Sunday, 30 September 2012

Sunday - a day of rest

Not for most mothers, who are busy washing school uniform/kit, polishing shoes, ferrying to and from sports clubs, supervising homework and generally putting on an unrivalled show of domestic excellence. Here's a couple of ideas for some lazy food to help redress the balance:



For breakfast - quick to make & cook, and even quicker to eat if you roll them up and cram them into one mouthful, as my daughter did. This recipe (from St Delia) makes about 10:

110g plain flour
a pinch of salt
2 large eggs
200ml milk mixed with 75ml water (or 275ml skimmed milk)
2 tablespoons melted butter

Mix everything together in a blender. It's ready to use straight away. Wipe the pan with a bit of melted butter between each pancake, and serve with lemon juice & sugar, jam, maple syrup, bananas, Nutella... After so much industry, I recommend retiring to bed for at least an hour with a cup of tea.

Dirty dishes waiting to be washed up
Important - leave the clearing up to someone else

Our lunch today is a ready-made steak pie from the local farm shop. Serve it with a 2 or 3 veg (no need for potatoes, as there's plenty of pastry). Or you could push the boat out and roast a chicken.

Quicker roast chicken

Abandon your normal thinking of a carefully timed Sunday roast, and serve instead with something quick and easy - new potatoes, couscous, salad, oven chips, baked potatoes, any veg. In the absence of gravy, Thai chilli dipping sauce and garlic mayonnaise are good accompaniments.

At the risk of coming over a bit Nigella, I think it's a good idea to stuff a couple of quartered, peeled onions in the orifices and rub some butter into the breasts before cooking. Pre-heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5 and cook for 20 minutes per lb (450g) and up to an extra 20 minutes at the end (when you can also turn up the heat a bit to crisp the skin). Let it rest/cool until you are ready to eat it. Basting is good, but not essential.

Chicken stock

After the chicken has been devoured, make chicken strock (tomorrow?). Put all the inedible bits into a large saucepan, cover with water, add a veg or chicken stock cube, and bring to the boil. Let it simmer, uncovered, for about an hour then strain and refrigerate. When it is completely cold you can carefully lift off the fat which has solidified on the surface.

Chocolate orange brownies

Such is my lack of food management that we have just one piece of fruit in the house - an orange.
The best (and most edible) way to eke it out is to make chocolate orange brownies:

100g unsalted butter
100g plain chocolate
300g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
130g plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
grated zest of 1 orange and 2 tablespoons of its juice

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4 and butter & line a square 7" cake tin.  Melt the butter and chocolate over a pan of simmering water. Cool slightly and add sugar, salt, vanilla, zest and orange juice.  Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well. Add flour and cocoa and beat for a minute until smooth. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is evenly coloured and a cocktail stick comes out almost clean. Let it cool, and cut into whatever size pieces suit you.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Tomato sauce and blackberry vodka...

Seeing red: Today's inspiration was some tomatoes and peppers going squishy in the fruit bowl and half a tin of chopped tomatoes in the fridge.  While I cooked, Jamie Oliver was talking about his new book of meals in 15 minutes, the proof of which was a toasted cheese sandwich cooked live on radio!

Soon to be tomato sauce

Tomato sauce

Chop a couple of onions and cook gently in some olive oil (mine was chilli oil) until transparent. Add a chopped pepper, chopped fresh tomatoes and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, put the lid on the pan and let them cook on a very low heat for 5 or 10 minutes.  Add the tinned tomatoes and a teaspoon or 2 of sugar, give it a good stir, replace the lid and cook until the peppers are soft.  If it's looking a bit watery then take the lid off and let it cook a bit longer.  Blend thoroughly so that children cannot spot tomato seeds, chunks of actual vegetable or bits of skin.  Add herbs, ricotta or mascarpone, pieces of cooked bacon, prawns etc, as desired and stir through pasta.  It can also be used as a base for spaghetti bolognese if you are in the mood for meat.

I serve pasta with plenty of finely grated Grana Padano cheese - the same taste as Parmesan but made with skimmed milk, and slightly cheaper.  Win-win!

Last chance for blackberries

Depending on who you believe, blackberries can be picked until either the 1st or 10th October. Old wives will tell you that the devil spits (or wees) on them after this.  Be prepared to use them quickly, or put them straight in the freezer.  Handfuls of frozen blackberries are great for adding to crumbles and muffins - or use them in place of raspberries in any recipe.  Fresh fruit can be turned into jam, compote, or blackberry vodka.

Blackberry compote

Blackberries, sugar and a couple of squeezes of lemon cooked slowly in a pan until the fruit disintegrates.  Cool and serve with ice cream or yogurt.

Blackberry vodka

Put 600g blackberries and 200g caster sugar into a large bottle/jar and pour over 1 litre of cheap vodka. Shake it up a bit until the sugar starts dissolving, then put it in a cool dark place and shake once a week for the next 3 months.  Strain and re-bottle, chucking away the berries.  If you get it going this weekend you could be using it at Christmas - gifted in pretty bottles, swigged while you sweat over a large-breasted bird, or sloshed into Granny's Ribena...  And one of your 5-a-day too!

Pear and plum crumble in a bowl with spoon
Pear and plum crumble

Yesterday's crumble - pear and plum - ready to eat when the juices have bubbled up over the edges of the crumble and the top is golden brown.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Nature's microwave meal

Baked potatoes

Stick them in the microwave (or oven, or a combination of both).  We like ours with lashings of beans and grated cheese.  What's your favourite filling?

Leftovers: Cool them and scoop out the flesh.  Mix it with a combination of grated cheese, and either a blob of cream cheese, cream or butter and some black pepper.  Squish the cheesy-creamy mixture back into the skins, put them in the fridge and bake for about 30 minutes in a hottish oven when you are ready to eat them.

Glass jar of crumble topping and four pears
Ingredients for a quick pear crumble

Pear Crumble

Pudding tonight is pear crumble.  Crumble mix can be made in a food processor in about 2 minutes and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 weeks or so.  You can then create a delicious pudding in no time at all from any sad-looking fruit that happens to be hanging around.  Just chop it up, add a splash or two of water, some sugar if you think it needs it, top with crumble mixture and bake for about 40 minutes until the fruit juice is bubbling over the edges of the crumble.  These can be made in miniature in ramekins - good for children and those unable to exercise portion control!  Serve with something cold and creamy - the children like Ambrosia custard straight from the carton.

Mix together 175g plain flour and 140g butter until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.  Add 75g any sugar and 100g oats and stir together.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Making dinner from dust

The mother's after-school prayer: "Oh God what am I going to cook?"

OK, so it's not exactly Old Mother Hubbard, but what am I going to cook for dinner?  It has to appeal to children of 12 and 8 (one gastronomically extrovert, the other who prefers junk), to be nutritionally sound and on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Fortunately, I have a fridge as well.  And in it lurks a packet of chicken breasts and a few vegetables on the brink of decay.  Tonight we will be having glazed chicken and fried rice, with strawberry fro-yo for pudding if I can chip it out from the permafrost in the freezer.

The cupboard wasn't bare but it wasn't very inspiring

Glazed chicken:

Mix together 4tbsp balsamic vinegar, 2½ tbsp brown sugar and 1 tbsp tomato puree.  Brown chicken in pan and remove from heat.  Pour in balsamic vinegar mixture, bring it to a simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Put the chicken back in the pan and cook, turning occasionally.

Fried rice

Dice a couple of carrots and cook them with the rice.  Add a few frozen peas/sweetcorn a couple of minutes before draining the rice.  Drain the whole lot.  Gently fry a well-chopped onion until transparent and sweet (or fry a few spring onions for a couple of minutes instead), add the rice and veg and a few sploshes of soy sauce.

Score extra nanny-state-5-a-day points if you have another vegetable to serve with this.

Serve it up and wait for the whoops of appreciation...