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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

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.

 

Mock lobster (vegetarian)

11 Mar
Mock lobster, vegetarian recipe, tomato, onion, egg, rice, colourful food, cheap supper, flavour

Mock lobster and rice

Anyone else know this one? It may be a family thing, I’m guessing from World War 2 when rationing in the UK meant cooks got creative.

This is a delicious variation on tomato-and-onion sauce for rice or pasta; the pink colour is the only link with lobster – there’s no fishy taste at all.

Definitive cheap, easy and delicious recipe.

What:

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 tsps tomato paste

1 large onion

1 clove garlic

2 eggs

1 tbsp cream or sour cream*

4 basil leaves, ripped

Parsley to garnish

* my variation. Would definitely not have been in a wartime-rationing recipe.

How:

Chop onion and garlic finely and sizzle gently in oil till transparent and soft.

Add tomato paste and stir for two minutes till everything’s bubbling.

Add tinned tomatoes and let everything sizzle for another couple of minutes.

Add basil and seasoning (salt, pepper, etc to your taste)

Beat eggs with sour cream and a little bit of water, then add into tomato mix. Turn up the heat and sizzle hard, till egg is cooked and everything is bright pink.

Serve with rice or carb of your choosing; scatter parsley on top, and eat.

Tocana – a Transylvanian autumn treat

20 Oct
Gogosar is the Romanian word for rounded peppers, compared to the long, pointed ones known as ardei

Gogosar, the sweet capsicum you find in their natural shape and colours in Transylvanian markets

This is a fabulous foodie treat that hasn’t yet escaped its home cuisine in Transylvania (Romania). Tocana is a relish of the last summer vegetables, for sale in the market for buttons in October as the autumn takes hold and winter beckons. [Zacusca is a close relative, made by roasting the vegetables rather than cooking in oil like a confit.]

Housewives buy 20 kilo sacks of peppers and aubergines to cook and put in jars for a reminder of summer in the depths of a harsh winter, with smaller sacks of onions and carrots grown in the smallholdings of rural Transylvania.

Sweet with a hint of smoky bitterness, full of flavour and colour, the autumn peppers (ardei and gogosar) from the south of Romania and imported from Turkey are a far cry from the pretty but tasteless peppers you find in British supermarkets, grown in Dutch polytunnels without benefit of mineral-rich soils and southern summers. These aren’t perfectly shaped, uniformly coloured things, but organic vine fruit folded and twisted and coloured by the sun, grown without the synthetic encouragement of agrotechnology; the difference in taste is so marked that they might be different species altogether.

Tocana, the Transylvanian foodie secret that is one of the treats of the year

Tocana, organic, simple, naturally colourful and bursting with late summer flavour

So – tocana. A simple recipe, but cleaning and chopping takes time, so it’s best done as a family, or with a group of friends; if you’re on your own put some music on and surrender yourself to an annual ritual of aroma and maturing textures. Then you have the delicious reward of warm tocana for supper, and the looking forward to helping yourself to a jar of tocana from time to time through the long, frozen winter.

This is a dish of such rich summery colour and flavour that I’m amazed it hasn’t been swiped by savvy chefs in Britain, or exported by canny Transylvanians. An opportunity for you to make a coup, and worth every minute of preparation.

Ingredients

5kg red peppers

1kg carrots

1kg onions

800g tin of tomato paste

1 litre oil (sunflower or another mild-flavoured oil)

seasoning to taste

NB You’ll need a big pan for this amount, and several large jamjars. If you live in a northern climate, peppers might be prohibitively expensive in these quantities, but the 5:1:1:1 ratio of ingredients is easy to scale down for an occasional dish.

How to do it

Clean and deseed the peppers, skin the onions and peel the carrots. Chop the veg to a fine dice in a food processor (stop short of a paste) and put in a large pan (a jam pan is ideal) with the tomato paste, oil, salt, black pepper and/or cayenne, and if you like, a little sweet paprika. (Better to add a little seasoning and add a little more if needed, rather than overdoing it all at once.)

Cook over a high heat until the mixture is bubbling. The veg release plenty of water, so once boiling, turn the heat down and leave to cook (stirring often to stop burning) for a good couple of hours, until the water has evaporated, and the mixture is a thick, rich, glossy red conserve. Adjust the seasoning if you need to, then let it cool to blood temperature.

While still warm, put into sterilised jars and seal thoroughly. It should last for weeks, if not several months, in a dark place. Eat with a spoon straight from the jar, or if you want to be a bit more civilised, serve with toast or oatcakes. You can use it as a sauce for pasta, or as a relish with cold meat or cheese.

Let’s demand Jaggery!

27 Sep

I read a recipe for Goodi Huggi from Namita’s Kitchen today which included jaggery. Never heard of it, so hit Google, and this is what I found on the  Sugarindia site:

A solid block of natural, simply produced jaggery (sugar)

A block of Indian jaggery

Jaggery or “Gur” or whole sugar is a pure, wholesome, traditional, unrefined, whole sugar. It contains the natural goodness of minerals and vitamins inherently present in sugarcane juice & this crowns it as one of the most wholesome and healthy sugars in the world. It Mexico & South America, it is also known as panela.

Jaggery, being a wholesome sugar, without doubt is rich in the vitally important mineral salts: 2.8 grams per 100 grams, that is to say 28 grams per kilogram, while only 300 milligrams per kilogram is found in refined sugar. Magnesium strengthens the nervous system & potassium is vital to conserve the acid balance in the cells and combats acids and acetone. Jaggery is very rich in iron, which, a composite of hemoglobin prevents anemia.

So why are we being sold fancy sugars and sugar substitutes instead of this simple, natural, healthy and cheap-to-produce stuff? Because there’s no profit in it? Because… why on earth not?

Refining – even filtering out the ‘unwanted’ bits – can remove the very substances that keep the balance of health in foodstuffs. I’m not saying that diabetics could chuck their regimes and munch jaggery to their pancreas’s content, but we should look very hard at the refining and processing of basic foodstuffs. All right, all foodstuffs.

Who’s with me? And where can I get hold of jaggery? (in the UK, Romania, Hungary, Germany or Belgium)?