Monday, 28 February 2011

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

I love stuffed peppers. They make a really versatile side dish, starter or even main course. This vegetarian version has chickpeas in it for protein and flavour, and it looks so pretty with the colourful vegetable and couscous stuffing. They taste lovely with a Neapolitan (tomato) sauce over top of them, but having said that I serve them most often with a bit of grated cheese (if you are serving vegans you can now get vegan ‘cheese’).

The recipe is flexible in terms of quantity, and of course peppers vary in size,  so the quantities here are just a guide. Once again, I have used my favourite roast vegetables - click here for the very easy recipe. I do cut them a bit smaller when I’m using them for this recipe as it makes it easier to stuff the peppers. 

Depending on the size of the peppers, I tend to serve one pepper per person if this is a side dish or starter, and two peppers if it is a main course. So to serve four people as a main course, you need:

8 red, green, yellow or orange peppers, tops cut off and seeds removed
(You can use the chopped pieces from the tops as part of your Roast Vegetables)
About 1 cup of roast vegetables
1 cup couscous
2 cups vegetable stock (you might need a bit more than this)
½ cup canned chickpeas (preferably organic), drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
grated vegetarian or vegan cheese, optional
Neapolitan sauce, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 (about 190).

Place the de-seeded peppers in a deep baking dish that they will fit into fairly tightly. (You may need to trim a tiny bit off the bottoms to get them to sit up, but don’t cut too much off or the stuffing will fall out!)

Warm the vegetable stock on the stove top or in the microwave.

Place the couscous in a large bowl. Add the roast vegetables, chickpeas, parsley and oregano and stir to mix. Pour the hot vegetable stock over top and lightly stir with a fork. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and set aside for about five minutes.

Fluff the couscous mixture with a fork and taste. You may want to add a bit more stock at this point if the couscous needs it (it should be fairly moist, but still retaining its shape and a bit of an al dente texture). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Carefully stuff the peppers with the couscous mixture. Boil the kettle and pour a bit of boiling water in the bottom of the baking pan with the peppers. You only need a bit - about a quarter inch in the bottom of the dish, just to create a bit of steam. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the stuffed peppers are soft.

If you are using cheese, sprinkle a bit of it on top of each pepper and return the baking dish to the oven uncovered. Cook until the cheese begins to melt and brown a bit.

Serve with Neapolitan sauce, if desired.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Feed Me Tweet Me Follow Me Home Blog Hop #8

I’m very pleased to be co-hosting this foodie blog hop with the Hella D of Helladelicious and Alex of A Moderate Life.

The linky is called Feed Me, Tweet Me, Follow Me Home and it is a true blog hop. This means, that if YOU wish to run the hop on your blog, all you have to do is get the linky code from the bottom of this page and list it on your blog for your readers to join in.

The rules are very simple, because it is a “follow me” linky.

Just enter your link to your blog below, Follow me on Twitter and ‘Like’ The 21st Century Housewife on Facebook. Or you can follow me here in the side bar or at The 21st Century Housewife on Blogger . I've only just added my 'follow' gadget after all these years so I'd love it if you 'followed'. I’ve also just joined Networked Blogs, so I'd be really grateful if you would consider following me here on Networked Blogs too. 

I will follow everyone back, but if I happen to miss you please drop me an email or comment letting me know where you have followed or ‘liked’ my blogs, and I will follow or 'like' you back. 

You can use your blog badge or any photo you like from your blog as your thumbnail and you can link up any time during the week. Visit as many other blogs as you can, follow their blog, grab their tweets and RSS feed if you do not already. If you do grab their info, please leave them a comment so they know they have a new friend. If someone visits you from Feed Me, and grabs your info, please return the favour- It’s a great way to increase your followers and promote your blog, so please pass the word around!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Alexander's Marvellous Marble Cake

I love to bake, and cakes are one of my specialities, but decorating them isn’t. I’m fine with a bit of buttercream or ganache and some sprinkles or candies, but the idea of going much further than that makes me break out into a cold sweat. So when my son suggested a few months ago that I make the cake for the big 18th birthday party I was torn between feeling flattered and feeling terrified. Aside from the issue of the decoration, although I’ve made plenty of cakes in my time, I have never made one designed to serve so many people.

We all have our favourite cakes, and in our house it is traditional to serve the person’s favourite for their birthday. My husband has Mocha Cake, my favourite is Devil’s Food and our son adores Marble Cake.

As you can see from this photo of my traditional-sized marble cake, it really is pretty with its lovely chocolatey stripes. Now I know cake is far from a healthy dish, but I believe that a cake made with love using wholesome ingredients is good for both body and soul. Anyway, I always use wholesome organic milk, free range (pastured) eggs, farm fresh butter and flour from a mill I trust when I bake. But how to change the recipe from the traditional two layer cake above into a much larger cake? Well, I had to experiment. Thankfully I had some very helpful guinea pigs quality testers. Several cakes later, we decided the best choice was a large deep square cake - both for reasons of practicality (it’s easier to cut and serve a square cake) and frosting (straight edges are much easier to frost than round ones.). It got to the stage where it was impossible to make the cake any bigger without going up in terms of layers (which I did not want to do as it would complicate things too much), so as everyone seems to love my cupcakes I decided to make some of those too in order to have enough cake to go round. The recipes for the cupcakes I served are coming soon in another post.

In terms of decoration, I found a wonderful website called Just Toppers where Sarah Hunt sells fantastic cake toppers made to order from photographs. Her mini version of Alexander standing in front of a silver ‘18’ turned my simply frosted cake into something very special indeed. Everyone commented on it!

Without further ado, here is the recipe for the cake I served at our wonderful sons’ 18th birthday party. It cut into 24 rectangular pieces and although I thought everyone would go for the cupcakes first, the cake disappeared in a heartbeat and those who hadn’t got to the table quickly enough were forced to have cupcakes instead - which happily they didn’t seem to mind :)

You need a loose bottomed square pan for this cake, measuring about 10 inches square (27 cm) and at least 3 inches (8 cm) deep. I lined the bottom of the pan with greaseproof (parchment) paper and greased the sides with a little butter.

It’s best if the ingredients are not fridge cold when you start, although I don’t go so far as saying they should be at room temperature. I just leave the eggs, milk and butter out for about an hour before I make the cake. (By the way I know 3 cups sounds like an awful lot of sugar, but this is a really big cake!) To make this cake on a smaller scale in its traditional two layer format, please click here.

1½ cups butter, softened
3 cups caster sugar
8 eggs, beaten
3 teaspoons vanilla
6 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups milk plus a couple of tablespoons extra for thinning the chocolate mixture
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 350 to 375 (170 to 180).  I preheat my fan oven to 160. The temperature depends on how fierce your oven is. This cake needs a warm oven to rise nicely but it takes quite a while to cook so you don’t want the heat too high or it will burn.

Break the eggs into a large bowl and beat lightly. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar. It’s best to use an electric mixer for this unless you have very strong arms!

Add the eggs to the creamed mixture all at once and beat lightly. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the 2 cups of milk, beating lightly to combine after each addition. Depending on how big and powerful your electric mixer is you may need to use a wooden spoon for this part, although if it will take the weight of the batter an electric mixer gives a better texture. I use a wooden spoon to add the ingredients alternately, and then I use the mixer again just to smooth out the batter.

Remove about three-quarters of a cup of batter from the bowl and set aside. Pour the remaining batter into the prepared cake tin.

Sift the cocoa into the remaining batter and blend in. Add enough milk to give the batter the same consistency as the batter already in the cake tin. (I usually need about 2 to 3 tablespoons.)

Now drop large spoonfuls of the chocolate batter on top of the plain cake. I put one spoonful about an inch in from each corner of the cake, and one in the middle.  Using a knife with a wide blade (an icing knife works well for this), gently run through the batter from one side of the pan to the other to give a swirled effect.

Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a skewer, toothpick or piece of dried spaghetti inserted in the centre comes out clean. Keep an eye on the top of the cake so that it doesn’t get too brown. You can always turn the heat back a bit, or carefully place some aluminum foil over the top of the cake pan   for a little while. (Don’t touch the cake though, and don’t leave it on there for too long or the cake will be soggy.) 

Let the cake cool for about 15 minutes before removing it from the pan and cooling on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before frosting with your favourite frosting. I always use vanilla buttercream frosting because it is Alex’s favourite, but you can use chocolate frosting if you prefer.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

My Ultimate Chicken and Pesto Sandwich

I often cook several chicken breasts in pesto and then cool them and refrigerate for use in salads and sandwiches. Of course pesto is most commonly made with basil, but there are so many varieties available today - from mellow red pepper and walnut to refreshing mint pesto - that the flavour possibilities are endless. Of course you can always make your own with fresh herbs as well. I simply mix my pesto with a bit more olive oil (to make it easier to spread and to mellow the flavours a bit) and then spread it on top of chicken breasts before cooking them for about half an hour or until no pink remains inside.

You can use any roasted vegetables in this sandwich - even the ones you get in jars - however I almost always keep roasted veggies on hand in the fridge. They are unbelievably easy to prepare and keep for three or four days in the fridge. Click here to find out more.

I like to use a mild cheese like Swiss, Monterey Jack or Gruyere in this recipe, partly because it melts well and also because you don’t need anything to compete with the flavour of the pesto and the veggies, but please yourself. Any cheese that you like is absolutely fine.

You can make this sandwich as a panini and cook it in a panini press, or make it in baguettes or crispy rolls, wrap in foil and cook in the oven.

If you have made the chicken and roasted veggies up ahead of time, these sandwiches are really quick and easy to prepare. They are great for game day or game night for that matter and would be a great addition to any Super Bowl Sunday menu.

To make two sandwiches you need:

2 panini rolls, pieces of baguette or other crispy rolls
1 chicken breast cooked in pesto, sliced
about ½ cup of roasted vegetables
2 to 4 slices of cheese

It’s strictly an assembly job from here. Slice the rolls in half and place half the chicken, half the roasted vegetables and half the cheese on each sandwich. I don’t use butter because there is oil in the roasted vegetables.

Put the top on the sandwich and either cook in a panini press until done or wrap in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet and cook at about 350 or about 170 for 15 to 20 minutes until the sandwich is warm and the cheese is melted.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Veggie Pot Pies

This recipe is really easy, but the puff pastry lid makes it look impressive and it is a great way of using up root veggies that might be getting a little past their prime as well. Gently stewing the vegetables brings out their deeper flavours, but limiting the time you stew them for means the vegetables still have a lovely texture and hold their shape well.

Sometimes I include the beans in this recipe and sometimes I don’t - it just depends on how I am feeling and who I am serving. The beans do add extra nutrition though, so I tend to include them more often than not. This whole recipe only takes about an hour to put together so it is really good for busy evenings. The timings get a bit critical at the end as puff pastry doesn’t hold very well, but the stew that forms the ‘pot’ part of the pie is extremely forgiving!

You can serve this on a plate, simply popping the lid on top for effect, or you can decant the stew into bowls and serve it like a traditional pot pie as I have done in the photograph below.

It’s entirely up to you! I do tend to cut the veggies a bit smaller if I am serving them in a bowl.

To serve four people you need:

1 - 2 sheets of ready rolled puff pastry
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use mild olive oil)
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced, rinsed and drained
(may substitute 1 large onion, peeled and sliced, if leeks are not available)
3 parsnips, peeled and cut in medium size chunks
3 carrots, peeled and cut in medium size chunks
2½ cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon soy sauce (optional)
1 can (about 14 ounces) mixed beans, preferably organic, drained and rinsed (optional)
2 tablespoons cornflour, mixed with 1 generous tablespoon water

(If your puff pastry needs to sit at room temperature before unrolling, remember to get it out of the fridge at this point.)

In a large casserole with a lid suitable for the stove top, or in a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat.

Sauté the leeks (or onion) for a few minutes until they begin to soften, and then tumble in the rest of the vegetables and stir until they are coated in the oniony oily mixture.

Add the vegetable stock, oregano, the bay leaf and the soy sauce (if using). Cover and simmer over low heat for about half an hour.

Remove the lid and give the mixture a stir. Add the beans if using and make sure there is enough liquid in the pan. You are going to want to thicken the sauce later, so you don’t want too much liquid, but if there is hardly any left at all you may need to add a little more stock or even some boiling water. put the lid back on and leave to cook over low heat.

Meanwhile, you need to get your puff pastry ready. Preheat the oven to 375 (about 180 to 190). Gently unroll your puff pastry on to a clean surface, and select one of the serving bowls you are using to serve the pot pie. (Even if I am serving on a plate, I use the same bowls to cut out the tops.) Place the bowl on top of the pastry and run a knife around the edge to cut out a circle.

Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Check the stew to make sure that the vegetables are getting tender. Remove the bay leaf and put the lid back on. When the vegetables are just about tender enough to serve, place the puff pastry lids in the oven and cook as directed on the package instructions, or until puffy and golden.

Meanwhile, combine the cornflour and water and add it to the vegetable stew to thicken the ‘gravy’. Cook for a few minutes, stirring regularly, until a nice thick gravy develops. Turn the heat right back and pop the lid on to keep warm.

When the puff pastry tops are ready, either spoon the stew into bowls or on to plates. Gently loosen the tops from the baking sheets and pop on to the ‘pies’.

You can also serve these with a side of mashed potatoes and a green vegetable if you like.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Guest Posts

I’m guest posting at Alea’s blog, Premeditated Leftovers today. Please do go and visit - there are two quick and easy Snack Cake recipes to try - Chocolate and Banana or Carrot , Walnut and Ginger.

I’ve also got a new post published over at Miss Simplee Sufficient, so please do check that out too.

Have a lovely Sunday!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

A Traditional Sunday Lunch or Dinner and An Idea for Leftovers

Sunday dinner is a big tradition throughout much of the world. Cooking Sunday lunch or dinner for your family - particularly the first time - can be a nerve wracking experience, but it doesn’t have to be. There is an easy way to get a fantastic roast beef dinner on the table in under three hours and keep your sanity while doing so.

Also, aside from the actual meat itself and its gravy, everything I am going to give you recipes for here is vegetarian - so if you do have some vegetarians amongst your guests you can serve them almost the same as everyone else, just leaving out the actual meat and gravy. (In this case I’d recommend providing some really good vegetarian sausages as their main dish. They don’t take long to cook and you can keep them separate from the meat.)

So first of all you need a good roast - and for this meal I’m suggesting a sirloin of beef as it really is one of the easiest things ever to cook. I like to get a bigger roast, both so I have leftovers and also so I can please everyone. The outside pieces are more well cooked for those who like their meat more well done and as you cut towards the inside you can please those who prefer medium rare. So I usually buy a three to four pound roast from the butcher and that will serve six to eight generously, with leftovers.

You will also need:

1 - 2 large potatoes per person
(I tend to allow one for women and two for men and somehow that works out that everyone has enough)
vegetables - I suggest carrots and broccoli. A large bunch of broccoli and five to six carrots will serve six to eight people generously. Or serve 3 to 4 cups of frozen peas.
mild olive oil (not extra-virgin) or other vegetable oil
4 eggs
12 ounces of milk
8 to 12 ounces of beef stock
dessert - I suggest a nice fruit salad or a bought dessert when making a full roast dinner, or something you can prepare the day before and serve at room temperature. Traditionally in England a hot pudding is served after Sunday lunch but that can be a recipe for a nervous breakdown in the kitchen when you have so much else to think about. One possible alternative is Apple Crumble Cake, which you can make in the morning and leave at room temperature. If your guests are the sort who insist on a hot pudding, simply pop it in the oven after you have removed the Yorkshire puddings and turned the oven off until serving time. Failing that, serve it at room temperature with hot custard.

Right, on with Sunday dinner! You need to allow at least two hours. In an ideal world I would say two and a half hours is perfect.

All you have to do to prepare the beef is:-
Get the roast out of the oven thirty minutes before you want to cook it.
Put it on a roasting dish and salt and pepper it lightly.
Preheat your oven to 350 or about 180.
Put it in the oven.
A three to four pound roast will take about an hour and forty five minutes to cook if you want the centre to be medium rare. If everyone likes the roast well done, you will need to cook the meat for about two hours. The best thing is to use a meat thermometer to be sure it is done to your liking. I prefer the ones you stick in the meat after you remove it from the oven, not the ones that you leave in during cooking. Anyway, the beef will be at different temperatures depending on how near the end you put the thermometer, so ideally you want to test at both ends, and in the middle.

Rare is 120 - 130 (50 - 55)
Medium rare is 130 - 140 (55 - 60)
Medium is 140 - 150 (60 - 65)
Well done is 150 - 165 (65 - 75)

Meanwhile you need to think about four other things (well, five if you are doing veggie sausages, but if you are doing those you can cook them a few minutes before the end depending on the package directions. You might even be able to stick them in the oven with the Yorkshire puddings). So the four things are:

Roast potatoes
Yorkshire Pudding

You can learn how to make my Crispy Crunchy Roast Potatoes by clicking here. Be sure to put them in about an hour before the end of the beef’s cooking time, so you need to think about peeling them and parboiling them immediately after you put the roast in the oven. You may notice my instructions recommend you cook them at a higher temperature than the beef, but in this case, just keep it as it is and they will cook just fine.

Click here for the recipe for my Yorkshire Puddings. You don’t need to cook the Yorkshire Puddings until the very last minute so don’t worry about them now, but do remove the eggs and milk from the fridge so that they come up to room temperature. The Yorkshire Puddings go into the oven after you have removed the beef to rest before carving, so in this case you should increase the oven temperature as recommended in my recipe.

You can prepare whatever vegetables you like, and in this case I do recommend keeping things simple. Just steam some broccoli and carrots or even cook some frozen peas if you are very new to cooking. You can add a bit of dried minced onion to them before you cook them to make them taste even nicer if you like. You don’t need to cook the vegetables until the beef is roasting as broccoli and carrots won’t take more than seven or eight minutes to steam and frozen peas only take about five minutes to cook.

The gravy is also a fairly last minute thing, but you need to get the ingredients for it ready. You will be using some of the meat juices, but you also need about 2 tablespoons of plain flour and about a cup to a cup and a half of beef stock or boiling water. If you use boiling water I recommend adding a bit of salt and pepper too. And for a really fabulous gravy, you need my secret ingredient - 2 generous tablespoons of smooth redcurrant or cranberry jelly. (And if you are serving vegetarians, be sure to provide some vegetarian gravy for them. In this case I might consider buying ready made as you really do have a lot going on with everything else. However if you want to make a veggie gravy from scratch, just substitute 2 tablespoons of butter for the meat juices, and vegetable stock for the beef stock or boiling water.)

So here is a timetable for an easy Sunday dinner:

 1.  Get the roast out of the fridge a half hour before cooking.
 2.  Prepare the roast as above and put in the oven.
 3.  Remove the milk and eggs from the fridge.
 4.  Peel and parboil the potatoes.
 5.  Prepare any other vegetables and set aside.
 6.  Put the potatoes in the oven.
 7.  About ten minutes before the roast is done, mix up the Yorkshire Pudding batter.
 8.  When the roast is done, remove it from the oven. Carefully take about 4 tablespoons of the meat juices out of the pan and put in a cold saucepan.  Cover the roast in aluminum foil and put it in a warm place. (On the counter in the kitchen is fine.)
 9.  Remove the potatoes from the oven and keep warm.
10. Turn the oven up for the Yorkshire puddings.
11.   Pour the Yorkshire Pudding batter carefully into the warmed muffin tins and put in the oven. Do not open the door again until they are done!
12.  Cook the vegetarian sausages if using.
13.   Heat the beef stock in the saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour. Gradually whisk in the beef stock or boiling water, until a nice consistency is reached. Whisk in the redcurrant jelly or cranberry sauce. Keep warm.
14. Carve the beef.

The roast above is cooked to medium rare.
15. Serve the meal on to plates or serve family style so everyone can help themselves. Serve the gravy in a gravy boat.
16. Enjoy!

Of course you can use leftovers for delicious roast beef sandwiches or my yummy Leftovers Stroganoff. Click on the link for a delicious meal that will make you look forward to leftovers!