Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Warming up the Colder Days

Today's selection of recipes are mainly basics with the addition of one or more ingredients to add that little extra flavour and maybe warmth to a dish. As ever, all easy to make.

Pasta with Creamy Cheese Walnuts: serves 4
7 oz (200g) pasta shapes, any kind
1 tblsp light olive oil
3 shallots (or 1 small onion) peeled and diced
10 oz (275g) soft cream cheese
4 oz (110g) walnut pieces, toasted
2 oz (50g) green veg (could be rocket or herbs...)
2 oz (25g) Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente stage. While this is cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the shallots (or onion) for 4 minutes. Stir in the cream cheese and heat through until this has melted. As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain - keeping back a little of the liquid - and stir the pasta into the creamy onion mixture, adding a little of the reserved water if you want a thinner sauce. Stir in the walnuts and green vegetable of your choice and season to taste. Serve sprinkled with the Parmesan.
Tip: If on a low-fat diet, use the extra-light cream cheese. For a variation, add crispy bacon.

Cauliflower Quiche Lorraine: serves 6 - 8
shortcrust pastry to line a 9" (23cm) flan tin
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cooked but not crisp
3 large eggs
284ml carton double cream or creme fraiche
3 oz (75g) grated hard cheeses *
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper
Line a loose-based 9"/23cm quiche tin with thinly rolled pastry. Bake blind for 15 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4, then remove lining and continue baking for a further five minutes until the base is drying out. While the pastry is cooking (or the case can be done in advance) boil the cauliflower florets in salted water for five minutes (timing starts once the water has returned to the boil). Drain well and leave to cool.
Put the cream into a bowl, stir in the eggs, beating together lightly with a fork (the eggs should not be frothy). Stir in the cheeses and the nutmeg, add seasoning to taste. Fold in the cauliflower and the bacon (this could be cut up into smaller pieces if you wish), and pour the mixture into the pastry case. Bake for half an hour or until the filling is set - with the hint of a wobble. Remove from oven, leave in the tin for half an hour, then lift up the base, setting the quiche (still on the base for ease of cutting) onto a plate and serve, whilst still just warm (best eaten just warm but can be eaten cold), cut into wedges.
Note: *the 'cheeses' can be a mixture of various hard cheeses or just Cheddar alone but do include the Parmesan.

Odds and Ends Chunky Chowder: serves 4
This dish uses up the oddments of chicken and ham that might be left after cooking and carving your own home-cooked.
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 leeks OR...
1 small sweet onion,
3 medium potatoes
1 tbslp plain flour
30 fl.oz (700ml ) milk
1 pint measure of cooked chicken pieces
1/2 pint measure cooked ham
6 oz (175g) each, frozen peas and sweetcorn (thawed)
salt and pepper
First prepare the ingredients by thinly slicing the leeks (or onions if using). Cut the potatoes into small cubes. Cut the chicken and ham into similar sized chunks.
Heat the oil in a pan then fry the leeks/onions gently for about 3 minutes until just softened. Stir in the potatoes, then the flour and slowly pour in the milk, stirring with a wooden spoon until beginning to thicken. Season to taste. Simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are cooked (roughly 10 minutes or so). Add the peas and sweetcorn, cook for one minute, then stir in the chicken and ham. Cook for five minutes longer, making sure the Chowder is hot and bubbling. Check seasoning, adding more if necessary. Serve with hot, crusty, preferably granary bread.
Variation: Instead of ham you could throw in the same measure of cooked small prawns (very fresh or frozen -thawed), but add these about two minutes before the end, allowing just enough time for them to cook or heat through otherwise they will toughen.
Tip: Any milk could be used, full fat, semi- or skimmed.

This next recipe eats well hot or cold and uses mainly odds and ends that might be left in the fridge. Feel free to adapt, alter, adjust ingredients and weights according to what you want to use up. Using common sense of course! Not everything goes together.
Nothing-in-the-fridge-but-this Dish: serves 3-4
8 rashers bacon, any kind, chopped
roughly a pint measure of mushrooms
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 mugful (300g) long-grain rice
2 mugsful (600ml) hot stock (chicken or vegetable)
grated cheese (use up oddments of hard cheeses)
Using a large frying pan, fry the bacon gently until the fat runs. Chop or slice the mushrooms and add to the bacon, increasing the heat slightly and fry for about 5 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked and the bacon crisped up. Spoon this out onto a heated plate, cover and keep warm. Using the same pan (no need to wash), add the oil then fry the onion until softened. Stir in the garlic and fry for one more minute, then add the rice. Qive a quick stir to coat the rice with the oil then pour in the stock. Give one more stir, bring to the boil, then simmer until the rice has absorbed almost all the stock (this should take about 10 minutes). The rice will seem 'al dente', but that is how it should be. Turn out the heat, cover the pan and leave for a further five minutes for the rice to cook through. Once this is ready, stir in most of the cheese and season to taste. Either stir the mushrooms and bacon into the rice, or serve the rice in bowls with the bacon and mushrooms on top sprinkled with the remaining cheese.

Finishing with a cake recipe (it seems many of you really like these), thought this might appeal as said to be an easy cake for beginners, and - well wrapped - it will keep for at least a week, improving by the day. What is more, it can be frozen!
Keep-me-eat-me Sticky Lemon and Ginger Cake: (F)
8 oz (200g) stoned dates
boiling water
8 oz (200g) butter
10 oz (300g) dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs
2 oz (50g) fresh or frozen* root ginger, grated
zest of 1 lemon
8 oz (200g) self-raising flour
9 oz (250g) approx. cooking apples, peeled and cored
2 oz (50g) white chocolate
1 tblsp candied peel
1 tblsp sugar crystals (coffee sugar)**
Put dates into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Chop the apple into very small cubes or you could grate it. Heat the butter until melted, then add the sugar. Stir then leave to cool slightly. Into a bowl beat together the eggs, ginger and lemon zest, drain the dates, chop finely and add them to the eggs, and stir in the butter/sugar. Mix well. Sift in the flour and stir into the mix together withe the prepared apples. Pour this into am 8" (20cm) round cake tin that has been greased and lined. Bake for 1 1/2 hours at 170C, 325F, gas 3 until well risen (the recipe says a skewer stuck into the cake should come out with a few crumbs still sticking to it). Leave the cake to cool in the tin.
Melt the white chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water, then when runny, trickle over the cake, scattering over the candied peel and sugar crystals. When set, remove the cake from the tin and peel off the paper, re-wrap with clean paper and it will keep for a week, getting better and better. To freeze wrap in several layers of cling-film. Will freeze for up to (possibly longer) two months.
Note: *freeze root ginger and it can be grated from frozen, returning unused ginger to the freezer.
**sugar crystals are coarser than granulated sugar, usually sold as 'coffee sugar'. A good substitute is to crush down sugar lumps.
The muscovado sugar helps to give the 'sticky ginger cake' texture and flavour. At a pinch demerara or even granulated could be substituted, taking away one heaped tablespoonful replacing it with one level (or as near as possible) of black treacle. If no choice but to use demerara, then the cake won't improve with keeping, but should still keep for several days in an airtight container, and can still be frozen.