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Sometimes called impossible pies, these little puddings are made using one cake mix that is poured into a ramekin and baked until the finished article is springy and spongy on top and there is a gooey, rich sauce underneath.

Little lemon self-saucing puddings

I always struggle with desserts because recipes on most occasions cater for a minimum of four people, and if you are talking about a cake or tart then it will likely serve 10 to 12 people. Now there is no problem with having delicious left-overs but really, do two people need to eat 12 slices of apple tart or banoffee pie in the space of three days? Personally I think not.

This recipe is exactly enough for two little pies, so you can have your indulgence on the weekend with no fear of wasting left-overs. They are sharp and tangy, but not too tart. The sauce at the bottom is very similar to a lemon curd (and be careful not to eat them straight from the oven, or prepare to burn the top of your mouth on the molten sauce!) And since I am writing this in January consider adapting and making this into a Seville orange pudding.

The recipe idea came from a lemon and coconut pie by Australian food writer Donna Hay, who does fantastic simple home-style food, and I have adapted it here.

I have made a point to put crème frachie in the title of the post because I feel it is an important part of the dish, but if you don’t have any it is not essential, or you could use cream or even plain yogurt. Cream fraiche does, however, cut through the rich sauce and sweet lemon flavour of the pie perfectly.

Serves 2

Little lemon pudding

110g caster sugar

2 rounded tablespoons of self-raising flour

25g ground almonds

1/2tsp baking powder

Grated zest of one lemon

60ml lemon juice

15g melted butter

80ml milk

1 medium egg

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C/Gas 4 and butter two ramekins. Place sugar, flour, almonds and baking powder into a bowl and mix. In a separate bowl whisk together by hand the lemon rind, juice, butter, milk and egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until thoroughly mixed, I use a balloon whisk, but you don’t really need to beat this.

2. The mix will be much thinner than a sponge mix, so don’t panic. Pour into your ramekins and bake for 20 minutes until the tops are golden, but you can feel it is squidgy underneath. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before digging in and top with a big blob of crème fraiche.

 

In a way want to say this is a seasonal meal, but I don’t really mean seasonal in the sense of the vegetables in it, as there are actually tomatoes in it and then just an onion. What I mean is that it fits in well at this time of year, very much like a pie or a stew. It is warming and filling and heavier than summer food.

I know this is Spanish in style, and Spain says sunshine and summer, but I like this more in autumn and winter rather than spring and summer. All you really need is a hunk of crusty bread to soak up those red-stained juices and that’s your meal. Although you could add some wilted kale alongside if you wanted or a green salad if you feel you need the nutrients – and lord knows everyone seems to want lots of nutrients in January. February and we will all be back to biscuits and desserts I am sure.

Spanish chorizo and bean stew

It is best to use cooking chorizo, as it will be softer once cooked, if not it will work with a cured version, but it certainly won’t work with salami style slices of chorizo I am afraid. This is a very flexible recipe, you don’t need to stick closely to the quantities, just see how you feel. You could add some red chilli at the garlic stage and swap butter beans for the cannellini if that’s what you have to hand. Fresh parsley would make the dish look pretty if you were serving guests.

Spanish chorizo and bean stew (Serves 2)

150g of chorizo, sliced into fat rings

1 white onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2-3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped (with all the seeds and juice)

1/2 tsp of smoked sweet paprika

1 400g can of cannellini beans

1. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan and fry the chorizo gently for a minute or two until the red oils start oozing out.

2. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more.

3. Turn up the heat and add the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes until the juices reduce a little. Add the paprika and a splash of water.

4. Finally add the beans, stir and place the lid on. Allow to warm through for 5-10 minutes on a medium head. In this time the flavours should all mingle and the beans get covered by the chorizo oil.

5. Serve in bowls with any juices from the pan and bread to mop it up with. Really I feel a glass of red wine is necessary with this.

There are some who will say soup does not make a dinner, certainly not an evening meal, but I have to dispute this. Anyone who has read this blog before will know that the two people behind Food4two, me and my partner (who doesn’t cook, just eats) are big eaters and when I serve up this soup for dinner it is more than enough to fill up my greedy man with hollow legs and a bottom-less stomach.

I grant you, you will need some good crusty bread to go with it, but that is all. I know it’s an over-used word in food writing, but this is truly the definition of a hearty soup. Pureed soups for evening dinner somehow don’t cut it – more like a drink than a meal really.

Chunky vegetable and bean soup with parmesan

This, however, has small chunks of salty pancetta, root vegetables, strands of kale and filling, protein rich beans in it. This is my favourite soup of all time, packed with flavour, simple to make, easy to adapt to the seasons and all using ingredients you may find in your store cupboard. If you have a rind of parmesan in the fridge (or stashed in the freezer, which you can do) then put it in during the simmering stage to imbue the liquid with its savoury flavour then remove it before adding the greens and beans. This amount is plenty for two people, often with a portion left for lunch the next day.

Chunky vegetable and bean soup with parmesan

10 slices of pancetta or around 70g of pancetta cubes (which you get in packs from the supermarket)

1 red onion, finely chopped

3 celery sticks, finely diced

2 large or 3 medium carrots, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

400g canned tomatoes

500ml chicken stock (if not using fresh stock, use a good cube like Kallo Organic chicken stock cubes)

1tsp Dijon mustard

400g can of cannellini beans

Large handful of cavelo nero, shredded (or spinach, kale, chard or Orach leaves)

Parmesan, for grating on the top

 Method

1. Fry the pancetta in a small amount of olive oil in a large saucepan until starting to crisp. Add the onion, carrot and celery, stir and place the lid on to allow the vegetables to soften. This will take about 10-15 minutes, take the lid off and stir regularly.

2. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Then add the canned tomatoes, mustard and hot stock. Stir and cook with lid half-covering the pan for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the beans and the cavelo nero and cook for 5-10 minutes more, if you are using spinach or chard it will take less time as the leaves are more tender. In summer you could add chopped courgette and chopped up French beans instead of kale.

4. Serve in deep bowls, sprinkled with grated parmesan and crusty bread on the side.

 

Every year there are things that make each Christmas memorable. That dodgy Christmas present you received from a family member (I’m not naming names), the argument over the dinner table, snow on Christmas day. This year, for me, it will be the food that stays in my memory. Over six years of being together and me and the other half had never spent Christmas day alone together.

Antipasti platter

This meant that despite my love of cooking I’d never cooked Christmas dinner, or even Christmas Eve supper or a Boxing Day buffet before. It had always been done for us by family members. So this year it was such a treat to do it our way (ie my way!). No dry turkey or over cooked veg, instead a delicious rare roast beef, which was divine eaten later thinly sliced in sandwiches with my honey and mustard mayonnaise and rocket.

But even better was our Christmas Eve meal and I write about it here because it is in no way festive or specific to this time of year. It is the kind of delicious meal you could eat at any time and whilst it could be seen as a simple family meal by some, I think it can be a great dish to serve up when friends are coming around for dinner.

It is homemade Italian meatballs with fresh pasta and tomato sauce, made into a feast by beginning with a big antipasti platter. The one in the photo may not look huge – indeed it wasn’t – but remember it was for only two people.

Italian meatballs with fresh pasta and tomato sauce

It’s true to say there is very little work that goes into putting together an antipasti platter, in fact what it actually demands is just a bit of creative shopping and some careful design on a rustic wooden board, or nice serving plate. That is why it is so good for  dinner party – little hassle and no stress but impressive to guests.

Start with some good ciabatta or olive bread, warmed of course to give it a delicious fresh taste. That in turn leads you on to the classic olive oil and balsamic vinegar (the vinegar isn’t essential) but very good extra virgin olive oil is.

A selection of cured meats and salami is next up on my list, you can get nice selections in some supermarkets, but it will never be as good as slices cut at a deli in front of you. While you are there you can also pick up antipasti vegetables, artichokes are particularly good but expensive and I love stuffed red peppers. If you want you can make a small effort you make these yourself by buying those delicious Pepperdew peppers you can get in jars that are slightly spicy and sweet. Mixed good cream cheese or ricotta with fresh herbs, such as basil, mint and chives and carefully stuff little blobs into the peppers. Olives of your choice are an obvious addition, but you could also add grissini (Italian bread sticks) for people to wrap Parma ham around and nibble or some parmesan chunks to make it even more filling.

Be careful not to over-do it, people will happily graze on antipasti until they are full as an egg and then have no room left for your meatballs, which you actually bothered to spend time making.

So on to these delicious little balls of yumminess. I use a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo , having tried and adapted many, many recipes and this one is – I think – failsafe. It uses a mix of beef and pork mince  (as many recipes to do) and a lot of bread crumbs, which makes the balls very light and moist, quite the opposite to what people think will happen if you add dried bread. Just a little grated parmesan, garlic and parsley is all the flavourings you need.

In the photo I had used fresh tagliatelle, however my preference is linguine which is thinner. I make a classic plain tomato sauce by frying two or three cloves of garlic in some olive oil for a minute then adding a 500g pack of passata, a swig of balsamic and salt of pepper, simmer for 30 minutes and it’s done. The recipe below is my slightly adapted version of Gennaro’s meatballs.

 

Italian meatballs (makes enough to serve four if having a starter)

250g beef mince

250g pork mince

½ garlic clove, finely minced

100g fresh breadcrumbs

1tbsp chopped fresh parsley

40g grated parmesan

1 egg

 Method

Put the meat, parsley, garlic, parmesan and breadcrumbs in a deep bowl, get your hands in and really mush it up and squash it together so it is thoroughly mixed and the meat is broken down – this will make the meatball smoother. Add the whisked up egg and mix with your hands again. With wet hands roll into small balls a bit smaller than a golf ball. Put in an oiled baking tray or ceramic dish and bake in a hot oven (200/Gas 6) for about 20 minutes.

Serve however and with whatever you want, but I like it with the fresh pasta and tomato sauce with more fresh parmesan on top and lots of torn up fresh basil. If you are serving two, as I do, then cook them and freeze them once cool. Defrost and reheat them in the tomato sauce when you want them.

Spicy and nutty squash soup

I’m having a bit of a peanut butter fad at the moment for no apparent reason. I started randomly eating peanut butter on toast occasionally for breakfast a few weeks ago, which is actually quite a nutritious way to start the way as long as you use wholemeal bread.

…..Just to quickly interject – I hate that Nutella advert that suggest Nutella on toast is a healthy breakfast for children – are they mad? I’m not saying Nutella is an evil thing never to be eaten, but just because it has a few hazelnuts in it doesn’t mean it is healthy.

Anyway back to my squash soup. With a jar in the cupboard I was so tempted to make some chocolate peanut butter cookies or some kind of Reece’s peanut butter cups type shenanigan, but instead I went for this healthy soup.

Spicy, nutty squash soup

This is such a simple recipe. The soup is rich, filling, spicy and delicious. The addition of peanut butter is not over-powering, it just adds a nutty edge to the soup. It also adds some protein making it more filling.

For one butternut squash (makes 2/3 portions)

Peel and cube the squash. Fry 2tbsp of red Thai curry paste in a saucepan for a minute or two, add half a can of coconut milk and then all of the squash cubes.

Pour in enough chicken stock (or vegetable) to submerge all the squash cubes. Place a lid on and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is soft and tender.

Transfer into a blender, adding 1tbsp of good quality peanut butter. Blend until smooth. If it is too thick add more stock. Garnish with a swirl of yogurt and some coriander.

Spicy salmon and mango salsa

On first glance this looks a bit of a fussy dish for a weekday meal and whilst I’d accept it is not as simple as a stew or a pasta dish I would urge you to give it a go because it only involves a bit of chopping and mixing. Plus it is delicious and super-healthy. Not only is this low fat, it is bursting with vitamins from the fruit and vegetables and full Omega 3 from the fish.

This recipe is actually from a book I bought several years ago called Cook Yourself Thin and there was a TV programme of the same name. It has some really clever recipes that are lower in calories than your usual everyday meals. (Just want to point out I’m not actually on a diet, I just like to eat healthily – occasionally)

I’ve tinkered with the recipe a little bit and worked out portion sizes for two people. I serve mine with my lightly spiced sweet potato wedges, which I am addicted to. Click here to get my recipe for them.

This pop-in-the-mouth mango salsa would be delicious with barbecued chicken or pork to cut through the salty charred flavours – having said that outdoor eating is a long and distant thought because the barbecue won’t be coming out of the shed for another six months! Probably just stick with the salmon for now.

For the salmon

1 large clove of garlic, peeled

1 tbsp light brown sugar

¼ tsp dried chilli flakes

1tsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp lime juice

2 salmon fillets

½ tsp sunflower oil.

For the salsa

Half a mango, peeled and chopped into small chunks

¼ cucumber, cut in to same size small chunks

¼ – ½ tsp chilli flakes

¼ red onion, finely diced

Handful of roughly chopped coriander

Zest of half a lime

1tbsp lime juice

1. Firstly mix all the ingredients for the salsa and season then set aside as it tastes better after sitting for an hour.

2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

3. Use a pestle and mortar to make a paste from the garlic, sugar, chilli, fennel, lime juice and salt and pepper. Mix with the oil and rub all over the salmon.

4. Bake the salmon for 10-12 minutes until just cooked through, or you can grill it for ¾ minutes on each side.

5. Serve with the mango salsa and sweet potato wedges.

I wasn’t too sure what to call this blog post, bread-crumbed food isn’t exactly a sexy subject – some people might even go as far as to say it is boring. These are people, however, who have only eaten supermarket bought, pre-made, breaded items.

These are indeed pretty boring, no doubt about it (floppy, bland and uninspiring). But I am here to try and persuade you that bread-crumbing is in fact exciting, delicious and definitely not boring. (It’s also simple, frugal and infinitely adaptable).

Lemon, herb and breadcrumb coated turkey

The first thing to say is that you can breadcrumb all kinds of things but chicken, turkey, pork and meaty white fish are the best. Secondly you shouldn’t just use breadcrumbs. Clearly the crumb forms the base of the crunchy coating, but then you can build up the flavour by mixing in other ingredients.

Firstly; finely chopped fresh herbs will add loads of punch – thyme on pork, parsley on fish, basil or oregano on chicken, or mix them up and put them all together. Then what about spices, bits of chilli or lemon and lime zest? Finely grated parmesan is excellent as well, but don’t add too much. It won’t necessarily taste cheesy, more savoury and salty, plus when it melts it helps the crumb stick together nicely. Also try swapping some, or all, of the breadcrumb for polenta which gives a very crispy, crunchy texture and a beautiful yellow/orange colour.

Then for the cooking: Mix up your breadcrumb and flavourings in a large shallow bowl with plenty of seasoning. I suggest bashing out meat like chicken, turkey or pork until flattened so it cooks quickly and remains succulent. It also means more crumby goodness per piece of meat. You’ll need to dip in seasoned flour first and then some beaten egg before placing in the crumb mix and moving around until it is covered. Press it down to make sure it’s all good and stuck.

Then place in a pre-heated frying pan with some sunflower oil. Don’t move the meat until it has formed a lovely golden crust underneath, flip and cook through on the other side. Because it is so crispy and crunchy I like to serve with a dip, whether that is simply ketchup or mayonnaise or a homemade aioli or salsa.

Last thing to say is this is a frugal dish if you remember to keep your old stale bits of bread, whiz them up and put them in the freezer until you need them. Then you can breadcrumb things whenever you want to your heart’s content!

In the meal pictured I used flattened turkey steaks and covered them in breadcrumbs mixed with lemon zest, parsley and basil with plenty of seasoning. I also made a roasted garlic and lemon mayonnaise by roasting a couple of garlic cloves in their skins for 20 minutes before popping them out and mashing them into two or three tablespoons of mayo, little bit of lemon zest and a squeeze of juice. Alongside a crispy salad it was healthy and delicious.

Try chicken pieces in breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan and chopped basil, or fish in breadcrumbs, chilli, coriander and lime zest.