Wednesday, 25 March 2015

slow cooker sweet potato corn chowder

... I went for the most incredible walk on Sunday.  We're lucky in Belleau because I can quite literally walk out the door and i'm in the middle of nowhere with beautiful walks in every direction but on Sunday it was like walking through one of those idyllic pastoral paintings by Constable.  Firstly the sun was finally shining and even though it was cold, that glowing ball of fire does make a big difference to the psych.  The fields are littered with lambs who bleat at every sound so that when you walk past it's like having the soundtrack of Spring follow you where ever you go.  For the longest time I found myself sitting on a fence with the little lambs frolicking at my feet as their mothers eyed me suspiciously... and yes, whilst they will make someone a superb Sunday roast one day, today they are the epitome of life and renewal.  I then made my way over to the Claythorpe Watermill which is a local wildlife attraction set in a 16th Century watermill.  It's a beautiful location and one that The Viking and I went to see when it first went up for sale because we had an idea about moving on and setting up a local tourism company... I really wish we had.  The current owners have done such a wonderful job of restoration and improvement and they make a mean scone and tea too - well worth a visit if you're ever in the neighbourhood.  I may even be collaborating with them on something a little special this summer... so watch this space... and then once I left the watermill I headed home.  The day had turned cold but luckily I had a warm fire and this glorious bowl of soup waiting in the slow cooker for me.

slow cooker sweet potato corn chowder
this is another exemplary dish from the brilliant Slow Cooked by Miss South... I use my slow-cooker at least once a week now and between my own inventions and those inspired by Miss South to ensure i'm not making too much brown sludge, I have to say I've not grown tired of it yet.  As a kitchen gadget it sits on top of the stove like a regular pan and is a much loved and trusted little soldier.  This soup is phenomenally easy to make yet yields the ultimate in warm and hearty comfort food.  Corn chowder always reminds me of trips to San Francisco and walks along the piers. Sourdough soup bowls and the aromatic tang of salty, fishy sea air...

2 sweet potatoes - diced into roughly 2cm cubes
1 medium potato - diced into roughly 2cm cubes
1 large carrot - diced into roughly 2cm cubes
200g frozen sweetcorn - thawed
500ml good quality vegetable stock
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
200ml milk

place all the vegetables, chilli and seasoning into you slow cooker, pour over the stock and cook on low for 7 hours.  After this time remove a large ladle-full of soup (liquid and vegetables) then add the milk and blend the whole thing with a stick blender - not too smooth - then pour back in the ladle-full off soup and mix together for a chunky/smooth soup blend

this being made in my slow cooker I am entering it into the brilliant Slow Cooked Challenge hosted by Janice from Farmersgirl Kitchen.  I very often get the theme wrong for this challenge and Janice very kindly still lets me enter (maybe someone should update the very bold 'current challenge' link on their blog post a little more often - ahem) but this month, with the addition of chilli, I have hit the spicy theme right on the head...

eat and of course, enjoy!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

mystery freezer cake with honey lemon buttercream icing

... it may be the Spring equinox this weekend but for me, the arrival of Spring is not officially here until two things happen.  The first is when the daffodils at Belleau Cottage come fully out.  This always happens later than those in gardens in London which can be as early as February some years but up here in the middle of the country it's always a little later than down south and I presume it's a little earlier than in my friends gardens further north.  When we moved into the cottage 11 years ago it was September so we had no idea what lay beneath the bank of dried and yellowing grass at the front of the cottage so in that first Spring we were truly delighted.  It can be such a pretty sight, even on a dull day... all that sunshine on the roadside...

.. the second is that moment when we arrive at the cottage late at night on a Thursday or Friday... it's pitch black outside and the cottage stands like a black hole silhouetted against the vast starry sky.  The car engine switches off and all is silent until we open the car door to be greeted by the beautiful bleating of the Spring lambs.  It's too dark to make them out in the field opposite the cottage but we know they are there and it sends joy into my heart... Spring has arrived.

mystery freezer cake with honey lemon buttercream icing
my mum always has cake in her freezer... if there was an apocalypse and for some strange reason you needed cake, head for north London for you shall always find cake.  Her reasoning, as always, is sound.  Why make one cake when you can make two at the same time making the same mess and using the same power.  It's ideal for when random friends pop in unexpectedly, a frozen cake makes an excellent gift to someone who's just eaten and admired your cake - 'take one home, I have one in the freezer!' and it's also the perfect piece of frozen love to travel 2 hours up the motorway with and arrive with a fully thawed-out delicious home-made cake.  Unlike my mum, I don't label my cakes when they go into the freezer so on the occasion when i'm too tired to bake but need a cake to give to a friend as a birthday gift it usually ends up as a mystery cake.

I've tried looking back over my blog to see what kind of cake it can be and at first I thought it was this honey cake but on cutting it open I think it's probably this brown sugar cake with apples and figs... either way it's gorgeous!

the icing was of course made fresh to give the cake a boost... this honey lemon butter cream is phenomenal, it's the perfect combination of sweet and bitter with the added zing of the lemon zest.  I cannot recommend it enough!

115g unsalted butter at room temperature
260g icing sugar
85g runny honey
juice and zest of one lemon
extra honey for drizzling

100ml whipping cream

in a large bowl beat the butter with an electric whisk for at least 3 minutes until light and fluffy, then add the icing sugar a little at a time and beat in gently to avoid clouds of sugar

add the honey and the cream and beat in followed by the zest and a little of the juice according to taste - I like it nice and sharp

whip the cream to a firm consistency and fold in gently into the buttercream icing

smother the cake in the icing in any way you fancy and drizzle with a little more honey to serve

eat and of course, enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Viking cooks...veggie mince lasagne

... i'm still not 100% well.  This has been the longest bout of flu i've ever experienced.  It's been horrid and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.  I'm hoping it's not because i'm older.  I know quite a few people of all ages who've suffered from this and it seems as though it's been a long illness for everyone but I do worry about how my age is effecting things when it comes to my health.  All this has not been helped by the fact that mum turned up for Mother's Day lunch with an article she'd cut out of The Times about men's health and their age.  It was grouped into decades and spelt out keys facts about what you should be doing in your life now that you're in your 30's / 40's / 50's etc... she said she'd brought it for The Viking (bless) but I felt compelled to read it anyway... you could tell she'd pulled it from The Times as one of the top tips for a healthier lifestyle for someone in their 40's was to 'grow your own vegetables'... thanks for that...

veggie mince lasagne
sometimes, when i'm feeling generous and my guard is down, I let The Viking into the kitchen.  He is in fact a more than competent cook and if I allowed him to get on with in unhindered i'm sure we'd eat like kings.  The issue is that i'm a control freak and I can't let go, so even though I was feeling like death warmed up this last weekend I still had to hover over his shoulder, which of course he hates.  Whilst he's very creative in the kitchen he tends to have little patience for cooking and so i'm forever turning down the heat on searing hot frying pans and boiling liquids... if only he'd learn this one simple thing he'd be far less stressed and our food would be far less burnt...  other than this the results are usually pretty phenomenal...

even though lasagne is, i'm sure, a staple in most house-holds we very rarely eat it.  The Viking is not a big van of what he calls 'tomato goo' which very often seems to be the typical vegetarian offering when people don't know what to cook... it's a shame because I actually love a bit of tomato goo but I guess it also means that it feels a little more special when we do eat it.  I love the fact that The Viking chose to use my loaf tin to make this lasagne.  It's actually the perfect size for two and means we're not over-eating a giant tray of food.  Well, he thought he was pretty clever anyway...

for the bolognese sauce:
1 medium onion - chopped
2 garlic cloves - finely crushed
1 celery stick - finely chopped
2 packets of 300g frozen Quorn Mince
1 large 250g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 large 250g tin of vegetable stock
2 teaspoons tomato puree
1 courgette - diced
1 glass of white wine
fresh rosemary and thyme
2 bay leaves

for the cheese sauce
75g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 pint of liquid made up of half milk and half vegetable stock
8oz of strong cheddar - grated
1 teaspoon of French mustard

- to make the sauce, gently saute the onions, garlic and celery in a large heavy pan until the onions are translucent, add the mushrooms and let them sweat until tender, then add the mince, stir and let the whole lot sweat gently for about 5 minutes as the mince soaks up all the vegetable juices

- add the tomatoes then refill the tin with hot vegetable stock and add that too, then add the rest of the ingredients, stir and let it simmer very gently for at east an hour

- to make the cheese sauce, melt the butter over a gentle heat, remove the pan from the heat, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until all the butter is absorbed

- place the pan back onto the gentle heat and add a little of the milk/stock and stir continuously until it becomes a smooth paste.  Slowly add a little of the liquid whilst stirring until all the liquid has gone and the sauce becomes nice and thick, then let the sauce cook a little.

- after about 5 minutes add the grated cheese and mustard and stir until melted

- pre-heat the oven to 180c

- take a large ovenproof dish and layer the lasagne, sauce first, then pasta, then cheese sauce... I try and go for 3 layers, finishing with white sauce and topping with freshly torn mozzarella and a little more grated cheddar

- bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until beautifully golden on top

eat and of course, enjoy!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

roasted butternut squash, broccoli and pea all-in-one pie

... yesterday I had lunch with a dear friend... she has recently finished working at a company where she'd been for over twenty years and where - with no exaggeration - she helped shape the face of the British PR industry.  She started working in the industry, like me, at a time when we didn't even have email, let alone the internet. Connections were made by going out and meeting people, literally running from company to company with news, samples, details of new products... we built up our little black books alongside our contemporaries and new information was like gold.  It simply doesn't happen that way anymore.  It seems there is very little respect for working ones way up through the ranks, we want instant glory without the graft.  I'm not actually complaining here, it's just a reflection on the way it has become.  I was helping my friend set up a blog.  As you can imagine she's had an incredible life with some wonderful stories to tell and she wants a place to write it all down... I really enjoyed helping her start her on-line diary but it fascinated me that she doesn't have a Facebook account... even my mum has a Facebook account!  In this world that we populate with our blogs and social media I can't think of anything more liberating than not having a Facebook account... don't worry though dear reader.  This still remains very much a fantasy...

roasted butternut squash, broccoli and pea pie
As I mentioned in the last post, I inadvertently made puff pasty the other day... I had wanted to make regular shortcrust but I think my butter was too cold so it didn't fully crumble and then I made the dough too wet so I chilled it for longer than usual and then when I was ready to use it I thought that the best way to deal with it was to treat it like puff pastry and fold it a few times... well as you can see from both posts there's no complaints from me but I do love how a simple accident can make for a stunning pastry, a pastry that can send fear into the hearts of the hardiest cooks!

Spring was most definitely in the air last weekend when I made this pie and I chose the ingredients to reflect the transition from colder months into warmer... the butternut squash adding it's rich creaminess to the lighter, fresher flavours coming from the peas and broccoli.  Of course it's still chilly enough to warrant a thick cheesy white sauce and this one is a classic.  The whole dish can be a little time consuming but oh boy is it worth it...

for the pastry
220g plain flour
100g butter - cold but not fridge cold - cut into small pieces
a pinch of salt
a little cold water
a tablespoon of dried oregano
75g strong cheddar - grated

for the cheese sauce
40g butter
40g plain flour
1 pint of milk or 1/2 pint of milk and 1/2 pint stock
75g strong cheddar (or any cheese)

for the filling
1 butternut squash - peeled and diced
150g sprouting long-stemmed broccoli - chopped
100g frozen peas
salt and pepper
fresh rosemary and thyme
olive oil

to make the pastry, sieve the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub it into the flour, raising your hands high as you do to allow plenty of air to get into the flour.  This rubbing process will not be easy as the butter is cold but you're not after a fine breadcrumb, you want some large pieces of butter in there

add the oregano and salt and mix in then add a few drops of water and using one hand shaped like a claw begin to stir the flour and butter together, it should start to come together into a dough but you'll need a dribble in a little more water for it to fully come together... I actually ended up with far too wet a dough

once the dough is formed, tip it out onto some cling film, pat it out into a flattish disk, wrap it up and pop it in the fridge for 15 mins

once cold, take it out of the fridge and, still on the cling film, roll it out to double its size, then you want to envelope-fold the dough, which means folding the top over and the bottom up to create an envelope, then roll flat, turn by 90 degrees and envelope-fold again.  Wrap it back up and refrigerate for a further 30 mins, it should now be ready to use.

pre-heat the oven to 170C

to make the pie, place the butternut squash into your pie dish, drizzle over a little olive oil, season well with salt and pepper and sprinkle over plenty of fresh herbs - cover in foil and roast in the oven for 20 mins, then remove from the oven, un-cover, stir in the broccoli and peas, re-cover and pop back in the oven for a further 10 mins or until the veg are al-dente.  Remove from the oven and set aside

make the cheese sauce by melting the butter gently in a small pan, once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the flour into a smooth but thick paste then add a dash of the milk/stock and stir into a paste.

place the pan back on a gentle heat and slowly add a little milk at a time, stirring well between additions... if it looks like it may become lumpy take the pan off the heat and stir until smooth.  Continue this way until all the milk is gone and you have a nicely thick sauce - let it bubble away very gently on the heat for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.  Add the cheese sauce and set aside

pour the cheese sauce over the vegetables in the pie dish and set aside to cool for at least 15 minutes before you attempt the lattice pastry crust

roll out the pastry into a large oblong and then cut it into 6 long strips and 8 shorter strips (this is just a guide...)

lay the long strips lengthways along pie dish, with gaps in between, then take one shorter strip and, starting from one edge of the pie dish, weave it over and under each long strip... continue this way until all your pastry strips are woven.  I like it looking quite rough and ready but feel free to trim to make it nice and neat

brush with a little beaten egg before baking for 25 mins or until the pastry is golden and puffy

eat and of course, enjoy!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

cheddar and oregano puff pastry straws

... as a food blogger I often get asked if I have a favourite restaurant.  It's at that point that I begin to explain that there are two different kinds of bloggers; restaurant reviewers and recipe bloggers... of course neither are mutually exclusive and in fact even I have turned my hand to a restaurant review every now and then but I do think there is a marked difference between the two.  My mission statement has always been about sharing my love of the food I cook and my recipes.  Anyone can go to a restaurant but not everyone has the confidence, time and ability to cook.  However I think that now we're in the grip of a massive food revolution, both ingredients and establishments of all kinds are front and centre in everyone's minds and of course the obsession with celebrity is fuelling our greed for information about places that people go and infamous chefs... but it's not just people, even the humble burger has become a superstar.  So I do understand why people always ask me about restaurants rather than the food I cook - although that happens too but that's enough ranting for another post... As it happens I do have a favourite restaurant which is a street side cafe on highway one in California called Nepenthe which i've waxed lyrically about on many occasions and it's as much about location as it is about the incredible bowl of french fries... plus it's nice and cheap which is always a bonus.

cheddar and oregano puff pastry straws
I made an extraordinary lattice pie at the weekend, the recipe for which I will share with you later in the week but I was left with a surplus of pastry and it was quite wonderful, handmade 'not-on-purpose' puff-pastry.  I tend to be very lazy with my off-cuts and usually just bin them but I knew that this was extra-special pastry so I thought i'd enhance it with a little cheese and make some very easy cheese straws which as you can imagine, lasted for about 10 seconds once they were out of the oven!

the measurements here are for enough pastry to make a lattice pie with left-overs for these cheese straws but of course you could just make a lot of cheese straws!

I have tried to recreate how I made my mistake puff pastry so the method may seem a bit odd but it worked perfectly well...

220g plain flour
100g butter - cold but not fridge cold - cut into small pieces
a pinch of salt
a little cold water
a tablespoon of dried oregano
75g strong cheddar - grated

sieve the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub it into the flour, raising your hands high as you do to allow plenty of air to get into the flour.  This rubbing process will not be easy as the butter is cold but you're not after a fine breadcrumb, you want some large pieces of butter in there

add the oregano and salt and mix in then add a few drops of water and using one hand shaped like a claw begin to stir the flour and butter together, it should start to come together into a dough but you'll need a dribble in a little more water for it to fully come together... I actually ended up with far too wet a dough

once the dough is formed, tip it out onto some cling film, pat it out into a flattish disk, wrap it up and pop it in the fridge for 15 mins

once cold, take it out of the fridge and, still on the cling film, roll it out to double its size, then you want to envelope-fold the dough, which means folding the top over and the bottom up to create an envelope, then roll flat, turn by 90 degrees and envelope-fold again.  Wrap it back up and refrigerate for a further 30 mins, then repeat the roll fold process but this time sprinkle the grated cheddar onto the rolled out disk before folding... it should now be ready to use but a further 30 mins in the fridge won't harm it.

to form the straws simply roll out the dough into an oblong shape and cut lengths as thin or thick as you like - I like chunky thick straws.

bake on 170C for roughly 15 mins until the straws are puffed and golden

these cheese straws are going over to the fab new Pastry Challenge hosted by Jen from Jen's Food and Lisa from United Cakedom and they are also going over to the Credit Crunch Munch challenge hosted by Camilla at Fab Food 4 All and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours

eat and of course, enjoy!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

triple layer marble nutella bundt cake

... there's an old wives tale that says you shouldn't bake bread when you're unwell as you'll pass the sickness into the loaf and it won't rise.  I like cooking when i'm sick.  It comforts me and leaves me with a sense of achievement that lying in bed simply doesn't do.  I'm not talking about anything strenuous here and un-like many I don't really get stressed in the kitchen... I remember when I was sick as a young boy I used to take a day off school and whilst mum went off to work I would turn her kitchen upside down cooking and baking.  I wasn't very good at hiding the evidence from mum and my concoctions were usually more experimental than edible but it was the process of being in the kitchen that I loved.  I think I may have even pulled the odd fake sickie just so I could spend the day in the kitchen.  This weekend I had The Viking nagging me to stay in bed whilst in fact I pottered around the kitchen making a mess.  I can't help myself.  It's in my blood... my weak, delirious, poisoned blood....

triple layer marble nutella bundt cake
there's a reason you don't see many triple layer bundt cakes and that's because they're a bastard to cut and even trickier to put together again but when Sarah from Maison Cupcake set the mammoth challenge of triple layer cakes as the theme for this months we should cocoa I knew I had to give it a go... the cake is actually a really simple marble cake and I love my marble cakes left quite plain so I didn't want the filling to be too overwhelming.  The whipped cream and nutella works a treat and obviously makes a stunning mouthful of joy in every bite...

i've adapted a classic 4 egg sponge recipe to suit my purposes and my large bundt tin but the 'weigh-the-eggs' method works for a smaller or larger tin, plus I find it's easy to split into two bowls once you've creamed the butter and sugar, this way you ensure the vanilla sponge is the only bit with vanilla and the chocolate sponge is pure chocolate... if that makes any sense...

for the cake
4 large free-range eggs (weighed in their shells at 220g)
220g butter
220g caster sugar
220g self raising flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
a little milk

for the filling
2 large tablespoons of Nutella spread
200ml whipping cream

pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease your bundt tin very well... I used butter this time and it turned out fine but if you're unsure then try one of those non-stick sprays - Lurpak do a brilliant Cooking Mist as part of their Cooks Range

for reference my bundt tin is 26cm dia by 9cm deep and fills beautifully with a 4 egg sponge

you'll need a very large bowl to cream the sugar and butter which I did with my electric hand whisk for at least 8 minutes until it was soft, light and fluffy

take out half of the creamed butter and sugar and place it in another bowl

into the first bowl add 2 eggs, one at a time, beating between each egg, then add half the flour along with the vanilla and a little dash of milk to help slacken

in the second bowl add the remaining 2 eggs, again, one at a time and then the remaining flour along with the cocoa powder and a little milk, beating as you go

spoon alternate tablespoons of the batters into your bundt tin continuing around until you've used it all up, then take a skewer or knife and run it through the batters in a swirling motion

bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until risen and cooked through... there should be no wobble left in the top of the cake and a skewer inserted into the cake should come out clean.

set aside in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely

once cooled, make the filling by beating the cream to a thick consistency and then beat in the nutella

carefully slice the bundt into three even layers and generously spread the cream and nutella mix between each layer before reassembling

serve with a sprinkling of icing sugar in thick slices

we should cocoa is founded by Choclette from the Chocolate Log Blog and hosted this month by Sarah from Mason Cupcake

eat and of course enjoy!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

oven-baked sausage risotto - super-easy one-dish meal

... i'm coming up to my 5th year of blogging and since i've been so busy in my 'real' life i've begun reflecting on what this blog really means to me.  I started because I had a passion for food and a love for praise and of course I wanted to share my recipes but as I was welcomed into the food blogging community that changed a little and part of it became about that community and enjoying all that has to offer.  It was a funny couple of years but once I had weeded out those whom I felt were a negative draw on my passion for the process I settled down into a comfortable rhythm.  Now, as well as all that what I love most about blogging is the writing.  I adore writing.  Yes, sometimes it's hard to find a topic and getting into the stride of a piece can be tricky but once i've achieved that and locked myself away somewhere quiet I absolutely love the process...

... and of course now I have a blog that is both a diary of the past 5 years of my life and also a beautifully crafted recipe book, a place for others to pluck out delicious morsels of ideas... and of course sometimes I feel like this blog is an on-line reference storage facility, its sole purpose to facilitate The Viking should the zombie apocalypse rain down on us and I find myself un able to make it to the kitchen...

oven-baked sausage risotto - super-easy one-dish meal
this is dish is so easy to make that even if we had the hoards of the un-dead banging at the windows we'd still have time to make something gorgeous and sit down to a meal before picking up our machete's... not officially a risotto it still does everything a risotto does and has all the ingredients to produce a stunning comfort meal... I make a veggie version in exactly the same way just using veggies sausages and plenty of olive oil instead of the natural fat provided by the pork... i've used some gorgeous new season baby carrots in here as they look so pretty but feel free to jazz this up in any way you choose...

6 good quality pork sausages - I used the Sainsbury's Pork and Leek Taste the Difference range
1 medium onion - chopped
2 garlic cloves - unpeeled
1 medium leek - chopped
a handful of green beans - chopped in half
a handful of new season baby carrots - halved
1 and 1/2 pints good quality vegetable stock - I use Marigold Swiss Bouillon
1/2 pint white wine
200g arborio risotto rice - you may want to increase or decrease this weight depending on the size of your dish
salt and pepper and fresh herbs to taste - I used 3 twigs of lemon thyme

place the cut sausages, all the veg and seasoning in a large oven-proof dish, cover with foil and bake in the oven on 160C for 30 mins

take it out of the oven, take off the foil and pop it back into the oven for 10 minutes for everything to brown a little then take it out once more and stir it all together, add the rice, two thirds of the stock and the white wine, stir together, cover with the foil and pop it back into the oven for another 20 mins

take it out of the oven, remove the foil, stir well - you may need to add a little more stock at this stage or it may be perfect... pop it back in the oven for about 5 mins more without the foil just to add a little more colour and then remove... let it settle for a few mins before serving as it will be piping hot.

because i've used plenty of lemon thyme in this dish I am entering it into the lovely Cooking with Herbs bloggers link-up which is hosted so honestly by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and which this month has the theme of Spring Herbs

eat and of course, enjoy!



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