Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Store Cupboard Dinners

So, finally the thermometer is showing some decent temperatures, HURRAY! But I really, really don’t want to drag a 3yr old to the supermarket today, so I had a quick trawl of the supplies to see what I can come with so that I can swan off and visit my lovely friend and her 2 week old baby for the afternoon and sit in the garden drinking coffee and chatting instead.
Anyhow, I haven’t been to the butchers so while there is plenty of veg, there’s not a lot of “mate”, as they might say down home. But then inspiration hits me – pasta and tuna salad. A firm favourite dating right back to my college days, all I need is some veg, a tin of tuna, a bag of pasta and a bit of mayonnaise. Oh dear, there’s no tuna – but wait, what’s that lurking at the back of the food cupboard? Why, a long lost tin of salmon… that’ll do nicely, I’m sure!

So, stick some pasta on to boil and get chopping. Really, it’s a moveable feast of whatever you might have; today I have chopped carrot, tomato, cucumber, celery, red pepper, mushroom, sugar snap peas and some scallions, as well as a tin of sweetcorn. Personally, I find raw red pepper a little indigestbibe, so I quickly fry off the red pepper – I also add the mushroom, sugar snaps and scallions in too (fried scallions are lovely) but you can easily leave the raw of course. I find a bag of peanuts at the back of same press, nestling up to the salmon, so I reckoned, “why not?” and threw a fist of them in too, to add crunch. Drain the pasta and run some cold water over it to cool it, then throw it all into a big bowl, season and stir in a spoon of mayonnaise and Bob’s your uncle – dinner!

So, what's your favourite / easiest store cupboard dinner? There's a sausage casserole that is made with a tin of cannellini or borlotti beans, a tin of tomatoes and a packet of sausages that is also very good - I'll post that another day.

PS:- Lidl is on my way to my friend’s house, so I will pop in and get some lemons, cream and stuff, it’s lemon posset for dessert tomorrow after our barbecue... lamb chops, sausages, potato salad and bbq-ed corn on the cobs, looking forward to it already


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Cookies - need I say more?

So, it’s yet another boring dull Sunday in a wash-out month of May… Just got a text from my little sister inviting us to lunch, excellent, that’s an excursion sorted! But oh dear, I can’t really turn up with one hand as long as the other, can I? Especially considering I’ll be dragging those two mini tornadoes – oops, I mean daughters, that will rampage through her pristine (child-free!) home.

So, I was considering dashing to the corner shop for a packet of biscuits, but then I thought maybe I could use the opportunity to wrestle the afore-mentioned Tornado-Twins away from the TV for a short while – let’s make some cookies.

The "Tornado Twins" mixing
Stirring in the flour
Luckily, I have an extremely simple and impressively tasty recipe to hand. Rachel Allen’s “Basic Cookie Recipe” is really the most foolproof recipe I have, quite literally child’s play, and the results are supremely good. I really would encourage even the most reluctant baker to give them a go, even if they end up misshapen and lumpy, they still taste fantastic.
The joy of this recipe is that is completely versatile and you can adapt the cookies to whatever flavours you have, making them more childish (chocolate chips) or more adult (crystallised ginger and dark chocolate) or anything in between.

The biggest problem is stopping the "helpers" from eating all the cookie dough! They do love to help with rolling the dough between their little hands and it's definitely a break from Dora, Peppa and the rest.

Cookie dough also freezes supremely well so, if you don’t fancy making the full batch, you’re much better off to make the full amount of dough and freezing half rather than trying to half the recipe.

The end result
Here’s my tip – don’t buy Rachel’s own branded chocolate chips. They are over a fiver – ridiculous! The Dr. Oetker ones are about €1.20 and taste fine. I always use the plain ones, the kids don’t mind the taste of the dark chocolate, especially as the biscuits themselves are so rich. Alternatively, you could easily chop up a bar of chocolate – I’m very keen on the super-dark chocolates from Lidl and Aldi. I chop them with the kitchen scissors, but it’s relatively tedious so I usually fall back on the packet ones.

Rachel Allen’s Basic Cookie Recipe
“This recipe is a basis for many combinations. Experiment with ingredients – flavourings, dried fruits, nuts, spices and even herbs such as lavender – to find your favourite. Makes about 35 cookies”

  • 225g (8oz) butter, softened
  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 275g (10oz) plain flour
  • Ground spices or finely grated zest (optional; see Variations below)
1.     Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F), Gas Mark 3.
2.     Cream the butter in a large bowl or in a food mixer until soft.
3.     Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
4.     Sift in the flour and spices or grated zest (if using) and bring the mixture together to form a dough.
5.     Using your hands, roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and place them slightly apart on a baking tray (no need to grease or line). Flatten them slightly with the back of a damp fork and bake in the oven for 13–15 minutes or until they are light golden brown and slightly firm on top.
6.     Carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool

PS, DinnerLady note here - the cookies will still be pale and totally pliable when cooked, they should be just very lightly coloured. The transfer to the wire rack for cooling is best done with a palette knife, but they can still crumble and break on you, so be careful

Notes & Tips
Poppy seed: Add 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds to the flour.
Lemon: Add the finely grated zest of 1 lemon to the flour.
Orange: Add the finely grated zest of 1 orange to the flour.
White chocolate and orange: Dip the tops of the orange cookies in 50g (2oz) melted white chocolate, then allow to set on greaseproof paper.
Spices (cinnamon, mixed spice, ginger): Add 1 teaspoon of a ground spice to the flour.
Crystallised ginger and dark chocolate: Add 25g (1oz) finely chopped crystallised ginger to the flour. When the cookies are baked and cooled, dip the tops in 50g (2oz) melted dark chocolate, then allow to set on greaseproof paper.
Double chocolate chip: Use 250g (9oz) plain flour and add 50g (2oz) sifted cocoa powder to the flour. Bring the dough together and mix in 125g (41/2oz) dark or white chocolate chips.
White chocolate and dried cranberry: Add 50g (2oz) chopped dried cranberries to the flour. When the cookies are baked and cooled, dip the tops in 50g (2oz) melted white chocolate and allow to set on greaseproof paper.

Roll leftover dough into a log shape, 2–3cm (3/4–11/4in) in diameter, then leave in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to a couple of months. To bake, cut off slices, about 1cm (1/2in) thick, and cook on a baking tray in a preheated oven. Always remove cookies from their baking trays while still warm otherwise they will stick.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Lemon Posset with Tom & Johann Doorley (in conjunction with Lidl!)

I know I promised this review weeks ago, but for starters its been the busiest month and secondly, it was hard to choose which dish to try out. So in time old tradition (and partly because I'm a lover of anything lemon) I'm starting with desert - Lemon Posset.

This recipe features on page 203 of this smashing little book and at first glance I decided that it couldn't possibly be a simple as it looked. I remembered having Lemon Posset in the Tannery, Dungarvan many years ago and along with their slow cooked fillet of beef, its a dish I've dreamed of ever since.

The ingredients are as follows:

500ml Morning Fresh Double Cream
125gr Cordelia sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
175gr Blueberries (the blurb states that Raspberries can be substituted here and would be equally glorious I imagine)

And for the method?
Simply put the cream and sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat. Sitr until sugar has dissolved then add the lemon zest and juice and stir. Turn up the heat, bring to the boil then remove from heat and cool a little

And thats practically it!

While the mixture is cooling, divide the blueberries up between your dishes/glasses (more on this in a minute!) then pour the lemon and cream mixture in on top. Allow to cool before putting in the fridge overnight.

The recipe suggests that you then serve this chilled with some fingers of shortbread on the side.

And now comes my tuppence worth...

When deciding what to serve this in, why not be a little adventurous. The Doorleys suggest glass tumblers, but I'd say go a step further. If you have shot glasses (desert is about all mine are used for these days) champagne flutes or anything else transparent and pretty then work away. We say glass as the sight of the slightly softened blueberries through the glass adds an extra touch.

In this image I've used a liquor glass and put my shortbread alongside.

But if you've made this for a posh dinner party (isn't staying in the new going out?) then why not stretch yourself. With very little extra effort you could wow your guests with a Trio of Deserts. I suggest a small slice of the Chocolate Raspberry Cake, also in Home Cooking on page 216 (in my photo I simply used a brownie) and then a little bundle of fresh fruit in another corner of your plate, dust everything with castor sugar and bobs your uncle, your guests will think you're Michel Roux.

Anyhow, this Masterchef is off to to take on her next challenge... the Homemade Pizza on page 132. First time I've ever tried it, but if the recipe is even half as simple as the Lemon Posset, I know I'll be ok.

And if its a disaster at least I have a Trio of Desert to look forward to... This blogging lark is great!


Thursday, 3 May 2012

A Golden Oldie...

When we were younger, there was no such thing as blogs to give you nice ideas as to what to have for tea. There also wasn't a lot of money, or indeed time (too busy washing & drying cloth nappies I imagine) for coming up with all new fascinating dishes for dinner. As a result, there was a type of food rota in our house. The week started with Monday's left over Sunday Roast and worked its way up to Friday's sausage & chips treat, with a variety of meat-and-two-veg combinations in between. One of these was always Bacon & Cabbage and I have to admit, it was a dish I dreaded. No offense to my mother's cooking (she was a baking genius) but waterlogged bacon and equally watery white cabbage are all I remember of this meal. As a result, I have never cooked it - until tonight!

So what spurred tonights foray down memory lane? Well I was in our local Centra one afternoon and happened to bump into my lovely Sister in Law who grabbed my arm and hissed 'Did you see the bacon's reduced?' Eh, no I hadn't, I answered not wanting to add that even if I had... Anyhow she convinced me to purchase two pieces of what looked like a large wedge of breakfast bacon, and they've languished in my freezer ever since.
Until tonight. After a week of Punchestown rations I've had a longing for a proper 'dinner'. My lovely husband cooked a fabulous Shepherds Pie as a treat on Sunday but then we went back to our usual healthy mid-week stir frys. My craving for 'dinner' just wouldn't go away though, so, when trying to think of what to have for dinner tonight, I remembered the bacon that I discovered in my recent freezer stock take.

So I took it out this morning and left it lying on the counter to defrost. When I came home this evening, there it was winking at me all pasty and pale just as I'd remembered. I toyed briefly with the idea of tossing it to the labrador but as that would defeat my new budgeting ethos, I turned on the oven, bunged it in (the memory of the waterlogged boiled bacon obviously still an issue) and went out for my run.

On returning, so delicious a smell had started to waft around the kitchen that I started to get vaguely excited about the meal. I had a few potatoes in the fridge (we try not to eat spuds midweek anymore) and in a flash of inspiration remembered another freezer find - frozen spinach. On went the spuds in a pot of salted boiling water and I chopped up an onion and cooked it in a LOT of butter. Plenty of salt & pepper and hey presto - posh cabbage & mash!
(I wish I could say that I then rustled together some homemade parsley sauce but the arduous task of trying to get our impossible two year old to bed meant that a packet sauce had to suffice, I promise I'll make it next time).

Because there will be a next time, not only was it an absolutely delicious and stress free dish to make, I do have that other piece of bacon in the freezer. Who knows, this could become a weekly staple, and wouldn't that give Mam the last laugh...