Bryony's Blog

PRODUCT PLACEMENT...

(31/01/11)

I hate those words, but on the other hand, what I did for today's lunch is worth (I am convinced) passing on. I bought a packet of Barley Mixture grains by Pedon at Waitrose (I think) and once cooked, instantly cooled, and mixed with other bits and pieces they made a perfect, nutty, delicious and extremely healthy salad. Here goes (for four):

1 packet of Pedon dried barley mixture grains – low in fat, extremely high in fibre and a thoroughly good addition to your diet
either cooked (cold/left over) chicken, ham, hard boiled eggs, tuna, prawns, whatever
cucumber
cherry tomatoes
celery
spring onions
fresh mint and parsley
olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar
salt and pepper

Cook the grains according to the packet and add a further ten minutes' cooking time. Drain, rinse under the cold tap and either soak quickly in cold water and drain again, or allow to cool naturally, depending on how quickly you need to use them.

Into a salad bowl, add a finely sliced stick of celery, ten cherry tomatoes cut into four, about six inches of cucumber chopped into small cubes, a handful of parsley and mint, chopped roughly, either one fat fresh, green onion plus stalk or six ordinary spring onions. I had boiled a piece of smoked gammon and had a chunk left over which I de-fatted and cut into small pieces. I added these to the mix. Then I piled on the cold grains plus the juice of one lemon, a good splash of vinegar and a good drizzle of olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper. Once given a good stir, it was ready to serve and was really, really nice – all on its own, or (as my darling husband did) with the added accompaniment of a dollop of good mayonnaise. Bon appetit!

AUBERGINE BAKE

(29/01/11)

AUBERGINE BAKE

As I am still trying to shift the pounds, the following ingredients are with that in mind. However, if you don't have a weight problem and are also feeding small gannet beaks which need full fat for good, strong bones, then merely up the ante. This will feed four.

1 large aubergine, sliced less than ¼ inch thick
4 shallots, sliced – or three small red or white onions
1 tin chopped tomatoes
packet of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped – the green mid-rib removed
½ - ¾ punnet of small (but not tiny button) mushrooms, quickly rinsed and roughly chopped into slices or quarters
olive oil
herbs – either fresh: basil, parsley, oregano or a good sprinkling of dried Italian herbs
2 low fat mozzarella balls, sliced
salt and pepper
½ a large pot of light crème fraiche
1-2 cupfuls of grated gruyere cheese (emmental goes stringy, cheddar is too greasy)
1 large free range, organic (if possible) egg

Begin by heating a griddle pan if you have one – if not, use a solid based frying pan. Spray with a little oil and add as many slices of aubergine as can sit side by side in the pan. Brown for two or three minutes, don't add further oil but turn and brown a further minute. Remove and put to one side. Add a further tiny spray of oil and cook the remaining aubergine slices.

Next, put a little splash of oil in a frying pan, add the shallots and about a cupful of water. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer until the liquid has evaporated, stirring every now and again. Add the mushrooms and garlic, stir and cook for three minutes.

Layer the bottom of a gratin (lasagne type) dish with some of the aubergine slices, sprinkle over half the shallot/mushroom mixture and dot with half the cherry tomatoes. Add the slices of one of the mozzarella balls, a sprinkle of herbs, half the tin of tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.

Lay on top the remaining aubergine slices (it doesn't matter if they overlap), and the remaining ingredients in the same order as above. Drizzle over about half a cup of olive oil.

Either cover with cling film and put to one side to cook later, or bake in a hot oven for about thirty minutes until the vegetables are almost cooked through.

Then, in a bowl, beat an egg with the crème fraiche and add the grated cheese. Spread this over the vegetables, sprinkle with a little more grated cheese – and if you like a crunch, add a couple of slices of wholemeal bread made in to crumbs. Return to the oven for a further ten minutes or so, or until the top is bubbling and golden brown, the crumbs crisp.

Eat on its own or as a single accompaniment to any sort of lamb or chicken.

I let the chickens out again this morning to scratch around as they had such fun the other day. I went shopping and when I came back, four fluffy, clucky little girls came racing across the lawn to greet me. Somehow they had found their way around the field into the garden! I left them to play in the flowerbeds and it was a joy to watch. Roll on tomorrow's eggs!

HEN PARTY

(25/01/11)

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Yesterday morning, when I went to check up on the girls, Haynsie (named after Johnny, Fulham Football Club - black and white strip) decided to break out into the field and before I could get her back, the other three joined in hot pursuit. Rather than ferry them back into their run I thought I would cast care to the wind and allow them to wander freely. I opened the gate to the vegetable patch and the little trojans busied themselves for most of the day, clearing weeds, grubs, slugs and anything they could scratch and discover. They had a wonderful time - it will be interesting to see if each lays an egg today. If they do, it proves a point that a happy chicken is a healthy one.

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REALLY HEALTHY BREAKFAST

(22/01/11)

NO FAT MEXICAN EGGS

This sounds boring beyond words, but if you have good ingredients this makes a delicious, filling but light, extremely healthy start to the day. For one, you will need:

1 small red onion, peeled and chopped very finely
as many small, sweet cherry tomatoes as you fancy, cut into small pieces
red or green chilli, as much as you want, de-seeded, the inner white ribs removed and chopped very finely#
1 small ripe avocado - or half of one large one, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper

Heat a small pan (an omelette pan for example) and cover the bottom with a small amount of water. Add the chopped onion, stir and allow to cook gently until the water has evaporated - about five minutes. By using water instead of oil, the onion will cook and be devoid of extra calories.

Add the chopped tomatoes and chilli, stir and cook on a medium heat until they are soft. Move the vegetables to the edge of the pan, making a space and drop in an egg - two if you are very peckish. Season with salt and pepper and swizzle until the egg is cooked.

You are aiming at a cross between scrambled eggs and a sort of omelette, but without browning it. Tip onto a plate, sprinkled with some fresh parsley or a little coriander and serve immediately. I like this with fizzy water and ryvita.

MARMALADE

(22/01/11)

SIMPLY THE BEST ORANGE MARMALADE YOU WILL EVER MAKE

For those of you who have not yet bought a copy of my book, A Compost Kind of Girl (shame on you!!) and as we are right in the middle of marmalade making time, I shall give you my great grandmother's recipe which appeared in Compost.

You will need:

3 lbs of Seville oranges – these are the bitter, rather ugly oranges only available at the beginning of the year
5 lb granulated sugar put into an oven proof bowl and warmed in a low oven

1. Wash the oranges, concentrating on the area where the stalk was and place them whole in a large pan. Put a small metal dish in the freezer or ice box to chill.
2. Cover the fruit with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer gently until the skin is really soft and can be pierced with the head of a pin.
3. Remove the fruit, retain the orange cooking liquid and measure out 1 ¼ pints. Discard the remainder.
4. One by one, cut the fruit in half, remove the soft centre with a spoon, putting it into a bowl. Remove the stalk piece and the pips and put them into a separate dish.
5. Chop/slice the orange skin as finely as you are able and add to the bowl with the cooked middle.
6. Put the reserved orange water into a large preserving pan and add the warmed sugar. Bring to the boil and cook for five to ten minutes, watching very carefully as the syrup could easily boil over – it will as soon as you turn your back on it, believe me!
7. Put the pips into a small piece of muslin and secure well. Add this plus the chopped oranges to the sugar syrup, stir and bring back to the boil.
8. Cook until setting point is reached* and the orange pith has become transparent. This could take quite a while, over 30 minutes, skimming off any scum as it appears. Stir every few minutes to prevent burning and sticking.
9. * To test setting point: remove the metal dish and carefully put about half a teaspoon of the marmalade mixture onto the cold surface. Wait a moment until the marmalade has cooled and run your finger through it. If it separates nicely, then it is ready. If it is still very runny, continue boiling for a few more minutes and test again.
10. Using a special jam funnel, very carefully fill the hot jam jars and seal immediately.

Sometimes I vary the sugar and instead of using 100% white granulated, I ring the changes with a mixture of muscovada (very treacly), demerara or golden granulated – it is a matter of taste. The muscovada has a deep, rich and intense flavour – too much for me on its own – but a small amount added to white sugar does darken the colour of the marmalade. You can also add a splosh of whisky five minutes before the end! Adults only!

QUICK PASTA FOR TWO

(19/01/11)

You will need (for two lunch sized servings, ie. not enormous!):
Bundle of dried spaghetti (about 3/4 inch in circumference)
1 large field mushroom
1 shallot
1 clove of garlic
good sprinkle of dried Italian mixed herbs
olive oil
salt and pepper
handful of cherry tomatoes
tablespoon of fresh basil and parsley, torn or chopped roughly
1 large heaped tablespoon of light creme fraiche
freshly grated parmesan cheese


Bring a pan of water (with a pinch of salt added) to the boil. Drop in a handful of spaghetti - enough for two, stir and leave to bubble.

Clean/slice one large field mushroom, peel and chop one large shallot, peel and chop one clove of garlic, chop a handful of cherry tomatoes.

Heat a frying pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the shallots, stir and allow to simmer for five minutes. Add the sliced mushroom, stir and cover the pan with a loose fitting lid. After two or three minutes, stir and add the tomatoes, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Stir and cover, simmer for five, six minutes until cooked. Add the creme fraiche and mix well. Put to one side.

When the pasta is cooked (according to the packet - al dente, with a little bite), drain quickly and return to the pan with a small amount of the cooking liquid remaining.

Add the vegetable mix, mix well, put onto warmed bowls and grate some parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

MEAT FREE, PASTA FREE MID-WEEK SUPS

(18/01/11)

SAVOURY VEGETABLE BAKE

Sometimes I fancy a meal with no meat nor the inevitable alternative, pasta. I made this last night for four of us. These are the vegetables I used – purely what happened to be in the fridge – but you can choose exactly what you fancy, only make sure you have something 'oniony' to give the depth of flavour. It is carb free (unless you have a baked potato like we did) and easy on the tum at night.

1 aubergine, cut into slices less than ¼ inch thick
3 medium leeks, thoroughly washed and sliced
Good handful of cherry tomatoes, left whole
½ a head of broccoli cut into florets and then quartered
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 bags of organic spinach, washed thoroughly
2 good cupfuls of grated emmental cheese
½ a large tub of half fat crème fraiche
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon of dried mixed herbs
olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Wash the spinach and place in a pan with no extra water. Stir and cook until it is just beginning to wilt. Remove from the heat, drain and put to one side.
2. Lay the chopped leeks on the bottom of a gratin dish (a rectangular lasagne dish is ideal) and add the sliced aubergine, broccoli, cherry tomatoes dotted about and garlic.
3. Splash on some olive oil and season with the herbs and salt and pepper.
4. Place on middle shelf of a medium/hot oven and bake until the vegetables are just about cooked – you may need to drape a piece of aluminium foil over it to prevent burning. This could take about 30 minutes.
5. Remove from heat, take off the foil and add the wilted spinach, spreading it over the other vegetables.
6. In a bowl, mix together the cheese, crème fraiche and eggs. Pour this over the vegetables – it will be thick so don't worry if it doesn't quite cover everything.
7. Back into the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until the top is bubbling and brown.

We ate this with a baked potato but it is perfect on its own or with a salad.

QUICK MACKEREL PATE

(18/01/11)

This couldn't be easier nor quicker it's done and dusted in less than 8 minutes.

1 packet of good quality smoked mackerel fillets - or smoked trout - or a mixture of both if you find the mackerel too strong a flavour
1 lemon
creme fraiche
pepper
horseradish sauce

1. Remove and discard the skin from the back of the mackerel fillets and place the fish in a small blender - or a container and use a hand held blender

2. Add the juice of a lemon, a few good grinds of black pepper, about 2 good tablespoons of creme fraiche (half fat or otherwise) and a teaspoon of horseradish sauce.

3. Blend until reasonably smooth but still with texture.

4. Taste a little and add some salt if necessary.

5. Put into a small dish and sprinkle with a little chopped parsley.

Serve with brown toast or toasted wholemeal pitta breads and a bowl of crispy lettuce (cos) to eat in your fingers.

SUMMER COLOUR - JUST TO REMIND OURSELVES OF THE JOYS TO COME

(18/01/11)

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THE TERRIFYING FORCE OF NATURE

(14/01/11)

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This week torrential rain has fallen all over the world. To see images of Queensland under feet of flood water, then Brazil and Sri Lanka have been too distressing for words. We have been subjected to excessive rainfall here in Sussex, but nothing like those places mentioned. However, it has brought home how suddenly this sort of disaster can strike and the terrifyingly powerful force of nature.

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These are photographs taken three days ago within a few hundred yards of our house. The little stream Herrings Brook (a tributary of the Adur) eventually meets the sea at Shoreham and as you can see, it burst its banks and was within inches of reaching the road. At some points where I walk Charlie it reached over six feet above the normal level.

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Thankfully our little paddock and the chicken run are just above the highest danger zone, the water reaching the hedge separating us from the neighbouring farmer's field. When I went at dawn to see if the girls were safe I could hear the water lapping at the boundary edge.

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TURKEY BREAST ESCALOPES

(14/01/11)

Last night, instead of cooking the guinea fowl as I said I would (I forgot to take it out of the freezer) I went shopping and bought a packet of turkey breast steaks, reduced. Next to them on the shelf was a packet of turkey breast escalopes (also reduced) but they were quite a bit more expensive. I knew that if I put each steak in some cling film and bashed it with a rolling pin, I would end up with the same thing but much cheaper.

You will need:

Turkey breast steaks – bashed and flattened to a few milimetres thick
Light crème fraiche (about two tablespoons)
Splash of white wine
Juice of half a large lemon
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley, finely chopped

Heat a frying pan and spray very lightly with oil. Drop in the escalopes and allow to brown. This will only take a minute or two because the pan is hot. Turn over and cook a further minute. Add the white wine, cream, lemon juice and season. Season with salt and pepper and swish the pan and stir to mix the sauce. Check that the meat is thoroughly cooked and no pink juices are visible. Withdraw from the heat, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

You could have this with any sort of rice, pasta or mashed potato and a green veg. Quick, cheap and very healthy!

VENISON SAUSAGE AND PUY LENTIL CASSEROLE

(13/01/11)

As I am still battling (and so far winning!) with my weight I try to check the fat content of any processed food I buy and yesterday, for the first time, I bought some venison sausages. They were low in fat, had no artificial additives at all – even the casings were natural. Instead of cooking them like normal bangers I decided to use up the packet of dry Puy lentils which I bought before Christmas.

You will need for four people:

1 packet of venison sausages
half a packet of Puy lentils – these are great because they don't need soaking beforehand
three rashers of very lean smoked streaky bacon or half a packet of slices pancetta
1 large onion (red or white) or a couple of medium shallots
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped into small cubes
1 stick of celery, chopped finely
good squirt of concentrated tomato puree or concentrated sun dried tomato puree – about 1 tbspoon
sprigs of thyme or half a teaspoon of mixed dried herbs
1 pint of (unsalted if possible) chicken stock
good sized glass of red wine – about 1/3 pint
pepper

Rinse the lentils.

Heat a cast iron casserole if you have one, if not use a frying pan and put in the bacon or pancetta along with the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook for five minutes on a high heat, stirring until the bacon is nearly cooked and the onion is softened.

If using a cast iron casserole now add the lentils, stock, wine, herbs, tomato puree, herbs and a few good grinds of pepper. Do not add any salt at this stage or the lentils will remain hard. Bring to the boil, stirring every now and again, then lower the heat. Either cook on top of the stove on a gentle simmer or (if you are using a frying pan) transfer everything into an ovenproof dish with a lid and put into a pre-heated, mediu/hot oven. Add more stock/wine or water if the lentils absorb too much liquid.

Now you need to seal and brown the sausages. Heat a frying pan (no need for any oil) and
put in the sausages, turning them every now and again, for about 5-6 minutes. They don't
need to cook, merely take on a bit of colour. Next, snuggle them into the lentil
mixture,replace lid and cook very gently for at least 1 ½ hours. Check every now and again
that there is enough liquid (the lentils will swell quite considerably) and taste for
seasoning. You want the lentils to keep their shape, not turn into a mush.

This can easily be done the day before and the flavours will develop nicely overnight. My chicken stock was not very strong so I added a Knorr chicken stockpot - this is quite salty, so beware!

We had this for supper with some green vegetables but didn't manage to eat all the lentils. We shall have those tonight, re-heated thoroughly, with a roast guinea fowl. I can't wait!

BEEF AND STOUT STEW

(13/01/11)

I cooked this when we were still buried beneath the snow and well-below freezing temperatures, but I forgot to add it to the blog, so here goes:

You will need:

¾ – 1 lb of good stewing steak – I bought a lovely slice of nicely marbled chuck steak the size of a single serving of sirloin for one hungry person. Bulked out by vegetables, this fed four of us without any problem.
1 packet of organic mushrooms
4 banana shallots, peeled and cut into quarters lengthways
1 can of stout (I had some left over from having cooked Delia's Christmas puddings last November)
sprinkle of mixed herbs, or fresh bay leaf and a couple of sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper

1. Trim off any gristly, fatty bits from the meat and cut into cubes about 1 inch square.
2. Quickly rinse any debris off the mushrooms and slice

Heat a cast iron casserole which can go in the oven, or if you don't have one, heat a frying pan. No need to add any extra fat unless (unlike me) you're not on a diet and drop in some of the meat, turning it so that it takes on a little colour and the outside is sealed. It is better to do this in a couple of goes so that the pan retains the heat – if you add it all in one go, the heat will reduce rapidly and all you end up with is a grey lump of meat.

Remove the browned meat from the pan and put to one side, along with the juices. Heat up the pan again and add the shallots plus a little water (a couple of tablespoons), stirring every now and again. Cook until the water has evaporated then add the mushrooms, the browned meat and any juices, the herbs, salt and pepper to taste and about half the can of stout. Stir, cover with the lid, bring to the boil, and cook in a medium/slow oven for at least a couple hours – if you have an Aga, use the bottom oven.

Check every now and again that there is sufficient liquid, adding more stout or water as necessary although you probably won't have to as the mushrooms will give off a lot of juice. Also, check that the meat is cooked – you don't want to overdue things and let it disintegrate.

This is a very simple stew, and with so few ingredients (note, no garlic this time nor any flour to thicken the gravy) you really taste each individual flavour. Eat it with pureed potatoes for example (we had simple boiled and mashed parsnips) and something green.

PRAWN SALAD

(11/01/11)

LIGHT LUNCH

Last night I cooked a piece of rib eye I found on the bargain shelf at Tesco's. It was really tender and tasty and I simply flavoured it with garlic, salt and pepper. To make sure that I hadn't over cooked it I used a very simple meat thermometer which came with a goose last Christmas and so far it has been invaluable. To go with the meat I cooked a packet of mixed quinoa and bulgur wheat. Although the instructions said to simmer for 8-10 minutes, it took a lot longer – maybe almost half an hour and with added boiling water. The end result was very nice and nutty and needless to say, there was quite a lot left over as it swells considerably. We had it for lunch today, as a salad.


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1 packet of frozen cold water, North Atlantic prawns – shells on
½ a green pepper, finely sliced
1 small fennel bulb (or half a large one) finely sliced
half a dozen or so cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
tablespoon of fresh chopped mint
tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley
about a 3-4” piece of cucumber cut into small cubes
4 spring onions, sliced
juice of one lemon

I prefer the flavour and texture of prawns still in their shells, although it is a palaver having to peel them – you can buy them already thawed in the fish section, or a bag of peeled prawns in the freezer compartment if you haven't the time nor the inclination. It is very important to remove the dark vein along the spine – this is the gut and not very nice to eat. Once you have prepared them all – about a cup and a half of prawns – rinse them well and drain.

Next, put the cooked grains into a bowl and add all the other ingredients. Season with salt and pepper and pour on about a tablespoon of cider or white wine vinegar and a good splosh of olive oil – about 2 tablespoons. Mix well and either cover with cling film and put aside in the fridge until you are going to eat, or serve straight away. This was a light, filling and very tasty meal – you could always use it to fill toasted pitta breads as a packed lunch for work.

ONE MORE POUND BITES THE DUST

(10/01/11)

Monday morning = weighing time and the best news is that I have lost another pound - and I was still wearing my glasses! This was so that I can actually read what the scales say...Having stayed at 12st 4lbs for a few days I thought that I had reached a plateau but that extra 16oz off the blocks is a huge filip. Today's lunch is going to be spinach roulade and a green salad. Picture to follow later. Pip pip!

WEIGHTLESS LUNCH

(10/01/11)

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EASY SPINACH ROULADE

Here is today's lunch I concocted for two 'gels' who are watching their waistlines – hopefully disappearing as I write!

You will need (for two people):

2 packets of organic spinach
2 medium/large organic free range eggs
fresh nutmeg
½ oz butter
1 dessert spoon of flour
¼ pint of milk
1 table spoon of light crème fraiche
1 cup of grated gruyere cheese
1 table spoon of grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

First, turn on the oven to medium/hot. Then thoroughly wash the spinach, shake off excess water and place in a pan to cook quickly, stirring until it is wilted. Remove from the heat and squeeze out as much water as you can. Return to the pan and chop with a knife and leave to cool slightly.

Find your Swiss roll tin and wet it under the tap. Drain and lay a piece of baking parchment on top, squashing it into the corners – the damp will help it stick to the tin and lie flat.

Separate the eggs and when the spinach has cooled slightly add the yolks, season lightly with salt and pepper plus about a pinch of freshly nutmeg and add to the spinach, stirring well.

Make the cheese sauce: put the flour and butter into a nonstick pan and melt, bring to the boil and cook for about a minute. Add the milk beating with a whisk to avoid lumps and allow to come back to a blip blop boil. Remove from the heat, add the cheese, the crème fraiche and the mustard. Season with salt and pepper and stir well.

Back to the roulade: whisk the egg whites until you get a firm, bubbly, frothy foam – not stiff peaks as for meringues. Using a metal spoon, fold in the egg whites until all is blended and pour into the Swiss roll tin to a depth of about ½ inch. There won't be enough to fill the dish, but don't worry – it won't spread into the corners and will keep its shape. Put on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for about 10 minutes – until it is firm to the touch and just beginning to take colour. It won't rise – don't panic - you are not making a souffle! Remove from the heat and carefully turn it parchment side up onto a serving dish. Wait a minute or two before peeling off the parchment. Pour on the hot cheese sauce, spreading it with a knife and fold over the roulade. You are not trying to create a work of art as you need to act quickly so that it is hot when you eat it. Sprinkle on the grated parmesan and serve with a green salade. Yummy yum or what?!

OUR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY!

(09/01/11)

Today, 9th January, is our 20th wedding anniversary. Some achievement! However, we have known each other for over 35 years and it took Jimmy fifteen of them before he was sure! Here are a two photos of my two best boys resting after one slice too many of Christmas pudding.

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CRISPY BELLY OF PORK STIR FRY

I had a couple of very lean slices of belly of pork bought at our local farm shop Court Gardens Farm, in Ditchling. As there were three of us for supper I knew I could stretch it and decided to cook them in a moderately hot oven (hot oven in the Aga, middle shelf) until the crackling was really crispy. In order to achieve this I first poured a little cider vinegar onto the skin and sprinkled it with salt. When cooked and beautifully crunchy, I put the meat to rest while I cooked the veg.

I washed and sliced (very finely) the following:

Small head of spring greens
half a yellow pepper
1 fat leek
1 stick of celery
half a head of broccoli
1 courgette – cut into small sticks for a change
1 head of fennel

You also need one clove of garlic, peeled and crushed or chopped finely and two bundles of rice noodles – cook these before you start cooking the vegetables, according to the instructions on the packet and leave to one side.

I heated the wok, splashed in a very tiny (about a teaspoon) of sunflower oil and added a chopped clove of garlic. If I had any fresh ginger I would have added about half an inch of it, grated, but I didn't and it tasted just as good without.

Next, I tipped in all the vegetables in one go, stirred quickly and left to heat, stirring frequently to get all the veg in contact with the bottom of the wok. Then I splashed in about 2 tablespoons of good soy sauce (I like Kikkoman), stirred again and put on the lid. The broccoli takes a bit longer to cook than the rest, but taking the wok off the heat before it is cooked through leaves a nice bit of crunch. Towards the end of cooking I added the cooked noodles and stirred them well into the vegetables, adding a splash more soy.

I took the pork slices out of the oven, removed the cracking and cut this up into very small pieces with a pair of scissors. Then I sliced the meat into smallish chunks and mixed the two together.

Into warm soup bowls I put the stir fried vegetables and topped each with the crispy pork. It was delicious. There was a little of the vegetable mixture left which I shall use it as a base for a light soup.

This morning the sun is shining brightly and I took my camera for a quick walk around the garden. There is so much colour if you look for it, and the first snowdrops are showing their little white heads. Roll on the spring!

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I'M AHEAD OF THE GAME!

(09/01/11)

Not known for my fashion sense (a girl-friend used to say that I dressed only in camouflage colours), I can sometimes smell out a trend in the food department. I read in the paper yesterday that Scotch eggs, those wonderful reminders of picnics on the beach, gales blowing and sand in your sandwiches, have been re-discovered. These retro delights are now apparently flavour of the month and are being served in some of our smartest restaurants. However, you won't have to book a table at one of these establishments in order to enjoy them - click on my blog for NOVEMBER and you will find my easy recipe! Bon appetit!

LIGHT SERVING SUGGESTION>>>>

(03/01/11)

SPINACH AND POACHED EGG BAKE

This is a really easy, inexpensive and delicious treat to have either at lunchtime or for supper after a heavy lunch. This is for one serving, but multiply it for how many mouths you have to feed.

1 (or two if you are hungry) free range egg(s)
1 packet of organic spinach
A couple of tablespoons of light (half fat) creme fraiche
2 tablespoons of grated cheese: emmental, gruyere or cheddar
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Turn on the grill to heat.

1. Boil a shallow pan of water and drop in the egg. Allow to poach for a couple of minutes and lift out with a slotted spoon onto a saucer.

2. Put the washed spinach into a pan with no extra water but with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring every couple of minutes until wilted. Drain well, squeezing out as much of the water as you can.

3. Put the drained spinach into a small oven proof dish and place the poached egg on top.

4. Mix together the creme fraiche and the grated cheese and add the nutmeg - a few grates will do. Add some freshly ground pepper and a pinch of salt. Spoon on top of the egg and place under a hot grill until bubbling and turning golden brown.

5. Serve immediately with some crispy, warm French bread.

FAMILY GET-TOGETHER

(02/01/11)

First of all, happy New Year to everyone! I can't say I am sorry to kiss goodbye to 2010 except that in 2011 I shall reach the ripe old age of 60, the only advantage I can see is that I shall be entitled to (not my pension – that has to wait until next year) a 10% discount at B&Q!

After Christmas, it was the turn of my side of the family (two brothers plus kids, other halves and children = 12 in all) to come over to us, and as I didn't think we could all fit around the dining room table, I decided to do a massive pasta bake and salad so that we could sit where we wanted. It worked out really well and in fact, by putting small people on laps and juggling the chairs, we did in fact eat together in the dining room.

PASTA BAKE

1 free range, organic chicken – boiled gently in a large pan with water, carrots, celery, onions, a leek, carrots, bay leaf, parsley, a teaspoon of sea salt and some pepper corns. When thoroughly cooked (the legs and thighs will come away easily from the carcase) remove from the stock and allow to cool. When cold enough to handle, remove the skin and discard and lift off the meat, cutting it into chunks. Keep the stock for soup.

For the bake itself you will need:

2 courgettes, sliced,
2 leeks, thoroughly washed and sliced
1 head of broccoli cut into small pieces
1 red pepper, de-seeded and cut into small chunks
2 cloves of garlic
1 punnet of organic mushrooms, quickly washed and sliced
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
1 tub of crème fraiche (half-fat if wished)
1 pint of milk
2 oz flour
2 oz butter
1 heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard
grated cheese – I used emmental and gruyere (cheddar is too greasy) grating about a good pint and a quarter's worth in a measuring jug
couple of slices of fresh brown bread whizzed to crumbs
Italian herbs (optional): basil, oregano, parsley

1 ½ packets of dried pasta – I used spirals but it really doesn't matter what shape you choose, although avoid spaghetti or tagliatelle

1. Boil a large, deep pan of water. Add a teaspoon of salt and when bubbling, throw in the pasta. Stir and almost cover with the lid – keep a long handled wooden spoon in the pot which will prevent the lid from closing completely – if it does, it will boil over.
2. Heat a frying pan, add a very small quantity of oil or a little water (this will evaporate) and cook the sliced mushrooms until almost done. Remove from the heat, place in a small dish and add all the other vegetables to the frying pan.
3. By this time the pasta should be al dente (almost cooked). Drain quickly. leaving some of the cooking liquid with the pasta, and pour into a very large, deep roasting dish. Add the cooked mushrooms and the other vegetables. No need to mix at this point as you need to make your CHEESE SAUCE.

CHEESE SAUCE

Melt the butter and flour in a non-stick pan and bring to the boil, stirring for a minute. Add the milk gradually, using a whisk to blend with the butter/flour mixture so that there are no lumps. Stir until it begins to bubble and thicken. Remove from the heat and add the grated cheese. Mix in until this has melted and then add the mustard and about half a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg, followed by the crème fraiche. Season with a good few grinds of black pepper and a little salt. Pour this onto the pasta and vegetables and mix thoroughly. As one of the family is vegetarian I decanted a helping onto a separate dish. As the rest are meat eaters, I added the cooked chicken and mixed everything together, levelling off before adding the topping. This comprised brown breadcrumbs and a good couple of tablespoons of extra grated cheese. Sprinkle this on top and either (if it is going to be eaten immediately) place in a hot oven to heat through and the top to turn crispy and golden, or put to one side to heat up later.

I served it with a huge mixed green salade spread out on a china platter with a jug of simple vinaigrette served separately so that everyone could help themselves. The vinaigrette was made from 1/3 red wine vinegar to 2/3 sunflower oil, salt and pepper. I didn't use olive oil (too strongly flavoured) but rapeseed is nice and full of omega whatsits.

PUDDING

This was very simple and again Do It Yourself. I bought several packets of good quality meringue nests, put them into a pretty glass bowl. I peeled and sliced a mango and put this in a glass dish and gently stewed a frozen packet of mixed red berries, cooking them until the juices began to flow. A pint of extra thick double cream completed the pud. It meant that everyone could build their own pudding and anything left over was fine for another day – with a pavlova, if it isn't finished in one go the meringue goes soggy and it has to be put in the bin.


One of the presents my dear husband gave me was Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Menus. I hadn't had time to look at it before I read in the paper that various people had tried some of the recipes to see if they could beat the clock – amazingly none could. Some took over 90 minutes to achieve the end result, some less but all declared defeat. This was like a red rag to a bull for me and I picked up the gauntlet to see if I could do any better. I haven't as yet decided what to do as I don't have the necessary ingredients and it would mean a special shop, and with petrol prices rocketing through the roof I am grouping all my jobs into one car trip. I shall let you know how I get on.