Thursday, 19 March 2009

Mussels in a Wine & Cream Sauce

Following on from our recent visit to Conwy and the stunning Mussels we had there, I thought I would try to recreate the dish, especially when Gordon had a sack full of the last Conwy Mussels of the season on his stall. Taking away a massive amount of mollusc's my brain got a-ticking on how to proceed and came up with this:-

Mussels in a Wine & Cream Sauce

Big Pile of Mussels approx 2Kg
200ml Double Cream
200ml Dry White Wine
2 cloves of garlic
1 leek - Finely chopped
1 Lemon
Handful chopped parsley

Take 200ml of wine from the bottle and put to one side, pour some of the remaining wine into a glass, this will be required on standby during the tedious task of cleaning and de-bearding the mussels.
Heat the butter in a deep pan, add the leek and crushed garlic, cook slowly for a few minutes.
Add the Mussels, turn up the heat and cover for a few more minutes.
Add the wine, swizzle around the pan and steam the mussels for a couple of mins.
Then add the cream and scrape the zest of the lemon onto the pan and add the juice of half the lemon.
Put the lid back on for a couple more minutes, until the mussels are fully open.
Toss in the parsley.
Serve - with lots of crusty bread.

Hubby and I ate directly out of the cooking pot (saves on washing up!) dipping into the large pan full of mussels with bread and when the bread ran out spoons for we did not want to waste any of this delicious sauce. The lemon added the finishing sparkle, freshening the dish. If I dare say it was even better than the meal we had in Conwy.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Aubergine, Tomato & Taleggio Bake

Aubergines baked in a tomato sauce with cheese has long been a favourite, there are many recipes out there using variations on these ingredients. I first came across this on a flight to Menorca. Antonio Carluccio had written a piece for the in flight magazine, my father and I were so taken with it the page was surreptitiously ripped from the mag and secreted about my person. There is a very good version in Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes and any number in my various Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean cook books. Over the years I have refined my recipe to use less fat (most recipes will have you fry the aubergine in oil, I dry fry or use the George Foreman Lean Grilling Machine to get the scorch stripes) and to add a few extras if the mood takes me, but in essence it is as follows:-

2 Aubergines (eggplants) sliced 5mm thick and soaked in water for a few mins.

400g Tinned chopped tomatoes or tinned cherry tomatoes

150g Taleggio or Parmesan or Mozzarella, I prefer the strong Taleggio - sliced thinly.

Fresh Basil leaves

2 cloves garlic


(Cubed Pancetta or Sliced Mushrooms - optional)

  • Pat dry the aubergine slices

  • Dry fry in batches in a non-stick pan or an grilling machine

  • Whilst frying the aubergines, pour a good glug of oil into a pan and heat fairly high, but not smoking, add the chopped garlic and frizz, but not burn.

  • Pour in the tomatoes - it will spit. Turn down the heat to a simmer, add a few shredded basil leaves and leave for 20mins, stirring occasionally.

  • (To veer away from the classic recipes, I sometimes at this point add fried pancetta cubes or sliced mushroom to the tomato sauce).

  • Layer into an oven proof dish, tomato, some torn basil leaves, taleggio followed by aubergine, repeat.

  • Finish with a layer of sauce and make sure you have lots of taleggio left for the top.

  • Pop into the oven at 200oc for 20-30mins.

The taleggio, comes out of the oven wonderfully crispy on top and gooey inside the dish.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Pan-Fried Lamb's Livers in Sherry

Every year we get caught up in the Masterchef competition "Cooking does not get tougher than this" as Greg Wallace shouts at us year after year. Whilst we enjoy the dishes that the contestants come up with in the invention test, cringe when we hear the comments made after it has gone woefully wrong, watch in awe as they complete a "busy lunchtime service in a top London restaurant" and root for our favourite, by the end of a gruelling 6 or so weeks I can honestly say that after the final episode has been and gone and the winner walked off to their 'changed life' I cannot remember a thing about them, with one exception - Tommi Miers.
Tommi won the 2005 competition and showed us all her skill and love of Spanish and Mexican dishes. Since then she has gone on to open up two Mexican Restaurants, presented a couple of TV series, written a few books and has a column in the Times on Saturday, which I love to read. All her recipes are just what I want to cook, with more than a slight slant to rustic, peasant food - I just love her and all her recipes. One of my favourites is Pan Fried Lamb's Liver & Kidneys in Sherry A solid tapas in Spain, I cannot resist this dish, but do have a bit of a dislike for kidneys, never been able to get on with the texture of them so I leave them out.

450g Lambs Liver, sliced into small strips
2 tsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Pimenton - Smoked Paprika
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 glass Olorosso Sherry

For the Picada
2 cloves of Garlic
Large bunch of parsley, stalks removed
2 tbsp ground almonds
1 tsp sweet paprika - picante pimenton
2 tsp fresh thyme (I used 1 tsp dried)
4 tbsp olive oil

Make the Picada: put garlic into a pestle and pound until a paste, add parsley, bash until mixed well, add almonds and grind away.

Add pimenton, thyme and seasoning continue to pound away. Add olive oil and mix well. Be wowed by the fragrance then set aside.

Add oil to pan and get to a medium high heat, add the livers and fry until lightly coloured.
Sprinkle with pimenton and cayenne then add the sherry, bubble away for a few minutes over a high heat.
Stir in the picada and the sauce will thicken. Serve immediately with chopped parsley to garnish, I also had lightly toasted ciabatta and a green salad.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Hot Cross Bread & Butter Pudding

Having got too excited at the prospect of all the lovely bakery and buns that take place around Easter I bought far too much I found that I had a spare pack of Hot Cross Buns going stale in the cupboard, so rather than scarf down less than best buns I concluded to turn them into Hot Cross Bun Brad & Butter Pudding

5 Stale Hot Cross Buns
Butter or Marg
12 Floz Milk - I used Semi
3 Eggs
Light brown sugar

Heat oven to 180oc. Slice the buns three times top to bottom as you would with bread to get slices around 12mm thick.
I buttered one side and spread marmalade on the other and arranged the slices on a baking dish. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the milk and whisk together, add a few grinds of nutmeg.
Pour over the buns, giving them a little squish to make sure they have fully absorbed the liquid. Sprinkle sugar on top and bake in oven for 30-40 mins.

It made a very comforting pudding, although I wish I had some cream to pour over the top, to give a little more looseness to the dish, but a good way to clear up the left over bread.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Beef Goulash in Slow Cooker

One of my most exciting and eagerly anticipated presents for my birthday was a slow cooker (thanks Ma & Pa).
Growing up we had an aga, popping stews into the bottom oven and leaving for several hours was the norm, heavenly thick and creamy rice pudding with a crispy skin that we all fought over was a particular favourite. The only problem was that once the aga door is closed no delicious smells can escape, therefore occasionally the much anticipated meal is all but forgotten as there is no tantalising aroma to remind us, my Aunt's carbonised Jam Tarts being one memorable event and the Venison Stew that dried up and left a very thick and rich meaty tar like layer at the bottom on the pot another. We moved house and had a cooker with a gas hob I was in heaven, I had dreamed of stir frying dishes over controllable heat, not just hot or very hot with the aga, it took several years for my enthusiasm of quick and flashy hob cooking to wain and to go back to oven and slow cooking methods, this is why at the age of 38 I now have my first slow cooker.

For the first test we decided on a Beef Goulash - using the recipe provided in the instruction manual.

500g Stewing Beef, coated in seasoned flour
1 onion chopped
2 carrots chopped
1 red pepper chopped
200ml beef stock
1 tbs tomato puree
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp paprika

Fry in a pan the onion, pepper carrots until soft, remove from pan and put to one side, then fry the beef until browned, add the puree, paprika, tomatoes and stock. Put the veg back to the pan and bring to a simmer or a minute or so and then transfer into the slow cooker. Then forget about it for 5-7 hours! I served with peas and roasted potatoes. The meat was so tender it fell apart in your mouth. I have already produced another beef stew, this time with loads of chestnut mushrooms and cannot wait to try other dishes. Preparing in the morning and returning home after work to the welcoming aroma of scrumptious food, just waiting to be devoured.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Birthday Chicken

Last Thursday was my birthday, so I decided as a treat to cook my birthday dinner at my parents house, this way we could enjoy lashings of pink fizz and nibbles (quails eggs & celery salt, jumbo prawns with lemon mayonnaise and pickled anchovies with garlic - all my faves!) whilst dinner cooked leisurely in the oven and we gossipped away enjoying the evening.

After the almost success of the Slow Baked Rabbit with Chorizo & Mushrooms I plumped for cooking a chicken in the same rich chorizo, sherry and tomato sauce. Let me just say it was resounding success which everyone enjoyed. We quartered a free range chicken, pan fried till the skin was golden then whacked it all into the oven for 2 hrs as per the recipe Here. Served with roasted potato cubes and green beans - yum.

The following day Hubby and I tootled off to Conwy for the weekend at the Castle Hotel some great deals to be had for dinner bed and breakfast, lovely food, lovely staff, lovely setting we will certainly go back, if not for their Smoked Haddock & Chorizo risotto with soft poached egg, then definitely for their Mussels in cream and white wine with pesto crostini - bar food but utterly delicious especially with a decadent glass of Mumm Champagne - well it was my birthday after all!