Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Leftovers ~ Stovies

With Autumn in full force it is the perfect time of year for comfort food. The weather here is still very mixed with some beautiful crisp sunny days dotted amongst some very bleak, rainy and cold days. For the past couple of weeks we have been feasting on roasts and then using up the leftovers in whatever way I can think of (or as requested by Mr. Vanilla). Following Thanksgiving it was turkey soup, turkey and pesto pasta, turkey rolls and especially for Mr. Vanilla, turkey and leek pot pie! We then had a beautiful roast beef that we cooked very simply with just a little salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil to a perfect medium rare, served with lots of roast vegetables and of course, Yorkshire puddings. The following days we were greedily satisfied with roast beef and red onion marmalade baguettes and of course, the Scottish classic Stovies.

Now I know in some parts of Scotland Stovies are made with only potatoes, onions and then the dripping or gravy from the roast beef, but we always grew up with it as a way to use up leftover roast beef. It was Mr. Vanilla's first time trying it and all I can say is our plates were licked clean! A simple, classic Scottish dish using leftovers that was a quick and easy midweek meal but left us planning when we were next going to have another roast beef dinner!


Serves 2 generously for dinner with leftovers for lunch, or 4 small portions

Traditionally you would use 2oz of dripping from the roast beef instead of butter and oil but if you don’t have any (as I didn’t) you can use butter and oil instead which tastes great.

1oz/ 30g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 ½ lbs potatoes, peeled & sliced (approx. 4 potatoes)
3-4 tbsp beef gravy
Left over roast beef (as much as you have, or want to use!), cut into bite sized pieces
Salt & pepper

In a medium to large sized pan heat the butter and oil (or drippings if you have it) then add the sliced onion. Cook for 5 minutes or until it has started to soften but not coloured. Add the sliced potatoes and mix gently with the onions and butter so they are all coated, then add the roast beef and the gravy. Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper, then cover with a lid and cook for 30-40 minutes over a very low heat, stirring from time to time. Once the potatoes are cooked through and have broken up a bit and all the gravy has been absorbed into everything, serve at once with some good Scottish oatcakes and a cold glass of milk!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Crispy Chicken Strips & Plum Sauce

An easy, delicious and quick mid-week meal, chicken strips and plum sauce are guaranteed to go down a treat. Make plenty of plum sauce when plums are in season.

Crispy Chicken strips

Crispy on the outside and deliciously tender and moist on the inside, nothing beats these chicken strips, which I absolutely love served with homemade plum sauce. If you can, try and use Panko breadcrumbs which are very light and crunchy Japanese breadcrumbs. Although normal bought breadcrumbs do work well, Panko breadcrumbs give a much crispier end result. I like to serve these crispy chicken strips with lots of plum sauce, potato wedges and a classic green salad.

4 chicken breasts cut into long strips
2 eggs
5 tbsp flour
90g/ 3oz/ 1 ½ cups Panko breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

First you need to set up your egg, flour and breadcrumbs for dipping. On one plate put the flour and season it with a good pinch of salt and pepper. On a second plate crack the eggs and lightly beat with a fork. Finally put the breadcrumbs on a third plate. You can now start coating your chicken strips. Start with a light dusting of flour shaking off any excess, then dip into the beaten eggs and finely into the breadcrumbs. Press down slightly so that they stick and that the chicken is evenly covered. Put the chicken on a large plate and continue with the other strips until you are finished.

When ready to cook, heat the oil in a large pan (you need roughly 1 inch of oil to shallow fry them). Preheat the oven to 300F/ 150C/ GM 2. To test whether the oil is hot enough I add a cube of bread (normally just a little piece torn from the heel of the loaf). If it starts to sizzle round the edges immediately then the oil is ready. If it doesn’t, let the oil heat up for longer then try again. If it sizzles too much or the bread instantly turns colour, reduce the heat and let it cool slightly before adding your chicken strips. Add the strips in batches being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for roughly 3-4 minutes until they are golden brown all over and the chicken is cooked inside. Drain the first batch on kitchen paper then pop on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you cook the rest.

When all the chicken strips are cooked, serve with plum sauce, potato wedges and a crisp green salad.

Plum Sauce

The first time I tried plum sauce was with chicken strips here in Canada at the age of 18. Now I can’t imagine not always having a supply tucked away in my fridge as it is so good and goes with a lot more than just chicken strips!

Although you only need 3 plums for this sauce you can easily double or triple this recipe to use up more if you are lucky enough to grow your own. The sauce freezes well so make lots and always have home made plum sauce at the ready!

Makes approximately 400ml

3 large plums, stones removed & roughly chopped
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp finely grated ginger
60ml/ ¼ cup apple juice
1 tbsp tomato puree
½ tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp honey
60ml/ ¼ cup water or stock
Freshly ground black pepper

Simply place all the ingredients in a medium sized saucepan and slowly bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat slightly and gently continue to simmer for 30-40 minutes until you have a thick, delicious bright pink sauce. Check for seasoning and then allow to cool slightly before blending using a handheld blender or a liquidizer until you have a completely smooth sauce. Leave to cool completely before serving and keep the rest in a sterilized jar.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A bucket full of figs

On our second day in Pacentro, Italy, we were all sitting up on the rooftop terrace admiring the views and enjoying a lazy lunch of local bread, cheese and hams, when there was a knock at the door. After peering over the balcony Dad noticed no one there but instead what looked like a bag of food. He headed down the 3 storeys to the front door where he was greeted with a large carrier bag containing a bucket full of figs! The lady next door, a stereotypically Italian mama who dressed entirely in black and worked on her doorstep every day, had been watching the busy arrival of us all in preparation for the big wedding. Once she decided we must have all arrived she gave us a huge bucket of freshly picked figs, telling us to use what we could.

Since there were so many, we gave half of them away to other family staying close by. If I had lived there and had the proper jars or utensils I would have set to work making a chutney or jam, however I didn’t and time wasn’t on my side so instead that night I made a simple but delicious salad of figs with gorgonzola (and a mozzarella version for myself – distraught not to be able to eat blue cheese when pregnant – and Mr. Vanilla who can add blue cheese to his list of foods that I love and he hates!). The figs were absolutely delicious – sweet, bursting with sun-ripened flavour and best of all, picked freshly from a tree in the area!

Figs are going out of season now, however if you are able to get a hold of some I recommend trying the following recipes for easy starters or lunches. If you can’t get them then definitely keep these recipes in mind for next September when they are at their peak. As for me, from now on whenever I eat figs I will be sitting in Pacentro with all my family, enjoying the generosity of an Italian mama!

Figs with Gorgonzola

(Serves 6)

A couple of bags of mixed salad leaves, including rocket (arugula)
12-18 fresh figs (depending on how big they are)
A good wedge of gorgonzola
150ml Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Preheat your oven to 400F. In a small pan reduce the balsamic vinegar until it has become syrupy and you have a few tablespoons left. Set aside to cool completely. Scatter the salad leaves on a large platter or on 6 individual serving plates. Cut a cross, ¾ of the way through each fig so that the fig stays intact but you can open it up, then place a good cube of cheese in the centre of each fig. Sprinkle over some freshly cracked black pepper and a small amount of salt then place on a baking tray and bake for roughly 5 minutes or just until the cheese has melted. Serve the figs on top of the salad leaves then drizzle over the reduced balsamic vinegar and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve at once with lots of chewy, crusty bread. Delicious and easy!

Fresh Figs with Buffalo Mozzarella, Rocket & Chilli

(Serves 4)

I have been making this for years with great success. It is similar to the above recipe although you don’t bake the figs so I thought I should include it. This is as simple as it gets but with maximum results that are sure to please everyone. I like to serve it ‘family style’ on one large plate that everyone can help themselves to, however if you prefer to serve it on individual plates by all means please do so! I’ve stated 2 large handfuls of rocket which I know can seem vague and unspecific but the point is that all you need is enough to scatter and cover the bottom of your serving plate, so use as much as you see fit.

2 large handfuls of rocket (arugula) or mixed greens
6 ripe figs – either brown or green
2 x 150g balls of mozzarella
1 long red chilli
3 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
A good sprinkling of Maldon sea salt

Scatter the rocket over the bottom of your serving plate, reserving a few leaves to garnish on top. Cut the figs into quarters and casually place on and around the rocket, then do the same with the mozzarella. You don’t need to be fussy with the presentation as it is meant to be quick and casual. Finely chop the chilli – it’s up to you whether you want to keep the seeds in or not – then scatter it over the figs and the mozzarella. Finish by drizzling over the balsamic vinegar and olive oil and sprinkling a good amount of crushed Maldon sea salt over everything. Strew the reserved rockets leaves over the top and serve with some crusty French bread.

Fig and Goats Cheese Bruschetta

(Serves 4)

These are perfect as either a starter or for lunch. If you want to make it a bit more substantial serve with a larger salad with some crispy proscuitto or bacon, cut into small pieces.

4 slices of ciabatta, cut at an angle
1 clove of garlic, sliced in half
4 figs, each sliced into 3 or 4
3.5oz/ 100g soft Goats cheese
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
Drizzle of Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Mixed salad leaves or rocket to serve (optional)

Brush the slices of ciabatta with a little olive oil and grill until golden on both sides. Rub one side with a little garlic then spread with the goats cheese. Top with the sliced figs then season with salt and pepper and drizzle over a little balsamic vinegar and oil. Return to the grill and cook for a further minute to warm up the figs, being careful not to burn the toast. Serve with a small handful of mixed salad leaves or rocket drizzled with some balsamic vinegar & olive oil.


Monday, October 5, 2009

The Arrival of Autumn

There is something very comforting about the arrival of autumn. Unfortunately it does mean that summer is behind us for another year, but in its own way, autumn signals a time of comfort and warmth with all the vibrant oranges, reds and yellows nature has to offer. It is a beautiful time of year easing us gently from balmy summer nights towards the darker days of winter.

When it comes to the autumn harvest, markets and shops are over flowing with the deep tones of the last of the September berries, figs, crisp freshly picked apples and plums, mixed with the new bright bursts of squash and pumpkins sitting prominently like lanterns guiding us towards their natural glow.

Despite the crisp layer of frost this morning, today has turned into another beautiful day. There is a slight chill in the air but the sun is shining brightly and so after a lovely walk the perfect lunch for me is my carrot and ginger soup. This soup is perfect for warming you up on an autumn day and banishing any signs of that first cold. It will go fast so I recommend doubling the recipe and putting half of it in the freezer, ready for another day.

Carrot & Ginger Soup

1 tbsp Olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely sliced
1 leek, washed thoroughly and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
4-5 large carrots, (roughly 1 lb) peeled and sliced
1 tbsp ginger, peeled and sliced
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
1 litre of vegetable stock
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper
Creme fraiche or sour cream to serve (optional)

In a large pan melt the butter with the oil. Add the onion and leek and cook for roughly 5 minutes until softened but not coloured, then add the garlic, carrots, ginger and chilli. Cover and sweat the vegetables for 10 minutes before adding the stock, ground coriander and a little seasoning. Cover and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes until the carrots are soft. Cool slightly before blending in a liquidizer or processor. Taste the soup to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary, then add the fresh parsley and serve piping hot with lots of crusty bread.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Back to reality (with a full-blown cold!!)

It’s hard to believe that two days ago we were strolling through the streets of Rome, taking in the sights of the Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon, basking in 29 degree sunshine and eating as much gelato as we could fit in after the huge lunch we had devoured. Now back to reality we are home in Canada where although the sun is shining (a little) it is a much cooler 12 degrees, and the first skiff of snow has dusted the mountains. Sniffling and coughing with the obligatory cold that I always get from flying, it is time to pull the jumpers off the top shelf, put the summer clothes away and accept that here at least, summer is officially over.

I always think of October as a mystical month with crisp frosty mornings, clear starry nights and the smell of wood burning fireplaces being lit for the first time after summer. Of course the mystical part is mainly due to the excitement of Halloween where witches cackle, cauldrons boil and children’s screams of delight pierce through the night as they guise for treats.

In the meantime however, it’s back to reality and I am in need of some good old comfort food. Tonight will be dinner curled up on the sofa, blanket within reaching distance and the fire on. A perfect night for sausages with red wine, onion and thyme sauce and buttery mashed potatoes – definitely one of my top comfort meals guaranteed to warm me up and give me a huge big culinary hug.

Sausage and mash with red wine, onion & thyme sauce

Serves 2

4 good quality sausages of your choice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
250ml/ 1 cup red wine
1 bay leave
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp tomato puree or ketchup
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
Salt & pepper
125ml/ ½ cup beef stock
1 tbsp butter

For the mash:
Approx. 600g potatoes, peeled
1oz/ 30g butter
3-4 tbsp milk, warmed (I usually give it a quick blast in the microwave)
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.

Put the sausages on a baking sheet and cook for 40 minutes, turning half way through cooking.

Cut the potatoes into equal sized pieces and put in a large pan with a little salt. Cover and slowly bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender (roughly 20-25 minutes).

While the sausages and potatoes are cooking make the sauce. Heat the oil in a small pan then add the onion. Sauté for 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the wine. Bring to a simmer then add the bay leave, 2 of the thyme sprigs, tomato puree (or ketchup), sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes until it has reduced slightly then add the beef stock. Continue to simmer gently and if it starts to reduce too much, cover with a tight fitting lid (and you can always add an extra splash of wine or even water).

When the potatoes are tender drain well then return to the pan. Add the butter and a splash of the milk. Mash well and as needed add the remaining milk so that you have perfectly smooth and soft buttery mashed potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, top the mashed potatoes with the sausages then spoon over lots of the delicious, rich sauce. Sprinkle over the leaves from the remaining sprig of thyme then sit back, relax and enjoy.
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