Bryony's Blog

QUICK AND CHEAP PASTA DISH

(17/06/11)

This is a very simple and extremely cheap pasta bake where you can actually savour the tastes of the vegetables alongside the pasta.

You will need the following which will either feed two hungry appetites or four smaller ones, particularly if accompanied by a green salad:

Dried pasta shapes: spirals, penne, etc.
Small tub of crème fraiche (half fat or full)
1 good cupful of grated emmental cheese
A little cold milk
6 medium tomatoes, cut into small pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced finely
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or chopped
1 tablespoon of concentrated tomato puree
olive oil
bag of spinach or the leafy parts of Swiss chard leaves
salt and pepper

Begin by making the tomato sauce. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and add the onion. Sweat for about five minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Add the tomatoes, stir and cook a further three or four minutes before adding the tomato puree and garlic. Add a little water, season lightly, stir and cover and simmer until the onion is soft – about ten minutes.

Put the pasta on to cook in slightly salted water. Remove and drain when al dente – with a little bite left.

Wash the spinach or chard thoroughly and cook in a pan with no added water until soft. Drain well.

Put the crème fraiche into a bowl and beat with a fork before adding the grated cheese. Add a little milk until the sauce is slightly less thick. Season with salt and pepper and mix in to the cooked pasta.

Grease a gratin dish and pour half the cheesy pasta onto the bottom. Next, scatter the cooked spinach/chard and then pour the tomato sauce on top. Finally, add the remaining pasta.

You can prepare this in advance and then heat up in a medium to hot oven for about twenty minutes until bubbling and hot through. I like to have a crunchy topping so before I put it into the oven I mix a cupful of fresh brown breadcrumbs with some grated cheese and scatter this over the surface. Drizzle with a little olive oil, or dot with butter.

QUICK, TASTY AND HEALTHY BREAKFAST

(07/06/11)

I make porridge most mornings for breakfast but when the sun is shining and there is the promise of a fine day and maybe it's warm enough to eat it in the garden, I have started making a quick, nourishing muesli.

I put a good handful of porridge oats onto a metal baking dish, spreading it out. Recently I bought some spelt flakes and have been doing 50-50 mix which is lovely. Toast under the grill or in a hot oven until the flakes begin to take on a slight nutty brown colour – too much and they will taste burnt.

Then I cut half an apple into small pieces and put them in my bowl along with a tablespoon of mixed sunflower hearts and pumpkin seeds. If I have blueberries I add a heaped tablespoon – if not, a few sultanas for sweetness. Add the cooled flakes, mix it all together and pour on some semi-skimmed milk. There is no need for sugar and the less of this evil commodity I consume, the less I want – it's a bit like salt: your taste buds adjust.

I much prefer this simple, home-made breakfast to a commercial brand, however organic/expensive/exclusive it might be and which is all-singing, all-dancing, containing dried fruits, chopped nuts etc. Whenever I have been tempted I always found a piece of shell which inevitably broke a tooth or knocked out a filling. I am sticking to the DIY muesli in future.

PLAICE WITH FRESH WATERCRESS SAUCE AND BEETROOT

(07/06/11)

This morning I bought two lovely (not too large) plaice from our wet fish shop in the village. James topped and tailed them but kept them on the bone plus the skin. Opposite at the greengrocer's I bought a bunch of watercress and some raw, locally grown beetroot. I really love freshly cooked beets and can't stop myself eating a few slices when they are still piping hot. Once home, I twisted off the leaves and placed the vegetables in a pan, covering them with cold water. Once they came to the boil I left them to simmer gently for about an hour until soft enough to pierce with a skewer. I drained them, refreshed them with cold water and removed the skins by slipping them off with my fingers. I simply sliced them into a bowl and kept them warm to have with the fish.

WATERCRESS SAUCE

You will need for two people:

1 small bunch of watercress
1 small shallot
about two tablespoons of dry wine
two tablespoons of (half fat) creme fraiche
juice of half a small lemon
salt and pepper

Begin by peeling the shallott and chopping it very finely. Put into a small saucepan with the wine and allow to cook gently until the shallot is soft and the wine almost evaporated. Put into a small blender along with the washed watercress and other ingredients. Whizz until smooth. Put into a bowl and then the fridge.

FOR THE FISH:

Rinse the fish under the cold tap and dry on kitchen paper. Heat a frying pan with a small amount of oil. If you like to use butter (I don't), add it once the fish is cooked and you will get a much better flavour. Lightly coat the fish with some flour and put them white skin side down first into the hot pan. Cook gently because you want the centre along the back bone to be cooked through and then turn to cook the other side. I don't like my pork or fish in the slightest bit pink.

Serve with the cold watercress sauce, the sliced beetroot and some thin buttered wholemeal bread.

LET IT RAIN!

(06/06/11)

Well, at last we have had some decent rain. It started yesterday afternoon and as far as I know, fell solidly throughout the night. It will be welcome relief for every farmer and gardener and will revitalise our brown lawn. Also the strong winds have abated. These often do more damage than drought, breaking branches and flattening crops. Let's hope all our water butts are back to overflowing and life can get back to normal.

The wild flower meadow is gradually changing colour from snowy, frothy white to having dots of magenta from the corn cockles, bright royal blue from the cornflowers and scatterings of scarlet from the poppies.

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The bees have been busy, busy, busy collecting pollen and now there are dozens of butterflies joining the throng. I don't regret for one minute either the cost (to us) or hard work (for Mike the Gardener) which has gone into the project.

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I made my first proper pizza this week using a recipe from an American cook book. Actually, it was more of a wholemeal bread dough but none the worse for that. I gave myself an extravagent Christmas present last year in the form of a Kitchen Aid mixer in bright pink – some of the proceeds going to breast cancer research. It has been lying idle, unused but much loved mostly because its arrival coincided with the start of my diet and baking was off limits. However, I am overjoyed at how easy it was to make the yeast dough using the special hook attachment and it has given me confidence to bring it out more often.

Here is another version of a vegetable bake I made the day after the pizza. You will need:

4 eggs
150 ml crème fraiche (half fat or full – up to you)
fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into one inch pieces
6 small roasted baby artichokes cut up into rough chunks
cup of sun blush tomatoes, roughly chopped – these are softer and less leathery than sun dried
1 cup of grated cheese – I used a mixture of emmental and gruyere
bunch of chopped chives – about 2 tablespoons
salt and pepper

Mix the eggs and crème fraiche until well blended and add the cheese and chives. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the bottom of a buttered flat dish with the asparagus, artichokes and tomatoes and pour on the egg mixture.

Bake on the middle shelf of a moderately hot oven for about 30 minutes or until it has set and the top is golden brown. Best eaten warm with a green salad.

CHICKEN RISOTTO

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I can eke out two or three days' worth of meals from one large chicken and this was a recipe for day two. I picked off all the meat from the remains of a roasted chicken and put it to one side. I then made a stock using the bones, skin etc. along with two sticks of celery (cut into chunks), 2 carrots also cut into chunks and a couple of onions, peeled and quartered.

For the risotto you will need (for three - four mouths):

1 medium/large onion peeled and finely sliced or chopped
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 ½ cups of arborio rissotto rice
½ a red pepper de-seeded and chopped finely
fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces
1- 1 ½ pints of good, strong chicken stock – this must be hot
grated parmesan
tablespoon of chopped parsely – optional
small knob of butter (teaspoon) and splash of olive oil
salt and pepper

Take a large shallow pan or deep frying pan and heat. Add the butter and oil and when melted, add the onions. Allow them to sweat and soften for about five minutes, stirring all the while and add the red pepper. Cook a further minute or two, add the garlic and throw in the rice. Stir and fry for about three minutes and then begin to add the hot stock, a couple of ladles at a go. This is a fairly boring process and can take about twenty minutes – the idea is that you want the rice to absorb the stock until it is cooked. After about a quarter of an hour, add the chicken and raw asparagus, along with more stock. When most of the stock has been added, season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and reduce the heat. Continue cooking until the rice is thoroughly cooked (although some people do like a little 'bite' to their rice – I don't) and most of the stock has been absorbed. You want a loose but not too sloppy result.

Stir in the parsley (if using) and serve in hot bowls or dishes. Top with some freshly grated parmesan and torn basil leaves.