Monday, December 23, 2013

Home Sweet Home

One of the best things about being at home for the holidays is of course getting to spend time with my family.  But aside from that it's great because I can use an oven!  So, you may not be able to make the next few recipes in a student kitchen, but hey, it's Christmas!

The first thing I cooked once home was baked potatoes for my family.  It may be possible to make them in a microwave but they just aren't as good.  For one thing it's impossible to get the skin nice and crispy.  Baked potatoes are really simple, all you need are some large potatoes (suitable for baking) - one per person - some olive oil, salt and your choice of toppings.  I made tuna mayonnaise for mine but cheese or baked beans are also easy alternatives.  To serve you'll need some butter and salad.

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 and while it heats up prepare the potatoes.  Wash them, dry them, rub them in some olive oil and salt (not too much) and pierce the skins so that they don't burst while baking.  Then place them on a tray and bake in the oven for 1 1/2 hours (check after 45 minutes and turn them if necessary to make sure they don't burn and that they are evenly baked).  In the meantime prepare your topping of choice, mix a can of tuna with a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise and some sweetcorn, grate some cheese or heat some baked beans in the microwave.  When the potatoes are done take them out of the oven, put them on plates, cut them open and melt some butter in each - this makes them a little less dry in texture.  Serve with your choice of topping and some mixed salad if you fancy something green.  There you have it, a super-simple and really delicious dinner.

Baked potato with tuna mayo
The next recipe I tried is one I got from the December issue of the GoodFood Magazine.  I made chicken and leek pot pies for my family and they were very yummy.  The recipe makes four small portions, however, I wanted to cook this as a main meal so I doubled the ingredients and used slightly larger ramekins.

For 6 portions you will need:
50g butter
6 small leeks, washed and sliced (Or one large and one small leek)
700g tub fresh cheese sauce (or you can make one from scratch*)
Bunch chives, chopped
400g cooked chicken, torn or cut into bite-sized chunks
6tbsp milk
2tbsp Dijon mustard
440g pack ready-rolled shortcrust pastry (or make some yourself**)
plain flour, for dusting
1 large egg, beaten

* Cheese sauce
40g butter
40g plain flour
570ml (1 pint) milk
75g (extra-)mature cheddar cheese

** Pastry
330g plain flour
Pinch of salt
25g softened butter
25g softened lard

As I had a lot of time I decided to make everything from scratch.

It is best to make the pastry in advance in order to leave it to chill before you roll it out.  I made a little too much pastry so that the rest could be used for mince pies, but you can always make slightly less.  Sift 330g plain flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl.  Weigh out the lard and butter and cut them up into cubes.  Add the fat to the flour and gently rub it into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture has a crumbly consistency.  Add a tablespoon of water and start bringing the dough together with your hands.  Continue to add liquid a tablespoon at a time (to make sure you don't add too much) until the pastry sticks together to form a ball.  Wrap this in cling film and place it in the fridge for 30 mins to chill.

In the meantime heat the oven to gas mark 5 and put the chicken in for 25 minutes.

While the chicken was in the oven I made a cheese sauce.  To make a roux (a paste) which is the base of the sauce melt 40g butter in a saucepan and, once it has completely melted, stir in 40g plain flour, making sure you beat out all the lumps.  Then add milk to the roux little by little making sure it is fully combined before adding any more.  Once you have added about half the milk you can begin adding it in larger quantities, but continue to make sure you mix everything thoroughly so that your sauce isn't lumpy.  Leave the sauce over a low heat (continue to stir occasionally) to thicken while you grate the cheese.  Once grated stir in the cheese and continue stirring while it melts into the sauce.  Once the sauce is thick and fully combined set to one side.

Next you will need to cook the leeks.  Melt the butter in a large pan, add the chopped leeks, cover and leave to cook for 10 mins until they are soft.  Remove them from the heat an stir in the cheese sauce, chives, milk, mustard and the chicken (which should be cooked by now).  Don't forget to shred the chicken using two forks before adding it to the leeks.  Mix well and spoon into small dishes or ramekins (another advantage to being at home is that you have the right equipment and dishes!)

Now sprinkle some plain flour onto a flat surface and roll out the pastry until it is about 3mm thick.  Cut out circles for the pie tops (make sure they are a little larger than your dishes/ramekins).  Place the pastry on top of the ramekins and trim to fit, crimp the edges and brush with egg to glaze.

Heat the oven to gas mark 5 and bake for 45 mins (covering the ramekins with foil for the first 15 mins and removing for the final 30 mins).  Serve with vegetables of your choice (I used carrots, broccoli and peas).  You could also freeze these pies before you cook them for up to 2 months and cook for 15 mins at gas mark 7 then 45 mins at gas mark 5, once again removing the foil for the final 30 mins of cooking).

And here's the result:
Chicken and Leek Pot Pie
This recipe was a lot of work, however, if you don't have as much time just buy ready-made sauce and pastry.  These pies made for a great family dinner.  It's good to be home!

The final recipe I'm going to tell you about in this post is from the January issue of the GoodFood Magazine.  This macaroni and cheese recipe is a little different as it includes tomatoes and chipolatas.

To serve 6 you will need:
12 chipolata sausages
Either 300g pack semi-dried tomatoes, drained (reserve 1tbsp oil for the sausages) and roughly chopped or 2-3 roughly chopped normal tomatoes
400g macaroni (or other small pasta shapes - but I think macaroni are this best)
75g butter
bunch spring onions, chopped
75g plain flour
1 litre semi-skinned milk
200g extra-mature cheddar, grated
50g parmesan, grated
6 rosemary sprigs, chopped plus a few small sprigs to finish (alternatively use dried rosemary)
Salad to serve

Heat the oven to gas 6.  Put the chipolats in a baking dish (approx 30 x 25cm - this will hold your pasta later so make sure it's big enough), drizzle with the oil and cook for 25 mins.

Meanwhile, cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling water (according to the instructions on a packet), then drain.  While the pasta cooks make the sauce in a large pan, melt the butter, then add the spring onions.  Fry for a couple of minutes to soften.  Stir in the flour and mix with the butter to make a paste.  Continue cooking for 30 secs, then add the milk, a little at a time, stirring continuously, until the sauce is thick and smooth.  Add the cheddar and parmesan (reserving a handful for the top), half the semi-dried tomatoes, the resemary, seasoning and macaroni, then stir everything together.

Remove the baking dish from the oven, transfer the sausages to a plate and pour away any oil from the dish.  Tip in the macaroni, nestle the sausages back in, pushing them in so that they are half exposed, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese, tomatoes (if using whole tomatoes then place several slices on the top) and rosemary.  Bake in the oven for 25 mins.  Serve with a salad.

Mac & Cheese
This recipe was perfect for a cold winter evening - good comfort food, to be enjoyed with friends or family.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Next time I post it will be 2014!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A very Mexican Christmas gathering

I had a few friends over the other night for a Christmassy evening with dinner, mulled cider and Love Actually.  My Grandpa got me subscription to the GoodFood magazine for Christmas and I have been drooling over the recipes ever since the first issue arrived so I decided to use my friends coming over as an excuse to try out a couple of the recipes.

I cooked a Mexican chicken stew with rice and beans which is perfect for when you've got a group of people over, the number you can cook it for is really only limited by the size of your pan.  Luckily for my friends, I have a large pan!

The recipe says it serves 4-5 people.  I made it for 5 however, one of my friends was vegetarian, so if you are cooking for more people make sure you have enough meat.  It took me about an hour to make but half an hour of that was just leaving the rice to cook (as I only have one hob).

Mexican chicken stew with rice and beans

You will need:
1tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped into large chunks
3tbsp chipotle paste
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
4 skinless chicken breasts
140g long grain rice (or whatever rice you prefer, I used brown rice)
400g can pinto beans, drained (I used kidney beans as I couldn't find pinto beans - any red bean will do as a substitute)
small pack coriander, most chopped, a few left whole for garnishing
juice 1 lime
1tbsp sugar
natural yoghurt to serve

As I only had one hob I cooked the rice first, however, if you are lucky enough to not have this problem then you can save yourself some time by preparing it at the same time as the chicken.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the onion and peppers for a few mins until softened.  Stir in the chipotle paste for 1 min followed by the tomatoes.  Add the chicken breasts, with up to a tomato can-full of water to cover them, then gently simmer, turning occasionally for 20 mins until the chicken is cooked through. (To test this take a chicken breast out of the pan and cut open through the thickest part, the chicken should be white, not pink.  It doesn't matter if you do this as you will be cutting the chicken up later anyway.)

Meanwhile boil a pan of water, add the rice and cook according to the instructions on the packet, add the beans for the final minute.  Drain well and stir in the coriander and lime juice, then season.  Cover to keep warm before serving.

Lift the cooked chicken out of the pan and onto a board/plate and shred using two forks (if the chicken is cooked properly then this will be easy as the chicken will just come apart).  Stir back into the tomato sauce with the sugar and season.  Serve with the rise, scattering the stew with the leftover coriander leaves just before you serve.  Eat with a dollop of yoghurt sprinkled with black pepper.

After the meal we chatted over glasses of mulled cider.  This took about half an hour, I simply put 2 1/2 pints cider into a pan with 400ml apple juice 1tbsp dark brown sugar and a ready made sachet of spices (plus an extra cinnamon stick broken in half and a couple of cloves).  If you don't have a sachet the recipe I have (once again from GoodFood magazine) recommends using: the zest of an orange, pared into strips, 4 whole cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks broken in half and tbsp allspice berries.  If you want to make your mulled cider a little more alcoholic then you can also add some calvados/brandy, however I decided that was a little extravagant for a student who doesn't really like brandy!  Once you've put all the ingredients into a pan gently heat to mull it (don't let it simmer/boil).  Keep at a low heat for 20-30mins then serve.

Some of the recipes I have written about, including the Mexican dish, may seem a little fancy for a student, especially if you are on a budget.  However, I'd like to share with you how I make things go further.  The stew itself didn't cost the earth, between 5 of us it was about £3 per portion, however, as I'm about to show you, some of the ingredients lasted for more than just one meal.

The following day I made myself a delicious lunch from leftovers in my fridge.  I fried up half an onion I had left over from another day and added some of the leftover chipotle paste.  I then added a half-can of chopped tomatoes which I'd kept along with some water.  I seasoned it and left to simmer and reduce.  As there was a lot of rice with beans left over from the previous night I put a portion onto a plate and heated it up for a minute in the microwave.  I served with some leftover coriander sprinkled on top, a dollop of yoghurt and some salami which needed eating up.  And there you go, a quick and easy way to make sure leftovers don't go to waste!

Leftovers lunch
By planning your meals and buying all the ingredients in one go at the start of the week you can save yourself a lot of money but still eat delicious and exciting food.

Thanks to my friends who came over the other night, I had a lovely evening!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Simply the Best

Today is my first truly free day in a couple of months.  I had my last supervisions yesterday and term is not officially over.  I decided to celebrate my (temporary freedom) by cooking brunch, something simple, but delicious.  Bacon-wrapped asparagus, fried with a couple of soft-boiled eggs and toasted soldiers.

Bacon-wrapped asparagus with soft-boiled eggs

I wrapped each stick of asparagus in a rasher of streaky bacon before frying until the bacon was cooked and the asparagus was softened (but still retained some of its crunchiness).  I then brought a pan of water to the boil and soft-boiled my eggs by leaving them in there for about 3mins and I toasted some bread at the same time.  When the eggs were done I put them into cold water (to stop them from cooking too much more so that they remained soft-boiled) and I quickly reheated the frying pan and tossed the sticks of asparagus and bacon again over the heat just to warm them up again (this meal is easier if you have two hobs as you can cook the eggs and asparagus simultaneously).  I buttered the toast, cut it into soldiers and sat down to enjoy this really simple but delicious brunch.

You may have notice from the picture that my egg is in an espresso mug.  I don't have egg cups, so I made do with what I do have, these cups were small and therefore idea for propping up my soft-boiled egg, however, any mug/cup would do.

Bon appetit!