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I don’t usually go in for things that are a faff to make, and there is no denying these (or anything using filo pastry) are a faff to make. But occasionally, on a quiet weekend it is nice to have an activity that consumes your mind and takes your mind off whatever it was on.

Spinach and feta filo parcels

These are not really difficult to make and once you get the hang of it you can create all sorts of flavour fillings if you are feeling creative (see below). You can also make samosas with this technique, just make a spicy Indian filling, wrap and maybe sprinkle with some black onion seeds before baking.

The filling for these is distinctly Greek in style – much like the filling of a Spanakopita (a Greek filo pie). They are delicious warm from the oven but they are also nice cold as a lunchbox snack. You can also freeze them and take them out and cook through in the oven until hot again. They keep for a few days in an airtight container and can be popped back in the oven for 5 minutes to give them an air of warmth before eating.

Although they take some time to make I think these parcels make a very pleasing display for a buffet, picnic or relaxed lunch for friends and family.

Makes 12-15 filo parcels

500g spinach

100 feta cheese

1 egg

½ onion, finely chopped

1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

Pinch of ground coriander

Salt and pepper

1-2tbsp of grated parmesan

Knob of butter, melted for brushing

1 pack of frozen filo pastry (like Just Roll from the supermarkets) Defrosted.

Method

1. Sweat the onion and garlic slowly in a pan with some butter until soft and then set aside.

2. Cook your spinach in batches in a pan with a lid clamped on until just wilted. Take it out and put in a sieve where you can squash out all of the water. Set aside to cool.

3. Once the first two elements are cool you can mix them together with the crumbled feta, the coriander, seasoning, parmesan and the beaten egg. That’s your filling (at this stage add anything else you wish, a handful of toasted pine nuts would make a nice addition. As would fresh herbs such as mint and parsley).

4. Take the filo carefully out of its packaging and cut into about 7cm wide strips, cover with a damp tea towel or some cling-film to stop it drying out.

5. One at a time brush a sheet gently with the melted butter, being careful not to tear the pastry. Put a heaped teaspoon of the mixture at the bottom of the sheet, a few centimetres from the edge. Fold one corner over so it meets the other side (so you can see a triangle), repeat folding alternate ways until you have used all the pastry and have a triangle parcel left. Brush with melted butter and place on a baking tray.

6. Continue with the next sheets until all the filling has been used up. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees/ Gas 4 for about 30 minutes, until the pastries are golden and crisp.

7. Resist the temptation to eat immediately, they will be molten inside. They are actually much nicer warm or at room temperature.

Try substituting the spinach for Swiss chard or use 300g spinach and 200g lemony leafed sorrel. Add fresh herbs or some spices like cinnamon to the filling for an exotic touch. Feta can easily be substituted for goat’s cheese or another strong cheese. You could even put left-over roasted lamb into these with feta and herbs if you had some. A friendly Tweeter – Daniel Ingram, head chef at The Red Lion in Cricklade – creatively pointed out that you could also do sweet versions of filo parcels, which I think is a fantastic idea. His suggestions included stewed apples, or banana and caramel with cardamom sauce. I think this is enough suggestions for you to be getting on with.

 

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I had to get this recipe onto the blog quickly because the season for sprouting broccoli will be coming to an end soon, although you could substitute it for ‘normal’ broccoli (really called Calabrese) or even that stuff called ‘tender-stem broccoli’ you find in the supermarkets. Actually many brassica plants would be good here, perhaps savoy cabbage or kale?

Pasta with purple-sprouting and pancetta

This isn’t really a recipe, more of a suggestion, and I often think it’s absurd to give quantities for pasta because everyone cooks and eats different quantities. We eat mountains of the stuff in our house – others are likely more reserved.

So while your pasta is cooking (I used penne) fry some pieces of pancetta in a deep frying pan until they begin to turn golden, then add a few garlic cloves cut into very thin slices and cook for a few more minutes. Five minutes before your pasta is ready add you broccoli to the boiling water (saves space and washing up), then drain.

To the frying pan add a few tablespoons of crème fraiche and a good handful of finely grated parmesan. Throw in the pasta and broccoli and perhaps some of the pasta cooking water to make a nice sauce. Season with plenty of black pepper and serve in bowls with more parmesan to sprinkle on top if necessary.

This dish is light, but smooth and creamy and speaks of the season. None of the flavours over-power the delicious sweet purple-sprouting broccoli – which is what this dish celebrates.

 

Homemade onion bhajis

I’ve been utterly taken with making my own onion bhajis, they are just brilliant. Yes, you do need to shallow fry them in oil, thereby having to heat a large quantity of oil on your hob (mildly scary and dangerous) and chop tear inducing onions. But they are worth it I promise you. Much lighter and tastier than their take-away counterparts and much less greasy these are worth the effort.

Homemade onion bhajis

Also (I haven’t tried this yet) but I am sure to use this recipe as a vehicle to use up gluts of vegetables from my garden in the summer. I’m thinking half onion to either half grated carrot, beetroot or courgette. Perhaps even some shredded runner beans? I guess in this way they become more like pakoras, but whatever they are they’ll be delicious.

I like to heat my oil in a wok, as it has lots of space and high sides. I fill it with about 2-3 inches of oil. Just enough that the bhajis float but I need to turn them to get both sides fully done. You could fully deep-fry if you wish but I don’t like heating huge quantities of oil – I am very prone to accidents.

This recipe is adapted from one by an excellent Indian food writer Sunil Vijayakar and makes about 10 small bhajis. Perfect as a starter or side dish with a curry dinner.

Onion Bhajis

2 small/medium sized white onions

5tbsp chickpea flour (available in many supermarkets now)

1tbsp sunflower oil

1tsp salt

Half tsp sugar

1tsp lemon juice

1tsp ground cumin

Half tsp turmeric

1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped, or some dried red chilli

¾ tsp baking powder

3-4tbsp water

Sunflower oil for deep frying

Mango chutney and yogurt or raita to serve

 Method

1. Mix all the ingredients, expect the oil for frying, together well until combined and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

2. Heat the oil to 180 degrees or until a chunk of white bread crisps up and goes brown in 30 seconds.

3. Drop small spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil in batches and fry for 2-3 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Serve hot with dips.

 

Ginger and sesame rice with poached chicken

The thing I find most interesting about this recipe is that it is at once punchy and fresh but also warming and hearty – an unusual mix. I rarely think of Chinese dishes as comforting or hearty – attributes you might usually associate with British cooking. Quick-cook stir fries, spicy noodle salads, steamed meat and fish dishes are light, fresh Chinese dishes.

But this simple, homely recipe by Bill Granger really does marry these two aspects together and it is the perfect weekday meal for any time of year. The rice absorbs the stock and flavours almost like a risotto becoming soft and delicious. But the raw spring onion and chilli scattered on at the end really add some zing.

It is also healthy and low-fat (not that I’m suddenly the health police, as many of my recipes show), but I think it’s always pleasing when a meal is both tasty and good for you – we all need to look after ourselves now don’t we?!

Serves 2 (very comfortably)

Recipe adapted from Bill Granger, Holiday

1tbsp sunflower

1tsp sesame oil

½ large white onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1tsp freshly grated ginger

200g Jasmine rice

400ml Light chicken stock (can use an organic stock cube)

2 small chicken breasts cut into thin fillets

2 very finely sliced spring onions

Some chopped red chilli

Soy sauce

Method

Heat the two oils in a large, deep frying pan (that has a tight fitting lid) over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly for 5-6 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a couple more minutes.

Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Place the chicken pieces on the top of the rice in a single layer, cover again and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the rice is tender and chicken is cooked through. Use your watch and try to resist the temptation to keep lifting the lid and look – you will lose the steam and heat which poaches the chicken.

Remove from the heat, leave the lid on and allow to stand for a further five minutes. Serve sprinkled with spring onion and chilli and drizzle with a little soy sauce.

Something out of nothing

A meal made with fresh, expensive, top quality ingredients will likely taste divine, but surely there is nothing as satisfying as making a tasty dish out of the odds and ends in your fridge that were destined for the bin if they had of been left a day longer?

It’s not just the fact that it is fantastically frugal and reduces waste, but also the surprise you get when you end up with a truly delicious recipe – a recipe you may never have cooked if you hadn’t of rescued those ingredients that day.

Something out of nothing salad

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, you must visit the website Love Food Hate Waste, to both learn about the amount of food we waste in this country every year and to get hundreds of tips for how to stop wasting food in your own home. Nearly everything that you would once have considered throwing away could and should be eaten or mixed with other items to create a lunch or even a whole dinner.

Crunchy vegetable and mackerel salad

This fresh and tasty salad was made with reducing waste in mind. A few beans from a full pack left languishing, a few soft tomatoes, a tiny handful of mixed salad leaves, a few chives and some cooked new potatoes from the previous night’s dinner left in the fridge. A rummage in the store cupboard unearthed a can of mackerel in sunflower oil that gave me the perfect protein source to hang the whole salad around. With the green beans blanched and cooled and everything else chopped into edible sizes it was a matter of making a peppery dressing with olive oil, Dijon mustard, honey and lemon juice with salt and pepper. It was very much like a Nicoise salad and if I hadn’t found the mackerel I would have boiled an egg and added that instead.

Pan-fried caramelised apples with cinnamon

Similarly we always seem to have a few, slightly worse for wear, apples in the fruit basket at the end of the week. My most recent way to enjoy this potential waste is to slice the apples into wedges and pan fry in a large knob of butter (real butter). Once they start getting golden add a shake of sugar and a tiny pinch of cinnamon, move about to coat the wedges and then cook until they start to caramelise. Serve on top of plain natural yogurt or vanilla ice-cream. You could omit the cinnamon and use vanilla sugar instead or consider adding a slug of alcohol.

There is never an excuse to throw food away, you’ll be amazed the delicious meals you can make with a little bit of imagination.

Pimped up Cottage Pie

Ok, so pimped up is really just trying to make this sound a little bit special. In fact there are just a few subtle additions to the traditional recipe, notably herbs in the mash and cheese on the top, plus plenty of wine in the meat and fresh thyme for depth of flavour.

I must admit I am not a fan of my homeland food, I rarely cook anything you could call traditionally British and I wouldn’t even buy a pasty or a pie out. When you realise you can make a fantastic, flavour-packed dish in 20 minutes using some simple Chinese and Thai ingredients it is hard to force yourself to whip up a fatty Yorkshire pudding batter for toad-in-the-hole or tackle pastry for a big meat pie.

Equally with pasta so goddamn easy to throw together on weekdays why make stew and dumplings…..I could go on. Having said all that, on some cold, dark nights there is really nothing that can make you feel as comforted as a meal that includes piles of creamy mashed potato, or rich meat and warm gravy. You’ve got to give it to us Brits – we do stodgy food down to a tee.

Pimped up Cottage Pie

This Cottage Pie is one of those very meals I speak of and with winter still upon us it is the perfect time to cook it. There is no reason why you should try and reduce the size of this to feed two people, it just isn’t worth the hassle. If you are going to go to the bother of cooking this you may as well have enough to freeze for another occasion, so I recommend cooking this 4 person dish.

Pimped up Cottage Pie

Serves 4

1 onion, finely chopped

2 sticks of celery, finely chopped

2 carrots grated

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

4/6 mushrooms, cubed up

500g beef mince

1tbsp tomato puree

1 large glass of red wine

1x 400g can of chopped tomatoes

200ml beef stock

800g – 1kg potato, peeled and cut into large chunks

Fresh herbs (basil, chives and parsley) finely chopped

Two handfuls of grated cheddar cheese

 Method

1. Gently fry the onion, celery and carrots in a deep frying pan that has a lid for 10 minutes until softened (I find it helps to put a lid on to create steam to soften them). Add the garlic and cook for a further two minutes

2. Turn the heat up and add the beef, fry until browned all over. Add the tomato puree and cook off in the pan for a few minutes.

3. Pour in the red wine and it let bubble up a minute, then add the canned tomatoes and stock. Throw in the mushrooms, a bit of fresh or dried thyme and the mushrooms. Stir, season and leave to simmer for an hour.

4. For the mash; boil or steam your potatoes until soft. Heat some butter and milk in a pan and mash the potatoes with it. Throw in the herbs and mixed until creamy.

5. Put the meat into a deep dish and spread the mash on top – make sure the top isn’t too smooth. Sprinkle on the cheese and place in a pre-heated 180 degree (Gas 6) oven for 30-40 minutes until the underneath filling is slightly bubbling up and the top is golden and crisp. Serve with a pile of peas from the freezer, or some seasonal vegetables.

Pizzaria

Homemade pizza

Making pizza is one of those things we often can’t really be bothered to do because you can buy them from the supermarket or from the take-away easily enough. But it is really worth it I promise you. I’m not going to pretend it is quick or easy – there are several processes but none are difficult to do, especially on a Friday evening with a glass of wine in your hand and some music in the kitchen.

Less grease, fresher flavours, more choice; these are the big advantages. Choose any toppings you like, and use less cheese. I personally hate pizzas that are thickly covered in cheese, when you strip all that cheese away there is little flavour left on top of the soggy dough. Better to cover it in a homemade rich tomato sauce and then punchy flavours like Italian salami or Parma ham, sundried tomatoes or marinated artichokes, olives, basil, mushrooms – the possibilities are endless – and a small amount of fresh mozzarella and parmesan.

My dough recipe makes enough for two whole pizzas and I always cover with two different toppings, one meat, one veg. On the first I did Milano salami, sundried tomatoes and then when it came out of the oven I scattered it with rocket I had dressed in extra-virgin olive oil, a smidge of lemon juice and salt and pepper.

The other had a bit extra cheese and mushrooms I had fried in a pan with garlic and some roasted red peppers from the jar. Sliced on platters with a bowl of green salad and some olive ciabatta on the table this is a feast for two, or could be stretched to serve three or four people by bolstering the salad and adding garlic bread then a dessert.

 

Pizza bases (makes two)

300g 00 Bread flour (a soft flour for making pasta and pizza, or normal bread flour)

1tsp instant yeast powder

1tsp table salt

1tbsp olive oil

200ml warm water

Tip the flour in a bowl and mix with the salt and yeast. Make a well in the middle and tip in the water and oil, combine with a fork and once it starts to come together squash into a ball and tip onto a floured work surface. Kneed for five minutes until soft and stretchy then put aside into a floured bowl. You don’t need to let it rise for a thin-crust. Separate into two pieces of dough and roll out into your pizza shape, put on a baking sheet and top with your chosen toppings.

Pizza sauce

500ml carton of passata

Two cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1tsp oregano

This makes enough sauce for four pizzas, so just stash the left-overs in the freezer until next time. Simply fry the garlic in oil for a minute or two and add the passata, oregano and salt and pepper. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until it has thickened.

Making the pizza

Spread the sauce over your bases and add your toppings, resisting the temptation to put too much topping on, or it will be soggy. Then put in a hot pre-heated oven (220 degree/ gas 7) for 10-15 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Eat with your hands for goodness sake – not a knife and fork.