30 March 2012

Courgette, Prosciutto & Blue Cheese Tart - dinner in a hurry!

This last Tuesday marked an important day in the calendar of our family, for this was the day that son & heir's first "proper" (aka "almost adult") school stage production got under way.

A much-shortened version of "We Will Rock You", it featured songs from the show (which is  based loosely around the songs of Queen) together with individual numbers from both groups and soloists.  Son & heir was appearing with his embryonic band "Black Ice" and would be playing his much loved bass guitar to "Another One Bites The Dust".

Assembled and ready to bake
Well, it all went swimmingly.  Nobody fell over and pulled the drapes down, the stage didn't collapse and no emergency services were required - which makes it a resounding success, in my book.  In fact, both hubby and I enjoyed ourselves enormously throughout the evening.

However, fitting the conundrum of eating into the evening was a little tricky.  For son & heir it was easy, as we took him a packed sandwich supper when we delivered his costume to school at 3pm.  For us, well, we had to condense our early evening into three hours or so - which wasn't that difficult but meant that the catering had to be of the simple kind.

Out of the oven and looking satisfyingly delicious
The weather having been unseasonably warm, my mind immediately turned to salad, but I felt that as we were going to be out in the big wide world (also known as the school hall), perhaps we needed something hot to eat before we left.  Yes, I was channelling Mum-ness.  I admit it. 

Anyway, that Mum-ness resulted in a quite lovely (and supremely quick to create and bake) tart.

Take a sheet of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry.  Draw a line around the inside of it, then cover the area inside of the line with ribbons of finely sliced (I used a veggie peeler) courgette that have been tossed in extra virgin olive oil and seasoning.  Next, lay on rumpled and torn pieces of Prosciutto bacon, then into the hollows and hills, sprinkle cubes of a soft, mild blue cheese.  Admire, then bake.

Served with some shop-bought pre-prepared salads, for speed - just perfect.

The end result was that the courgette ribbons cooked beautifully, all were soft and tender.  The Prosciutto crisped up perfectly in the oven and the soft creamy blue cheese melted and ran in delicious rivers all around the other ingredients.  Lush.

The tart really was completely flipping gorgeous - as indeed it was the following day, when we had the remainder for lunch.

COURGETTE, PROSCIUTTO & BLUE CHEESE TART  (Serves 4)

Ingredients :

1 sheet of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry
1 large courgette
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
75g pack of Prosciutto
150g French creamy blue cheese.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 200degF/400degC/Gas6.

2.  Lay the pastry out onto a flat baking sheet and lightly score a line approx 1" in from the edge, all the way around the pastry.  This marks the crust of the tart.

3.  Take the courgette and cut off both ends.  Then, using a vegetable peeler, carefully peel away long thin ribbons of courgette and place them into a bowl.

4.  Sprinkle a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper over the courgette and mix to combine.

5.  Take the strips and arrange them roughly onto the pastry, making sure they aren't all laying down flat and are inside the line for the pastry crust.

6.  Next tear pieces of Prosciutto and lay them roughly on top of the courgette.

7.  Trim off the rind of the blue cheese (if it has one!) and cut into small dice.  Sprinkle these across the surface of the tart.

8.  Sprinkle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil across the tart surface.

9.  Place into the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Serve with salad. 

Kibbeh meatballs in pitta bread

Jolly difficult thing to photograph!
I have found, in the last few years, that I really like most Middle Eastern food.  I love lamb - I suspect I'd probably like goat too, but haven't had the opportunity to try any yet - and the flavour combinations of sweet and savoury, plus fruit and meat, seem to be right up my street, too.

I'm not too familiar with this style of cooking yet though.  I'm getting more familiar with Indian, have been pretty familiar with Greek and Italian for some time and Mexican is increasingly featuring on our menu plans.  However, Middle Eastern cuisine is creeping into the menu plan quietly as my confidence grows with it.

Hence, when I saw the recipe for Middle Eastern Kibbeh (Lebanese meatballs) by Maggie Parnell on All Recipes UK, it struck a chord because a) it was a meatball dish and I seem to be tripping over meatball dishes every day, and b) it used all the spices that we were already familiar with.

The recipe for the meatball mixture I was happy enough with, but could see some potential problems with the salad ingredients as they were, so did a little bit of tweaking where that was concerned.

Now is it just me, or does anyone else find that the pitta bread you get from a Supermarket just isn't big enough to hold salad as well as meat?  It seems to me that as soon as you've got a little bit of shredded salad in there, you've no room to put your meatballs (or whatever).  I'm going to have to abandon Supermarket pittas and buy some from our local ethnic shop, I reckon.  Might have half a chance of being able to actually fill them instead of just using the bread as "grand garnish" which falls apart within seconds.

Anyway - that aside - I really liked these meatballs, but agree with hubby that the spicing could have been a lot more obvious in the overall flavour.  The allspice just disappeared, as did the chilli powder.  If a recipe is going to include spices, then I like to be able to taste them!

I really liked the combination of the Bulgar wheat with the lamb in the meatball - but found that the 175g of Bulgar wheat was way too much for the 500g of lamb mince.  Considering that the recipe stated to use 400g of mince, that amount of wheat would have been extraordinarily excessive.  As it was, a third of the Bulgar wheat went into the dogs' dinners (which they were happy about!), to prevent it flooding out the mince.

The original recipe recommended cooking the meatballs on skewers under the grill or on a griddle pan.  Now I could quite see what would happen if I used the griddle pan - we'd have bits of exploded meatball everywhere and no actual balls in sight.  I am always loath to use the grill pan on our cooker for things that are likely to take a long time to cook, as it really doesn't do my back any favours to have to keep bending down to it.  (It's at below worktop height, as opposed to one of those that are above worktop height, you see).  So after due consideration, I reckoned that if I baked the meatballs at around 180-200degC, they would char nicely on the edges and hold together perfectly - as indeed they did.


So, all these points have been reflected in the recipe below and I am quite sure that it will be all the better for it (if not exactly authentic).


The inclusion of some Tzatziki (cucumber yoghurt dip) with the recipe has served to remind me just how much I love that stuff.  It is so easy to make, too, that I shall have to devise some ways of using it along with lunch!  Perhaps a Bulgar wheat/griddled vegetable combo with Tzatziki - hmmn, that sounds ideal.


KIBBEH MEATBALLS IN PITTA BREAD   (serves 3)


Ingredients :


100g Bulgar wheat
350ml hot lamb stock
500g lean minced lamb
1 red onion, grated
50g pine nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
half a tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp chilli powder


To serve :
6 wholemeal pitta breads (if small - otherwise, sufficient to cope with the amount of meatballs)
shredded Little Gem or Iceberg lettuce
cherry tomatoes, sliced fine
mild red chilli pepper, chopped fine
Tzatziki (cucumber yoghurt dip).


Method :


1.  Put the Bulgar wheat into a saucepan and pour over the hot stock.  Cover and leave to stand for 15 minutes.


2.  Remove the lid from the pan and, if necessary, cook the wheat over a low heat to boil off any excess liquid - whilst rendering the grain still moist.  My Bulgar wheat was of the small gauge variety and didn't need this step.


3.  Tip out onto a plate, spread to even thickness and leave to cool.


4.  Once cool, tip the wheat into a bowl and add the lamb, onion, pine nuts, coriander and dry spices.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.


5.  Then, using your hands, give the whole a good mix - or "squidge" - until every ingredient is evenly distributed.


6.  Divide the lamb mixture into golf-ball sized pieces and shape into balls.  Place each ball into a shallow sided non-stick baking tray.  (I found that the mixture made 18 meatballs which were divided three to a pitta bread).  If you're wanting it to go further, I'd suggest making the meatballs a little smaller.


7.  Bake the meatballs in a hot oven (200degC/400degF/Gas6) for some 35-40 minutes until slightly charred on the outside and very much cooked.  (I always break a meatball in half to check that the inside is cooked through).


8.  While the meatballs are cooking, you can get on with toasting the pitta bread and opening one side, ready to take the shredded salad.  You can also prepare the Tzatziki if you're making it yourself - or just take the lid off.  *chuckle*


9.  Once done, into each pitta bread place some shredded salad, a few slices of tomato and a sprinkling of chilli, then load up your meatballs and finally add a spoonful of Tzatziki.


10.  Serve with disposable napkins - because someone is bound to get it all down their front!


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29 March 2012

Planning for a week's easy meals

Well, I can hope, can't I?

In fact, as I am woefully late with this posting (again!), I can report that the first two meals of this week have been satisfactorily simple - and rewardingly delicious!

Son & heir's school concert happened on Tuesday evening and a fine time was had by all.  From the wobblingly unconfident singing of the choir, through the entire range of guitar playing (which went from an intent young man playing two chords repeatedly, through some assertive bass playing, several thrash metal bands and ultimately a divine piece from two acoustic guitar players who must have a bright future ahead of them) to some happiness-inducing, toe tapping pieces from the entire company, I very much doubt anyone there went home without a big smile on their face.

As parents, we're just glad that the show was such a success and that son & heir didn't let himself down in any way.  We're also a teensy bit glad that we now get a break from trying to source items for his costume and having to drive backwards and forwards to school conveying either guitar, costume and son (or any combination thereof) to rehearsals at random times of day.

So you won't be surprised to hear that I've been on the lookout for easy recipes for this week's menu plan.

Here's what I settled upon :

Tues : Courgette, prosciutto & blue cheese tart with salads
Weds : Sausage & mustard pasta
Thurs : Tandoori turkey masala with chapatis
Fri : Hoisin pork with jacket sweet potatoes & salad
Sat : Chinese chicken curry with rice
Sun : Turkey & chestnut cider pie with mashed potatoes & broccoli
Mon : Chilli con carne with rice.

The first cab off the rank was the tart - which proved to be an absolute winner with its simplicity and speed.  We needed something super-easy to have before reporting for duty at son & heir's concert - and this was it.  The combination of courgette, prosciutto and blue cheese was another winner that I thoroughly recommend.  Watch out for the recipe which I'll be blogging very soon - and tuck it into your memory for "meals to make in a hurry"!

Wednesday's Sausage & mustard pasta came from a BBC Good Food recipe which you can find here.   The name gives the impression of a fairly pedestrian sausage & pasta combo, but oh no!  Far from it!  The combination of ingredients - including Dijon mustard, cream, parmesan and fresh tarragon - was simply alchemical in its results.   This is another one that I'll be blogging, as it very definitely requires sharing far and wide!

I'm quite looking forward to tonight's curry offering.  The recipe originated from a combination of my looking for inspiration as to what to do with some Turkey mince that I'd been sent to play with - and the discovery of Maunika Gowardhan's Tandoori Gobi Masala recipe on lovefood.com.

Her recipe deals specifically with cauliflower florets, but it got me to wondering whether the same preparation principle would work for a turkey patty or meatball.  Because turkey is such a low fat meat, when you cook a turkey meatball in the oven very little fat is released.  To me, this is similar in many ways to a cauliflower floret, which doesn't release much water when baked.

I'm not quite THIS bad - but it's been close!
So anyway, that's what we'll be having tonight - Tandoori Gobi Masala, along with Tandoori Turkey Masala, with a raita.  Tear a piece from a chapati, pick up a piece of cauliflower or a meatball (or both at once, if you're clever!), dip it into the raita and into your face it goes.  What's the betting I'll get it all down my front?  Pretty sure fire thing, I'd say - break out the napkins!

Friday's Hoisin Pork is borne of a desire to use the other jar of Hoisin sauce that we bought last week and my current pork chop lust.  I'll be getting some pork steaks for the chaps, as they both aren't keen on pork chops - hubby hates the fat and son & heir can't be bothered with negotiating with the bone and also hates the fat aspect.  I'll make some of my lovely chilli & lime mixture to go with the sweet potatoes - which is another guaranteed winner.

Both hubby and son & heir really like the sort of curry that you get from a Chinese takeaway.  Personally, I don't like it at all, but I'm hoping that Lily Kwok's version from goodfoodchannel.co.uk is a cut above the rest.  Still, if I'm not too keen on the result, hopefully that will mean that the chaps really like it!

You'll notice that Sunday's pie has re-appeared, as I didn't get to make it last Sunday.  The turkey leg chunks came out of the freezer the most peculiar colour - so I'm afraid they went in the bin, as I'm not prepared to risk food poisoning.  We had sausage & mash instead, which is always a good standby.  So having bought some more turkey leg chunks, fingers crossed this lot will look a bit more pleasant and I'll be able to make my pie.

Weightwatchers' Turkey & Cider Sauce - not SO far out after all!
Hubby has said that he's not too sure about the idea of this pie, in particular the combination of cider and turkey.  It's interesting, because one of the points of being sent the turkey meat to play with was to create interesting dishes that people would want to try out for themselves - and pairing turkey meat with unusual combinations is all part of that.  I can see the pie in my mind's eye and can imagine how I want the flavours to combine.  I'll need to make sure that the pie doesn't stray too far towards the sweet, as a number of the ingredients (turkey, cider, chestnuts, carrots) can all go that way.  However, hopefully the balancing of the gravy/sauce along with the savoury pastry and celery will help to carry it back towards the savoury.  We'll see!

Monday's evening meal will be what a Monday dinner often is - something easy, something we've got confidence in, something everybody likes.  Good old Chilli Con Carne.  I think of Monday as being a day when we get to have a rest from the efforts of the earlier week and when we can step back a bit and get ready for the creations that will appear over the coming week.  Cue comfort food, one of which - for us - is Chilli.  Yum!

Hubby made an interesting observation last night, which is something that had occurred to me but that I hadn't voiced.  He said "we're so lucky, really, in that for the last couple of years almost every night we've had something different for dinner.  Not everyone can claim that!".  So thank you, Rhubarb & Ginger, for driving interesting - if not always successful - mealtimes in the Jenny Eatwell household!

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28 March 2012

Bacon & Cheese Muffins

A very long time ago, when I first made muffins and they were successful, it got us to thinking about what flavours would combine well in that context.

We went through all the nuts and fruit combinations, all the chocolate combinations and chocolate/fruit combinations - and then began to think savoury.

The very first combination that struck us, was Bacon & Cheese.  Now that seemed to be a workable combination for a breakfast or elevenses muffin, provided enough cheese was involved.  So often, in recipes, cheese is on the ingredients list but in insufficient quantities to make the kind of flavour impact that cheese lovers like us are looking for.  To our way of thinking, if you're going to have cheese in something, then we want to taste it - not just imagine that it's there, somewhere, under the rest of the flavours.


So, what we have here is a very cheesy, very bacony, Bacon & Cheese Muffin.

Sprinkled with cheese and ready for the oven
These muffins are by far and away the very tip top favourite of all muffin-kind, where my hubby is concerned.  He even asked for some for his birthday!  Granted, they aren't the cheapest of muffins to make - as they use an entire 340g pack of bacon at £2.60 or so, not to mention the cheese and buttermilk.  As an "extra" (i.e. outside of the normal run of breakfast, lunch and dinner) and as the ingredients only make 6 (albeit large) muffins, they definitely don't work out as the cheapest baking in the world.

However, as a breakfast treat - or a school break time treat - you'd have to go a long way to beat them.

Mmmmn ... bacon & cheese goodness!
I've tried various additional flavours with these muffins - such as sun dried tomato, red onion, and olives - but it seems to me that these additional flavours just serve to detract from the beautiful friendship that the cheese and bacon to have developed.   Although, having said that, I do add some English Mustard powder and a small amount of paprika.  These, though, rather than standing up there and exchanging fisticuffs with the cheese, do a very good job of being backing singers to the cheese and provide a deeper flavour profile to the substance of the muffin.  The mustard powder also provides a comforting and gentle warmth that you're really not aware of until after the last mouthful has been swallowed.

I thoroughly recommend a good strong cup of coffee along with these muffins - and a drop of warm sunshine and a comfortable patio would be good, but we can't have everything!

BACON & CHEESE MUFFINS   (makes 6 large)

Ingredients :

340g smoked back bacon
110g strong mature cheddar, grated (10g separated out for sprinkling)
360g self raising flour
2 tsp English Mustard powder
half a tsp paprika
1 tbsp sugar (I used a rounded tsp of Splenda)
100ml extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
250ml buttermilk
50ml semi skimmed milk (or plain yoghurt).

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degF/350degC/gas4.

2.  Cook the rashers of bacon - whole - under the grill until the fat has rendered out but before they become crispy.  Put them on a plate and allow to cool completely.


3.  While the bacon is cooling, grate the cheddar.


4.  Take each rasher of bacon and with scissors, cut into small dice.

5.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, mustard, paprika) until thoroughly mixed.

6.  In another bowl, combine all the wet ingredients (oil, eggs, buttermilk, milk) and give them a whisk with a balloon whisk until thoroughly mixed.


7.  Combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients in the large bowl plus add the bacon and cheese.  Give everything a good few stirs - but don't over-mix.  It is good with muffins to retain a certain lumpiness to the mixture, so don't worry if there are small clumps of un-mixed in flour.  Too much mixing makes a tough muffin!


8.  Decant the mixture into a silicone muffin tray which has been placed upon a baking tray (otherwise they're hell to handle!).  Sprinkle over the remaining 10g of cheese.


9.  Put into the oven to bake for some 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the muffin comes out clean.


10.  Place onto a wire cooling rack and fight off all comers until ready to be eaten!


Printable version

27 March 2012

Strawberry & Raspberry Sherry Trifle - happy sigh!

Now I know that there are many glorious, delicious and sublime desserts available out there in this world.  Let's take that as read.

For me, however, dessert doesn't get much better (except maybe with a Summer Pudding) than with an enormous fresh fruit Trifle.

My hubby reckons that life is made more bearable by the use of Sprinkles - and where a Trifle is concerned, I think he's right.  On a steak pie, maybe not so much.  Anyway ..

We were entertaining my parents for lunch this last Mother's Day and had decided upon hubby's signature dish of a beautiful risotto, followed by a good old-fashioned, retro, enormous bowl of wobbly, be-sprinkled, Trifle.  Much happiness.

Trifle just makes you smile, don't you think?  If I see a big wobbly bowl of Trifle, I can't help but be taken back to childhood meals of getting past the main course as fast as possible, so as to get to the Trifle moment.  The layers of fruit, jelly, sponge, custard and cream!  Where else would you get all those fabulous ingredients in the one spoonful?  Certainly not from a Sticky Toffee Pudding (in all its undoubted glory).  Nor from a Cheesecake (even though it'd try to come close).  No, the Trifle reigns supreme over dessert-land in its decadence and deliciousness.

My trifle started life on the Saturday morning, when I began by soaking the Boudoir Finger Biscuits (far, far superior to your dry old bit of leftover sponge, or measly Swiss roll) in sherry, then made the raspberry jelly by including the juice from a tin of raspberries.  The fruit - including sliced fresh strawberries - was spread over two layers of soaked biscuits (the bottom layer soaked in sherry, the top layer soaked in jelly) and then topped off by pouring the jelly slowly across the whole, to act as lovely fresh flavoured, jewel coloured, wobbly glue to hold it all together.

From there, it was reverently placed in the fridge to set and await that evening's layer of custard.


Now, if you're going to make a Trifle from scratch like this, don't ruin the loveliness by using nasty pre-made runny custard - even if it does purport to come from Devon.  Also, don't go all super keen and make Michelin star custard from cream and vanilla pods.  Oh no.  Invest in some custard powder and follow the instructions.  THAT's the type of custard that a Trifle enjoys and that's the type of custard that will set properly.

Once be-custarded, return your baby Trifle to the fridge to chill before tomorrow's lavish cream layer, the bright colour of strawberry decorations and the unabashed joy of sprinkles.

The following day, whip up some double cream to soft peak stage (I will admit, mine went a bit beyond that, but not so far that it was unusable - thank goodness).  Spread the cream in a generous layer (you can always whip up some more, if you run out before the top is covered) over the top of the custard and ruffle up the surface with the tines of a fork.

Now is the time to get creative with some strawberry slices and, moments before the big reveal of service, to break out the Sprinkles of Joy.

For just a moment, stand back and admire the work of art that is your Trifle.  Wallow in the anticipation of that "gloop!" sound that the first spoonful will make as it is served and the flavour of those first glorious spoonfuls.

Happy, happy days.

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Dorset Apple Cake

Having FINALLY got around to baking the Dorset Apple Cake that I'd been threatening to bake for around a month, I'm really not too sure about the results.

You see, the photograph of the Dorset Apple Cake on the recipe (which was given to me by a friend and I've no idea where it originates from) didn't look even a tiny bit like the cake that I wound up with.

My cake batter appeared to be more of a shortbread biscuit type of mixture - very dry and almost crumbly.  The recipe states "don't worry if the mixture is a bit stiff, keep mixing and it will come together".  Well, I mixed and mixed and added a tiny bit more liquid and it stayed looking a bit like a damp shortbread mixture, so I shrugged my shoulders and used it.

For all that the end result didn't look like its picture, it looked interesting and indeed was very nice to eat.


However, I'd consider it more of a dessert than a "cake" as such.  The cake part of the thing was (not surprisingly) very dense, although with the apple pieces throughout and with apple slices on the top, it avoided being dry.  The lemon zest came through in the cake mixture with a lovely little tang and I saved a few calories by using 40/60 Splenda sugar substitute and caster sugar.  I guess that could be part of the reason why the cake mixture was so dry, as sugar would have dissolved into syrup whereas the Splenda just sort of fizzes.

When served, the slice was just begging for cream, or greek yoghurt, or ice cream or even custard - so we sidetracked a little of the cream meant for the following day's trifle. 

We did eat all but one slice (although not all at once, she hastens to add!) - which got overtaken by other events and when I finally got back to it with intentions of eating it up, discovered a neat little round of mould on one apple slice.  Harumph!  Rats!

Hence, if you're planning on making the cake, I'd recommend not trying to keep it beyond two days - just to be on the safe side.  Ordinarily, of course, we'd have eaten it all up within those two days, but Mother's Day got in the way!

DORSET APPLE CAKE    (serves min. of 8)

Ingredients :

225g self raising flour
25g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
110g butter
110g caster sugar (or 60g sugar plus 2 tbsp Splenda)

zest of 1 lemon
225g peeled, cored and diced cooking apples (weight following preparation)
1 large egg
2 tbsp milk
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and sliced thinly, soaked in lemon juice
2-3 tbsp soft brown sugar.

METHOD :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 170degC/325degF/Gas 3.

2.  Butter and line an 8" round cake tin with removable base.

3.  Sift flour, cornflour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.

4.  Cut the butter into small pieces and rub in, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

5.  Stir in the caster sugar, diced apple and lemon zest.

6.  In a separate bowl whisk together the egg and milk.

7.  Bind the mixture together with the egg/milk mixture.  Don't worry if it is a bit stiff, keep on mixing and it will come together.

8.  Pour into the prepared baking tin and level the surface.

9.  Arrange the apple slices on top, then sprinkle the brown sugar all over to make a crusty glaze.

10.  Bake in the oven for around 35-40 minutes, or until a cocktail stick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

11.  Cool in the tin, then turn out onto a cake plate and serve with a dollop of cream.

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26 March 2012

Petuba Canneloni - delicate and delicious

See the Peppadew Piquante Pepper in the foreground
So - you get sent some Turkey products to play with, plus a jar of Peppadew Piquante Peppers to mix it up a little bit.  Now if you're my hubby, the first thing you think of is "stuffing for canneloni".  Wouldn't have been my first thought (which was "pie", using the pieces of turkey leg), but I was willing to go with it and see where we wound up.

Where we wound up, was with a simply scrummy pasta dish of canneloni tubes filled with a delicate mousse-like mixture of turkey, bacon and peppers, all covered in a delicious creamy white sauce with melted cheddar cheese.  Oh - and a bit of salad, which fades into obscurity in the face of such deliciousness.

A quick word about the Peppadew Piquante Peppers - which I hadn't sampled before and which are almost addictive in their tongue tinglingly sweet tanginess!  Not expecting them to be chilli peppers, I popped one into my mouth whole to try.  Wow!  What an explosion of flavour from such an innocuous looking little round pepper!  First they're incredibly sweet, then the piquancy breaks through, closely followed by a steam train of warmth which is all rounded off by an overall fruitiness.  They are absolutely brilliant and we included some in the salad, which was a masterstroke where inclusion of flavours was concerned.


Pepper, Turkey & Bacon mousse filling - filled!
Now I didn't do the cooking for this one - hubby did the lot.  As you will see, this isn't a recipe to attempt if you've only got an hour or so.  In fact, I believe that the way hubby approached it - in stages and throughout the day - is probably the best way to go (even if you do feel as though you've been cooking the darned dinner all day long).


His first move was to cook the bacon & turkey and leave them to cool completely.

The next move was to assemble the mousse and fill the canelloni tubes, then make the white sauce.

Finally, he reheated the sauce and brought the dish together before baking it in the oven.  So it very definitely isn't what you'd call a "simple" dish to make, although none of the stages are particularly difficult to achieve (except, maybe, for piping the filling into the canneloni tubes, when it is helpful if your piping bag doesn't split asunder!).

Baked and ready to serve
The only changes to the dish that he would make if he were to create it again, would be firstly to have a greater difference in size of the turkey pieces in the mousse.  He felt that it would have been more interesting to have found slightly larger pieces rather than an amalgous whole, and secondly, to have included more bacon (both of these points have been included in the recipe below).  For all that the bacon was there, it wasn't as obvious a flavour as he would have liked.

For me, it was just divine how it was - but then it wasn't my creation!

Oh, and the origin of the name?  Well, it's PEpper, TUrkey and BAcon .... :)


A closeup of the mousse filling - yum!

PETUBA CANNELONI  (feeds 4)


Ingredients :

250g smoked streaky bacon
2 turkey breast steaks (approx. 350g)
250g Ricotta cheese
75g double cream
30g greek yoghurt
1 pack cannelloni
5 Peppadew piquante peppers, finely sliced

125g grated cheddar cheese.
 
For the white sauce :
85g plain flour
85g butter
1 - 1.5 pints semi skimmed milk
pinch of nutmeg
pinch dried mustard powder
salt & pepper.

Method :

For the Cannelloni Stuffing

1.  Place all but three of the bacon rashers under the grill and cook until crispy.  Set these aside to cool.

2.  In a large frying pan, cook the remaining three rashers to the point that the fat has rendered out into the pan.  Add the rashers to the plate to cool.

3.  Add the turkey steaks to the pan and cook completely through.  Finally, stack the cooked turkey steaks on top of the bacon rashers, cover in clingfilm, before leaving to cool completely.

4.  Once cooled, chop the turkey and the bacon into smallish chunks and place into a food processor.  Turn on the processor to reduce the meat to your desired texture, be that finer or chunkier but bear in mind that the final mixture must be able to pass through a piping bag.

5.  Tip the meat into a large bowl and add the ricotta, cream, and yoghurt, plus the peppers.  Stir until mixture resembles a light mousse.  You may need to add more cream or yoghurt to achieve this.  Season with ground black pepper and salt but be sparing with the salt as the bacon is very salty to begin with.  Keep tasting and seasoning until you are happy with the mixture.

6.  With the nozzle holder in place but without the nozzle itself, fill a piping bag with the mixture and then fill the cannelloni.  If you have made a coarser mixture, you may find that you need to pipe the cannelloni from both ends.  The ingredients listed here should fill roughly 20 normal sized cannelloni or between 8-10 large ones.

Once filled set the Cannelloni aside onto a plate.

For the White Sauce
 
I used to be quite scared of the idea of making white sauce but it really is very straightforward so long as you can give it your undivided attention for 15 minutes or so.

1.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan and then add in the flour.  Stir vigorously until the flour and butter combine into a thick paste called the roux.  Keep stirring to make sure that the roux does not stick to the bottom of the pan.  Cook for three to five minutes. 

2.  Take the pan off the heat and stir in enough milk to loosen the roux.  Once this has happened, return the pan to the heat, and keep stirring.  The mixture will thicken very quickly and whenever it does this, add more milk to loosen it.  Don't be alarmed if the sauce looks lumpy at this stage...it'll all be fine in the end.....honest!

3.  Swap your spoon for a balloon whisk and keep whisking vigorously, adding more milk whenever needed.  Season the sauce with salt, pepper and a pinch each of ground nutmeg and mustard powder.

4.  After about 15 - 20 minutes your white sauce should be silky smooth and the consistency of good double cream.  Any thicker than this and you'll need to add more milk.
 
5.  Either progress immediately to the next stage, or cover your saucepan with cling film and set aside.

This white sauce can be made ahead of time and can even be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks.  From this basic sauce, all manner of other sauces can be made by adding things like cheese, or herbs or whatever takes your fancy.  In addition, it makes a good base for savoury pie fillings....handy stuff this!

For the Assembly

1.  Preheat an oven to 180c or 170c for a fan oven.  Take a large oblong oven dish (a lasagne dish is perfect) and put a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom.  Arrange the filled cannelloni on top of this layer and then pour over the rest of the sauce, making sure that all of the pasta is covered.

2.  Place your dish into the oven for 15 minutes.  At the end of the 15 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle liberally with the grated cheddar.  Please feel free to use more cheddar than I've recommended if you're feeling naughty, or mix it with 50g of grated parmesan if you like it extra cheesy.

3.  Return the dish to the oven for 20 minutes, rotating it after 10 minutes if, like me, you have an oven that's hotter at the front than at the back.

4.  When ready, the cheese will have turned golden and the cannelloni can now be served with a light salad.


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22 March 2012

Bacon & Leek Pasta - our very favourite fall-back recipe

I used macaroni because it needed using up - but Spirali or Fusilli are good!
Let's not shilly-shally about - this recipe occurred on this day purely because of Bacon Connoisseur's Week.  However, I was so pleased I booked it in for the beginning of the week instead of the end (it's a great Monday dinner, as it doesn't need many fresh vegetables keeping for it!).  After all last week's activities, I could do with an easy peasy meal to make.

I couldn't eat this meal too regularly, but as a fall-back position for tired days or when you want a quick meal before going out - you just can't beat it.

The entire ingredient list is 8 items - 9 if you include Parmesan for sprinkling, which isn't essential, but is nice - and so long as you choose a good well flavoured back bacon, you just can't go wrong.
Diced bacon cooking out its moisture and rendering the fat
The recipe can bear some adaptation, too - as I've used sliced mushrooms with the leeks in the past and they haven't done it any harm at all.  So it's a useful repository for a few unused mushrooms!  Peas would go nicely, too.


See what I mean about pressing each little round to see if it's soft enough to separate?
However, I wouldn't recommend using low fat creme fraiche, as in my experience it has a tendency to split - and as it forms the majority of the sauce, that would just be horrible.  However, you're only using 200ml of it - and divided amongst three people, it's only 66.6ml per person which isn't too terrible!

The gorgeous sauce, all ready to be added to the pasta
This recipe has the undoubted accolade of being the first recipe to be cooked in our new flat in Dorset when we first moved here.  We had just a borrowed two-ring Belling hotplate as the cooker hadn't been installed at that stage and sitting down to a yummy comforting plate of Bacon & Leek Pasta in our new place, really helped to make it feel like home.

There's just something very harmonious about the creaminess, the sharpness of the salty, smoky bacon against the gentle savouriness of the leek, then the soft chewiness of the pasta - all closely followed by a comforting warmth from the cayenne that says "eat me and relax".


Don't mind if I do.  :)

BACON & LEEK PASTA   (serves 3)

300g back bacon, diced
a knob of butter
2-3 leeks, trimmed up, washed and sliced
1 tsp mushroom ketchup or Worcestershire sauce
300g pasta (spirali or fusilli are good)
200ml creme fraiche D'Isigny (or any good full fat creme fraiche)
half a tsp of cayenne pepper
50ml semi-skimmed milk
some grated parmesan cheese, for sprinkling.


Method :


1.  Heat a dry frying pan and then cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and the bacon is becoming crispy.  Remove and set aside to keep warm.

2.  Place a large pan of salted water on to a heat, for the pasta.

3.  Add the knob of butter to the bacon juices and on a gentle heat, add the leeks - trying to get them all to lay down in contact with the pan as much as possible.  Cook them gently in this way, until each little "round" separates with a press from your spoon or spatula.  Separate out all the layers in this way and add the mushroom ketchup or Worcestershire sauce.

4.  When the pasta water boils, add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions (usually 9-10 minutes or until al dente).  Drain well, once cooked, and return to the pan to keep warm.

5.  Add the creme fraiche to the frying pan, along with a little milk to help it dissolve into a sauce.  Add the cayenne pepper and taste to check the seasoning - add a little salt or pepper (both are highly unlikely) if required.


6.  Cook gently until either the creme fraiche has warmed through or the sauce has achieved the consistency you prefer, then add it to the pasta and stir through gently.


7.  Serve at once, onto warmed plates.  Add a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese, to taste.

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21 March 2012

Menu planning for Bacon Connoisseur's Week - shouldn't be difficult!

Bacon, bacon - what would we do without the stuff?  How on earth do people cope, who don't eat bacon?  Come to that, how do vegetarians stay vegetarian, when there's bacon in the world?  I know I didn't.  I spent a year and a half being vegetarian after the traumatic time of having my first horse put to sleep.  Put me off meat in a big way, that did.  However, I was won over by the promise of a bacon & egg sandwich.  Oooh, but it was good!

So this week is Bacon Connoisseur's Week, but before I get into describing the bacony loveliness that we're indulging in, a few words about the end of last week.

We had my parents over for Sunday lunch on Mothering Sunday, which was very nice indeed and it was lovely to see them outside of their house - as we always seem to be going over there!  Hubby was in charge of the catering on the day, to save my stress levels from soaring and (potentially) making me feel worse than I currently do.  He did a sterling job, cooking them his signature Risotto - this time it was a Bacon & Asparagus risotto, which is one of our favourites.  We were tempted to do the Bramley Apple, Bacon & Black Pudding risotto, but didn't know how they might react to black pudding, so erred on the side of caution.  The Bacon & Asparagus version is always completely gorgeous though - and everyone presented cleaned plates at the end of the meal, so I think they agreed.

I'd made a lovely big retro trifle for dessert - a strawberry & raspberry sherry version.  Quite apart from being completely mouthwatering and retrospective, it had the advantage that it could be made beforehand and just be waiting in the fridge for its moment in the sun.  I'll be blogging the recipe, so I won't go into detail here.

Thinking on, we started Bacon Connoisseur's Week early, with our Sunday lunch of Bacon & Asparagus Risotto!

So, what's on the menu for the coming week then?  Here you go :

Tues : Bacon & Leek Pasta
Wed : Petuba Canneloni with salad
Thur : Hoisin Chicken and noodles
Fri : Takeaway or eat out
Sat : Sausage croissants with potato wedges
Sun : Turkey & Chestnut Cider Pie with mashed potato, green beans & broccoli
Mon : to be confirmed!

Good old Bacon & Leek Pasta.  It's a favourite standby recipe that gets trotted out when I want a meal that's easy to prepare.  It just so happened that I haven't yet got around to blogging this stalwart of a recipe and because it's Bacon Connoisseur's Week, it seemed like a good place to start.

Tonight's Petuba Canneloni is a recipe that has primarily been dreamt up by hubby - so I've left him to cope with all the processes that are involved.  Petuba?  You're wondering about the name, aren't you.  I know I would be! Well, it's an amalgamation.  You see, the stuffing for the canneloni will involve Peppadew PEppers, TUrkey breast steaks and BAcon, all held together with Ricotta cheese.  Pe-tu-ba, see?  This recipe fits very nicely in with two promotions that are being conducted at the moment - the "I love British Turkey" and Bacon Connoisseur's Week.

In conjunction with "I love British Turkey" I was recently sent some turkey products and the Peppadew peppers, to work with and concoct some yummy recipes.  So if turkey keeps on popping up in the menu plans, you know why!

Thursday's dinner breaks free from all influences of bacon or turkey and we're satisfying my craving for Hoisin sauce.  Currently, we're having terrible trouble finding a tin of water chestnuts, but hopefully we'll have tracked one down by tomorrow.  I was sure I'd bought water chestnuts from Asda on previous occasions, but neither of us could find any trace of any such thing there yesterday.  A shame, because I absolutely love water chestnuts and they will provide lovely crunchiness along with soft chicken and noodles, baby sweetcorn and mange tout.

Angus Young - for those who don't know!
Son & heir is involved in a concert at his school - a "We will rock you" type concert where he's playing guitar and singing - so there is lots of after school rehearsals going on, increasing in intensity the closer we get to concert day.  Hence, Friday is the big dress rehearsal and we've no idea when it is likely to grind to a halt, so that's definitely a "no cook" day.  He's dressing up as Angus Young (from AC/DC) and there's been no end of anguish over his costume, but I think we've cracked it now, with judicious use of safety pins and a lucky strike where a hat was concerned.

He is also appearing as part of the choir, which requires him to wear black & white - and a jacket.  Well that jacket has been harder to source than anything else.  Even so, we've wound up with a very dark navy jacket that's just going to have to do.  School seems to think we're all made of money and can just go out and buy a brand new black jacket just for the concert, but I'm afraid life's not that easy!

Sort of like this - except prettier!
Saturday sees the return of Sausage Croissants which got bumped from last week's menu list before it even hit publication - where you use frozen croissant dough and spread it with chutney before wrapping around a part-cooked sausage, then baking.  I thought it looked like a nice variation on a sausage roll idea - and we all like sausage rolls!  I shall be having coleslaw with mine and I expect the chaps will be happy with potato wedges with theirs.  A suitable Saturday meal, I thought.

Sunday brings a return to creating meals with British Turkey.  I was sent a pack of cubed turkey leg meat, which was saying either "stew" or "pie" to me.  The stew option seemed too easy and too obvious, whereas the pie option seemed to be a little more challenging where the potential for additional flavours was concerned.  I'm currently aiming for a pie filling involving the turkey along with some chestnuts, carrots, mushrooms and a little celery, all held within a light but creamy cider gravy or sauce, under a puff pastry lid.  Looking at it there, it sounds lovely - so I'm fairly hopeful.

Monday is the day before the big concert, so we're leaving that day's meal open at the moment, as we don't really know what's going to happen with regard to rehearsals.  We'll plan that one over the weekend, I think, once we've got a better picture of what's happening.

Hey!  You'll never guess what?  I made the Dorset Apple Cake!  I know - what a surprise, eh?  Well, I shall be blogging that recipe, too - so I'll leave it at "yum with cream!" for now.

As for incidental bakes and makes this week, well I have some muffin baking to do.  Waay back when, I made some completely gorgeous Bacon & Cheese muffins that were just divine for breakfast, coffee time - any time, really.  They aren't cheap to make - not as an incidental make - but are very worth it.  I was amazed to find (when I was planning bacon posts) that I hadn't blogged the results, so they were definitely going to be made this week.

Lastly, we were given some lovely Zinfandel wine by the folk at Barefoot Wines, with which to make a Mother's Day cocktail.  Well, between one thing and another, we completely failed to make it for Mother's Day, but we'll very definitely be making it some time this week.  Involving strawberries, zinfandel and gin, I'm only amazed we haven't got to it sooner!

So, with a rousing chorus of "We are the champions", let's head off into Turkey and Bacon week - with a large seasoning of Queen hits for good measure!

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20 March 2012

Chicken & Fennel Gratin

We love fennel.  It's worthwhile saying that straight away.

However, even if you're not keen on fennel, it'd be worthwhile making this Gratin dish - so long as you're keen on the combination of Lasagne and salad - as it makes a very satisfying (and rather more lightweight) alternative, that does a similar job.

Hubby was rather disappointed that the fennel seemed to have lost the majority of its flavour in the cooking process, however I quite liked that it had been rendered more subtle than in other recipes.  Fennel is one of those ingredients that seems to either be right up there at the front of the ingredient choir singing in a piercing tenor, or can be muscled out of the way by a big deep voiced bass of a tomato (for instance).  In this dish, however, I felt it added to a harmonious whole by providing the freshness and lightness that the rich sauce required.


As a springtime dish, I think this one absolutely fits the bill perfectly.  Not as heavy as the casseroles and stews we've been relying on to warm us both inside and out whilst the winter slowly progresses on ponderous feet.  This Gratin provides just enough comfort in its creamy sauce, robust chicken and cheesy goodness that we're happy to tuck into the accompanying salad and welcome the advent of fresh, uncooked vegetables into our lives again. Croutons of crunchy baguette pair with the earthiness of the walnuts, while our spirits are lifted by the wholegrain mustard and zing of cayenne pepper.

Did I like it?  Yeah, it was okay.  LOL  No, it was lovely!


Of necessity, I made some changes to the original recipe (which I found in a BBC Good Food magazine, but it doesn't appear to be on their website) as I was cooking the chicken from raw.  As such, it needed a lot longer in the oven so I didn't bother with the pre-cooking of the fennel and didn't add the topping until 25 minutes baking had passed by.  I also drizzled the topping with a little extra virgin olive oil, both for flavour and to encourage the croutons to crisp without going hard.

As an alternative to the laborious process of making a Lasagne, this would definitely get my vote.  I could see it being popular as a suppertime dish for an evening meal with friends, accompanied by a light, crisp white wine.

Even without the wine, everyone here cleared their plate and declared it to be a very great success.
 This recipe has been entered into the Recipe Lion March Blog Hop competition!

CHICKEN & FENNEL GRATIN   (feeds 4)

Ingredients :

2 bulbs of fennel
3 chicken breasts, skinless & boneless, cut into strips

100g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
350ml semi-skimmed milk 

2 rounded tsp wholegrain mustard
pinch of cayenne pepper
100g strong mature cheddar
6 slices baguette
30g walnuts, roughly chopped
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 190degC/375degF/Gas5.

2.  Trim the tops from the fennel, reserving the frondy bits to chop for the sauce.  Make sure that the fennel is washed well, as dirt can hide inbetween the layers.  Trim the bottom root part away, then cut in half and remove the remainder of the core and discard.  Slice into thin pieces and sprinkle into the bottom of a gratin dish.

3.  Trim any fat from each chicken breast and slice into decent sized even slices that will lay on top of the fennel comfortably.   Arrange the slices so that the majority (or all) of the fennel is covered.

4.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour.  Stir well and cook for a couple of minutes, but don't allow to brown.  Slowly add the milk, a little at a time, whisking like mad to avoid any lumps.  Increase the heat slowly - stirring and whisking all the time - until the sauce thickens and begins to boil.  You are looking for a sauce that is the consistency of a thick double cream.  One that will coat the back of a spoon, but still liquid enough to pour.  Reduce the heat immediately.

5.  Add the mustard and cayenne pepper, then two thirds of the grated cheese.  Stir well until the cheese is dissolved and the mustard and cayenne are evenly distributed.

6.  Add the chopped fronds from the fennel and adjust the seasoning (salt, more than pepper) if necessary.  Pour the sauce over the chicken and encourage it into the corners, so that every little bit of chicken and fennel is sealed under a blanket of sauce.


7.  Put into the oven to bake for 25 minutes.


8.  In the meantime, you can prepare the topping by cutting the baguette slices into small crouton squares and running a knife through the walnut pieces to reduce their size.


9.  Once the 25 minutes are up, remove from the oven just long enough to sprinkle the croutons, walnuts and cheese over and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil across the top.


10.  Replace into the oven and bake again for another 25 minutes, or until the top is browned slightly and crunchy and the sauce is bubbling.


11.  Serve with a mixed salad.


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