Sunday, June 11, 2006

Smoked Salmon and Crispy Bacon Salad

How can it be right to give quantities for a salad? It can't be. So regard these as mere suggestions for a meal for two.

Streaky bacon, 4 rashers
A selection of curly lettuce (lollo rosso, frisee etc...)
1/4 of a cucumber, cut in half lengthways and thinly sliced
6 radish, thinly sliced
1 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced into long strips
Smoked salmon
3 spring onions, finely chopped
Chives, left whole
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Black pepper

4 tbsp creme fraiche
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp lemon zest

Firstly, fry the rashers of bacon until good and crispy. Leave aside to cool.

Combine the creme fraiche, lemon juice and zest in a bowl - you may not need all the lemon juice so add a little at a time until it is as lemony as you like.

Arrange a bed of lettuce on the plates first, and then add the cucmber, radish and red pepper randomly on top. Then pleat or fold the pieces of salmon roughly and lay in the centre. Scatter over some parsley and the spring onions, garnish with the chives and a twist of black pepper. Serve with a dollop of lemon cream on the side.

This is sublime with wam potato cakes...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Honey-Roast Supper Tray

It is not possible, or even desirable to give quantities here, and I actually feel uncomfortable giving ingredients! This is more a suggestion, a hint, an idea on how to create a stress-free, tasty supper with whatever you have to hand with the minumum of faffing. It is also absolutely delicious every time, whatever you use, guaranteed. Honestly...

Sausages and chorizo
Chicken breasts
Ham and bacon
Cherry tomaotoes
Chick peas
Sweet potatoes
Butternut squash
Sweet peppers
Fresh or dried herbs

A combination of any or all of the above ingredients is the kind of thing you are after. Everything gets chopped into bite-size bits, but leave things like the tomatoes whole. Spread it all out in a well-oiled baking tray, turning everything so it gets coated, then drizzle with honey or maple syrup, scatter fresh or dried herbs over and roast in a medium-hot oven for as long as it takes. That's it!

This is perfect for using up those little bowls of left-overs in the fridge, although obviously you don't want too many ingredients which have wildly differing cooking times. I always aim for roughly half an hour cooking time. Uncooked sausages and chicken would be perfect, as would frozen sweetcorn and raw squash and sweet potatoes. I would need to increase the cooking time if I was using unccoked potatoes, but there is nearly always a bowl of cooked spuds somewhere in the fridge - boiled new potatoes are just perfect for this. Try sprinkling over some paprika or chilli powder or even worcestershire sauce for a bit of oomph, use brown sugar if you have no honey, drizzle over some mango chutney, use your imagination, experiment with flavours... Perfect for pregnant palates!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Beef, Orange and Thyme Casserole

Everyone asked for second helpings when I concocted this for yesterday's supper. Another easy "throw-it-all-in-the-pan-and let-it-do-its-thing" kind of dish - my favourite kind of cooking. Getting the balance of flavours right is down to personal taste, so tweak the quantities and seasoning as your heart desires... This should feed about 4, depending on greed.

1 small onion, finely chopped
4-6 rashers of bacon, diced
500g stewing or braising beef, diced
Handful plain flour
1 medium butternut squash, de-seeded, peeled and chopped
Handful baby carrots, scraped & chopped
Orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
Chicken stock
White wine
Fresh thyme

Start by preheating the oven to 170˚.

In a frying pan on a low heat, soften the onion in a little oil for about ten minutes, while you dice the meat and prepare the vegetables. (You might want to chop the carrots slightly smaller than the squash as they take a wee bit longer to cook.) Transfer the onion to a casserole dish.

In the frying pan, add a little more oil and turn the heat up. Fry the bacon until golden and crispy. Transfer the bacon to the casserole dish too. (Don't worry about what type of bacon you use - smoked, salty, sweet-cured, or streaky would all compliment this dish)

Add a little more oil to the frying pan and then brown the beef, in batches if necessary, and then add it to the casserole dish.

Move the casserole dish onto the heat now, and stir through a handful of plain flour, letting it cook through for a minute or two. Then slowly stir in about half a pint of chicken stock, letting it thicken slightly, and then throw in a 1/4 pint of white wine and a 1/4 pint of orange juice. (Don't worry if you haven't got oranges in the fruit bowl to freshly squeeze - use a good quality carton of juice, preferably without 'bits' in!)

Add the vegetables, and add some more orange juice if necessary - you want the liquid to just about cover everything in the dish. Strip the thyme leaves off a handful of stalks (I have lemon thyme growing on my window sill and it worked so well with the orange juice, but do use dried thyme if that's what you have got in the cupboard) and stir through the casserole with a bit of salt (you won't need much because of the bacon, and also if you have used stock cubes) and pepper. Clap on the lid, chuck in the oven and go and do something else for about three hours!!

Do give it a stir from time to time, and adjust the level of liquid if required. I added more orange juice when it was getting too thick, because that is the flavour I wanted - but you may prefer to add more wine or more stock.

When the meat is tender and the vegetables are soft and melting, serve with mountains of creamy mashed potatoes, or with some warm crusty bread dripping with butter... Heavenly!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Breast wrapped in Parma Ham

Unbelievably quick with no faffing or fussing, but also unbelievably tasty...!

1 chicken breast per person
2 slices parma ham per breast
Cream cheese

Start by pre-heating the oven to 200˚.

Prepare chicken by making a 'pocket' in the side of the breast, by using a very sharp knife and just slicing half-way through the meat. Into this pocket, spread a desertspoon of pesto and a desertspoon of cream cheese. Wrap up the chicken breast in the ham, making sure to cover the opening of the pocket, and lay on a very lightly oiled baking tray. Brush with a little oil and pop in the oven for 15 minutes.

Voila! As they say...

Delicious with sauteed potatoes and salad, or mash and ratatouille.

Of course, parma ham can be jolly expensive, so try substituting streaky bacon, (you might want to flash-fry the chicken parcels in a hot frying pan first to get some good golden colour on the bacon, before you put them in the oven).

Try experimenting with the stuffing - a blend of garlic, fresh chopped herbs can be added to the cream cheese, as can sun-dried tomatoes, or dried apricots - and leave out the pesto all together, or try different types - my favourite is made from chargrilled aubergine. Also, try different types of cheeses, depending on your mood - but there is nothing wrong with good old-fashioned cheddar if that is all you have lurking in the fridge.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Salmon and Prawn Pesto Linguine

This is one of those easy throw-it-together meals, of which there are many variations, which I tend to fall back on in an emergency, as we nearly always have the right ingredients lurking in the freezer or larder... I have deliberately said nothing about quantities - this dish is about convenience and what you have to hand. It is also about the successful marriage of certain flavours, so it's up to you - flex those taste-buds!

Linguine - or pasta of your choice
Salmon steaks
King Prawns
Seedless green grapes, halved
Creme fraiche

The easiest way to cook the salmon is to pan-fry the steaks in a little light oil - I prefer to use sunflower or rape-seed for this, not olive oil. You could poach them and they'd be delicious, but the point about this dish is that it is supposed to be fuss-free and super-quick!

Anyway, while they are sizzling nicely in the pan, boil the kettle and get the pasta on in another saucepan.

Turn the salmon over, and add the prawns to the same pan. You could use ready-cooked prawns if you like - in which case you are only re-heating them, not cooking them, so they will take a little less time. Make sure they are piping hot.

The fish and the pasta will probably finish cooking at around the same time. Take the fish off the heat and cover with a lid, while you drain the pasta, and return it to the saucepan on a really low heat.

Stir some olive oil or butter through the pasta, and some pesto. I like to use the classic green basil pesto for this. Then I add some creme fraiche - roughly about 2-3 times as much as the pesto, until you have created a sauce which coats the pasta, rather than drowns it.

Stir it all through with some salt and pepper, and throw in the grapes. Serve out the pasta into big flat bowls. Then quickly remove the skin and any stray bones from the salmon (this takes about ten seconds!), flake into big chunks and place on top of pasta. Scatter over the prawns, and any juices left from the pan. Garnish with fresh basil, or parsley, or coriander.

Eat, enjoy....

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Spinach, Pea and Bacon Soup

This must be the easiest soup in the world! It is also one of the tastiest...

The quantities are approximate, so don't worry if you haven't got eactly the right amount. I prefer petit-pois but ordinary garden peas work just as well. Frozen spinach really doesn't though, so try and use a bag of fresh leaves. You could substitute sorrel for spinach and some onion or shallot for the leeks. Any type of bacon works well, especially smoked. You might want a bit more than four rashers if you use streaky. Like everything I create, it is open to interpretation, so get experimenting! Depending on what you serve with it - I heartily recommend cheese on toast or Welsh rarebit - these quantities will serve about 4 people.

2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
200g spinach leaves
500g frozen peas
1.5 - 2 pints chicken stock
4 rashers bacon

Fry bacon until crispy.

While the bacon is cooking, soften the leeks in another pan with some butter for about 5 or 6 minutes. Throw in some more butter, and then the peas and spinach. Sir it all around so everything is covered with buttery juices and when the spinach has wilted slightly - after a couple of minutes - add enough chicken stock to cover. You may not need all the stock depending on the size of your pan.

Throw in 3 rashers of the crispy bacon, clap on the lid, and leave to simmer for about 5-10 minutes or until the peas have cooked through.

Blitz with a hand blender or food processor and return to pan. Bring back to temperature and check seasoning. As well as salt and pepper, you may want to alter the consistency by adding a little more stock. You can also experiment with a pinch of nutmeg, a spoonful of sugar, or a squeeze of lemon juice. You may like to stir through a spoonful of cream into each bowl on serving, with a scattering of parsley. Crumble over the remaining bacon rasher and serve with slices of cheese on toast...


Saturday, January 28, 2006

Pork, Apricot and Ginger Casserole

A light, fresh-tasting dish, with some warmth about it... and really easy to put together!

To feed four, you will need:

600g or thereabouts diced pork
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 tsp brown sugar
1-2 cloves garlic
Fresh root ginger, about 2cm, finely grated
1-2 tbsp flour
Chicken stock, about 3/4 pint
A large handful dried apricots
Single cream or creme fraiche
Parsley or lemon thyme

Start by browning the meat in a little oil in a frying pan - you will probably have to do this in two batches. Then transfer the meat to a casserole dish.

Then add a little more oil to the frying pan and soften the onion with the sugar, add the crushed garlic and the ginger after about five minutes, and cook for a few minutes more. Tip everything into the casserole dish with the meat.

Move the casserole dish onto the heat and stir in the flour, letting it cook through for a minute or two, then slowly add the chicken stock while stirring, allowing it to thicken slightly. Throw in the dried apricots, clap on the lid and shove it in the oven on a medium heat (about 170') for about one to one and a half hours or until meat is tender.

You can stir in a tablespoon of cream or creme fraiche if you like before serving. This went very well with rice and a green salad, and just needs a scattering of parsley or a sprig of lemon thyme to garnish.

Bon appetit!