12 August 2017

Reduced sugar Lemon & Courgette Loaf - perfect with a cup of tea

If you are anything like me and enjoy a good ramble through recipe websites and magazines, you can't help but have noticed the trend towards including vegetables in sweet cakes and loaves.  I think it has largely come over from the States, but I also can't help thinking that perhaps this is what used to go on during the war when sugar was rationed and cake ingredients were at a premium.

Anyway, this was my first go with including courgette - and it's very good!  With the lemon in there too, you don't notice the courgette flavour but it has a distinct effect upon the texture of the cake/loaf.  (I can't help but call it a cake, because it looks so much like one and tastes so much like one!  However, the original recipe touts it as an American breakfast bread.  Well, considering cornbread, I suppose it fits!).  This is a very robust cake in that the texture of the cake crumb is almost bouncy.  Not rubbery, it just has a degree of resistance to the tooth, without being dry or crumbly.  I like it a lot.



My lovely Facebook friend Ann recommended the loaf to me - for which thank you very much, Ann!  The original recipe came from the Lemon Tree Dwelling blog (see here) - where, incidentally, it is referred to as a "bread".


Now, along with trying to reduce our consumption of carbohydrates (Conscience : "Oh yes? Why are you making cake then, Jenny, eh?", me : "Shut up and get back in your bed!"), we have also been trying to reduce our consumption of processed sugar.  That's a real tricky one where sweet baking is concerned.  I won't entertain the use of lots of the sweeteners that are out there today - and particularly not anything with aspartame or acesulfame in it. However, we have found that Truvia (a stevia based sweetener) is acceptable.

Hence, you will find that the ingredients include a quantity of Truvia along with a much reduced quantity of caster sugar.  The original quantity of sugar is 0.75 of a cup, so if you want to make a full sugar version - there you go.  :)  That may also help you in calculating how much of another sweetener of your choice, you are likely to need.

Oh and yes, because this is an American recipe (originally), the ingredients are in cups. All I can suggest is that if you haven't already, you get yourself a set of cup measures.  SO much easier than trying to convert from cups to grams!



One other thing - the original recipe says to use vegetable oil.  Because I'm me and butter tastes SO much nicer, I just melted the right amount of butter in the microwave and used that instead.  ~proud face~  What?  It was low calorie enough, alright?

Right then, excuses over, I thoroughly recommend you give this recipe a try.  Make sure to have it baked and iced before cup of tea time in the afternoon, right?  You'll be glad you did.

REDUCED SUGAR LEMON & COURGETTE LOAF   (makes around 12 slices)

Ingredients :

One and a half cups of plain flour
A half tsp bicarbonate of soda
A quarter tsp baking powder
A quarter tsp salt
A third cup of Truvia

A quarter cup of caster sugar
1 cup of finely grated, unpeeled courgette
A quarter cup of melted butter
1 egg
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp finely grated lemon zest

For the drizzle icing :

Half a cup of icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest

Method :

Prepare a 1lb loaf tin by either greasing and lining with baking parchment, or by use of a ready made loaf tin liner.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.


In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, and salt.  Stir them together thoroughly and set aside.

In a separate, large, mixing bowl combine the Truvia, sugar, grated courgette, melted butter, egg, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Stir to combine.

Add the contents of the dry ingredients bowl to the courgette mixture and stir just until combined.  You may need to add a wee drop of warm water, if the mix appears too stiff.

Spoon the mixture into your prepared loaf tin and level the surface.

Bake for 50-55 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for a few minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and cool completely.

Once cool, combine the ingredients for the icing and drizzle over the loaf.  Allow a little time for the drizzle to dry - while you're making a cup of tea is about perfect.


11 August 2017

Cheese making post no. 1 : Cream Cheese

This marks the beginning of a new venture for Rhubarb & Ginger - cheese making!  Not your actual cheddar (although I don't rule anything out!), that's a bit advanced for me just yet. No, I'm starting with soft cheeses.

You see, for my recent birthday my hubby bought me all the extra paraphernalia I needed for cheese making - cheesecloth, a digital thermometer, some vegetable rennet and the very important book of recipes. The book came from Lakeland and is written by Gerard Baker, a chef who I have seen on t.v. on occasion but who has more recently been on active duty as a chef and lecturer in Antarctica!

Home made cream cheese with smoked salmon & cucumber panino
So, getting back to the cheese.  I chose this recipe for Cream Cheese to start with as it seemed fairly simple and I could pretty much guarantee that so long as the cheese at the end of everything was good, the menfolk would eat it. All of which is fairly critical as I suspected we were going to have quite a bit to wade through!

The process itself is really very simple, which is nice.  You do need some particular items in order to make clean, untainted cheese - such as stainless steel pots, pans, a colander and cutlery, glass bowls, cheesecloth and a digital thermometer to ensure that the milk mixture reaches the right temperature. You also need to ensure that everything is absolutely spanking clean and free from all chemicals, so rinse - rinse everything copiously with clean water.

My first go - edible but unexceptional
Now I will admit that this was my second go at making cheese - the first one was a bit of a failure.  However, it was worth the failure as it taught me a lot about how to heat the milk, what quantities I can easily cope with and what to expect from the curds themselves. I shall pass on as much as I can in this blog post, so that your first go will be rather more successful.

So, the initial process is to heat the 500ml of whole, full fat milk and 500ml of single cream (light cream in the USA, table cream in Canada) together in the one pan. You're not heating it very much, just to 29°C, so the easiest way (avoiding the possibility of burning the milk on the bottom of the pan) is to employ a Bain Marie style arrangement with a pyrex bowl containing the milk/cream mixture sat on the top of simmering water in a pan underneath. This way, if the contents heat too quickly or too much, it is easy to remove from the heat.  In fact, my milk/cream zoomed up to 34° at the speed of light and I had to place the bowl in a sink of cold water to bring it back down to the right temperature.  Ah well, live and learn.

Home made cream cheese with smoked salmon and cress
oven bottom muffin
It was important to reduce the temperature as the next step was to add the live yoghurt (I used Yeo Valley yoghurt and very nice it was too!) and had the milk/cream been too hot, it would have killed the live cultures within it.  So, in goes the 200ml yoghurt and half a teaspoonful of diluted rennet.  Make sure to stir gently but regularly so that the rennet is mixed in quickly and effectively as it begins working quickly.  One of the things I learned in my first attempt with rennet was that my rennet - it is vegetable rennet - is very weak.  As a result, I used twice the amount required.  You will only know how your rennet performs by using it, unfortunately.

Following 30 minutes of exercising of what little patience I possess, I took a look inside the bowl.  Honestly, the satisfaction of finding a bowl full of coagulated curds and whey is quite ridiculous and almost as good as the next stage of cutting the curd.  It is worthwhile popping your (very clean) little pinky finger into the curd to check whether it splits cleanly before cutting the curd.  If it doesn't break cleanly, leave it for another 15 minutes or so until it does.


The next stage, cutting the curd, is my favourite bit.  ~shrug~  I have no idea why. Anyway, find yourself a super-clean, fine bladed, stainless steel carving knife type of knife and cut the curds into squares (well, rectangles in fact, but they look like squares from the surface!).  Believe it or not, this helps to release the whey from the curd.

A word about cheesecloth.  If you're using a new piece of cheesecloth, it is essential to give it a good rinse through to ensure that any loose threads have been cleared before using it in anger.  I usually do this bit before doing anything else and leave it sat on the side in a dish.

So the next bit is to line your stainless steel colander with cheesecloth and place it over a big bowl.  Then gently spoon the cut curds into the cheesecloth. About now, you should start feeling a little bit like a cheese maker.  *chuckle* Immediately, you will see the whey begin to drain from the curds - which is what you're after.  If you're in the U.K., you can probably leave the cheese out of the fridge for the next six or seven hours as it drains.  However if you live somewhere hot, it's best to put it in the fridge.  Good luck with finding room for a large bowl and colander in the fridge.  We had to play some serious fridge tetris to get ours in!  Take a look at it from time to time and drain off the whey.  I kept mine and drank it with a little cherry syrup added.  Major lushness.

You will need to put the cheese into the fridge overnight (complete with colander and bowl), however at around the 8 hour mark, it is worthwhile very gently turning the sides of the curd to the middle, just to ensure that the centre of the curds get to drain properly.  I did this just before it went into the fridge.  Sneak a flavour now too - isn't it divine?


The following day, simply peel the cheesecloth away from the cheese curds and spoon them into a storage bowl with good fitting lid.  Hey presto - your cream cheese is ready for use.  Break out the smoked salmon and celebrate, you're a cheese maker!

The yield you will get depends entirely on the degree of milk solids in your milk products.  I'm afraid I can't tell you how much mine made because we'd eaten a third of it before I remembered I should have weighed it.  I guess if you think of a standard 180g pack of Philadelphia cream cheese, I must have made approximately four of those - so around 700-800g in total.

What all this fuss has been about - home made cream cheese!

Another thing is your milk.  Without doubt, raw milk is the best.  However, finding it is like finding rocking horse poo.  So don't be worried about using homogenised, pasteurised milk - it's what I used.  So long as the cream is accompanying the milk, the cream molecules will be able to help the homogenised cream molecules work in the required fashion for cream cheese.

I suppose I'd better provide a smaller, more concise version of the above recipe, *chuckle*, but I'd recommend if you're new to this process, you read all the above before getting cracking.

CREAM CHEESE   

Ingredients :

500ml whole, full fat milk
500ml single cream
200ml live plain yoghurt
0.5 tsp rennet, diluted in 15ml warm water.

Method :

To begin with, rinse a large piece of cheesecloth through and place to one side in a bowl.

Place a large pyrex bowl over the top of a saucepan containing a small amount of simmering water.  (Or use a double boiler, if you're lucky enough to have one)  Add the milk and cream to the bowl and slowly bring to a temperature of 29°C (84°F) stirring gently all the time.

Remove from the heat and stir the yoghurt into the milk mixture.  Mix the rennet with the water and stir them into the milk mixture, making sure to stir right through to the bottom of the bowl.

Set the bowl aside in a warm place for 30 minutes.  The milk should have coagulated into curds and whey.  Test the curds by inserting your pinky finger to break the curds.  If they break cleanly, proceed to the next step.  If a bit of a ragged break, leave the curds for another 15 minutes.

Take your knife and gently cut the curds in a chequer board pattern, so as to create squares.

Line a stainless steel colander with the rinsed cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl.  Gently spoon the curds into the centre of the colander.  You will see the whey begin to drain.  Set the cheese aside to drain, checking it from time to time and emptying the bowl of whey.

At the end of some 8 hours (or overnight), gently fold the cheese from the sides to the middle, so as to help the draining process.  Place the whole lot (colander, bowl and all) in the fridge overnight or until the curds have virtually stopped draining.

Spoon the drained curds into a super-clean, lidded storage container and plan your lunch.

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10 August 2017

Sausage & red pepper Spanish rice - one pot, big flavours!

Some time ago, I received some fairly intense instruction from my lovely friend Deb Barragan on how to make Mexican rice to accompany things like burritos, enchiladas and fajitas.  I think she was fed up with keep seeing potato wedges, chips or savoury rice appearing alongside such things.  *chuckle*

Since having acquired the knack of Mexican rice, I discovered that making Spanish rice wasn't too far different at all and found a brilliant recipe that included grated cheese over the lot.  You can only imagine how much my menfolk approved of that.



So when I was contemplating this week's meals, I remembered that I had a complete shed load of Spanish rice in the cupboard.  Immediately the "plus cheese" Spanish rice recipe came to mind and, instead of thinking of something to go alongside, I began to think about what could go inside.  Bacon was rejected.  I know, but still, it seemed too salty.  Sausages were the next idea - and skinned sausages made into meatballs seemed perfect.

I also wanted to include some sort of vegetable matter in the mix and just happened to have a red pepper going begging.  A bit like the small amount of finely sliced sandwich chorizo that was going begging from the cheddar & chorizo quiche and the end of a chorizo sausage that was also looking for a job to do.  (I skinned and quartered that!).  So in a funny kind of way, the recipe made itself just by thinking about what would go with what - and what I already had in the fridge!


There wasn't enough rice to say that this was risotto-like, but it did have something of a risotto quality to it as the creamy rice grains held everything together and gave it a reason to be there.  The addition of the grated cheese at the end just turned what was a tasty thing into a delicious thing and gave it heaps of appeal where the menfolk were concerned.  I liked it a lot.  We didn't have any accompaniments with ours - we're trying to cut down on portion sizes and definitely cutting down on carbs, so garlic bread was a no:no.  Personally, I think it would have been lovely with a green salad with balsamic dressing, whereas my hubby was after a bit of bread to mop up the sauce with.  So go with what your menfolk and/or conscience decrees!

As for Cook's Tips, there are a couple included in the recipe.  However aside from that, it is worth noting that the Harissa paste I used includes cumin in its recipe so I left that ingredient out.  It's worthwhile checking yours and doing the same, if so.



Another tip involves the tinned tomatoes.  For those of you in the U.K., by far and away my favourite type of tinned chopped tomatoes are from the Tarantella brand.  They are organic and as such a wee bit more expensive than lots - but the flavour and lack of acidity is just streets ahead.

Well, there you are.  All that remains is for me to wish you good cooking and you to make your menfolk very happy.  Oh - and you may want to up the Harissa content if you and/or your menfolk are dead keen on food that makes your nose glow.  *wink*

SAUSAGE & RED PEPPER SPANISH RICE    (serves 3)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
8 pork sausages, skinned and each separated into 4 small meatballs
90g thinly sliced chorizo, cut into ribbons or small pieces
1 red onion, chopped small
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red pepper, cored, de-seeded and diced small
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp Harissa paste
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chicken stock powder or 1 chicken stock cube
400g tin chopped tomatoes
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
180g Spanish rice (Paella rice is good for this)
300ml hot water
150g mature cheddar cheese, grated
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley as garnish.

Method :

Begin by heating the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan or wok (one with a lid) over a high heat.  Once good and hot, add the sausage meatballs and fry until a deep golden brown on at least three sides.  Spoon away and discard a good two thirds of the ensuing oil from the sausages.

Add the onion, garlic and red pepper and stir fry - it's quite important to keep the pan contents moving with occasional pauses - until the onion is softened and there is a degree of juice evident.  Add 50ml of water to the pan and cover it.  Continue to cook, covered, for around 5 minutes or so.

Once the peppers have begun to soften, uncover and add the oregano, Harissa, tomato puree, tomato ketchup, cumin powder (if required), chicken stock powder, chopped tomatoes and cherry tomatoes and stir gently to combine.

Reduce the heat to moderate and add the dry rice.  Stir gently to combine and make sure that each grain is covered by the flavoured oil, then add the water and gradually stir it in.  Replace the lid and simmer for approximately 20 minutes until the rice has cooked.  You will need to remove the lid and stir the contents from time to time to prevent the underside from burning.  A little sizzle is good - and to be recommended in Spain - so I tend to leave that until the last couple of stirs.

Once the rice is cooked and the liquid has reduced, turn off the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese over the rice and don't stir for the next 5 minutes.

Serve onto warmed plates and garnish with the chopped parsley.  You can either serve it as it is, or with bread to mop up the sauce, or even with a green salad.

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8 August 2017

Cheddar & chorizo quiche : a super-tasty surprise!

For some reason I decided to make a quiche. I haven't made one in literally ages and I don't really have a reason for it. But I was considering what to make for dinners this week and up popped "quiche" in my head. Well, it seemed like a good idea - particularly if I got some ready made pastry, that would make it a lot easier. So I did.  You can make your own pastry if you wish - feel free!  On a good day, so would I.

I already had some finely sliced chorizo in the freezer, left over from a paella. The idea of some good, mature cheddar with chorizo seemed to have merit. Ultimately, I also added some char-grilled red pepper - just a little bit - and a handful of chopped fresh parsley.  I also had a rush of blood to the head and added a teaspoonful of vegetable stock powder (bouillon, in other words) and I'm glad I did.  It didn't make a huge difference to the flavours, but it just savouried (is that a word?) everything up nicely.


The big difference with this quiche is that I took it upon myself to use sour cream.  I figured that the slight sourness of the cream would work well with the rich cheese and smokeyness of the paprika in the chorizo and so it did.

I think this is one of the best quiches I've made in a very long time.  I wasn't sure how it would all work out, but it worked out perfectly. Definitely a "do-again" quiche.

I have two Cook's Tips for you - firstly, there is no failure to using shop bought, ready rolled pastry.  It's quick, it's so simple to use and these days there are some really lovely tasting ones out there.  I got mine from Asda and it's perfectly acceptable.

Secondly, don't be tempted to skip the part-baking of the pastry case. It really does help to eliminate those soggy bottoms that can make quiche eating something of a trial.  All you need is some greaseproof paper and a pot of ceramic baking beans (or a quantity of dried beans - my Mum used hers for years and her pastry had an unmistakeable nuttiness because of them). It only adds 20 minutes to the baking time and in that time you can be making the filling. As the Nike ad. says, "just do it!".

Anyway, to the recipe!


CHEDDAR AND CHORIZO QUICHE   (serves 4-6)

Ingredients :

Approx. 300g shortcrust pastry (sufficient for an 8" flan dish, approx. 1" deep)
4 large eggs
250ml soured cream
a good pinch of ground black pepper
1 tsp vegetable stock powder (or vegetable bouillon powder)
40g finely sliced chorizo, sliced into small ribbons
50g mature cheddar cheese, grated
1 tbsp char-grilled red pepper (from a jar), rinsed and sliced small
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine.

Method :

Your first job is to part-bake the pastry case.  So, pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.  Then, cut a square of pastry that is significantly bigger than the baking dish or tin you will be using and gently sink it into the tin, making sure there are no bubbles under the pastry and it is pressed gently into the corners.  Trim off the excess with a sharp knife.

Cut a piece of greaseproof paper that is correspondingly bigger than the baking tin and crumple it up as though you're going to throw it away, then smooth it out again.  You'll find when it comes to laying it over the pastry, it will fit better now!  Lay it over the pastry and lightly smooth it across the base.  Pour in your baking beans in an even layer.

Place the tin centrally into the oven and bake for 20 minutes.  You can use this time to make the filling.

Break each of the eggs into a cup and pour them into a large bowl.  Doing this ensures that if one of your eggs is off or even slightly dodgy, you don't lose the lot!  Add the soured cream, black pepper and stock powder and give everything a good whisk to combine.  Add the chorizo ribbons, grated cheese, red pepper and parsley and stir until everything is combined.

Remove the pastry case from the oven and gently lift out the baking beans by holding the greaseproof paper.  Set the baking beans aside to cool down.

Using a slotted spoon, spoon the solids from the mixture into the pastry case and distribute them around evenly.  Pour the leftover liquid into the pastry case.  You may find that you have slightly more than will go in - and better to do it this way around than find your quiche is full of egg mixture and there's no room for the chorizo!

Gently place the quiche into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the filling has risen, turned golden and feels fairly firm when pressed.

Remove from the oven and place onto a cooling rack for 5-10 minutes.  If your tin is a loose-bottomed one, you can now remove the quiche from the tin and place it back onto the cooling rack.  Serve whilst still a little warm with a crunchy garden salad.

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Change - it's a good thing, right?


I have come to a conclusion.  Now don't worry, it's not an earth-shattering conclusion, nor will it affect Rhubarb & Ginger in a bad way.  In fact, I'm hoping it will be good for the blog!

What I have decided is that I will, in future, not always spend so much time describing and chronicling the processes that go into a recipe.  You see, I am finding typing for lengths of time considerably more of a challenge these days and this has been putting me off from posting.  The end result of which is that you have been missing out on some fabulous recipes - and I've been missing out on recording them for future reference!

Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not going to wax lyrical over some of them.  I mean, after all, I have good days! *wink*  However, if you find a short preamble to a recipe don't think it's because I don't care, or that the recipe is somehow not a good one.  No, it's just that my hands hurt, so I'm making it short.

So, having said all that, onwards and upwards! 


21 July 2017

Fish Willies - yes, you read that right

Yes, you read correctly - Fish Willies. *chuckle*  Now I haven't a clue what this used to be called by Antony Worral-Thompson when he first conceived the idea, but in the intervening years and within our family, it has come to be known as "Fish Willies" and so it shall stay.

A very simple confection of citrus, bacon and fish, it's as easy to assemble as it is to cook and will go with any number of different accompaniments.  I've served them with steamed vegetables, new potatoes and a parsley sauce through salad to couscous and they were as good with them all.

Fish Willies, but this time with Prosciutto instead of bacon
When I came to make the Fish Willies this time, I couldn't believe my eyes that the recipe wasn't up on Rhubarb & Ginger yet.  This dish has been part of the family's favourites for quite literally years, so why I haven't blogged it before now is anyone's guess!  As a tried and tested favourite, this definitely makes the grade.

Quickly into the COOK'S TIPS, it is much better to buy a big chunky piece of cod loin that you can cut into fingers, than try and cobble together two thinner pieces. Trying to keep two slippery pieces of fish together while you wrap them in bacon, well, there are easier ways to waste your time.   Anyway, make sure not to wrap any more than one layer of bacon around the fish or you will find the bacon doesn't get time to cook as the fish cooks so quickly.

The original recipe used lemon in the marinade, but I prefer lime.  However, if you have lemon and don't have lime, then fear ye not - either will work!


As something a bit different to do with some cod, this really hits the spot.  So, without any further ado, onwards!

FISH WILLIES   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

500g skinned cod loin or haddock fillet, cut into 12 fingers
6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, cut in half to make shorter pieces
zest of half a lime
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of ground black pepper
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped finely.

Directions :

Pre-heat the oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.

Mix the lime zest and juice, olive oil, black pepper and fresh dill together in a large bowl.

Add the fingers of fish and turn them until they are liberally covered in the marinade. Set aside for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavours to penetrate the fish.  Don't leave it too long to marinade, as the citrus will start the fish cooking.

Wrap each fish piece in one of the halved slices of streaky bacon. Place on a wire rack, leaving a little space between each, over an oven tray.

Once all the fish is wrapped, spoon the remaining marinade over each Willy and place into the oven for a minimum of 15 minutes.  Check them after this to make sure the bacon is cooked.  You'll have to gauge this for yourself, but make sure not to over cook the fish!

Serve with your choice of accompaniment.

Printable version

27 June 2017

Prawn & Pineapple curry - mmmnn, fruity!

Somehow or another, we've wound up with several little bits of things left over from dishes that either didn't happen, or where ingredients have been too much and a portion of them were put into the freezer "for another day".  One such is a tin of pineapple.  Somehow or another we've managed to accumulate two of them in the tin cupboard, which really is just one too many.

So I set my mind to pondering on what could be done with said pineapple. What it was supposed to be, was part of a salad.  However, England being what it is, the "too hot for anything but salad" days have gone for now and left me with a pineapple glut.  The obvious answer was to bake a pineapple upside down cake - and I wouldn't rule out the second tin being disposed of that way - but I'm afraid I just couldn't justify two cakes in quick succession.  No, I felt sure there was a savoury context I could use a tin of pineapple in - it was just a matter of deciding what.  Once again, the obvious is a sweet and sour chicken dish, but son & heir really isn't keen on that.  Which led me to thinking about the curries that involve fruit.  Our local Indian takeaway does a curry with pineapple and lychee, so I knew it was possible.


What goes well with pineapple, then?  Coconut.  Yep, that's perfect.  Chicken, or fish?  Prawns!  Yes, I believe I've seen salads with pineapple and prawns, so they have to be nice together.  A coconutty, pineappley, prawney .... um .... tomato?  Yes, that'd work, oh and I've got my new tamarind sauce, I could use some of that too!  Coconut cream would thicken it nicely and a combination of curry powders would provide depth of flavour.  And so, the delicious prawn & pineapple curry took form in my mind - and this evening, in my kitchen.

It really proved to be as good as I'd thought it would be.  To my taste buds, it was slightly frisky with chilli heat but for hubby and son & heir, they could have taken it a lot hotter so maybe next time I'll add a few red chilli flakes to just up the heat ante a little.  I could still taste the prawns (which was, for me, a desired result) and the pineapple juice as well as the tamarind sauce gave the curry a delicious acidity, together with - oddly - a degree of sweetness which a handful of peas helped along.

Now as for Cook's Tips, I have just the one which is to make sure that you add the cooked prawns at the very last minute, when you are just about to serve. They only take a twinkling to heat up and you definitely don't want them simmering in the sauce for longer than it takes for them to do that, or you'll have pink curls of prawn flavoured rubber - and nobody likes those in their curry.


So there you are!  The curry took me around 35/45 minutes to make, so it is a good one for an evening when you've not a lot of time or energy.  I really liked this curry and am looking forward to the next instalment of it!  

PRAWN & PINEAPPLE CURRY   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

1 heaped tbsp solid coconut oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
3 tsp medium curry powder
1 tsp tandoori curry powder
half a tsp ground coriander
quarter of a tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 large vine ripened tomatoes, cored and diced
pinch of sea salt
quarter of a tsp ground black pepper
110g tinned pineapple pieces, with juice
120ml hot water
1 tsp fish stock powder (or a low salt fish stock cube)
1 tbsp tamarind sauce (or 1 tbsp mango chutney)
15g coconut cream
a small handful of frozen peas
15g butter
250g cooked, peeled, cold water prawns.

Method :

Gently heat the coconut oil in a deep frying pan and add the onion and garlic. Fry, stirring regularly, until the garlic is a light golden colour and the onion has turned transparent.  This should take up to 10 minutes.

Add both the curry powders, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric and stir to combine.  Cook for 2-3 minutes until all trace of dry powder has gone.

Add the chopped tomatoes and stir well.  Cook until the tomatoes are beginning to soften, adding the sea salt & black pepper along the way.

Add the pineapple pieces, pineapple juice, water and fish stock and stir to combine.  Bring to a lively simmer and simmer to reduce the liquid by at least half.

Add the tamarind sauce (or mango chutney) and coconut cream and stir through until the coconut cream has dissolved and combined.

Add the frozen peas and butter and stir through.  You can now either simmer until the sauce has reduced to your liking, or add a little more hot water to thin the sauce to your liking.

Finally, add the prawns and stir through.  Continue to simmer until the prawns are heated through properly and serve in warm bowls with steamed white basmati rice.

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21 June 2017

Chicken Satay Salad - a long way from ordinary!

We're currently going through something of a heatwave here in the U.K. - June 2017 - and salads are definitely in. However, because I wanted to try and make salad eating something good as opposed to something yawn-inducing (oh come on, you know it can be!), I've been experimenting with some rather out of the box kinds of salads and this one is by far the best we've tried (so far!).

The original inspiration came from the good old BBC Good Food website, as very often happens.  Their version of the salad can be found here and from that you'll be able to see that I've added a little and taken away a little from the original, but it is still very close.  


Yes, it requires a little bit of work before time with marinating the chicken but I also recommend that you wash your lettuce and put it in an inflated freezer bag in the fridge to crisp up.  Doing this makes all the difference to a crisp, crunchy salad.

When you get down to preparing dinner, it really is just a matter of chopping and building the salad, then spending a moment or two grilling the chicken, slicing, garnishing and hey presto - dinner is on the plate.  It really is as easy as that.

I've divided the recipe up into three sections, to make it easier to see what should be used for what.  I hope that proves helpful.

As for Cook's Tips, the only recommendation I have for you is that you chop up the salad before cooking the chicken.  You can always put the salad back into the fridge while the chicken is cooking, so as to keep everything fresh and crunchy.  Then, once the chicken is done it can rest and cool a little while you quickly plate up the salad items.


I can see that this is going to be a regular fall-back salad for blisteringly hot days.  My menfolk thought it was delicious and professed themselves keen to see it again very soon!

CHICKEN SATAY SALAD   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

For the chicken

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp curry powder of your choice (I used a medium)
half a tsp of ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
2 tsp runny honey.

For the sauce

1.5 tbsp peanut butter (crunchy or smooth, it's up to you, but a sugar free version is good)
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
juice of 1 lime
cold water, as required.

For the salad

a selection of salad leaves (I used Romaine and Iceberg lettuces)
a large vine tomato, halved and sliced
cucumber, sliced thickly and halved (two slices/four halves per person)
small seedless green grapes (5-6 per person)
half a red onion, sliced finely
cooked beetroot wedges (four per person)
mustard & cress
fresh parsley, chopped
3 tbsp dry roasted peanuts.

Method :

At least one hour before you are due to begin cooking, marinate the chicken.

Place the soy sauce, curry powder, cumin, garlic and honey into a large bowl and mix well.

Taking each chicken breast, run your knife horizontally through from the thickest end to the thinnest, creating two thin fillets.  Plate the fillets into the marinade and stir well, to ensure every little bit is coated.  Cover with cling film and refrigerate until required.

When it is time to cook, begin by mixing up the satay sauce.  In a medium sized bowl, add the peanut butter, sweet chilli sauce and lime juice and stir together.  Continue to stir, adding small amounts of cold water, until you have a dropping consistency.  Set aside.

Next, build each salad onto the plate starting with the salad leaves.  Create a small mound of these in the centre of the plate.

Divide the slices of tomato between the three plates, placing the tomato around the outside of the leaves.

Dot the salad leaves with cucumber half slices, then the grapes, then sprinkle the red onion over.

Add the beetroot wedges to the side of the plate.

Sprinkle everything with the mustard & cress.

Next, lay each fillet of chicken onto a foil lined baking sheet and cook under a hot grill (or broiler, if you're in the USA) until just cooked.  Turn the chicken over and cook the other side the same way.  This should only take 6-7 minutes each side.  Check the chicken is cooked through, by cutting into the thickest part and if you can see any sign of pinkness in the juices, put it back under the grill until the pinkness is gone.

Slice the chicken and lay it on top of the salad, while the chicken is still warm.

Drizzle spoonfuls of the satay sauce over the chicken and into the salad - be generous, as the sauce is divine.  

Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and the dry roasted peanuts.

Settle down somewhere cool - and tuck in!

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10 May 2017

Prawn Pad Thai - my new favourite thing!

And when I say "my new favourite thing", I'm talking about it being right up there alongside Nasi Goreng and Shepherd's Pie. Now THAT is high praise indeed.

I don't mind admitting that I was a wee bit intimidated by this recipe.  You see, I had attempted a Pad Thai a very long time ago - before I started blogging, so around seven or eight years ago - and it was a singular failure. Having just cooked the dish again, I can see that first go didn't work because I didn't understand the first thing about any of the ingredients. However, without the benefit of getting a good one under my belt, I was a bit worried that it would fail again.

Coming out the other side of having completed an outstandingly successful rendition of Pad Thai, I now haven't a clue what I was worried about as it was incredibly simple to make.  However, you do need to have your mise en place done before you begin to cook, as you cook at such a pace that you really have no time in which to turn around and chop a spring onion, for instance.  That, and overcooking the noodles in a big way, are much of the reason why the first one didn't work.



Having everything chopped, squeezed, measured out and ready to go is essential.  You almost need to put everything in order, the cooking goes that quickly.  However, once you've got everything ready, the cooking is fabulously simple and the results spectacular.

I've seen lots of different Pad Thai recipes, some ask for tamarind, some for coconut milk.  This one doesn't ask for any of those things, it keeps things clean and simple with just fish sauce, oyster sauce and gorgeous lime juice to stitch all the other flavours together.


I used John Torode's recipe from BBC Good Food as the guide for this recipe but several things are different and because of that things happen in a slightly different order, so I decided to blog the recipe so as not to lose it. The original recipe is here if you are curious.  I think my version just simplifies things a little bit further.

The only Cook's Tip I have for you is what I have already stated - get your chopping, peeling and squeezing done before you start cooking!

So, onwards to major, serious, deliciousness and clean, wholesome eating.

PRAWN PAD THAI   (serves 2-3)

Ingredients :

200g rice noodles, the white, vermicelli style
2 tbsp olive or coconut oil
2 eggs, beaten
pinch of sea salt & black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 large lime, juice only
6 spring onions, sliced diagonally
1 red chilli (leave the seeds in for additional heat)
200g beansprouts
15g coriander, chopped to include the stems
250g cooked coldwater prawns, drained
100g dry roasted peanuts, chopped slightly.

Method :

To begin, set a saucepan of water to boil.  Once boiling, add the rice noodles and remove from the heat.  As soon as the noodles have softened, but before being fully cooked - around a minute and a half - drain well and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Set aside to drain fully.

Add a pinch of sea salt & black pepper to the beaten egg and stir through. Heat the oil in a wok over a moderate heat and once the oil appears to shimmer slightly, add the beaten egg and stir gently to form an omelette. Reduce the heat to low, so as not to burn the underside of the omelette and once formed and set, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon so as to keep the majority of the oil in the pan, onto a plate to keep warm.

Still over a gentle heat, add the chopped garlic to the wok and stir fry it very gently until the pieces have turned a gentle golden colour.  Don't rush this process, or the garlic will burn and become bitter.  Slow and steady wins the day.

Next, add the sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce and lime juice, along with the spring onions, chilli, beansprouts and three quarters of the coriander. Increase the heat to moderate and stir regularly as the onions soften and cook.  This should take no more than around 4-5 minutes.

Add the cooked prawns, the drained noodles and a third of the peanuts and stir and toss to combine and heat through.  Keep the contents of the pan moving, so that nothing catches on the underside and the noodles combine well with the other ingredients.

Once well mixed, serve into warmed bowls and garnish with the remaining peanuts and chopped coriander.

Tuck in and enjoy!

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22 March 2017

Red lentil, butternut squash & chilli soup

Red lentil, butternut squash & chilli soup. Get your fix of beta carotene here, orange coloured food for the win. LOL You certainly know you've eaten something by the end of a bowl of this - and all for around 300 calories, which can't be bad. Of course, the crusty bread and butter blows the calories out of the water, but it's good to start low!

When I dreamt this soup up, I was after a main course soup that didn't involve much meat but that tasted like it did. Because of my predilection towards developing gouty painful feet from time to time, it is useful to have a few mainly vegetable recipes to lean on during these periods. Now I know there are those who would tut heavily and announce that lentils are incredible bad for gout - and I know that. However, not with me. They most definitely are not one of my gout triggers, whereas meat very often is - and pork (not bacon, interestingly!) can often be a prime trigger.

Well, I certainly scored with this soup as it is hearty, wholesome and would fill you up on a chilly winter's night. The chilli gives it a nice friskiness that helps to keep your tongue interested, while the butternut squash and lentils give it that heartiness that satisfies. Oh and of course, discovering a piece of bacon every so often will reassure those carnivores amongst us that there is, in fact, some meat in their dinner and they haven't had a vegetarian dish sneaked onto their plate.

Now, where Cook's Tips are concerned, the top one for today is that it is really important to use low sodium stock cubes for this soup. Ordinary, salty, stock cubes will spoil the soup with salt overkill so it is way better to use a low salt stock powder or cube and have to add a little extra salt at the end, rather than the alternative.

As you will see from the recipe, I recommend using a potato masher a few times to break up the vegetables a little and so thicken the soup. Now, you can use a stick blender and whizz the lot, but you will lose a lot of the lovely interest from the texture and of course, you will lose the bacon pieces. However, if that's not important to you and you prefer a more pureed texture to your soup, then whizz away.

For all you vegetarians out there the soup is easily converted to being veggie. Simply leave the bacon out, use all vegetable stock and add half a tsp smoked paprika for the smoky flavour the bacon would have brought and you're home and dry.

Okay, well, I think that's it - so onwards to the recipe!

RED LENTIL, BUTTERNUT SQUASH & CHILLI SOUP (serves 3 as a main meal)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
6 rashers streaky bacon, cut into lardons
1 red onion, diced finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 large red chilli pepper, de-seeded and diced finely
2 carrots, peeled and diced finely
1 celery stick, diced finely
half a butternut squash (I used the stalk end), peeled and diced
3 large juicy tomatoes, cored, diced and as much juice as possible included
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp low salt chicken stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
1 tsp low salt vegetable stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
500ml hot water
150g dried red lentils
sea salt
ground black pepper.

Method :

Use a large sized saucepan and heat the olive oil over a moderate heat. Add the streaky bacon lardons and cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden.

Add the onion, garlic, chilli pepper, carrots and celery and continue to cook, sweating the vegetables down and stirring regularly until they have just begun to soften - around 10-15 minutes.

Add the butternut squash pieces and give them enough time - stirring regularly - to warm up.

Next, add the diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and tomato puree and stir to combine. Cook on until the tomatoes have begun to break down.

Add the dried basil, the two stock powders (or stock cubes), hot water and red lentils. Stir through until well combined, then cover the saucepan and bring to a lively simmer.

Remember to stir the contents regularly, as red lentils can sink to the bottom and singe if left unstirred.

Once the lentils are almost cooked and the butternut squash is tender, taste to test for seasoning and add sea salt and ground black pepper as necessary.

Continue to simmer the soup until the lentils, carrots and butternut squash are tender, then taking a potato masher, press it through the soup some three or four times to just break up some of the vegetables which will have the effect of thickening the soup. You can, if you prefer, whizz the soup with a stick blender, but I much prefer to have some chunky texture to it - I think it keeps you interested as you eat it.

Ladle into warmed bowls and serve with warm, buttered chunks of bread for dipping.

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