15-minute supper that zings

8 Nov
cauliflower cheese

Traditional cauliflower cheese, but slow, and lacking that extra zing

A favourite British supper dish from my childhood is cauliflower cheese – a brilliant wheeze by parents keen to get their kids to eat vegetables, but also just plain delicious. But the British recipe involves making a heavy cheese sauce based on white sauce (the French call it sauce anglaise) made with flour, butter and milk with some grated cheese melted into it.

Nah. I realised that you can make a scrumptious cheese sauce without any of that faffing… AND you can pin a label on it that says gluten-free and low-carb. And it only takes 15 minutes from getting the idea.

Last night I was hungry, but not in the mood to spend ages in the kitchen. Nor in the mood for cheese cold from the fridge eaten with an apple (often my can’t-be-bothered-to-cook solution).

CauliI had a cauliflower, I had cheese, I had spices and other interesting ingredients. I had 15 minutes. Hey! A lightbulb pinged on in my head. Cauliflower…cheese…quick…

Half the cauliflower chopped into bite-sized florets,pan on with salted water coming to the boil…

cheeses

Cheesey spicy tangy things pulled from the fridge and off the spice shelf…

Cheeses chopped, spring onions chopped, bit of bacon chopped. Dash of cayenne, good pinch of parsley… screw of black pepper… spoonful of sour cream ready…

Fling everything into a non-stick pan, simmer while you drain the just-cooked cauli…

Cauli in bowl, sauce given final stir and poured over cauli with a good screw of fresh black pepper…

EAT!

What and how

Feeds two hungry people for supper. 

1 cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized florets

3 spring onions, chopped

200g (total) of various cheeses eg feta, cheddar, brie, edam etc

Dash of cayenne (according to your preferences)

1 tbsp dried parsley or a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp sour cream

[Optional for carnivores: 50g bacon]

cauliflowerBoil the cauliflower in salted water for 3 to 4 minutes, until the leaves are bright green and the florets just tender. Drain and keep warm.

While the cauli is cooking, chop your cheeses (last night I opted for feta and cheddar), put into a pan (NB you don’t need oil as there’s enough oil in the cheese as it melts) with the spring onions, cayenne, bacon (if you’re not veggie) and sour cream. Be careful with adding salt – the cheese (and bacon) are usually salty enough, but season to your taste.

cheese sauceBring to the boil gently and simmer until the cheese melts and everything is bubbling. Two or three minutes, maximum five if you’re using really hard cheese. While it’s bubbling, it will be time to drain the cauli.

Serve in bowls – just pour the cheese sauce over the cauli, give it all a good grind of black pepper, and serve with crusty bread, if you like.

Eat immediately! Scrummy yummy…

 

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Cheese-chilli bread to die for

3 Oct

This was an experiment due to an excess of cheese in the fridge, mostly.

Cheese, chillli, garlic, bread, crusty,

A golden slab of cheese and chilli bread – a successful experiment

I didn’t measure anything, so if you need precise quantities, I’m sorry… Bad blogger. But the ‘recipe’ is marvellously flexible and forgiving, so even if you’re a precision chef, give this a whirl.

I started with cheese – about 300g of mixed cheese lurking in my fridge – a feta-like salty number, and rich creamy cheddary type (but choose your cheese – a salty one means you don’t have to add extra salt) chopped into smallish but uneven chunks (it will melt in the oven).

About 300g of general-purpose white flour – I added another couple of shakes once the first lot was mixed, because the dry mix seemed to call for more flour.

Two green chillis – one was bland, one turned out to be quite hot – chopped small. A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary and some thyme; three cloves of garlic, crushed; two heaped tablespoons of sour cream (greek yoghurt would be fine), a bit of salt, a good grinding of black pepper. Add it all to the cheese and flour mixture and stir; whisk two eggs and add them to the mix, then pour in a slosh of milk and stir thoroughly, adding milk gradually till it’s a nice sticky heap – not runny, but not stiff. Malleable but not pourable. At the last minute add a 10g packet (two level teaspoons) of baking powder and mix in thoroughly.

Line a tin of your choice with grease-proof (baking) paper, and pour in the mixture. Stuff into the oven on a medium heat and check after 50 mins – if it’s tanned and firm to the touch, it’s ready.

Eat while warm, or if you’re patient, let it cool. Great with soup, salad, or a treat on its own.

Try not to sneak down to the kitchen at midnight to scoff the lot.

vv

Gourmet tastes for next to nothing

18 Sep

If you ever wondered how to make a filling, hearty, scrumptious and attractive meal from a few roots and a bit of cabbage…. to satisfy even the most carnivorous of people, read on.

I had lot of root veg in the house, so for supper tonight I chopped sweet potato and half a butternut squash into chunks, turned them in oil and mixed herbs with a heavy pinch of chilli flakes, and bunged them in the oven on top heat. So far, so good.

Then it was the spuds – peeled, chopped and boiling, they toiled away while I peeled garlic and got Rich to pick parsley and chop it very finely. Jules was shredding red and white cabbage, meanwhile, and I was eyeing up the spice shelf.

When the spuds were soft, I drained them, pressed four garlic cloves into the steaming pan, added a sizable chunk of butter and a slosh of milk and mashed their socks off before dropping in the parsley for a final stir.

The cabbage was boiling hard for three minutes while the parsley was making the mash look pretty; then the cabbage was well drained and put back on a gentle heat. Three heaped tablespoons of sour cream, half a teaspoon of nutmeg and a generous shaking of paprika, lots of black pepper, and a thorough stir to coat and colour the white and purple shreds… and it was all ready.

The variety of flavours – sweet roots with an aromatic herby savour and the bright warmth of chilli; earthy mash with tangy garlic and parsley freshness, and the wonderfully complex spicy, creamy cabbage… contrasts that complemented perfectly, and won compliments. The colours and textures, too – I’ll definitely be doing this combo again – an off-the-cuff experiment that worked perfectly. It would be great for autumn and winter, and wonderfully cheap. Spuds, roots and cabbage, with a bit of spice and cream to add the luxury. Can’t be beaten.

Cheap? Yes, for sure.

Easy? Yes – nothing complicated, just some chopping and seasoning to think about.

Delicious? Oh…. yes… mmmmm.

cheap easy delicious

Sweet roots, garlic mash, spiced creamy cabbage

Free-form lunchtime delights

19 Aug

A friend commented on the food I’d produced for a sunny summer lunch a couple of weeks ago, that her mother would never have eaten the salad, as it contained raw peas and weeds. My friends, however, were more daring, and ate the lot with gusto.

salad, wildflowers, Carpathian Mountains, free food, foraging, nutrition

Weedy salad, full of vitamins, minerals and Carpathian sunshine

Salads are free-form food. Brought up in boring British kitchens of the 1960s and 1970s, where ‘salad’ was limp lettuce, soggy tomato slices, bits of cucumber and (in liberal circles) some grated carrot, I gradually realised that a salad could incorporate almost anything edible, from leaves to nuts, fish to fruit, spices, herbs and flowers. I went through a knickerbocker-glory phase of salad making, with layer upon layer of exciting ingredients in a huge bowl, delighting in the planning of it. But these concoctions took forever to produce, so these days I’ve scaled back a bit.

However, I now live amongst organic wildflower meadows, 1,000 metres up in the mountains, and my lawn is full of free and delicious greenery which gives me more nutrition than any shop-bought veg (including curly kale). What many call ‘weeds’, I call lunch. These are plants common to British gardens, so frustrated gardeners fed up of the unwanted leafy squatters in the veg patch: embrace them. Eat them. Ribwort and broad-leaved plantain, Fat Hen, wild carrot, Good King Henry, dandelion, chicory, caraway, chickweed, purslane, ox-eye daisy, smooth sow thistle, nettles, and the bane of gardeners, ground elder: all add texture and flavour to mild lettuce leaves or wilted spinach. Raw or steamed for 30 seconds, these are tasty, healthy and free-of-charge additions to your menu.

Back to salads. We know now that the more colourful the food we eat, the greater the health gains. Fruit, salads and veg come in the full spectrum of hues, and every colour brings different benefits. Raw is almost always healthier than cooked, so salads are the optimum eats.

So be bold. Experiment with different combinations. These bowls contain little heaps of: red cabbage (vivid purple when grated), tomatoes, crushed peanuts, peas (raw) from my garden, toasted sesame seeds, wild leaves (see list above), and spring onions. Topped with a wild carrot flower, and dressed with olive oil and a choice of lime juice or balsamic vinegar, they are filling, satisfying, pretty and delicious. Cheap, too, and easy – nothing clever required. Have a go.

Summer greens – make me feel fine

19 Jul

Seven kinds of greens, all picked from my veg patch, boiled for a minute and added to pasta with three cloves of garlic gently sizzled in oil, a spoonful of sour cream and lots of black pepper. Greens: purple mange tout, sugar snaps, ruby and golden chard, spinach, redshank and Fat Hen (the last two are wild veg, aka weeds, crammed with far more vitamins and minerals than any cultivated veg. Simple, cheap (some free), very easy, utterly delicious.

Wild, organic greens

Seven kinds of wild and home-grown organic veg, with pasta, garlic, sour cream and black pepper.

Mediterranean veg with seedy mamaliga (polenta)

2 Oct

When I get a visitor with food needs I haven’t met before, it’s a challenge I love. This week’s visitor eats meat, but has allergies to dairy and gluten. No dairy, no problem, but no gluten (wheat, oats, rye, barley) is a restriction I haven’t catered for yet.

Mamaliga, polenta, aubergine, red pepper, garlic, seeds

Colourful and flavoursome

Last night I made this and served it with late-summer Romanian yellow beans (and I had feta cheese crumbled on top).  There are endless variations you can try, including a bit of chicken or tuna grilled or pan-fried, any green veg such as Savoy cabbage, broccoli or chard; you can try different herbs with the polenta, different cheeses, either crumbled or melted on top… The choice is yours. But here’s what I concocted last night. [This long list of ingredients and instructions might look as if this post doesn’t qualify as “easy”, but I’d say it does – the recipe is flexible and forgiving, so unless you leave the polenta cooking while you have a bath, or don’t cook the Med Veg for long enough, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s not fiddly or over-precise, so it’s a good one for less experienced cooks.]

Seeded mamaliga

Mamaliga is the Romanian word for polenta, and is a staple food here. I find it – as normally served – like wallpaper paste, tasteless and gluey. but with a little extra something, then sliced and grilled, it becomes something altogether different.

Ingredients

300g maize meal or instant polenta

Boiling water

Big handful of fresh parsley (or 2 tablespoons of dried), chopped finely

Handful of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds

Toast the seeds till pale brown and set aside

Boil a kettleful of water and pour half into a large pan on full heat – when boiling, add the dry polenta/maize meal and stir vigorously (use a whisk to get rid of the lumps) for 15 mins or so (follow cooking instructions on packet), topping up with water as polenta thickens. Add the toasted seeds and the parsley, and a salt to taste – check seasoning several times. You want the polenta thick, but still pourable. When it gets to that point, pour it into a shallow dish and let it cool while you cook the veg.

Meanwhile…

Mediterranean veg

I call this Arthritis Relish because it consists of all the veg that do no good for arthritic hands – but they’re all so delicious I put up with a couple of days of discomfort.

Ingredients

1 aubergine (eggplant) –  cubed into 1” pieces, skin on.

2 red peppers (bell peppers) – chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 medium onion

2 or 3 fat cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed

2 large tomatoes, chopped

1 chilli pepper, chopped – with out without seeds, depending on how hot you want it

Herbs of choice – basil, thyme, marjoram or a Provencal mix

A teaspoon of a spice mix like Baharat or Ras al Hanout

Salt & pepper

How to do it

Put all the ingredients in a big pot with plenty of oil (extra virgin olive, for preference) and frazzle slowly for at least 45 mins, so the aubergine has softened thoroughly and tastes sweet and rich. Check flavours and adjust seasoning if needed.

When cooked down to a jammy chunkiness, take off the heat and keep the lid on the pan.

By now the polenta wshould have cooled and set so that you can slice it; cut a slice for each person and put them under the grill or in the microwave for a few minutes to heat through. (If you’re all cheese-eaters, a bit of grated cheese of choice goes well on top of the polenta slices.)

On each plate: a slice of polenta, a scoop of Mediterranean veg, something green and leafy, and perhaps some crumbled feta cheese or grated Pecorino, and a good twist of black pepper.

NB There should be polenta left over (it’s very filling) – a grilled slice works very well as breakfast, topped with scrambled, poached or fried eggs, mushrooms or grilled tomatoes. And/or bacon, if you’re so inclined.

 

Stirring things up with spice, girls

14 Mar
Vegan, vegetable, spicy, spices, colour, flavour, cheap easy delicious

A colourful plate of goodness

Another colourful plateful, inspired by my veggie guests Katie and Suzie. Tonight it was a spicy stir fry that was really flavoursome and satisfying, full of scrumptious spices and textures, crunchy greens and melting noodles, nuts and seeds for protein and plenty of fibre.

Health in a plate, but more delicious than such a virtuous dish deserves to be. This recipe should serve six.

What

1 pack of wok noodles

2 medium aubergines (eggplants)

1 large red (bell) pepper

1 head of broccoli

1 large onion

4 cloves of garlic

1 large carrot

1 thick slice of green cabbage, finely chopped

2 tbsps sesame seeds

2 tbsps flaked almonds

1 small bowl of red-skin peanuts, soaked for an hour

big pinch of mixed herbs

soy sauce

dollop of your favourite Asian spices (Thai 7 spice, mild curry powder and a good shake of cayenne for me)

How

Chop the aubergine and roast in oil for 30 mins on high heat.

Chop all veg except the broccoli and cabbage, and sizzle in wok over low heat with spices, herbs and seasoning, and the nuts and seeds.

When veg is soft, glossy and aromatic, turn the roasted aubergine into the wok and let it absorb the spices. Add the broccoli and cabbage and sizzle of high heat, adding the noodles (prepared as per packet instructions) for the last five minutes.

Serve and eat immediately.