Thai Style Meatballs

The first focus for the Cupboard Challenge was to use up six Italian herb flavoured meatballs that were in the freezer. We’d eaten their compatriots with tomato sauce and spaghetti, but had not been wildly impressed – that’s why the last six were still in the freezer waiting to be cooked.

I’m happy to say they were quite delicious served up like this.

To serve two:

herbs and spicesCurry Paste Ingredients
4 cloves garlic
2 red bird’s eye chillies (I remove the seeds – you might like to keep them in and set your mouth on fire)
1 green finger chilli (see above)
1 kaffir lime leaf
a chunk of fresh ginger, peeled
1 teaspoon galangal paste
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2-3 teaspoons tamari (or use soy sauce)
A good handful of fresh coriander
Approx. 150g soffritto

Other Ingredients
Approx. 2 tablespoons rapeseed/canola oil
6 meatballs
5 tablespoons passata
1 tin coconut milk
1 chicken stockpot (I’m sure a stock cube would do just as well)
1 handful green beans
Rice noodles
1 spring onion, chopped, to garnish
Music

Ready?  Ok, let’s get started…with soffrito, chopped

Chuck all the curry paste ingredients into the food processor and whizz until finely chopped.

browning the meatballsHeat oil in pan (you need to use one that has a lid – the lid comes later), add meatballs and curry paste.  Cook, stirring frequently, until meatballs are browned and spice mix is beginning to release those yummy oils.

passata

coconut milk

Chicken stockpot

Add passata, coconut milk and stockpot.  Stir well, bring to the boil then lower heat.  Cover pan with lid (there’s the lid!) and gently simmer for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

green beans

Add green beans and cook for a further 15 minutes.Rice noodles

While the beans are cooking, get your rice noodles under way.  These ones just need to be soaked in hot water for 15 minutes – simplicity itself.Thai style meatballs with rice noodles

Drain noodles, ladle on meatballs and sauce, scatter with chopped spring onion, say, “ta-da!”

So that’s what I cooked up.  What would you have done with the six bland meatballs?

x

Introducing the Cupboard Challenge

Cupboard ChallengeI collect ingredients with the compulsive fervour of a school boy collecting football cards.

Our ‘big shop’ is done (online) with some consideration and a degree of meal planning.  However, if I allow myself to roam, in real life, anywhere ingredients are sold, I tend to buy like a hoarder, without plan or direction.

A fresh, shiny purple aubergine, a little tub of some exotic spice, a wonderfully shaped pasta, salty white truffle butter, a pile of glistening, fat olives…when it comes to quality ingredients, I have scant self control – sensory pleasure takes over and I just have to possess it.  I don’t necessarily know how I’m going to use it, but I’m sure I will .  

Now, there’s one thing that stands between me and becoming a scoundrel who contributes significantly to the profligate waste of the planet’s resources – the fact that I hate seeing food go in the bin.  Combine this with the inevitable overstocks resulting from my purchasing habits, and you will see why there are times when our meal preparation resembles an edition of Ready, Steady, Cook.

A recent inventory of our food resources has indicated the need for a whole cooking programme series, never mind a single edition.  And so it came to pass that Barn and I made a pledge – for at least a 10 days we will cook using only what is already in the house – we call it a Cupboard Challenge.

Truth be told, this is not going to be a particularly difficult challenge; the cupboards are well stocked with basics, including an untold number of spices, varieties of pasta and rice, tins of tomatoes, and canned beans.

The fridge contains our usual wide selection of cheeses and massive array of condiments and pickles, plus veg, salad items, cream, butter and other general nonsense.

Our freezer is currently filled with a wide range of odds ‘n’ sods:  half a dozen or so different pots of sauces, wraps, soffritto, a variety of veg,  lots of ‘odd’ portions of meat and fish – one lamb chop, one salmon fillet, one pork loin steak…  There’s a few good portions of meat (minced pork, chicken breast, a beef joint, 12 pork sausages) but it’s mostly stuff that is insufficient in quantity to be a meal, in and of itself, for two or more people.

Oh, and of course, due to our miserably haphazard to non-existent labelling systems, there’s also the mystery pots – those items whose true nature won’t be revealed until they’re thawed.  Exciting times!

So good people, brace yourselves for the oncoming slew of rather imprecise, slightly unusual recipes.

🙂

x

P.S. You didn’t think that picture was my actual pantry, did you?  I wish!

Sunday Brunch – Hot Roast Beef, Onion and Stilton Sandwiches

A beastly week in the day job culminated in me needing to work this Sunday.  Less than impressed, I coaxed myself out of bed at insane-o’clock-in-the-morning with the promise of something über delicious for brunch.  By the time I was heading home again, at well past midday, I was also vowing that brunch would be spectacularly quick and easy to make.sandwiches and ciderA quick whizz through the local supermarket yielded some freshly baked ciabatta style rolls and a bottle of my (current) favourite cider, but still no real plan.

After a rummage through the fridge at home we finally decided to make hot roast beef sandwiches.  It turned out to be an extremely good and satisfying choice 🙂

I feel it’s a bit of a stretch, calling this a ‘recipe’ – after all, it’s a sandwich!  Perhaps calling it a ‘how to’ would be more appropriate…?!

Ingredients
1 ciabatta roll per person 
4 slices roast beef per person
1 small onion, sliced, per person
Small knob of butter
Splash of olive oil
Mustard
Stilton
Music – an essential ingredient to all Sunday brunch recipes.

Of course, your choice of music is entirely your own – as long as you enjoy it, it will work well with the recipe.

Heating the beef over onionsHeat the oil and butter, add sliced onions and sauté.  When they begin to soften, but are not quite cooked, lay the slices of roast beef over the top to heat.  Turn the roast beef frequently to prevent the upper side from drying out.

horseradish mustard and stiltonCut rolls in half, lightly toast then spread one side lavishly with mustard.  I’m currently in the throes of a love affair with this horseradish mustard, which is utterly perfect with beef, but wholegrain or English are just as good

my sandwichPile cooked onions onto the rolls and add folded slices of beef (make sure beef is piping hot).  Top with slices of Stilton and pop under a hot grill for a few minutes to melt.  Slap on the top half of the roll and consume enthusiastically.

Barn's sandwichYou may notice that I accidentally made Barn’s sandwich upside down – this appears to have had no adverse effect on the flavour 😉MelonMelon slices afterwards…because it’s always nice to have something sweet, don’t you think?

x

Hot-smoked salmon fish cakes

I made these to use up the trimmings after making some mini hot-smoked salmon en croute but off cuts can be bought, really cheaply, either from a fishmonger or pre-packaged in supermarkets.Ingredients

To make 4 standard or about 10 mini fish cakes

Ingredients
250-300g hot-smoked salmon broken into flakes (to be clear: the salmon should have been hot-smoked but the fish you are using should be cold!).
150-200g cold cooked potato
Juice and rind of half a lemon
Approx. 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper
For coating
Breadcrumbs
1 beaten egg

MashedIn a medium sized bowl, use a fork to lightly mash the potato.

Add all other ingredients and combine well.

Naked cakes

Use your hands to shape the mixture into patties.  Chill for 20-30 minutes (or bung in the freezer for 10).Breaded cakes

Put your breadcrumbs into one bowl and the beaten egg into another.  Dip each patty, one at a time, first into the egg and then the breadcrumbs.  Make sure they’re completely covered.Oven bakedBake in the oven at gas mark 6/200°C/400°F until they are piping hot and golden brown.  That would take a little less time than these particular mini ones were baked for…so probably about 15-20 mins.

Serve with proper chips and rugged peas.

Perhaps you can help to pin down the timing a little more precisely…how long did yours take? 😉

x

 

Mini hot-smoked salmon en croute

This is on the menu as part of the eight course meal planned for Big Sis’s birthday.  As I’m planning to cook them from frozen on the night I thought it a good idea to make some in advance to test out the recipe and to work out the cooking time.

Although I made 10 of these, the recipe below is to serve 4.

Ingredients
Olive oil
A knob of butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
75g baby spinach, roughly chopped
Approx.  4 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
75g watercress, roughly chopped
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Nutmeg
125g black pepper roulé (or cream cheese with loads of black pepper added)
4 hot-smoked salmon fillets
300g-ish (depends on the size of your fillets) flaky pastry
1 egg, beaten

Chopped spinach, watercress and parsley

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200°C/400°F, and line a large baking sheet with baking paper brushed with a little olive oil.

Heat the butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan over a low heat; sauté the shallots for around 6-8 minutes until soft but not coloured.

Add the spinach, parsley and watercress, together with the lemon zest and juice.

Cooked chopped spinach, watercress and parsley

Cook down the leaves for 3–5 minutes, then tip into a sieve set over a bowl.  Press to squeeze out juices and leave to cool.Black pepper roule

Using a fork, mash the roulé in a medium sized bowl.  Add a good grating of fresh nutmeg, then mix in the cooled spinach mixture.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

Pastry

If you’re looking for a  puff pastry recipe, I’m sorry, but you’ve come to the wrong place.  Shirley Conran declared that life’s too short to stuff a mushroom; it’s my belief life is way too short for making flaky pastry.  This French brand is fabulous but there are plenty of other ready made numbers that do the job just as well.Salmon fillets with toppingRemove the thin end of the salmon and trim, if necessary, to create evenly sized fillets (keep the trimmings for making fish cakes).

Spoon a thick layer of the spinach mixture onto each fillet.

Take just under half of the pastry (roll, if not pre-rolled) and cut four pieces, each around 1.5cm larger than the salmon fillets (my margins were not quite large enough.

Place, evenly spaced, onto the prepared tray.  Lightly moisten the edges of each piece with water, then pop the topped salmon fillets on top.

Salmon fillets wrapped in pastry

Take the remaining pastry and cut into four pieces (they should be slightly larger than the first four).

Lay the pastry over the salmon fillets, mould around the fish with your hands, then press the edges with a fork to seal. Score the top with a knife and brush all over with beaten egg. baked

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20–25 minutes (35-40 mins if cooking from frozen), or until the pastry is crisp.

Triple fishWe had this as part of a fish trio, served with rugged peas, home made chips, and tartar sauce, although ‘traditionally’ it would be served with new potatoes, steamed veg and watercress sauce.

How would you have yours?

x

 

Rugged Peas (peas with mint and chilli)

My take on the peas served by a certain casual dining chain that specialises in chicken dishes.  This is a case of imitation being a form of flattery – I love their peas but really can’t dine out as frequently as my desire for them would dictate. So…

Rugged peas and cod goujonRugged peas as an accompaniment to a cod goujon.

Ingredients
Enough frozen peas to fulfil your serving requirements
3-4 red chillies, finely chopped (adjust quantities according to the chilli type you’re using and the heat levels you like)
4 leafy stems of fresh mint – 3 whole and 1 with the leaves stripped and finely chopped
Small knob of butter

Boil peas, together with 3 whole stems of mint, until cooked (times vary from brand to brand).

Drain, removing and discarding mint.

Using a fork, coarsely mash half of the peas.

Melt butter in pan over a low heat and cook chopped chillies for a few seconds.

Add mashed peas, whole peas and chopped mint, stirring to combine well.

Serve.

x

The food week that was – 23/03/15

This was yet another shitty week in the day job so it’s a really good thing I’d made myself food accountable in last week’s meals post, otherwise we’d have almost definitely bowed to laziness and another week of dire dinners.

As it was we managed a passable imitation of being responsible adults, putting together mostly decent meals, at approximately expected/accepted meal times.
Spud and beansMonday: Having declared that this week would be full of culinary thrills, we started the week with a really basic meal of baked spuds, cheese and beans.   A sprinkling of chives gave a gentle oniony flavour lift, a touch of colour, and a nod towards actually making an effort.

Camembert, leeks and bacon Tuesday: I was half way through making a leek, bacon and Stilton quiche when I found a mini Camembert lolling at the side of the cheese box.  A quick consult with Barn to check he was open to some food experimentation, and the leek and bacon Camembert melt was born.

Cut CamembertMini Camembert cheese, studded with garlic, surrounded by sautéed leeks and bacon, and baked on a shortcrust pastry base.  Served with roasted carrots and parsnips, and wilted spinach.

There’s a lot I would change about this – use puff pastry instead of shortcrust, use less bacon, make them individual – but as an off the cuff experiment it worked out ok.  Loved the way the melted cheese spilled out, creating a sauce for the veggies.

Malaysian beef curryWednesday: Making mid-week better with a hot and spicy Malaysian beef curry on jasmine rice.

Butternut squash risottoThursday: Creamy risotto with roast butternut squash and black olives, finished with a drizzle of lemon infused olive oil and a generous sprinkling of chopped, fresh basil.  On the side, watercress, tomato and cucumber salad, topped with toasted sunflower seeds and dressed with balsamic vinegar.

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The food week that was – 16/03/15

Recording what we eat is proving to be an interesting and valuable exercise, although it’s not actually what this blog was supposed to be about (which reminds me, I must get ’round to changing the description line before I get called out as a big fat fibber).

The primary benefit I’ve noticed so far has been the accidental promotion of mindful eating.  Quite clearly it’s not a complete transformation but it’s definitely happening.  Let’s face it, you’re far less inclined to have a packet of Doritos, a Snickers and three cookies for dinner when you’re kinda committed to taking a picture of it and publicly displaying it.

On top of that, in order to keep things interesting and avoid repetitiveness, again knowing things will be posted publicly, I’m tending to put much more thought and effort into meal planning.

That said, it’s become apparent that this all goes to hell in a hand basket when we’re tired, under pressure in our day jobs and generally having a tough time one way or another.  The times when we most need nourishing food, and extra vitamin dosage, are when we get ourselves into a downward spiral of increasingly lazy and poor food choices – how insane is that?  This was dreadfully evident this week as we finished a takeaway or ready made meal, declared it to have been unsatisfying/flavourless/greasy/horrid, then up and did it again within 24 hours.  How brainwashed by advertising and hooked on fat and sugar are we?  On the upside – at least I’ve noticed it!

Anyway, this is how we alternated between abusing and restoring ourselves with food this week:

Gnocchi with GorgonzolaMonday: Gnocchi with gorgonzola, spinach and toasted walnuts.

I have a confession: this was the first time any of us had eaten gnocchi.  I don’t know why…  It will definitely not be the last time – this meal was absolutely gorgeous, and unbelievably quick to make.  Here’s how:

  • Toast around 40g walnut halves or pieces and set to one side.
  • Bring a large pan of water to the boil – keep it boiling!
  • While the pan of water is coming to boiling point, put about 200ml of double cream and around 200g gorgonzola into a different pan (!) – stir gently over a low heat until cheese has melted – add plenty of freshly ground black pepper – keep it warm.
  • Add 500g chilled gnocchi to the pan of boiling water – cook until they float to the top (2-4 minutes).  Drain well and return to pan.
  • Stir in gorgonzola sauce, about half of the toasted walnuts and around 150-200g of fresh spinach leaves.  Transfer to an oven proof dish.  Top with remaining walnuts and a good grating of parmesan cheese and bung it under the grill under it’s golden brown and bubbling.
  • Serve with green salad leaves (watercress is good) – a simple lemon juice dressing works well.
  • Stuff food into face and make ‘mmmmm’ noises.

Subway signTuesday: We ate from here.

Fish & ChipsWednesday: That’s what we had.

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The food week that was – 09/03/15

A slightly strange week, filled with carbohydrates and see-saw emotions…Baked spud and sausagesMonday: Exhausted from our day jobs, and suffering severe Monday-itis, we slung potatoes into the oven, defrosted leftover veg chilli, grilled sausages, chucked cheese all over it and ate.  There was a definite correlation between the decline in grumpy silence and the progression of food consumption 😉

Savoury bread puddingTuesday: Savoury bread pudding made using left over olive bread and an onion bagel, layered with more olives and crumbled Stilton, then saturated with a savoury egg custard, topped with cherry tomatoes and grated parmesan, baked ’til golden brown.

Spag BolWednesday: Rich, meaty, wine steeped, mushroom studded, slowly simmered, Bolognese sauce served with Fusilli lunghi bucati (aka Rasta Pasta), with plenty of black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan to finish.

Soup ingredients

Thursday: Having been variously chopped, sautéed, simmered, blended and seasoned, these ingredients (plus some veg stock and cream) became…

Soup…this delicious soup.  A stack of door-stop style roast beef sandwiches rounded things off nicely.  Petit Man has been suffering with a harsh cough and cold (a real one, not a Man one), so this worked well to soothe and comfort.

Shortbread

Thursday snacking: Gluten free shortbread – probably the quickest and easiest sweet baked snack you will ever make!

Here’s how to make them:  You require three ingredients – butter, caster sugar and gluten free flour – in the weight ratio 2:1:3.  I also use a small amount of baking powder (about 1 teaspoon per 300g of flour) as I prefer the more open texture this gives, but it’s not necessary.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Sift in flour (and baking powder, if using).  Using your hands gently fold and knead the mixture until it comes together into a firm ball.  Press into an appropriately sized, greased baking tin then chill in the fridge for about 10 minutes.  Bake at gas mark 5/190°C until golden brown.  Cut while still warm, cool on a rack and dredge with caster sugar before serving.

If you like a flavoured biscuit you can add lemon/lime/orange zest to the flour, or chuck in some vanilla, or drizzle with melted chocolate when cooled, or…whatever else you like.  There are no strict rules 😉Baked spuds and tuna

Friday: Baked potatoes stuffed with tuna, sweetcorn and sliced black olives, served with beer battered onion rings and rather over baked cherry tomatoes.  About as simple as it gets – I think the only way less effort could have been put into this meal is if it had been made into a sandwich. – nonetheless, satisfying.  Sometimes simple is just what you need.

Cheese, olives & crackers

Saturday: We like cheese.  We amass cheeses like a weird, hoarding, mischief of mice.  We currently have 11 different cheese varieties in our fridge.  For the dairy-curious amongst you, they are : Stilton, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, extra mature Cheddar, oak smoked Cheddar, farmhouse Cheddar, grated Mozzarella, Edam, Camembert, Cambozola and Halloumi.

It’s somewhat inevitable then, that some meals are nothing but cheese.  And so it was on Saturday evening.  With crackers, olives and a glass of wine, I’d call this a very well balanced meal 😀

Cornish sardines and Staffordshire oatcakes

Sunday Brunch: Fresh Cornish sardines, topped with a little crushed garlic and a good squeeze of lemon juice, then grilled until the skins were crispy.  Served with lemon wedges and Staffordshire oatcakes.

Sunday Dinner: It was Mothers’ Day here in the UK – those of the family who were able to gathered at Mum’s house where Medieval, despite being in much pain with an injured foot, cooked an incredible roast chicken dinner for us all.  He presented us with rosemary and lemon chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, roast squash and parsnips, broccoli, carrots, Spring cabbage and gravy – the only fault to be found was that it was so delicious and tempting, it was gobbled up before I remembered about taking a photo!

Just Something I Wanted to Say: Whether you feel that Mothers’ Day is just another commercially driven construct, or see it as a wonderful chance to express love and gratitude, it can, like any other celebration, be a difficult, sadness triggering time for many.  Within my own small sphere there are people whose mothers have died, ones who have troubled relationships with emotionally distant mothers, ones who were brought up in care and who don’t know their mothers, ones who are estranged from their mothers, ones who cannot have children, those whose children have died…many, many reasons why a little extra love, thought and tenderness might be due to them on the day that is all about celebrating motherhood.  So I send extra special thoughts and hugs to anyone who felt that tug of sorrow yesterday, whoever you are and wherever you are.

x

The food week that was – 02/03/15

I’m sure you know the story of King Alfred the Great – the guy who allegedly let the cakes burn because he was preoccupied with thoughts about his beleaguered kingdom?  Well, I bet you’ve never heard the story of Barn, the guy who let the pies burn because he was preoccupied with thoughts about his kingdom?

Alfred had fair justification for his absent minded approach to baked goods; the fellow’s very life was in danger and he was on the run – sleeping in ditches and begging for food – whilst also trying to save his lands from actual marauding Vikings.  There was every reason for culinary timing to be low on his list of priorities.  For Barn?  Not so much.

He was sitting comfortably, on a sofa in his living room, tasked with nothing more than listening out for the oven timer then informing me of said occurrence.  The only kingdom he had any concerns about was the virtual one in Kingdom of Camelot (oh yeh, I’ll name it and shame ya! 😘 ), and the only ‘life’ in danger was that of a pixelated soldier.  Apparently he didn’t hear or smell a thing as the oven alarm shrieked for its fully allowed time slot, and our dinner gave itself to the funeral pyre, clutching its last vestiges of flavour, mourning its uncelebrated heyday.

Naturally he was referred to as Burning Barn for the rest of the evening.  No opportunity, no matter how small or tenuous, was passed over when it came to teasing and tormenting him.  Petit Man is a great ‘bouncing’ partner for this particular form of verbal entertainment (Mum and Medieval are also superb co-jousters, but sadly they weren’t around for this one); we amused ourselves mightily, stumbling upon forcing references to Barn the Great Pie Torturer from every TV advert, programme and innocuous conversation :twisted:.

Chicken chorizo pot piesMonday: So…what we had Monday was potentially-awesome-but-kinda-burned chicken and chorizo pot pies, served with hideously burned roast cauliflower and some steamed veg.

The chicken was poached in cider, then the cider stock reduced and used with cream to make a sauce for the chicken, fried chorizo and leeks.  A happy little layer survived the torrid oven affair and was sufficiently good to put the recipe on the ‘definitely try it again’ list.

Fridge bottom soupTuesday: Fridge bottom soup.  Sounds vile doesn’t it?  I know I should call it ‘leek and courgette’, or ‘cream of veg’ or somesuch, but it was what it says…soup made with stuff that needed using up from the drawer at the bottom of the fridge.

Sautéed soffrito (finely diced onion, carrot and celery in the ratio 2:1:1 – an excellent starting point for many sauces, stews etc. – make huge batches with a food processor and keep portions in the freezer); chopped leeks and courgettes added & browned.  Two crushed garlic cloves, fresh thyme and parsley, dried oregano chucked in and swished around for a while.  Chicken stock added (enough to cover veg plus a bit more) and simmered for about 15 minutes.  Blitzed in the food processor, added soured cream, a little double cream, and chives.  Reheated, adjusted seasoning, added an extra swirl of cream and more fresh herbs to finish.  Served with warm g/f cheesy puffs made with extra mature cheddar and English mustard.  It tasted insanely good.

Chicken pear and stilton saladWednesday dinner: Warm salad of grilled chicken breast and sweet ripe pears, with creamy blue Stilton and crunchy caramelised walnuts; served with baked tomatoes on a bed of crisp, fresh watercress and baby spinach leaves, dressed with wholegrain mustard and balsamic vinaigrette.

Barn made the leftovers into a sandwich for his lunch at work the next day.  I believe he was hoping for a reaction something akin to one of these:

What he got was this:

K: What’ve you got there?

Barn: Olive ciabatta, with watercress, pears and…

K: Pears?!

Barn: Yeh, and blue cheese…

K: Mouldy cheese?!

Barn:  …and chicken.

Pause, while each chews their chosen lunch and K contemplates Barn’s sandwich

K, dubiously: Well, I suppose the chicken would be ok.

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