Thursday, 11 October 2012


I love risotto, but don't cook it as often as I'd like because it requires so much attention. Much like a toddler, you can't leave it alone for a moment, you have to stand there and STIR and STIR and STIR.  This is fine if you're Nigella Lawson and find this kind of domestic slavery appeallingly kitsch, but some of us have no au pair to watch the children and lives to be getting along with, and can't cope with needy rice at tea time.

I decided to investigate alternatives and found recipes for oven baked risottos, which sounded wonderful.  Then I thought... I've made rice pudding in the slow cooker before, so why not risotto?  It's the same principle in savoury format, surely?  So I found a recipe for an oven baked risotto and changed and tweaked and played with it... and present to you the ultimate in slatternly stodge, the slow cooked risotto.

I specify fresh or frozen veg.  I find ready chopped frozen onion a bit of a lifesaver in getting a quick start to dinners, you could also use frozen soffrito mix (onion, carrot and celery very finely chopped).  The frozen sliced peppers are great for cooking or pizzas, and using both makes this almost a storecupboard staple.  You can skip the goats cheese if you don't like it, just making it a tomato and pepper risotto (and a vegan option if you use a vegan spread instead of butter as your mantecatura). If you don't want to use wine, just up the hot water to 600ml and add it straight to the slow cooker after frying off the onion and rice.

Slow-cooked pepper and goats cheese risotto

250g arborio risotto rice
1 500g carton passata
1 vegetable stock cube
200ml white wine
450ml hot water
2-3 mixed peppers, sliced thinly, or a couple of handfuls frozen sliced peppers
1 small onion, finely chopped, or some frozen chopped onion
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
splash of olive oil.
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
 1tsp garlic powder
150g soft goats cheese
large knob butter

Heat your oil in a frying pan and saute the onion until soft.  Add the rice and cook for 1-2 minutes until it starts to turn translucent, tip in the wine, reduce to a simmer and cook for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, add the peppers to the slow cooker.  Tip in the oniony rice and wine from the pan, add the carton of passata and dissolve the stock cube in the hot water before adding to the mix.  Stir in the garlic powder, thyme, pepper and vinegar, set the slow cooker to low and cook for 3.5 hours, or 1.5 hours on high.  Stir occasionally if you can.

After this time, add the goats cheese and butter to the slow cooker, stir until thoroughly combined, and cook for a further 20-30 minutes.  You can serve with crusty bread, garlic bread, salad, veg, or just on it's own. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Hamming it up

Or, one gammon, many dinners.

You might think it's a bit odd to offer you directions on boiling a bit of ham.  Think on it more as suggestion for frugality.  I always always always make soup from the stock I boil my ham in, because it tastes so fab, and this is the soup I make most often.  Invest in some tip and zip freezer bags from Home Bargains and you can freeze quite a few lunches worth of tasty, warming, nutritious and naturally low fat soup.  Big win.

I usually cook a ham of around 1-1.5 kg in weight, and use 500g yellow split peas plus veg with the corresponding amount of stock, that seems to work fairly well.

To cook your ham:

1 smoked or unsmoked gammon joint
Enough water to cover

To make your soup

Approx 500g dried yellow split peas, more if you've cooked a huge joint in loads of water
a couple of sticks of celery, chopped
a few carrots, chopped
Any other veg you feel needs using up - sweet potatoes, squash, peppers, courgettes, parsnips, leeks etc, chopped.

I make this two ways.  To boil on the hob, just cover your gammon with water in a lidded pan, bring to the boil, then simmer for an hour.  Then tip the cooking water onto your veg and split peas in a big stock pot and simmer until it's all tender.  You might need to add more water if there's lots of veg but DO NOT add salt or stock cubes, it will be salty enough.  It's my habit to throw the leftover chunk of ham (after carving off whatever's being served for dinner) back into the pan to make it really tender and easy to shred.

I do, however, prefer to slow cook everything.  8 hours on low will do for the ham - if I'm slow cooking I tend to chuck the carrots, celery and any rooty veg in from the beginning.  Fish the ham out and add your split peas and any more tender veg like peppers, and cook on high for 2 hours.

Either way, you'll then need to blitz the soup to a velvety smoothness then shred in any leftover ham in small pieces.

Serve your sliced ham with veg of your choosing - we like mash, peas and gravy or parsley sauce, or peas and cauliflower and broccoli cheese:

Enjoy your soup the following day:

(this one contained carrot, celery, sweet potato, leek and courgette).

Monday, 30 July 2012

Prawn star

I will begin with the disclaimer that I'm almost certain this is utterly lacking in authenticity.  When I call this dish a Caribbean curry, it's not to indicate that this is how they make curries in the Caribbean; more that it's a curry dreamed up by me, full of ingredients redolent of the Caribbean.  So don't go sending me hate mail about me bastardising your Gran's finest Jamaican recipes.

This curry is sweet and flavourful but not too hot, making it perfect to serve up to kids.  Add heat with more jerk seasoning or some dried red chillis.  You could also make it a fish curry by adding cubes of firm fleshed fish ten minutes into the simmering time - monkfish would work nicely I think.  Don't be too alarmed by it's anaemic pallor when you tip the liquids in - it will darken as it cooks.

You can whip this up almost entirely from storecupboard and frozen ingredients, if you substitute frozen sliced peppers for fresh you've pretty much got a storecupboard special, though I can't promise the texture will be as nice.  Frozen soffrito mix is finely chopped onion, celery and carrot, I use it for speed and to boost the veg content of the dish.  I get mine in Sainsburys (they just call it finely chopped vegetables) but you could substitute some plain frozen chopped onion or sliced/chopped fresh onion if you prefer.  Feel free to chuck in any other veg of your choosing, or some tinned pineapple chunks if you have a husband that wouldn't pick them out with a face on him...

Caribbean prawn curry, 4 generous servings (or 2 adults, 2 children and worky leftovers).

400g raw prawns, defrosted if frozen
2 handfuls frozen soffrito mix or frozen chopped onion or 1 small onion, chopped or sliced
3-4 peppers, varying colours, cut into large chunks
1 tin coconut milk
200ml pineapple juice
1 tin cream style sweetcorn
2 tbsp mild curry powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp jamaican jerk seasoning
1-2 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and toss in the soffrito mix, sauteeing for a minute or two.  Add the chunked peppers, and let sizzle for another minute or so.  Stir in the spice powders, then pour in the pineapple juice, coconut milk and creamed sweetcorn.  Bring it to the boil then turn down the heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes, it will thicken slightly.

Add the prawns to the pan and stir them into the sauce.  Whilst they turn from translucent grey to coral pink, mix your cornflour with a little cold water - start out with 1 tsp and see how you get on before adding more.  Tip the cornflour slurry into the curry (ha!) and turn the heat up, bringing the sauce back to the boil to let the cornflour do it's job. If it's not thick enough for your liking, repeat.  Stir well and serve over rice.

Enjoy, whether served in a colourful Caribbean style bowl or not.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Gruffalo crumble

I'm not sure my 2 year old fully believed me when I told him his dinner was Gruffalo crumble, but I do fancy he polished it off faster than usual!  Something a bit different from a beef pie, and probably not your usual summer fayre, but then again, we've not been having your usual summer weather!

You could add any veg you have lying around looking sad and lonely, or use a mix of frozen vegetables instead.

Beef Crumble

splash of olive oil
500g diced stewing beef
1 onion, sliced
5-6 carrots, chopped
3 sticks of celery, thinly sliced
1 courgette, cut into chunks
3 tbsp worcestershire sauce
200ml boiling water
3 tbsp gravy granules
half a pot of Quark (I use Sainsburys own brand)
50g butter or spread
150g plain flour
1tsp dried mixed herbs
50g dried grated hard cheese (eg Parmesan, though I use the Sainsburys Basics dried hard cheese)

Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the beef.  Saute until browned then scoop out, pop in a bowl and set aside.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, courgette and any other veg you want to use and saute for a few minutes until slightly softened.  Add the beef back to the pan, add the worcestershire sauce and cook for a minute or two.  Tip in the boiling water and simmer the ingredients for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the butter into cubes and put into a large bowl.  Add the flour and rub together until they resemble breadcrumbs.  If it seems a bit dry, add a tsp or two of olive oil.  Mix in the herbs and dried cheese.

Returning to your simmering pan, add the gravy granules and stir until a thick gravy forms around the beef and veg.  Add your Quark and stir well to combine.  If it seems too runny, add a few more granules, if too thick, add a splash of water and stir well.  Tip the mixture into a large ovenproof dish, top with the cheesy herby crumble mix, and bake at approx 180 degrees for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned and bubbling.

I outlined my feelings on using low fat or fat free dairy products when cooking for small children in this blog post - as always, do what you think is best.  If you prefer not to use a low fat product like Quark you can substitute any full fat soft cheese product that will withstand cooking - creme fraiche, marscapone or even something like Philadelphia.  For very small children, the combination of gravy granules and Parmesanalike does pack a bit too much salt, so either reduce/remove the cheese or make the filling with a low salt stock cube (like Kallo) and thicken with cornflour or thickening granules.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Cauli cheese for a famine.

Well, I had a chicken in the fridge earmarked for today and I was going to cook a roast.  I do make a nice roast, as you will know if you're a regular, maybe I'd even go so far as to say A Great Roast.  Anyway, I like to buy my veg fresh on the day, so I trundled down to my local Co-Op this afternoon to find bare shelves in the veg aisle and an apologetic sign stating that due to the weather there was a shortage on veg, and that we were all going to have to start eating waterlilies and shooting small forest creatures like Katniss in The Hunger Games.  Or something.  Well, how dispiriting.

Not being a fan of waterlily, I scampered off to the freezer aisle before The Capitol turned off the electricity and bagged a bag of value cauliflower florets.  I found some fresh leeks and a courgette, briefly debated selling them on Ebay, but then decided to make this with them instead.

Luxury Cauliflower Cheese For Trying Times

1 large bag frozen cauliflower florets, or 1 large fresh cauli cut up
1 courgette, sliced
3 leeks, sliced
Splash of olive oil
80g butter/spread
80g plain flour
700ml milk
80g dried grated hard cheese, eg Parmesan
80g grated cheddar
coarse-ground black pepper

Cook your cauli until just soft, drain and set aside.  Saute the leeks and courgette in a little oil until soft, add a little water to the pan if it seems dry.  Mix with the drained cauli in an ovenproof dish.

Use your butter, flour and milk to make a thick bechemel sauce, season with a little black pepper and whisk in the dried cheese.  Pour over your veggies, top with the grated cheese, and cook in a hot (200 ish) oven for 20 minutes until bubbling.

I served this with roast chicken and roasted baby pearl potatoes (who evidently got out of the ground before the floods hit) but you could eat as a standalone meal - maybe with some sliced ham mixed in for good measure?

May the odds be ever in your favour.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Currying Favour

Oh, I have had such a rollocking for the lack of updates lately (Miz Sally Roper, I'm talking to you) so I'm sneaking back in with a weeny twist on Mango Chicken Curry, just to ease back into the swing of it.  It's a creamy, fruity curry but it does have a little bit of a kick, and you can add chillies if you prefer a bit more heat.  My children will happily eat this* but they're used to spicy foods so for younger children or those less asbestos-tongued, just use less curry paste, or add some yoghurt, fromage frais or creme fraiche to the kids portions.  This is quick and easy, perfect weeknight fare.

I've called it Lassi chicken curry because the simmering sauce before I add it to the curry paste mix reminds me of sweet mango lassi.  Coconut milk seems to be getting really expensive these days but I've just discovered that Aldi sell it for 89p a tin - winner!

* Usually.  The small boychild was less enamoured this time round because he managed to rub it into his eye.  I'd avoid this, as a rule.  It didn't seem pleasant.

Lassi Chicken Curry

1 tin mango slices in juice or syrup, drained
1 tin coconut milk
1/2 jar Pataks Mild Curry paste
Approx 6 chicken thigh fillets, chopped up
1 punnet chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 bag of washed baby spinach
Olive oil or low fat cooking spray

In a small separate saucepan, whizz together the mango slices and coconut milk with a hand blender until smooth.  Pop onto a low heat and let it come to a simmer gently, stirring occasionally.

Add oil or spray to the pan and fry the mushrooms for a minute or two.  Add the chopped chicken and the curry paste, stir together, and let it sizzle away for a few minutes.  Pour in the coconut mango mix and stir well.  Bring to the boil then turn down the heat, and let it simmer for approx 20 minutes whilst you cook some basmati rice.  Use the pan you simmered the coconut mix in, and don't bother rinsing it, it will lend a subtle coconutty mangoey flavour to your rice.

After 20 minutes, throw the baby spinach into the curry, stir, cook for 2 minutes, then serve.  If you would like a thicker curry, use a little cornflour paste, or some thickening granules.  If you're feeling posh you can sprinkle with dessicated coconut before serving.  As you can see, I was not having a posh day.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Hola, St David.

These burgers were the product of me seeing a recipe for 'chorizo burgers' in a magazine and thinking, pfff, I can do better.  So I had a go!  The result is an outre but tasty meld of Spanish and Welsh!

Regular readers will know of my love affair with smoked paprika, so it should come as no surprise that chorizo sausages, redolent of that rusty dusty manna, are also a firm favourite in our house.  I wanted to use leeks because I love them, and also in honour of St Davids Day tomorrow, where Welsh people everywhere celebrate our superiority at rugby and general existence.

Don't argue. You know it's true.

Leek and chorizo burgers - makes 6 large burgers.

500g leeks, trimmed, cleaned and sliced
250g chorizo sausage, chopped.
400g lean Welsh beef mince
1 egg
pinch black pepper
Olive or groundnut oil
Ciabatta rolls, to serve.

Preheat the oven to 200oC.  If you're cooking wedges or chips with these, it will probably be on anyway, so all the better.

Heat 1tbsp or so of the oil in a pan and add the sliced leeks.  Cook for 5 minnutes or so until softened but not obliterated.

Pop them in a food processor with the chopped chorizo and process until blended.  Add in the beef mince and pinch of pepper and process again until combined.  Drop in the egg and process until it's all combined, then scrape into a bowl.

Shape into burgers - the mix will be quite wet and a bit friable at this stage, but work with me.  Pat your burgers into even rounds.   Heat some more oil - an even covering of the bottom of your frying pan - and pop them in when it's sizzling, 2 at a time.  Cook for 2 minutes then gently flip and cook for 2 minutes more.  You're just browing the outside at this stage, so they aren't going to cook all the way through.  When both sides are brown, put the semi-cooked burgers onto a baking tray, or better still, a perforated chip/pizza baking sheet.  Repeat with the rest of the burgers, then pop them into your hot oven for 10-12 minutes until cooked all the way through.

Serve on your ciabatta buns with your choice of accompaniment - we had rustic baked wedges.  I also made a garlic and smoked paprika mayo with 4tbsp mayo, 1 heaped tsp of smoked paprika and 1/2 tsp garlic granules, and I don't mind telling you that it was VERY NICE.

If, like me, you are choc full of whimsy and have small people to feed, you can make mini burgers and cut your rolls into quarters to serve them.  It keeps the snarflings happy, but I draw the line at making happy faces out of their food, so Annabel Karmel - back in yer box.