fresh tomato salad and home-made houmous

Yesterday we fancied a light lunch, so we sliced some ciabatta, smeared it with with garlic and olive oil, popped it in the oven for a few minutes and set to work on some fresh, summery vegetarian delights. These quantities serve four.

Tomato salad

4 firm, ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Decent splash of good quality balsamic vinegar
Decent splash of extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small handful of fresh basil, chopped

Stir the ingredients together, taste and adjust seasoning.

Houmous

1 can cooked chickpeas
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 heaped teaspoon tahini
Splash olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust with extra salt, garlic or lemon juice as needed.

Remove toasty ciabatta from the oven. Pile slices of toast with tomato deliciousness and dunk in the houmous for happymaking. Proof of happymaking below.

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chicken and ham pie

Now, this ain’t gourmet. But it sure is tasty.

Ingredients:

1 quantity shortcrust pastry (home-made? hell no)
1 quantity puff pastry (as above)
Butter
Flour
1 egg, beaten
6 mushrooms, sliced
1 Knorr chicken stockpot jelly
250ml boiling water
250ml milk
Approximately half of a leftover roast chicken, shredded (or failing that, a couple of chicken breasts, cooked and shredded)
A few slices of leftover ham fillet, shredded (or, a pack of streaky bacon, chopped and fried)
Optional extras – a handful of frozen peas or sweetcorn, or both

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 150. Line a pie tin with the shortcrust pastry.

2. Cover with tinfoil, fill with baking beans, and bake blind for 15 minutes. Remove, allow to cool a little, then remove the foil and baking beans. Increase the heat of the oven to 200.

3. Slice the mushrooms and fry in a knob of butter. Set aside.

4. Melt about 30g of butter in a saucepan. Add a heaped tablespoon of flour, again about 30g, and stir well to form a roux. Allow the roux to cook for a few minutes on a low heat, while stirring. It should look kind of doughy.

5. Make up the stock using the jelly and the boiling water. Remove the roux from the heat and pour in the stock, one splash at a time, stirring well after each addition. This prevents lumps.

6. Once all the stock has been added, it will look like this. Now gradually add the milk, stirring all the time. Return to the heat and bring to the boil.

7. At the boil, it should look thick and creamy. Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes.

8. Add the chicken and the ham, which you will have shredded, unlike the ham in the picture below. Also add the mushrooms now. If you have any corn or peas, add them now.

9. Fill the baked pastry case.

10. Top with the puff pastry. Press the edges down with a fork. Use any trimmings to be amazingly creative and decorative, as I have been. Brush liberally with beaten egg. Stab the pastry topping with a fork here and there, to release steam.

11. Bake for about 25 minutes until risen, golden and delicious.

seared beef salad

Happy new year! I’ve been absent, gallivanting doing who knows what. Has it really been two months? Yes it has. I haven’t eaten or cooked a single thing since I last updated, honest. I now return with a tasty morsel to nourish your bloated post-yule bellies. It is this:

Isn’t it beautiful? The portions listed below served three for lunch. It’d do two nicely for dinner.

You will need:

2 fillet steaks (or steaks of your choice)
A large portion of salad leaves (I used butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce and a bag of mixed babyleaf salad including spinach and rocket)
1 small cucumber, sliced lengthwise in two, with the seeds scooped out, and sliced on the diagonal
150g meli melo tomatoes (mixed baby tomatoes of various colours and sizes – any tomatoes that you like will do)
50g dried cranberries
50g pecan nuts, slightly broken
1 pomegranate, sliced in half and with the delicious ruby-red seeds knocked out

For the dressing:

Juice of one lemon and one lime
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 red chillis, seeded and chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Now, I need to say – I loved this salad but the dressing lacked something. I’d advise you to play around with quantities and tastes and even introduce new flavours. I was looking for something nice and zingy but not so acidic as it would further cook the beef, which I like nice and rare in the middle. I first made a dressing with fish sauce, lime and sugar, going for a Thai theme, and then chucked it cos it was too salty. Then I made a similar sauce with a light soy base and it was equally horrible. This was pleasant but didn’t have the wow factor, so if you come up with a special dressing that you’d care to share with me, please do.

How to put it all together:

1. Sear your beef as you like it on a hot griddle pan with a little olive oil and butter. Ours was medium-rare. Allow to rest for a few minutes, then slice it as thinly as you can manage on the diagonal. Reserve any juices from the meat and add them to the dressing.

2. For the dressing, simply whisk the ingredients together. Season, taste and adjust.

3. In a large bowl, assemble your salad of leaves, cucumber, tomatoes, cranberries and nuts and toss together. Just before serving, add as much dressing as you’d like, reserving a spoonful or so per person for the final drizzle.

4. To plate up, use your hands and pile the leaves and vegetables in middle of large serving bowls. Top with the sliced, seared beef. Drizzle the meat with a little of the dressing, and sprinkle with lots of beautiful pomegranate seeds. Eat!

 

traditional tiramisu

This is a good one if you want to impress – nice boozy adult flavours, but still light. This will earn you lots of brownie points if you’re married to my husband, for whom tiramisu is the ultimate pick-me-up. However, if you are sensitive to raw eggs, as sadly I am, this will be no good for ya. Also if you’re pregminted or old or have a rubbish immune system, steer clear. Otherwise, full steam ahead skippie!

This will serve 6.

Ingredients:

3 good quality, organic free range eggs (this is important, as you will be eating them uncooked)
50g caster sugar
250g mascarpone cheese
1 pack boudoir biscuits (ladyfingers)
150ml strong espresso coffee
2 tablespoons rum
2 tablespoons brandy
85g dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated

What to do:

1. Separate your eggs into two very clean bowls. Add the sugar to the yolks and using an electric mixer, whisk at high speed for 3-5 minutes until pale, creamy and light.

2. Fold in the mascarpone into the sugar/egg mixture one tablespoon at a time until incorporated.

2. Meticulously wash and dry your whisks, and then whisk the egg whites until white and very stiff. Tip the whites into the yolk/sugar/cheese mixture and fold until smooth and uniform.

3. Now, you’ll need to choose your dish. I went with a 2lb loaf tin as it’s the exact width of a boudoir finger biscuit. When ready to assemble your dessert, combine your coffee and alcohols in a shallow dish. Quickly dip the boudoir biscuits once each side into the coffee mixture, and lay flat in the loaf tin. Repeat until you have formed a single layer. Don’t linger in the coffee mixture or the biscuits will become too soggy.

4. Top with half the egg/sugar/cheese mixture, and sprinkle with half of the grated chocolate.

5. Repeat with another layer of boudoir biscuits, the rest of the egg mixture, and top finally with the last of the grated chocolate.

6. Cover tightly with clingfilm and chill for at least six hours, or preferably overnight. Cut into slices and serve.

creamy fusilli with chicken and port

This was one of those meals that was the surprising and delicious result of cobbling together what was available in the fridge and cupboards. It smelled truly wonderful while it was simmering away. Great for a cold, wintry night. The husband unit was well impressed, and ate the leftovers for seconds. That always makes me happy.

This serves 2, with enough leftover for 1 lunch…or for seconds.

200g approx fusilli…or really as much pasta as you’d like
300g chicken breast, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
100g mushrooms, sliced
Half a cup/quarter pint of strong beef stock
100ml cream
1 tablespoon mascarpone (or any cream cheese of your choice)
2 tablespoons of tawny port
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little butter and olive oil for cooking

1. In a large wok or saucepan, heat a knob of butter and a drop of olive oil and gently cook your sliced mushrooms and crushed garlic. Set aside.

2. In the same pan, splash in a little olive oil and add your diced chicken. Brown lightly.

3. Add the stock, cream and port and allow to simmer for five minutes or so. Add the mascarpone and stir through. Now you can add back in the mushrooms and garlic. Season, taste and adjust if necessary. Leave the sauce to simmer on a low heat while the pasta cooks.

4. Pop the fusilli on to boil. When tender, drain well, and toss well with the sauce. Serve in warm bowls to huge rounds of applause.

simple mushroom risotto

[I’ve tagged this one vegetarian, because it’s part of our attempt to have meatless dinners once or twice a week, but I confess we did use chicken stock to make this bowl of tasty. If you’re a veggie, of course you’ll be substituting that for vegetable stock.]

So! We are continuing our mushroom theme. This dish is simple, creamy, tangy, rich, filling and comforting. Best eaten with a bit of crusty bread and a crisp green salad with a lemony dressing. These portions serve 4.

You’ll need:

400g arborio risotto rice
1 medium glass of crisp white wine
1100ml good quality stock
100g parmesan, grated
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g mixed mushrooms, sliced
Butter and olive oil for cooking
Fresh black pepper

What to do:

1. Put a large frying pan on the heat. Add a large knob of butter (and a drop of olive oil to prevent the butter burning) and tip in the mushrooms. Allow to gently brown, and set aside, retaining all the juices.

2. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil on a medium setting. Add the onion and garlic and allow to soften.

3. Add the rice to the onions and garlic and stir well to coat in the oil. Stir in the heat for a minute or two and then add the wine. Allow to absorb, stirring occasionally.

4. Begin adding the stock, one ladleful at a time, allowing each ladle of stock to be absorbed before adding the next one. You may need slightly more or less stock, but I used exactly 1100ml. The grains will begin to swell pleasingly.

5. Your rice is ready when it is soft and fully cooked, but still has a slight bite. Taste as you go towards the end. As soon as you perceive it’s ready, tip in the cooked mushrooms and their juices, and the parmesan. Season well with freshly ground black pepper and stir.

6. Serve in warmed bowls to happy people. Enjoy!

crispy baked garlic mushrooms

These are tasty little beggars! Excuse my lack of exact measurements but I was making it up as I went along and didn’t weigh anything. This would make a nice vegetarian replacement for, say, a chop, in a meat/potatoes/vegetable type dinner where there’s a vegetarian present (who likes mushrooms). They’re tasty and have great texture – crunch on the outside and juicy garlicky mushroom meatiness inside. They’re a bit messy to prepare, but not time consuming. And fun.

I used:

8 button mushrooms (prob about 150g), medium sized, wiped, stalks removed and discarded
Some melted butter (maybe 3-4 tablespoons)
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 egg, beaten in a bowl
1 bowl of flour
1 bowl of breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 180 and liberally brush a non-stick baking tray with butter.

2. Combine your crushed garlic and melted butter in a bowl, and set up a production line that goes (1) garlic butter (2) flour (3) egg (4) breadcrumbs.

See all the mess I was making?

3. Dip each mushroom first in the garlic butter, making sure some crushed garlic gets into the cavity. Then dredge in flour and give a good shake. Next, coat fully in the egg, turning so that it takes. Then, roll in the breadcrumbs til covered.

4. Lay them on the buttered baking tray and season with salt and pepper. I also reckon a little sprinkling of grated parmesan would be nice here.

5. Bake until crispy and golden, about 15-20 minutes and enjoy!

meatloaf

For me, meatloaf is the stuff of my childhood that I watched other children, American children, eat, on the myriad of programming that shaped my life. Whether it was Diff’rent Strokes or Punky Brewster or Family Ties or the Simpsons, they were always chowing down on meatloaf. And moaning about it. But it seemed so good!

So I gave it a go, and now I see why you’d moan about it if you had to eat it every week. It was good and all, but it’s a once or twice a winter dish for me, rather than a weekly thing. Still, it’s tasty and economical and makes a nice change.

You’ll need a 2lb loaf tin for this bad boy. Preheat the oven to 180C. You’ll feed 6-8.

800g lean minced beef
1 packet of good quality sausages, a half pound (or 227g), skins removed
1 egg, beaten
1 onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped sage leaves
1 tablespoon mustard
1 heaped tablespoon tomato puree
100g fresh breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper

1. Mix all the ingredients together with your hands in a large mixing bowl. Simples. Combine well and transfer to the loaf tin. Pat down until level and cover with a bit of oiled parchment or grease-proof paper.

2. Bake in the oven for approximately 90 minutes, removing the paper 15 minutes before the end, to get a nicely browned and crispy top.

3. Drain off the fat, slice, and eat with macaroni cheese or mashed potato and green beans.

I only have one photo because they were all so blurry. So here it is again. Sorry about that.

10 minute banana bread

This is a great stand-by if you’ve got a friend coming round for tea and all that’s in the cupboard is six stale crackers and a half a packet of digestives leftover from the last time you made cheesecake and you’re too lazy to go to the shop. And there’s some slightly unappealing bananas lying around. It really does take ten minutes. Plus, like, 50 minutes in the oven. This makes 1 lovely loaf.

Preheat the oven to 175C and grease and line a 1lb loaf tin.

In one bowl, combine:

50g of butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 large ripe, old bananas
Half a cup of sugar

Use a potato masher to squish these ingredients together.

In another bowl, combine:

1 and 1/3 cups of plain flour
3/4 of a teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix until the ingredients are blended together. You can add a bunch of crap like nuts or raisins here, but that’d be crazy.

Pour the mixture into your loaf tin and bake until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Mine took 50 minutes and it made the house smell great.

millionaire’s shortbread

I’ve always liked these bad boys but never attempted them myself. Kudos to faith from the cooking club on boards.ie who posted this recipe recently.

Ingredients:

Base:

200g plain flour
150g butter
75g castor sugar

Caramel:

1 tin condensed milk
2 tablespoons golden syrup
110g soft brown sugar
110g butter

Chocolate topping:

200g milk or dark chocolate (I went for milk, as would always be my preference)

What to do:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 and prep a baking dish. I used my lasagne dish actually, greased and lined with parchment.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together, and then add the flour. Using your fingers, rub together until you’ve got a mixture that resembles fine breadcrumbs. Press these breadcrumbs finely down into a flat layer in the prepared baking dish. They should come together nicely. Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the caramel. Now, this I found tricky and it took two attempts to get it right. On a LOW heat, melt the butter. Then add the condensed milk and stir well. When combined, add the golden syrup spoonful by spoonful. Combine well. Add the sugar bit by bit, avoiding lumps. Stir well and increase the heat slightly so that the mixture reaches a simmer, stirring always stirring. Simmer and stir for 5-10 minutes until golden and sufficiently caramelly-looking. To test if it’s ready, take a cold plate and dollop a little caramel onto it. If it’s sets, it’s ready.

4. Pour the caramel onto the cooked shortbread base and allow to cool. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate in a double-boiler (a bowl resting above a pot of simmering water) and spoon over the caramel. Allow to set.

5. Make a pot of strong coffee, cut into squares and share with happy friends who think you’re amazing.