Sunday, 27 June 2010

Quiche Lunch

Last week I had wanted to make use of some bacon, eggs and milk that I was in abundance of.  As we'd already had bacon and egg sandwich for breakfast I decided against it as it would hardly make for a balanced diet.  Today however, proved to be the ideal opportunity to make a quiche.

We were going to be out in the late afternoon so needed to make a substantial lunch to keep out energy levels up  - otherwise poor hubbs would get hungry and want to go home!

This was made up from guess work and scratch so I was pleased with the outcome - not all experiments in the kitchen turn out OK and these days I need to be quick in the kitchen and don't have too much patience to follow recipes and measurements strictly.  (Baking aside though - that is a food science and I think you have to be fairly strict to the guidelines.)

The pastry shell was made from shortcrust pastry and I probably had 200-250g of pastry - you can use store bought for speed and convenience.  Filling was simply a few things from the fridge, mushrooms, 2 rashers of bacon, a few sugar snap peas picked from my garden, shallots, eggs (from our own backyard hens), cheese and milk.

Bacon, Mushroom and Shallot Quiche
250-300g shortcrust pastry (I have seen ready baked pastry shells in supermarkets but find these too thick and too shallow for quiches and pies)
2 rashers of back bacon
8 mushrooms
3 shallots
few sugar snap peas
50g cheddar cheese (mine was a strong flavoured cheddar so I didn't use a huge amount as the taste would be overpowering)
2 eggs

Grease a loose bottomed flan tin.  (Or if like me you want something a little deeper, use a 4cm deep loose bottom cake tin.)
Roll out pastry and line the bottom and sides of the tin.  Prick the base of the pastry well with a fork and bake in the oven (Gas 6) for 15 minutes. 
Cut up bacon, slice mushrooms and shallots and chop up peas.  Fry in a pan with 1 tablespoon of oil until cooked.  Season well with black pepper and a little salt (bacon might be salty).
When the pastry shell is cooked (it may begin to turn golden on edges) add the cooked mixture to the pastry shell. 
Grate the cheese and scatter over the filling.
Beat the eggs together with the milk and pour into the pastry shell.
Return to oven turn setting to Gas 4 and bake for 35-45 minutes.  The filling should be set and just be turning golden brown.
Serve hot with potatoes and vegetables, warm with salad, or take cold on picnics or at buffets and parties.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Something Blue

It's occurred to me that despite the description of my blog is "Cooking, creating and gardening..." I haven't as yet, posted/blogged much other than various baking and cooking attempts.  So, here is something I made last week.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I attend craft classes.  Most of these are card-making and parchment classes.  I attend a few jewellery making ones and recently made a threaded beaded bracelet.  On the way home that evening from class, I thought what it would look like made from pearlised beads. 

I must say I was pleased with the result and it was perfect as I had a Wedding Blessing to attend today and needed a blue coloured accessory to complete my outfit!

My mum always admires my results from craft class and I always replicate what I learnt in class as a bracelet for herself.  Guess what?  She likes the bracelet herself and has requested one for herself in purple!  All I need is to source my materials and I'm threading and beading!  I'm glad someone likes my efforts!  I only wish I was creative enough and talented enough to devise these patterns myself!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Fish Friday

Past couple of weeks I've been a little naughty!  Only in the fact that I've not been at home to cook the evening meal for hubby and me.  Rather than letting hubby fend for himself in the kitchen (although I don't know why not as he had to cook for himself for a couple of years before I came on the scene!)  Instead, I've nipped to the local chippy and got us a fish'n'chip supper!  (Where have I been instead of cooking dinner and being a good wifey I hear you ask?  I have been attending Card-Making Classes that I enjoy at a local craft shop!)

Today, I have carried out my dutiful wife duties and made a home cooked dinner.  We had a chinese-style dinner of steamed jasmine rice, fish fillets in with lemon sauce and stir-fried prawns with flat beans. 

I love sweet and sour dishes and would be happy to eat them more often but my hubby is not a fan.  So I do not indulge very often.  I also don't like deep frying as I hate having to deal with the left-over oil afterwards.  I occasionally shallow fry - but again not too frequent as I don't like clearing the oil splatters around the hob.

I have fried these fish fillets before and served them with sweet chilli sauce.  I was amazed how delicious the fish was!  I was a little dubious as I had never heard or tried the fish before.  The fish is 'responsibly farmed' and comes from Vietnam (not very green-mile friendly given that it must have a 12 hr plane flight to get to the UK!).  It's packaged as River Cobbler (I believe the name is Pangasius hypophthalmus and one supermarket calls it Basa).  It comes as 2 skinless and boneless white fish fillets and has a very delicate taste to it.  First time I ate it, I squeezed the juice of half a lemon on it, sprinkled with white pepper before coating in flour and frying.  It was light and crispy and delicious!

Fried Fish Fillets with Lemon Sauce
265 g (2) fish fillets (I used River Cobbler, but I guess any white fish of your choice will be good)
white pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons of cornflour
a little egg white (I used about 2 teaspoons although have omitted this in the past)

150ml cold water
50ml fresh lemon juice (this was one small lemon)
lemon zest from one lemon
2-3 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of chicken stock powder
3 teaspoons of corn flour mixed with a little cold water

I sliced the fish lengthwise (as it seems to have a natural split down the middle) then cut it into diagonal strips around 2 finger widths wide.  I like it this way as I have a fear that it may not cook properly if too thick and also won't have a crispy coating.
When sliced, I added a shake of white pepper and a light sprinkling of salt before adding a teaspoon of soy sauce (light soy).  I then dribbled some egg white onto the fish (to make it moist so the seasonings would mix more evenly).  I mixed this gently until everything was lightly marinated.
Taking each piece of fish individually, I pressed both sides into a plate of cornflour so it had a light coating, shook off the excess and placed to the side of the plate and continued until all pieces were coated.
I heated some oil (sunflower) in a small frying pan and placed each fish fillet in one at a time until the pan was full.  After a minute or two (when the bottom looked set and crispy - but not brown) I flipped the fish over and cooked for another minute or so.  I let the fish drain on kitchen paper before frying the next batch.

For the sauce, I put the water, lemon juice and zest in a saucepan along with the chicken powder and heated gently.  When hot, I added the sugar (I added 1 tablespoon first and added the rest later after tasting).  Mixing the cornflour liquid to a milky water, I poured half in the pan, stirring all the time until it boiled and thickened.  I tasted the sauce for sweetness.  I eventually added 2 1/2 tablespoons until it was to my palate.  Again, with the cornflour liquid, add as much/little as you like for thickness.

Just before serving, I heated the oil again and quickly re-fried the fish fillets so they would still be hot and crispy.  I drained again on kitchen paper before plating the fish and drizzling with some lemon sauce.

I'm sure this dish would be equally nice with sweet and sour sauce or served with a sweetcorn sauce.

Stir-Fried Prawns with Flat Beans
12 raw king prawns, peeled, de-veined
handful of flat beans (about 8)
1 shallot, sliced
white pepper
soy sauce
oyster sauce
cornflour liquid (1 teaspoon of corn flour mixed with a little cold water - optional)

I washed, top and tailed the beans before slicing into 1inch diamonds.
I heated 1 tablespoon on oil in a wok and when hot, I added the beans and sliced shallot.  I stir-fried these for about 1-2 minutes before adding about 1/4 cup of water to the wok, added a shake of white pepper, splash of soy (1 teaspoon) and a blob of oyster sauce (about 2 teaspoons).  I placed a lid on and let this cook for about 2-3 minutes so the beans would cook. 
I tasted the sauce - mine was a little salty so I added a pinch of sugar before adding the prawns and stir-frying them until they were pink. 
When they have just turned pink on both sides I add a little cornflour liquid (1 teaspoon) to the wok to lightly thicken the sauce. 

When stir-frying prawns, my mum would marinate the prawns first in a little pepper, soy and cornflour before flashing them in a hot wok lightly, then removing them and adding them back to the dish at the end.  I prefer my prawns to be au naturel so I can taste the delicate sweet prawn and I always overcook them if I do it her way and stir fry them first!  Each to their own!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

We're Jammin', We're Jammin'.....

Have been meaning to make jam for a week now....

I  bought a mango a week or so ago and it was a bit firm although the sticker said 'Ripe and Ready', I asked hubbs whether I should cut it up for our fresh fruit dessert.  I did.  It was hard.  Tasted sour.  Not ripe.  Knew I should've trusted my nose and instincts.  Usually I would give the fruit a gentle squeeze in my palm and it should yield a little.  Next a sniff test.  Does it smell aromatic?  Yes?  Well it's ready! 

Well, what was I going to do now with an unripe mango? 
"Stir-fry it." Hubbs says. 
"Yuk!"  I say.  "I'm not into having fruits cooked with meat for stir-fry."  I have eaten kiwi with chicken and stir-fry beef with mango and it's not really my cup of tea.  Don't mind pineapple in a good ol' sweet and sour dish though! :0p
"Turn it into jam then."  Hubbs final suggestion.  Sounded good at the time.

So, it took me a week (or two) to finally get round to making the jam.  I saw 2 punnets of apricots on discount at the supermarket and bought those thinking apricot and mango sound divine!  Thought my sad little mango probably wouldn't be enough so  bought a cheap small one to join it. 

When it came to making the jam yesterday, my unripe mango (sitting sadly naked in the fridge - well, it was peeled and had nothing but clear cling film to shield it's modesty!) was beginning to look a little brown and squishy in places.  I cut the unsightly portions off and proceeded to sample the fruit.  Still did not taste good.  Still sour and now a nasty aftertaste (mango prob past its best).  OK, bin time for the poor mango!

Despite that, I prepared the apricots and the cheap mango.  Oh, note to self, cheap mango means it's the fibrous kind.  The one with more fibres round the central stone than flesh!  (Smells good though!)  Hmm...could do with more fruit?  I raided the fridge to see what else I could find.  I found a ripe peach and a few cherries.  What do I call the jam now?  Will think on this one.

The jam smelt so delicious when it was being made!  Such a rich, intoxicating aroma!  That is the best bit about jam making!  The taste?  It gave my tongue a punch full of fruit flavour!  Other jam successes have been raspberry jam made from raspberries picked from my mum's garden.  Once you've tasted home-made raspberry jam you'll be sorely disappointed in the supermarket offerings!  Blackberry is not such a hit (picked from local hedgerows so free food! Yay!), lacks the full fruity flavour - just offers a sweetness about it and more seeds than raspberries.  I made plum jam too earlier this year from cheap plums from Aldi.  Again, the fruit is sweet but lacks a depth of flavour.  I guess the secret might lie in using fruit which is rich and aromatic in flavour.  Saw some British Strawberries in Asda's yesterday.  They smell and taste delicious.  Would be tempted to jam these too if I hadn't used up my empty jam-jar collection!

Love the fabulous colour from my "Summer Fruit Jam" - Apricot with Mango, Peach and Cherry.  Sounds like a fairly accurate description? 

This batch of jam was largely made with little measuring.  My rule is usually 500g fruit plus 500g sugar equals jam - I got this from reading somewhere on the internet and followed this basis for raspberry jam I used granulated sugar so had to add 2 teaspoons of powdered pectin (helps the jam to set.).

1085g prepared fruit (I used apricots - 14, cut into 1/8, stone removed; 1 peach, cut into 1/16, stone removed; 1 mango, flesh chopped, stone discarded; around 20 cherries, quartered and pitted)
1000g of jam sugar (has added pectin and is suitable for soft fruits such as strawberries, peaches...)
Juice of half a lemon
knob of butter

I placed the chopped fruit and sugar in a large saucepan and added half a cup of water (maybe I shouldn't have added this?) to help the sugar dissolve.  I warmed the mixture gently over a low flame stirring to get the sugar to fully dissolve.  I also added the juice of half a lemon to improve the flavour.  I've found when doing this when making raspberry jam it prevents it from just being sweet, but have a very slight sharpness to it which makes it moreish.

When I was sure the sugar was dissolved (this is very important because if there are undissolved sugar crystals, they will stick and burn on the bottom of the pan when you do the next stage - boiling), I turned up the flame and let the mixture come to a rolling boil (that won't go down when stirred).  Careful!  Use a large pan to make the jam as boiling hot sugar is very hot and can scald!  Boiling jam does spit too!

Boil for 4-5 minutes.  Take pan off heat and put a teaspoon of jam onto a cold saucer (I put a saucer in the freezer when I start jam-making.)  Leave for a minute then push the cooled jam with your finger.  If the jam wrinkles, the jam is ready.  Add a small knob of butter to the jam and stir in.  It helps get rid of the bubbles in the jam so you get a clearer jam in the jar.  Leave the jam to cool slightly (5-10 minutes) before filling the jars - you don't want the glass to shatter!  Pour the jam into warmed sterilised jars.  To sterilise jars, wash in hot soapy water and rinse.  Place upside down in a low oven to dry.  Careful when handling as the jars will be hot out of the oven and also after being filled with hot jam.

I've given a jar to my mum as there's only so much jam 2 people can eat!  Only thing is, this morning, I've discovered the jam is rather soft-set and looking a bit runny in the jars.  Maybe as a result of adding water to the fruit and sugar mix?  I will have to re-boil the jam for 1-2 minutes and do the saucer test again.  Which is strange as I thought it was fine?  Odd thing is I have a ramekin of jam (all jars were filled) and this seems to have set fine?  I will just have to have some jam and toast and sample it!

Mmmm...!  It's surprisingly good!  An intense fruity hit of apricot and peach which is pleasantly sweet and tangy without the sweet sickliness of store-bought apricot jam.  I think the golden orange hue comes from the cherries I added!  :0)  I think this would delicious on warm buttery scones or even a simple swiss roll.  I'm pleased with this batch of jam!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Greek-Style Moussaka

Yesterday we had Stuffed Peppers for dinner and as I had some left-over minced beef and tomato filling, I thought I'd keep with the Greek theme and make moussaka.  It's a layered dish with aubergine and potato and topped with bechamel sauce.

I browned onion and minced pork in a  frying pan along with 2 cloves of minced garlic until browned.  I added a carton of chopped tomato and seasoned well with salt and pepper.  For flavouring, I added 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, some chopped mint and some chopped parsley and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.

Aubergine was sliced into 1cm thick slices, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned and grilled under a hot grill for 5 minutes each side until golden brown.  I boiled three medium-sized (peeled) potatoes until just tender (about 15 minutes) before slicing into 1/2 cm slices.

To layer up the dish, I placed half the meat mix into the bottom of a ovenproof baking dish.  I topped this with the potato slices then half of the aubergine slices.  The remaining meat mix went on next before finishing with the rest of the aubergine slices.  To top it off I made 1/2 pint of cheese sauce and then added 1 beaten egg into the sauce.  The egg will set the sauce almost like a custard on cooking so it isn't runny and oozy like in a lasagna.  The sauce is poured over the top before baking in the oven for around 30-45 minutes (I think I over-browned it a little).  As I had added last nights leftover meat mix with today's meat mix and used three potatoes and two aubergines, I found my dish was a little full!  I had a fun time trying to carefully pour the cheese sauce without making it dribble over the sides!  Luckily, I placed a baking tray on the shelf below the moussaka to catch any drips - and yes!  That WAS a good idea!

It didn't look particularly pretty on cooking but I love the cooked aubergine in this dish and the mint and cumin flavouring the meat mix.  As it was quite a large dish it is quite filling on it's own but I had mine with some left-over Greek salad from last night's dinner. 

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Chocolate Brownie

I attempted my first brownie 2 weeks ago and made a thorough mess of the quantities of the ingredients!  I misread the recipe and put in far too much butter and only had milk chocolate instead of dark.  Nevertheless, a brownie was made but sorely lacking the deep dark moreishness of a proper brownie.

That recipe abandoned, I tried a new one from a book I bought 6wks ago - Cakes & Bakes from my mother's kitchen.

This recipe uses cocoa powder instead of melting the chocolate over simmering water so it's much easier.  Also gives a deep chocolatey flavour - mind you probably helps as I used the right type of chocolate this time!  I didn't add as many walnuts as the recipe suggested though but added some milk and white chocolate buttons that I had in the pantry.  I'm not keen on the idea of gooey undercooked cake either (maybe as I'm currently not supposed to eat undercooked foods), so I baked the brownie for 45 minutes instead of 25.  The cake is still moist albeit cooked through.

We ate the warm brownie with scoops of vanilla ice-cream and strawberries.  I don't have to tell you that it was g-o-o-o-o-o-d!

I usually take my baked creations to work or craft class so it can be enjoyed - this brownie is a bit too good to leave home but, it's too much for two people to eat even if hubby needs fattening up and I'm eating for two! ;0)

I think we'll have to keep some at home to eat over the weekend and maybe I can spare some to sweeten my work colleagues with!

Recipe: (from Cakes & Bakes from my mother's kitchen)
makes 16 brownies

100g walnut pieces (I used 75g)
4 large eggs (from my own hens so they are probably medium sized)
300g caster sugar (this horrified me so I used 250g)
140g unsalted butter, melted  (I only had salted butter so used that)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
140g plain flour
75g cocoa powder

(I also added a small kid sized bag of milk choc buttons and white choc buttons leftover from decorating cupcakes - I guess around 25-50g?)

brownie tin, 20.5 x 25.5 cm, greased and base lined with baking paper.

Preheat oven to 170 C (325F) Gas 3

Put walnut pieces in ovenproof dish and lightly toast in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.  Don't turn off oven.

Break eggs into mixing bowl.  Use hand-held electric mixer to whisk until frothy, then whisk in the sugar.  Whisk for a minute then, still whisking constantly, add the melted butter in a steady stream.  Whisk for a minute, then whisk in the vanilla.

Sift the flour and cocoa into the bowl and stir in with a wooden spoon.  When thoroughly combined, stir in the nuts.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and spread evenly.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes until a skewer inserted halfway between the sides and the centre comes out just clean.  Remove the tin from the oven.

Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin nad cutting into 16 pieces.  Store in an airtight container and eat within 5 days.

It's All Greek to me!

W-e-l-l...have lapsed a little on the blogging and posting....have been cooking and creating in the kitchen - have taken some pics but not been blogging - I blame it on spending too much time on facebook! :0p

OK, I don't usual post and blog dinner creations as it's a case of, "Dinner's Ready!" and then it's "Chomp, chomp. CHOMP!" in front of the TV!

Today is an exception....I thought I'd make stuffed peppers for dinner - Greek style served with Greek salad.  Never made this before so I read a few recipes online to get the general idea before coming up with the final creation.

I made the filling first: it's made from beef mince, red onion, mushroom, tomato, herbs and some cooked rice.
I let it cool slightly whilst I made the Greek salad.  The filling was then piled into the halved pepper shells before baking in a hot oven for about 30-40minutes.  I think it would've been nicer served with a tomato sauce as it needed a little something to add moisture to it.

The Greek salad I made has cucumber; green pepper; tomato; red onion and feta cheese.  We first had this 5 years ago when on honeymoon in sunny Santorini, Greece.  It really brings back sunny memories of the deep blue sea of the Mediterranean and cloudless blue skies.

We ate this with some oven chips although with salad it would make a substantial and healthy meal.  I made too much pepper filling so I may use it up to make a moussaka - another Greek dish.