Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Bacon, Lettuce, Asparagus and Tomato Sandwich (The BLAT)

I know that the old 'eat seasonal and local' phrase has become an over-used mantra to some people, and I also know that this philosophy is a difficult one to stick by when you are struggling with a large family and little money. So I choose to use it wisely and with caution when teaching; some people simply cannot follow the foodie idealist way of life and I can sympathise.

However, there are certain products that I feel so strongly about that I almost urge the nation to buy them when they are in season. Products that are in such abundance that you would be a fool to not make the most of their short window of growth.

At the moment asparagus and rhubarb are everywhere and I'm being given both of these vegetables on a regular basis from kind mates and family. I'm cooking with and eating rhubarb almost every other day and there are only so many crumbles a portly gent is allowed to consume in a week. So more rhubarb recipes, both sweet and savoury, will be appearing soon.

The best asparagus is almost at an end and this 'King of the vegetables' should be treated with great respect. My favourite way is to simply roast them in a little olive oil and balsamic and eat with a few shavings of Parmesan, Cheddar or crumbly Lancashire. Another great thing to do is team them up with some quality bacon in a kind of BLT or 'BLAT' which becomes a sandwich to beat all sandwiches. Probably the best sandwich in the world? I would say.

Bacon, Lettuce, Asparagus and Tomato Sandwich (The BLAT)
Feeds 2

4 pieces of thick white bread
8 asparagus spears, trimmed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp quality mayonnaise
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
8 slices of good smoked bacon
A handful of sun dried tomatoes in olive oil or 2 tomatoes thinly sliced
Lettuce leaves

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM6/200C. Put the asparagus into a baking tray and toss in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a little seasoning. Roast for 10 minutes.
2 - Grill the bacon until crisp and golden. Reserve on kitchen towel.
3 - Lightly toast the bread.
4 - Mix the mayonnaise with the mustard and spread liberally onto the toasted bread.
5 - Layer the bread with lettuce, hot bacon, asparagus and tomatoes and devour.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Harissa Sauce

We've recently been turning to ways of transforming otherwise bland leftover food into something amazing. In our fridge there are always airtight containers with last night’s rice, pasta, cooked vegetables, fish or meat in. Waste not want not is the mantra.

A great way of making, say, a load of cooked vegetables and cooked pasta taste good is to whack it all into a casserole dish, cover it in a good tomato sauce (hopefully one that you have made and stored in the freezer) top with a cheese sauce and cook until golden and bubbling. Or take your rice and combine with leftover chicken, lemons, cardamon and cinnamon and bake in foil for a lovely quick 'leftover pilaf'. I'll post that one up here soon.

I like to make sauces such as salsa verdé or 'green sauce', a strong, piquant sauce made from store cupboard ingredients that transform the blandest of meals into a thing of pleasure and beauty. A close second to that is harissa, a fiery North African sauce of red pepper and chilli that is so easy to make yourself and again, transforms the boring to the beautiful. Try it with fish or white meats, rice and salad. Make the most of your own little store in your kitchen and soon you will be a master of the leftovers.

Harissa Sauce

2 red peppers
1 large or 2 small red chillies, deseeded
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp paprika (smoked or unsmoked)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - If you have a gas hob, light 2 rings and place the peppers straight onto the flame. Using tongs, turn regularly until the skin is black all over. Pop into plastic food bags, seal and leave to cool. If you don't have a gas hob, rub in a little olive oil and roast in a hot oven until collapsed. Put into the food bags, seal and allow to cool.
2 - Once cooled, peel off the skin and discard the stalks and seeds. Pop into a food processor along with the chillies and garlic.
3 - Put the coriander seeds and cumin seeds into a dry frying pan and pan roast for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add to the food processor along with the paprika and lemon juice. Blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Pour into an airtight jar and top with the olive oil. This will keep for a couple of weeks in a fridge.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Rhubarb and Ginger Ice Cream

I’ve always avoided buying an ice cream maker for one reason only. I reckon that I would make a new ice cream at least once a week and that would do nothing for the old love handles. Unfortunately I’ve found a way of making perfect ice cream that doesn’t involve an expensive ice cream maker.

We have been experimenting with different flavoured ice creams for some time now using the patient method of freezing your ‘custard’ in a sealed container and freezing, remembering to churn the mixture at least every hour to help the ice crystals evenly distribute. Pain staking and easy to forget, you inevitably end up with a solid lump that needs a good 30 minutes of thawing. No good when you have children demanding the fruits of their labour NOW!

Cerys and I took a load of rhubarb from the garden and stewed it in honey and stem ginger, a difficult task when you have a ginger addicted daughter trying to eat whole stems and licking the sticky syrup dribbling down her arms. Once cooled, I could safely hand the reigns over to the little one for stirring in yoghurt and cream before sealing and freezing.

And the magic bit? Blitzing it in a food processor to make the most perfectly smooth rhubarb and ginger ice cream. Don’t forget to reserve some of the pink rhubarb syrup to make your own ‘monkey’s blood’ as we Geordies affectionately call it.

Rhubarb and Ginger Ice Cream

300g rhubarb, cleaned and chopped into chunks
100g honey or sugar
3 stem gingers and a little syrup to taste, roughly chopped
150ml natural yoghurt
100ml double cream

1 – Put the rhubarb, honey or sugar and a little water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rhubarb has broken up. Allow to cool.
2 – Remove a little of the pink syrup with a tablespoon and reserve. Stir in the stem ginger and syrup.
3 – Put the yoghurt, cream and rhubarb into a large bowl and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Pour into an airtight container and freeze until frozen.
4 – Remove and put into a food processor. Blend until smooth. Scoop into cones and drizzle on the rhubarb syrup.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Pastitsio

One of the biggest problems I have as a dad and a cook is figuring out what to put on the family menu each evening. My worst fear is eating the same things all of the time. I want my daughter to try new things as much as possible but of course with work and timing issues that makes it all that bit more difficult.

Most families have the same problem and lots opt for the easy option of the ready meal. I'm not going to mock that but I will always say that just 15 minutes each evening prepping food is usually all that is needed to knock up a cracking family meal. Learning a few simple skills and getting cooking has to be the answer.

The other issue is money and we have to stretch out pennies wisely. So I'm always on the lookout for new no fuss family meals that will do the job. A quick look over the waters to countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece will give you a multitude of recipes that match these criteria.

Pastitsio is like a Greek Moussaka with pasta, a delicious combination of meat, spice, egg and cheese that feeds the whole family for less than a fiver. I'm sure my Greek friends who read this will no doubt pick me up on how unauthentic it looks but that is of little importance to the common man. Serve it with a big green salad and enjoy the simplicity of easy, inexpensive and great family food.

Pastitsio
Feeds 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 celery sticks, diced
2 carrots, diced
500g minced beef
400g chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato purée
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp dried oregano
100ml beef or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
300g rigatoni pasta50g Parmesan cheese

For the cheese sauce
50g butter
50g plain flour
500ml milk
100g Cheddar Cheese grated
A little freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs beaten

1 – Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan and add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the minced beef and cook for 5 minutes until browned.
2 – Add the tomatoes, tomato purée, cinnamon and oregano and stir through for 1 minute. Then add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Taste for seasoning.
3 – Boil the pasta according to the instructions then drain and set aside.
4 – To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a pan and add the flour. Stir and cook for 1 minute then gradually beat in the milk until you have a thick white sauce. Stir in the cheese and nutmeg then taste for seasoning. Finally stir in the eggs.
5 - Grease a large ovenproof dish with the butter. Spread one-third of the pasta over the base of the dish and cover with half the meat sauce. Add another third of the pasta and then the rest of the meat sauce then cover with a final layer of pasta. Spoon over the cheese sauce.
6 – Sprinkle over the Parmesan cheese and bake on the middle shelf for 40 minutes until golden brown. Serve with a simple green salad.