Category Archives: family budget cooking

Recipe: asparagus and parmesan souffle gratin

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Better late than never, the asparagus season is finally upon us. That late cold snap left me hanging around, waiting with bated breath for the first few stalks to arrive. I love it when asparagus season arrives. To me its a sign that summer is just round the corner; the weather has warmed up nicely and an increase in daylight hours brings everything to life again. I’ve never had much luck or patience when it comes to growing my own asparagus so I look forward to the time when Hooton’s crops are ready. But then to my horror I heard a dreadful rumour. The whole crop had failed because of the cold wind last week.

Nooohhh!! I rushed to the farm shop (it wasn’t just to check out the authenticity of this claim, I did have to do some other shopping as well….really, I’m not THAT obsessed) and asked in a hushed and slightly worried voice..‘is it true? the asparagus has failed’

The woman in the shop looked at me reassuringly. No, she said. Don’t worry, it’s just running a bit late. Huh! Like everything in my life!

But now it has appeared. The sunny weekend weather sped up the process and so they cut first stalks this week. And typically I missed them, although I did send manage to get some put by for me via a desperate twitter plea.

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When asparagus stems are young and tender they need little accompaniment and no peeling. Naturally sweet, they need only brief cooking (a quick blanch in boiling water is more than enough) and are perfect in a salad, with hollandaise sauce or in the classic dish asparagus mimosa.

Mind you, the day I collected my swag the rain lashed down, the wind blew and I even turned the heat on in the house for an hour! I wanted something warm and comforting and so returned to my old favourite, asparagus and parmesan souffle gratin. It’s a recipe I came up with a couple of years ago. Combining the lightness of a souffle, with the simplicity of a gratin this recipe stops the worry of whether it will rise or not. Topped with briefly blanched stalks of asparagus it is simple, yet sophisticated enough to serve at a dinner party. I’ve made it for supper club guests a couple of times and it’s always been a hit.

Asparagus and parmesan souffle-gratin:

500ml milk

50g flour

50g butter

4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites

1 sprig of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 small onion studded with 6 cloves and a pinch og nutmeg

75g parmesan finely grated

24 thickish spears of asparagus, peeled

half a lemon

Butter a large gratin dish and sprinkle in about a third of the parmesan cheese. Place milk in a pan with the onion, herbs, nutmeg and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Bring gently to the boil then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for about half an hour (or as long as possible).

Make a roux with the butter and flour then gradually stir in the strained milk. Return to a low heat and cook for about 10 minutes stirring constantly until you have a smooth white sauce. Add two-thirds of the parmesan and remove from the heat. Allow to cool whisking occasionally to prevent a crust from forming. When it is lukewarm whisk in the egg yolks then cover with buttered paper until it has cooled completely.

Blanch the asparagus in plenty of boiling water for a minute or two (they should be tender, but still green), drain,  then refresh in plenty of cold water to halt the cooking process.

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Beat the egg whites with the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Put the souffle mixture into a large bowl and whisk in one tablespoon of the egg white to lighten the mixture, then gently fold in the rest of the egg white with a spatula. Pour the mixture into the greased dish then lay the asparagus in a row on the top (as in the picture above). Bake in a hot oven (230 degrees C, gas mark 8, 450 degrees F) for about 18 to 20 minutes. The gratin should puff up and not wobble when shaken.

 

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Recipe: easy feta, potato and rosemary bread

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My life seems to consist of quick meals…quick pasta, quick noodles, quick risotto and this feta, potato and rosemary bread requires no bread flour or yeast, no lengthy kneading or resting and is extremely quick to chuck together.  I’d hate to buck the trend!

I found the basis for this in a magazine years ago, I think it was a Delia Smith recipe, but I have since tinkered with the ingredients trying different combinations to see what works best. I like to use goats cheese,  a good artisan Cheshire or even mozzarella (which is a bit soft, but the kids love that stringy-cheese effect) red onion goes well, spring onions, finely shredded leek or lots of fresh herbs. Have an experiment!

Whatever you choose to add the process is the same, you literally just shove all the ingredients in a big bowl, add an egg and milk, mix and bake it.

For bread purists this is more akin to a savoury tea bread than a traditional loaf. I make mine with self-raising flour, some good feta cheese (I used a local goats milk feta from Y Cwt Caws) fresh rosemary from the garden and a large grated Blue Danube potato so its stuffed full of tasty ingredients.

I ate my freshly baked bread with a creamy tomato and basil soup made with the first crops of Isle of Wight tomatoes which are just now becoming available. I warn you though its seriously addictive and once you start you wont be able to stop pulling or slicing little bits off and nibbling, convincing yourself that you can get away with just one more piece, until all of a sudden you’ve eaten the whole lot. Oh well, its full of good things so why not!

Enjoy!

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half an hour later that’s all that was left!

Feta, potato and rosemary bread:

120g semi-hard cheese (feta, goats cheese, artisan Cheshire, even mozzarella) rind removed (if it has one) and chopped into small cubes.

a small red onion finely chopped, or thinly sliced (or half a dozen spring onions) or a bunch of leafy green mixed herbs like wild garlic, chives, chervil, parsley (if you do this leave out the rosemary)

1 medium/large potato peeled, washed and grated

a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary leaves removed from the stalk

180g self-raising flour (I use Shipton Mill)

a teaspoon of salt (Halen Mon)

1 teaspoon smoked or unsmoked paprika (optional)

1 large egg mixed with about 3 tablespoons milk and a teaspoon of whole grain mustard

In a large bowl mix the flour, salt and paprika. Add the grated potato, onion or herbs, and cheese and mix with a flat palette knife until combined. Add the milk and egg mixture and keep mixing until it comes together. Form into a loaf shape with your hands and transfer to a greased baking sheet.

Sprinkle a little flour and some finely chopped rosemary leaves over the top and bake in a preheated oven, gas mark 5/190 degrees C for about 45 mins until golden brown.

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My favourite Irish stew recipe for St. Patricks Day

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Like all good stews this simple Irish stew is warming, comforting, hearty, cheap and leaves you feeling extremely cheerful.

I will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday along with every other person of Irish descent and ancestry! I have an Irish father….and of course my husband is a full-blown Paddy so we will be sporting our green shirts, having a wee drink and eating this as we attempt to ignore our Welsh neighbours celebrating winning the Rugby 6 Nations (I know that is a little pre-emptive…but its a sea of red round here and expectation is high!)

I’d also recommend mutton, a much overlooked meat it produces a deeper richer flavour when cooked slowly and gently.

Irish stew

2 tbsp sunflower oil

50g  butter

1.5k mutton, whole on the bone

500g diced onion

2 sticks of celery

500g peeled chopped carrots

500g peeled sliced potatoes (keep them quite chunky)

Bouquet garni with a couple of bay leaves, a sprig of rosemary and a good sprig of thyme tied together.

Two good handfuls of pearl barley

1 pint lamb or chicken stock or just water.

Chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil and half the butter in a large pan. When hot add the mutton and brown well. Spoon out and put to one side. Add the rest of the butter, diced celery, carrot and onion and sweat gently for about 10 minutes.  Add the bouquet garni and continue cooking for a minute or so. In the pan add a layer of potatoes, then a layer of meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat the layers finishing with a layer of potato.

Throw in the barley then pour over the stock or water. Slap on a lid and allow it to cook gently for about two and a half hours.

When the meat is very tender and the sauce rich and slightly reduced remove the mutton and place on a chopping board taking care not to lose any sauce. Cut the meat from the bone in hefty chunks and return to the saucepan. Add a good handful of chopped parsley and serve in big bowls.

PS. for a treat you could make Nigellas Guiness cake and my version of Irish Mule.…both are very good

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Recipe: Easy, home-made lasagne (no added horse)

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If you can bear with my quick tirade about supermarkets and processed food, you will come to my really straightforward lasagne recipe. Stick with it, its worth it!

And I must have a rant because all I’ve heard this week are exclamations of horror about the discovery of horse DNA in pre-packaged and ready-made beef products (lasagne being one with the highest profile) and pig DNA where it really shouldn’t be. Who knows what’s next…actually I don’t even want to consider, but nothing would surprise me.

Don’t you think it’s about time we took a long hard look at ourselves and the crap we buy?….and I ask when exactly did we stop cooking real food at home?

As I child there wasn’t the vast array of  ‘convenience’ foods on the market. We didn’t have huge supermarket monopolies undercutting shops on the high street, telling us to trust them with their ready-made dishes and we didn’t have it forced in our face that we were too busy to cook. I look at the shelves of any supermarket and I’m ashamed at the gluttony and waste of this country.

In my butchers view there is plenty of good meat on the market…but not enough cheap meat to satisfy the demands of the meat industry. Supermarket own brands and other cheaper brands don’t use good meat. They go for the cheapest possible option. Why would anyone want to settle for that? People eat this rubbish because they live in ignorance about what goes into their food…they arev told its OK and believe unquestioningly. I think its time to open our eyes and ask questions….do we really need supersized Tesco’s with its racks of prepacked food and are we really happier now that we have supermarket ‘convenience’ and no longer have to nip into town to the butcher and greengrocer to shop?

Actually no. I’d rather travel to four different shops, where the sales staff are friendly, knowledgeable and interested, know the provenance of the food they sell, know you by name and what you like and have a chat about the family,  than have to face a half asleep teenager that can’t look you in the eye and that doesn’t know an Avocado from an artichoke.

So why don’t people cook? I could offer many reasons but then my rant would go on forever. I learned to cook in domestic science (and then Home Economics) lessons at school, but even then was already familiar with fresh food made at home. My mother cooked lasagne back in the early 80’s. Revolutionary almost for the time, but it was probably one of the first dishes I learned to make without a recipe. So simple that at eighteen I was making it at home and I reckon my ten-year old would have a fair stab at it today!

So, lets leave the packet food alone. Cooking is not hard…no really, it isn’t. Even if you don’t think you can cook I’m sure everyone can master six or seven dishes that can feed the family…..and here is a really easy lasagne to get you started.

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Fry onion, carrot and best quality beef to make a ragut

Lasagne:

1 pack of fresh or precooked lasagne sheets

500g beef mince (I used Welsh black beef from Beef Direct who sell at my local farmers market….it cost me £3.50 and tasted superb)

1 large onion chopped

2 small carrots grated or chopped small

2 cloves garlic crushed or chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tin chopped tomatoes

half a pint beef stock

a sprinkle of dried oregano

salt and pepper

50g butter

2 tablespoons plain flour

generous half a pint of milk

salt, pepper and grated nutmeg

Grated parmesan to cover the top

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5, 190 degrees C

Finely chop the onion and either grate or finely chop the carrot. Put about a tablespoon olive oil in a pan and heat gently. Add onions and carrot and fry gently (without browning) for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium and add the mince. Continue to fry, breaking up the mince with a wooden spoon, until nicely browned. Add garlic, a teaspoon of dried oregano (everyone seems to have a small selection of dried herbs in their house) and one bay leaf. Give everything a good stir then the tin of tomatoes, fresh beef stock (or made with a couple of good quality stock cubes…Kallo is a good make) and a sprinkle of seas salt (Halen Mon for me!!) and pepper.

Simmer until the sauce has reduced to a lovely rich thick consistency. At this stage you can use the sauce just as a bolognaise sauce with spaghetti.

To make the white sauce (bechamel) melt the butter in a small saucepan then stir in the flour. Cook for a minute then remove from the heat and slowly stir or whisk in the milk. Once you have a smooth sauce return to a low heat and stir continuously until it thickens. Season with salt and pepper and a grate in some nutmeg.

To assemble: Spoon a third of the meat sauce over the bottom of a large shallow oven dish (about 30cm square), cover with a layer of the lasagne sheets and a couple of spoons of the bechamel sauce.  Repeat the layers with a third of the sauce, a layer of lasagne and two more spoonfuls of bechamel. Finish with the rest of the meat sauce, a layer of lasagne and top with the bechamel. Cover the top with grated parmesan and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling and a knife penetrates easily.

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Recipe: really easy, multi-purpose, egg free cheesecake

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This easy egg free cheesecake recipe came about while planning a wedding menu. I tend to design my menu’s with the person I’m cooking for, tossing ideas too and fro until we reach a final decision. For one couple cheesecake was their ‘must have’ dessert,  but endlessly worried because a couple of guests couldn’t have eggs and thought that cheesecake automatically included them. They naturally wanted them to enjoy everything on offer and so I assured them it was possible to have egg free cheesecake.

Hmmmm. I’d never actually made an egg-free cheesecake at this point, so having said it would be no problem I set off to do a bit of research and testing.

Mercifully I discovered that there are lots of cheesecake recipes out there, even egg free cheesecakes, so I didn’t see any point in totally reinventing the wheel. I looked at a couple, tweaked and modified them, and finally came up with a winning formula. I tried and tested different combinations of flavours and ingredients until settling on this quick and simple, hugely adaptable recipe that makes the perfect base for a whole host of flavours and toppings, depending on what you fancy and what is in season.

Cooking for large parties and buffets demands a degree of simplicity, especially as the dish has to appeal to up to 150 people!! My tip then is to keep things simple; go with maybe two or three flavourings such as, strawberry and vanilla, apple and blackberry compote, vanilla with blackcurrant and cinnamon compote, rhubarb and ginger. You could also give it a little kick by pairing with booze; a nice complimentary liqueur enhances whichever fruit you have used…raspberry and Framboise, or as with my last variation Morello cherry and Kirsch, finished with stemmed fresh cherries it almost created a sort of ‘black forest’ cheesecake. You can even try adding fragrant petals such as orange blossom or rose as a flavouring or decoration. If a fruit version doesn’t tempt the taste buds how about chocolate and vanilla, with some salted caramel swirled into it and decorated with chocolate dipped strawberries?….Really the list is endless. Once you begin to think about it tis easy to get carried away!!

You could also experiment with the biscuit base. Digestives are the common choice, but how about substituting with ginger biscuits, a rhubarb cheesecake mixture, decorated with a sprinkle of rose petals, or perhaps crunchy butter biscuits, almond ratafias…..as long as they have a good crunch they should work ok.

Egg-free cheesecake recipe (makes one large party size 28cm cheesecake…or two smaller cheesecakes)

300g crunchy biscuits…degestives are the conventional choice…but experiment)

150g very lightly salted butter…I use Calon Wen

700g cream cheese

150g icing sugar

300ml double cream or creme fraiche

1 jar of Morello cherries (drained…reserving a tablespoon of the juice)

1 tablespoon Kirsch

fresh cherries or rose petals to decorate

(NB: In the picture above I used 350g chopped strawberries, 1 generous teaspoon good quality vanilla extract and finished it with strawberries dipped in caster sugar.)

Grease a loose bottomed 28cm cake tin or flan tin (or two 15cm) and line with a circle of non-stick baking parchment.

Put the biscuits into a large clean bag and crush with a rolling pin…try not to trap any air in the bag or it will explode and there will be crumbs everywhere! Make sure there are no large bits, you want fine crumbs but not powder. Tip into a bowl

Melt the butter in a small pan then pour over the crumbs in the bowl. Mix well then press into the cake tin to make a tight even layer. refrigerate for about an hour or so.

In a clean bowl whisk together the cream cheese, cream, sugar and liquids (vanilla, alcohol, cherry juice or whatever liquid you are using).  With a large spoon or plastic spatula fold in the fruit or other ingredients gently swirling into the cheese mixture.  Be careful not to break the fruit up and over mix, you really need a light hand.

Spoon the mixture over the biscuit base and smooth the top. Place in the fridge again for at least a couple of hours.

To serve loosen the cake tin base and gently ease out. Carefully remove the baking parchment and slide out on to a serving plate. Decorate with a sprinkling of petals….or fresh fruit

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Whisky and orange crepes….perfect for a snowy day

So, I’m snowed in. It’s a reasonably common occurrence where I live as I’m up on higher ground. Whilst those in Bangor city wonder what all the fuss is about, my village just a few miles outside is hit by snowmageddon! Abandoned cars, icy roads and snow drifts render some parts of the village inaccessible (including my street) but the fun we have tobogganing makes up for it. We all love a ‘snow day’!

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So of course I did the only thing a girl could do. I panic bought whisky and ginger wine to make whisky macs, drank Bailey’s hot chocolate with whipped cream, enjoyed a snowy walk or two and tried not to fall over on the ice. Sledging was unfortunately out of the question what with my back being bad and all, but I made up for it with some dedicated ‘apres ski’.

With food running slightly short in the house (yep, bought plenty of booze, but nothing of much use other than that) we resorted to split pea soup (at least I’d made it with proper fresh chicken stock and topped with crispy bacon) and a wonderfully indulgent creation of whisky and orange pancakes. Made in the same way as crepe suzette, the retro classic french dessert, but with whisky and not Grand Marnier and using a couple of the 15 kilos of Seville oranges from the load delivered on Thursday. They were a massive hit. Using the Seville’s with a couple of lemons produced a sharper citrussy sauce, but I liked that sweet and sour effect. Just like squeezing lemon juice on your pancakes.

Whisky and orange crepes:

To make 8 crepes:

120g plain flour

pinch of sea salt

2 large eggs

half a pint (275ml) milk

oil for cooking

For the sauce:

zest of one orange and one lemon

juice of one lemon and three oranges..I used Seville but you can use any juicy orange.

90g butter

120g caster sugar

100ml whisky

Sift flour and salt into a large bowl. Add eggs and milk and whisk together to make a smooth, lump free batter.

Heat a small flat-bottomed pan. Add a trickle of oil and swirl it around the bottom of the pan. When it is really hot and just beginning to smoke a little add some of the batter. Quickly swirl this around the pan to coat the bottom. Cook until it looks golden brown and then flip it over to cook on the other side. Remove the crepe on to a plate and repeat the process until you have used all the mixture.

In another pan, this time larger melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and simmer together for a few minutes until it just starts to change colour. Immediately add orange and lemon juice and zest and simmer for a couple more minutes. Add whisky and then start to add one pancake at a time folding into quarters, they should all be able to fit snugly into one pan. Allow to bubble gently for a few minutes so they soak up the sauce

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You can serve these with cream or ice cream, but they really don’t need anything else but the rich, sticky sweet-sour sauce. True comfort food!

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A recipe top ten for 2012

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Funnily enough my most popular posts for 2012 weren’t recipes at all, they were either restaurant (Cennin, Vijante) or product reviews (Magimix, Sarpo potatoes).

My most popular and sought after recipe of 2012 was (quite fittingly after all the preserving demo’s I held last year) one for Pumpkin Jam. But, like many of my well used recipes on the blog it isn’t new at all; its nice to see that they are still in demand!

TOP TEN:

1. Pumpkin Jam

2. Tipsy Laird Trifle

3. Roast Potatoes

4. Winter Minestrone

5. Roast duck breast with redcurrant and red wine sauce

6. Lamb Merguez stew

7. Apple and cinnamon tart with bara brith ice-cream

8. Ginger, orange blossom and vanilla salt cookies

9. Orange, herb and wild garlic flower salad

10. Beetroot tart tatin

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A vegetarian Ken Hom classic…teen friendly, home-made super noodles (Singapore noodles)!

I seem to find it more and more of a struggle to find meals that will tick all the boxes for my carb addicted, vegetable dodging daughter. I swear she gets worse with every year. I often wonder why I even bothered with all those pureed organic vegetables, fresh fruit compotes and sugar-free yoghurts. My endeavours do not seem to have created a discerning gourmet and any influence I might have as a chef falls on deaf ears.

Anyway, her latest addiction is supernoodles. Cheap, yucky packet ones, the worst kind of junk.

‘Please Mum, they only cost 36p in Lidl’ she cries, as I sigh with resigned horror.

Since I can’t keep her from them I have set out to create my own healthier version of her beloved dish, ones with proper added protein (a bit of chicken; I think I’ve mentioned more than once she won’t eat any other flesh…she is now known as a chickenarian), real vegetables and more recognisable spices and flavourings.

My latest attempt to transform a junk food dinner into something resembling real food was a Ken Hom vegetarian classic; a version of Hong Kong or Singapore Noodles. Quick to prepare, made from store cupboard basics and with a few added vegetables is even vaguely healthy, very tasty and teen friendly.

Vegetarian Singapore noodles:

300g rice noodles (I used some super quick straight to wok ones by Amoy but you may have to pre-cook them if you are using dried noodles)

50g Welsh shiitake mushrooms, soaked for 20 mins and then drained and finely diced…(so the teen doesn’t realise they are there!!)

250g fresh or frozen peas/petit pois (if using frozen cover with water in a bowl and allow to thaw, then drain before use)

250g finely shredded chinese leaf cabbage

couple of tables spoons of groundnut oil

3 cloves of garlic crushed and finely chopped

1 dessertspoonful grated fresh ginger

a couple of fresh or dried chillies finely chopped

1 teaspoon of salt

a small tin of drained water chestnuts, sliced

4 spring onions finely chopped

For the curry sauce:

2 tablespoons of light soy sauce

1 tablespoon of Pataks curry paste, I used madras

2 tablespoons of rice wine or dry sherry

2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

400ml tin coconut milk

Fresh coriander to serve

extra salt and pepper if necessary…season to taste

To make: Heat the oil in a large wok over a high heat until it just starts to smoke. Add garlic, ginger and chilli and stir fry for about 30 seconds.

Then add cabbage, mushrooms, water chestnuts and salt and stir fry for another minute. Next add peas and rice noodles and stir fry for another 2 minutes. Add all the sauce ingredients and allow to bubble for about 5 minutes until the sauce cooks down and starts to evaporate. Serve sprinkled with chopped spring onion and coriander. Eat immediately.

NB: This is real cold weather comfort food that according to the teen is ACTUALLY better than supernoodles!

NNB: If you want to make a meaty version chop 250g chicken or lean pork into thin strips and stir fry with the garlic and ginger at the very beginning.

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Coconutty corn cobs with peanut and chilli (and sort of Jollof rice)

On a recent visit to one of my suppliers (Hootons Homegrown on Anglesey) I was pleasantly surprised to discover sweet corn on the shelves. Not just that, but locally grown sweet corn fresh from their farm. Of course I couldn’t resist; we all love fresh sweet corn, so I picked up four.

My only concern at this time of year was that they might lack sweetness and tenderness. It’s not been the hottest or sunniest summer so rather than risk disappointment I chose to cook them in a African (ish) inspired sauce of creamy coconut milk, roasted spices, fresh ginger, peanut to give a bit of texture and crunch, a little chilli for heat and some fresh coriander. I’m sure it would make a great side dish for grilled meat but we had a vegetarian supper so I paired it with some stir fried spiced eggplant and a sort of Jollof rice (no chicken in this version).

For the coconutty corn cobs you will need:

4 fresh corn cobs cut in half, or thirds if they are large, 1 large tablespoon of groundnut oil, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1 finely chopped red chilli (or a good pinch of chilli flakes), 500g fresh tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped or 1 tin of tomatoes, half a 400g can of coconut milk, 100g of coarsely ground peanuts, a knob of peeled and grated ginger, seasoning

Heat the oil in a large saucepan then add the cumin and mustard seeds. Roast lightly until their aroma fills the kitchen, but do not burn them as they will taste bitter. Add the corn cobs coating well with oil and spices. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, chilli and ginger.

Put a lid on the pan and allow to simmer gently for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring now and then. Add a little salt and a bit more coconut milk if the sauce seems dry.

Serve sprinkled with a finely chopped handful of fresh coriander.

Sort of Jollof rice:

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper de-seeded and thinly sliced, 1 sliced onion, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, a pinch or two of chilli flakes, 3 fresh tomatoes skinned and chopped, 2 tablespoons tomato puree, sprig of fresh thyme, 400g basmati rice, 600ml of chicken or vegetable stock

In a large saucepan sweat the sliced onions and peppers gently in the sunflower oil for about 10 minutes or beginning to soften but not turn brown.

Add garlic, chilli flakes, bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes and tomato puree. Stir for a minute or so, then add the hot stock. Allow to simmer gently for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime wash the rice a couple of times to remove some of the starch, but there’s no need to soak it really.

After the sauce has simmered for its 15 minutes add the rice. Put a tight-fitting lid on the pan (or cover with foil then a lid so no steam escapes), turn the heat down low and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the rice is tender and cooked.

**NB: There are several methods for cooking rice. I usually favour the Caribbean way (learnt from my Trinidadian step-father). He brings a large pan of plenty of water to the boil, tips in the rice and simmer until cooked, as you would if you were cooking pasta. No pre washing or rinsing is necessary and it always works for me. Some would argue that only brown rice warrants cooking in this way but I use all kinds; You just have to stay on the ball because if you over boil it you end up with mush.

In the African method used in this recipe I have added basmati rice to the sauce, placed a lid  on top and left it to cook slowly until the liquid has been absorbed. The result is a stickier dish, but perfect when combining sauce and rice.

There is one other approach. The oven method often favoured in Indian cooking, where rice is to all intents and purposes baked. This produces a dryer textured dish, such as pilau rice.

 

 

 

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A trip around West Cork

I’d hoped for something of a gastro tour of Ireland but clearly with a family of four (including a picky teenager and an easily bored nine-year old) and a tight budget it was not the cheapest or easiest option. But really that didn’t matter because we had a never-ending expanse of coastline to explore and plenty to do without actively seeking out foodie experiences and boring the kids to death, we called it ‘stealth foodie-ism’. Armed with some tips from Niamh (eat like a girl) and a few of her twitter followers, plus local knowledge from the in-laws we were able to eat very well and very cheaply.

My in-laws live just outside Clonakilty which is about half an hours drive from Cork city. They’d organised a place for us to stay (two minutes along the lane from them) and filled our fridge with local produce. Clonakilty black and white pudding, local bacon and sausages, eggs from the farm up the road, salad, ham, bread and organic milk. All local, all fantastic. We topped this up with local strawberries and raspberries, Glenilen Farm cream, Gubbeen cheeses and tapas tubs of olives, tapenade and stuffed sweet peppers from the award-winning Scally’s supervalu in Clonakilty. Packed lunches, fruit, plenty of juice and water were the mainstay of our holiday, with a couple of dinners at the in-laws helping keep our costs down.

We hardly ate out at all apart from a couple of trips to the chippy (freshly caught and cooked fish is far superior to the stuff bought at home) and a late lunch at a gorgeous pub on the harbour at Crookhaven. This followed a dramatic, bracing and windswept walk along the cliffs at Mizen Head, the most westerly point in Ireland making the most of the afternoon sun after a drizzly start to the day. Kids generally hate walking but this included just enough adrenaline pumping scenery and plenty of interesting lighthouse facts (Fastnet lighthouse is just visible to the south) to keep them happy.

We finished the afternoon with a pint of Murphy’s, some ham ‘sangwiches’ and Tayto crisps (for the kids) and a gloriously rich and creamy bowl of seafood chowder for me at O’Sullivan’s bar.

We also took a trip to Kinsale. Another undoubtedly pretty harbour town but I found it rather twee in a very touristy kind of way. It wasn’t our cup of tea. It was very anglicised, full of coach parties and the ‘sailing set’ (not that I have anything against those that sail. We had our own afternoon on the sea later in the week) but because of the clientele everything just that bit more expensive. I prefer places off the beaten track where I can live like a local and tucked well away from the very touristy haunts, as do the rest of the family.

We had a quick look at fishy fishy, a well-known, award-winning seafood restaurant which was recommended by Niamh, but with four of us it would have proved too costly (plus the teen hates fish). Instead the kids opted for an enormous ice cream from a really lovely ice cream parlour and we headed out-of-town to James Fort for another bracing cliff walk. Far more enjoyable for a nine-year old boy and much more spectacular than a fish dinner in an expensive cafe.

As the weather improved over the week we gravitated towards the sea and beaches more. There were plenty to choose from and we were spoilt for choice. With dramatic rocky coastlines at Dunworly to blue flag beaches at Inchydoney and the Warren at Rosscarbery. The Warren proved a little windy on our first trip, although that didn’t stop our nine-year old stripping off and running for the sea.

On another day we took my father in law’s boat out to sea. It hadn’t been out for a year so it was an opportunity to give it a run and do a bit of fishing. We didn’t catch anything, but sailing with seals was a fantastic experience for the kids. On an earlier trip to Ireland we took a charter trip out from Union Hall (there are plenty of boats going out, but check and book in advance. Easiest to go down to the pier and ask the harbour master or one of the fishermen) to do some sea fishing and look for seals, dolphins and whales. It was a little early for Whales but we saw plenty of seals, who tend to chase the fish into the harbour on the tide. That was a bigger boat. This time our boat was much smaller and the seals swam really close to us.

Friday was our one dedicated foodie day as we headed to the farmers market in Clonakilty. Gubbeen cheese nestled beside home-made cakes, chorizo, preserves and great coffee. Dips, basil hummus, chorizo and mozzarella, plus a bit of salad made a great supper (we’d taken some wraps with us which came in handy). The sunshine, buskers and a throng of people gave it a real festival atmosphere as we sat eating local organic lamb burgers. Later that evening we headed back into the town for the Random Acts of Kindness Festival where our kid got to show off his giant bubbling skills as part of a ‘bubble flash mob’ followed by live music and an absolutely hilarious Ceilih at the famous De Barras folk club. Money raised was for the Clonakilty Flood Relief Campaign.

We spent our last day in scorching sunshine. We followed up a huge lunch with the in-laws at the West Cork hotel (the food wasn’t that much to rave about but again the produce was all local and the meat and fish was delicious) with a trip to Lough Hyne. We sat in the sun looking over the small deserted harbour watching people dive off their boats into a clear warm sea longing for a yacht of our own.

Loch Hyne

Once we’d thoroughly depressed ourselves with our longing for a boat and lack of resources to do anything about it we headed for the beach at Inchydoney.  Here we whiled away an hour or two swimming in gloriously warm sea before taking a last trip to Rosscarbery pier and a bit of fishing (the fish had been elusive so far so this was our last hope).

As high tide approached fishermen lined the sea wall on one side and a gaggle of kids threw themselves off the pier into the sea on the other.

The teen somersaulting into the sea…crazy girl that she is!

Diving into the sea at Rosscarbery pier

Fishing off the sea wall…I didn’t get a pic of the seal

Once again the fish were elusive, this time scared away by the diving kids on one side and seals chasing every fish on the other. It’s not that the fish weren’t there, plenty bit, but it was impossible to land them with Mr. seal lying in wait to grab them off the hook as we reeled them in. In fact the fishing went on longer than anticipated as it became a real battle of wills. Man against seal. Every fish was a fight to the death. Those feckin seals became public enemy number one. We eventually left at 9.30pm tired, hungry and with two tiny pollack, the landing of which received huge cheers all along the pier!

Pollack

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