Archive for the ‘Dinner’ Category

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There is something very British about pheasant. Images of men in tweed, wearing Barbour jackets, valets reloading rifles before handing them back to their masters and hounds with bird in mouth come to mind. Cooks and servants at the manor preparing a banquet in celebration of the glut of birds shot.

Thomas Becket famously dined on pheasant the night before his infamously violent death in 1170. Tudor kings and queens dined on elaborate pheasant dishes with colourful plumes adorning the roasted bird. And we often read about pheasant being cooked in Dickensian stories and Austen novels, so it surprises me, that all things considered, how infrequently we see it in restaurants and supermarkets.

Both chicken and pheasant were recorded as having been brought to Europe by Phoenician traders but chicken with its bland taste and texture has won universal acclaim; with people usually eating chicken more than twice a week in different reincarnations.

Fast forward to the present day:

This Christmas, my nephew mentioned he’d never tried pheasant; actually, neither had the rest of us in the family. As Christmas Day traditions must be kept (turkey is a must) we tried cooking pheasant for the first time in the run up to Christmas.

Having read the butcher’s instructions on the label of the plucked, prepackaged, plastic wrapped pheasants and several internet searches later, it was clear that pheasant are in danger of drying out in the oven.

On taking the bird out of its packaging to place on its roasting trivet, the smell was strong and putrid. Slightly worried about this we looked at each other quizzically and thought, let’s just give this a go, if we don’t like it we just won’t cook it again. Admittedly whilst it sat on the trivet the smell seemed to dissipate and our fears were allayed.

We were not inflicting food poisoning on ourselves a few days before Christmas! Phew!!

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We prepared a herb butter and squeezed this between skin and breast meat. And stuffed the cavity with dried prunes and figs – the pheasant can take bold flavours; having bold flavours (and smells) itself. Truss the bird up before putting it into the oven so that the stuffing remains in the cavity and if you have any streaky bacon (we didn’t) protect the breast meat by laying several rashers across it.

Roast the bird on its trivet of vegetables for anything from 1hr 10mins to 1hr 30mins at 180°C. Allow to rest whilst you tend to gravy and mashed potatoes and any other vegetable side dish you’re serving.

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In terms of flavour, the breast meat had a slight herby/gamey taste but otherwise was quite transient and could pretty much carry other flavours with it but the leg meat, especially the drumstick was very strong and bold in flavour. Texture-wise this again was different, the leg meat was juicy, however, the breast meat was very dry.

I dare say that with repeated practise you’d be able to hone in your pheasant roasting skills or maybe even prefer cooking it in a slow cooker or in other guises.

With gravy, stuffing and mash this makes for a delicious autumnal/wintery evening meal sat in the warmth of your homely kitchen. As with other birds, the key is not to dry it out – the herb butter and streaky bacon will go a long way in protecting the integrity of the breast meat but keep an eye on this. Depending on the size of the pheasant being served it may be pertinent to think of half a bird per person so that they can try the leg and breast meat as there are joys to be had in both.

Pheasant season runs from 1st October to 1st February, so even if you’re not up to cooking pheasant during the Christmas season you can give it a go in the new year. If I can locate pheasant back home, I’d definitely be game to give it another go (pun intended).

Enjoy

Gastrorob

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.

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!

 

Cottage Pie: Comfort food, easy to make using roast beef leftovers.  Easy Cottage Pie.

Relaxed home cooking

What would you define as: relaxed home cooking?  For each of us the term will mean something different.  For some of us, relaxed home cooking will literally just be simple home cooking, for others it may be the one pot meal, the tray-bake or bowl-food, however, for some it may be something that requires meticulous or repetitive action which in itself can create a sense of calm.  Ultimately we will all have different benchmarks of what we perceive as relaxed home cooking; let’s be honest, some people can find the idea of walking into a kitchen stressful!

First of all, people need to make the distinction between what is easy and what takes a long time.

For me it is all about the familiar.

No matter how simple or complicated a recipe is to follow or a dish to recreate – if it’s familiar to me, getting immersed in its necessary activity will make it relaxed home cooking.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently as I’ve spent a lot of time cooking away from my own kitchen, however, never daunted nor panicked that it hasn’t been my kitchen, with my cupboards organised the way I have them back at home.  And I can only attribute this to the fact that the food was familiar.

The time away has taught me a few things and I’ve picked up a few kitchen tricks along the way too.

One of my new favourite dishes has to be homemade gin and tonic battered fish – or as I like to call it: fish and tonic!

Fish and Tonic

This is very easy to put together in mere moments but does require a deep fat fryer for optimum results.  The first time I made this, I measured all the ingredients accurately, however the second time I was looking out more for the consistency of the batter:

Ingredients:

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Relaxed home cooking: Fish and Tonic

200g plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
1 small can of chilled tonic water
1 shot of gin/vodka/cider vinegar*

*I left this out of the mixture on both occasions to very good results.

Coat your pieces of fish in the batter and deep fry.  Hold the fillet in the bubbling oil for 30 seconds until the fish fillet floats near the top then let the rest of the fillet dive into the oil.  If you drop the fish into the fryer it can stick to the wire basket at the bottom – flavour will be untarnished but the battered carapace will be torn.

Every time I served fish and tonic for dinner we would wolf the pieces of fish down!

Recently, I boiled cauliflower florets and sliced them before dunking them into the same batter recipe but replacing plain flour for chickpea flour and then mixing this with a teaspoon of cumin and turmeric.  As the cauliflower slices as smaller than fish fillets, they were easily shallow fried.

I never wanted a deep fat fryer before but after this I can see myself having to push, a new food processor, down my list of kitchen-gadget-priorities!