Tag Archives: Main Courses

Pork sausage & cider crumble

Food photography 101 goes something like this: pretty food + natural light + proper camera = mouthwatering photos.  The formula for this post’s photos went more like this: unpresentable food + rapidly fading natural light (aka half dark) + iPhone = photos that not even Photoshop can redeem.  I more or less set myself up to fail though.  Crumble isn’t the easiest thing to serve up and the resulting mess is generally not very photogenic, particularly when there’s meat involved and everything is varying shades of brown.  Oh and I also wanted to eat dinner at a vaguely normal time, which happens to coincide with sunset at the moment, instead of 17h when the light would have been good.  Shocking, I know.

Pork sausage & cider crumble 1

I came down with one of those feverish change-of-season colds over the weekend, so I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and craving comfort food.  The classic combination of pork and apple had been playing on my mind, but I didn’t quite feel up to faffing around with pastry and making a pie.  So I threw together a pork sausage & cider crumble instead, as you do.  It sounds totally fancy-pants, but it’s ridiculously easy and makes for a hearty main course.  Despite its appearance, it also happens to be totally delicious – with bacon strips, apple pieces and lashings of garlic also chucked in there, how could it not be?

Pork sausage & cider crumble 2

Baking with SpiritCider is the special ingredient for this month’s Baking with Spirit, so I’m submitting this crumble to Janine over at Cake of the Week, who launched this genius challenge a year ago!  (A year already?  What?!)  If you’ve a sudden inspiration to bake something with cider, whether sweet or savoury, I think you’ve got until Saturday to enter.

Pork sausage & cider crumble 3

Ya, I don’t really want to talk about that photo.

Pork sausage & cider crumble

Serves 3-4
Recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

There’s a lot of room for adjustment in this recipe.  Use whatever good quality pork sausages you feel like – pork and fennel?  Go for it.  Pork and apple?  Sounds amazing.  I used a pretty light-flavoured cider because that’s what we had at home, but a heavily-flavoured cider would probably be even better.  Use your favourite kind of cheddar, as long as it’s flavourful.  If you think the cider is still too liquidy before adding the crumble, sprinkle a little flour over the top first.

Ingredients

For the filling:
100g bacon strips/cubes/lardons
4 cloves garlic
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil
4 pork sausages (about 370g; I used Black Rock traditional pork sausages)
1 apple (I used Braeburn, Granny Smith would also be good)
Black pepper
About 250ml cider (I used Boundary Road Brewery Honesty Box cider)

For the crumble:
65g cheddar (I used Kind Island Surprise Bay cheddar)
75g unsalted butter, softened
70g wholewheat flour
45g all-purpose flour
2-3 sprigs of thyme
Salt & black pepper

Directions

Prepare the filling:
1.  Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan oven 200°C.

2.  Remove any huge bits of fat from the bacon strips/cubes/lardons.  Peel the garlic gloves and finely dice.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the bacon and garlic and fry until golden.

3.  Meanwhile, cut each sausage into 4 rounds and place standing up in an ovenproof dish with a little space (about 1 cm) between each piece of sausage.  Scatter the garlicky bacon between the sausage rounds.  Peel and dice the apple into the 1cm pieces, and scatter over the top of the bacon, between the sausages or over the top, depending on how much space you have in your dish.  Season with freshly ground pepper, then pour the cider over the top, stopping 1cm from the top of the dish.

4.  Bake for 25-30 mins, until lightly browned on top.

Prepare the crumble:
5.  Meanwhile, prepare the crumble.  Roughly grate the cheddar into a medium-sized bowl.  Cube the butter into the same bowl, followed by the flours and some salt and freshly ground pepper.  Wash and dry the thyme sprigs, then strip the leaves, adding them to the bowl.  Rub the mixture together with your fingers, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

6.  Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top of the filling, then bake for a further 30-35 mins, until golden and a little crispy on top.  Serve immediately, accompanied with a side salad and a glass of cider.

Enjoy!

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Keftas with raisin & almond couscous

One of the things I love about New Zealand is the lamb.  The lamb here tastes wonderful.  So I was rather pleased when a lamb recipe was thrown my way by this month’s Random Recipes challenge.  The theme for this month was “random birthday number” – we had to use our birth date to pick our book – in my case, the 14th book on the shelf, which was Guide de cuisine de l’Étudiant, a French student cook book which was a gift from my French aunt and uncle.  It’s a good book because it has a range of straightforward recipes for one, two and groups of people, so covers all sorts of occasions.  The random number button on my calculator directed me to page 147, which is a recipe for keftas, or North African lamb meatballs.

Now, the original recipe calls for ras-el-hanout, but I couldn’t find any – I have seen some here, but I can’t remember where, which is obviously super helpful.  So I had to make up a substitution based on various articles online.  Thankfully it worked out and the meatballs were actually fantastically delicious, although perhaps a little too oniony, so I’ve reduced the amount of onion in the recipe here.  What I also love about these meatballs is that they can be fried or baked (I personally preferred baked), and they’d probably work wonderfully on the BBQ as well.  I served the keftas with a side of raisin and almond couscous, which is easy to prepare whilst the meatballs are cooking.  I’m also submitting these keftas to this month’s Simple and in Season over at Fabulicious Food! since lamb is in season here, and this recipe is definitely super simple to prepare!

Keftas with raisin & almond couscous

Serves 3-4
Keftas adapted from Guide de cuisine de l’Étudiant
Couscous recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

I thought there was a little too much onion when I made these, so I’ve reduced the quantity in the recipe given here (so yours won’t look quite as oniony as the photos in the post).  Don’t be put off by the number of spices in the recipe – if you’re missing one you can probably get away with leaving it out, particularly if it’s a spice that you don’t often (or ever) use.  The skewers are optional, but fun.  I’ve read that you should soak skewers in water before using them so that they don’t burn when cooking, but I forgot to do this and didn’t have a problem with burnt skewers.

Ingredients

For the keftas:
½ tsp Cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground coriander seeds
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp turmeric
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
500g minced lamb
1 medium onion
Bamboo skewers (optional)
1½ tsp olive oil (if frying)

For the couscous:
75g raisins
½ tbsp olive oil
150g wholemeal couscous
50g flaked almonds
Knob of butter
Salt & freshly ground pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Fresh parsley, to serve

Directions

1.  Place the raisins for the couscous in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water.  Leave to soak whilst preparing the rest of the meal.

To make the keftas:
2.  If cooking the meatballs in the oven, pre-heat to 220°C/fan oven 200°C.

3.  Add the spices to a large bowl and stir together.  Add the lamb to the bowl and mix well with your hands so that the spices are evenly distributed.

4.  Finely chop the onion and mix it in with the lamb.  Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls, slightly flattening them.  Slide the meatballs onto the skewers (this is optional, particularly if baking the keftas, but recommended if frying them or cooking them on the BBQ).

5.  If baking the meatballs then place them in an oven-proof dish and bake for about 25 mins until browned all over and cooked through.  If frying them, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat.  Add the meatballs and fry for 7 mins before turning them over and frying a further 7 mins.  If BBQing, you’ll have to figure it out yourself.

To make the couscous:
6.  Meanwhile, prepare the accompanying couscous.  Drain the raisins and pour the soaking water into a measuring jug. Set the raisins aside.  Top the raisin soaking liquid up to 175 ml with water and to a saucepan.  Add the olive oil and bring to the boil.  As soon as it begins to boil, add the couscous, stir, cover and remove from the heat.  Allow the couscous to soak up the liquid (this should take about 10 mins).

7.  Toast the flaked almonds until fragrant in a frying pan over a medium heat, taking care not to let them burn.  Once the couscous is ready, add a knob of butter and fluff up the grains with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper and add the ground cinnamon, raisins and almonds and stir through.  Cover to keep warm until the keftas are ready.

8.  Serve the keftas immediately, accompanied by the couscous, sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley.

Enjoy!

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Juniper berry salmon

For this month’s Random Recipes challenge, Dom is giving us freer reign than usual with the theme “store cupboard finds” – we have to dig out a forgotten ingredient that has been languishing at the back of our cupboards and then pick any recipe we want that requires that ingredient.  What a great idea!  So I turned to my cupboard to see what I could dig out. Since I moved country in February, my cupboards aren’t (yet) home to ingredients with hazy back stories and dubious origins.  I do, however, have a little canister of juniper berries that I bought a couple of months ago for some recipe that I tried out but didn’t really enjoy.  Juniper berries aren’t something that I ever normally use, so the canister hasn’t been touched since.  Time to rectify that…

Well, first I had to find a recipe.  My cookbooks only had a few offerings, and they were all rather unrealistic, such as roast goose.  I do enjoy goose, but not enough to willingly eat it every day for a month which, since I live on my own and have a tiny freezer, is what would probably end up happening.  So no roast goose, but no other alternatives in my cookbooks.  Luckily the internet exists.  After poking around on the BBC Good Food site, I came across a salmon recipe that called for juniper berries.  Which was perfect, because I had some salmon living in my freezer, so that cleared up a bit of space.  Double success!

I wasn’t too keen on the salad suggested in the original recipe so I went for orange couscous, but I’d suggest serving a simple green salad on the side, otherwise vegetables (salad is totally a vegetable – you know what I mean) are a little non-existent.  I loved the flavour of the juniper berries with the salmon.  I never would have thought to pair the two together, and I think I’ll be experimenting with that combination again.  I still have some juniper berries left after all.  I also love that they made my flat smell faintly of gin.  Uhm.  That sounded better in my head…

Juniper berry salmon with orange couscous

Serves 2
Salmon barely adapted from BBC Good Food

If you are using frozen salmon, do make sure that it has thawed thoroughly in the fridge before cooking it.  If you don’t have a peppercorn mix, don’t necessarily go out and by some just for this recipe, you can just use black peppercorns.  Since there aren’t any vegetables in this, serving a green salad on the side is a great idea.

Ingredients

For the salmon:
1 tbsp dried juniper berries
1 tsp mixed peppercorns (a black, white, green & pink peppercorn mix)
2 salmon fillets (mine were about 500g together, which I found pretty filling)
About 1 tsp olive oil

For the couscous:
100g couscous (I used wholewheat)
Drizzle of organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
Small knob of butter
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
Parsley, to serve

Directions

1.  Line a roasting tin with tin foil.  Heat the grill to medium.

2.  Roughly crush the juniper berries and peppercorns with a mortar and pestle (if, like me, you don’t have a mortar and pestle, pop them in a zip-lock bag and roughly crush with a rolling pin).  Place the salmon in the roasting tin and rub with the olive oil and sprinkle the crushed juniper berry and peppercorn mix over the top.  Grill for about 8 mins (the original recipe said 6-7 mins, but I found this wasn’t long enough.  However, this may be more due to my oven than anything else.  Basically, keep an eye on it.), checking that the juniper berries and peppercorns don’t burn.

3.  Whilst the salmon is cooking, prepare the couscous.  Either bring 125ml of water to the boil in a saucepan with the drizzle of oil, then remove from the heat, add the couscous and cover, allowing the couscous to absorb all the water (about 5 mins).  Or add the couscous to a heatproof bowl, add the drizzle of oil and stir through the couscous and add 125ml of boiling water, cover, and allow the couscous to absorb all the water (about 5 mins).  Once the couscous is ready, add the knob of butter, stir through until melted and stir in the orange zest and some freshly ground black pepper.  Keep covered until the salmon is ready.

4.  Immediately serve the salmon accompanied by the couscous topped with freshly chopped parsley, with a green salad on the side.

Enjoy!

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Creamy mushroom orzo

I mentioned the other day a while ago that I’d borrowed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! from the library (before tangentially enthusing about my love for Auckland’s public library system…) and tried the chachouka recipe from it, which turned out brilliantly.  And then, aside from a brief (though enthusiastic) mention in a Sunday Smiles post, I never spoke about the book again, which could suggest that none of the other recipes appealed to me, or none of them worked.  What actually happened is that I cooked several recipes, loved them all and had so many others bookmarked to try out that I realised that this was a book worth buying – it was clearly not going languish on my bookshelf, gathering dust.  So that’s precisely what I did: I bought a copy.  But I never quite got around to blogging about those recipes, mostly because I didn’t take photos – I struggle with savoury food photography because I’m not terribly imaginative and I’d usually rather eat my meal hot rather than having to take photos of it whilst it cools.  And I’m also usually hungry.

I did, however, take photos of the creamy mushroom orzo, which was the second dish that I tried from the book (ages ago when mushrooms were still in season over here in the southern hemisphere…  Good timing if you’re in the northern hemisphere though!).  I love mushrooms and often cook them in a cream and wine sauce – my version of the French stalwart that is champignons à la crème.  I’ve always served them with toast, and would never have thought to add orzo, which is a great idea – it makes this more of a substantial meal and more practical to take as a packed lunch (always a bonus).

I don’t think larger pasta would work nearly as well, it would over-power the dish in terms of texture (does that even make sense?), whereas with the orzo, this dish is still all about the mushrooms and the sauce, and the orzo is more of a background addition that fills it out.  This is really a wonderfully comforting (but not heavy) autumnal or wintery dish.  I really like the addition of the balsamic vinegar – it adds a subtle extra dimension to the flavours, and goes so well with the mushrooms.  Since this recipe is very much made from scratch, I’m submitting it to this week’s Made with Love Mondays over at Javelin Warrior.

Creamy mushroom orzo

Serves 2-3
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday!

Flavourful dark mushrooms, such as chestnut or field mushrooms, are best if you can get them – I used portobello mushrooms since I didn’t have much choice in terms of varieties.  Do use a good quality balsamic vinegar as it will impact the flavour of the dish.

Ingredients

500g mushrooms
Knob of butter
4 cloves of garlic
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, to serve
150g orzo pasta (aka risoni)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp dried thyme
100ml dry white wine
75ml crème fraîche (reduced fat is fine)

Directions

1.  Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, ready to cook the pasta whilst the sauce is being prepared.

2.  Brush the mushrooms, trim the stipes (stems/stalks) and slice thickly.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Add half the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until starting to caramelise and the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.  Remove to a plate and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms (doing it in batches avoids the mushrooms stewing in an overcrowded pan).

3.  Whilst the mushrooms are cooking, chop the garlic cloves and set aside.  Separately, strip the parsley leaves from their stalks, chop and set aside.  Once the second batch of mushrooms is nearly cooked, add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for the amount of time specified on the packet until al dente.  Drain as soon as it is cooked.

4.  Return the first batch of mushrooms to the frying pan, along with the garlic, balsamic vinegar and thyme.  Cook for about 2 mins, stirring frequently.  And the wine and simmer until it has mostly reduced, then reduce the heat a little and add the cream, stirring until just starting to simmer.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

5.  Stir the drained pasta through the mushroom mixture, along with most of the parsley.  Serve immediately, garnished with the remaining chopped parsley.

Enjoy!

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Angostura bitters and venison – wait, what?

This month’s AlphaBakes challenge is being hosted by Ros over at The More Than Occasional Baker, and the random letter is “V.”  I immediately thought of vermouth and vodka, but since I probably spend enough time sounding like a borderline alcoholic, I thought it might be a good idea to go for an ingredient of a non-alcoholic variety.  Other than “vegetable” (which I think might be a little too vague), I drew a blank for a while, until I was perusing my collection of winter recipes and it hit me: venison.  Perfect!  Venison is wonderful in winter-y dishes such as stews, and since it was the winter solstice on Thursday (which means that hurrah, the days are going to start gradually getting longer), it’s definitely the right season for it!  It’s also a very lean meat, so a healthier choice than beef (though usually more expensive unfortunately).  I was initially going to make venison stew, but wasn’t sure if it would count for the challenge as it wouldn’t see the inside of an oven.  I decided that I’d go for venison pie instead, since that would definitely be baked and is still a wonderfully wintery dish.  I just had to decide on a recipe…

Sometimes I go to the library and browse through the cookbooks there for inspiration.  Particularly those that I don’t want to buy since I know that I wouldn’t realistically ever use, but are still interesting to read through.  The Exotic Meat Cookbook is one such book – the opportunity to turn a crocodile, camel or kangaroo into a meal has yet to arise for me so buying the book would be a slight waste of money at the moment, but it’s still fun to read the recipes and imagine the flavours.  And the next time I’m called upon to cook zebra, I’ll know which recipe book to add to my collection.  Actually, it also includes some meats that I wouldn’t really class as exotic, such as veal, rabbit and hare, mutton and… venison.  A recipe for Angostura venison cobbler caught my eye as I was leafing through the book.  I am, of course, familiar with Angostura bitters in cocktails, but cooking with Angostura bitters?  How intriguing…  And by that I mean: oh my gosh, must try!

I’ve never really been sure what exactly cobbler is, but it seems to be fairly similar in concept to a pie but with a topping made of scones, which may or may not cover the whole thing, and no pastry on the bottom.  So basically the main similarity with a pie is that the filling can be sweet or savoury.  I was so intrigued by the  flavours in the recipe that I scrapped the venison pie idea and decided to try this out instead.  Well, it turns out that Angostura bitters goes very well with venison.  Who knew?  (Other than the authors of the cookbook…)  It definitely adds an unexpected, but delicious, flavour to the meat – kind of pepping it up.  It’s an unusual combination, but certainly a very tasty one.  I’ll definitely be experimenting more with Angostura bitters in cooking.  I was expecting the scone topping to cover the whole dish, but the recipe only made enough for a ring around the edge of the dish.  I was initially a little disappointed by this, but the topping turned out to be rather filling so perhaps it would have been too much if the whole dish was covered.  I’ll double the amount of topping the next time I make this and then I can decide how I prefer it.

Angostura venison cobbler

Serves 4-6
Adapted from The Exotic Meat Cookbook

This dish would also work well with most other minces, such as lean beef or lamb.  If you don’t have a casserole dish or something similar that can be used on both a stovetop and in the oven, you can cook the venison in a saucepan on the stovetop and then transfer it into an ovenproof dish for the oven part.  Adjust the amount of bitters that you add to your personal taste – if you’re very sensitive to the taste of bitters or don’t enjoy it very much, use 1½ tbsp, but if you enjoy the taste, go for the full 3 tbsp, though add a little at a time and taste the sauce as you go to check the flavour isn’t too overpowering.  I found that the topping recipe only made enough for a ring of topping around the edge of the dish, so if you want to have the whole dish covered, I’d suggest doubling the topping recipe.

Ingredients

500g venison mince
2 carrots
2 parsnips
1 large onion
1 clove of garlic
8-9 fresh sage leaves
300ml beef stock
1½-3 tbsp Angostura bitters
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tsp cornflour, if necessary

For the scone topping:
170g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter
5-6 fresh sage leaves
1 egg
2-3 tbsp milk, plus extra for brushing

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Gently brown the venison in an oven-proof casserole dish (add a few drops of rapeseed oil if necessary).  Whilst the venison is browning, peel and dice the carrots and parsnips, slice the onions and finely chop the garlic clove and sage leaves.  Add them to the venison once it’s browned and cook for a few minutes more.

3.  Pour in the beef stock, along with the bitters and tomato purée, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir. Bring to the boil.  If the sauce is too liquidy, add the cornflour to a small ramekin with a few drops of cold water and mix into a paste.  Stir into the sauce and cook until thickened.

4.  Cover the casserole and transfer to the oven for 20 mins.

5.  Meanwhile, make the cobbler topping.  Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and add the cubed butter.  Rub together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Finely chop the sage leaves and stir into the mixture along with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the egg and a little bit of milk and gently bring together into a soft dough.  Add more milk if necessary.  Transfer the dough to a floured surface and pat or gently roll out to a thickness of 1cm.  Cut out circles of dough with a 5cm biscuit cutter.

6.  Remove the venison from the oven and turn the oven temperature up to 190°C.  Arrange the cut-out scone circles in an overlapping ring around the edge of the venison mixture.  Brush with a little milk.  Return the casserole dish to the oven and bake uncovered for a further 20 mins, or until the topping is golden and well-risen.

Enjoy!

PS – You know what else starts with V that I’ve just thought of?  Vanilla.  Which is only one of the most commonly-used ingredients in baking.  Facepalm.

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When is a carbonara not a carbonara?

Winter is definitely starting to creep up on us…  It seems that with the exceptional Indian summer that we’ve had, autumn has been completely by-passed.  The temperatures have dropped a little during the day (ok, so it was still 17°C outside yesterday lunch time, but inside the lab it felt like about 15°C.  Which is really cold when you’re just sitting at your desk not moving much) and rather a lot during the night – it’s cold first thing in the morning.  I think I’m going to have to dig out my bed socks soon (I am obviously the epitome of hotness, in case you didn’t know) and switch to my warmer duvet (though I don’t think I’ll be needing my full-on winter 14.5 tog one here… that might be a little much).  Despite the weather taking a turn for the colder, at least the sunny weather is forecast to continue for at least the rest of this week.  Sunshine makes everything better.  So does pasta.

I wanted some comfort food when I got home yesterday evening, and a mushroom and spinach carbonara recipe that I’d seen in Cuisine over the weekend fitted the bill perfectly.  I’m not sure that it can quite be described as a carbonara – there’s no pancetta, and I used blue cheese rather than parmesan in the sauce.  But the sauce is made up of barely-cooked eggs and a touch of cream, so it is very carbonara-esque (though apparently there Italian-made carbonara doesn’t involve cream… according to Wikipedia, source of all knowledge).  Are there rules on what can and can’t be called a carbonara?  I’ll call it a carbonara until somebody informs me otherwise.  Mostly because I don’t really know quite what else to call it…

Reason #564 that I love NZ: you can get real shallots here.  So I’ve been adding shallots to almost everything lately because I’m still so excited about that.  Almost everything savoury, I should add, and this was no exception.  The original recipe calls for wide lasagne noodles, but half the fun of a carbonara is elegantly twirling it onto your fork and then inelegantly splattering it all over your chin.  I couldn’t find any tagliatelle, which is my favourite twirly pasta (very technical term), so I went with spaghetti, wholewheat of course, dahling.  I try to use wholewheat pasta whenever I can – it’s better for you after all, no more effort than using normal pasta and doesn’t even take much longer to cook (unlike wholegrain brown rice which takes forever to cook).  It’s a cheat’s way of eating slightly healthier.  Although perhaps slightly negated when you make cream-based sauces to go with it, but shhhh!  In my mind the spinach and wholewheat pasta totally counterbalance the cream, eggs and cheese in this recipe.  That’s how healthy eating works, right…?  Ok, ok, it doesn’t, and this isn’t the healthiest of recipes, but I’m not suggesting that you eat this everyday.  From time to time though, it makes perfect comfort food that can be prepared fairly quickly to boot, which makes it perfect to throw together after a long day in a cold lab.  Now, where did I put my bed socks…?

Mushroom & spinach blue cheese carbonara

Serves 2-3
Adapted from Cuisine (May 2012)

Since the eggs in the sauce are only barely cooked, make sure to use fresh eggs.  If you don’t like blue cheese, you can use 30g of parmesan, as specified in the original recipe, or 80g of feta.  I’m sure that a crumbly goat’s cheese would also work well.  If you are cooking this for vegetarians, make sure to pick a vegetarian-friendly cheese.  I use reduced fat crème fraîche, as that’s just what I always have in the fridge as it’s slightly healthier.  Don’t try and be healthier by using oil instead of butter for the mushrooms though – they won’t taste as good.

Ingredients

20g butter
250g Portobello mushrooms (other mushrooms would work fine)
1 shallot
1 clove of garlic
180g wholewheat spaghetti or tagliatelle
3 eggs
4 tbsp crème fraîche
80g creamy blue cheese, plus extra to serve
200g fresh spinach
Black pepper, to serve

Directions

1.  Bring a large pan of water to the boil with a little salt.

2.  Slice the mushrooms and finely dice the shallot and garlic clove.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan or wok over a medium heat and add the mushrooms, shallot and garlic.  Sauté for about 10 mins, stirring from time to time, until dark and tender.

3.  Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pan of boiling water, and cook until according to package instructions until al dente.

4.  In a small bowl, lightly beat together the eggs and crème fraîche.  Whisk in the crumbled blue cheese and set aside.

5.  Once the mushrooms are cooked, add about 4 tbsp of the pasta cooking water and the spinach (you can slice the spinach if you want – I totally forgot to do so) and stir for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted.

6.  Drain the pasta and return to the saucepan.  Add the egg mixture to the pasta over a low heat, and stir for about a minute so that the eggs begin to cook.  Add the pasta to the mushrooms and spinach fold together (depending on the respective sizes of your saucepan and frying pan/wok it might be easier to add the mushrooms and spinach to the pasta rather than the other way around).

7.  Split between pasta bowls, top with a little crumbled blue cheese, season with black pepper and serve whilst hot.

Enjoy!

PS – The obvious answer to the question in the title is “when it’s in my belly” or some variation thereof.  Bonus points to you if you thought that to yourself on reading it.

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Random Recipe #8: Three-cheese summer vegetable bake

I have a minor confession: I’m ever-so-slightly addicted to food magazines.  There are worse things to be addicted to though, so it’s all good (flawless logic).  Also, I’m not addicted to any-and-every food magazine out there, oh no, I’m quite picky – it has to be well laid-out and intelligently written, have lots of mouth-watering photos, contain a majority of recipes that I’m actually likely to make and I have to be confident that the recipes will work.  For this month’s Random Recipe challenge, we had to randomly pick a recipe from our collection of magazines or recipe cuttings (we all have them!).  My recipe cuttings are in several different folders and I have some saved on my laptop and some still saved on my old laptop because I haven’t quite got round to transferring them, making randomly choosing a recipe rather impractical.  So I decided to go for the magazine option.

I may or may not have slightly flouted the rules and not picked my magazine randomly.  All with good reason though.  See, to justify my food magazine habit, I’ve made a rule for myself: if I buy a food magazine, I have to try at least two recipes from it (though nothing happens if I don’t).  So I picked out the September 2011 issue of delicious. because A) I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet and B) we’re in September so it should have seasonal recipes in it (if I’d had September issues from previous years, I’d have mixed them all up and chosen one randomly).  Out came the trusty calculator with its random number generator which pointed me to page 19: a mouth-watering photo of a three-cheese summer vegetable bake.  Sounds yummy to me!

It turned out to be very yummy indeed, although there seemed to be an issue with the stated cooking times because they were certainly not long enough to cook all the vegetables (especially the potatoes) through.  Which disappointed me somewhat I’ve never had an issue with the recipes in delicious. before.  Have I just been lucky up until now?  It was hardly a disaster though – on taking the bake out of the oven to remove the foil and scatter the cheese over the top, it was quite obvious that the vegetables weren’t nearly cooked enough, so it went back in the oven for a little while.  No biggie.  Except that we had lunch (which we eat as our main meal, French-style) rather later than planned.  Once it came out of the oven properly cooked, it was rather delicious, filling but not too heavy, which is always a good thing!  Since the recipe uses seasonal vegetables, I’m also submitting it to this month’s Simple and in Season blog event over at Fabulicious Food.

Three-cheese summer vegetable bake

Serves 4
Adapted from delicious. (September 2011)

I love the combination of vegetables in this dish – I don’t really tend to use fennel much, so it’s something a little different.  I also really liked that this dish was filling, but not too heavy.  I had to increase the cooking times quite significantly to the ones given here so that the vegetables (particularly the potatoes) were cooked through, so do be aware of that, and if you don’t think it’s quite cooked enough, don’t be afraid to pop it back in the oven for another 10 mins or so!

Ingredients

1 fennel bulb
2 large potatoes
1 courgette
1 red pepper
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
Handful fresh parsley
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
100g smoked ham
100g ricotta
250g mozzarella ball
50g parmesan

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Finely slice the fennel bulb, potatoes, courgette and de-seeded red pepper and finely chop the onion, garlic cloves and fresh parsley.  Mix them all together in a bowl with the flour and season well.

3.  Place a third of the vegetable mix in a large ovenproof dish.  Tear the ham into pieces and scatter half of it over the vegetables.  Scatter half of the ricotta and a third of the torn mozzarella over the top of the ham.  Cover with half the remaining vegetable mix, followed by the remaining ham, remaining ricotta and half the remaining mozzarella.  Evenly scatter the remaining vegetable mix over the top.  Set the left over mozzarella aside for later.

4.  Cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour, before removing the foil and scattering the grated parmesan and remaining mozzarella.  Bake for a further 30-35 mins until golden.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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Random Recipe #6: Baked beef-stuffed tomatoes

This month’s Random Recipe was to be chosen from our favourite cookery book, which posed me a slight problem because I have lots of favourite books!  In the end, I chose La Popote des potes, a French book (bet you hadn’t guessed) which, minus the word play, roughly translates as “Food for friends,” and I think might have been based around a TV series, but I’m not sure.  I decided to go for this book because although the recipes range from quick and easy mid-week meals to more elaborate dishes, they all seem straightforward and achievable (assuming you can acquire the ingredients – certain easy-to-find foods in France sometimes require some serious hunting down over here), it has a fun style, and I love flicking through it for inspiration because it has wonderful photos for every recipe, which I’m a big fan of.

So, out came the calculator and it’s wonderful random number generator, which directed me to page 172, which happened to be the photo accompanying a recipe for “les incontournables tomates farcies” or “unmissable baked stuffed tomatoes.”  When we can get large tomatoes, my mum often makes this dish, though using a different recipe (it’s quite a popular dish in France), and I love it, although I wasn’t such a fan when I was younger because, much to the dismay of my French grandfather, I detested tomatoes.  Anyway, luckily, I am (mostly) over my dislike of tomatoes and it also happens to be tomato season at the moment, which means that large tomatoes are available.  What a perfect choice!  Even though I love baked stuffed tomatoes, I’d never actually made them before for the simple reason that I only had a mini blender in St Andrews, and I deemed it too time-consuming to have to blend the stuffing in at least six batches.  My mum has a proper blender though, so problem solved!

The recipe required ham and minced veal, which isn’t exactly widely available in the UK, but the note at the bottom said that using beef and sausage meat also worked perfectly.  We decided to use just beef, since neither my mum nor I are particular fans of the fattiness of sausage meat, but of course the fattiness is partly what holds the stuffing together, so based on my mum’s usual recipe, I added an egg to compensate for that.  I also added a bit of bread soaked in milk to keep the stuffing moist, also a tip from my mum’s recipe.  Just before popping the tomatoes in the oven, in a moment of inspiration I decided to top the stuffed tomatoes off with breadcrumbs, which meant that the top of the stuffing didn’t go all crispy and burnt as it sometimes does.  So although it turned into a bit of an amalgamation of two recipes rather than really testing the one from La Popote des potes, the tomatoes turned out absolutely delicious, and I will definitely be adding this recipe to my list of regular recipes.  And buying a blender when I move out again (whenever that may be).

Baked beef-stuffed tomatoes

Serves 4
Adapted from La Popote des potes

If you have any leftover stuffing, butter a little ramekin, fill it with the remaining stuffing, cover with breadcrumbs and a few shavings of butter and bake for the same length of time as the tomatoes.  It’s super yummy and moist and is delicious served hot or cold with a tomato sauce and rice, couscous or pasta.  For the tomatoes, try and pick large, fairly firm ones, and if you can get beef tomatoes, those are really good for stuffing.

Ingredients

8 large tomatoes
2 onions
2 garlic cloves
3 slices bread
Several tbsp milk
500g lean minced beef
3 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp rosemary
1 egg
7-8 tbsp breadcrumbs
Butter

Directions

1.  Wash the tomatoes and remove their lids, setting them aside for later.  Scoop out the pulp from the tomatoes, and reserve.  Sprinkle some salt inside each tomato and turn upside down, allowing to drain on some kitchen roll for about an hour.

2.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.  Finely chop the onions and garlic cloves, and sauté them in some olive oil for about 5 mins.

3.  In a small bowl, tear up the slices of bread and cover with some milk.  Add the soggy bread, minced beef, chopped herbs, egg, salt and pepper to a blender and blend well.  Remove to a large bowl, add the onion and garlic mix and mix well.

4.  Dab the inside of the tomatoes with kitchen roll to remove any remaining juice, and place them in an oven-proof dish just large enough for them to all fit (it’s best if it’s a tight fit, otherwise if there’s too much space between the tomatoes, they’re more likely to collapse a bit).  Fill the tomatoes with the meat mixture (pat the stuffing down well to ensure that the tomatoes are properly stuffed).  Sprinkle each tomato with breadcrumbs and add a few slivers of butter over the top.  Spoon some of the reserved pulp into the dish between the tomatoes.

5.  Bake for 45-50 mins, adding a lid to each tomato about 10 mins before the end of baking.  Serve hot, with rice or couscous to soak up the juice.

Enjoy!

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Attempting to make summer appear with an aubergine & lamb gratin

I try to eat seasonal (and locally-produced) foods as much as possible – not only is it better for the environment, but produce that is grown in season quite simply tastes better.  During the dark and rainy depths of winter, I sometimes find it a bit difficult to stick to seasonal foods when I’d really like a bit of sunshine in my life and there are some lovely, bright-looking red peppers and courgettes staring me in the face in Tesco’s.  During the summer, however, eating seasonally is pretty easy-peasy.  There are just so many seasonal vegetables and fruit that suddenly we’re all spoilt for choice for a few months (sounds awful, doesn’t it?).

Although it is technically summer at the moment, the weather appears to be completely unaware of this, and a few days ago Edinburgh was subject to some serious thunder and lightning accompanied by torrential rain that was more akin to a tropical rainstorm than anything else (although significantly colder).  Clearly it’s not just during the depths of winter that there’s a distinct lack of sunshine here in Scotland.  At least all the summery vegetables are actually in season at the moment, which helps to bring a little bit of sunshine into the kitchen at least, so when we happened across a recipe for a summery aubergine and lamb gratin the other day, we decided to test it out, partly hoping that it would inspire the sun to make an appearance…  It didn’t, but the recipe was super easy to prepare and turned out to be rather yummy – it would be great if you’re having people over for a summery dinner since it can be prepared in advance and bake away by itself whilst people arrive or the starters are served.  Although we used lamb mince, it’s also a great way to use up any left-over mince, which is always a bonus.  Since aubergines and lamb are both in season at the moment I’m submitting this recipe to the July Simple and in Season blog event over at Fabulicious Food.

Aubergine & lamb gratin

Serves 2
Adapted from my mum’s folder of random recipes

Although we used lamb mince, this would also work with beef mince, and is a great way to use up any left-over mince.  We tried splitting the aubergines into two layers with the beef in the middle, but this resulted in some slightly dry aubergine slices in the top layer, so next time I make this I’ll put all the aubergine slices on the bottom, and I’ve adjusted the recipe to reflect this.  This works as an entire course by itself, but if you feel you need more, it would be lovely with couscous.

Ingredients

1 big aubergine
1 onion
1 clove garlic
200g lean lamb mince
Handful fresh parsley
½ tin of chopped tomatoes or 2 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 tbsp breadcrumbs
10g unsalted butter

Directions

1.  Cut the aubergine into 5mm slices, place them in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave them to sit and drain for about an hour.  Pat dry with kitchen roll.  Chop the onions and finely chop the garlic.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Heat some oil in a large frying pan and sauté the aubergine slices until just golden.

3.  In another frying pan, heat some oil and add the onions and garlic and cook for 10 mins.  Add the meat, cook until browned, then add the chopped tomatoes (or tomato paste), finely chopped parsley and seasoning, and fry for a further 5 mins.

4.  Layer the aubergine slices in an oven-proof dish, followed by the meat, onion and tomato mixture.  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top to cover, and add a few tiny cubes of butter.

5.  Bake in the oven for 45mins and serve hot.

Enjoy!

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An April adventure at the St Andrews Farmers’ Market

I finally got myself organised and went to St Andrews Farmers’ Market for the first time last month, bringing home some fantastic cheddar, as well as some Mojito jelly from one of the condiments stands.  The cheese was eaten pretty rapidly, but I haven’t used the Mojito jelly yet, mostly because I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with it.  The man who I bought it from suggested simply serving it with lamb (as you would serve mint sauce), and the idea of Mojito lamb has been playing on my mind ever since, though I felt like it should be kept for a special occasion, so I hadn’t really pursued the idea further.

A special occasion presented itself on Saturday evening – Craig’s birthday dinner.  Perfect.  Conveniently, Saturday morning was also this month’s Farmers’ Market, so I decided that I’d get lamb from the market in the morning, and then it could marinate in the afternoon as necessary.  It all sounded like a great idea, but I just had to work out exactly how to do it.  None of my recipe books had anything remotely resembling Mojito lamb (the closest recipe I found was tequila chicken, and it really wasn’t very similar at all), and searching online wasn’t especially inspirational either.  When I stopped by Luvian’s (my local bottleshop) to get wine to go with it, Rich sounded rather unconvinced (though it might have helped if I’d known exactly how I was doing it – “uhm, well there will be rum, mint, sugar.  I’ll probably marinate it, oh ya, throw in some lime zest, too.  Might fry it, or roast it, depending on the cut, or something like that.  I have no idea what I’m serving it with, possibly couscous of some description.  And I haven’t decided what kind of rum I’m using yet either” probably isn’t the world’s best explanation).  Kudos to Rich for managing to make sense of my haphazard description, but I came out feeling distinctly doubtful of the whole thing.

By Saturday morning, I still wasn’t really sure what I was doing.  This resulted in a good 10 minutes of dithering in front of the lamb stand trying to decide which cut I wanted.  I like my meat cooked very rare (practically galloping off the plate in fact), Kat likes hers well done, and Craig likes his somewhere in-between.  A roast was never going to please everybody, so I went with leg steaks, so that they could all be fried for different lengths of time and (hopefully) everybody would be happy.  One of the fundamental rules of having people over for dinner (particularly when it’s a special occasion) is to have previously tested the recipe (which by default means you should have a recipe in the first place).  Consequently, I committed a serious dinner-hosting sin – when I eventually got around to doing the marinade a couple of hours before dinner, I very much made it all up as I went along (there was definitely no recipe, never mind a tried-and-tested one).  I’m not sure how, but thankfully it turned out fine.  More than fine actually – when fried, the lamb acquired a slightly caramelised flavour from the sugar, which was counter-balanced by the rum and lime zest, as well as the chilli and lime zest in the couscous that was served on the side.  Thank goodness!  Oh, and I should add that I completely forgot to add the Mojito jelly to the sauce as I’d originally thought I might.  Oops.

Mojito lamb

Serves 4
Recipe from my imagination

This is actually a fairly quick recipe to prepare, since everything is more or less just mixed together and left to marinate before frying.  I served it with couscous to which I had added a finely chopped de-seeded chilli pepper, the zest of 1 lime and about 5 finely chopped and sautéed shallots.

Ingredients

For the marinade:
150ml spiced rum (add more as you feel necessary)
50g demerrera sugar
15g fresh mint leaves, chopped
Zest of 1 lime (keep the lime, the juice is needed later)
4-5 tbsp olive oil

650g lamb leg steaks
Juice of 1 lime
Mint leaves to garnish (optional)

Directions

1.  Mix all the marinade ingredients together with some ground black pepper in a large dish or bowl.

2.  Trim any fatty bits off the lamb leg steaks and add them to the marinade, making sure that they are well coated.  Cover the dish or bowl with a lid or cling film and allow to marinate for at least 1 ½ hours in the fridge.

3.  When ready to cook, drain the steaks, though reserve the marinade.  Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan, and fry the leg steaks for several minutes on each side, until done to your liking (this will depend on the thickness of the steaks and also on your personal preference).

4.  Remove the steaks to a serving plate and cover with tin foil to keep them warm.  Deglaze the pan with the lime juice, then add the marinade and allow to simmer down for a few minutes.

5.  Serve the leg steaks garnished with some fresh mint (optional) with the Mojito sauce on the side (a bit like a gravy) and a shallot, chilli and lime couscous.

Enjoy!

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