Monday, January 31, 2011

Fast Food : Courgette & Parmesan Soup

Monday seems to have turned into a soup making night for me.  It starts with me rummaging through the fridge for dinner and finding veggies which need to be used or binned...  tonight, the humble courgette played the leading role.

This is a really flexible soup because you can change the flavours really easily.  Add a spoonful of pesto and a handful of torn basil, or a big glug of cream or creme fraiche to enrich it.  I had a lot of parsley left from the weekend which I used almost as an extra vegetable rather than a delicate herb.

Courgette and Parmesan Soup

2 large Courgette, roughly chopped
1 large Onion, roughly chopped
2 sticks Celery, roughly chopped
2 Knorr Stockpots (chicken or vegetable0
50g Parmesan, grated
50g Parsley, chopped

Put the vegetables into a large pot, cover with water and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat & sommer for 10 minutes until the courgette has begin to soften.

Strain the vegetables into a blender, add the parsley & whizz for a minute until it turns into a bright green puree.

Add the stockpots to the remaining cooking liquid & stir well.  Return the vegetable puree to the stock and reheat.

Add the grated parmesan and stir.

Soup's ready!

Funky Monkey Cupcakes

I know know I have made a rod for my own back by feeding my work colleagues of a Monday morning. They're getting brave & cheeky now & telling me what they'd like me to make... luckily it was a variation on what was already brewing in my brain.  Somebody even donated a forlorn looking battered banana to the baking fund!

So, I had a pile of bananas that had to be eaten or binned & I hate waste, so I thought I'd make some muffins.  But then I had a brainwave... cupcakes.  Recently we got a gift in work - two boxes of very pretty cupcakes all the way from the UK.  All fur coat and no knickers.  They tasted of nothing at all, the sponge was stale and the icing was absolutely vile.  I couldn't even finish half of one, and I wasn't alone.  That was my cue... I was going to make some kick-ass cupcakes.

I started off by using my basic Banana Chocolate Muffin recipe - which I doubled due to the giant bunch of bananas and while they were cooling, made the chocolate caramel buttercream icing.  This turned them into Funky Monkey Cupcakes!

Fill the muffin cases to just below half & bake for 13-14 minutes.  When cool, slice off the domed tops to create a flat surface for the icing.

Now here comes the good stuff... this icing is fantastically good because it contains real chocolate and fleur du sel caramel - two of my favourite things.  This quantity covers 34 cupcakes with some to spare as a chef's treat (well, you can't waste those decapitated cupcake tops, can you...).  It's also incredibly easy if you make it in a large food processor with a cover, otherwise you'll be choking on clouds of icing sugar!

Chocolate Caramel Buttercream Icing

300g softened Butter (make sure it's really squidgy)
700g Icing Sugar
1tbsp Cocoa (I use Green and Blacks)
100g Chocolate, melted & slightly cooled
2 tbsp Fleur du Sel Caramel

Mix the butter, cocoa and icing sugar together until it becomes light and fluffy.

Add the melted chocolate and mix well.  Add the caramel and mix again until everything is very well combined and the icing is a gorgeous brown colour.

Now it's application time.  You can smooth it on with a palette knife or be all posh & use a piping bag like I did to create lovely cupcake swirls all over the top.  As they contain butter, I'd recommend storing them somewhere very cool (the fridge is an ideal spot).  They won't last too long though.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fast Food : Broccoli Soup

I love green veggies (with the exception of peppers... yuck) & would eat them night and day if I had the chance. The Hubs prefers peas.  Yes, just peas.  If they were banned, I think he'd cry.So that's why I never ask him what veggies he wants as the guaranteed response will be "peas, please".  Now they are gorgeous & make fabulous soup, especially with a bit of mint and creme fraiche.  But there was a giant head of broccoli in the fridge that needed a good home, so soup it became.

This has to be the easiest soup I've ever made in my life.  It helps massively if you have a food blender, food processor or stick blender, as it reduces the veggies to a puree in seconds.   They're not expensive, so it is worth  spending a few euro on the appliance of your choice.  Lots of recipes use potato to thicken the soup, but I had half a punnet of chestnut mushrooms in the fridge, so I used them instead... it worked a treat!

Broccoli Soup

1 head of Broccoli, broken into florets
1 large Onion, chopped
100g Mushrooms, wiped & trimmed
1 Knorr Stockpot - Chicken or Vegetable

Put all of your vegetables into a large pot, add enough water to barely cover them & bring to the boil.  Reduce and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the broccoli is just tender.

Now put the vegetables into a blender, adding a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid & blend until pureed.  An easy way to strain the vegetables is to put a colander over another pot & pour the vegetables into it - the liquid goes into the pot & the veggies are separate, ready for blending.

Add the stockpot to the cooking water, let it dissolve & return the pureed vegetables to the stock.

Reheat and serve.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ultimate Chocolate Brownies (inspired by Lorraine Pascale)

For the past 3 weeks, the Twitterverse has been buzzing on Monday evenings.  And it's all about baking, or more precisely the fabulous new show on BBC2 - Baking Made Easy with Lorraine Pascale.  Talk about having it all - she used to be a supermodel, and then decided she liked food more and retrained as a chef, with a love for pastry.  Talk about a complete career change!  The show is just lovely with an amazing kitchen (I am lusting over it), a fantastic soundtrack and most importantly, achievable gorgeous food.  Oh, and the wonderful Sharon Hearne-Smith worked on the show, so Lorraine is in good company, seeing as SH-S has also worked with our very favourite American cook, Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame.

I had forgotten to delete Monday's episode from my Sky planner, so when The Hubs saw it, he thought it would do no harm to watch it.  10 minutes later, he was nudging me & imploring me to make the brownies.  How could I resist such blatant begging?  Actually I had already bought a packet of Chocolate Oreos the night before because I was going to make them anyway, but a bit of gratitude goes a long way...

There's also a Baking Made Easy book which I snagged for myself during the week - I can't wait to get stuck in & start baking!

Ultimate Chocolate Brownies

165g Butter
200g Dark Chocolate, grated or finely chopped
3 Eggs
3 Egg Yolks
1 Vanilla Pod/1tsp Vanilla Paste
165g Soft Light Brown Sugar
2 tbsp Plain Flour
1 tbsp Cocoa Powder
Pinch of Salt
1 packet of Oreo Cookies (I used the Chocolate ones)
Icing Sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180c/350F/Gas 6.  Grease a 20cm/8in square baking tin with butter, then line with baking paper with the paper overlapping the sides a little.

Melt the butter in a pot over a medium heat. When the butter has melted, remove it from the heat and add the grated (or chopped) chocolate.  Leave to stand for a few minutes, or until the chocolate melts, and then stir together. 

Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and vanilla together in a large bowl until the eggs begin to get light and fluffy. Add the sugar in two additions, whisking between each. Pour it around the side of the egg mix so as not to knock out the air that has been whisked in. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes stiffer. 

Once the egg mixture is ready, pour the chocolate into it - again around the sides so as not to knock the air out.  

Add the flour, cocoa powder, salt and two thirds of the biscuits and stir until fully combined, then pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Scatter the remaining biscuits over the top, pressing them in slightly. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 minutes. The middle should be very so slightly gooey. 

Leave the brownies to cool in the tin - the top will sink and crack a little.

Pull the brownies out using the overlapping paper and cut into squares. Dust with icing sugar.

Fast Food : Courgette Fritters

Some call them zucchini, we call them courgettes and I absolutely love them.  You can stuff and bake them, turn them into a silky-smooth soup, fry them with lemon and garlic or do what I did on Wednesday night and turn them into crispy, pillowy delicious fritters.

There's a couple of tricks to turn them into fritters.  Firstly, you need to grate them.  If you have a food processor with a grating disc, then use it. It reduces the courgettes into teeny tiny shreds in mere seconds and saves you heaps of time.  But if you don't, it will only take a few minutes using a hand grater.

When you have a pile of green shreds, get a white tea towel & dump the courgettes into the middle,  Gather it into a bundle, bring it over to the sink & squeeze.  Repeat until floods of green water have come through the towel & the remaining courgettes feel solid & dry.  This is great for toning your arms too... see, cooking is good for you!

Now on with the recipe...

Courgette Fritters

2 medium Courgettes, grated & squeezed dry
1 tbsp Plain Flour
2 Eggs, beaten
1 tbsp Herbs, finely chopped - try mint, parsley, chives or thyme
Zest of 1 lemon
1 clove of Garlic, minced
2 Spring Onions, shredded
Salt & pepper
Oil for frying

Once your courgettes have been grated & squeezed dry to remove all of the liquid, put them into a large bowl.

Add the flour, eggs, herbs, lemon zest, garlic, spring onions and seasoning & mix well.

Heat the oil (I use Rapeseed) in a large frying pan & place tablespoons of the mixture into the pan,  Gently flatten down with the back of the spoon and cook for a few minutes until the bottom is golden brown.  Leave them alone until you can see the golden edges - they're a bit fragile and need to be undisturbed or they'll just disintegrate.  Flip them over with a spatula or palette knife & give them another few minutes until cooked.

Remove from the pan & serve with a wedge of the zest-less lemon.  Eat immediately.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lazy Bolognese

Yes it rhymes... isn't that clever!  It's called Lazy Bolognese for a very good reason... I use a *shock* bought pasta sauce when I make bolognese.  But not any old jar, it has to be Loyd Grossman's pasta sauce because it's as close to making it from scratch as I can find.  Usually I use Primavera, but I couldn't see it when I was shopping, so I used a jar of Bolognese which has pieces of carrot & celery in it.

I always try to use lean minced beef when I make bolognese and the one thing I am insistent upon is that you cook the mince in a dry pan and drain the mince when it's cooked.  The amount of fat left behind would scare the bejeesus out of you - have a look at the photos below if you don't believe me - and I used 90% lean beef.
Once I bought some "economy" mince & nearly died when I drained over 400ml of fat from a 900g pack... that's just vile.

Lazy Bolognese (feeds 7-8)

900g Lean Minced Beef
3 Onions, chopped
1 tbsp Rapeseed Oil
1 425g jar Loyd Grossman Bolognaise Sauce
200ml Red Wine
2tbsp Sun Dried Tomato Puree
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Heat the oil in a large frying pan & add the onions, sauteeing until soft.  Transfer to a large pot & wipe the frying pan with some kitchen paper.

Return the frying pan to the heat & add half of the minced beef, season with pepper and fry until browned.  Drain & add to the onions.  Wipe the frying pan & repeat with the rest of the mince.

And that's why you should cook mince in a dry pan...

Now add the sauce to the mince & onions.  Pour the red wine into the sauce jar, seal & shake to release the last of the sauce - add it to the mince.  Stir in the sundried tomato puree & bring the pot to the boil.

Reduce the heat & simmer for 25 minutes.   Taste for seasoning & adjust if necessary.

This freezes beautifully, so it's great to make a large batch & freeze it for lazy dinners... let it cool completely before you refrigerate or freeze it though

Christmas Dinner Part Deux

As I may have previously mentioned, myself & The Hubs got to spend Christmas Day on our own at home, having a non-turkey dinner and it was all fabulous.  Mammy In Law was meant to come down to us on St. Stephen's Day for Christmas Dinner Part Deux complete with turkey, but a combination of her falling (she's ok) & our water vanishing (came back after 4 days) meant that we had to put the plans on hold until the New Year.

So, a date was set, which happened to be the first Friday of January which meant that I was just back to work & barely coping with the lack of lie-ins - you do turn into an absolute slug during the holidays - and decided to prepare some of the dinner in advance.  On Thursday night, I made the Spiced Red Cabbage because it takes a good hour to cook & I didn't want any stress.  And yes, that does mean I can sometime be rather lazy & take every available shortcut to save time (as you will find out soon...)

As we didn't eat until after 8pm, I decided to skip the starter & go straight for the main course

We had a Three Bird Roast from Aldi - I've cooked this before and it's remarkable value at €12.99 - it cooks from frozen in 2 hours and is very moist, although I wouldn't really rate the stuffing because mine is far nicer!
The plate was also full of veg - Spiced Red Cabbage, Garlicky Green Beans with Shallots and the old favourite, Hasselback Potatoes.  The silence was deafening as the three of us bent our heads & only came up for air occasionally!

Dessert was a Chocolate Fondant Gateau (sent to me by friends in Paris via my parents) - it's a packet mix but all it contains is chocolate, cocoa, sugar & flour, so you still add your butter and eggs before it is baked in the oven.  I served it with a homemade Lime Creme Fraiche and a large spoon of Haagen Daaz Chocolate, Pralines & Caramel Ice Cream.

We could barely move afterwards... just a short shuffle to the sofa with a bottle of  Muscadet sur Lie made for a very relaxing evening.

Spiced Red Cabbage

A lot of people have a "thing" about red cabbage, thinking it's all vinegary & sour when you cook it and make a big whingy face when you mention cooking it.  Well you haven't tasted mine...

Luckily my lovely Mother in Law adores the stuff - she never makes it herself as it's more of a group dish, so she was very happy when she heard I had made some for Christmas Dinner Part Deux.  It's very economical - this quantity would feed 8 people as a side dish and it freezes beautifully - perfect for those cold winter evenings.  For this recipe, I just used cinnamon sticks, but I have put cloves & grated apple in before & it is gorgeous.  I'd recommend that you put the cloves in a little muslin bag though & remove it at the end of cooking - there's nothing worse than biting down on a full clove & thinking that you've broken a tooth!

Spiced Red Cabbage

1 large Red Cabbage
25g Butter
2 Red Onions, finely sliced
1 Orange (zest & juice)
1 Cinnamon Stick
150ml Red Wine
150ml Water
1tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
Freshly ground Black Pepper

 Whoops - no oranges or red onions...

Peel off the outer leaves of the cabbage, then cut into quarters and remove the core.  Either slice thinly by hand with your sharpest knife, or use your food processor to reduce the cabbage to thin shreds.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan, then add the onions & cook for about 5-8 minutes until softened,  Add the orange zest and cinnamon stick & black pepper and cook for another minute.

Now add the cabbage, red wine, vinegar & water.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover & cook for about 45-60 minutes until the cabbage is soft & tender.

Check it every 20 mins or so & give it a stir so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.  Taste for seasoning & adjust if necessary.

Remove the cinnamon stick before serving!