Monday, 30 September 2013

Beef & Beetroot curry - and the balance of power between garden & kitchen

Pickled Chillies. Some like it VERY hot.
The Husband, as you know, is the grower of vegetables in our house. I am involved in executive decisions at seed buying time, and he gets on with the growing and the harvesting. The Husband does a lot of pickling - this year gherkins and chillies - and chutney making, but the day to day use of vegetables is down to me.

Sometimes, I get it wrong. This is not an untypical conversation:

Him: "Please don't use the shallots like you normally do."

Me: "???"

Him: "Well, just like another oniony thing. Can you use them like shallots?"

Me: "???"

Him: "So, don't just slice them up because you haven't got any onions. Use them in recipes that use SHALLOTS".

Me: "Oh".

You see, I am sure I do appreciate a good shallot when it's needed - whole in a casserole, or in a pot roasted chicken dish that I do sometimes, but I am guilty as charged: I'll be scouring the kitchen to pull together whatever it is I need, and if the recipe calls for onions, but there are only shallots, well, shallots will have to do. 

And then, to add insult to injury, when he actually wants shallots for something, there are none left. 

I am a bad person.

However, after the shallot conversation, I have been slightly more wary of how I utilise the produce from the allotment and the  garden.

Beetroot, for example, has been something that doesn't get much beyond being boiled or roasted and then eaten as part of a "pull it all out of the fridge on to the table and pick out the best bits" weekend lunch. Occasionally, it gets grated raw, or turned into a hummus type thang, but not much more than that. This is how we eat beetroot. 

We have decided to give back the allotment and create more growing room in the garden, and so we're currently making sure we get the last bits of this year's veg before handing it over. This has included some extra beetroot that we weren't counting on. 

With some trepidation, I suggested a curry - I had some braising steak, and I knew that I'd seen a recipe for Beef & Beetroot Curry somewhere before, which has been playing on my mind. I don't normally consult the Husband about the menu, but given the reaction to the shallot (mis)usage, I felt it was only right and proper. After all, I haven't been aware of any beetroot in Rick Stein's recent (fabulous) series on Indian cooking, and a quick persual of the indexes to my Madhur Jaffrey books reveals only a beetroot chutney.

As it turns out, beetroot works quite well in a curry, adding an earthy depth. Unfortunately, it doesn't give you a vivid pink or deep purple plateful (disappointing when you see the curry paste that you make with it), but, if you live with a beetroot hater, you don't really know it's there. I can attest to this, because Pink, who is an avowed hater of beetroot (what was I saying about not having fussy children...) ate this - AND it had a green chilli in - one that escaped the pickling pot... 

Beef & Beetroot Curry

serves 4

200g cooked beetroot (if you buy it, don't get the stuff in vinegar) 
'top thumb joint' piece ginger, chopped 
1 large garlic clove 
1 whole green chilli, seeds and all 
small bunch flat leaf parsley 
3 cardamom pods 
1 tbsp tomato ketchup 
1 tbsp treacle 
1 tbsp ground cumin 
1/2 tbsp ground coriander 
1 tsp fennel seeds
 pinch ground cloves 
fresh ground black pepper
1 tbsp sunflower oil 
500g braising steak cut into big chunks 
1 onion (not shallots), chopped 
1 beef stock cube made up to 250ml stock with boiling water
flaked almonds to sprinkle (toast them if you have time - I forgot)

If like me, you're making this in a slow cooker (and why wouldn't you, marvellous thing that it is), turn the cooker on to low to pre-heat.

Make a paste by blitzing the beetroot, ginger, garlic, chilli, parsley, cardamom, ketchup, treacle cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, cloves and a good grind of black pepper in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the beef in batches, returning them to the slow cooker crock pot once browned.

Once all the beef is in the slow cooker, add the chopped ONION to the pan and fry for a few minutes, then add the paste to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes more, till you've got all the beefy bits scraped up from the pan and it all smells fragrant. Tip in the stock and bring to the boil then tip over the beef, put the lid on the slow cooker and leave for 8 hours or 

Serve with rice and poppadums (and, in our case, cauliflower and broad bean curry) with the flaked almonds sprinkled over the top. You could add in some chunks of cooked beetroot at the end as suggested in the original recipe, but we'd eaten all that we left for lunch...

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Teatime Roulette - Mexican Lasagne

My kids are pretty good eaters. It's not fashionable, I know and probably sounds pretty smug, but there we go. It sometimes means that I am less forgiving of the food foibles of other children. On the other hand, when you've got friends for tea, you want to make sure they eat something. It sometimes feels a litte like playing roulette.

I was pretty desperate on Monday night, with extra kids to feed, no plan, and no left over roast dinner to fry up with some noodles and pass off as stir fry. Instead, I had to throw myself on the mercy of the veg patch, the cupboards and the freezer.

We have loads of tomatoes still coming and mostly ripening, and, thanks to the Husband's kidney bean free birthday chilli, several cans of red kidney beans more than will fit in the cupboard. Tortilla wraps in the freezer, and a vague memory of a Nigella recipe in my head.

As it turns out, it wasn't such a bad combination. Minimal fuss, with maximum result: I was fairly sure my kids would eat it, not so sure about their friends, but do you know, they all loved it. With toffee apple squares to finish, it may be a perfect post-school tea. Or may be not. The kids loved it so much there was barely enough left over for the Husband and I...

Bear in mind that you need quite a tight fit dish or tin for layering this up in. I found that a 20cm round cake tin worked well, although I had to raise the sides by lining the tin up with silver foil. You can also make up the sauce and the bean mix separately a little while in advance and then layer up and pop into the oven.

Mexican 'Lasagne'

Serves 4 kids and 2 adults - just.

1 large clove of garlic
1 red onion
1 tsp each of smoked paprika, ground coriander and ground cumin
500g fresh tomatoes (or replace this with a second tin of tomatoes)
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tins red kidney beans
2 small tins of sweetcorn
220g cheddar cheese
pack of 8 tortilla wraps (you'll need 6, so you can have 2 for packed lunches the next day)

If you're making this all at once, put the oven on to heat up to 200C.

Make the tomato sauce: crush the garlic and finely chop the onion. Heat some oil in a pan and gently fry the garlic and onion for 5-10 minutes till soft. While the onions are cooking, remove any woody stalky bits from the tomatoes, then roughly chop up, and set aside.

Add the smoked paprika, coriander and cumin to the onions and cook for another minute, before adding the fresh and tinned tomatoes and 2 cans' worth of water to the pan. Add some salt & pepper, bring to the boil then simmer for 20-30 minutes till the sauce is thickened and smelling delicious.

While the sauce is simmering, rinse the beans and corn, then mix together into a bowl. Grate the cheese, then stir in about 3/4 of it into the beans and save the rest of sprinkling on top.

Get your dish and layer everything up. I put a tortilla in the bottom of the dish, then a layer of beans and spread some sauce over it, and carried on layering, making sure you have a last tortilla and some sauce to spread over the top, then sprinkle the left over cheddar cheese and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes. 

You could dress this up with guacamole, sour cream and all that jazz, but on Monday, it was fine as it was.

Monday, 23 September 2013

A Tale of 2 Traybakes - or more things to do with apples.

If you've read this relatively frequently over the last few weeks, you'll have noticed that I'm quite preoccupied with the contents of the veg patch, the apple trees and all the free food that's around this time of year. Not that I'm not grateful, but it happens all at once, and then there's a mad panic to get things harvested and preserved for the colder months to come. I love it, I really do, but sometimes I think I am secretly a squirrel...

The other thing that has happened is that the Husband had to have an operation last Tuesday. It was unscheduled, although not life threatening - I'll let him tell you all about it over a beer sometime - and suffice to say, our pace of life has slowed down considerably. It's been LOVELY.

For example. Instead of whizzing round in 45 minutes flat, I spent nearly 2 hours out with the dog yesterday morning, ostensibly giving him a really good walk, but actually collecting blackberries and generally enjoying all that early autumn has to offer in the way of nature. If you've been paying attention, you'll remember that the dog is too badly behaved to be off the lead when I'm not concentrating on him, so he spent most of the time with a look of quiet indignation on his face, while I scratched and stung myself to blackberry heaven and made a mental note of where the really good sloes are this year.


Back home with about 1.5 kilos of blackberries, I wasn't really sure what to do with them because I already had pudding covered for Sunday, and I couldn't face jam, so hit upon the idea of making up bags of blackberry and apple mix to freeze and then whip out at a moment's notice for almost instant crumbles. I didn't make up the whole thing because I don't have enough dishes to consign too many to the freezer, so I used my usual crumble dish, filled it up with sliced apple and blackerries, a sprinkle of sugar, and then bagged it up accordingly. My dish takes 500g sliced apple, 250g blackberries and 40g demerara if you're interested.  I tossed the apple slices in lemon juice too, to stop them going brown. You can freeze crumble topping too, but I didn't go that far yesterday.

The other thing I did this weekend is have the opportunity for a really good cook up - fish pies (Friday night's dinner and also 2 in the freezer), a lovely casserole for supper using up some celeriac from the allotment, and not one, but 2 tray bakes to take some of the apples off my hands. Both were from the Good Food website, and both are worth a share, although one more so than the other. 

It's also a been a good exercise in what they think the cake should look like as opposed to what it turmed out like...

So first up is Toffee Apple Squares.  These are calorific and delicious, but I think probably take rather more effort than they have to. I say this mostly because you could manage the topping with a can of caramel rather than boiling up the condensed milk with sugar and butter (and also because I wasn't concentrating and burnt the sugar the sugar in my pan caught and added a rather interesting - but not entirely unpleasant -  'cinder' flavour to mine...). Also, I think the quantity of sauce is probably far too much. I mean, I have a pretty sweet tooth, but I used about half the resultant fudgy caramel sauce (we ate the rest on ice cream - mmm) and it was just right. 

I also signficantly reduced the amount of nuts in the topping, limiting it to a sprinkle of flaked almonds. A lovely treat, nonetheless.

The second is this Apple and Date Squares recipe. This is absolutely what you want to make for your kids to take to school and feel smugly virtuous. Apple, dates, oats - and utterly delicious too. It was really quick to make, although my apples took longer to mush down than the recipe suggested, but definitely one to make again. Pink raved about it after school today too - "Mummy I really LOVED the flapjack". 


Sunday, 22 September 2013

Foraged mushrooms - deadly or delicious?

So I've been back out running. It's surprised me as much as you, believe me. 

After the Great South Run in 2010, I honestly thought I would never run again. I tried a few times, but no. I was completely all out of run.

Then, earlier in the summer, a thought came over me that it might be worth having another try, so I did, and what do you know, I've got my 'run' back. I've been taking it very slowly, but yesterday was a great day - I crossed the 5 mile threshold. I'm unlikely to ever run much further in one go - the 10 mile Great South was too far for someone like me, who, let's face it is built for comfort rather than speed or distance. If I'm honest, I knew it while I was training, but running with a group of friends, I kind of got carried along with it all. Anyway, that's beside the point The point of all this is that at the end of my very slow 5 miles yesterday morning, I came across some mushrooms.

Now the Husband and I have spent more than a little time collecting mushrooms in our life together. We've always been ultra cautious, and up until last year, the usual outcome of such foraging expeditions was that we chucked every single fungus we had collected into the bin, and put it down to experience. You see, mushrooms really is something you can't be too careful about. Get it wrong, and you're talking serious problems, if not actual death.

I had a close encounter with the possibility that wild mushrooms can kill you a few years ago. Until recently, I used to get my haircut by a friend who had a one chair salon in a very smart shed in her back garden. One day, during school holidays, I had no option but to take the kids with me. It was a nice day. I thought they could play in the garden. Nicky had just started cutting - my hair was wet and clipped up in the way that it is, when the kids came bursting in: "We've been eating mushrooms" they proudly exclaimed.

I established that they had been eating mushrooms that had grown up in my hairdresser's grass.

I was seized with a kind of paralysis. I was of course extremely cross that they had eaten mushrooms, and also that this was likely to interrupt a longed for hair appointment (I know, I know - but bear in mind that this was just after Blue had finished his chemo, and I was a lot angrier about EVERYTHING then). I was also very worried, but my anger took over and I sat back down in the chair and said to Nicky that she should carry on cutting my hair and I'd take the kids to the doctors afterwards. 

I sat there for about 3 minutes before exasperation, frustration and everything else consumed me, and I stood up, hair dripping, clipped up and a little bit cut, gown and all, and frogmarched the kids all 2 minutes down the hill to the doctors, where we spent a happy hour establishing that the mushrooms were not toxic and they would be fine. Fortunately, Nicky wasn't expecting her next client for a few more minutes, so I even had time to get back up the hill and finish off the haircut, so it all worked out fine in the end.

I suppose I had always thought we had impressed on the kids how important it was to check with an adult before eating something wild, and this made it clear to me that we hadn't been clear enough, and I suppose it's something that I'd like to pass on.

(Also, if you're in the Chester area, Nicky's just moved and is open for business up there. I'd thoroughly recommend her!)

Near misses aside, last year,  we seemed to cross some kind of mushroom identification rubicon - well the Husband did. Thanks  to the River Cottage Mushroom Handbook, a Field Guide to Mushrooms and a website called, last year, he bagged a fantastic haul of edible mushroms which made some very delicious soup. Just to stress how careful we are about this, he does use at least 2 books to identify his finds. It really is something not to be blase about - after all, I'd rather not suffer agonising kidney failure and death, and I'm sure you'd rather not too.

Anyway, the mushrooms I found looked and smelt like field mushrooms, so I took one home and the Husband thought I was probably right, so we went off with the kids and foraged away.

A basket or so later - probably about 1.5 kilos worth, mainly field mushrooms and a few puff balls, we decided to head back. It looks like it's going to be a bumper mushroom year, and there are certainly loads of promising fairy ring marks around the fields, so we decided there would probably more to gather over the next few days.

Just in case you're wondering, he then checked each mushroom individually. I'm not going to even start to give you advice here about how to check them - you need to consult the experts - but having put aside 500g worth for soup, we decided that the decent thing to do was mushrooms on toast for lunch.

Mushrooms on toast is such a simple and yet totally delicious meal, especially with beautifully fresh mushrooms - but if you can't forage for them, try and get them as fresh as possible from the shops. 

Heat some butter and oil in a pan - you want to get it good and hot so the mushrooms fry and don't boil in the juice they release. Try and resist the temptation to cook them all at once - again you want to make sure they fry. A crushed clove of garlic, a sprinkle of thyme leaves and some reasonably decent bread, toasted how you like it is all you need. Believe me, this is not the moment for some pappy sliced loaf.

Pile the mushrooms up on your chosen toast (butter it first if you're feeling extra decadent), grind over some salt and pepper, and consume. 

Enjoy - and then try not to spend the next few days worrying about whether you're going to die a horrible and painful death...

The thyme really brought out the flavours of the mushrooms, so I'm linking up to Cooking with Herbs hosted by Karen on Lavender and Lovage 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Tasty tomatoes, and utterly scrumptious Butterscotch Apple Pudding

I keep getting side tracked by cake and pudding. Brownie eclipsed the healthy bean and chorizo salad that the kids enjoyed last week, and tonight, instead of getting excited about some rather tasty stuffed beef tomatoes, what I really want to talk about is pudding. But I will talk tomatoes, because this year, for the first time in AGES, we have had lots of lovely red tomatoes with more still coming. So you 'll just have to wait for pudding - or scroll down to the bottom of this post.

In fact the last time we produced this many tomatoes was when Blue was in his first year of chemo in 2006. He craved cherry tomatoes during the courses of steroids he had to take, and consumed kilos of them - quite literally. The Husband proudly grew tomatoes, they ripened, and guess what. The craving stopped. I think Blue moved on to raw mushrooms and Shreddies at that point. We've grown tomatoes ever since, but never with the same success, and green tomato chutney has been a big feature of our lives. This year, though, it will be different. The tomatoes have ripened, and they have been delicious.

Today, some particularly fine specimens - beef tomatoes - were on the menu, along with some baby courgettes ('pick 'em while they're small', is my current strategy for dealing with them). I hadn't really thought about what I was going to stuff them with, but I found some pork mince in the freezer, and some giant couscous in the cupboard.

I'd like to be able to give you the full recipe, but I got distracted by the pudding, so didn't weigh out everything - or keep a note of what I did weigh. Essentially, I cut out the tops of 4 beef tomatoes and scooped our the flesh and seeds into a bowl. I heated a splash of olive oil into a frying pan, and fried 100g giant couscous for a couple of minutes before adding what from memory (when I put it into the freezer) was 250g pork mince. I browned off the mince, and added 2 baby courgettes which I'd chopped quite small, plus a chopped clove of elephant garlic, 1/2 tsp of ground coriander and a tsp of smoked paprika.

While this was all cooking, I seived out as much juice as I could and added it into the pan, bringing it to a simmer to cook the couscous. After about 15 minutes, I filled the tomatoes with this mixture, arranged the leftover mixture around the tomatoes, then covered the dish with silver foil and baked it for 25 minutes. It could have done with being spicier, but it was pretty good and the Husband and Blue (and I) all enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I started this all too late, so Pink had to make do with pasta before she went to Brownies.

You'll be please to know, though, that Pink didn't miss out on pudding. What could have been so delicious? Well, I'll tell you - Rachel Allen's Butterscotch Apple Pudding, for which I will be eternally grateful to the lovely Annie who writes Scrummy Suppers and Quirky Cakes. As I mentioned before, as well as tomatoes, we also have an abundance of cooking apples at the moment, and this was quick to knock up and totally delicious. If I had one criticism, it would be that it could possibly have done with a little more of the butterscotch sauce - easily rectified by making more next time...

Butterscotch Apple Pudding  

100 g butter

125 g self-raising flour  
200 g light brown muscovado sugar
pinch of salt 
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 egg
200 ml milk
3 cooking apples, (about 500g total weight)
1 tbsp golden syrup & 1 tbsp of runny honey

Pre-heat the oven to 180C

Melt the butter and set aside to cool slightly. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl with 100g of the sugar.  

In a jug, mix together the milk, egg and vanilla extract with the melted butter.

Peel, quarter and core the apples, then slice each quarter again lengthwise and then into half. You basically want large but still bitesize chunks.  Sprinkle these over the bottom of an oven proof dish - Rachel's was 20 by 30 cm. Mine was probably 22cm square-ish

Tip the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk quickly together - as you would for muffins. Tip over the apple pieces. and spread evenly over the dish.

Make the butterscotch - in a small pan, put the syrup & honey with the remaining 100g of sugar and 150ml of boiling water. Heat, stirring, while the sugar dissolves, then pour as evenly as you can over the batter and apples.

Pop in the oven for around 30 minutes. If you can resist, leave it cool a little before serving warm. It would probably be delicious with ice cream, cream or creme fraiche, but frankly it didn't need it.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Almost Autumn? Blackberry & Apple Cake

Much as I love the summer (well, a decent summer, one where the sun shines, and it only rains about once a week) my favourite season is Autumn. All that mists and mellow fruitfulness, the tang in the early morning air that hits the back of your nose, days still warm, but nights getting cooler. When I was working in London, I used to love the warmer days of early Autumn, escaping from the office for lunch in St James' Park, where the softer sun made the buildings of Birdcage Walk and Horseguards glow.

Pumpkin soup in the making...

Now that we're ensconsed in reasonably rural Hampshire, it's not just the glow of buildings that heralds the change of the seasons. Blackberries and sloes in the hedgerows, the pumpkins, frankly, enormous in the veg patch, massive spiders patrolling the corridors of the house (we're talking spiders so big, you can hear the plop when they hit the pavement after you chuck them out of the windows), spiders' webs festooning the apple trees - and wonderful apples.  We're lucky to have cookers and eaters in the garden, and this year has been a good year.

This weekend has been the first for a long time that we've been at home on a Sunday. Although we had a beautiful autumnal morning, the rain showed no mercy and by lunchtime, was firmly set in, good for nothing but a wet dog walk and homework. Fortunately, roast pork was on the menu for dinner - with apple sauce made with the cookers, and for pudding, Blackberry & Apple cake, inspired by a recipe I've read many times in Good Food, but have never got round to making, crumble always prevailing. This is a little more effort than a crumble, but well worth it. 

Apples & spiders' webs. Autumn is on the way

juice of half a lemon
2 large, sharp eating apples
150g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for the tin 
130g soft light brown sugar 
3 large eggs, beaten 
50g ground almonds 
100g self-raising flour 
100g blackberries 
1 large pinch cinnamon  
2 tbsp demerara sugar
 icing sugar, for dusting 
Butter a 23cm springform cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C
Put the lemon juice in a bowl, then peel and core the apples, slice each apple into 12 and put the slices into the lemon juice. This will stop the slices discolouring while you make the rest of the cake.

Beat together 125g of the butter with the sugar till pale and fluffy, then slowly beat in the eggs, adding a little flour if the mixture starts to curdle.

Once all the egg has been incorporated, beat in the rest of the flour and the ground almonds.

Stir in 2/3 of the apple (16 slices), and the blackberries, then scrape into the prepared tin. Arrange the remaining slices of apple over the top, then mix together the demerara sugar and cinammon. Sprinkle this over the top of the cake, followed by the remaining 25g of butter, cut into thin flakes. Bake the cake for 45-50 minutes till a skewer (or whatever you use to test a cake) comes out clean.

Leave to cool till warm. Dust with icing sugar and serve.
The cake is moist and tasty enough to eat just as it is - but it would go just as well with cream, creme fraiche - or custard as the weather gets colder. Just make sure you get plenty of blackberries in the freezer!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Birthday Brownie

I should be telling you about another great meal last night which used up another of the can of left over kidney beans (the ones I failed to put in the chilli for the Husband's birthday). It was a healthy bean salad type thing, all the more succesful because both kids ate it and enjoyed it. I also made some cheeky toasted cumin flatbreads to go with, which made me feel all domestic goddess-y again because - a confession - I haven't made bread of any sort for a good couple of months now.

But healthy suppers and flatbreads will have to wait for another time, because I cannot get brownie out of my head.

I don't have much that's original to say about brownies. It's mostly been said before, some of it by me, here, but when has that ever stopped me? Badly made, they can be one of the most disappointing things on earth - dry, unyielding - just, well, disappointing.

On the other hand, get it right and you have absolutely one of the best types of chocolatey treat you can, in my humble opinion, ever eat. Rich, damp, squidgy, revealing the hidden treat of a nut or carefully chosen nugget of dried fruit (cranberries and cherries are my favourites, bringing an edge of sour to the party), a good brownie is absolutely to die for.

When I was wracking my brains to think of a suitably birthday-ish treat to take with us last week end and stick candles in to allow for the purposes of singing 'Happy Birthday', brownie was the obvious solution. As it's not actually the Husband's birthday till December, I didn't want to go all out with a bells & whistles birthday cake (plus, the obvious difficulty of keeping something (possibly elaborate) intact on a campsite was vexing me), but I wanted something celebratory. 

Flapjack would absolutely NOT have done.

Nigella offers brownie as a birthday cake solution, and I have to say, she's right. Stacked up, with candles in the pieces, it looks very festive. It's also dead easy to make. Marvellous.

La Lawson reckons you can get 48 out of this quantity. I got 24 (admittedly fairly generous) pieces, but I wouldn't have wanted to go much smaller, and as we were 45, I made 2 batches, one with walnuts, one with dried cranberries. Do watch them like a hawk once you've baked them for around 20 minutes. I set my timer for 22 mins, and probably did take them out at around 25 minutes, but they will continue to cook in the tin, once you've taken them out of the oven, so don't leave them too long in the oven.

Chocolate & Cranberry Brownie

2375g unsalted butter
375g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
6 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
450g caster sugar
225g plain flour
1 tsp salt
300g dried cranberries (if you prefer, use 300g chopped walnuts)

Pre-heat the oven to 180 and line a tin with greaseproof paper (I have a roasting tin which is approx 27 by 23 cm and 4 cm deep. Nigella's is bigger (33 by 23), so her brownie is probably thinner and so more easily cuttable into 48. It's up to you. I won't judge you...)

In a large pan, gently melt together the chocolate and butter, then set aside to cool slightly. 

Beat together the sugar, eggs and vanilla, and in a separate bowl, combine the flour and salt.

Beat the eggs and sugar into the melted butter & chocolate, then the flour, then stir through the cranberries. 

When it's all combined, scrape it into the prepared tin and bake for around 25 minutes. It's worth checking a little earlier just to see how its doing. The top will be paler and may have started to crack, but make sure the middle is still a little squodgy when you take it out of the oven.

Cut into pieces and serve - with or without candles.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Chicken, Chorizo and Courgette 'Chilli'

Sometimes, when I'm writing about something I've cooked, the angle I'll take with it is obvious. Sometimes, it's not so obvious, and sometimes I actually have a choice.

This, then, could be about cooking with the seasonal fruits (well, the veg, actually) from the garden - red onions, elephant garlic, bulbous yellow courgette - all of which I am currently blessed with.

It could have been a debate about what consitutes 'chilli'' given that I seem to apply it to pretty much anything I add kidney beans too, and yet equally, bandy the word around to cover meals that don't even include a sniff of even the mildest chilli or chilli powder in them. 

Chilli for 45 - but no kidney beans. Does that make it tomatoey mince?

Happy 'official' 40th to the Husband  

Indeed, I ended up with 8 cans of value red kidney beans and 3 tubs of guacamole, having cooked chilli for 45 for the Husband's 'official' 40th birthday camping & sailing weekend (it's not till December, but no one else wanted to camp/sail then), forgot to add the kidney beans in, and bought too much guacamole. Chilli without kidney beans - and then plenty of kidney beans to use up.

It could have been about how I am progressing with sharing the kitchen with the children, and how Blue chopped up a courgette, worked out how to use the tin opener and threw most of a tin of chopped tomatoes all over his school uniform, and I didn't get cross once (well, may be a little irritated, but, you know, little steps and all that).

Finally,  it could have been about those moments when you look in the cupboards, the fridge and the freezer when you haven't planned anything, wonder what on earth you are going to eat that night, and do it all on the fly with disproportionately pleasing results (always a winner!)

All are equally applicable, and I suppose intertwined, to this, so I leave it to you to decide which angle - or angles -  you'd prefer, and I'll just add that it's probably one of the best received meals I've cooked for a long time.

Chicken, chorizo & courgette 'chilli'

(serves 4)
1 large red onion
1 large clove of garlic
olive oil
125g cooking chorizo
2 chicken breasts
1/2 tsp each paprika, ground cumin & ground coriander (I would have used my favourite smoked paprika, but I had - gasp - run out!!)
1/3 large yellow courgette (frankly, how ever much you think you can get away with)
1 400g  can chopped tomatoes
1 400g can red kidney beans
2 tsp veg stock
salt & freshly ground pepper 
guacamole & sour cream to serve

Finely chop the red onion and the clove of garlic. The Husband's elephant garlic is massive, but not as strong in flavour, so a lot goes a little way.

Heat a splosh of olive oil in a large pan and add the onions and garlic. 

Cut the chorizo into chunks and add it to the onions. cooking for 5 minutes or so till it releases its juices. Cut the chicken and the courgette into chunks. Put the kettle on.

Stir in the ground paprika, cumin and coriander into the onions and chorizo, cook for a minute then add the chicken and stir it in, browning the pieces on all sides.

Add the courgette, stir, add the chopped tomatoes, then put the 2 tsp veg stock into the empty tin and top up with hot water. Stir, then add to the pan along with some salt & pepper.

Bring everything to the boil then simmer for 20 mins or so till the chicken is cooked.

Serve with sour cream and guacamole, on rice, and watch with satisfaction as every last bit is licked up off the plate.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sundried tomato and leek tart - with a little help from Boursin and Lisa Faulkner

Would I like to try some Boursin? But of course I would.

3 great flavours.  - Garlic & herb, black pepper, sun ripened tomato onion & chive.

Garlic & Herb Boursin is definitely a flavour from my childhood. I remember it being in the fridge, reserved mainly for my father. I expect there was an element of  "Too good for us children" going on, so there was a certain amount of excitment that greeted the arrival of this little package of goodies chez Recipe Junkie.

Anxious not to deprive my children in the way I was so clearly deprived (oh poor me - not allowed the Boursin), I let them have unfettered access to the Garlic & Herb one lunchtime. This is a decision I will live to regret as they pretty much devoured the lot, leaving the Husband and I barely a look in. Obviously my father was on to something. The black pepper flavour was less popular with the children, well, with Pink, anyway, but I loved it with the Husband's home grown cucumbers. 

I saved the sun-ripened tomato, onion and chive to make a tart inspired by the lovely Lisa Faulkner - there she is with her own pile of Boursin - the lucky thing. Lisa has created some recipes using Boursin, all of which you can find on the website

I failed to reproduce her tart exactly, in that I only had a round tin, not a rectangular one, and baby leeks were absent from the purveyors of vegetables I visited on the day I was looking for them. However, this went largely unnoticed, partly because no one knew there were supposed to be baby leeks decorating the top except me and I could live without them, and because stirring half a pack of the Boursin into the usual egg mixture to go in a quiche case over some leeks which I'd genetly softened in some butter, made a very delicious tart indeed, baby leeks or no.

This is what Lisa's version looks like. Alas, I lost my photos in a pre-holiday clear out of the camera.

I also lost the notes I made about what I actually put in my tart, so you can go on your own voyage of Boursin discovery and make it up as you go along, or just make Lisa's.

So thumbs up all round for Boursin in all its flavours and a lovely and straightforward summer supper which everyone enjoyed (even Pink, who is funny about quiche despite loving pastry, and eggs in all other forms, pronounced it delicious and said she would eat quiche like that again).

There are plenty more recipes to choose from too - I'm particularly keen to try the black pepper hotcakes - but this requires the Boursin to stay in the fridge long enough for me to cook with it...

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Fried Bacon Sandwich - or how to recover your camping mojo

My love of camping and the great outdoors is nothing new. There's almost nothing I like better than heading off in Daisy, our camper van, for a week, a weekend, or even a night, exploring new places and heading back to our home from home at the end of the day. I love eating outside, sitting out under the stars, but am equally happy (OK may be not quite so happy, but you know, happy enough) huddled in under the canvas awning, or even in the van, with a bottle of red wine playing Uno as the wind howls and the rain lashes down. I've eulogised plenty about it all before so I won't go on about it...

Sometimes, though, there are moments when it's not quite what it cracked up to be. Don't get me wrong it doesn't put me off for the next time, but there are definitely challenges that make unbidden thoughts flash through my head. 

Mainly "What on earth possessed you?" type thoughts. 

We had a moment like that this last week, camping on Shell Island in North Wales. The campsite itself is an odd sort of place - out on a causeway, you can camp in the sand dunes or facing inland with views over the salt marshes to the mountains beyond. It should be the best place to camp in the world ever. For various odd reasons, it's not quite that good, but we still had a great time. However, one night, the wind got up, blowing straight across the site.

"Will the kids be alright?" (they sleep out in an awning most of the time)

"Yeah, sure"

The wind got stronger. We went to bed ourselves, having checked everything twice.

The wind got stronger. 

There was banging and flapping. Noises we couldn't identify.

The Husband valiantly got back out of bed to do more checking.

In the end, we just couldn't cope with the idea that somehow the wind would whip up the awning, blowing the kids straight over into the salt marshes that we were camped right on top of, so we brought them in to the van and I spent a largely sleepless night with Pink on one side of me, out of her sleeping bag, legs thrown over mine, muttering to herself as she tends to do, and the Husband, family duly safe and protected, snoring loudly in my ear on the other... It could have been worse, I suppose - Blue got to sleep on the floor of the van, nose to nose with the dog.

After a night like that, the best thing of course is a morale boosting bacon sarnie (sorry, all you vegetarians out there, but it really is), but no ordinary bacon sarnie - allow me please to introduce (drum roll please) 

the Fried Bacon Sandwich. 

For this, you need to make sure you are the person cooking the bacon. And really, given that just looking at it makes your arteries tense up a little, it should only be eaten in dire need. But it is so good.

Cook the bacon up for all the sandwiches you are making - then make everyone else's sandwiches first (part of the treat is that only one person gets it). DO NOT clean out the pan you cooked the bacon in. At the same time, make sure there's a coffee on the go somewhere. We take a stove top espresso maker with us - it has justified its van space on many occasions.

Butter 2 slices of pappy white bread, and lay one butter side up on a plate, or the table, or wherever, and put your own bacon on the bread along with any sauce you choose (red tends to be my choice). Heat up all the left over bacon fat/oil that's still in the pan, then place the second slice of bread, butter side up, in the hot fat and fry gently till crisp. Depending on how much fat there is in the pan, the bread may absorb it all. You won't be eating these often, so that's OK. Once the bread is crisp, remove from the pan, and place butter side down (the butter will have gone all melty, by the way. Mmmmmm).

Slice the sandwich in 2, take your sandwich and cup of freshly brewed coffee somewhere far away from husbands, children and dogs, with a view, and enjoy 5 minutes peace and quiet. 

Mojo restored, you can crack on with the rest of your day - whatever that might involve.