Sunday, December 6, 2009

Autumn Salad of Rocket (arugula) and Butternut

Yes, it is butternut again but it is autumn here, they are in season and I love them and this is a really great salad. This salad works on its own for lunch, as a starter or for a meal serve it with some unadorned meat such as really good sausages or lamb cutlets.

It involves roasting the butternut, which takes about an hour but this can be done in advance if you wish-even well in advance but make sure the butternut is at room temperature before you assemble the salad.

If you have trouble peeling the butternut I find the best approach is to cut it crosswise into thickish slices- about 5-8cm and then peel the slices.

The quantities here for the salad a very flexible. I reckon half a butternut is enough for 2 or 4 as a starter. Likewise with the rocket- 100 grams or 3 or 4 good handfuls should do. Basically you will figure out how much you eat and what looks good on the plate.

This is going to take over an hour to prepare -

Half a butternut, peeled and cut into dices of no more than 5 cms
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
olive oil
3 tblspns of pine nuts toasted.
100 grams of rocket (arugula)
chilli flakes
1 shallot, finely sliced

2 tblspns olive oil
1 tspns raspberry vinegar
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 tspns clear honey
S & P

Heat your oven to 180C 375 F Gas 5

Put the butternut and chopped garlic into a roasting tin, drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over and stir the vegetables around.
Into the oven for about an hour. I think it is a good idea to remove the tin from the oven, after about half an hour, to turn stir the vegetables.

While the butternut is cooking make your dressing. Garlic and vinegar into a bowl, slowly add the olive oil while you whisk the mixture. Stir in the honey and add the salt and pepper.

Toast the pine nuts with a few good pinches of the chilli flakes. Again- you know how hot you like it but I suggest you start with about 3 pinches and see how you go. Put a small saucepan onto a medium heat- add the pinenuts and chilli and stir about with a wooden spoon.
You can check the taste of the nuts and add more chilli if you wish. Keep moving the nuts around in the pan until they become golden.

Set aside.

Put the finely slice shallot into a bowl which is big enough to mix your salad in and coat with half the dressing. Leave until you are ready to make your salad. Leaving the shallot in an oil and vinegar mix has the effect of softening the shallot and reducing any strong "oniony" flavour.

When you are ready to serve the salad- it is the rocket into the bowl on top of the shallots, add the rest of the dressing and stir about to coat the leaves. Add the butternut- it doesn't really matter if it is still warm but not straight from the oven- and toss gently.
Place onto plates and scatter the pine nuts over.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Raspberry almost instant "ice cream"

I usually make this with raspberries but works well bananas. It is very delicious and made in a matter of minutes. By using frozen fruit the "ice cream"is already well on its way to freezing so all you need to do is pop it in the freezer for as long as it takes for you to prepare the rest of the meal.

This is meant to be eaten soon after it is made as it goes incredibly hard if left in the freezer and needs at least an hour to soften enough to serve.

You will need some sort of food processor or blender for this. I find that one of those handheld blender works fine.

allow yourself about 10 minutes to make this and time in the freezer

200-250 grams raspberries- fresh or frozen
250 grams creme fraiche
2 tablespoons caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon

You can use fresh raspberries but allow a couple of hours in the freezer.

Put the raspberries, creme fraiche, sugar and half the lemon juice into the food processor or whatever you are using to blend. Process until combined and smooth.It will probably be necessary to stop periodically and break up any lumps.

When smooth check the taste and add more lemon juice as it suits you.

Put into a plastic box and pop into the freezer.

If you don't eat it soon after you've made it it will keep, in the freezer, for a couple of days but as I've said will go very hard.

If you want a banana ice cream I suggest you use 4 bananas in place of the raspberries.

I tend to stick bananas into the freezer if they are heading to getting over ripe. Freeze them with skins on. Frozen bananas are great for baking and for this recipe it took about 5 minutes out of the freezer to be able to remove the skins and slice quite finely before adding to the other ingredients to process.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Camembert Stuffed Chicken with Braised Fennel

This roast chicken is the result of a long weekend of excess on a beach in New South Wales. It was Sunday night, little in the fridge and little inclination to cook so we decided to stuff the remaining camembert into the chicken and roast it. We thought the result was delicious and I have been cooking it ever since. I believe there are versions of a camembert chicken around but this is, to my mind, the easiest and probably the tastiest.
The only refinement from those early days is that I now add some shallots (or onions) with the cheese. The cheese adds a great flavour to the chicken and melts into a lovely gooey-ness. The chicken does not taste like the cheese so please do not be put off by the thought of camembert.
The fennel goes very well with chicken but is not an essential accompaniment.

1 roasting chicken (1.5 - 2 kilos)
2 or 3 shallot or a small onion
100 - 250g camembert

None of these ingredients need to be exact- there is nothing at all exacting about this dish - 100g of camembert will flavour the chicken and melt into a real goo- 250g totally fills the cavity of the chicken and may not totally melt but makes a lovely soft cheesey/onion mixture
to be spooned out and served alongside the chicken.
You will soon get the hang of how much you like and however much you use the chicken will take on the special flavour.

an hour and half before dinner

heat the oven to 180 C (375 F gas 5)

peel and chop the shallots into small pieces.
cut the camembert into bits about the size of an apricot - this is just to help you stuff it into the chicken so no need to be precise.

Put some cheese into the chicken- jam it to the end of the cavity and then put in some of the shallots, more camembert, more shallots- until you have used it all, ending with cheese.

Place the prepared chicken into a roasting tin and pop onto a rack in the middle of the hot oven.

The chicken will take about an hour and quarter- maybe more if it is on the large side.
Check if the chicken is cooked by piercing the meat at the thigh joint and look at the colour of the juices that run out. They must be clear if the chicken is cooked.

Braised fennel

Fennel bulbs (probably one per person, depending on the size)
3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil
garlic cloves, peeled (maybe 4 or 5 or more if you like)
Salt & pepper

Chopped parsley (optional)

45 minutes before dinner

Prepare the fennel by removing the green tops, the base of the core and any discoloured outer leaves. Cut the bulb into quarters, lengthways.
Heat the oil in a pan, when hot add the fennel and stir it around. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 15-20 minutes, occasionally stirring the fennel around in the oil. The fennel will
begin to brown.
Heat some water to the boil.
Add the garlic, continue to cook until the garlic changes colour.
Pour boiling water into the saucepan. Enough to come about halfway up the fennel. Lower the heat and simmer until the fennel is soft which will take about a further 15 minutes. If the water boils away before the fennel is cooked add a little more hot water - be sparing as there shouldn't be any water left by the time the fennel is cooked.
Add sea salt and a good grind of pepper.
If you want to add some colour when serving, sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chilli for Halloween (or anytime)

This weekend was Halloween. We had a party around the outside fire and for me it was the perfect occasion to serve chilli. Although any time you want to feed large numbers, without having too much hassle, chilli is the way to go and a meal in a bowl is very easy to handle when not sitting at a table.

My recipe is very, very straightforward but it does need about 2 hours cooking time. Therefore I suggest you make the chilli in advance of when you want to serve it so at supper time it is merely cooking the rice and preparing the side dishes.

This chilli freezes very well so I think it is a good idea to make more than you need then bagging up the extra and freezing it.

You can also use this sauce in tacos shells and topped with cheese, lettuce etc.

This recipe makes a mild chilli but one with great flavour. Everybody loves it as it is, but if you want to give it a kick- increase the amount of chilli powder or add a hot fresh chilli ( chopped finely).

Serve this with rice.

For 6 people:

1 kg (2 lbs) best quality mince beef
3 tablespoons corn oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 onion- chopped
2 teaspoon chilli powder
2 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn dried oregano
Tinned tomatoes 475 grams ( 1 lb)
1 1/2 cup beef stock
1/4 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup chopped bacon
1 tbspn of sugar
Red kidney beans - 475g

salt & pepper to taste

For garnish- lime wedges, sour cream, grated cheese, fresh coriander and maybe chopped avocado

two and a half hours before you want to be finished cooking

Heat 2 tbspns of corn oil in a casserole or large saucepan on the stove top. Add garlic, onion, chilli powder, cumin and oregano and cook on a moderate heat for about 5 minutes.

Add the remaining oil. Turn the heat up and brown the meat all over.

Browning meat is achieved by having the oil hot and stirring, or turning in the meat in the hot oil until it changes colour and starts to go from grey to brown.

If necessary do this in batches, removing the already browned meat onto a plate which you do the rest.

Put all the meat back into the saucepan/casserole and stir in the tomatoes, stock, tomato puree, bacon and sugar.

Bring to a simmer over a low heat.

Simmering is when the sauce is blobbing along gently with a few bubbles breaking the surface.

Simmer uncovered for about 2 hours. The idea is for the sauce to thicken however if this happens before the end of the cooking time pop a lid on the pot. If the sauce starts to look too thick and drying out add a tiny amount of water or tomato juice if you have any to hand.

At the end of the cooking time stir in the strained beans and season with pepper & salt to your taste.

if you have cooked this in advance:

three quarters of an hour before eating:

Reheat the chilli, over a medium heat- do this fairly slowly maybe giving it a bit of a stir in case it sticks to the saucepan. Once it come to the boil turn the heat to the absolute minimum to keep warm. Stir it occasionally.

Cook the rice as per instructions.

While the rice cooks prepare the whatever garnishes you like- sour cream, lime, coriander, avocado, grated cheese.

If you have a large number get everyone to help themselves- taking whatever garnish suits them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Roast Vegetables with (or without) Sausages

This week I went down to the Pyrennes for a couple of days- on the Spanish border near San Sebastian and found myself in the “Piment” area of France. We know piment as sweet red pepper (capsicum). They were everywhere- used a lot in Basque cooking and represented on everything that didn’t move. However no signs of a model giant pepper looming over the town of Espelette which is the source of dried piment. This devotion to piment also carried over the border into Spain where the markets around San Sebastian featured barrows of shiny red peppers- no sign of any green ones, anywhere. Although I use red peppers in this recipe I am sure if you sneak in a green one it will be fine.

This dish is basically roast vegetable with sausages stuck on the top. If you chose the vegetarian option (no sausages) just follow the cooking method for the vegetables. The roast vegetables make a great side dish for lamb.

I use pork chipolata sausages, which are all meat for this but any good quality sausage, high meat content and no or little filler, (breadcrumb, rusk etc) will work.

Cous cous goes great with this as the vegetables are rather juicy.

2 sweet red peppers

2 red onions

3 cloves of garlic

2 courgettes (zucchini)

2 medium tomatoes or handful of cherry tomatoes

fresh basil

chilli flakes

Salt and pepper

Sausages (as many as you think you’ll eat)

Corn oil

An hour and a half before dinner

Heat the oven to 200 C (400 F Gas 6)

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and whitish membrane. Cut into slices. I usually do this from top to bottom but it is not important.

Peel the onions, cut them in half and then slice them finely.

Top and tail the courgettes and cut crosswise into slices about the width of your little finger.

Put all of these into an oven dish, sprinkle the oil over them and give a good stir. Add about a teaspoon of salt and a really good grind of pepper. Finish the lot off with a generous shake of chilli flakes (more if you like it hot)

Put all of this into the oven and cook for 30 minutes.

45 minutes before dinner

Heat a little oil- about a tablespoon, in a frying pan and brown the sausages on all sides – turning as you go. This will only take a couple of minutes. Place the sausages on top of the roasting vegetables and return the dish to the oven.

30 minutes before dinner

Chop up the tomatoes by removing the core , halving and cutting into chunks. Push the tomatoes into the vegetables around the sausages. Do the same with the basil leaves. Put the dish back into the oven.

10 minutes before dinner

Boil water and prepare the cous cous as per the instructions on the packet.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Butternut Pasta

This week we got our first hints of autumn- a morning chill and bright clear days.
This is when the pumpkins start appearing and to celebrate the fact I went to the pumpkin fair in St Mayme de Pereyrol. This is a delightfully rustic affair with pumpkins of enormous size on display. However when it comes to pumpkins size is not a good thing. I adore pumpkin but not those orange things with the bland, watery flesh. My favourites are the bluey-silvery skinned ones with a very firm flesh. I was lucky enough to find some at the fair- known here as Hungarian Blue
but it looked very like the ones from my childhood in New Zealand.
A good firm fleshed pumpkin would work well for this dish but I am using a butternut squash as they are easier to find and not so seasonal.

For four I use a whole butternut about 1.5kg (3lb) but this is not an exacting dish so don't pay too much attention to the size of the butternut. Just use what you have.
I prefer spaghettis for this but any pasta will do. Although I have suggested 350g (12 ounces) for four- you will know how much pasta you eat.

1 butternut squash
3-4 cloves of garlic
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil



an hour before dinner :

Heat the oven to 180 C (375 F)

Peel the butternut and cut into small cubes of about 4 cms (1-2 inches). Removing all the seeds by scraping out with a small spoon.
The easiest way to peel a butternut is to cut it crosswise into slices and then peel the slices.
Peel and chop the garlic into small pieces.
Scatter the butternut and garlic into a shallow roasting pan.
Sprinkle the olive oil over the vegetable and stir it around so the oil coats the butternut. Add some salt and a good grind of black pepper.
Place into the hot oven for about 45 minutes until the butternut is cooked and soft.

Chop some parsley and grate some parmesan for your garnish

20 minutes before eating :

Put on the water for pasta and cook as per the instructions.

Warm the bowl which you will mix the pasta dish in

When the pasta and butternut are cooked :

Mash the butternut gently with a fork.
Drain the pasta- reserving a little of the pasta water.
Place in a warmed bowl.
Add the butternut to the pasta tossing it gently to mix the butternut in. Slowly add some of the pasta water, tablespoon by tablespoon, to moisten the whole thing and the pasta is evenly coated with the golden butternut.

After serving the pasta, garnish with parsley and parmesan.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sauteed Leeks

4 or 5 leeks

1- 2 tablespoons butter

1-2 teaspoons brown sugar

Remove the outer layer of leaves from the leeks. Cut the green tops off and the root then slice the leeks crosswise, in about 1cm slices. Put the cut leeks into a bowl of cold water and soak to clean properly. Drain in a colander before frying.

Heat a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan. When melted add the leeks with a good sprinkle of salt. Shake a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar over the leeks. Stir the leeks around in the pan until they soften and take on a lovely golden colour.

Mashed Potatoes

For 4

4-6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5cm/ 1 inch cubes

Bring salted water to the boil. Add the potatoes and bring back to the boil and boil for about 15minutes. Check if the potatoes are cooked, or cook until done.

Drain the potatoes into a colander. Return to the warm saucepan and mash with the addition of salt and pepper and either olive oil or butter. You can add a little milk with the butter for a softer texture.

Mash the potatoes while adding oil or butter bit by bit until you have the taste and consistency you like.

Chicken with Herbs & Black Olives

This herb flavoured chicken roasted with garlic and bacon stays deliciously moist as it cooks in white wine or stock. Creamy mashed potatoes and a simple green vegetable make a perfect meal. I really like sauteed leeks with this so have separate postings for the mash and leeks.

When using chicken pieces I prefer to use thighs as I think they have more flavour but this will work well with breast. Leaving the bone helps to keep. the meat moist.

All the herbs used here are fresh- any combination of rosemary, thyme, parsley or oregano- will work.

This recipe will also do for six people simply by increasing the amount of chicken and maybe a few more olives.

4 pieces of chicken

¼ Cup olive oil

1 tbspn of chopped thyme

1 tbspn of chopped rosemary

1 tbspn of chopped parsley &/or oregano ( optional)

1 tbspn salt


1/2 tsp chilli or hot pepper flakes

6 peeled garlic cloves

3 thick slices of bacon cut into 4cm pieces.

I cup dry white wine or stock or half and half

16 black olives

An hour before dinner

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/ gas mark 7

Toss the chicken pieces in the oil with the herbs, salt, and chilli and a good grind of pepper. Rub the mixture into the chicken.

Lay the chicken, with the skin side up in a shallow roasting tin.

Toss the garlic and bacon around the chicken.

Put the tin into the oven.

Prepare potatoes as for the recipe for mashing potatoes.

Prepare your green vegetable.

After the chicken has been in the oven for 20 minutes

Gently drizzle the wine/stock over the chicken and scatter the olives over.

Pop back into the oven for a further 25- 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and has a lovely golden skin.

While the chicken cooks cook your mashed potatoes.

Boil salted water for the green vegetable.

Check your potatoes, if cooked, drain and keep in the saucepan with the lid on.

10minutes before serving

Remove the chicken from the oven and let it stand, covered in foil, while you cook your green vegetable and mash the potatoes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tomato Sauce

..... this couldn't be more simple, like falling off a log. Here is a very quick and easy mid week meal - the old favourite - pasta with tomato sauce & a salad...... so

30 minutes before eating :

Peel & chop the tomatoes. (See tip below)

Get your salad leaves organized - wash & spin them (or open the packet.) If you are going for a mixed salad prepare the other vegetables.

Put water for pasta on to boil with a little salt & a teaspoon of olive oil. Water boils faster (more energy efficient) if there is a lid on the saucepan.

20 minutes before eating :

Make the almost instant tomato sauce.

Almost Instant Tomato Sauce

1/2 cup dry white wine
1 medium onion, finely sliced
4 or 5 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded & chopped (See tip below)
3 tablespoons of butter*
1 teaspoon sugar
dessertspoon of tomato puree

a good pinch of chilli flakes - suggested but not essential & if you wish - freshly chopped basil - as much as you like, up to a cup full.

*I know some people are frightened of butter so you can reduce the amount but it will taste better with the full 3 tablespoons.

The method is very straightforward:

Put the onions and the white wine in a saucepan & place over a fairly high heat until the liquid has reduced to about a couple of tablespoons. During this process, give it an occasional stir.

This should be about time to add the pasta to the boiling water.

Cook the pasta as per the instructions on the box - start your timing once the water has returned to the boil.

Add to the onions the tomatoes, butter, sugar, a good shake or generous pinch of salt, the tomato puree & the chili flakes.

Bring to a gentle boil, stir & simmer for about 15 minutes.

While the sauce cooks get your salad into it's bowl. A good idea is to put the dressing in the bottom of the bowl & put the leaves on top. This means that the salad won't go soggy while you're getting the rest together. Toss the salad when you serve it to distribute the dressing.

If you are using basil then stir into the tomato sauce at this stage and remove from the heat.

Strain the pasta into a colander & give it a good shake to get rid of extra excess water.

Put the pasta on the plates, add a good dollop of tomato sauce & top with some parmesan cheese.

Serve with salad on the side.


How to peel fresh tomatoes -

Put some water onto boil.

Score (a shallow cut) a cross in the bottom of each tomato. Place in a bowl. Pour enough boiling water onto the tomatoes in the bowl to cover them. Count to 20...... slowly.... Pour the hot water off the tomatoes & run cold water over them until they are cold. Leave the tomatoes sitting in cold water as you peel them. Once peeled do not put in water.

Removing the seeds from tomatoes -

The easiest way to do this is to cut the tomato into quarters & squeeze the seeds out. You'll soon get the hang of it as it soon becomes pretty obvious where the seeds are in the tomato.