Monday, 9 March 2015

Nice Savoury Tart for the Family - Leek, Mushroom & Walnut

Usually my recipes serve 2 or 4, but since I made this tart for 6 of us, here are the recipe and the quantities used. It's at its finest straight out of the oven - and is most easily divided by cutting with scissors! Can be eaten at room temperature, or - if there is any left - reheated in a moderate oven for about ten minutes.

Ready-rolled pastry is a little more expensive than block, but saves so much time. Here I used a single sheet of Sainsbury's puff pastry; it weighs 375g, which is a little more than most other brands, and just right for six.

Leek, Mushroom and Walnut Tart

375g sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
3 tbsp decent oil
4 fat leeks, trimmed & sliced to about 15mm
200g mushrooms, trimmed & thinly sliced
50g walnut pieces, chopped coarsely
2 eggs
150ml creme fraiche or double cream
90g blue cheese - preferably vegetarian Stilton
2 tbsp snipped sage leaves (or other herb)

1  Line a large rectangular baking sheet with parchment. Unroll the pastry and place 
    the sheet, then use fingers to pinch up the sides all round to about 15mm.

2  Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large pan and saute 
    the leeks for about 10 mins; stir occasionally.
    Move them from the pan into a large bowl.

3  Add the rest of the oil to the pan and saute the
    mushrooms and walnuts for 3-4 mins. Add to 
    the leeks.

4  Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl with the creme 
    fraiche or cream, then crumble in the cheese, 
    add the sage and mix well.

5  Spread the leeks and mushrooms evenly across the pastry, then pour the egg/creme
    mixture over them and smooth out.

6  Bake for 30-35 mins until the filling is set and the pastry browning nicely.
Adjustments, Anyone?
If the family likes tomatoes, halved baby cherry or plum tomatoes could be dotted around the tart before baking, cut side upwards. If there's no sage, thyme leaves or coriander would be good. Hazel nuts could be substituted for walnuts, and you could add peas or sweetcorn!

We had a salad of baby spinach leaves, rocket, celery, cucumber, chopped dates and chopped pears. For a more substantial meal, buttered baby potatoes would be nice, and parsnips roasted in a lower shelf as the tart cooks instead of salad.

And to Drink?
Either a dry white wine or a light red (e.g. beaujolais) might go well, otherwise perhaps apple juice or just a sparkling mineral water.

Friday, 13 February 2015

A Pilgrim's Help in Confronting a Demon!

Couscous with Cheddar, Mushrooms and Onions

The company who make Pilgrims Choice kindly offered some of their cheese if I'd like to taste it, cook with it and blog about it. Since cheese is a favourite of ours, I was happy to say yes.  And because couscous has long been a problem for me - apparently healthy but bland - it seemed a good idea to take the bull by the horns, grasp the nettle, etc etc. Especially as middle-eastern food is trending in magazines.

Oddly, I get on well with tebbouleh which involves bulgar wheat - along with couscous, it's made from durum wheat. Bulgar could be a substitute here.

Pleased to say this actually worked well, so the birds will not be getting the rest of the couscous (after I soaked some to put in their latest bird cake-in-a-mug). The cheese was Pilgrims Choice Extra Mature Cheddar and made an excellent nibble before the cooking began. Would be a full-flavoured addition to a cheeseboard as well as for cooked dishes.

The recipe takes 30 minutes or so once the ingredients are ready. The quantities would serve 2 as a main; I made half because Mr P shares my uncertainly about the grain.

Couscous with Cheddar, Mushrooms and Onions

60g wholewheat couscous
150ml boiling water
30g pine nuts or flaked almonds (optional)
1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion (80-100g), peeled and coarsely chopped
100g mushrooms, wiped and stalks trimmed, fairly thinly sliced
Heaped tbsp snipped herbs, e.g. parsley, coriander, basil, sage, or thyme leaves
50g cheddar, coarsely grated e.g. Pilgrims Choice Mature!

1  Place couscous in a small bowl. Stir in the water and leave for a few minutes.
2  Meanwhile, toast the nuts by heating gently in a small, dry pan for about 5 mins,
          stirring frequently to prevent charring.
3  Empty the nuts into the couscous. Use the same pan to heat the oil.
4  Fry the onions gently for 5 mins.
5  Add the mushrooms and fry a further 5 mins.
6  Add these to the couscous with the herbs and about 3/4 of the cheese and some
          ground black pepper and mix well.
7  Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
8  Heat through by either microwaving (maybe 1min30secs) or placing under a hot grill
          for a couple of minutes.

The ingredients can be juggled around to some extent. Grated nutmeg might be good, or finely sliced leeks instead of onions. A couple of crushed garlic cloves could be added at Stage 4, as could some finely sliced red pepper.

To my surprise this was an easy cook-up that I'm very likely to prepare again. I don't expect to serve it to Mr P any time soon, but with this quantity, the second half could be chilled and reappear at room temperature the next day.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

What a Whopper! Courgette Longboats - Vegetarian or Vegan

Fritters, soup, stir-fried or baked, and still the courgettes come. When Mr P found one that had escaped his notice and grown to about 22cm, something had to be done with it. The result was a repeat of a recipe I devised for a competition a while ago; requirement was a cheap two-course meal and the prize was a set of kitchen white goods. Those were the days, when really good prizes were plentiful if you made the effort.

Courgettes stuffed with mainly inexpensive ingredients seemed worth a go, so I sliced them longways and scooped out the flesh to make a boat shape. Longboats seems a good title - really important in recipe competitions at that time. For info, the dessert recipe was for a butterscotch meringue mountain, which I still make quite often.

The recipe below serves two, or four for a starter as there are four pieces. It's vegetarian, but would be vegan if the bread is suitable (e.g. Everfresh Sprouted Rye Bread from Holland & Barrett; it's organic and free from dairy, wheat and yeast). Timing is under an hour from start to serving, and the dish is not diet-antagonistic! Quantities are approximate, depending on the size of the veg and how much you scoop out.

Courgette Longboats
1 very large courgette, or 2 medium, halved lengthways, & if large, across also
tsp of oil
1 medium onion, chopped fairly finely
1 large savoy cabbage leaf (or similar), spine removed, chopped
half slice of bread, preferably wholemeal, hand-crumbled or whizzed
juice (and optional grated zest) of half a lemon
3 tbsp cream cheese, pref lower fat
4 skinned, chopped tomatoes or 4 tbsp from a tin, drained of 'loose juice'
2 heaped tbsp walnut pieces
salt & pepper
Ready for the oven
1  Using a teaspoon, hollow out most of the courgette flesh, leaving each piece in
          a boat shape and reserving the flesh.
2  Heat the oil and fry the onion gently 3-4 mins.
3  Add the cabbage (or whatever greens) and fry a further 3 mins.
4  In a small bowl place all the rest of the ingredients, add the onion mixture
          and about a quarter of the removed flesh, finely chopped. Stir well.
5  Judge whether the amount is enough to fill the boats; if not, add a little more 
          onion, cream cheese and/or chopped flesh.
5  Place the boats, hollowed side up, in a greased oven-proof dish and pile the 
          mixture into them, pressing down as you go.
6  Cover the dish with foil and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 mins
          until the shells are soft when pierced with a knife.

Served up with sauce

To the mixture could be added chopped mushrooms, grated nutmeg, or light herbs such as thyme, sage or parsley. Spinach could replace the cabbage, and other nuts used instead of walnuts. Whatever you fancy!

Here it's served with cheese sauce - I like Asda's packet sauce which requires only boiling water to make up. It tastes great and isn't high in calories. I also have a drum of non-dairy 'cheese sauce powder' which would go well too. Baby potatoes would be good, or some French beans or sugar snap peas. To drink, maybe apple juice or vegetarian/vegan dry white wine. OK, no contest there.

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Quorn Fillets in Vermouth with Tarragon & Creme Fraiche

Serves 2, takes about 30 minutes (plus thawing if frozen). Easy recipe. From calorie-counting sites, this comes out at about 320 cals per serving, mainly because of the oil and creme fraiche. The latter could be replaced by yogurt for a lower count.

Not everyone likes to eat vegetarian food that looks like meat, and interestingly, Quorn are now calling their fillets 'Chicken Fillets' - it's Vegetarian Society approved though, and I guess they get away with it by making this clear on the front of the pack.

I've been a fan of Quorn for some time, in fact since they changed to free-range eggs in order to get Veg Soc approval for the whole range, and more customers. It's not that they look like meat - and have similar texture - but that they are enjoyable in their own right and, especially, versatile.

When we go to have lunch with rellies where we all have different likes, each of us chooses a meal and brings it to the occasion. I devised this recipe for mine and everyone commented how luscious it looked; I'm sure I had the best deal! But for the reason why there's no pic of the finished dish, see below ...

The quantity serves two, but of course can easily be doubled or - as in my lunch - halved! With this method, the cook needs to be on hand all the time, but if there's a need to leave the kitchen for a while, the recipe could be made up from steps 1 to 5 inclusive, and the food placed in a shallow oven dish and left in a moderate oven (say 150C) to finish cooking  for 15 minutes, with the creme fraiche added just before serving.

Quorn Fillets in Vermouth with Tarragon & Creme Fraiche
2 tbsp oil
4 Quorn fillets
half a leek, trimmed & finely sliced
75g mushrooms (about 6 medium), wiped & stalks trimmed, coarsely sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon (leaves only) or 1 good tsp dried
75 ml white vermouth (preferably dry)
150 ml hot vegetarian stock (e.g. scant tsp bouillon powder)
100ml creme fraiche

1  Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a medium pan, medium heat, then saute the fillets gently
        for 5 mins, turning once during cooking, so that they are lightly browned.
2  Remove the fillets from the pan, add the remaining oil and saute the leeks for
        4-5 minutes, stirring at times, until starting to brown.
3  Add the mushrooms and saute gently for 2 mins, stirring at least once.
4  Return the fillets to the pan with the tarragon & vermouth, and cook 5 more mins.
5  Stir in the stock.
6  Simmer for 5-7 mins more, then stir in the creme fraiche to thicken the sauce
        just before serving. Place two fillets on each plate and spoon the sauce over.

A medium onion could be used instead of leek. Dry sherry would work instead of vermouth, or this could be omitted and the volume of stock increased a little. Tarragon is the business here, but otherwise thyme leaves, coriander or parsley could stand in.

Suggest new or 'baby' potatoes and whole French beans. Rice at a pinch. To accompany, dry white wine, cider or apple juice.

Fessing Up!
When I rustled this up for the rellie meal, I forgot to take its picture, although it looked very appetising. Then, for the same purpose, made it again a few days later; remembered to have the camera at the ready, took the picture - sauce dark and forbidding since I'd forgotten to stir in the creme fraiche (which makes it paler and a better background for the fillets). Could my word do for this? 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Mushroom, Leek & Goat Cheese Mille Feuilles

Those who love desserts will know that 'mille feuilles' is French for 'a thousand leaves', so called as it's usually made with sweet stuff sandwiched between layers of puff pastry. My recipe here is a savoury version, and for me it's a keeper. I made two individual servings, but for any more than that it would be better to make one long piece and carve with a very sharp knife to serve.

Each ingredient can be prepared in advance, but otherwise, once the pastry is thawed, the whole thing could be done from start to serving in about an hour. The extra in the picture is smashed roasted baby potatoes - the potatoes are simmered for about 5 minutes, then drained and crushed a little (e.g. with the end of a rolling pin) before placing in an oiled tin and putting in the oven about 15 minutes before the pastry goes in.

To toast flaked almonds, warm a small pan and dry fry them for 3-4 mins, stirring often to prevent burning.

Mushroom, Leek & Goat Cheese Mille Feuilles - serves 2 but easily increased.

The pastry should be thawed in the fridge for a few hours. The oven needs to be at just under 200C; suggest turning it on once the filling ingredients are individually prepared and before rolling out the pastry. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

About 130g frozen puff pastry, thawed (if from a frozen rolled sheet, cut a piece about 12cm long)
few drops of milk
1 tbsp oil
1 small leek, trimmed and finely sliced
80g mushrooms (approx 4 medium) trimmed and finely sliced
40g soft goat cheese (about 4cm from a log), sliced into four
1 good tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or parsley/coriander)
2 tbsp toasted flaked almonds (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

1  If using part of a sheet of pastry, open out the strip and roll out gently to be just a little longer and wider. 
    Cut evenly crossways into six pieces.
    If using a block, roll out thinly to a strip around 24 cm x 12cm, then halve lengthwise and cut each strip
    crossways into three pieces. Place on the baking sheet and brush lightly with milk.

2  Put the pastry pieces in to bake for 15 minutes. When they're puffed and golden, remove from the oven
    but don't turn it off yet.

3  Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium pan and saute the leek for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add
    the mushrooms and thyme and saute for a further 5 mins. Add the goat cheese, almonds and a good
    pinch of pepper and mix well.

4  To build the mille feuilles, press down lightly on four of the cooked pieces, keeping the other two as they 
    are for the tops. Divide half of the filling between two of the flattened pastry pieces and cover them with 
    the other two. Spread the remaining filling over these and top them with the remaining two, pressing down
    gently but without breaking the puffiness.

5  Return to the oven for 5 minutes to heat through.

And there you have it. Substitutions can be made for the filling, e.g. onions for the leek, cream cheese for goats, chopped walnuts or hazels instead of almonds. For glamour, the mushrooms could have a splash of sherry, brandy or vermouth in which to simmer until the liquid is reduced. Shredded spinach could be added to the pan with the mushrooms. A hot vegetable of choice would be right for this, and a light wine would do justice, perhaps a dry white.

I'm thinking this would make a good vegetarian main for Christmas lunch, with preps done earlier, though it needs attention for the last 20 minutes. The ingredients could also be transported easily if the cook should be working in someone else's kitchen!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Wild Rice with Apricots and Coconut - Easy Main Dish or Side

What's sold as wild rice is, more usually, a mixture of long-grain rice and dark-skinned rarer rice-alike special grass seeds. It makes a dish more visually appealing, I think, although it does take much longer to cook than straight rice - about 45 minutes on the hob or an hour or so in a pre-heated slow cooker. It needs still to have a bit of bite when it's served.

This recipe would serve around 2-3 as a main course, or a good 4 as a side. Nothing complicated about it, and quantities could of course be reduced although cooking time would be about the same. Time to prepare is 15-20 minutes. Any leftovers are good at room temperature.

Wild Rice with Apricots and Coconut

1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, peeled and fairly finely chopped
180g wild rice
8 dried soft ready-to-eat apricots, snipped to hazelnut size
20g desiccated coconut
400ml (approx) vegetarian stock
1 heaped tbsp cumin seeds (optional)

1 Heat the oil in a medium to large pan.
2 Add the onion and fry gently for 5 mins, stirring occasionally.
3 Add the rice and fry gently for 2 mins, stirring to coat with the oil.
4 Add the apricots, coconut, stock and cumin seeds and mix well.
5 Leave to simmer gently on the hob for about 45 mins (or according to packet
       instructions), stirring fairly often and adding a little more stock or water if it's 
       absorbed before the rice is ready.
(If using a slow cooker, tip the mixture in at stage 5 and leave for an hour or so until the rice has a chewable texture but still with bite. Stir from time to time.)

A handful of roasted peanuts or cashews could be added at stage 5, or coarsely chopped hazel nuts, perhaps instead of the cumin seeds. Herbs such as thyme or coriander could be added towards the end of cooking.

If the rice is served to the side of the plate, vegetarian sausages or burgers would go well, as would, say, a fried chick pea patty or two or some falafel. A roasted half butternut squash would be good, filled with a little seasoned goat cheese and breadcrumbs - or indeed filled with the wild rice itself. Perhaps a glass of rich red, maybe Hungarian, too.


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Fennel Recipe - How to Make It Less Like Marmite

It's a strange one, fennel. Looks lovely, but tastes of aniseed if eaten raw as in shredded for salad. Not my favourite way. (Don't like anise drinks either, but aniseed balls always desirable.) Cook it in an interesting way, though, and its flavour is far milder and a little like celery in consistency as well as taste. It's not that cheap a veg compared with, say, carrots - I paid 85p for one bulb at the greengrocer's - but cheaper than a large aubergine!

It's the old Marmite analogy - instinctively you either love it or hate it. But this recipe makes it delightful for some, and 'quite nice' for others (e.g. Mr P). I really don't think anyone could dislike the result. (Stand by for contradictions.)

The recipe is a variant of one found in the Cook supplement of the Observer, devised by leftoverliz ( It takes about 30 mins from start to serving, and is prepared on the hob. The quantities make 2 good portions as a substantial side dish.

Fennel with Garlic and Orange Juice

1 tbsp oil - olive or rapeseed are good
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed or finely chopped
1 tsp soft brown sugar (optional)
1 bulb of fennel, sliced fairly finely, slices halved (I remove fronds and base)
15g butter
120ml orange juice
Optional 10 pitted green olives, halved

1  Heat the oil in a medium pan and gently sautee the onion and garlic with the
         sugar for 5 mins, stirring occasionally.
2  Add the butter and stir to melt.
3  Add the fennel and orange juice, and simmer gently for 20 mins, stirring at times.
4  If using olives, stir them in just before serving.

*               *               *               *               *

Mains that would go with this include vegburgers or sausages, pasties, and pasta. We had a quick dish of cooked penne, cheese sauce (yep, from a packet), grated Lyburn's Old Winchester cheese (like Parmesan), Dijon mustard, chopped walnuts and black pepper. Started at the same time as the fennel, took 20 mins, then into a hot oven for the last 10 mins to heat through so both ready at the same time. Thinking as a main dish, addition of a drained can of chick peas?