Friday, 30 July 2010

National Cheesecake Day at The Cheesecake Factory

It's National Cheesecake Day and The Cheesecake Factory are celebrating by offering any slice of cheesecake at half price, including their new Reese's Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake and their Red Velvet Cheesecake.

I haven't tried this newest offering, but it looks utterly amazing.

I do know their Red Velvet Cheesecake is absolute cheesecake nirvana. Consisting of layers of luscious red velvet cake, cheesecake and white chocolate cream cheese icing it is The Best Cheesecake I Have Ever Eaten (closely followed by their Wild Blueberry White Chocolate Cheesecake and their Dutch Apple Caramel Streusel Cheesecake). Oh, and their White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake...Heck, I have to admit I've never had one I didn't like!

So if you can, get yourself down to a Cheesecake Factory today to enjoy their beautiful cheesecakes at half price. And if you do, spare a thought for me, sitting here at my computer - over 3,000 miles away from my nearest branch!

The 21st Century Housewife was not paid for this post. When I hear about something like half price cheesecake, I like to share!

The 21st Century Housewife's Eggplant Parmigiana

Eggplant Parmigiana is a traditional Italian dish, and it is one of my favourites. (If eggplant is unfamiliar to you, you may know it as aubergine.)  Sadly, until recently, I was the only one in our house who liked it.  My husband and son are not fond of hot chopped tomatoes and my son did not like eggplant at all.  It always seemed a shame to make a big dish of something no one but me liked, so I got to thinking one day that perhaps if I could change the traditional recipe I was following, I might be able to create something with the wonderful taste of the original, but without the ingredients my family did not enjoy. Of course, it was impossible to eliminate the eggplant from the recipe, but I did lose the chopped tomatoes, added some new ingredients and changed the proportions of others. 

Anyway, after a couple of attempts I came up with a version of the recipe that was an incredible success. We all loved it, and my son enjoyed it so much that he decided he does like eggplant after all, much to my great delight. 

The only problem with this recipe is that it is not very photogenic (either that or perhaps I’m not very good at photographing eggplant parmigiana) so I apologise for the lack of a proper photograph with this post!

Eggplant Parmigiana works really well as a side dish or main course.  The recipe below will serve four as a main dish, or five to six as a side dish.  It improves with keeping, so it is a great make ahead dish, and will keep for up to three days covered in the fridge.

About 4 - 5 tablespoons olive oil
3 - 4  Eggplants, washed and sliced longways in medium slices
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large clove garlic
1 – 750 ml jar ready-prepared vegetarian spaghetti sauce
OR 3 cups passata (sieved tomatoes)
1 vegetable stock cube
a couple of handfuls of fresh basil leaves
5 ounces Parmigiana Regianno or similar cheese, grated
(be sure to get a vegetarian cheese if you want to keep this strictly vegetarian)
2 eggs, beaten

You need a large rectangular or oval casserole pan, about two to three inches deep, a deep sauté pan and a medium non-stick frying pan.  Preheat your oven to 350 or about 170.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the saute pan and gently fry the onion over medium heat until it begins to go translucent. Grate the garlic into the pan, lower the heat and add the jar of spaghetti sauce. Crumble in the stock cube and stir until it dissolves. Simmer the sauce gently for about twenty minutes, stirring from time to time. 

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the eggplant slices in batches for about two minutes on each side. Remove and set aside as they are done. You will need to add a bit more oil from time to time. Don’t get carried away though as eggplants will absorb as much oil as you give them - hence my recommendation for a non-stick pan! 

Now you are ready for the assembly. Make sure you have your grated cheese and basil to hand and begin to layer the ingredients in the casserole dish as follows:-

Place a layer of eggplant on the bottom and cover with a bit of the sauce and one third of the cheese. Scatter some basil leaves over top. Repeat the once more.  Now place a final layer of eggplant over top and coat it with a very thin layer of tomato sauce. Mix the last third of the cheese in with the beaten eggs, and pour this mixture over top of the whole casserole, spreading it out so that it reaches the edges (without spilling over).  

Carefully place the casserole in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour until the eggplant is tender when you slide a knife into the casserole and the egg and cheese topping is nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for five to ten minutes before serving. 

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Delicious Chicken Marinade - A Cook Once, Eat Twice Recipe

This marinade has been a favourite in our house for a very long time. One of the things I love about it is it is great for ‘cook once, eat twice’ recipe combinations. It’s spicy, but not too much so, and kids love it. The first night you can barbecue or bake the chicken in the oven and the second you just need the oven or barbecue for about twenty minutes.

The original recipe was from a wonderful cookbook my late Aunt Trish gave me when I was in my teens called the Anne of Green Gables Cookbook, a collection of recipes by Kate Macdonald, inspired by the writings of Lucy Maud Montgomery. I’ve change the recipe over the years, modifying the proportions of many of the ingredients and adding balsamic vinegar into the mix, something that really wasn’t widely popular back in 1985 when the book was published.

Although you can use chicken legs, wings and thighs, I prefer to use it for chicken breasts, not only because my family like them best, but also because they work better for these recipes. To serve four people for two meals you need:-

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon Very Lazy Garlic (or 1 clove of garlic)
2 tablespoons olive oil or other vegetable oil
1 cup ketchup
½ cup balsamic vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
a generous pinch of salt

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and gently sauté the onion until it begins to appear translucent. Add the Very Lazy Garlic and stir it in. (If using a garlic clove, grate it into the mixture now and stir in.) Let the mixture cook for about a minute. Now add all the remaining ingredients and stir together. 

Bring the mixture just to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about ten minutes. 

You can either cool the marinade down to fridge temperature and then marinate cold chicken breasts in it for several hours in the fridge before you cook them, or just put it warm on the chicken as you are about to cook it.

Cook the chicken on the barbecue (or in the oven at about 375 - that’s 170 to 180) turning once until no pink remains inside. In the oven this will take about 30 to 40 minutes. Remember never serve leftover marinade that has been used to marinate raw meat.

On the first night, serve the chicken with baked potatoes and vegetables (we love corn on the cob and green beans with this). Reserve four of the chicken breasts for the second night, cooling them quickly and refrigerating as soon as possible. On the second you can make a delicious dinner sandwich.  I’m relying on you already having some roast vegetables in the fridge, but if you don’t you can always just use some roasted red peppers from a jar instead. 

Healthy Chicken Supper Sandwiches

To serve four people you need:-

One long baguette (I like to use wholemeal as it is better for you but any will do)
3 to 4 cooked marinated chicken breasts, sliced
about 1 cup of roasted vegetables
4 slices of Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, cut in half diagonally

Cut the baguette in four pieces and then slice each slice in half. Stuff each sandwich with some sliced chicken and some of the roast veggies and top with a slice of cheese. Wrap each sandwich tightly in foil and bake in the oven or barbecue for 20 to 25 minutes until piping hot. Serve with salad and a few good potato chips.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Blueberry and Macadamia Nut Muffins

The whole wheat flour, super fruit blueberries and macadamia nuts (which contain protein, potassium and calcium) in these muffins definitely make them good for you - the only hard part is eating them in moderation!

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla 
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and well drained
1 cup buttermilk 
1 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. 

Measure the flours and baking powder into another large bowl and mix together.  Stir in the nuts and the blueberries.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients all at once and stir gently just until mixed.  Divide between 15 to 17 large muffin cups. 

Bake at 375 (or about 160 to 170) for 15 to 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack, and once cool, store in a sealed container. 

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Madeira Gravy

This recipe is inspired by my mother-in-law’s Madeira gravy but I’ve adjusted the seasoning and pared down the ingredients a bit so it is quicker and easier to make. It goes beautifully with roast beef or pork, and particularly with Beef Wellington (Boeuf en Croute). When I served it to guests for the first time recently they said it was so tasty they could have eaten it on its own with a spoon, and I confess I could have too.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1¼ cups beef stock (made from a cube is fine)
2 tablespoons tomato paste or puree
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped or ½ teaspoon dried
1 bay leaf
1 generous tablespoon redcurrant or cranberry jelly
1 tablespoons corn flour blended with 2 tablespoons cold water
½ cup Madeira wine
2 generous pinches of ground pepper or to taste

Heat the oil in a small saucepan and sauté the onion over medium heat until it is beginning to become translucent. Add the stock, the tomato puree or paste, the thyme and the bay leaf, stirring to blend well. Stir in the redcurrant or cranberry jelly, stirring until it is dissolved. Bring just to the boil, then turn back the heat to low and simmer for about fifteen minutes.

Strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean saucepan, discarding the onion and bay leaf.  Whisk in the corn flour and water mixture.  This will cause the stock to thicken fairly quickly. Cook, stirring constantly for a minute or so. Add the Madeira, a bit at a time, whisking constantly. Add a pinch of pepper and whisk it in, taste and add a bit more if necessary.

Pour into a gravy boat and serve alongside roast beef, pork or Beef Wellington.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Stephanie's on Newbury

Since 1994, Stephanie's has been an institution on Boston's fashionable Newbury Street. The menu focuses on sophisticated comfort food and the delicious dishes are all beautifully presented. As you would expect of a New England restaurant there is a great selection of seafood, but there are also plenty of other choices for those who prefer their dishes more from the land.

During our recent visit to Boston we found ourselves at Stephanie's on two occasions. On the first I enjoyed a beautiful dish composed of pan roasted native cod over corn chowder and herb roasted potatoes, topped with buttermilk onion strings. It tasted just as good as it looks.

Stephanie's are particularly good with fried onions, and their tower of breaded onion rings is very hard indeed to resist (even if you have had buttermilk onion strings on your main dish!). Their hamburgers are second to none, and their (justifiably) famous meatloaf is not to be missed. If you like macaroni and cheese, their baked three cheese macaroni is incredible, and you can even add proscuitto and truffle oil for a truly decadent experience. I also love their seared Atlantic swordfish, which is always fresh and served with a beautiful lemony beurre blanc.

Stephanie's also make some incredible deserts, and the bread they serve before the meal is home baked. Imagine my delight when the bread basket our server brought to the table last night which contained some exquisite soda bread arrived accompanied by a small card with the recipe attached! It really is delicious. I will probably halve the recipe when I make it at home, but I doubt that will affect the flavour in any way.

Wonderful Irish Soda Bread from Stephanie's on Newbury

8 cups flour
½ pound butter
1⅓ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons salt
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups buttermilk
1¾ cups currants (I plan to use raisins)

Preheat your oven to 375℉ or 180 to 190℃ (170℃ for fan ovens).

Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles cornmeal or bread crumbs.

In a separate bowl, add the eggs to the buttermilk and whisk together thoroughly. Add to the flour mixture all at once, mixing until all the liquid is absorbed. (Do not over-mix; the dough should not be smooth.)

Shape dough into 2 oval loaves scoring an 'x' into the top of each, or for mini soda breads (or scones) drop by tablespoons on to baking sheets.

Bake loaves for an hour, mini soda breads or scones for about 15 to 20 minutes.

If you do find yourself in Boston, Stephanie's a wonderful place to eat. For more information, please click here. Although you cannot book tables outside, indoor tables can be booked in advance, and I highly recommend you do this to avoid disappointment.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Meatless Monday - The 21st Century Housewife's Creamy Summer Spaghetti

This is a great recipe if you have a vegetable garden because you can just pick whatever is ready to eat - even if it is only a little bit of a few things - and make something incredibly delicious. It’s also great for using up odds and ends of vegetables that you have in the fridge. When I photographed the recipe I used carrots sliced in matchsticks, zucchini sliced in half moons, French beans, fresh peas and spring onions but no matter what combination of vegetables I choose it always tastes fresh and delicious. Quick and easy to make, it doesn’t involve a lot of time in the kitchen on a hot day either. 

To serve four people, you need:-

about 12 to 14 ounces of uncooked spaghetti
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 cups of chopped and prepared vegetables
¼ cup fresh or frozen peas
about seven or eight spring onions (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup vegetable stock
½ cup light cream or half and half
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
(be sure to find a vegetarian variety if cooking this recipe for strict vegetarians)
about 2 teaspoons chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried herbs - try basil and/or oregano or tarragon depending on your choice of vegetables
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water as per the package instructions. 

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and stir fry the vegetables - except the peas and spring onions - for two to three minutes.  

Turn up the heat a little, splash in the vinegar and let it cook for about a minute, stirring the vegetables constantly. 

Now stir in the peas, spring onions and vegetable stock and let everything bubble together, again for about a minute. (Be careful not to overcook, you want the vegetables to be tender crisp.) 

Keep stirring regularly. Turn the heat back to medium again, and gradually add the cream, a bit at a time.  Stir in the cheese and herbs. Cook for about a minute to let the cheese melt into the creamy sauce.  Taste for flavour and add salt and pepper - or a few more herbs - if necessary. 

Drain the pasta and return it to its pan.  Pour the sauce and vegetables over the pasta and toss to coat.  Serve on warmed plates or bowls with a nice basket of crusty rolls on the side.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Copley Square Farmer's Market

I must admit I was not expecting to find a wonderful Farmer's Market like this in the middle of Boston, but I was so pleased when I did!

The produce was absolutely amazing, with loads of heirloom varieties on offer as well.  (Check out the gorgeous tomatoes on the left of the photograph above!) I really wish we had something like this at home. There were also several stands with gorgeous traditional flowers - zinnias, cornflowers and lots of others. My favourites were these wonderful sunflowers!

I bought some fresh fruit, but as we are staying in a hotel I could not buy flowers or vegetables - next time we come to Boston in the summer I think we'll rent an apartment so I can try cooking with some of the wonderful produce.

The Copley Square Market is held Tuesdays and Fridays from mid May to mid November from 11am to 6pm. For more information please click here.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Best Waldorf Salad in New York City

Admittedly I have not tried every Waldorf Salad in New York, so this title is just a tiny bit subjective. It should in fact read, The Best Waldorf Salad I Have Tasted So Far in New York City. But this sounds pretty cumbersome, and considering I have visited New York several times, and eaten a great deal of Waldorf Salad in a number of places, I think I am qualified to bestow my own little award. The funny thing is, my favourite Waldorf Salad hails from a rather unusual place.

As many people already know, the Waldorf Salad was invented by Oscar Tschirky, the maitre d'hotel at the Waldorf Hotel (the first incarnation of the iconic Waldorf Astoria Hotel) sometime in the late 1800's. It originally consisted of celery, apples, grapes and sometimes even pineapple dressed with mayonnaise. Walnuts did not form a part of it until sometime later. Although we stay at The Waldorf Astoria quite regularly and I have tasted the wonderful Waldorf Salad at Oscar's restaurant, named in honour of this salad's inventor, many times, I don't think it is the best in New York City. I do love the candied walnuts they use in their version of this salad entirely too much and it is absolutely scrumptious, but on the whole, I cannot bestow it with the title of favourite.

In fact, I believe that the best Waldorf Salad you can get in New York City hails from a restaurant on the 5th floor of a department store that has been around even longer than the Waldorf Astoria - Lord and Taylor, at 5th Avenue and 39th Street.  Founded in 1826, it was the first major store on 5th Avenue. Sarabeth's Kitchen opened a branch of their restaurant there in 1998, and it is there that I believe you can find the very best Waldorf Salad in New York City. I am so convinced of this, I go back there every time we visit New York without fail for a taste of my favourite.

The apples in the Waldorf Salad at Sarabeth's in Lord and Taylor are just a garnish, and the salad is composed of much more lettuce - the light Bibb variety - than the original version was said to be. It also contains thinly sliced celery, and lots of grapes, alongside a healthy serving of walnuts and bite size pieces of tender chicken breast. Instead of traditional mayonnaise, the dressing is a creamy chive variety which gives the salad a lovely light flavour. It is ambrosial.

I've not yet tried to replicate Sarabeth's Waldorf Salad at home, but when I do I will definitely share the recipe. In the meantime, Sarabeth's are very generous about sharing many of their other delicious recipes on their website, so do click here to go and have a look.

The 21st Century Housewife has not been paid for this post. 

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Gourmet Dining at The Henley Festival

The Henley Festival is a five-day music and arts festival held every year on the banks of the Thames. Following on from the Henley Regatta, the festival attracts visitors from all over the world and features performances by both household names and relative unknowns. There are also displays by leading art galleries, and over the years I have seen exhibits that even included original works by Salvador Dali and Damien Hurst.  But the Henley Festival is not just a festival of music and art, it also showcases some wonderful food and drink. 

The festival caters for every price point and almost every taste you can imagine, from a caravan selling Mexican specialities out of its window, to a Chinese restaurant and right on to La Scala and Albert Roux by the Riverside. Many people picnic in the car park before coming in, and although this may not sound very salubrious, this is picnicking at its most elegant. Portable gazebos and folding chairs are erected and the prevailing sound is of champagne corks popping. You are far more likely to find smoked salmon, caviar and foie gras in these picnic baskets than pork pies and Scotch eggs.

We generally have a glass of champagne and some nibbles before going into the festival, but we always enjoy eating our dinner at one of the restaurants. In the past I have eaten both at Albert Roux by the Riverside and The Terrace Restaurant, and this year I returned to The Terrace with friends and family to enjoy a delicious meal before we went on to enjoy the evening’s main performance on the floating stage.  The Terrace Restaurant is just that, a terraced structure featuring tables on several levels. Overlooking the Thames, the Terrace’s riverside location lets you watch the boats and yachts attracted by the festival pass by as you enjoy your dinner.

I have consistently been impressed by the food served by The Terrace and their menu offers a broad choice of dishes, ensuring everyone has a good choice of things to eat.  Three courses cost about £40 and there is an excellent wine list.  The menu changes annually, and this year I started with the Smoked Chicken Tian with Summer Salad and Apricot Chutney. 

It had a beautiful balance of flavours, the sweetness of the apricot chutney perfectly complimenting the lightly smoked chicken.  Another member of our party tried the Goats Cheese, Shallot and Tomato Tarte which looked so pretty.

The Oak cured Scottish Salmon with Horseradish Crème Fraîche, Caviar and Chives was also beautifully presented. 

There was a selection of five main courses to choose from, and between us our party tried most of them.  I’m told the Whole Roasted Fillet of British Beef served with a Stilton and Spinach Potato Fondant and Port Wine Reduction was absolutely scrumptious,

as was the Three Way Gressingham Duck, a selection of a Crispy Duck Leg, a Pan-Fried Supreme of Duck and Shredded Duck Confit served with Sweet Potato Puree and Baby Vegetables with a Vanilla and Rice Wine Dressing.

My Pan Fried Fillet of Sea Bass was served with lemon oil, crushed new potatoes, summer greens and a buttered sauce made with fine herbs was the perfect summer dish, really light and delicious.

The desserts were equally lovely, particularly the Raspberry and Rose Scented Trifle with Vanilla Custard Biscuits which had just the right amount of rose water to give this traditional dessert a fabulously modern twist.

Although I am not fond of Summer Pudding, I have to say the one ordered by my husband did look wonderful, and for something that is difficult to serve in one piece, it was incredibly well presented. 

I was allowed to taste the Amaretto and Chocolate Torte with Vanilla Cream and Espresso Syrup which both our friends ordered and it was incredible.  The espresso gave it a really gutsy edge, and although it was very rich, the vanilla cream offset the potential heaviness a dessert like this could have beautifully. 

I was incredibly impressed by the choice The Terrace Restaurant’s menu offered this year, and by how consistently well presented and delicious the dishes were.  Despite the many challenges presented by serving food prepared in a marquee on a riverbank to patrons in a multi-level restaurant, everything was hot, delicious and although there were five of us, not one of us had anything even slightly wrong with our dishes. It was very nearly a perfect meal, with everything served hot, and with the waiting staff anticipating virtually our every need, as well as allowing us a lovely pause between the main course and dessert so we could take the time to enjoy the rest of our wine. I would definitely return to the Terrace Restaurant when next we visit the Henley Festival, and I have no hesitation in recommending it should you be planning a visit in the future!

The Henley Festival is held annually in July.  For more details as they become available, please click here

Monday, 12 July 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Arabian Nights Cake

Rosewater has been used in Middle Eastern cooking for centuries, but it is relatively new to us in the west.  A little of this exotic flavour goes a very long way, its heady flavour bringing to mind the colourful bazaars of the east and longed for rose scented breezes. It is the perfect foil to raspberries and pistachios, and makes this a wonderful cake for summer, either as a special dinner party dessert or served with black or mint tea during long hot afternoons in the garden. 

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon rose water
(Don’t be tempted to use more, it’s strong stuff - but if you don’t have any the cake still tastes lovely if you use 1 teaspoon vanilla instead)
1 cup low fat raspberry yogurt
¾ cup ground almonds
1½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
1 cup raspberries, washed and drained thoroughly

additional raspberries and roughly chopped pistachios to decorate

Grease and flour (or line) an 8 or 9 inch square pan.  Preheat oven to 350 or 170 (160 if you have a fan oven). 

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Beat in the rosewater and the yogurt. 

In s separate bowl, combine the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and pistachios.  Stir thoroughly to mix.  Gently fold in the raspberries. 

Add the flour, nut and raspberry mixture to the bowl containing the wet ingredients all at once.  Fold through gently but thoroughly. 

Put the batter into the baking pan and bake for 25 to 40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan for a bit before removing it to a wire rack to cool completely.  You can then frost it.  

Just cream ¼ cup softened butter with 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar) and then add ¼ teaspoon rosewater - or 1 teaspoon vanilla - and enough cream (usually about 2 to 3 tablespoons) to make a soft, spreadable icing. You might even want to use food colouring to tint the icing the palest shade of pink. Sprinkle with the extra pistachios and pop some of the additional raspberries on top.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Roasted Sausage and Vegetable Pasta

This is another really quick and easy recipe that requires very little work from the cook, aside from a bit of light chopping, so it is a great one for after a busy day.  You can use whatever tomato sauce you have to hand.  I try to always have homemade tomato sauce in the freezer, but I often find myself using a canned or jarred sauce when I’m making this recipe and it still tastes great.   The tomato sauce you are using probably has spices already in it, but taste as you go along and see how you feel.  You might want to add about a half a teaspoon of dried basil and/or oregano or about a teaspoon of chopped fresh herbs.  Oh, and do use really good sausages for this recipe - whether you choose the vegetarian or meaty variety, you want ones with a lot of good for you ingredients and without fillers and nasty stuff. 

Mascarpone is the cultured Italian cream cheese you often find in desserts like tiramisu, but a small amount used in savoury recipes can make them taste really special.  

This recipe serves 4, but it is easily doubled.  

1 large onion (preferably a red one for colour), peeled and cut in fairly thick slices
1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped in chunks
8 sausages
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (preferably olive)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or 1 teaspoon Very Lazy Garlic (ready prepared and chopped garlic)
2 cups prepared tomato sauce
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
herbs and salt and pepper to taste
10 to 11 ounces of pasta (I like penne for this recipe but any pasta shapes will do) 

Place the prepared onion, pepper and sausages in a roasting dish and drizzle with the oil and balsamic vinegar.  Add the garlic and toss everything lightly to coat with the oil and vinegar.  

Put in the dish in the oven and roast the sausages and vegetables at about 375 or 190.  This will take about 30 to 35 minutes, and you should stir the mixture after about 15 minutes to make sure it is all cooking evenly.  The sausages are done when there is no pink remaining inside.  When the sausages are cooked, remove the roasting dish from the oven, cover with foil and keep warm.  

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water in a large pan according to package directions.  Heat the tomato sauce over low to medium heat in a small saucepan.  When it begins to get warm, taste it for flavour and add any herbs or salt and pepper you feel it needs.   Then stir in the mascarpone cheese.  It might take a few minutes for the cheese to meld with the sauce, just keep stirring gently until it does.  Heat through thoroughly, but don’t let the mixture boil. 

Meanwhile, keeping everything in the roasting pan, slice each sausage into about four bite size pieces.  Cover and keep warm.

When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to its pan.  Add the chopped sausages and roasted vegetables along with the mascarpone tomato sauce.  Stir through and serve on warmed plates or bowls with crusty rolls on the side.  

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Spraying on Flavour

There is a new trend in cooking and seasoning that allows you to use ingredients more effectively and it is something so simple I can't believe we all didn't think of it earlier. I suppose it could be argued that the people who make Pam Cooking Spray have been doing it for years, and the idea was expanded upon companies like Wish Bone who brought spray salad dressing to the North American market, but it is only recently that ingredients like oil and vinegar have been marketed in spray containers.

I resisted buying them at first because they were smaller and more expensive, but recently I gave in and bought some spray on olive oil and also some balsamic vinegar. I'm so glad I did. Of course there is the obvious benefit of being able to spray an ingredient like olive oil onto a cooking surface when trying to prevent things from sticking as it covers more thoroughly, but this principle is also true when adding an ingredient you want to incorporate into your recipe.

Using spray on olive oil and balsamic vinegar means I can season ingredients in my recipes more thoroughly using less ingredients. Using less reduces calories, is better for you and of course has an economic benefit too, one that almost offsets the extra cost of the nifty spray containers. One of my favourite recipes to use these sprays in is roasted vegetables - the oil and balsamic coat the vegetables more thoroughly and the vegetables retain a better texture.  I also season meat and fish this way, both for cooking in the oven and on the stove top.

I've been researching the market a bit and it seems that many companies are catching on to this idea.  You can already buy spray on salts and seasonings in the US and The Southern Bar-B-Que Sauce company markets spray on basters in all sorts of flavours - from Garlic and Herb to their own Cajun blends, although these are not available where I live so I have not been able to try them. I have also been hearing murmurs in the market that a lot more companies are going to be embracing spray containers for their products soon.

It raises the question of whether or not you could actually purchase your own food safe spray containers for reasons of economy, but I have found that unfortunately most easily available spray containers are far too big to have on your kitchen counter, and smaller ones are quite expensive.  Also, unless you are using a single ingredient like oil or vinegar there is no guarantee the atomiser piece will actually work without clogging.

In short, I think that spray condiments are worth the extra money and I do encourage you to give them a try in your cooking. I've certainly found them a really useful addition to my kitchen, and I look forward to trying more of them as they come on to the market.

The 21st Century Housewife has not been paid for this post.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Yogurt Cake

I am really excited about this amazing cake. It takes literally minutes to throw together, tastes wonderful and is incredibly adaptable. Moist and delicious, it can be served plain with icing sugar sprinkled over top, or iced with buttercream frosting and decorated any way that you wish. You can even make cupcakes with the batter - just don’t bake them for quite as long.

A twist on my Grandma’s Special White Cake, this is a fantastic way to showcase a special flavour of yogurt. My whole motivation for this cake sprang out of my quest to use a pot of Rachel’s Organic Limited Edition Apple and Elderflower Yogurt in a creative way. It is such a delicious yogurt I wanted to do something special with it, and it really did give the cake a fantastic flavour. However any flavour of yogurt works well and this cake is a great way to use up leftover yogurt. You can even choose the flavouring to complement the yogurt. For example, use a teaspoon almond flavouring instead of vanilla with peach yogurt or a drop of rosewater with raspberry yogurt. When I made the Apple and Elderflower version I used a tablespoon of Elderflower cordial as the flavouring. You could also mix together complementary pots of yogurt if you don’t have a whole cup of just one flavour - try blueberry with peach, vanilla with strawberry etc.

I have always used low fat yogurt when making this cake, so it is almost good for you - but at its heart it is just a lovely light and delicious treat. (And yes, you can use whole milk yogurt if you prefer, just please avoid the set variety as it does not work as well.)

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla or other flavouring
2 cups white all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup low fat flavoured yogurt

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

Sift the flour and baking powder together. Add to the batter alternately with the yogurt, in two additions, stirring after each addition.

Bake in a 7 to 8 inch square or round greased and floured (or lined) pan at approximately 350 (170 or 160 for fan ovens) for about 20 to 30 minutes - or make cupcakes and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes.