Serrano Ham & Ricotta Ravioli

Friday, November 4, 2011

Serran Ham & Ricotta Ravioli


It's no surprise; if I could have picked my ethnicity, there's a pretty good chance that I would have chosen to be born Italian. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Italian cuisine is the world's greatest cuisine.

Who needs ultra rich French food when you've got the luxuriously comforting Italian food? From the hearty pasta dishes to the fun and simple pizzas, Italian is unbeatable.

I've always wanted to try to make ravioli and never really gave it a shot. Since I've been pregnant, my cooking has kind of taken a back seat. Well, not really a back seat, I've just gotten more Nigella Express and less Domestic Goddess in the last few months. That said, I couldn't be bothered to make my own ravioli pasta. Instead, I popped into the closest Chinese supermarket in Chinatown on my lunch break and spent less than a quid on a pack of wonton sheets.

Yup, this is wonton ravioli: super simple and super tasty.
Ingredients:
pack of wonton pastry
pack of serrano ham
tub of ricotta
parsley
salt and pepper
lemon zest
spinach
butter
cheese to top

Okay, let me set the record straight, I used serrano ham although it's Spanish and not Italian, simply because I like the earthy taste of serrano. I think it's a bit more rustic than prosciutto, which would have been my choice of cured meats for this. The serrano adds an extra bite to the dish, I think. It helps to deepen the flavors, plus it really works nicely against the lemon zest.

So, here's what you do. Combine the ricotta, serrano ham, cut into bits, lemon zest, parsley and salt and pepper in a bowl. Lay your wonton sheets out and place a small dollop in the middle of the pastry. Dip your finger into a shallow bowl of water and dampen the edges of the ravioli. Fold over or place another wanton sheet over the top. Press and then boil.

Once the water has come to a rolling boil, it should only take three minutes to cook the ravioli. I did it in batches, made up about four to six, then cooked them while I made up another for to six. It was a simple conveyor belt process. :)

When the last batch of ravioli was cooking, I dumped the spinach into the wok to wilt the leaves as well as popping about two tablespoons of margarine into a bowl and melting it in the microwave for the sauce. I served the ravioli on a bed of spinach and drizzled the butter over the ravioli, topped with cheese and sprinkled with a bit of salt and pepper. Easy peasy and tasty, too!

All Things Orange & Pumpkiny

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I do not know what I discovered first--the salty crunch of sunflower seed or the heady, balmy feel of softball. No matter which came first, both became big parts of my life. It's true, if I have to pick a favorite snack, I might be tempted to say sunflower seeds.

My love of sunflower seeds gradually evolved into a slight infatuation with other seeds and nuts. Such was my rapture, that I embarked on what could very well be a lifelong love affair with seeds and nuts, quite squirrel like, to be honest. Eventually, sunflower seeds gave way to pumpkin seeds. In fact, I can still remember the day I first tried pumpkin and pumpkin seeds.

We, the seven year olds who made up my elementary school class were sitting in a circle on the carpet, minutes away from starting our Harvest Festival. Parents had come to school carting Tupperware boxes of goodies or plastic bags of store-bought treats. The classroom had been divided--Indians sat on the floor in a way that was deemed ethically correct and fat-faced Pilgrims with white nun habits on their heads sat across from us. We were divided by an impressive cornucopia of festive fall foodstuffs.

Amongst that autumnal spread lay something I had never tasted, though I had known much about it. I could spell it; could tell you what color it was; knew that it belonged to the squash family, but never until that day had I ever eaten a pumpkin.

My first taste of it was in the form of pumpkin pie. One of my classmate's moms served me up a thick slice. It was a beautiful rich color, like the sweet potato pies my mother would make for Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mouth watered as I lifted the fork. The texture wasn't too different from sweet potato pie, just a bit more stringy, but it was lovely and delicious. I finished the pie and the whipped cream, dazed by the new food I'd discovered.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, someone was passing around pumpkin seeds. I had never seen pumpkin seeds but I was intrigued. Their pale white shells and teardrop shapes were enthralling and I peeled one apart after sucking the salt from its hull to find a curiously colored green seed. They were divine and so it began.

I became (as I guess we all have to be) a seasonal pumpkin consumer. It was never big in my family, my mom never really cooked with it, nor did she make pumpkin pies. But everywhere I went that was serving something pumpkin related, I devoured. In college, I discovered one of the best restaurant desserts ever: Olive Garden's pumpkin cheesecake.

One of my roommates and close friends and I would go to Olive Garden repeatedly in the autumn to devour the massive servings of pumpkin cheesecake. It became a rather pointed ritual--if the leaves we were changing we were sure to be found in the bistro sitting area of the Greensboro Olive Garden, sipping Venetian sunsets, waiting for our two course meal: a shared plate of spinach artichoke dip and a piece of pumpkin cheesecake each. It's amazing the things you can live off of in college. :)

Anyway, pumpkins and I, we have a lovely relationship. I keep licking my fingers as I type this, shoveling in helping after helping of freshly roasted pumpkin seeds. The fiance and I, per our ritual, bought a pumpkin (two pumpkins, actually) last week and carved one into a rather whimsical jack o'lantern. Of course during the gutting process, we reserved the seeds, left them to dry out for a day or two in a bowl covered with Saran wrap.

This afternoon, I dumped the seeds onto a baking sheet, doused with generous helpings of salt and olive oil and roasted for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When they were finished roasting (and still warm) I tossed them in cinnamon, poured them onto a plate and sat down to eat and write this entry.

There's not much better in the days surrounding Halloween than pumpkin seeds and pumpkin recipes. As I type this, rough wedges of sliced pumpkin with skin and seeds intact are roasting in the oven in a bath of olive oil, sea salt, cracked pepper, sage and garlic, waiting to be transformed into a roasted pumpkin risotto and the next entry. :)

Slow-cooked Beef Bourguignon

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Slowcooker Beef Bourguignon

Fall is my absolute favorite time of the year. I love the crispness in the air, I love the amazing way leaves change color and how the nights are slightly longer but not completely as long as winter.

One of the best things about fall, though is that it's the best time for comfort food. There's nothing better than hearty food just as the weather's getting chilly.

Last week it felt like fall was just around corner. There was freshness and a chill in the air (let's ignore the fact that this lovely chill has given me the first stuffy nose of the season!) and it made me excited to know that fall wasn't far off. In the spirit of fall and excited about leaves and scarves and boots, I rushed out and bought a slow cooker! All excited for things to try cooking, I gave beef bourguignon a go!

Of course for most people, the words beef bourguignon conjure up images of Julia Child and scenes from the movie Julie & Julia, but this isn't Julia Child's beef bourguignon, that is to say, there's no sherry in it. (Gasp!) But, I think it tastes absolutely great. The flavors are amazing, it makes the house smell divine and the beef is so tender. Served with a steaming pile of homemade mashed potatoes, all that's missing is a little sprinkling of snow outside!

For the ingredients and instructions, go to the updated  beef bourguignon recipe.

Double Cherry & Vanilla Pie

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lattice topped double cherry & vanille pie

Oh, summer. Flip-flops, beaches, popsicles, homemade lemonade and ... delectable, delicious, sweet and tangy cherries. I feel a bit ashamed admitting this, but I'd never had a cherry until May 2008.

From that point on, I developed a veritable obsession with cherries. All my life, I'd been a fruithead, opting for peaches and apples, strawberries and watermelon, grapes and cantaloupe when other kids begged for chocolate and candy. My parents never had to beg me to eat fruit, but for some reason, I got the idea in my head (probably after having an ultra-sweet cocktail cherry) that I hated cherries.
When I bit into my first cherry (it was during my first stint living in England) it was like some terrible tastebud-related wrong had been righted. I couldn't get enough of gnashing through the delicate flesh, flesh whose texture remarkably reminded me of a mandarin orange, with its appley skin, I was hooked. When I returned to North Carolina that summer I picked up a bag of cherries on every trip to the grocery store, fell in love not only with the common bing cherries, but with the regional black cherry.

Now, summer has come to be associated with them and I'm so grateful. As a result of my latent love for them, I've turned them into crumbles, into fruit salads and sauces and now into a cherry pie. But not just any cherry pie, mind, oh no, a double cherry and vanilla pie. That's not necessarily twice the amount of cherries, but two types of cherries. Oh yes, get excited, cherry lovers.


What You Need:
about 4 cups of bing cherries
a can of black cherry pie filling
3/4 cup of sugar
1/8 tsp salf
4 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour
lemon juice to taste
a few drops of vanilla extract
vanilla sugar for sprinkling
1 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed
shortcrust pastry (made or store bought)
1 egg, beaten

Now, I'll be honest and go ahead and admit that I bought my pastry. I was way too tired to make a homemade shortcrust pastry, what with the other cooking I was doing this day (roast duck, roast potatoes, carrots, green beans, Yorkshire puddings and gravy). Usually, I'd make my own dough and if I was making my own shortcrust pastry, I would have added some vanilla sugar to carry the taste through.


Anyway, since I didn't have to worry about making dough  (and since I bought dough that was already a 13inch circle and didn't need rolling) I just popped the first sheet into the bottom of my pie pan, poked holes in it with a fork and set about prepping my cherries.

Of course, as with any fruit, the cherries need to be washed. I'll admit, I was making this pie at the height of the Spanish Cucumber e.Coli scare (which turned out to be German bean sprouts), and since my cherries hailed from the north of Spain, we super washed them. :) Certain they were scrubbed and clean, we popped them into the cherry/olive pitter and let it work its magic dislodging the stubborn cherry stones from the fruit. Once that was completed, the cherries were stirred with the sugar, flour, salt, lemon juice and vanilla extract.

The canned cherries were poured into the mixture. Be sure to take care to avoid pouring in too much of the filling from the can as this could make the pie too wet and juicy. Now, you drop the cubed butter over the picture. Next, prepare your top crust: you can make a normal enclosed pie or try a lattice top. As you can see, I attempted my first lattice top! I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was and that I was successful. After the pie was closed, I dusted the crust with an egg wash and proceeded to sprinkle the vanilla sugar over top.

Now you just need to pop it into the oven 25 minutes at 400F (200C). After the first 25 minutes, remove the pie, allow the oven to cool, reduce the temperature to 375F (180C) and cook for a further 15 minutes or until cook to your desired tastes.

That's it! Easy as .... well, pie!

Now, that photo of the roast dinner wasn't watermarked, but it's definitely mine.

From Under my Pregnancy Rock

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wow, has it really been just over a month since I've thought about food?!
Ever since I dug my heels in and got into the first trimester of my pregnancy, my relationship with food fizzled. The spark went out quicker than a lit cigar in a shot of scotch. Just died. Of course, when it comes to pregnancy, every body talks about morning sickness and leaves everyone around them feeling queasy as they rehash the hours spent clutching the sides of their toilets, face in a place a face should never be.

I didn't experience that type of morning sickness, thank God. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I vomited (it's always been such a rare occurrence for me). My morning sickness has been the classic food aversion based on scents and craving foods that I've never eaten. One of my more bizarre cravings? Corn flakes with milk. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don't do milk. I was the weird kid who didn't eat cereal growing up because I do not like the taste, the smell, the texture of milk. I'm not overly keen on it now, but since getting pregnant, I have single-handedly boosted Mr. Kellog's stocks. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration.

Still, my Corn flakes craving has been matched only by my craving for proper British roast potatoes smothered in lashings of gravy. Nom nom. Other than that, I've mostly not had an appetite. Most days, I've just been thinking, why bother with food? I don't feel hungry.

Just coming out of my first trimester now, I'm slowly gaining my appetite back, the nausea and the heartburn have (mostly) left the incubator and today the sight of bright pink, raw meat didn't make me gag. In fact, I cooked a whole dinner today without incident, all by myself, probably the first time since being pregnant. Actually, I cooked twice today! Small victories, folks; small victories.

So, in a rather large nutshell, that sums up where I've been. I've not given up on food or anything like that, but if this is any indication, I don't think my first born is going to be a chef. Anyway, how insane is it that I've already begun drafting my first post-giving birth meal?

Epic Post Popping Out Baby Meal
Hors d'oeuvres
sushi amuse bouche

Appetizers
pan-fried scallops wrapped in bacon and wilted spinach with lobster medallions

Mains
celeriac and potato mash with fine beans
roasted chicken with a red wine and blueberry jus

Dessert
vanilla ice cream by the bucket load*

Cheese Course
blue cheese and crudites

Drinks
a warm flirty red
a cold crisp white
a strawberry margarita

*vanilla ice cream isn't forbidden during pregnancy, but my little unborn one hates it. :(

Homemade Vanilla and Almond Biscotti

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vanilla and almond biscotti

It's not every day I get to eat the food in my posts while writing my posts. Today, bliss of all bliss!, is one of those days and I am quite happily munching on a piece of homemade vanilla and almond biscotti--my first attempt at these tasty Italian cookies that usually accompany a steaming cup of tea or mug of coffee.

Cutting back on caffeine due to the pregnancy, I'm enjoying my biscotti with a few freshly washed grapes and some juice, and while I have refrained from dipping it in the juice, the texture of the biscotti tells me it would be fabulous dipped in milky coffee or tea.

 So, first off, I probably broke (and have a tendency to do so) the cardinal rule of baking, opting to use granulated sugar even when certain recipes call for caster sugar. At least this time, rationale lurks amongst my madness! You see, I think something that is full of texture and is supposed to have a rough elegance and look like its really been through the grindstone (like biscotti) needs the harsh, rough edges of granulated sugar.

Unlike a doughnut that just goes soft, when you dip a biscotti in your tea or coffee, you want to know it's there. You want to come across that nifty little crunch of almond or sugar and feel like everything is right with the world. At least, I do. Although, you may argue I put too much stock in the rejuvenating and stability-inducing effects of my food. :) So, for that reason (and because I refuse to buy caster sugar and because I would have been too lazy to pulse granulated sugar in my food processor to make it into caster sugar) I used granulated sugar.

Alright, enough with my evangelizing you and trying to convert you into a non caster sugar user! Here's what you need to make yummy biscotti at home:
2 eggs
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
200 g flour
175 g granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
150 g whole blanched almonds
vanilla sugar

Preheat your oven to 180C/355F.

Once you have all that on your counter, you need to roughly chop the almonds, leaving some whole. Of course, this seems like a waste of time, when you could have just bought blanched almond pieces, and to be honest, if it's going to cause you grief, chopping the little fellows up, then go ahead and buy the pieces. Whatever floats your boat and makes your cooking experience easier.

Next, you want to combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl, mixing in the almonds.

Beat the eggs with the vanilla extract in a separate bowl and then add to the floury mixture. Combine to form a dough either by hand or using a food processor. Knead lightly and place onto a silicone baking tray or a lined baking tray in the shape of a log. Sprinkle vanilla sugar all over the dough, as much as you' like.

Pop in the oven for about 20 minutes. Once the first 20 minutes is up, allow to cool slightly.  Which means, when it's warm enough for you to touch, begin slicing it into pieces as thick or as thin as you'd like. Reduce the heat on the heaven to 160C/320F. Lay the pieces on their side on the baking tray and stick back in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Let cool & enjoy with your favorite hot drink.

Tarragon Roasted Chicken Breast with Veg and Smoked Garlic Bechamel

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tarragon Roasted Chicken Breast with Smoked Garlic Bechamel

If there is ever a mantra you hear when learning to cook, it is:

Learn how to make a good bechamel. It'll take you places.

That's certainly true. A bechamel is like the big momma of the sauce world. Formed from the basis of a roux (butter and flour), it is used in a lot of French cooking and is the tasty white sauce in the Italian classic dish, lasagna. Bechamel's are lovely because they are the palate's blank canvas: any combination of herbs and spices can be added to a bechamel to produce a truly stunning sauce that will marry all of the components of a well-cooked plate of food.

This dish of tarragon roasted chicken breast, roast potatoes and cabbage is elevated with a nice, full-bodied bechamel whose main flavor is oak-smoked garlic. I came across the garlic about a month or two ago while having brunch with friends in a cafe in Manchester. They had a display of oak-smoked garlic on the counter just as you walked in and your olfactory senses were assaulted with the lovely, sweet, woody scent for the duration of your stay. So strong was the scent and my craving for that garlic that by the time I left, I was shaking at the thought of getting my hands on it.

It made our car smell lovely and garlicky, as well as our fridge and when I finally got around to putting it into my bechamel, it very nearly made me shout out in glee. Yeah, it's that good.

Now, I'm more of a thin-to-slightly thick type of girl when it comes to bechamel. I don't always want my bechamel to be the gloopy consistency it can be in lasagnas, but I don't want it to be watery either. I like a perfect balance of smooth with a few lumps of bits in it. Now, whether this is how the French intended it is irrelevant. For me, this works best because everything (namely the chicken and the roasted potatoes) really absorb the sauce without being overpowered by it.

So this meal? Simple. All you need is chicken breast (or a whole chicken or whatever parts you want) good roasting potatoes diced into chunks and fresh cabbage, washed, drained and torn into medium-to-big pieces.

First off, you're going to want to get the potatoes peeled and diced and boiled to softened. Next, heat the oil or fat for roasting in the roasting tin. I started off using lard but I have since switched to a combo of unsalted butter and olive oil, which I think works best for my tastes and leaves the potatoes crunchy on the outside and extra light and fluffy inside.
After the butter and oil is heated, place the potatoes in the roasting tin. They should sizzle when they come in contact with the butter and oil. Turn once to coat and then roast about 35 to 40 minutes on 200 C/400F until done.

While the butter and oil is heating up, you want to sear the chicken breast. Heat up a dry pan until it is searingly hot and place the meat in the pan pressing down lightly (don't squeeze out the juice) and searing each side for three minutes before moving to a roasting tin and sprinkling with herbs and spices before putting in the oven with the potatoes.

Cabbage is such an easy vegetable and everybody like it a specific way, so just make it whichever way your prefer. I prefer doing it my mom's way: a little bit of butter and water in a stock pot, put the cabbage in and steam being sure to season extra well and add more butter and salt before serving. Simple.

Bechamel's dead easy: a cup of milk, a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of plain flour, garlic & tarrgon (or whatever herbs you want). Basically, you melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a roux. Then gradually add the milk, now stirring with a whisk. After all the milk is in, add your chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Continue to stir until it reduces down to the thickness that you prefer. Finally, remove it from the heat & add the herbs. Give it a good stir & serve up.That's the simple way. If you really want the flavors to be prominent, then you need to begin by simmering the milk along with the herbs and spices over a low heat. Then set aside and follow the instructions as given.

Prawn & Mushroom Salad with Samphire & Baby Dill Potatoes

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Prawn and Mushroom Salad with Samphire and Baby Dill Potatoes

Like with anything, there are trends in food. If you're like me and you're a slave to cookery reality shows (MasterChef, Hell's Kitchen & a classic Nigella or Barefoot Contessa) then you're aware of this. Food trends, like the eternally youthful, follow the seasons. When its time to brace for the chill of winter, you're likely to see rustic ingredients lining the benches of TV's greatest chefs. Usually misshapen, colorful squashes and root vegetables or earthy, spices like nutmeg.

One such food trend I have been following for a long time is samphire. Samphire is referred to as a sea bean. It is a spindly, green vegetable that looks like a mangled anorexic green bean mated with asparagus spears. Originally used in the 14th century to make glass (when it was referred to as glasswort), samphire is now making a return to the forefront of society in the realm of cookery. It has a delicate taste that's subtle and salty. There are two types of samphire--rock and marsh. Rock samphire is the type that was used to make glass and is inedible.

I first came across samphire, I am thrilled to say, unexpectedly in Asda (Walmart). Wandering through the produce aisle, I saw it. It was displayed in the refrigerated section with sugar snap peas and other waxy green beans. Without hesitation, I plucked up a pack and tossed it into the shopping cart. "We have to try this," I said to my boyfriend who stared at this odd spindly mass of sea fringe. Long since having relented to my adventures in cooking, he shrugged and made no comment.

A few days later and after brief research into the tasty sea treat, it boiled in a pot of slightly salted water on my stove, waiting to be paired with a salad of pan-fried prawns and mushrooms (cooked in groundnut oil) and boiled baby potatoes smattered with sea salt and dill.

The flavors were exquisite. Something really great happens when you combine the salty freshness of the samphire with seafood. The earthiness of the mushrooms and the potatoes worked nicely as well to balance it and created a modern take on a surf and turf dish. I particularly enjoyed the depth the dill brought the dish. It elevated everything and you had the sweetness of the dill meeting the almost sour saltiness of the samphire and the prawns in a beautiful way.

I believe samphire is definitely going in my arsenal of must cook with again ingredients.

I'm looking forward to trying it with some scallops and a red wine jus ... alas, that dish will have to wait until this pregnancy is over.

Celeriac and Potato Mash with Cabbage and Roasted Chicken

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Celeriac and Potato Mash with Cabbage and Roasted Chicken

There are foods you grow up eating and then there are foods you discover. Most often, the former carries a greater sense of importance and realism especially if you aspire to have a life somehow centered around food.

Celeriac is a food that I discovered, not without prompting from television cookery shows, of course. While browsing a local fruit and veg stand for dinner accompaniments one afternoon a few weeks ago, I saw it. It was sitting there with the potatoes and the mushrooms, looking like an out-of-place, small-scale meteor. Instantly, I went over to it and ran my fingers across its tough skin and fantasized about slicing into it and discovering what it was made of. I happily added to the mix of arugula, radicchio and fennel in my basket and proceeded to checkout.

When the time came to slice into the celeriac, I grabbed the newest addition to my knife family, a splurge purchase: a santoku knife, and delved into the celeriac's thick root skin, forcing the milky flesh away from the hull.  

When I finally got inside, I was reminded of a dried coconut. Although celeriacs are very heavy, the flesh is light and porous. In fact, it floats, like a life raft. You should have seen it in my pot, just buoying and bobbing up and down as the water came to a boil, until it submitted to the heat and began to cook.

The smell it emits ... is interesting, unmistakable and very nearly indescribable. I felt like a witch pouring over a steaming cauldron of potion while cooking this. It has this ... heady, earthy, almost terrifyingly fantastic smell. It smells sinister and intriguing, like nothing I've ever cooked with before. Slightly peppery. It's been described as being foul smelling ... I'm not sure if I would agree with that 100 percent. While it was a bit foul and while it did leave my house smelling of its unusual scent for days, I'm not sure I hated it.

 When it came to preparing it for serving, I stuck with a tried and true classic: pairing it with potatoes to make a mash. Simple, yet the taste was elevated.

The celeriac added an earthiness to the potatoes that the spuds were enviable of, I'm sure. It added an interesting pow. Not one that I would want every time I ate mashed potatoes, but every now and again it wouldn't be too bad.

Anyway, dished up with steamed, buttery cabbage and tarragon-covered pan-seared, roasted chicken breast.

I personally think the tarragon, which was sprinkled over everything, added a nice hint of flavor to the celeriac. I think the two ingredients played off of each other's pepperyness and really elevated it. It might be worth considering mixing tarragon throughout the mash next time.

To recreate this meal, you need: chicken breast, dried tarragon, cabbage, two or three good-sized potatoes, one celeriac, milk, white cheese, salt and pepper.

Cut the flesh away from the celeriac's skin, dice and boil for about 15 minutes until tender. Meanwhile, in another pot, boil the peeled and diced potatoes for about 15 minutes until tender. While the root vegetables are boiling, sear the chicken in a hot pan. Then put the chicken in the oven at about 180C/350F for 20 minutes in a pan of butter and olive oil. Baste every now and then to keep from drying out.

Strain the root vegetables and cook the cabbage however you'd like. I like to steam mine and add a little salt, pepper and butter. Mash the potatoes and celeriac together, add in a glug of milk, salt and pepper, cheese and any other secret weapons you use when making homemade mash potatoes.

Top with dried tarragon and serve.

Three Meat Cannelloni Casserole

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Three Meat Cannelloni Casserole

One of the coolest things about preschool was making pasta necklaces. You remember it, don't you? You'd come into the classroom and there would be seemingly millions of bowls of brightly colored pasta all in different shapes and sizes. I was the type of kid, whose hands twitched (literally) with excitement when I was near something I was thrilled about.

Without fail, my enthusiasm would get the better of me and I would immediately lurch for the bowls of pasta, grabbing at the shapes as if they were treasures and not cleverly disguised food. Of course, my zealousness always sent me to the corner (this was before naughty steps and before ridiculous research suggested that banishing kids to corners of rooms caused low self esteem) and I had to wait a whole two minutes before being allowed to join the group!

The maverick that I was at three, felt like this was an unjust punishment, for my only transgression had been to be excited about learning! (They were using those brightly colored pasta pieces to help us develop our motor skills and our dexterity, weren't they?) Why I should be made to stand with my nose against a wall while my classmates plucked up the good pasta always confused me. Alas, some 20-odd years later, while standing in my kitchen, stuffing a concoction of meat and vegetables into cannelloni pasta, I was reminded of my edible jewelry making days.

Three meat cannelloni casserole is what I'm calling it. The original recipe, swiped from a comfort foods cookbook, called it something else, but, like always, I have adapted this recipe.

This is one of those, home-y meals, where measurements aren't important. For that reason, and the fact that I didn't bother with measurements and I can't be bothered to go downstairs to the kitchen to get the original recipe, I'll let you work out your own measurements.

What you'll need:
  • Three types of ground (minced) meat--I used pork, beef and turkey.
  • A carrot
  • An onion
  • Oil of your choice
  • A can of peeled plum tomatoes. You'll need to chop these.
  • A box of cannelloni pasta
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • A packet of cheese ( I used cheddar because it's what I had on hand. But I'd suggest Dutch Edam, because it gives you those long, melty cheese strings that Italian food is known for.)
  • You'll also need to make a bechamel. None of that going out and buying pre-made white sauce; bechamel's easy to make and if you learn how to make a good one, you'll use it over and over again

    For your bechamel (measurements are important):
  • 500 ml milk
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
 Method:
  1. Fry the diced onion and carrots in oil until soft. I left the carrots kind of big because I like the texture they bring to the dish, but you can make both as fine as you'd like.
  2. Add the tomatoes and generous helpings of salt, black pepper, oregano and basil.
  3. Add all of the mince, being sure to break up any large pieces. Stir occasionally and let cook for about 20 minutes until cooked through. Once cooked, set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180 C/350 F. 
  5. Prepare your bechamel by melting the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add in the flour and stir until a roux is formed. Then gradually, whisk in the milk. After all the milk is whisked in, stir the sauce until it thickens.
  6. Pour a bit of the bechamel into the bottom of a casserole dish/roasting tray.
  7. Stuff each cannelloni needed until you have one layer in your dish. Spread any leftover stuffing mix over the top of the cannelloni, cover with the remaining sauce, a bit of oregano and basil, handfuls of cheese and then bake for about 20 minutes or until cooked through.
  8. I serve it with garlic flatbread.
P.S. Apologies for being away! But I was still cooking while I was gone, so I have an arsenal of posts to create and recipes to share including pork and pease pudding, seafood risotto and a celeriac dish!

    Fancy a Stroll Down Mexico Way?

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Mexican Lasagna

    If I had to choose two global cuisines to rule the world, they would Italian and Mexican, respectively. Although, Mexican food only falls into second place slot of my Best Ethnic Cuisine of All Time list, this dish, an interpretation of a Nigella Lawson recipe, is good enough to make me reconsider my ranking.
    Me and Mexican food. Me and tacos, taquitos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas ... we go way back. I'm sure by now, you're aware of my infatuation with Italian food, and my opinion that it is the single greatest cuisine on the planet ... so, what could be better than marrying the pizazz of spicy, colorful Mexican food with the carbby, rich, decadent palate of Italian food?
    I present to you the greatest, Friday night dish ever: Mexican Lasagna with avocado dip.
    Mmmm mmmm mmm.
    What you need to make this mouthwatering and tummy-filling meal:

    an avocado
    a red bell pepper
    green chillies (as much as you can handle)
    coriander (cilantro)
    sweet corn
    black beans
    a can of chopped tomatoes
    1/2 an onion
    ground nut oil
    spicy cheese
    tortillas
    chili powder
    Mexican flavored chicken breast from the deli
    lime juice
    spring onions (scallions)
    a bit of lemon juice just to keep the avocado from discoloring

    There are no measurements because this is the kind of dish that you fill with all the things you like and use less of the things you don't like. This is the kind of dish that will turn out fantastic no matter if you use twice as many black beans and just a few ounces of corn or if you scrap the corn altogether! Experiment and make it to reflect your tastes, not mine.

    Method

    Fry the peppers, onion and chopped, deseeded chillies in the groundnut oil. Salt and cook until tender.

    Boil the black beans and the corn together according to the instruction on the black bean package. Strain and topped pour into a bowl and top with a generous portion of the cheese. Cover.

    Add a generous serving of coriander and tomatoes with a little bit of water to the pan with the onions and chillies and allow to bubble away for about 10 minutes.
    Layer to make your lasagna:
    Take one tortilla shell and place it in the bottom of your dish. (I used a circular Pyrex.)
    The spoon over 1/3 of the tomato/onion mixture. Top with a few pieces of chicken and some cheese. Layer another tortilla and spoon over 1/3 of the black bean mixture. Top with chicken and cheese. Continue on this way until you have used all the ingredients that you would like to use, ending with a tortilla.

    Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes at 200 degrees C/400 degrees F.
    For the avocado dip:
    Mix the avocado with a bit of lemon juice, lime juice, spring onions, coriander and some chopped chillies if you'd like. You can make this as chunky or as smooth as you like. Pack into a bowl and refrigerate until the lasagna is finished. Serve on the side with sour cream or dolloped on top.






    Do you know the (blueberry) Muffin Man?

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Do you know the (blueberry) Muffin Man?




    The Muffin Man aka Mambru, for all my Hispanic readers, may live on Drury Lane, but the Blueberry Muffin Man and his whole little muffin family lives in my kitchen belly. These little guys were so moist and delectably delicious and vaguely lemony with a hint of vanilla. Blissful way to end a Monday, let me tell you.

    Blueberry Muffin Me

    There's no point in me giving you a recipe for blueberry muffins. You're bound to have some indeed, but, enjoy the photos of my adorable blueberry muffin men. I'm planning on making a whole army of them once the blueberries get a little sweeter!



    For those of you who don't like the idea of eating little men.














    Here are the bulbous babies from the front.














    And with more definition from the back.















    Okay, go make some!

    Pan-fried Patagonian Sea Scallops with Bacon

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011


    I've only very recently come to know (& love) scallops. It was a crash-course in tastes, actually. I first had them in paella at a Spanish restaurant in Manchester.

    Before then, I always avoided them, shoved them onto the boyfriend's plate and happily munched away on everything else.

    I've always been a picky eater and I'm starting to realize that that's a bit unfortunate. I'm hoping to expand my palate and to try new things, one grimacing bite at a time. Most recently it was the scallops. I was surprised by how fishy they were, which for most picky seafood eaters is a no-go, but for me, it was a tick under the right column. I love their fishyness. I love that they're firm but not too firm. They look like they should be gooey. They look like mini orbs of panacotta. They look unappetizing. Well, I should say the looked unappetizing. Now, I'm their biggest fan.

    There's this ... culinary canon of dishes people who have not been trained as a chef are always wary to try cooking. It's normally things like: cheesecake, meringue, risotto, scallops. Some conniving (and insanely smart) chef started spewing the rumor that these foods were difficult to prepare. As a result, homecooks shy away from them and we all flock to restaurants for our fill of these dishes thought best left to the pros.

    I'll admit, I first felt that way when it came to tackling the scallops. But, my gusto and my memory of how divine they tasted (plus the fact that they were on sale at the supermarket this week) all combined and saw me in my kitchen, plopping these babies into a wok of warmed olive oil.

    I fried them, splashed on some lemon juice and a bit of white wine and added some diced bacon. I had intended to wrap the bacon in the scallops but the scallops, as you can see were far too small. Next time I prepare them, I'll prepare them as originally intended.

    Everything else went according to plan. They were served on a bed of salted, steamed savoy cabbage with a baked potato added for sustenance. It was simple, quick, flavorful and delicious. I have no complaints.

    Afternoon Memory by Gary Soto

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    It occurred to me the other day that I don't post enough food poems on here.
    So here, you are, one of my most favorite poems about food. Click the link to hear him read.

    Afternoon Memory by Gary Soto
    Sometimes I'll look in the refrigerator
    And decide that the mustard is vaguely familiar,
    And that the jar of Spanish olives is new to me.
    What's this gathering? The butter
    And salsa, the two kinds of tortillas
    And, in back, the fat-waisted Mrs. Butterworth.
    I'll study the plate of cross-legged chicken,
    
    And close the refrigerator and lean on the kitchen counter.
    Is this old age? The faucet drips.
    The linoleum blisters when you walk on it.
    The magnets on the refrigerator crawl down
    With the gravity of expired coupons and doctor bills.
    Sometimes I'll roll my tongue in my mouth.
    Is this thirst or desire? Is this pain
    Or my foot going to sleep? I know the factory
    Inside my stomach has gone quiet.
    My hair falls as I stand. My lungs are bean plants
    Of disappearing air. My body sends signals, like now:
    A healthy fleck is floating across my vision.
    I watch it cross. It's going to attack a virus
    On the right side of my body
    And, later, travel down my throat to take care of knee,
    Little latch of hurt. I swallow three times.
    I have to help my body parts. Fellas, sour liver
    And trusty kidney, I'm full of hope.
    I open the refrigerator.
    I've seen this stuff before. What's this?
    The blow dart of bran? Chinese ginger?
    No, fellas, they're carrots. The orange, I hear,
    Is good for your eyes.

    Tiramisu

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Tiramisu

    Y'know what I love? I love that tiramisu means "pick me up" in Italian. I love that this decadent dessert is a bona fide slice of comfort food--in every sense of the word.

    Before this weekend, I would flit from Italian restaurant to Italian restaurant, cafe and coffee shop to cafe and coffee shop, in desperation, seeking my pick me up.

    I'd stand before the counter, ragged and run down, only capable of eeking out of the word tiramisu, before they handed over the goods. Yeah, my infatuation with this dessert has been that serious. It's a bit shocking, really, because I don't drink coffee or espresso. But ... who can make heads or tails of matters of the heart, I ask ya.

    Anyway, if you want to begin a relationship with this rich and heavenly dessert, here's my own recipe of what you'll need:
    (apologies for them being metric & not superior imperial)
    250 milliliters ounces of hot water
    110 milliliters of Chambord black raspberry liqueur divided into 60 milliliters and 50 milliliters (alternatively, use any liqueur that you like ... I personally like the sweet flavor of this fruity liqueur)
    15 milliliters of instant espresso (make sure it's espresso & not coffee!)
    2 eggs, separated
    75 grams of sugar
    1 package of lady fingers (if you can't find lady fingers, I bet vanilla wafers would work)
    150 grams of mascarpone cheese
    2 tablespoons fromage frais
    1 tablespoon cocoa powder
    chocolate curls
    1 teaspoon vanilla essence

    Here's what you do:
    Add the espresso the to required amount of hot water along with 50 mls of the Chambord. Set aside to cool.
    Separate the eggs into individual bowls. Whisk the whites with an electric mixer so that they are aerated and frothy but not stiff.
    Pour your sugar over the egg yolks along with the remaining liqueur. Whisk using a normal, non-electric whisk until aerated. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the mascarpone followed by the fromage frais and the vanilla essence. Finally, whisk in the remaining contents of the mascarpone. Whisk until smooth and thick.
    Gently fold in the egg whites.

    In your serving dish, lay out a layer of lady fingers. Pour 1/2 of the espresso mixture over the lady fingers, being careful not to spill too much in the bottom of the dish. Allow to absorb. Once absorbed, spoon over half of the cream and egg mixture. Repeat this pattern of lady fingers then cream until you have used all of the ingredients, being sure to end with a cream layer.

    Refrigerate for at least six hours.
    Just before serving: sprinkle on the cocoa powder and chop with chocolate curls. Serve with ice cream or more mascarpone.

    Galician Broth

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Galician Broth

    Although I've been to Spain numerous times, I've never actually been to Galicia. This broth, as it is called (I think it's more of a soup) is divine and would be reason enough to visit the region alone! (Oh, how many voyages would I take in search of culinary delights?!)
    I digress. This soup, is heavenly. Surprisingly tasty with a nice ingredient twist that I would have never considered serving as the base flavor in a soup: paprika. The recipe I used has been modified unintentionally, because I forgot an ingredient when I went shopping! I'll give you the ingredient I added in and I'll give you the ingredient that was supposed to be added in. I plan on making this again in the very near future, hopefully incorporating all of the correct ingredients!
    So what you need if you're wanting to experience Galicia my way:

    1lb. gammon (ham)
    3 bay leaves
    2 onions, sliced
    6 1/4 cups cold water
    1 tbsp paprika
    1lb potatoes, skinned and cut into large chunks
    a few handfuls of frozen peas
    1 can white kidney beans
    1 pork stock cube
    salt and pepper

    Put the ham in a large saucepan with the bay leaves and the chopped onions. Pour over the water and crumble a stock cube into the pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours until the meat is tender. Don't allow to boil over.

    Remove the ham and, using kitchen scissors, cut into dices. Return the diced ham to the liquid in the pot and add the paprika and potatoes. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

    Add the beans and the peas to the pan along with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes and serve piping hot with a nice piece of rustic, crusty bread like a baguette.

    Easy peas-y and delicious!

    Spicy Chicken White Chili

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Allow me to whet that appetite ...

    Since I work from home and am self-employed, I'm always looking for ways to save extra cash ... especially when it comes to grocery shopping. It's just the boyfriend and I so buying food isn't necessarily that expensive, in fact, the items on our bill that usually cost the most are meat items. Sensible people who do not have the relationship with meat and sinew that we have, might go veggie in order to save a few pesos. That's not an option for us. We need meat like a baby needs milk.

    Because of this happy dependence and blatant unabashed carnivorism, we shop on the sales aisle. Which at Asda(UK Walmart) is pretty easy since they constantly roll back prices. In fact, they tend to do this amazing deal: mix and match 3 packages of meat for £10. It's brilliant. We always get a package of boneless pork chops, usually prawns (shrimp) and some chicken, beef or lamb, depending on the mood. Because most people grocery shop for families of four or more, packages of meat tend to contain about six pieces, which is far too much for two people to eat in one sitting.

    And, I'll be honest, I am a bit wary of the chemicals in meat and things, so I try to eat the smallest amount possible, favoring veggies and grains more than the meat, sometimes. That said, we normally have one piece each, unless it's really tiny, then we'll have two. In an effort to not waste food and to not be blocked into having a variation of the same thing three days in a row, we repackage our meat before freezing. Basically, when we get home and are putting away the groceries, we open up the meat and place enough for one meal in Saran wrap. Wrap it up and group all of the meat by type in labeled and dated freezer bags. So that one pack of six pork chops, pack of four chicken breasts and massive tray of ground beef or lamb, all gets divided. We get three meals out of the pork chops, two out of the chicken and usually two, sometimes three out of the ground beef or lamb.

    Anyway, that's just a little tip from me. But, I said all that because, the chicken in this white chili recipe is from one such pack. Last shopping trip, we went to a different supermarket and they had packs of six chicken thighs and legs for £1.50 each. That's like ... less than $3. So, what we did was divided the chicken thighs and the chicken legs. I used the chicken thighs (after deboning and pulling off the skin -- I don't eat skin-on, bone-in chicken) to make the stir fry in the previous entry. I saved the chicken legs, cut the meat from the bone and removed the skin for the chili.

    Alright here's what you need for the chili:
    3 tbsp. olive oil
    1 onion, chopped
    2 tsp hot chili powder
    1 1/2 tsp cumin + more for marinading
    1 1/2 tsp oregano
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    2 cans white kidney beans/navy beans
    3 cups boneless, skinless chicken, boiled*
    1 cup frozen corn kernels
    2 cups chicken stock
    1/4 tsp salt
    2 tbsp margarine
    1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
    white pepper
    2 cups white rice, cooked
    Edam cheese (or any other white cheese)
    *keep the water the chicken was boiled in for adding to the chili with the stock*

    The method in the madness:
    Coat the chicken pieces in cumin and allow to marinate. I let mine marinate all day.
    Boil the chicken for about 10 minutes or until cooked. Boil the rice (1 1/2 cups rice for 3 cups of water).
    Warm the oil in a large pan (I used my wok). Add the onions and the garlic and sautee until soft. Stir in the chili powder, cumin and oregano. Combine and sautee for about a minute. Stir in the beans, chicken, corn, chicken stock and a good portion of the water from the boiled chicken as well as salt and pepper.
    Bring everything to gentle simmer and partially cover for 5 minutes. While it's cooking, combine the flour and the butter in a small bowl. Add the rice to the chili along with the flour mixture and cook until all incorporated, about another 5 minutes. Add a dash more of chili powder (if you like it hot), salt and pepper, if needed. Serve hot, topped with smothered in white cheese.

    Nom nom.

    Spicy Chicken Stir Fry

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    Spicy Chicken Stir Fry


    To stir fry: to cook food in oil (mostly of the Asian persuasion) in a wok while stirring it.

    That, is a spicy chicken stir fry, adapted from a recipe seen in the Everyday Chicken Cookbook.

    I'll admit, the recipe in the cookbook is a bit ... lacking. The food looked good and the flavors all sounded brilliant. A big reason I chose this recipe was that it features the spice turmeric and I've been dying to cook with it.

    Mostly because I wanted it stain my fingers that lovely ocher color and I love its fragrance and it's distinguished taste. My boyfriend's mom recently went to Morocco and brought us back a gift of spices and a cute mini tagine. Among the spices she picked up for us from the souq was a glowing bag of turmeric. Every time I went into my kitchen, I'd see it, like magical gold fairy dust, begging me to cook with it. Get some turmeric. It'll light up your palate.

    Pork and Tarragon Tart with Cabbage and Smoked Bacon

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 
     Open Pork and Tarragon Tart

    So, this recipe was modified from the pages of the Master Chef cookbook. It's a pork and tarragon tart with cabbage and smoked bacon and it is amazing. The pork is succulent and tender after absorbing the red wine and balsamic vinegar. The Granny Smith apples add a nice element of tartness to the dish and the charred red onions and garlic round everything out.

    I tend to make my shortcut pastry a little bit rich, which helps it to absorb all of the juices from the pork and apples.

    Served with a surprisingly yummy savoy cabbage dish, this is a phenomenal meal. I loved it instantly and am making secret plans to have it again. It's a quick meal if you're handy with making pastry dough. Quicker still if you prefer to buy pre-made pastry. The most tedious bit is chopping and dicing, but if you're wanting to work on your knife skills (or have a food processor) that's no problem either.