Archive | March, 2012

Cheat’s Quesadilla Calzone

31 Mar

Quesadilla CalzoneMy recent obsession with Mexican food knows no bounds and today’s recipe, invented pretty much in an instant for lunch, continues the theme.

It’s not authentically Mexican though, and to be honest, the end result shared as much with the folded pizza, calzone, than it does with a real quesadilla.

Quesadilla Calzone it is then!

This takes seconds to prepare, mere minutes to cook, and is disproportionately delicious. I promise you’ll be looking to make a second one as soon as you’ve finished the first.

Ingredients (for one quesadilla)

1 wholemeal tortilla (large)
A few slices of chorizo (picante if you have it)
A handful of grated cheddar
A few slices of ham
Olive oil

Preparation

Lay out the tortilla on your worksurface and scatter the cheese, chorizo and ham over one half, leaving an inch around the outside.

Fold the tortilla over to make a half moon shape and press down.

Heat up a griddle pan to a high temperature and add a splash of olive oil. Get your extractor fan on – this can get smokey!

Press the quesadilla down onto the griddle pan. Leave for a minute or so, then flip and press again.

Keep checking the quesadilla until it is crispy on the outside and the filling is melted, gooey and delicious.

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A dollop of Mexico fresh from the jar

27 Mar

Mexican accompaniments

Ten years ago Mrs G and I travelled to Mexico on a decidedly budget trip to Baja California. What lead us to this bit of the country that we christened Bognor-on-Pacific because of its being packed full of American package holiday-makers is a story for another day. The food we encountered was also not worthy of a blog post.

It seemed that the restauranteurs we encountered, partly because of our tiny daily budget, subscribed to the view that Mexican food should contain cheese, cheese and more cheese. Buritos, empanadas, chimichangas, tortillas – all indistinguishable cheese and flour-based stodge. Those were the good days. On bad days we couldn’t afford to eat out and just ate cheese. On a weekend in Paris eating nothing but cheese is an indulgence. In Baja where the cheese is all Monterey Jack, it’s disgusting.

With this lurking in my memory I visited Mexican restaurants in New York expecting a cheese-fest. Nothing could be further from the truth. I discovered a vibrant, fresh, light and subtle cuisine that is miles away from the Tex-Mex horrors that lurk in the aisles of British supermarkets.

Mexican Food Made SimpleSo, the recent gift to Mrs G of Thomasina Miers Mexican Food Made Simple has allowed us to indulge a burgeoning love of this type of food. It’s the sort of book where every turn of the page has another recipe you are dying to try out.

This weekend, to accompany a Mexican meal crafted from the pages of the book, I created several delicious condiments, including Pink Onion Relish and Fresh Tomato Salsa.

The Pink Onion Relish was designed to top off a range of taco fillings, but it was so good I wanted to eat it on its own – and have been doing from the fridge ever since. The red onions provided such a vivid colour that it was hard to believe that there wasn’t food colouring in there somewhere. Making it was simple  – blanche some sliced red onions in boiling water for 10 minutes, followed by marinading them in the juice of a lime, an onion and a sliced chilli. Easy.

The tomato salsa was much better than the shop-bought variety and even improved microwaved nachos. The ingredients were no surprise – tomatoes, chili, coriander, lime, onions and sugar, but the depth of taste certainly was.

I am falling in love with authentic Mexican food and when you read about the new wave of gourmet Mexican chefs it’s hard not to imagine what the culinary landscape in the UK might be like if only we could get over our obsession with Italian, Indian, Chinese and more recently Thai.

 

Not-so-good Italian lentils

22 Mar

Italian lentils and sausageOh the joys of being ill. It’s been a while since my last post and that’s entirely down to a low-grade stomach bug that although it hasn’t laid me up, had completely scuppered any desire to eat good food. Strangely it left me with a desire to eat no-so-good food, or at least food that probably isn’t worthy of a food blog – burgers, crisps, anything quick, fatty and preferably salty.

Fortunately though I seem to be coming out the other side and I’m starting to get excited in the kitchen again. Rather worryingly though my palate still seems to be shot to pieces.

Sausages were on the menu, again, a few nights ago. Normally I would have these with chips, or a slightly healthier salad. This time I fancied recreating one of my favourite dishes – Italian lentils and sausage. The best example of this I’ve come across is served at an Italian restaurant not far from one of my company’s office in Ealing, London.

Osteria del portico is a lovely, authentic Italian, set back from the road near Ealing Broadway tube. It describes itself as an ideal place to forget the stresses of London life. I don’t doubt this because it can be genuinely idyllic, but unfortunately I only tend to eat there over working lunches, so it’s anything but a release from stress.

Fortunately the food is great and my favourite dish is one of their starters –  Lucanica e Fagioli – Italian farmed sausages, cannellini beans, basil & tomato with little chillies.

Armed with the memories of this perfect little plate of food, I set about creating something similar – or at least, inspired by it.

The result was what I hoped I could christen Italian lentils. I slowed fried some garlic and onions, adding some green pepper once they were softened. I tossed in a can of green lentils and some chicken stock, leaving it to cook down for 30 minutes or so.

When topped with some Sainsbury’s Pork and Parmesan sausages this looked like a pretty faithful ( in spirit) recreation of Osteria’s Lucanica e Fagioli. I’m afraid to say though that appearances weren’t everything. It’s remarkable how tasteless the lentils were. It wasn’t inedible, just dull to an extreme. Mrs G couldn’t manage more than a few mouthfuls. I did a little better.

I was genuinely surprised. I thought it would work, but it didn’t. In retrospect it needed tomatoes, or possibly just a hint of thyme.

None of this occurred to me at the time. My palate was way out of line.I’m not convinced it is yet back in sync. Stay tuned to find out if this is the end of the Last Gastronome!

When the appetite deserts you

14 Mar

If you love food, and love eating, finding that the love has gone can be a distressing thing. You can remember what the passion felt like. At a logical level, it’s still there. Emotionally you just don’t fancy food right now.

This is what happens when you are recovering from a stomach bug.

Actually, during the recovery stage, things are a little different. You are so glad that you don’t feel awful that the desire to eat suddenly becomes all-consuming, but what you want to eat is comforting and probably salty to boot. Toast, chips, crisps, pasta.

But then the recovery is over and you are back to normal. Your head is telling you that you are better. Your stomach is confirming this. For some reason though, you just can’t be bothered to cook.

Recipe books no longer hold any appeal. Being inspired in the kitchen is just a distant memory. Every night the fridge is opened and you stare inside, thinking that today might be the day when you can suddenly sense that a few ingredients are going to work well together. It doesn’t seem to flow though and you have to fall back on old favourites, or even just the easy options.

When you love food, but you lose it, the kitchen becomes a lonely place. The only consolation is knowing that it will be back  – it always comes back.

 

Volcanic mexican eggs

7 Mar
Volcanic mexican eggs

A bubbling pool of lava, or diabolic mexican eggs?

This is one of the most colourful, and occasionally frustrating recipes in my repertoire. It always sees the light of day when I’m trying to cut down on the carbs because it is a filling and tasty meal that, because of the presence of chorizo, seems more luxurious than it really is.

If you like you can spice it up with extra chillies, but there is a good degree of heat that comes from the chorizo so it’s not necessary unless you have a thirst for the burn.

The frustration comes from the fact that despite the fact that the tomatoes and chorizo are bubbling at what appears near to a boil, the eggs seem to take an age to cook. The whites often take much longer that you would expect and if you are at all worried about eating raw egg it’s worth ensuring that you cook them all the way through.

If you aren’t cutting down on the carbs, serve with crusty bread.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 onion, chopped
200g chorizo, sliced or chopped
1 cup of red wine
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
4 eggs
Sour cream to taste
Olive oil

Preparation

Gently fry the onion and chorizo in a large frying pan until the onion is translucent.

Add the wine to the pan and reduce down by half.

Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil, then reduce to a slow simmer, cooking until the mixture has thickened.

Make four indentations in the tomato mixture and break an egg into each hole.

Simmer until the eggs are cooked through, then serve in a bowl with sour cream drizzled on top.

Simple chapatis

5 Mar

I enjoyed a delicious Indian meal the other day at the Masala Gate in Chichester. One of the elements that stood out was the excellent chapatis that I chose to have instead of a rice dish – not something I normally do – and this inspired me to have a go this weekend at making my own.

I don’t live anywhere near an Asian supermarket, so this recipe doesn’t use genuine chapati flour, but instead combines two commonly available supermarket flours for a similar effect.

The result is easy to prepare, quick to cook, and pretty authentic – at least that’s what my guests told me.

Ingredients

175g strong Wholemeal bread flour
75g plain white flour
150ml water
Vegetable oil

Preparation

Mix the flours in a bowl and slowly add the water, mixing into a dry dough.

Knead for 5 minutes and shape into a foot long sausage.

Chop the sausage into 8 equal portions and place them to one side.

Heat up a medium-sized frying pan over a medium heat and place a drop of oil into it.

Start rolling out the chapatis into discs approximately 15cm across. They won’t turn out completely round unless you are a wizard with the rolling pin, but it doesn’t matter.

As soon as the first chapati is rolled place it in the frying pan and get started rolling out the next chapati.

For each chapati fry on each side for 30-40 seconds, until it starts to blacken in small circles. Don’t let it burn. If the circles start to get larger than a penny it might be heading that way. If you are lucky the chapatis will start to puff up a little.

For the next 10 minutes you’ll be juggling rolling and frying, but it’s not too tricky and the end result is a pile of delicious steaming hot chapatis, ready to serve alongside a curry, a dahl or a biryani.

Brioche scone muffins

4 Mar

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These no-knead buns almost defy description. A friend who I shared them with this morning described them as a cross between a scone and a muffin, but the original recipe from Olive magazine calls them brioche, so they have to be ‘brioche scone muffins’!

They aren’t particularly sweet which make them a perfect vehicle for whatever you want to put on them. They taste great with nothing more than butter, but jam and honey are pretty good too. With their scone-like taste I wouldn’t be surprised if they went great with cream as well, but it feels like the wrong time of year to be experimenting with that.

The buns are fairly filling so you won’t have to many of them, but you also won’t want to stop, so a straining stomach is the inevitable result.

The only downside is that you have to make the dough the day before you want them so it’s not a spur of the moment decision.

Warm halloumi, ham and butterbean salad

2 Mar

Halloumi, tomato and proscuito saladHaving decided to have a week where the Gastronome Towers fridge was emptied rather than augmented, by Thursday I was struggling to concoct meals from the remaining morsels.

There was a block of halloumi waiting in reserve for this rainy day, but enthusiasm was low for a plain old salad, or other such simple, not particularly filling, recipes.

Instead I fell back on an ingredient that I’m growing to love ever since I tried it in a readymeal a year or so ago – butterbeans.

Cheap and filling, butterbeans are an ideal ingredient for rapid baking and if you pair them with a bunch of powerful other flavours, they suck it all up, waiting to deliver it all onto your tongue. They are like flavour sponges!

This does of course mean that you need to introduce those flavours to the butterbeans in the first place and with an apparently empty fridge I thought I would struggle.

I thought back to a delicious butterbean-based recipe I had for chicken and chorizo with roasted vegetables and realised that with a bit of imagination the halloumi would substitute for the bird, and a few scraps of proscuito for the sausage.

The results were great. Mrs G and I demolished our respective portions and looked at each other in case there was some left over.

There wasn’t. The butterbeans had done it again – or more accurately, the roasted tomatoes, onions and ham had done it again, turning the bland old beans into something special.

Ingredients

1 block of halloumi torn into chunks
2 red onions (quartered)
10-20 cherry tomatoes
1 large tin of butterbeans
Some prosciutto / parma ham / anything else dried and from a pig! (shredded / torn / ripped apart)
1 handful of young salad leaves
A few basil leaves, torn.

Preparation

Heat the oven up to 200ºC.

Roast the onions in some olive oil for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and roast for a further 10.

Add the butter beans, basil, and half your prosciutto and roast for a further 5 minutes.

Add the halloumi and roast for 10 minutes.

Remove the roasting tin from the oven and stir in the salad leaves and the remaining prosciutto.

Serve immediately and try to stop yourself from eating it too quickly!