Friday, 30 December 2011

Spaghetti Carbonara

This is a bowl of comfort food at its absolute best for me!  Bacon, egg and cheese – what’s not to like!  It takes less than 5 minutes to prepare, including boiling the kettle to cook the pasta, and takes only 10 minutes to cook.  What could be simpler than that. 
I feel faintly embarrassed giving a recipe for this, but it’s such an easy and tasty little number that it’s a shame not to. 

For two people : 

200g spaghetti or linquine 
4 rashers of bacon
2 eggs
Grated parmesan cheese (approx 2oz or so, to taste)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
Small bunch of flatleaf parsley 

Cook the spaghetti or linquine in salted boiling water according to packet directions, usually 10 minutes. 

At the same time, cut the bacon rashers into strips and brown gently in a small pan. 

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat together lightly, season with a little ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.  Add a generous handful of parmesan cheese and mix together with a fork. 

Wash and roughly chop the parsley. 

Drain the pasta and return to the pan, add the eggy cheesy mix and stir around and then add the bacon and parsley.  Toss everything together until the egg has cooked in the heat of the pasta and the residual heat of the pan. 

Instead of cooking bacon you can, as I have this time, use cooked ham.  The dish pictured above was made using cubed leftover cooked Christmas ham.  The green parsley gave it a lovely festive finish!

You can, if you wish, make a little extra and keep it aside in the fridge to make a delicious frittata in a day or two.  If you do that, simply chop up the spaghetti with two knives, beat a further two eggs together and mix well through the pasta mixture, adding a little more grated parmesan cheese if you wish.  Then simply tip into a small frying pan and cook until the egg has set, popping under the grill for a few minutes to cook the top of the frittata.  I have made that a number of times, it’s particularly nice with a fresh goose egg!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Christmas Leftovers

You often hear the same old complaint after Christmas lunch – “all those hours shopping, preparation and cooking and it’s over in an hour”.  In my house, nothing could be further from the truth! 

Our lunch this year consisted of a stuffed and rolled turkey breast, which I’d roasted covered in bacon alongside a ham.  I also cooked a mountain of roasted veggies (carrot, parsnip, swede and potatoes) and a big pan of Brussels sprouts.   

Once our lunch was over we had a lovely pile of leftovers to see us through the next few days.  The leftover cooked veg were divided into two bowls – one of potatoes and one of veg to be used over two days.  

·         Day one saw sautéed leftover potatoes, served with cold turkey and ham.
·         Day two was my own favourite, the leftover veg turned into bubble and squeak, again served with cold turkey and ham. 
·         Day three saw the last of the turkey and most of the ham turned into a turkey, ham and leek pie.  The basic recipe for that is here on the blog, as it’s Christmas I added a generous dash of double cream to the sauce and gave it a rosti leek topping for a change.
·         Day four and the last of the ham was used up to make spaghetti carbonara – a 10 minute meal of minimum preparation but oh so satisfying!
·         The turkey and ham also stuffed more than a few sandwiches and buns!

 Over in an hour ...... not in my house!

 Tomorrow I will have to return to the kitchen and make something from scratch!!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Bara Brith - a little bit of Welsh hospitality from my home to yours!

I was making one of these cakes this morning for my elderly next-door neighbour and it occurred to me that I should share it with you all.  It’s a traditional bit of Welsh hospitality, and there are as many variations as there are families in Wales I should think!  No Sunday Tea round at Mam’s would be complete without a plate of buttered Bara Brith.  It’s as comforting to us as mother’s milk!  In my family this is a real institution, my cousin and I seem to have either a batch of Bara Brith or Welsh Cakes on the go constantly! 

I make it now for the cricket club teas and it disappears as though a plague of locusts hit the buffet!  

This is my version, it’s a fat free cake and just about the simplest you can imagine making.  It does require some planning, as the fruit has to be soaked overnight (or for several hours) but after that you simply stir in a beaten egg and some flour - what could be easier.  It tastes deliciously rich, and belies the simplicity of its making.

You can ring the changes and make it a little bit more special by using different fruits and nice tea.  It’s particularly nice made with Earl Grey tea, and even better with Lady Grey tea.  For Christmas I always like to make it with the addition of dried cranberries to the fruit mix. 

The basic recipe is : 

12oz of dried fruit (currants, raisins, sultanas)
8oz light muscovado sugar (don’t get hung up on this, I often use soft brown sugar)
½ pint of strong hot tea 

1 egg, beaten
10oz self raising flour 

Make up half a pint of strong tea. 

Place the dried fruit and sugar together in a bowl and add the tea, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Cover with a clean cloth and leave overnight for the fruit to swell and absorb the tea.

The next day, simply beat an egg and stir into the fruit mixture, then stir in the flour and mix well. 

Turn into a lined 2lb loaf tin and cook at 150oC (between 275/300oF) for 1½ to 1¾  hours, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for 5 to 10 minutes and then turn onto a rack to cool completely. 

Best served sliced thickly and buttered (thickly!), with a nice cup of tea on the side!

I would like to dedicate this particular recipe to my dear neighbour, Peg.  I always give her one of these for Christmas, and on odd occasions through the year we often share a loaf; this is her favourite cake!

(Bara Brith is pronounced Bar - as in barrel, a - as in apple, Bri - as in Brit and th - as in thanks.  Translated, it means speckled bread)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Lasagne - my version

This was the dish that won me my husband! 

It’s one of those dishes that I used to make on the weekend when I worked as it needs a long slow cooking, but provides plenty of freezable portions. 

I never consider making less than the following quantities, and usually have enough to make a lasagne for four serves, plus another three or four serves of sauce for the freezer. 

500g each minced beef and pork
1 big onion, peeled and chopped
A dash each of Worcestershire sauce and mushroom ketchup
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
About an ounce of dried porcini mushrooms soaked in ¼ pint boiling water
1 or 2 anchovies
2 400g tins of tomatoes *
* (if you can get hold of Dress tomato and basil sauce, replace one of the tins of tomatoes with one jar of this)
2 beef stock cubes
2tsp paprika
A small pinch of curry powder
2tsp dried oregano
7 or 8 medium mushrooms, peeled and sliced
A small bunch of fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Squeeze of tomato puree

Approximately 9 lasagne sheets (the exact number will depend on the size of dish you are using.

One tub of supermarket finest four cheese sauce.

Grated cheddar and parmesan cheese to finish

Peel and chop the onion and fry in a little olive oil (or some of the anchovy oil) for 10 minutes, until it turns a nice golden brown.  Add the chopped garlic and toss around in the pan for 5 minutes.  Add the anchovies and push around the pan with your wooden spoon until they ‘melt’. 

Add the minced beef and pork to the pan and break up with the wooden spoon. Brown over a medium heat until the meat is browned, the pan is dry and any liquid from the meat is evaporated. 

At the same time as the meat is browning, strain the soaked dried mushrooms, reserving the soaking water, and then chop fairly finely.   

Add the chopped soaked mushrooms, the Worcestershire sauce and mushroom ketchup to the meat and season with salt and pepper.  Add the paprika and pinch of curry powder and stir well.  Add the tinned tomatoes (and the jar of sauce if using, rinsing the jar out with the reserved water from the soaked mushrooms and add that to the pan).  Add the tomato puree, the dried oregano and crumble over the beef stock cubes.  Give everything a good stir and bring to a simmer.  Cover and either simmer on the hob for two hours, or cook in a low oven. 

After an hour, peel and slice the fresh mushrooms and add to the pan and stir in.  Cover and leave for the final hour. 

Immediately before serving, wash and tear the fresh basil leaves and add to the pan, giving it a good stir to distribute them throughout. 

To assemble the lasagne, first layer 3 sheets of pasta on the bottom of the dish and then top with some sauce.  Layer over a further 3 sheets of pasta and top with the same quantity of sauce again.  Layer over a further 3 sheets of pasta and top with the cheese sauce.  Finally, sprinkle over the grated cheese and pop into the oven until the cheese and sauce is bubbling. 

If you are making this ahead of time (and I usually do as it improves on keeping), allow the meat sauce to cool before adding the top layer of pasta and topping with the cheese sauce. Finally sprinkle over the grated cheeses and heat in the oven.  If cooking from hot it will only require 20 minutes or so, until the cheese is bubbling.  If re-heating from cold it will need 30 - 40 minutes.

The quantities given above have yielded eight serves: four portions of lasagne and a further four of sauce to serve with spaghetti – the ubiquitous spag bol!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Steamed sponge pudding : with cranberries and orange

A true winter favourite!   The work of seconds to prepare, yet always gives the impression of having been a labour of love. 

A really adaptable little dish, you can add whatever you like to provide the sauce.  My personal favourite is golden syrup, hubby’s is raspberry jam.  In honesty though you could use any jam you like; cherry is very nice.  I’ve made it with lemon and orange curd too.

The size of the pudding you make can be quite simply adjusted if you think in terms of a sponge cake.  For two of us I simply make up a one egg sponge mix (2oz each of butter, sugar and flour). 

This particular little beauty is a cranberry and orange sponge pudding and I did as follows : 

Very generously grease a small pudding basin, this one is a pint and a half capacity.

Add about 150g of cranberries to a pan with 1tb of sugar, the grated zest and juice of a small orange and simmer quietly until the berries begin to pop.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy and then add the egg, then the flour.

Add the berries to the buttered dish and then the sponge mixture, levelling across the dish to cover the berries.

Cover the dish with a sheet of pleated greaseproof paper and then a sheet of pleated tin foil.  Then tie the cover to the basin securely with string, looping it around the top to make a handle.  This is much easier to accomplish if you place the basin on a wet dish-cloth to stop it slipping and sliding!

Place the dish in the steamer, cover and steam for an hour.  If you are making a bigger sponge mixture, then it will need longer steaming.

When the pudding has had its steaming carefully remove the string and the foil, protecting your hands with a cloth.  Test it with a skewer to ensure that it is cooked through.

Run a knife around the inside of the bowl and then place a plate over.  Carefully invert the dish on the plate and give it a shake to release the sponge.

What you should have, depending on the filling you are using, is a cooked sponge with a lake of sauce pouring down it.

As this was berries rather than jam, there wasn’t so much of a lake!  

Delicious served with custard, pouring cream or ice cream.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Grandma's Sea Pie

This recipe is the beef version of something my Grandmother used to make when I was a child with leftover lamb.   For some obscure reason, which I have never got to the bottom of, it was called Sea Pie.   

This is one of my absolute favourite dishes, and my regular way of using up leftover cooked meat.  I have recently started making it with beef as my hubby doesn’t like lamb very much.  I love this dish so much that I always cook more meat than I need, just so that I can make this with the leftovers.   

Quantities will vary depending on how many people you want to feed, and indeed how much leftover cooked lamb or beef you have but what I used for one person was:

1 quantity of cooked leftover beef (this particular leftover was frozen from a brisket pot roast I made a few weeks ago)
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into quite thin slices
1 large onion, peeled and cut into slices
A sprig of rosemary washed and chopped finely (you could use thyme if you prefer)
Salt and pepper to taste
1tb flour
½ pint or so of beef stock (if you are using leftover lamb, use lamb stock)

Cut the leftover beef into strips or small chunks and toss in the seasoned flour.  Place in layers in your casserole dish as follows : meat, onion, rosemary, potatoes, season, meat, onion, rosemary, then toss in the dregs of any leftover flour and then pour over the stock, you want enough stock to come two thirds of the way up the dish.  Finally add the top layer of potato slices and cover either with a lid or with foil.

Bake at 180oC for an hour, uncovering for the final 15 minutes so that the top layer of potatoes can brown.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cranberry and Orange Upside Down Cake

I love cranberries, I love them crisp and sharp and this time of year, as they are such a seasonal fruit, I stock up with as many as I can justifiably lay my hands on (!) and use them up in anything and everything.  Actually, my favourite is to blend them with some orange juice for a curiously frothy, but very tasty drink.

This recipe came about when I was toying with making a steamed sponge pudding, I recently tried the Nigella version of this but I found the butter with the cranberries far to cloying and greasy.  I much prefer the crisp tart flavour of cranberries without masking them.  I always use cranberries with orange, as I think they go so well together.

Anyhow, enough waffle!  Here’s what I used :

Appx 100 to 150 grammes of cranberries (depends on the size of your dish)
Zest and juice of half an orange
1tb caster sugar 

4oz butter or margarine
4oz caster sugar
4oz self raising flour
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract 

Butter a small quiche or pie dish (the one I used was 7” diameter) 

Add the cranberries, the grated zest of half an orange, the juice of half an orange and a tablespoon of caster sugar and put to one side. 

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and then gradually add the beaten eggs and the vanilla extract.  Stir in the flour until all combined and fluffy. 

Add spoonfuls of the sponge mixture to the dish of cranberries and carefully spread out with the back of a spoon. 

Cook in a low oven until the sponge is cooked.  I cooked mine at 150oC for 50 minutes. 

Delicious with custard, or you could use cream or even ice cream.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Butternut Squash and Bacon - pasta and risotto : two for one!

I have been home alone for a couple of days this week so had an opportunity to re-visit this old favourite! 

It came about when I was single and used to find that a butternut squash, even a small one, was really too much for one person.  I absolutely hate waste so I used to cook the whole thing, with enough bacon for two people and either cook one and a half serves of pasta, with the extra reserved to make a frittata the next day, or I would just set aside half of the butternut and bacon mix to add to a risotto. 

These are my ‘recipes’, such as they are!  As they are all one serves, if you are cooking for two people then you’ll need two butternut squashes, or a large one.  Or, you could of course use pumpkin.

Peel and cut a butternut squash into cubes and add to a frying pan with a little garlic olive oil.

Chop up four or five rashers of bacon into chunks and add to the pan.  Snip/chop some fresh sage leaves and add.  

I sometimes add a little crushed dried chilli too.

Cook the whole lot gently until everything is cooked and browned nicely.

At the same time as this is cooking, boil a pan of pasta according to packet directions.  I quite like chilli penne with this.

Now depending on what you want to do with the other half of the butternut and bacon mix proceed as follows :

To set aside for a frittata – drain the pasta and add to the frying pan, stirring so that the pasta picks up the sticky bits from the pan.  Decant half to your dish and the other half to a bowl to set aside for the next day.  Add a good grating of parmesan to both bowls.

To set aside for the risotto, just remove half of the bacon and butternut mixture to a bowl and then add the pasta to the pan. 

To make the frittata : break up the pasta and butternut mix with a wooden spoon, beat two eggs, season and add to the bowl with the pasta and mix so that everything is well combined.  Melt a little butter in a frying pan and add the eggy pasta mix, grating a little fresh parmesan over the top.  Set the eggs on the hob, swirling the pan around from time to time and then finish off cooking under the grill.

To make the risotto, for one person I do as follows :

Finely chop a small shallot, half a clove of garlic and a stick of celery and soften in a little butter or olive oil.  Add 1/3 cup of risotto rice and stir around to coat with what little oil there is left in the pan, add 2/3 cup of vegetable or chicken stock and stir in.  Leave to simmer on a low heat, stirring from time to time as it cooks.  Cooking time will vary depending on the type of rice you are using, but generally takes somewhere between 15 to 20 minutes.  Keep the kettle boiled and handy and if you need to, if the risotto seems to dry before the rice has cooked, you can add more boiling water.  Add the bacon and butternut mixture 5 minutes before  the end of the cooking time.  Then add a generous grating of fresh parmesan cheese.

I know that the recipe for the risotto is an aberration to Italians, both in the quantity of butter and the all-in-one method!  But I’m not Italian, I can’t bring myself to use as much butter as you should to make a true risotto, and I like the convenience of doing the all-in-one as opposed to the pan of simmering stock being added a ladleful at a time!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Chicken Leek and Bacon Pie

I love pies!  I love the fact that they are a meal in a dish so I don’t have as much washing up to do in the evening.  Like my shepherd’s pie, they can be made in two stages to split up the work.

The recipe I used to feed two is :

1 leek (the white part for the filling and the green part for the mashed potato topping)

1 carrot

1 stick of celery

3 rashers of bacon, cooked and roughly chopped

leftover chicken torn roughly

1tb flour

12 fl oz chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Generous knob of butter to cook the green part of the leek

2 medium/large potatoes (depending on the size of your dish)

Begin by chopping the stick of celery fairly finely, then dice the carrot and dice the white part of the leek, setting aside the green part for later.

Melt a little butter in a pan and sweat the vegetables for 10 minutes.

Add the tablespoon of flour and mix well in to absorb all the liquid.

Gradually add the stock, stirring it all in before adding more to eliminate any lumps.  Season the sauce and cook for 10 minutes to thicken and cook the flour.  Allow to cool and then add the leftover chicken and cooked chopped bacon (or ham).

Decant into your pie dish and set aside.

For the mashed potato topping, peel, dice and boil the potatoes, then mash. 

Dice the green part of the leek and soften in a generous knob of butter while the potatoes are boiling.

Once the potatoes are mashed, tip the whole buttery lot into the pan and stir in to combine.

Allow the potato and leek to get cold, and then dollop spoonfuls onto the pie filling and fork through.  The ridges will brown beautifully in the oven.

You can, if you wish, top the pie with some grated cheese, as I do for my shepherd’s pie.

When you are ready to eat, the pie will need around 35 to 40 minutes at 180oC from cold.  Or 25 to 30 minutes if you’re making it to eat straight away.