Sunday, 19 March 2017

Cauli & Sage Risotto with Walnuts using a slow cooker - or not!

This is a dish that can be cooked on the hob, in the oven, or in the slow cooker; here is my slow cooker version, with notes on the other methods at the end. The recipe was inspired by an oven-bake version from Sainsbury's Magazine March 2017.

The resulting quantity would serve 4, and this method needs about 1h 40m from start to serving. The cooker comes on right at the start (I keep it on high setting throughout for this), and the cauliflower and following ingredients can be prepared while the onion etc is cooking.

Cauliflower and Sage Risotto with Walnuts

This is about half the complete recipe

30g butter
1 large onion, peeled and chopped fairly finely
3 good garlic cloves, peeled and crushed or pressed
150g risotto rice
450ml hot vegetarian stock
1 medium cauliflower, florets only, cut to ping-pong-ball size
leaves from 1 large stem of sage, finely snipped (8-10g)
50g walnut pieces, coarsely chopped
60g crumbled vegetarian cheese (I use 40g hard/Cheddar, 20g blue)

1  Start the slow cooker on high, adding half of the butter and leave to melt while
          preparing the onion and garlic.

2  Add the onion, garlic and rice to the cooker, stir well, then leave for 5 mins.

3  Pour in about 400ml of the stock, keeping the rest in case needed later.
          Stir then leave for 45 mins. If the mixture starts to look claggy, stir in
          more stock bit by bit.

4  Meanwhile, prepare the cauliflower, sage, walnuts and cheese. Bring water to
          boil in a large pan then simmer the cauli florets for 5 mins. Drain the
          water from the pan, add the remaining butter and sautee the cauli very
          gently for another 5 mins. (I prefer this to adding it early on to the cooker
          as it gives better control of consistency.)

5  Optional - dry fry the walnut pieces for 3-4 mins. (Put in small dry pan over 
          medium heat and stir often, avoiding burning.)

6  After the 45 mins, add in the cauliflower, sage and walnut pieces, mix well
          and cook for 15 mins.

7  Then stir in the cheese and leave to cook for a further 10 mins.

     *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

To bake this in the oven, I'd suggest 160C. 
(a)  Sautee the onion and garlic in a pan.
(b)  Mix in the rice and stir for a minute or two.
(c)  Add the stock.
(d)  Pile into a large oven dish (leaving enough space for the cauliflower.) 
(e)  After about 30 mins add the cauli, sage, walnuts and cheese, mixing well.
(f)  Bake for a further 20 mins.
For more excitement, top with some grated cheddar for the last 10 mins!

For cooking on the hob, use a large pan. Follow (a) to (c) then (e), adding a little extra stock if needed as it cooks. Stir from time to time. Cook for a further 15-20 mins until you like the consistency.

No side dishes are necessary here, although some warm, crusty garlic bread would be great if that's not too much carb. Otherwise a side salad.

Broccoli, broad beans, peas all go well in this risotto. Instead of walnuts: hazelnuts, brazils or pecans would be good; almonds might stay rather too hard. Thyme leaves instead of sage? This recipe should be called 'Anything with Anything Risotto'.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Walnut, Three-Cheese and Apricot Strudel

Pretty pleased with this one: a savoury version of strudel that is easy to make and lovely with it. Though I say so myself!

The quantities given will serve four with large appetites or otherwise six as a hot main, or would make eight to twelve nice slices served cold - it's easier to slice more thinly then. The whole process from start to serving takes me about 70mins, including 35m cooking time. The ingredients can be prepared in advance, making the method itself very quick. The oven needs to be at 190C fan oven (200C otherwise) before the dish goes in. 

A large baking sheet is needed, lined with baking parchment, and a medium bowl.

Walnut, Three-Cheese and Apricot Strudel
1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry, thawed in the fridge for a few hours
90g walnut pieces (or halves), chopped fairly small
70g soft goats' cheese
50g blue cheese, crumbled
40g cheddar, coarsely grated
70g dried apricots (about 10), soaked for an hour, then drained well & coarsely chopped
3 tbsp snipped fresh herbs (basil, thyme leaves, sage, coriander all OK) 
2 tbsp milk

1  Unroll the pastry on its covering paper, then roll out a little to thin it slightly. It will be 
       the right shape (rectangular).

2  Put all the other ingredients except milk into a bowl and mix them very well.

3  Spread the mixture evenly over the pastry, leaving a 2cm space at each short end 
       and the farther long side. Dampen all these edge spaces with water.

4  Starting with a short end, roll the pastry up quite firmly, pressing down at the end, then
       place the strudel on the lined baking tray and brush with milk. Use a sharp knife to
       make slashes straight across the top: for 4 people, slash the middle, then three
       evenly-spaced slashes each side of the middle (for 8 slices) or for 6 people, up to 
       5 slashes each side of the middle (for 12 slices). Brush lightly with the milk.

Half-size version, oven-ready, with Sunday cocktail

 5  Bake towards the top of the oven for around 35 minutes, until well browned. Use a
       very sharp knife to slice the strudel.

And ... carve!
As usual, substitutions are fine. A different nut, or selection of them, will work just as well; pecans or brazils especially, and could include a few pine nuts. Instead of apricots, dried cranberries would work, no chopping required, and a festive feel. I've not tried this with capers, but that might be nice. As long as there's a mix of nuts, cheese and a little fruit, it would be hard to go wrong.

For info, I like to serve with buttered baby potatoes and a vegetable such as broccoli, cauli or tenderstem in a parsley sauce (lazily made from granules in a drum, just add boiling water or, better still, the boiling water from the veg when they're done). Red or dry white wine both go well; as it's nuts and cheese, quite strong flavours, I'd choose red. A dry cider would match, too, or apple juice.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Pumpkin, Bean & Potato Gratin

There must be loads of scooped-up pumpkin flesh languishing in fridges after the jack-o-lanterns are done, so here's one thing to do with it. The recipe would work equally well with flesh of a butternut squash.

This recipe should serve four as a vegetarian main, and takes just a little over an hour from start to serving, given that the pumpkin flesh is ready to be chopped. The potatoes can be par-boiled in advanced rather than 'during'.

The oven should be at 190C (fan), gas mark 5, shelf at the middle or just above. A large and a medium pan are needed, and a greased ovenproof gratin dish - I chose my dish once the main filling was ready, since it shrinks as it simmers. We didn't feel any side dishes were needed! If cooks want the dish just a little bit spicy, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin can be added at stage 4 - that's my choice.

Doh. Food eaten before I thought about a picture of it.

Pumpkin, Bean and Potato Gratin 

2 tbsp oil
450g pumpkin flesh, chopped coarsely into cubes
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced quite thinly
15g butter
2 medium onions, peeled & quite finely chopped
4 good cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
200g chopped cooked tomatoes
400g tin of haricot beans, drained
220ml double cream
75g grated vegetarian hard cheese or Cheddar 

1  Heat the oil in the large pan, then add the pumpkin and saute gently for about
       15 mins until tender.
2  Put the potatoes in the medium pan, cover with water, bring to boil for 5 mins.
       Then drain and set aside.
3  Add the butter, onions and garlic to the pumpkin, mix well and cook another
       5 mins.
4  Add the chopped tomatoes and haricot beans, mix and season well.  
5  Add the cream, stir and bring to the boil, then pour the mixture into the gratin
       dish and smooth over.
Cover with the sliced potato as a layer, then sprinkle the cheese evenly over.
7  Bake for about 35 mins until bubbling nicely. (If the dish is rather full, place a
       baking tray beneath it to catch any liquid spilling over.)

As mentioned, butternut squash flesh would be fine, though it might need a few more minutes to soften in the pan. The potato layer could be omitted, or the cheese omitted and the potatoes brushed with olive oil to crisp them up a little. Tinned butter beans make a good substitute for haricot.

Fresh tomatoes could be used, with a slit in each then plunged into boiling water for 3-4 minutes so that the skins can be removed. (Let them cool a bit first.) Alternatively tinned tomatoes are fine; I like half of a small carton of tomatoes from Sainsbury's.  

Any fresh herbs could be added at stage 4, such as snipped basil or sage. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Stuffed Fiorelli Pasta + Spinach with sauce of parsley, nutmeg and vermouth

This dish can be prepped and served in 15 minutes. It does cheat with ready-made stuffed pasta and sauce granules, but the finished dish is, I think, a real pleaser and great value too. The quantities given serve two, and various substitutions are easily made.

Ready, steady ...

I've used Waitrose goats' cheese & caramelised onion fiorelli (at time of writing £3, or 2 packs for £4), but also good would be Sainsbury's or Asda's cheese or mushroom tortelloni (about £1.50). I like Bisto vegetarian parsley sauce granules (just add boiling water), and the vermouth is a basic brand. Spinach is from the garden, and is optional here. Some black pepper was ground over the pasta to serve, just before the sauce was added, but then I've a thing about black pepper and it isn't a must-do, so it's not in the ingredients list.

I served also small side salads made from just halved baby plum tomatoes, rocket and sliced red onion. These can be knocked up while water is boiling for pasta and sauce, or just before starting pasta preps.

handful of fresh spinach leaves (optional), any thick spines removed 
4 tbsp parsley sauce granules
1 tsp finely grated nutmeg
2 tbsp dry vermouth
1 pack stuffed fiorelli pasta (to serve 2)
two small sprigs of parsley or basil (again, optional)

Warm two pasta bowls or coupe dishes.
1  Put plenty of water in a medium pan and set to boil.
2  Meanwhile, shred the spinach (if using) and put in a small pan with a few drops of 
         water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 3-4 mins.
3  Bring a kettle to boil with about 300ml water.
4  Put the parsley sauce granules and nutmeg in a small measuring jug and fill to 
         200ml with boiling water from the kettle. Stir well until it starts to thicken, then
         stir in the vermouth.
5  Put the pasta in the medium pan of boiling water, turn down the heat and simmer 
         for 3 mins.  
6  Meanwhile, lift the spinach with a slotted spoon and drain, then spread over the
         bases of the bowls. Lift and drain the pasta in the same way and spread in
         the bowls. 
7  Pour the sauce over the pasta, and top each dish with a herb sprig.

Yes, it's a fairly frenetic 15 minutes, but this is because the spinach, pasta and sauce should all be ready at the same time and each is very quick to cook!

As above, any filled pasta would work, and instead of spinach a few cooked peas could be scattered among the pasta. 

Packet sauces would be fine too, and Bisto does drums of plain white sauce granules which, like the parsley version (but not the cheese version) is suitable for vegetarians. The white sauce could be flavoured with grated vegetarian cheese or snipped soft herbs.

Dry sherry could take the place of the vermouth, and instead of a herb sprig to garnish, snipped coriander or parsley leaves could be sprinkled over the whole dish. 

This blog is not usually price-conscious, but the above recipe really is economical! Unless you serve it with a posh Italian red wine, that is.


Monday, 21 March 2016

Shortbread with (or without) Stem Ginger

Shortbread, the real thing - surely everyone loves it? Not difficult to make, and it lends itself to interesting flavourings. The option here is stem ginger (clue is in the title ...), but this shortbread without it is delicate and delightful too, I think.

This recipe takes very roughly 60 minutes to prepare including chilling, and about 25 to bake, allowing for varying ovens and depending on the size of your biscuits, as they say. Here's a very artistically posed picture of four made with the ginger:

(Well my great uncle was an artist. But not a cook.)

I like to make these small, about 5cm x 3cm, on a baking sheet but of course they can be larger and even hand-pressed into a square or round tin (for 'petticoat tails'). At the smaller size the quantity of dough makes 25 or so. Either way, the baking sheet or tin is best lined with parchment.

Shortbread with Stem Ginger
120g plain flour
55g semolina flour
60g caster sugar
120g butter, softened a little
4 pieces of stem ginger, chopped fairly finely

1  Sift the two flours into a medium bowl. Add 50g of the caster sugar, the butter and 
         3/4 of the ginger, and blend together. Then knead the dough on a floured board 
         (or with dough hook) until smooth. Rest in the fridge for about 15 minutes.
2  Roll out or press the dough to a thickness of about 7-8mm, and cut into pieces of the
         size of your choice. Rectangles are traditional and easier to avoid waste than if
         you choose circles.
3  Place the pieces, a little apart from one another, on the baking sheet and prick each
         2-3 times with a fork. Press one small piece of the remaining ginger into the top
         of each.
Bake for about 25-28 minutes until firm and golden brown, watching carefully for the
         final few minutes.
Leave on the baking sheet to cool a little, then sprinkle with the remaining 10g of caster
         sugar. Cool completely and store in a tin.

No ginger on top of these
Instead of stem ginger, I fancy using dried lavender next time, since it's lovely in muffins and creme brulee. Not a fan of millionaire's shortbread, but a pattern of thin lines of flavoured icing piped over the biscuits could work well. Thinking strawberry, lemon or orange. Or, for special occasions (e.g. Easter), the biscuits could be a little bigger and have a name piped on each. To be dry, you could pipe 'biscuit' on them.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Candied Walnuts - you can't eat just one ...

Here's one of my favourite sweet nibbles, just right if you've finished the Quality Street, After Eights, liqueur chocolates and so on.

Ready in 20 minutes plus a little cooling time. Pecan nuts would work well too, and maybe macadamia, but probably not harder nuts like brazils or almonds.

Candied Walnuts
20g butter
20g caster sugar
200g walnut halves
pinch of salt

1  Heat the butter and sugar gently in a medium pan, stirring at times, until the
       butter melts and sugar dissolves.
2  Add the nuts and salt and allow to bubble very gently for 12-15 mins, stirring
       often, until the nuts are well coated and starting to caramelise.
3  Tip onto baking parchment, separate the nuts, and leave to cool.
4  Store in a tin. 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Vegetarian Moussaka (that could be vegan)

This recipe is adapted from one by Anna Jones, featured in the Vegetarian Society's recent magazine. Anna has made it vegan - more on this at the end of the recipe* - but this version remains vegetarian and has some short cuts including the all-important sauce. It should take perhaps 1h 20m from start to serving; some ingredients can be prepped while others pre-cook. 

Although this recipe looks quite long, there are no special skills involved - only peeling, slicing, turning and layering, and possibly boiling a kettle for the sauce. The quantities given serve 2 to 3.

A medium-sized griddle pan gives a nice effect for the aubergine and potatoes, but otherwise a frying pan is OK. Also needed is a large roasting tin and a fairly shallow, lightly-oiled oven-proof dish - a round one especially suits the finished moussaka. I used a cast-iron frying pan 4cm deep and diameter about 20cm. Some kitchen paper is useful to blot the tomato slices.

The oven is set at 180C and preps can begin as soon as it's switched on.

Vegetarian Moussaka
2 tbsp oil
250g large tomatoes (3-4)
2 medium red onions
1 small red chilli snipped finely or half tsp chilli flakes/powder
1 lemon, juice and grated zest
salt & pepper
300g small potatoes
1 large aubergine
500ml cheese sauce - ready-made or hot-water packet or granules
2 tbsp snipped fresh parsley

1  Pour the oil into the roasting tin and place in the oven when you switch it on.
       While the oven heats up, slice the tomatoes to 1cm, blot with kitchen paper then 
       halve them. Peel the onions and slice slightly more finely; halve the larger rounds.

2  When the oven is up to temp, tip in the tomatoes and onions. Add the chilli and
       lemon zest, then season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat the ingredients
       well, then roast for 20 mins. Remove from the oven but maintain the temp.
       Meanwhile ...

3  Wash the potatoes and slice to about 1.5cm. Place in a pan with water, bring to the 
       boil and simmer 15 mins, then drain. Meanwhile ...

4  Heat the griddle pan (or frying pan) with a dash of oil. Trim the ends from the
       aubergine then slice to 1.5cm. Cook the slices in batches until browned both sides. 
       Set aside.

5  Griddle or fry the potato slices until browned each side, then arrange in the oven

6  Add the lemon juice to the tomato and onion and mix well, then pile on top of
       the potatoes, spreading evenly. Top with a nice arrangement of the aubergine.

7  Make up the sauce (if not ready-prepped) and pour it over the veg, covering
       all the aubergine. Bake for about 25 mins until bubbling and turning brown.
       Scatter the parsley over the dish just before serving. 

Alternative Ingredients
The main ingredients are basic and don't lend themselves to alternatives, but if the sauce isn't that strong, some crumbled blue cheese or Cheddar could be mixed in. Some thinly sliced mushrooms could be added as a layer between tomatoes and aubergine, and/or two pressed garlic cloves, but otherwise I would keep to the hymn sheet.  

For wine I prefer red with this. A small side salad would go well, and perhaps some crusty bread if potatoes and bread are acceptable to your diners at the same meal. Or you could go mad and serve a couple of nice browned vegetarian sausages at the edge of the plate.

*Anna Jones's Vegan Version
The sauce is the issue. Anna recommends making a bechamel by melting 1.5 tbsp of coconut oil in a pan, adding same quantity of spelt flour, mixing to make a roux, then adding 150ml unsweetened almond milk gradually, whisking all the time to keep it smooth and continuing until it thickens.