Bryony's Blog

INTERESTING PASTA BAKE...

(26/02/11)

Last night I roasted a piece of pork - it was an odd cut - not quite spare ribs, not quite a normal roast - next to the belly but quite lean and extremely tender. There was enough left over for supper, cold with chips and salad and STILL a bit extra which was too good to throw away or to give to our little woofa. I remember, in the long distant past, having had a similar dish - a sort of macaroni - at a posh golf club in Southern Spain which was made with minced pork. Here is what I did with the left overs:

I took all the meat (discarding any fat) from the bones and minced them quickly in the blender.

While the pasta was cooking (spirals in this case) I cleaned and chopped one leek, peeled and chopped one smallish shallot and sweated them in a small pan in a tiny bit of oil, till soft.

In another small bowl I mixed half a small tub of half fat creme fraiche with a teaspoon of Italian dried mixed herbs and some salt and pepper.

When the pasta was al dente, I drained it quickly (retaining a little of the cooking water), put it back in the pan and added a good cupful of grated Emmental cheese, the creamy herb mixture, the leek and shallot and the minced cooked pork.

Into a shallow oven proof dish it went and into a hot oven to bake for about 15 minutes, or until it was really piping throughout and brown on top. It was eaten in less time than it took to cook it!

DIFFERENT RHUBARB PUD

(26/02/11)

Yet another good picking of the forced rhubarb this morning and I decided to stew only half the amount (as I did earlier this week) and cook the rest as follows:

BAKED RHUBARB CUSTARD

Wash the rhubarb thoroughly, removing the leaf and root end, and then cutting the stems into inch long pieces. Put into a shallow oven proof dish.

In a bowl, mix together one large egg, one tablespoon of flour, a small carton of single cream, quite a bit of sugar - the rhubarb is tart - and pour this over the raw fruit. Bake in a moderately hot oven on the middle shelf until it is just beginning to take on a bit of colour - about thirty minutes or so, depending on your oven. If you have an AGA, remove it after about twenty minutes and leave in the simmering oven for a further half hour and then remove.

This is best served at room temperature with an extra sprinkling of caster sugar scattered on top - and a dollop of whipped double cream...I wish...

You could always add to the raw mix some grated nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon or ginger to change the flavours.

I PROMISE I DIDN'T TWEAK THE COLOUR!

(24/02/11)

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This is how the rhubarb and strawberries turned out. It was such a beautiful, jewel-like colour that I had to include it on my blog. It also tasted rather nice!

ROAST POUSSIN

(23/02/11)

This is so easy and quick to prepare, also not expensive if you buy them when on offer. I bought two for 5 and there was more than enough to feed four people.

You will need:

1 poussin (for two people)
hot paprika
dried mixed herbs
garlic clove
lemon
salt and pepper
olive oil

Begin by removing the trussing string from the bird(s). Put about a heaped dessertspoon of paprika into a small bowl, add a couple of teaspoons of dried mixed herbs, juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper to taste and a crushed clove of garlic. Mix well and rub this all over the poussin(s). This can sit in a cool place until you are ready to put it into the oven, or cook it straight away.

Place on a shallow roasting dish, drizzle (or spray as I did) with a little olive oil and roast in the middle of a moderately hot oven for about 40 minutes, or until the juices run clear. Baste it once or twice if you remember to during the cooking. When done, leave to rest for a few minutes, drain off any fat, and cut the bird into quarters. Serve with the cooking juices, chips and a green salad.

This is also great picnic food if served cold with lots of nibbly bits to chew on, eating it with your fingers!

THE FIRST RHUBARB OF THE YEAR!

(23/02/11)

A cause for celebration! About a month ago I placed our old terracotta forcing pots over the rhubarb plants and then forgot about them. This morning, on my way back from the chickens, I took a peak and to my delight there was a mass of beautiful, pink fleshy stalks growing. I picked a huge bunch in minutes. The photograph shows this heavenly harvest, sitting on our old wrought iron bench which we have just recently had resprayed a deep cherry pink - much to my brother's horror! I have yet to convince him that this 'statement' colour will look gorgeous in the spring with the tulips and then in the summer with geraniums.

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How I cooked the rhubarb:

Wash thoroughly (slugs love the warm confines of the forcing pot) and trim off the bright leaves and the slippery root end. DON'T be tempted to eat the leaves - they are poisonous!

Cut up with scissors into 1" lengths and put in a shallow pan. I always have frozen strawberries in the freezer which I picked up the lane at the farm and I love cooking them with rhubarb. As I am still trying to cut down on sugar they add a natural sweetness. I put in about a couple of handfuls and then added the juice of one orange and sugar to taste.

Bring it gently to simmering point and stir carefully - you don't want to break up the fruit. Cooking it slowly will keep it relatively whole. When soft enough to be pierced with a knife, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Serve with custard made from your own eggs - what could be a better harbinger of spring?

THEY'RE BACK!!!

(17/02/11)

Looking through the kitchen window this morning at around 8 o'clock there, before my eyes, were our two faithful, old friends. Who are they, you might well ask, turning up uninvited at such an early hour? They are wild mallards and have been visiting our garden now every spring for years. The first time they landed on the lawn was much later in March. Ma said that first time that we ought to name them and, since Gwynneth Paltrow had just won an Oscar it was a sign: they should be called Gwynneth and Oscar Poultry. They have now been coming to visit for years - I didn't google the exact year, but it must be well over five years. They have had chicks under the artichoke plants, on the flat roof of the cottage, under the ivy (snuggled against a wall) in an enclosed courtyard and heaven knows where else. They are absolutely devoted to each other and while Gwynneth fills her boots on corn and brown bread on the terrace, Oscar watches patiently over. Only when she scuttles off to the pond does he allow himself a bite. They are well over a month early, normally arriving (obviously at the time of the Oscars in March) and are in fine fettle. I wonder where they will make their nest this year?

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VALENTINE'S DAY

(15/02/11)

FLOURLESS FRUIT SURPRISES

I experimented this week making small fruit 'souffles' without flour, using ground almonds instead. It didn't quite work out as I had hoped partly because I rushed things and hadn't mixed the egg yolk properly with the almonds and once cooked there were a few lumps. In spite of this it did taste really good and for Valentine's night I made them again, but with a few adjustments. This amount makes four individual puds:

approximately 10oz frozen red fruits: either raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, blueberries etc. or a mixture of several. Whatever tickles your fancy.
2 eggs
sugar to taste
50g ground almonds
heaped tablespoon of dark chocolate chips (found in the baking section)

First stew the fruit on a gentle heat with enough sugar to taste. Don't boil but bring to a simmer and remove from the heat when the juices have begun to run. Leave to cool and then pass through a sieve. You want to end up with about pint of puree.

Just before you are ready to have your pudding, heat the oven for medium/hot and boil a kettle of water. Next separate the egg yolks from the whites. Blend the yolks with the fruit puree using a fork or small hand whisk. Add the ground almonds and a litte more (a heaped teaspoon) of sugar.
Make sure the bowl in which you are going to whisk the egg whites is squeaky clean and whisk until they are firm but not too stiff you want soft peaks.

Add the chocolate chips to the fruit puree and fold in the whisked egg whites. Pour into small individual ramekins 10cm in diameter by 7cm high three quarters of the way up. Put them into a small baking dish and half fill with boiling water and place in the centre of the oven for about 10-15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes to see how they are getting on don't be scared, just open the oven door slowly to avoid a sudden draught. You want them to have risen and for the top to have taken on a little colour. When cooked, remove from the oven, carefully lift them onto a cold plate and dust the souffles with a little icing sugar and serve immediately. As it was Valentine's night, I decorated mine with a heart. Aaaah!

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UPDATE: Well, they certainly worked better than at the first attempt and the flavour of the chocolate worked well with the fruit. They weren't too sweet but be warned, they do sink as soon as they come out of the oven this didn't affect the taste though!

NOTE 1: If you don't have small ramekins/dishes of these dimensions, (you can order them by mail from Dave Sharp at the Hurstpierpoint Cook Shop) you can always use a larger souffle dish, but bear in mind that it will take a little longer to cook.

NOTE 2: I am going to experiment with pureed apricots, plums, rhubarb or peaches adding the seeds from a vanilla pod to the mix and instead of ground almonds I might try fresh, white breadcrumbs which should make it even lighter and fluffier. In this instance, I would probably not include the chocolate chips. I shall report back when I have had a go.

Yesterday Tim came to work on the pond, clearing the sludge, checking the filter, pump etc. and for company I let out the girls. They took only minutes to find their way from the field to the garden and spent most of the day mucking about near the terrace and eating anything Tim had deposited on the flower beds. Spring is on its way!

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I've devoured the pansies, now it's time for a drink!

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BONELESS LAMB STEW A MA FACON

(10/02/11)

Fed up with spitting out tiny chips of bone (even though I always wash the meat first) when I cook a lamb casserole I made this one using boneless lamb fillets.

You will need (for four):

Four pieces of fillet approximately 3-4 in length, cut into medallions
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
1 stick of celery, sliced
1 teaspoon of worcestershire sauce
sprinkle of mixed herbs
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 Knorr vegetable stock pot, Marigold bouillon or pint of your own stock
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
pepper and salt
fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon of cornflour
2 tablespoons of cold milk

Begin by heating an oven proof casserole and spray the bottom with a little oil. Fry the medallions on both sides for a minute or two to seal them and so that they take on a little colour. You may have to do this in two batches. Lift with a slotted spoon and put to one side.

Add the onions, carrots, garlic and celery to the lamb juices in the casserole and sweat for five minutes, stirring once or twice.

Add the meat, the stock, herbs, worcestershire sauce, a good grind or two of black pepper and water. Don't use any salt at this stage but taste once it is cooked and add accordingly the stock will contain salt. Stir, bring to the boil and either simmer very, very gently on top of the stove, cook in a slow oven or cook in the bottom (simmering) oven of an Aga until the meat is very tender (approximately 1 hours). It will cook more quickly with direct bottom heat.

Off the heat, take two or three pieces of kitchen paper and drag along the top of the stew to pick up the fat and throw away.

Put the cornflour into a small bowl and stir in the milk until it is smooth. By using cold milk you will not get any lumps. Pour this into the stew along with the parsley and stir. Bring gently back to the boil so that the juices thicken.

Serve with mashed potato.

BAKED STUFFED CABBAGE

(09/02/11)

Last night we had a small piece of rib of beef which I pan fried to brown it all over and then roasted in the oven for a further thirty minutes. There was some left over, but as it wasn't suitable to slice for cold beef I cut off all the fat the remains and minced it in the whizzer. I had intended to use it to stuff a marrow but as there weren't any for sale I opted for a nice round, crunchy, organic cabbage instead.

This is what you will need:

Left over roast meat lamb, pork, beef, chicken whatever about 8-10 oz ***. Mince this or blitz in a processor making sure it doesn't pulverise into a paste
1 round cabbage Savoy or a.n. other
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
paprika
concentrated chicken stock or fresh stock of your own even Bouillon
teaspoon of dried mixed herbs
teaspoon of Worcester sauce
tin of chopped tomatoes in juice
1 sachet of easy cook brown rice (eg Uncle Ben's)

Begin by cooking the rice until just al dente it will cook further later when mixed with the mince.
Heat a frying pan and add a small amount of oil, then the chopped onions and garlic and a splash of water. Cook and stir for about five minutes before adding the minced meat. Stir, add the chicken stock, herbs, Worcester sauce, a good sprinkle of paprika and a little stock enough to moisten.

Trim the base of the cabbage and remove any rough outer leaves. Then cut a cross through the core three quarters of the way through to the bottom and a circle inside the cabbage. Dig around with your knife, cutting as you go. Then, using a spoon, scoop out the heart e so that you end up with a hollow cabbage 'bowl' about half and inch thick. Don't throw out the discarded middle but store it in a plastic bag and cook next day in a stir fry. Boil the kettle and put the cabbage in one piece into a deep saucepan. Pour over the boiling water (there's no need to cover it completely) put on the lid and steam for about five minutes to soften the leaves. Drain, peel off one of the outer leaves and put to one side this will be your lid. Tip the tin of tomatoes into the bottom of an oven proof casserole deep and wide enough to accommodate the cabbage and then place this on top of the tomatoes.

Remove the bag of almost cooked rice from the boiling water, split it with a knife and add about three quarter of it to the mince and onions, etc. You probably won't have enough room in the cabbage to use it all. As rice doesn't store (it can be contaminated with a bacteria which can give you a nasty tummy) either eat it as a side dish to the cooked cabbage, or give it to the birds or your chickens, if you have any!

Carefully pile the mince and rice mixture into the cavity of the cabbage and place the single large cabbage leaf on top to act as a lid. Put the cover on the casserole and bake in a moderately hot oven for about thirty minutes and then reduce the heat slightly to finish cooking for a further twenty minutes of so. If you have an AGA transfer it to the bottom (simmering) oven. Have a check to see that it hasn't dried out if so, add some more water or stock.

This is the basic recipe I did today but you could always add some pine nuts to the mix, different (fresh) herbs, olive oil (I am on a diet, remember...), perhaps a little red wine when you fry the mince it's up to you. This can be cooked in advance and reheated later and is a complete meal in itself with no need for anything else.

***You could always start with raw pork, lamb or beef mince if you haven't got any left over roast. Just make sure you fry it first in small batches so that it browns nicely and doesn't end up as a dull, grey lump of meat!

Today: We thoroughly enjoyed this supper dish and Catherine's daughter Ellie (aged 12+) had seconds. I shall definitely do it again.

LIGHT LUNCH

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When shopping (and against my better judgment - think of the distance it has travelled...) I bought a beautiful bunch of really fat, juicy looking asparagus. Normally I ignore it partly because this particular vegetable looses flavour the minute it has been picked, however...

I was given a tall saucepan with an inner sieve-like container by a dear friend Karl and it is perfect for steaming asparagus upright. I poached a couple of eggs in a shallow frying pan of water into which I had added a capful of white wine vinegar. When ready to serve I gave Jimmy's asparagus a good knob of butter before laying the egg on top and simply waved the butter knife at mine. With a little salt and freshly grated pepper, some crunchy French bread for Jimmy (nothing for me) it was a delicious meal and my halo is shining so brightly I shall have to wear dark glasses!

EASY TURKEY ESCALOPES A LA MILANESE

(07/02/11)

SUNDAY SUPPER


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Still thinking in terms of low fat/low carbs but not no fat/no carbs this is a tasty, filling and quick meal. For four people you will need:

2 large free range turkey breast steaks - cheaper and easier to find than veal
1 tin of chopped tomatoes in juice
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
teaspoon of sugar
four slices of wholemeal bread, blitzed to a fine crumb in the blender
zest of an unwaxed lemon (cut into four pieces afterwards and serve with the cooked turkey)
Grated parmesan - optional
1 large egg, beaten
small dish of flour
virgin olive oil
dried pasta of your choice I used spaghetti


Begin by stretching a piece of cling film onto your work surface. Lay on one of the turkey steaks and either fold over the cling film or stretch another piece on top. Bash the meat with a rolling pin until it is much thinner, rolling it out as well until you are happy with the thickness: less than a quarter of an inch is ideal. Cut into two (or more if you wish) and remove any white stringy bits.

You can prepare this part in advance, in fact it is better done a couple of hours ahead. Begin by mixing the lemon zest in the bread crumbs. You can also add some finely grated parmesan (about a tablespoonful) if you like. Next, dip each piece of turkey breast into the flour and set aside. Coat them in the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs. Lay them (not touching) onto a plate and leave in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

For the tomato sauce, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan and add the garlic and stir. After a few moments, pour in the tomatoes, a pinch of salt, good grinding of black pepper and a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar this cuts back the acidity of the tomatoes. Leave to simmer until it has reduced and is slightly jammy. This also can be prepared in advance and is the easiest, quickest sauce for any sort of pasta to be served as a meal on its own plus shredded basil and lots of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese.

Before putting on the pasta, put the turkey pieces onto a heated oven sheet and drizzle (or spray) with a little olive oil. Bake in a moderately hot oven on the middle shelft for about 20 minutes or less, depending on the thickness of the escalopes of turkey until they are nicely browned and crispy. Make sure there are no runny pink juices.

Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of slightly salted boiling water until al dente there is no advantage of adding oil to the water, but make sure it is bubbling furiously before you add the dried pasta, stirring it every now and again to prevent sticking. Drain quickly and, with some of the cooking water still attached to the pasta, tip it back into the pan and keep warm.

Serve with the spaghetti to one side of the plate topped with some of the tomato sauce, alongside the crispy turkey escalopes and a good wedge of lemon.

QUAIL WITH GRAPES

(06/02/11)

SATURDAY SUPPER FOR FOUR OR FOR TWO WITH GREEDY APPETITES!


For a pleasant change from chicken I opted to thaw four free range quail I had in the freezer. When they were thoroughly defrosted I cut the elastic truss and discarded it and then removed the tiny, brittle wishbones from each bird. It is a bit fiddly to do, but if you have a sharp, pointed knife you can winkle around the bone and then either cut or pull it out in one go. It will probably snap so make sure you have removed any remaining shards.

You will need, apart from the birds, the following ingredients:

4-6 oz green, seedless grapes if you manage to find a shop selling muscat grapes (they are in season for a brief period in the summer months) these will add a unique flavour to the dish
1 medium/large shallot, peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and pepper
a little chicken stock (about 1/3 pint)
tablespoon or two of brandy

Begin by heating a little (tablespoon) of olive oil in a cast iron casserole and add the chopped shallot and garlic, plus a good splash of water. Stir every few moments and by the time the water has evaporated the shallot will have softened.

Add the whole birds and brown briefly on each side. Spoon on the brandy and carefully ignite it with a match this will burn off the alcohol but leave a delicious flavour. Surround the birds with the grapes (cut in half), the chicken stock and gently season with salt and pepper. If you use a concentrated chicken stock cube or liquid it will be very salty in its undiluted state so before adding it to the casserole, mix with water in a jug and then add the required amount to the dish. Use the left over stock for soup.

Cover with the lid and either simmer very gently on the top of the stove or cook in a moderately hot oven for about 20-30 minutes or until the birds are cooked through and there are no pink juices.

You can either serve the quail whole or, for fussy eaters, you can carefully lift off the breast meat and cut away the legs and thighs and serve only these pieces on the bone. They are definitely best eaten with your fingers!

Ordinary, fluffy mashed potato goes best as it marries perfectly with the tangy juices and any green vegetable of your choice.

A TIP FROM A FRIEND: For those of you who like to wrap a skinned chicken breast in parm ham and find it is too fragile and flimsy to keep in one piece, a friend of mine uses dried Black Forest ham. It is sturdier and easier to handle, imparts a delicious, smoky flavour and has the added bonus of being cheaper than its Italian cousin.

SIMPLE FRIED FISH WITH EGG SAUCE

(06/02/11)

Lately we have been enjoying visits from friends for lunch rather than for an evening meal and fish is the ideal dish. It is light, quick to prepare and cook and since we have a wonderful wet fish shop in the village, too good an opportunity to miss. As a special treat I love John Dory. It is a firm, meaty, very white fish and fillets beautifully, one fillet being sufficient for one serving. It's not cheap, but there are no fiddly bones which can spoil the pleasure. As an accompaniment I make a very easy sauce with vinegar, white wine, butter, shallots and cream and serve it only with simple, plain, steamed potatoes. It is called sauce au beurre blanc and will be in all the cookery books. I use Rick Stein's which never fails.

Simon had sold out of John Dory so I chose two beautiful bream caught off the shore at Brighton. He skinned and filleted them for me but when I unwrapped them there remained a few tiny little bones along the centre of each fillet. Using a sharp knife I cut as close as I could on both sides of the row of bones so that the fillets were completely bone free.

Instead of the butter sauce I made an egg sauce. This is so easy and simple to make. It is silky, velvety and goes extremely well with fried fish. As there were four of us I hard boiled four of our own very fresh eggs, peeled off the shells and roughly chopped the cooked eggs. Then I made a white sauce with 1 oz of butter melted in a pan along with a tablespoon of flour. I let this come to the boil, stirring all the while before adding about pint of milk. You need to stir briskly to prevent lumps from forming. If they do, use a hand whisk and this will do the trick. Let it bubble to the boil for a minute to cook the flour thoroughly, add the chopped eggs and season well with salt and pepper. Keep it warm and serve in a dish with a small ladle. It needs to be thick but not solid.

HOW TO COOK THE FISH

Have a dish in which you have put about three tablespoonsful of flour. Grate the zest of a lemon, season with salt and pepper and mix well. Heat a frying pan and add a small amount of oil sunflower for example. Pat the fish dry on some kitchen paper and coat with the seasoned flour. Lay gently in the hot fat (not smoking!) and when all the fillets are in the pan (if you are cooking quite a few fish you may need to have two pans on the go), add a knob of butter for flavour. As the fish will cook extremely quickly, turn it after a minute or so to cook the other side.

Serve immediately with a lemon cut into four and with the steamed potatoes over which you have sprinkled some chopped parsley.

GARDEN SAFARI PARK

(01/02/11)

For the first time today, it being the 1st February perhaps, I really felt with huge relief and happiness that the worst of the winter is now behind us. The birds were singing, there was a little (albeit watery) sunshine and no ice on the car windscreen. As I have done over the past week, I let out the chickens so that they could roam free in the field and the garden and immediately they headed for the terrace by the kitchen window. They amused themeselves for hours hoovering up the birdseed discarded from the feeders by the blue tits who were telling me quite clearly that they didn't like the new mixed food I bought yesterday and preferred sunflower hearts. Ha! At the price they are at the moment, they'll have to settle with what's on offer. The chickens didn't mind and did a great job of eating everything on the ground until they discovered the small pansies in the tubs, eating the young leaves with relish and the mannerisms of a dowager duchess taking her young nephew to tea at the Ritz.

I gave up on the ironing to stand and look out of the kitchen window at the animal and bird activity. The garden had become a safari park: in no time at all I counted seven blackbirds, already pairing up, too many goldfinches to count, dozens of blue and great tits, sparrows, a little Billy-no-mates-solitary wagtail, two squirrels, a greater spotted woodpecker, joy of joys a thrush, greenfinches, chaffinches, pigeons as fat and as solidly built as our near defunct battleships cruising up the lawn in formation, a Jenny wren scuttling from underneath a large terracotta tub, robins and a nuthatch who was struggling to get at the remaining peanuts. In amongst all this band of featherhood wandered our four girls, clucking, chattering and nibbling at anything to hand. I could watch them for hours.