Archive for the ‘Comfort Food’ Category

Like many families, in my house, we used to refer to Cottage Pie as Shepherd’s Pie.  Beef mince was always available from the butchers and was far more economical for a family of seven than lamb would be.  Topped with golden mashed potato that had caught under the grill; everyone coveting the crispy bits and a generous scoop of baked beans on the side.

And as far as I was concerned, everyone called it the same and served it the same way.

It wasn’t until recently that I was served Shepherd’s Pie without baked beans and felt cheated.  “My Granny would never have served it like that!” I snorted in disgust.  Only to find I was not the only one at the table who thought the same – lo and behold, the others also agreed that baked beans were a very acceptable addition to a serving of Shepherd’s Pie.  Emboldened by this camaraderie I decided to come clean and tell all; as a child, my favourite way of eating this was with a squeeze of ketchup over the mash and then mixing everything together into a plateful of dark, pink-brown gloop studded with baked beans.

As revolting as this sounds to me now – as a child, it was a plate of sheer delight.

Click on the link to see my youtube clip on how to make my easy Cottage Pie: https://tinyurl.com/zxp42sa

I don’t tend to make shepherd’s pie (cottage pie) from scratch anymore, as in I try not to have to go food shopping too often, so make this using leftover beef from the Sunday Roast instead.  In the past I’ve used leftover roast potatoes but to be honest it’s so easy to make good mashed potato to top the pie that it’s really no hardship.  Whereas baked beans would have been my staple side dish, nowadays I try and have something green either in the pie or on the side.  Leftover broccoli, peas and beans are very welcome as is a buttery tangle of spring greens or shredded Savoy cabbage.

The good thing about a Shepherd’s Pie (Cottage Pie) is that you can make the components in advance.  I made the beef pie filling on Monday evening as this can sit in its dish in the fridge until you need to top it and heat it – I’m pretty sure you can freeze it at this stage too.  Take the pie out of the fridge whilst you’re making the mashed potato and top the dish.  Place in a moderate oven for 35mins until the filling is bubbling up the sides and the top is golden in colour.

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I don’t know what the allure of cooking lentils at New Years is for me but I always like to start the year cooking a warm bowlful of them.

It’s not as if I’m looking for something warm and filling as the weather has been sunny and mild over the holiday period and I’m stuffed after eating so much.

So what is it that draws me to cooking lentils at this at this time of year?

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Maybe it’s their versatility? Lentils can be cooked by themselves or added to vegetable, meat or fish dishes. They can be served as a side, as with salmon and lentils or as the main component as in a lentil salad or stew.  They come in a range of colours and with it bring their own textures and tastes.  Some lentils such as red split lentils boil down to the consistency of mashed potatoes whereas other hold their shape and retain their nutty bite even after boiling them for 45mins as with green lentils.  My favourite variety are Puy lentils also called French green lentils – which are slate green/blue in colour and have a peppery warmth to them. 

For some, lentils have a hessian weave hippie vibe about them; vegans rave about them whilst for others they are just austere, peasant food.  After all, the original lentil stew, mess of pottage, was biblical in origin.  Now, I wouldn’t necessarily consider lentils austerity food but after the expense of the Christmas foodathon they are very welcome on my pocket!

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Italians, consider lentils to be lucky as their small coin-shaped form invites prosperity.  Perfectly partnered with pork increases their success; the pig known for pushing forwards, makes it a symbol of progress. Lentils with pork sausages are considered particularly auspicious. 

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But perhaps it’s the ease with which the stew comes together.  It’s so personal it’s not really a case of following a recipe it’s more about getting the quantities right of lentils to water and packing flavour.  And lentils are great at taking on flavour.  There is also very little for the cook to actually do.  After mass catering over the holidays and following strict recipes and cooking times, just throwing things into a pot of water is quite liberating and relaxing.  It’s also a great way to use up veg you’ve got knocking about in the back of the fridge.  There are no stages or steps to follow and other than not letting your lentils dry out as they boil, there really isn’t much danger of the dish going wrong.

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I tend to favour lentils cooked with chorizo as the paprika from the sausages oozes out into the stew giving everything great body and depth – maximising flavour with very little effort.  This time I had a rasher of streaky bacon and two sausages leftover from new year’s breakfast that I decided to add to the pot as well as pumpkin and chorizo.  At the very end of the cooking process I wilted shredded spring greens (leftover from Christmas Eve’s dinner) in the residual heat of the pot.

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I often reminisce as to the joys of my Granny’s pea soup with fried bread.

I used to love walking into the house on a cold, bleak day to the smell of gammon bubbling in its cauldron of yellow split peas.  If truth be told, when done well, pea soup is probably one of my favourite dishes of all time.

I remember we’d dry our rain-wet hair and crowd around the dining table.  Snuggled round a small, circular table, elbows touching, necks down plunging spoons into the golden, lava-hot, gloopy, yellow split pea soup we’d share our morning’s routines.

 The delicious chunks of gammon having imparted their flavour and savouriness to the mixture, which falling apart added great flavour and substance to the dish.  Scooping ham and soup on slices of fried bread is what made this soup a meal.

My Granny would shallow fry a slice of white bread per person – crusts and all – and then slice it on the diagonal.   This, dipped into the thick pea soup was utter heaven to me.

I love yellow split pea and ham soup so much, that my shock at once being given green pea and ham soup by my great aunt was an unfortunate disappointment; flavoursome though it was!  But my all time favourite pea soup tale was when I was a vegetarian (now that I’ve told you I may have to kill you!) and I’d returned from university and my Granny had made my favourite dish and assured me that she hadn’t added the ham but you could see the pink gammon flecks throughout the entire bowl!  I think she then tried to offer me a cheese sandwich with a very thin slice of ham…

Admittedly, my Granny was right; there is no point in having pea soup without the gammon.  It’s the gammon that imparts a full on rounded flavour and seasons the soup with great depth.  Sometimes, pieces of the gammon flake off in the cooking and get blitzed into the soup adding to the savoury baconness!

A different kind of meal to be had at this time of year where everything is either a turkey dinner or Christmas table leftovers.

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At this time of year I always like to make a glazed ham (as many of you do too).  As always, I buy a large piece to ensure there are leftovers but there’s only so many cold-cuts with chutneys to be had.   With the rain pouring down outside, I want something warm and comforting instead of cold-cuts, so why not add your already cooked ham to a pot of bubbling yellow split peas to make glorious pea soup with its volcanic ferocity warming you through these cold and dark nights.

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Yellow split pea soup is so easy to recreate you can cook the gammon in the soup itself or add cooked ham pieces to the final soup.  Either way – this is a delicious thick soup that like a hot water bottle warms and comforts you.  Fried bread takes this to another level but pan fried croutons or the healthier oven variety convert this into a satisfying main course.

I keep this really simple:

Ingredients:

1 cup of split peas, 1 medium onion, slice of pumpkin to add colour and sweetness and a stock cube.  Uncooked gammon or leftover boiled ham to taste.

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1st: Cut the onion and pumpkin into pieces and fry in some oil until the onion becomes soft.
2nd: Add the split peas and crumble in the stock cube. Stir well and add the gammon/boiled ham.
3rd: Top up with enough water to cover the gammon – at least 3 times more water to split peas.  Boil for 35mins or until the gammon is cooked.  Season to taste.
4th: Remove any large chunks of gammon and blitz the soup.  Flake any gammon pieces and add them to individual bowls.
5th: Fry slices of plastic white bread in hot oil.  Slice on the diagonal and serve up.

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I must admit, I came to the sweet potato party quite late in life. Considering I eat pretty much anything I don’t know why I’ve been so ambivalent towards the sweet potato / boniato.

Perhaps it’s the way I’ve always seen it prepared; baked jacket-potato style with its orange flesh collapsing in on itself and scooped straight out of its blistered skin. And what is it about the skin that takes on irregular shiny-caramel looking spots where the flesh is peeking through? And when mixed in with carrots and parsnips as part of the Sunday roast veggies drizzled in maple syrup, the sweet potato pretty much disintegrates into the buttery maple juices at the bottom of the pan.

I think I may have answered my own question!

At a party years ago, I remember there was a sweet potato and peanut butter filo parcel which all the veggies were enjoying but I couldn’t decide whether i liked it or wondered whether it should be dessert; all it needed was some vanilla ice cream and a dusting of icing sugar and I’d have been happy…I think.

But it was on a trip to LA that my love for the sweet potato was restored. After several food blow outs I fancied something light but not salad-light(!) and came across a plain chicken breast with fries dish on the menu, that as it arrived on the table I thought, wow these American potatoes are really orange! After the first bite I realised they were sweet potato fries, duh! However, they were sweet, salty and acidic all in one bite. My eyes lit up, they were coated in salt, and freshness of lime zest and juice screamed through.

Since sweet potatoes and boniatos (white fleshed Caribbean sweet potatoes) are currently in season what better way to celebrate them than to try and recreate these lime, salty, sweet potato fries which I have shamelessly decided to call, margarita sweet potato fries; the tequila is optional.

Note: cutting them thicker makes for lighter work but they take longer to cook.

Grill some chicken breasts and corn on the cob to make this a great mid-week family supper. But I warn you, the first time I made this I ate the entire tray of sweet potato fries and left everything else!

 

 

 

…sweet potato fries which I have shamelessly decided to call,
margarita sweet potato fries; the tequila is optional…

Margarita Sweet Potato Fries

1st: Preheat the oven to 210°C

2nd: Wash the sweet potatoes to remove any soil or grit they may still have and slice into fries or wedges should you wish. There is no need to peel them.

3rd: Drizzle with olive oil and season well with salt flakes, pepper and lime zest.

4th: Cook in the oven for anything from 25 to 40 mins depending on size. Try to turn them once and get good colour on them throughout the cooking process.

5th: Squeeze lime juice over them as they come out of the oven and sprinkle with fresh coriander.

These fries are great with chicken but make a tasty accompaniment to grilled pork loin and white fish; anything that will pair well with zesty lime juice.

Whether you eat them as a side dish or as the main I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Pumpkin

Posted: October 30, 2017 in Autumn, Comfort Food, Family, home cooking, Soups, Uncategorized

Whole Oven Baked Pumpkin

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Ingredients:

1 whole pumpkin

250g Grated cheese (Gruyére,cheddar, emmental, etc)

300ml Double cream

500ml Vegetable stock (or chicken stock should you prefer)

2 Bay leaves 

Rasp of Nutmeg

Salt & pepper

Method:

 

1st: Pre-heat your oven to 190°c. Place the pumpkin on a baking tray and cut the top quarter off the top of the pumpkin. Reserve to one side.

2nd: Scoop out the seeds from the interior and any fibrous bits.

3rd: Fill the pumpkin with the cheese.  Use any cheese you wish, I used a packet of pre-grated cheese which had a mix of Emmental, Gruyére, Cheddar and Red Leicester, but you are more than welcome to stick to one cheese or combinations of cheeses that you prefer.

4th: Pour in the pot of cream.

5th: Add the bay leaves, nutmeg and salt & pepper.  Top up the pumpkin with your choice of stock but make sure not to fill it to the brim.

6th: Put the lid back on the pumpkin and place it in the oven for approx 1hour (this can take any length of time from 45mins to 1hr 15mins), until the flesh comes away from the pumpkin’s skin or a knife can be pushed through (careful not to pierce the skin).

“At this point the pumpkin is in real danger of collapse.  The larger the pumpkin, the greater the danger!  Don’t panic, it will look deflated but will taste delicious.” HFW.

7th: Fish out the bay leaves and serve piping hot.

If there is any leftover, scoop the remaining flesh out and blitz with some extra cream, cheese & stock.

The perfect pumpkin recipe to celebrate this fantastic gourd and welcome in those longer autumnal evenings.

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If I could only use one herb or spice for the rest of my life, seasoning aside, I would have to (pun intended) stick with cinnamon.

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Spice prized for both flavour and medicinal properties; the brown coloured, woody spice is evocatively aromatic with warming sweet and savoury notes at the same time.

Ancient Romans used cinnamon to make their bitter wine palatable and Ancient Greeks used cinnamon to season meat and vegetable dishes.  The Arabic world used it to flavour tea and now include it in most sweet and savoury dishes.  The rest of the world add it to baked goods and continue to sprinkle it over sweet treats and desserts.

Cinnamon is high in antioxidants and contains anti-inflammatory properties; it helps protect cognitive function, the heart and fight diabetes.  Regular cinnamon use, such as sprinkled over your morning porridge, can help lower your glycemic load and even help you to lose weight.

In cooking, the sweet-spicy flavour and warmth of cinnamon enhances the taste of fruits and vegetables, is a perfect partner for chocolate and no apple pie would be worth eating without cinnamon.

When baking with cinnamon, the entire house smells comforting and feels safe, warm and homely.

As the temperature drops and autumn makes itself known to us it’s this feeling of comfort and warmth that I’m trying to evoke through my food but I’m not ready for hot custard over fruit crumbles sprinkled with cinnamon nor hearty stews infused with cinnamon stick; something sweet to accompany a morning coffee sounds just right and there is nothing better than a cinnamon roll in the morning (or at any other time of day!)

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Proper cinnamon rolls can be cumbersome to make as you need to make an enriched dough, allow time to prove etc. as can be seen above but they are seriously good to eat.  However, there are a couple of cheats that make this easy to do for breakfast without even having changed out of your PJ’s.

Cheat Cinnamon Rolls

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Ingredients:
1 Pack of Puff Pastry
Melted butter
Brown Sugar
Cinnamon powder
Icing Sugar and water for the glaze

Method:
1st: Spread the melted butter over the unrolled puff pastry
2nd:  Sprinkle over the brown sugar and cinnamon powder.
3rd: Roll the pastry back up and cut into slices.
Place in a preheated oven at 200˚C for 10-14mins or until puffed and golden.
4th: Allow to cool on a wire rack and once cool prepare your glaze.  Drizzle over your cinnamon rolls.

Pimped-up fettuccine alfredo! Easy.

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Ingredients:

  • Chicken breast (aim for 1 per person)
  • Spanish onion
  • Garlic
  • Cream
  • Thyme
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Lemon juice
  • Parsley
  • Seasoning

https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=6ZEeFW1PG8s

Method:

1st: Chop the chicken breast into slices, or equal size pieces and fry in oil/butter.

2nd: Dice a small Spanish onion and 2 cloves of garlic.  Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the frying pan and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent.

3rd: Slice a few chestnut mushrooms and add to the pan.

4th: Return the chicken to the frying pan, and sprinkle in parsley and thyme and pour in the cream.  Squeeze the juice of a lemon into the sauce.  Season well and allow to simmer for a few minutes.

5th: Boil any pasta you are using – I made some fresh fettuccine pasta – and once cooked mix into the creamy, chicken sauce.

6th:  Grate parmesan cheese to taste and mix well.  Serve and grate more parmesan cheese over, drizzle with truffle oil.

This dish makes a great Valentine meal if you’ve decided to wait until the weekend; it’s luxurious, creamy and delicious.  Send me your Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo photos!