Creamy mushroom pasta

15 May

Creamy mushroom pastaRecently I’ve been eating a lot of pasta. Call it laziness, but putting together a pasta dish, healthy or otherwise, is an ideal way of avoiding a night spent over a hot stove, but without resorting to takeaway.

This dish was born many years ago – in fact it was the first meal I ever made that I considered to be gourmet. Mrs G probably only went out with me because I was able to woo her with its creamy charms. It’s ironic that I now think of it as a thrown together effort, but we all have to start somewhere.

The original was served with rice and chicken, but this is definitely a descendent. Let’s move on to the detail…

Ingredients

300g of mushrooms
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pack of pancetta
200ml of single cream (I used Elmlea)
A few fresh sage leaves
Grated parmesan
Your pasta of choice

Preparation

Chop the mushrooms into thick slices. Blanche the mushrooms in half a centimetre of boiling water for 5 minutes, seasoning them to taste, but don’t skimp on the salt.

Remove and reserve the mushrooms and dry the pan.

Put your pasta on to cook.

Heat a teaspoon of olive oil over a medium heat and fry the garlic for one minute. Add the chopped onion and fry for 2 more minutes, then add the pancetta, sage and mushrooms.

When the onion and pancetta is cooked through  (10 minutes or so), add the cream and stir, bringing it slowly to the boil.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss into the creamy mushrooms.

Serve topped with grated parmesan.

Chilli lime ice cream, without an ice cream maker

9 May

There’s something about the combination of heat and cold in this ice cream that I just love.

It goes perfectly with spiced pineapple, pears, or on its own. It’s incredibly refreshing, but the chilli makes it special.

The best thing about it is that you don’t need to own an ice cream maker. As long as you can remember to stir the mixture a couple of times as it’s freezing you should be OK.

Alas, the last batch was so good I ate it before I remembered to take a photo.

Ingredients

4 limes (grated zest of 2, juice of all 4)
1 or 2 chillies, split and deseeded
190g icing sugar
450ml double cream (creme fraiche does the job too though)

Preparation

Mix the lime zest, juice, icing sugar and chillies and leave to rest for an hour.

Remove the chillies and mix the cream into the lime syrup, beating gently.

Place into a sealable container and place in the freezer, stirring every hour or so until frozen.

No wheat please, she’s Coeliac

3 May

One of the missions of this blog is to promote frugal, yet good, eating. I don’t always hit the frugal mark – I just can’t resist spending money on great ingredients – but that ambition is soon to face a challenge I couldn’t have anticipated when I started writing at the beginning of the year.

My youngest daughter – MicroGast as she’s called here – has just been diagnosed with coeliac disease – a complete intolerance to gluten. This is not your common or garden wheat intolerance. This is the real deal. Ever since she was weaned nearly 18 months ago it turns out that a lot of the food she loves has been doing terrible things to her insides resulting in what we thought was a distinctly dodgy digestive system and that eventually we realised was just not normal.

So, in a few weeks time she will have a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and when that happens she must go gluten-free. Forever. Even so, it will take several months, and possibly even a year, before her guts recover and the symptoms disappear.

The irony is that before that biopsy she must continue to eat wheat like it’s going out of fashion in order not to skew the test results. We have been feeding her all manner of wheat-based delights that will probably never grace her plate again in the years to come. It feels wrong to be poisoning your baby by design, but that’s what the doctors tell us we must do.

Introducing a gluten-free diet into the family is pretty low down the list of things I planned to achieve in food this year. I know that the rest of us can eat what we like (for now – we will probably all need testing as the disease has a genetic link) but we want to make sure that we adjust our lifestyles to accommodate where possible.

It’s a challenge to be sure, not least because there seems to be gluten in a lot of foodstuffs you would never expect. And if it doesn’t contain gluten it might have been made in a factory that also handles wheat, so is it worth the risk?

There’s going to be even more home cooking than normal.

Last night, in an attempt to lighten the mood and to normalise the situation I brought home a pack of gluten-free wholemeal  ‘flour’ to bake a loaf.  This was exciting – a whole new world of baking to enjoy!

For the first attempt I decided to go for a bread machine baked loaf. There was a recipe on the back of the flour pack and so I decided to go with that. This was no normal bread recipe. It had eggs in it. And vinegar.

The bread machine was fired into life. It churned and kneaded for a while, then paused to allow the dough (if I can call it that – it was a distinctly grey-looking slop) to rise.

An hour later, my yeast curse appeared to be striking again. There was not a whole lot of rising going on. Hopes of cheering ourselves up by proving to ourselves that this gluten-free lark was going to fun were looking unlikely.

The beauty of the breadmaker is that even if you have lost interest in the whole idea, and I’m known for throwing my toys out the pram when cooking goes wrong, you can just walk away and let the beast do its stuff.

An hour of grumpiness later, the loaf was ready. It was with a fairly heavy heart that I tipped it out of the tin. It was grey and the crust looked plastic.  Suddenly I felt even sorrier for my poor daughter who was going to have to eat this muck for the rest of her life.

I tried to tear off a chunk, but it didn’t really behave like bread. It crumbled, more like a cake. Come to think of it, it smelt a lot like a cake as well. Not surprising with all those eggs.

Did it taste like a cake?

Not exactly, but it was surprisingly good. The closest thing I can compare it to is the brioche muffins that Mrs G made a couple of months ago. This is a compliment indeed as Mrs G’s muffins are a wonder of the modern age.

“Not bad is it?” I said to Mrs G, or more accurately “Mmmf baf ifih?” as I was enjoying it so much I didn’t stop eating.

“Snoff reog breh oh,” said Mrs G which I think meant “it’s not really bread though”. This was true, but it’s was a pretty fine substitute and one that I was already imagining toasted, buttered or turned into stuffing.

The next morning I slipped some into the kids’ breakfast. “Try this bread,” I smiled.

There were suspicious looks, after all no one wants to eat grey food. After a few seconds of cautious sniffing a few nibbles took place, then a smile, and then it was all gone. It wasn’t quite so successful on the lady of the moment who threw hers on the floor, but as that fate can befall even the nicest of food without any warning I didn’t take this as a bad sign.

So, gluten-free experiment number one was a success of sorts. Since then I’ve had a slice with some butter (nice) and turned the rest into a sage and onion stuffing (indistinguishable from the real thing). Suddenly, I don’t feel so bad about this after all. There’s a long way to go and the organisation that will have to be put into keeping a wheat-free environment is yet to be comprehended.

Being a lazy gastronome is going to be a whole lot harder, but no less fun.

Creamy broccoli curry

30 Apr

Broccoli curry

If you are a regular reader you will know that I have a mountain of home-cooked naan bread to get through thanks to a great, but large quantity, recipe by The Curry Guy, Dan Toombs.

So having presented me with this ever so troublesome problem of having to consume large amounts of delicious Indian bread, I turned to Dan to help me come up with the solution.

Think of this as naan accompanied by a curry, rather than the other way around.

With a similarly large amount of broccoli in the fridge courtesy of Able Cole I had to find a suitable curry and The Curry guy had the answer.

Creamy, spicy and delicious – this really was a great curry. It had overtones of Thai because of the coconut and ginger, but that didn’t stop it being an excellent dipping medium for the naan.

Dan describes this as his favourite vegetarian curry and I can’t argue with that.

Stove-top naan

29 Apr

Stove-top naan

A recent revelation for me has been how easy it is to recreate authentic Indian and Mexican breads in the comfort of your own kitchen. Chapatis and tortillas have all succumbed to my culinary prowess in the last few weeks and last night it was the turn of the naan.

I’ve been following Dan Toombs (@thecurryguy) on Twitter for some time now and this recipe caught my eye earlier in the year. It seemed simple, looked authentic – what was there to worry about?

Well, as it turned out, quite a bit, but that was more down to my inability to work with yeast than a failing in the recipe.

The ingredients in Dan’s recipe are for 5-6 naan. I managed to get 7 out of it quite comfortably and they are pretty large, so next time I’ll halve the measures.

So, onto the worry – the rising of the dough. In short…it didn’t.

I placed it near a roaring fire. I covered it lovingly with a warm, damp tea towel. I left it for a good 5 hours (the recipe says the longer the better – up to 24). Nada. This was extreme flatbread.

Fortunately this didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference. Despite my trepidation these came off the stove looking for all the world like the real deal. They tasted fantastic and (because the rest of the Indian meal was a Tesco-bought cheat) added an element of authenticity.

I made 2 at the time, then stored the dough overnight and cooked up the rest this morning. The youngest  Gastronome even demolished one for her breakfast, so they have received a stamp of approval from the fussiest eater in the house.

The rest are now in the freezer awaiting the next Indian meal.

Spicy chorizo breakfast hash

28 Apr

Chorizo breakfast hash

I’ve blogged previously about how Saturday breakfasts are characterised by ‘weekend cereal’ (i.e. sugary) and ‘second breakfast’ (i.e. more sugary, or occasionally fatty). It is the route to undoing all the good work you’ve managed in the week to eat healthily.

This morning I decided to make second breakfast the main event and try something that I hadn’t done for a while.

The result was chorizo breakfast hash – the love child of an English greasy spoon and a Spanish tapas bar

It’s gooey, crumbly, tangy, spicy – everything a good hash should be. The time investment is pretty small. You will spend most of it waiting for the potatoes to cook. I thoroughly recommend this if you want a breakfast that is a little left-field.

Ingredients

A finger’s length of chorizo, roughly chopped
4 eggs
3 medium-sized potatoes (the less waxy the better), roughly chopped into smallish chunks
4 spring onions
1 teaspoon of cumin seed
Olive oil
A knob of butter

Preparation

Boil the potatoes until they are falling apart.

Meanwhile fry the cumin feed and chorizo over a low heat until starting to fall apart.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain and mix in the spring onion, chorizo and cumin.

Keep warm while you melt the butter in the same frying pan as fried the chorizo (don’t clean it!).

Fry the eggs until cooked but the yolks are still runny.

Serve the hash topped with the eggs and enjoy.

Refreshing free-form halloumi and asparagus lasagne

26 Apr

Freeform halloumi and asparagus lasagne

I had a craving for lasagne last night. I also had a full fridge, but it wasn’t full of mince or mozzarella, so this required some creative thinking.

The answer was free-form halloumi and asparagus lasagne, or to give it its full title – free-form halloumi, asparagus, tomato, pesto, watercress…. lasagne.

It was, as the title of the post implies, pretty refreshing and although I had a big portion I felt as though I definitely could have managed some more. On the scale of faff, from ‘so quick you can cook it quicker than you can say it’ to ‘start the prep a week before because there are 100 processes’ this fell somewhere in the middle. Total prep and cook time was around 45 minutes, but it was 45 minutes of near constant effort.

That effort was well worth it and I’m already planning some refinements for another attempt in a few weeks. It will probably work just as well with whatever vegetables you choose to fill it with. The pesto was definitely trying to overpower the asparagus, but the asparagus just about held its own.

Ingredients (for 2)

8 sheets of dried egg lasagne
2 plum tomatoes
1 pack of halloumi
200g of asparagus
5 tablespoons of green pesto (from a jar)
Olive oil
Chilli-infused oil (optional)
Parmesan shavings
Black pepper

Preparation

Heat the oven to 170°c.

Cook the lasagne sheets according to packet instructions.

Meanwhile slice the tomatoes into thick slices and pan fry over a high heat until slightly charred on both side. Reserve the tomatoes for later.

Repeat with the asparagus spears until charred, and reserve.

Repeat with the halloumi (you getting the idea here?).

Mix the pesto with a good glug of olive oil, or chilli oil, to loosen it up.

Place 2 sheets of cooked lasagne on a non-stick baking tray and start to layer up your lasagne – halloumi, asparagus, tomatoes, pesto, lasagne. Repeat until ingredients are used up, topping off with a lasagne sheet and some black pepper.

Tip over any juices that are left in the frying pan, or pesto oil.

Place in the oven for 7 minutes.

When cooked through remove and push watercress leaves between some of the layers. Top with some parmesan shavings.

 

 

I could have made this myself

23 Apr

What’s the worst thing you could say about a meal out?

“I could have made this myself.”

It doesn’t mean that the meal is bad, but it’s a notch down from damning with faint praise and is one of the most disappointing feelings you can have about a much-anticipated night out.

Bad food can often be easier to cope with. You can complain.

A dish that tastes like something that comes off your stove at home on a particularly uninspiring day leaves you feeling like you are wasting your time and money. You eat it, sometimes plough through it, then pay the bill and leave with an unsatisfied sensation that ends up spoiling the rest of the day.

The prime culprits are chain Italians – Ask, Bella Italia and even Carluccio’s, but strangely not Zizzi which always impresses me. It must be the familiarity with that type of cuisine that does it. We almost all cook Italian and feel that we do it to a reasonable standard. The best Italian food is often the simplest, so when presented with penne in a tomato and sausage sauce which is undeniably good, you know that you could make it just as well at home as it had five ingredients and no processes of note. Like a diving competition where the judges’ scores are multiplied by the difficulty quotient of the dive, the enjoyment of a meal can be a factor of the execution and the complexity of the dish.

If you are going to serve something as simple as grilled ciabatta as a starter (Carluccio’s – this is you I’m talking to), it had better be a really good version.

Perhaps the chain Italian restaurants are on a hiding to nothing then – maybe all Italian restaurants are.

And when I have spent 2 years perfecting my Mexican repertoire I’m sure I’ll be saying the same thing about Mexican restaurants as well.

 

Cuban, almost one-pot, chicken

18 Apr

Cuban chicken

I can’t over-emphasise how good this is.

That’s a bold claim, but backed up Mrs G who had to work hard to keep herself to one portion. I was not so virtuous and ate a lot more than I intended to.

Easy to prepare, spicy, unctuous – this dish has it all. It’s not fine dining, and it’s not a food revolution, but it is simply great. It’s almost one pot. You have to have a bowl to hand, but in general this is light on washing up.

There are plenty of websites out there that aspire to help you plan a meal by letting you enter stuff you have in the fridge and matching it to recipes. “Overkill!” I say. Just stick it all into Google and let it do the hard work. This was the trigger for my Cuban chicken dish which was inspired by recipes discovered by searching for “chicken thigh chorizo”.

This is both an amalgamation and a simplification of what I discovered there. Let the Lazy Gastronome do the hard work so you don’t have to.

Ingredients

Marinade

2 tablespoons of olive oil
Pinch of crushed chillies
Juice of 1 lime
Teaspoon of cumin
Teaspoon of paprika
Teaspoon of allspice
Handful of chopped coriander stems

The rest

Chicken thighs or drumsticks (as many as you fancy)
Chopped chorizo
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 cups of rice
Half a pint of chicken stock
Tiniest pinch of saffron
1 large diced tomato

Preparation

Mix the marinade ingredients in a bag or large container and then mix thoroughly with the chicken. Leave for as long as you can, overnight if possible, but I only had 10 minutes and it was still great.

Dry fry the chorizo for 3 or 4 minutes until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Fry the chicken, skin side down  in a splash of olive oil and the chorizo oil, over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove and reserve.

Fry the onion and garlic in the chorizo, chicken and olive oil for 5 minutes until lightly cooked.

Add the rice and stir.

Add the leftover marinade,tomatoes, chorizo and chicken stock and stir thoroughly.

Place the chicken, skin side up, into the rice and cover.

Cook over a lot heat for 20 minutes, adding some extra stock or water if necessary.

When the rice is tender and the chicken cooked through serve in a bowl with a scattering of coriander leaves.

Lightning quick Thai butternut squash curry

18 Apr

Quick butternut squash thai curry

Yesterday I was planning on cooking some purple flowering brocoli with a Thai dressing,  but as that didn’t seem to constitute an entire meal, was hoping to serve it with a piece of meat. Rummaging in the freezer only turned up an uninspiring selection of cuts, but more helpfully did turn up a frozen moussaka which was the path of least resistance to dinner and the brocoli remained in the fridge.

Twenty-four hours later I was still in the mood for Thai, but the brocoli was demoted from star to supporting artist in a very quick red curry dish that was based closely on this recipe from Tesco.

The variation in my version came from substituting mushrooms with the purple sprouting brocoli. I can’t say whether or not this was an improvement or not, and the brocoli didn’t seem to totally fit, but it felt like an awful lot of my five a day in one dish. I also couldn’t 100% argue that the tomatoes were a perfect bed fellow to a creamy coconut sauce, but there was definitely contrast to the flavours.

Butternut squash is a wonderful vehicle for a Thai sauce, particularly when it’s done well enough to melt in the mouth.