Thursday, 27 February 2014

Slow Cooking Magic

Our kitchen is filled with delights from the 80s. My parents kept all their old things from when they first played house together and now they have been passed down to us. 

We have an assortment of gravy boats, serving dishes and stacks upon stacks of plates. We laughed when we unpacked it all but it has all actually been fairly handy as it turns out. 

One of the little treasures we have inherited has been a slow cooker. 

A slow cooker is great as you can throw everything into it and then just flick a switch. 6 hours later, you have a big pot of loveliness. 

They can also be left alone and use minimal electricity. Perfect as a no hassle dinner. Obviously you have to plan ahead due to the whole 6 hour thing, but you can leave it on over night or even whilst you are at work all day! 

This is particularly simple pot. 

We had some stout left over in our fridge, y'know, as a house of girls does, so I decided to throw some things together and see what happened. This is good for a pot of 3 with some leftovers.

You will need: 
500ml of stout
75g of pearl barley 
1 pack of braising steak which was about 500g
1 beef stock cube
3 bay leaves
1 good bunch of thyme 
A squeeze of tomato puree
Vegetables of your choice (try to use root vegetables. We had carrots, swede, red onion and turnips) 

As you can see we brought a pack of frozen 'winter veg'. You get a good mixture relatively cheaply and they just sit in your freezer. Kind of perfect for this type of thing.

I started by defrosting the vegetables, which is much the same as defrosting peas. I wasn't trying to cook them, just making sure they weren't super cold going into a warm pot! As soon as the water has come to the boil, drain them.

Now, as always, brown your meat. The brown bits are where all the flavour is, so get it good and crispy. The slow cooking will soften it all up beautifully later. Sprinkle a bit of flour over the meat to thicken up the juices. You can leave this out to keep it gluten-free.

Turn off the heat and pour in your stout. The heat of the pan and beef will start to warm the liquid through.  

Now add the pearl barley... 

and drop in your stock cube and give it all a good stir.

Time to put everything in the pot. Add the veg and the meaty liquid. Squeeze in some tomato puree. Pop in the bay leaves and the thyme. 
It may seem like a lot of herbs for a small amount but we had such a strong stout that I wanted to make sure the flavours came through. I also added some small shallots whole and sprinkled some sugar over the top. 

There is not right or wrong for a stew! 

Don't forget to season!

Thats it. Pop the lid on, sit back and let the cooker work its magic. It really does need a while though, I put this on at about 2 to eat for 8ish. I think it got eaten at about 7 but for the best results leave it as long as possible. Like I said above minimum 6 hours but keep checking it, if your happy then go ahead and munch. 

Sadly, I didn't get to taste the stew until this morning as I went out before dinner. I got full confirmation texts from Maddie and Arione that it was a good supper indeed. Talk about throwing things together and hoping for the best!

This is all that was left this morning. 

The stout had turned almost treacly and the pearl barley had almost created a sort of risotto. Both girls ate it without anything else, not even mash. 

How about that for a one pot wonder! 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Recipe in Breif

Continuing my theme of easy, fast suppers I couldn't not share this with you.

It is so easy and simple that I don't even have photos to go with it. In fact I didn't even consider it to be blog worthy until I took that first delicious mouthful because if Im honest I made it up with what I had.

Have I convinced you to read on??

There is a distinct lack of photos here which you will have to excuse. Use that imagination of yours!

Let me help you to elevate the humble pork chop with 2 simple ingredients.

So, discounting accompaniments, you will need:

One (or 2) Fat Juicy Pork Chop
1 Lime
Thyme (dried will be fine)

Rub your chop with a tiny bit of oil and then cover in thyme and a crack of black pepper.

Get a large (preferable heavy based) frying pan and once it is nice and hot, chuck in your chop.

Get this browned and sealed on each side, keep turning it over and over. After about 5 mins turn down your heat and squeeze your lime all over it. Now sit back and wait.

The sugars in the lime will start to caramelise and go sticky. Don't forget to turn your chop to make sure its all coated in the glorious goo.

To check your pork is cooked, just go ahead and cut into it. I reckon it needs about 15 mins in the pan from start to finish maybe less. Contrary to poplar belief pork can be ever so slightly pink, no need to cook it to death people!

In the meantime whip up some desired accompaniments. I chose broccoli and mash as worthy sidekicks.

Thats it. The perfect Sunday night dinner. For a fraction of the price and time it takes for a takeout.

May your chops never be boring again. 

(Glass of wine obligatory)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Pea and Mint Soup with Pancetta Crisps

The sun has been shining and the days are getting longer. People are wearing sunglasses and the other day I went to the shops in a t-shirt! I tell you my days are WILD.

All in all, it feels like the winter is lifting in London and spring is well and truly on its way.

So it's time for a few lighter things to munch on and this soup is just the ticket. It is still a nice warming bowl to ward off the last of those winter chills, yet it's nice, light and full of summery smells. 

Now, a warning, this is quite a thin soup, its not a big gutsy one, so if you are of that type this may not be the soup for you. I have a couple of pea and mint soup recipes, some have potatoes in them which does thicken it but this is the purest form of the soup. 

For the discerning hostesses among you, I'll let you into a little secret. This works very well as a canapĂ© as its easy to drink due to its thinness, serve it in shot glasses. It can also be served cold with is super refreshing on a warm day. Doesn't that just instantly have you planning summer garden parties? 

As well as all the above benefits it is so simple to make, cheap too as there are minimal ingredients. You could swap the pancetta for something else if you wanted or leave it out all together to be vegetarian.

So pop on the radio, throw open the kitchen window to let some fresh spring air in and lets get down to business shall we?

You will need:
500g frozen peas 
1 Bunch of spring onions 
1 Large bunch of mint 
100ml of double cream 
2pints of chicken stock 
1 pack of pancetta
1 generous knob of butter 

Start buy chopping up your spring onions. I haven't gone all the way to the top of my onions as the dark green part can be quite bitter. So stick to the 'oniony' bit.

Pop these in a pan and start to pick your mint. Usually you can get away with the stalks of herbs in things but mint has got a bit of a tough stalk, so best the get all the leaves off. Be generous with the mint, it is after all a pea and mint soup!

Pop these into the pan with the onions and your generous knob of butter and pop it on the heat.

Gently cook these down for a few minutes until soft and allow the mint leave to release all their flavour. 

Now pour in your stock. I have used stock cubes but if you have your own stock your soup will be 100 times better. 

Sadly I don't have a big enough pot to make my own stock which is frustrating as I have cooked a hell of a lot of chickens recently! Try not to waste your carcasses. (Ill do a post on stock when I can to show you how simple it is)

Pour in the peas and whack up the heat so this gets a good boil on.

Whilst you are waiting for that to boil get your pancetta shards on. Pancetta is great because it is so thin it really hold its shape after its cooked so you can have little crisps.

Keep the pan on a low heat so you don't incinerate them. They are quite delicate and cook super fast!

Now you're pan should have come up to the boil. Turn the heat right down to a simmer and add in the cream.

Keep this simmering for 15 mins.

Let me introduce you to my new toy. The Magimix 5200 XL Professional. Isn't she a beaut? 

She is my belated christmas from the Rents and my goodness, there is nothing she can't do. Next to her is only a small sample of the gadgets she came with. The rest are away in their own cupboard. Yes I need a whole cupboard for all of the attachments.

So now your soup is ready to be blended. Be gone mere hand blender. You are needed no more. (You can use one if thats all you have) In go all the contents to the Queen of Kitchen Gadgets and with one press of a button.....

Yeah you guessed it, I totally over-filled it and subsequently got sprayed by boiling liquid. Not feeling so clever any more I poured half the contents back into the pan and started again.  

Whilst it blended I cleaned up my own mess and literally licked my wounds. Yummy.

Once you feel it is suitably blended grab a large container like one such below (don't worry we don't have 5 litres of ice cream at once in this house, I got this from work to take some goodies home with me)

Pour your blended soup into the sieve. Now I thought that life was just too short to sieve soup but you do need to with pea soup as the husks of the peas are just not so nice to chew on. So go on, just pop it through. 

See? This is all you are left with. Nobody needs that in their life. 

Thats it. Soup done! So simple, tasty and fresh. 

Knock up a little salad as an accompany and voila! A perfect light healthy supper. 

Of course I washed mine down with a couple of gins but one can't be saintly all the time. 

Mmmmmm delish. 

Monday, 24 February 2014

A Pie with a Differnce

The pie. One of the greatest things ever. I defy anyone to not love pie. 

There are so many different types and fillings that there really is a pie for everyone. However, I feel pies can be considered a naughty food. Probably because of all the lovely, buttery pastry and usually had with a big dollop of creamy mash... 

This is a pie that you don't have to feel guilty about. This is a pie you can woof down without another thought. It's just as tasty too.

The top is rosti, which is essentially grated potato and it goes amazingly crispy in the oven. Due to the potato on top you don't have the mash with it. I promise you wont miss it. Unless all you really wanted mash, then you will miss it.  The filling is also made with half fat creme fraiche, which I'll admit isn't the best thing for you, but its half fat so lets just run with it shall we?

So for this little beauty you will need: 
125g tenderstem broccoli (about 1 pack)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
300g half fat creme fraiche 
4 chicken breasts in chunks (I would actually recommend boned chicken thighs, they stay juicer but the chicken breasts were on offer...)
7g fresh tarragon (about half a bunch)
2x 400g pack of rosti 

So you could make your own rosti if you wanted, it is just grated potato, but this is far easier, sneaky I know... sorry. 

So start by pre heating your oven to 190degrees.

Then its time to blanche the broccoli. Blanching means you plunge chosen veg into boiling water for about 30 seconds so your starting the cooking process but then when you take it out and run it under cold water, or put it in iced water, you stop the cooking process. It stops vegetables from overcooking in the pie. It is also a good way to speed up the cooking of vegetables if you were doing prep for a dinner party. It means that when you cook them fresh, it wont take so long! There's a sneaky cheat for  you.

So blanche, drain and run under water. 

Next chunk up your chicken. Up to you how big or small you would like the pieces. 

Once you've sliced your onions chuck them in the pan to fry with a dribble of oil. Keep your heat low though, we don't want burnt onions!

Next mix the creme fraiche and the mustard. Give it a little season with some salt and pepper.

Mix this into the onions.

Pick the tarragon leaves off the stalks and just roughly chop it. Don't go to town on this as its a delicate herb and you'll just ended up bruising it and leaving most of the flavour on the chopping board.

Add the chicken to the sauce and the onions. I know its all raw and not sealed but it doesn't matter and it wont kill you, I promise. 

and then add in the broccoli and tarragon.

Once this is all nicely mixed and everything is well coated in the sauce, choose a suitable pie dish. Mine's a lovely starry one from Emma Bridgewater. Swanky.

Now take the rosti out of the packet and simply crumble it over the top. 

Et voila. How simple is that?

Now throw it in the oven for about 25 mins and then it comes out all golden and crispy like so....

Tell me that doesn't look good. I promise there is enough potato there, it's not mash but its still darn good!

Serve up with cabbage and peas. So much green in that meal. 

I told you you wouldn't feel bad about it!!

This took barely any time at all to knock up and if you had 2 people doing this together it would be even faster. Arione and I just sat and watched Maddie and drank wine but it was still done super quick! There are no excuses to not make home cooked food and if you are sharing with housemates or friends it is even cheaper! 

With this recipe because it has the potato topping and broccoli in the mix you wouldn't even need to have any extras which makes this even cheaper!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A Fishy Evening Delight.

The other Friday I decided to something a little bit special for the lovely ladies in my life.

We had some fish knocking about in the freezer so I decided to whip up a fish pie. 

This is a dish I've stolen off a truly fabulous cook who I have pinched many recipes off, I can't remember where she said she got the recipe from but I will credit it to her. Every time I'm at this house I always feel as if I've feasted and feasted on the most delicious food, it's such a treat. What adds to that treat is there is always flowing Hendricks and Tonics with great hunks of cucumber and fantastic conversation. Perfection.

Now, if some of you are wrinkling your noses at the thought of a fish pie, think again. I really am not the worlds biggest fish eater; salmon, as far as Im concerned is a fish straight from Hell itself. However this pie is just wonderfully moreish and creamy. Although this pie contains salmon, the taste doesn't run into the sauce and the most important thing is that this recipe doesn't contained smoked haddock. It's the smoked fish that usually gives fish pies that overwhelming taste that certainly isn't for the fainthearted.

Again this is a recipe you can adjust, leave things out and put extras in. I had cod and not haddock and I decided to add some little scallops (the little ones are dirt cheap, a whole load cost me £2.50 from the fish counter!). I also forgot to buy spinach, Mix it up a little, remember recipes are guidelines not rules.

You Will Need:
6 Large Potatoes 
2 Eggs
2 Large Handfuls of Spinach  
1 Onion, finely chopped
1 Carrot, finely diced
200ml Double Cream
2 good handfuls of a mixture of Cheddar and Parmesan 
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 Heaped teaspoon of English Mustard 
1 large bunch of Parsley, finely chopped
2 Salmon Fillets, chopped chunky
2 Haddock Fillets, chopped chunky 
1 packet of King Prawns (these can be frozen or raw or cooked)

Start by making the mash potato. So peel and boil your potatoes. Put the eggs on to boil at the same time. For a good hard boiled egg I would do about 7 mins.

While these are boiling, dice your carrot and onions.

Finely chop your parsley. Don't bother picking off the leaves, just dice the whole lot apart from the biggest stalks.

Start by gently frying off your onions and carrots. Make sure these don't get colour on them, you don't want that, we need a nice pale sauce!

Once these have softened, add in the cream. I always put in extra because I like a really thick creamy sauce, so use your own judgement on this.

Now throw in the parsley....

and a squeeze of lemon juice...

a good old dollop of mustard and season with salt and pepper...

While this all sits together in the pan and everyone gets to know one another, chop up your fish and put in your dish with the prawns.

Now, Ive made 2 pies here because Maddie can't eat cheese, so I just gave her pie the sauce before I added the cheese. It tastes just as good, so you could leave it out altogether if you wanted.

Once your eggs are boiled, cooled and peeled. Chop them into quarters and lay them in the pie. I would also lay the spinach over the top here as well. It may seem like a lot but it will cook and wilt down in the oven.

Now add the cheese...

Spoon the sauce over the fish. Making sure it's all well covered.

Now finish off the mash. I'm a gadget whore so I used my ricer for the smoothest mash ever. Ordinary mashers do suffice.

Stir in a good sprinkle of nutmeg for a little opulence.

Now cover your pie

and use a fork to make it look all pretty and get crispy bits. 

Put in a 180 degree oven an bake for about 30 mins. 

When it comes out the oven, you get something a little like this....

Now how about that for romance?!

Look at that.  Creaaaaaamy goodness.

Serve with peas and broccoli. Never forget your greens people!

Now I tell you what, if people can't be impressed by this little show of love who can be?

I followed up dinner with this bad boy. Chocolate and Raspberry brownies...

However I stole the idea from this blog, so I suggest you head on over to see what she's got to say. They were the easiest things Ive ever made, though they should have been in the oven a tad longer...