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Chicken Chow Mein

3 Jun

DSCI0658Whenever we go to a Chinese restaurant I am drawn to the Chow Mein section of the menu. I know it sounds boring but I do love this style of Chinese food. I have tried many times to capture the same authentic flavour and have never quite made it but not this time! this dish tastes divine. It is very authentic and, if anything, actually tastes better than the ones I have eaten in a restaurant.  The recipe is very easy but, as with all Chinese recipes, make sure you have all the food prepared beforehand as the cooking takes no time at all and many end results are spoilt because someone has to chop a food and the rest is overcooking in the wok.

The word means ‘fried noodles’, chow meaning ‘fried’ and mein meaning ‘noodles’. The pronunciation chow mein is an English corruption of the Taishanese pronunciation chāu-mèing’.

This is a Ken Hom recipe so how could it fail?  Here is a link to the recipe on the Good Food website:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/chow-mein

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Mussels in a creamy curry sauce – divine!

30 May

They say every cloud has a silver lining.  For me, when summer is over, it means that for 8 months there is a ‘R’ in the month and I can get fresh mussels.  It never fails to amaze me how many people have never tried mussels because they are put off by the look of them.  For me, they are the most delicious of all the sea foods.  I know they come bottled in vinegar and you can buy them ready cooked in the supermarket.  You can even get them vacuum packed and ready to cook, but there is absolutely no comparison to the wonderful, soft, melt-in-your-mouth morsels that are cooked from raw.

I have been making this mussel recipe for years and yet, every time I make it, the fantastic flavours still surprise me.  This time was no exception.  I could almost hear myself purring as I dipped my crusty french stick into the delicious sauce.  Wonderful!

So lets take a look at why I can’t buy mussels in months without an ‘R’.   Mussels are often regarded as poor man’s shellfish because they are cheap and plentiful. In the wild, they grow on coastline rocks and stones but the majority of mussels available in the UK are farmed in suitable coastal waters. Mussels are one of the most environmentally sound types of fish or shellfish available. There’s no hefty price tag and, what’s more, these little creatures are in abundance.  They have two shells (bivalves) through which they filter water and feed on the algae and plankton they find in it. Plankton in the water for a shellfish is like grass in a field for a cow. In this way, the shellfish are grazing upon the sea. What they’re grazing on are tiny (as small as 1/50th of a millimeter) aquatic life forms called flagellates.  One reason for this old saying is that during the summer months the flagellates bloom and become more prolific.  At this time they can create ‘red tides’ and it is these that have been associated with poisoning from shellfish.  If the mussels are farmed it is unlikely this is the cause of not being available.  More likely it is because the mussels themselves are reproducing along with the fact that it is much easier for mussels to go bad during high temperatures.

There are a few golden rules when cooking mussels.  Firstly, always wash them well and remove any ‘beard’ you see poking out between the shells.  Only ever cook mussels that are closed when raw but do not discard them until you have tried tapping them sharply with a knife.  If the mussel is still alive the shells will close as it will think this is the beak of a bird trying to eat it.  If it remains open throw it away, its dead and may well be toxic.  Once cooked, only eat the mussels that have opened sufficiently for you to see them nestled between the shells.  This last point has not really been proved but I am not going to argue with the experts.

Anyway, I really hope you give this recipe a try, it is absolutely wonderful!

Mussels in a creamy curry sauce                     Serves 2 (easily doubled)

  • 1 kg/ 2lbs 4 ozs fresh mussels
  • 150 ml/1/4 pt dry white wine
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 25 g/1 oz butter
  • 1tsp plain flour
  • 2 tsp madras curry paste (I use Pataks)
  • 100 g/4 oz creme fraiche (you can use low-fat if you are watching your weight but the sauce will be slightly thinner
  • a small handful of parsley
  1. Prepare the mussels as discussed above.  Put them in a large pan with the wine.  Cover, bring to the boil then cook over a high heat for 3-4 minutes or until all the mussels have opened.  Shake the pan a few times during this process and be careful not to overcook them.
  2. Strain the mussels over a bowl so you capture the cooking liquor.  You will need this for the sauce so don’t throw it away.  Cover the mussels with a cloth to keep them warm while you make the sauce.
  3. Fry the shallots in the butter in a frying pan until it is soft and not browned.  This will only take a couple of minutes.  Stir in the flour and curry paste and mix well.  Cook for about 1 minute.  Add the cooking liquor carefully so as not to disturb any gritty bits which will have sunk to the bottom.  Discard the last of the liquor to avoid this going into your sauce.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Reduce the heat slightly and stir in the creme fraiche until the sauce is thick and glossy.  Check the sauce is hot then add the parsley.  Divide the mussels between two large bowls and pour the sauce over.  Serve with large chunks of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

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Home made faggots – make a batch and freeze some for another day!

22 May

 I remember some time ago, my friend Pam asked if I had a recipe for faggots.  At the time I said no and that I thought it was too much of an effort to make faggots when you can buy them in the butchers ready-made.  How wrong was I!  This faggot recipe is wonderful.  Not only do you know what is going into the faggots ie no rubbish, but they taste better than any faggots I have ever eaten. I was absolutely amazed at how authentic they were and how they retained their shape, even when cooked in the delicious onion gravy.  The recipe makes a tray of 24 faggots.  Don’t panic! They can be frozen in packs of four (or however many you want, in foil containers and then cooked from frozen when you want them.  They are so easy I think they would make perfect food for a Bonfire or Halloween party, served in plastic dishes with a spoon of mash.  Perfect!!!

When I was a child we used to have Savoury Duck.  I have no idea why it is called this.  It appears to be something you can only buy in the north of England.  If I had to describe it I would say its a sort of savoury mix of subtle spices, probably some form of starch and bits of meat that usually do not get eaten.  Mum used to slice it and cook it in the fat left over from frying the bacon for breakfast.  She would remove it from the pan then reheat tinned tomatoes in the same pan so they picked up some of the lovely spice infused oil.  My favourite breakfast!

I spent some time in Guildford when I left school but could not buy Savoury Duck anywhere.  That is when I first came across faggots.  I would cook them the same as Mum did and, although their flavour is stronger, I found them to be just as delicious.  According to Wikipedia, faggots and savoury ducks are one in the same.  Not true, I can definitely tell the difference!

I believe most countries will have a similar foodstuff that uses up lots of meat left overs, probably first cooked years ago when meat was expensive and to prevent waste.  The Scottish Haggis springs to mind and, in Greece, there is Kokoretsi.  I love them both!!   Apparently there is also a similar dish in Portugal called Almondega.   I will need to give it a try when I next go there.

Anyway, the recipe was in one of my Good Food magazines, here is a link along with a slideshow for each step I made when making them.  Shaping the faggots is a bit messy so wear an apron.  You will find it is well worth it.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2552644/faggots-with-onion-gravy  

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Cheese and potato pie – a really simple recipe with shortcuts!

14 May

 Before we start, the picture is of the pie before it was cooked.  It was so delicious we had eaten it before I remembered to take one of the finished product!

When I started writing this blog my intention was to help all those who wanted to cook but needed help.  I had been one of those people myself when I first married, even though I had years of cooking with my Grandma to help me.  Confidence in cooking is so important.  Without it the  opportunity to experience happy moments of sharing good food with friends are missed and, of course, so is the ability to prepare healthy food from scratch for yourself and your family.  I was reminded of this fact recently when my daughter-in-law asked for advice on cooking.  With that in mind I am sharing this very simple, yet delicious pie recipe.  I think it was perhaps one of the first things I cooked for myself when I was a student.  I can remember sharing it with some of the girls, served with a very simple salad.  A great meal and a great memory.

I have used bought prepared shortcrust pastry for the recipe.  Trust me, there is no shame in that and, nowadays, it is so good I am sure you could pass it off as your own.  Oh dear, I can almost hear members of the WI screaming in horror! In the past I have always used bought puff pastry as this is more complicated to make at home, but would never entertain the idea of buying shortcrust as it is quite easy to make.  I think my snobbery has wasted a lot of time and, although I still make my own on occasion, when time is short and you need to knock up a meal in a hurry, bought is perfect.  Nowadays you can buy a whole range of ready-made pastry from most large supermarkets.

  • Sweet shortcrust – perfect for fruit pies and flans etc
  • Shortcrust – great for pasties, pies and savoury flans etc
  • Puff pastry – perfect for great looking meat of vegetable pies, or vol-u-vents etc
  • Butter puff pastry – gives pies that extra richness
  • Filo pastry, perfect for a lower calories pie topping, scrunched over fruit or meat, or for Greek spinach pies, samosas etc

Well, here is the recipe.  Eat it hot or cold, perfect for picnics or a buffet.

Cheese and potato pie                                         Serves 6 – 8

  • 1 x 500g pack chilled, ready-made shortcrust pastry
  • 200g new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 200g cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Take the pastry out of the fridge before you start to prepare the filling.  It will give it time to soften and will roll out without cracking or breaking up.
  2. Put the potatoes and onion in a pan of boiling salted water.  Bring back to the boil then simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes until just tender.  Do not allow the potatoes to boil rapidly as they will break up.  Drain and leave to cool.
  3. While the potatoes are cooling, cut the pack of pastry in half and need each half gently and quickly into a ball shape.  Flour the work surface and rolling-pin lightly then roll one ball of the pastry out into a circular shape.  You can do this by turning the pastry round in a clockwise motion in-between rolls, it will help with the circular shape.  When the pastry is about as thin as a pound coin lift gently using the rolling-pin and line your pie dish, making sure it fits snug into the corners and leaving excess hanging over the edge.
  4. Add the cheese to the potatoes and mix gently so as not to break up the potatoes.  Make sure the mix is completely cold and fill the lined pie dish.
  5. Roll out the second ball of pastry as before. Dampen the edge of the pastry lining then lower your second circle of pastry on top.  Pinch the edges together to make a good seal the, using a sharp knife, run it around the edge of the pie dish to remove all excess.
  6. Make a cross in the middle of the pie to allow the steam to escape.  Decorate if you want with diamond-shaped pieces of pastry.  Put in the fridge to allow the pastry to recover while the oven heats up.
  7. Preheat the oven to 190C/fan180C/gas 5.  Brush the top of the pastry with the beaten egg then bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden and firm.

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Individual Beef Wellingtons – delicious!

10 May

DSCI0625I remember the first time we had a Beef Wellington. I loved it but my husband, who hates to eat meat that is too pink or bloody, had to have his flashed off in the frying pan. When I saw this recipe I could feel my mouth watering but I was quite nervous about what my husband would think of it.  The steak is a fillet and it would have been criminal to overcook it so I decided to go with the recipe. Thankfully they turned out perfectly.  The Parma Ham prevented the pastry from having a soggy bottom and added a lovely flavour to the finished dish.  Fillet steak is obviously not cheap but it is well worth the money for such a beautiful dish. Perfect for a romantic meal for two or a dinner party for special friends.  I served mine with green vegetables as I felt there was enough starch in the pastry for a rounded meal.

The origin of the name is unclear. (Wikipedia)

There are theories that suggest that beef Wellington is named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Some theories go a step further and suggest this was due to his love of a dish of beef, truffles, mushrooms, Madeira wine, and pâté cooked in pastry, but there is a noted lack of evidence supporting this. In addition to the dearth of evidence attaching this dish to the famous Duke, the earliest recorded recipe to bear this name appeared in a 1966 cookbook.

Other accounts simply credit the name to a patriotic chef wanting to give an English name to a variation on the French filet de bœuf en croûte during the Napoleonic Wars.

Still another theory is that the dish is not named after the Duke himself, but rather that the finished joint was thought to resemble a Wellington boot, a brown shiny military boot named after the duke.

Here is the link to the recipe:  http://www.olivemagazine.com/recipes/beef-wellingtons/4010.html 

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Egg curry, one of our favourites

2 May

DSCI0644Egg curry may not be the most popular with most people but it is one of my husbands favourites. I’ve tried a couple of recipes over the years but the one we both like the most is the one I am writing about today.  I have to say I was truly surprised at how delicious an egg curry can be but this is so lovely it has become a one of our regular meals. Anytime I have forgotten to take meat or fish out of the freezer or want a quick but tasty meal this is the one I turn to.  It would be very unusual for me not to have all the ingredients available at any time so this really is a convenience food for us but made from fresh ingredients so healthy too.

The recipe is one of Anjum Anard’s from her cookery book ‘Indian Every Day’ (ISBN 978-0-7553-1201-6).  I disregard the portion size she suggests and I have made some minor adjustments to cater for our appetites. Trust me, this is not too much for a medium to normal sized portion for two people.  I serve it with plain boiled rice and poppadoms. Absolutely lovely. You can make the sauce in advance and boil the eggs so that you can quickly complete the dish later in the day from Step 3.

Egg Curry               Serves 2

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic crushed or 1/2 tsp garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 green chilli left whole
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 good pinches red chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 small tomatoes, chopped
  • 200 ml hot water
  • 3 – 4 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and halved
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves, crumbled
  • handful chopped coriander
  1. Heat the oil in a non stick frying pan and gently fry the onion until golden and soft, about 8 – 10 minutes
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, green chilli, coriander powder, turmeric, red chilli powder and salt. Stir to mix.
  3. Add the tomatoes and cook on a medium to high heat for 5 minutes until thickened.
  4. Add the water and bring to the boil.
  5. Carefully lower the egg halves into the sauce and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle the garam masala, black pepper , fenugreek leaves and chopped coriander over the sauce and carefully mix in without breaking up the eggs.
  7. Serve hot with boiled rice.

 

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Briam – a Greek version of baked mediteranean vegetables. Delicious!

28 Apr

There are a host of recipes for roasting vegetables and most Mediterranean countries have their own speciality.  Briam is Greece’s offering to the mix.  It is unusual in that the vegetables cook slowly so that the tomatoes melt down and combine with the olive oil and onions to make a delicious sauce.  I have made this dish many times, we love it so much. It is hard to believe just how easy it is and yet pack such a punch with the flavours.  Whenever we go abroad, no matter where it is, we invariably have this to accompany a meal at least once and it is great to have with friends as all the cooking and preparing can be done well in advance. It is also a great dish to have in the winter, the flavours reminding you of the summer just gone and the promise of one to come.

Volumes have been written about the Greek diet and, before that, the Cretan diet. Based on a healthy lifestyle, the Greek diet makes the best use of natural and organic ingredients cooked without a heavy reliance on saturated fats and processed foodsTraditional Greek cooking grew out of a rural lifestyle lived by people who were poor in the economic sense, but wealthy in imagination and creativity. A few basic guidelines ensure that Greek foods are at their very best in taste, nutrition, and economy.

  • Seasonal: Keep it Fresh – most Greeks shop daily and use whatever meat and vegetables that are in season.
  • Scratch: Start at the Beginning – Greek food is made from scratch, rarely using comercially made ingredients.
  • Simple: Fabulous Taste with Time-tested Methods – Greeks love to keep their food simple so that the flavours of the meat and vegetables are enhanced by herbs and spices rather than the latter taking over.
  • Slow: Don’t Rush It – for generations food has been cooked slowly in Greece and the aromas during cooking evokes memories of their mothers cooking and their Grandmothers before her.

The vegetables are cooking slowly in the oven and the smell is absolutely divine.  Here is the recipe.

Briam                                                                       Serves 4

  • 3 fl oz olive oil
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 2 red onions quartered
  • 4 medium-sized waxy potatoes, peeled and sliced into thick rings
  • 2 medium or 3 small courgettes, cut into 1/2in chunks
  • 4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into rings
  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and cut into rings
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
  • 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 120ml/4 fl oz boiled water
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/Gas 4.  Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a frying pan and fry the sliced onion over a low heat until it is softened but has not turned colour.  Should take about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat.
  2. Combine all the other vegetables, garlic, herbs and seasoning with the onions, in a large shallow ovenproof dish.  Add the water and drizzle with the remaining oil, toss well then cook for about 2 hours until the vegetables are tender and cooked through.  Turn them about every half an hour throughout this process.  When cooked remove from the oven and keep warm.  (These are best served warm rather than hot and can even be served cold the next day with a slice of feta cheese for lunch)

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