or fish slice. Roast for about 40 minutes, turning once. I have served these with roast beef to rave reviews. If I have any leftovers, I use them to make this delicious twist on traditional potato salad.

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Roast Potato Salad

Small bowl of leftover roast small new potatoes, cooled and cut in half
3 or 4 tablespoons of your favourite mayonnaise (I like Hellmann’s Extra Light)
4 or 5 chopped spring onions (scallions)
1 red pepper, very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Put the potatoes in a medium bowl and add the spring onions, red pepper and oregano. Starting with about 3 tablespoons, stir in the mayonnaise. You want the potatoes to be dressed nicely, but not too heavily. Add a bit more if needed, but go carefully. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for two or three hours before using so the flavours can blend together. Stir before serving and enjoy.

Now, if you have any baked potatoes left over that have not been cut into, let them cool and then slice them in thin slices. Shallow fry them in hot oil (turning only once if possible) until golden brown. Serve these gorgeous crunchy mouthfuls sprinkled with salt and pepper alongside just about anything.

As for leftover mashed potatoes, of course they can be reheated, but one of my favourite things to do with them is to make potato pancakes. These are wonderful for brunch, served alongside crispy bacon and fried eggs, as a side dish with fish or even as a snack on their own.

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Easy Potato Pancakes
To make 5 to 6 pancakes you need:-

About 1 to 1 ½ cups leftover mashed potatoes, cooled
1 egg
1 tablespoon dehydrated onion flakes
1 teaspoon dried or fresh parsley
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil

Beat the egg and add the dehydrated onion, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour over the potatoes and stir with a fork to mix. Set aside and allow to rest for about ten minutes.

Shape the mixture into small pancakes, about two to three inches in diameter. Place on a plate. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan until it is very hot.

Fry the pancakes for about two minutes on each side. Try to only turn them once as they can be delicate.

As tempting as it is, don’t eat these straight out of the frying pan. Allow to cool just a bit before serving so as not to burn your mouth!

Using up leftovers is so important these days and with potatoes, it couldn't be easier. Try out some of these ideas and you will find that being economical and environmentally friendly was never more delicious!