Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Greek Lamb with Orzo - A Tuesday Treat

Evening readers, I have a delicious, super easy but tremendously tasty meal to share tonight. It's one I've made a few times and is great for a family meal but also for entertaining, particularly due to its obscurely named ingredient. Orzo is just a type of pasta, shaped a bit like a grain of rice but slightly larger. It therefore takes an incredibly short amount of time to cook (if you were to boil it, as is the usual method of cooking pasta) although the way it is cooked in this recipe takes somewhat longer.

Greek lamb with orzo by Mary Cadogan on BBCGoodFood feels like the type of meal you might order in a typical Greek restaurant on a typical Greek holiday at the end of a typically Greek day at the beach, wishing you were a little cooler, swimming in the tremendously salty sea to cool off, and going for an evening stroll to choose where to eat from a plethora of inviting restaurants. I think the placemat in the photo is slighty reminiscent of the sea actually; perhaps that's why my imagination is running wild with memories of Greek holidays!

So, as I've done with previous recipes, I'm going to just go through the main points of the recipe which may be helpful, plus some general photos. There isn't much I do differently in the method, other than take the cooking time down by 15 minutes in step two, purely for reasons of time, but also because I've done that every time I've cooked it and the meat has turned out perfectly tender. I also find slightly above 160C, more like 170C, is fine if you need to save time (albeit 15 minutes isn't very much).

Generic ingredients shot

So the first step couldn't be easier. There is no sealing of the meat, you just throw the cubed lamb, sliced onion, herbs and spices into a casserole (I'm using my trusty, beautiful Le Creuset which I got for Christmas, thanks to my wonderful MIL).

Give it all a good stir...

...and put it in the oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes. This will nicely brown the meat and it will even start to crisp up and develop some flavour.

Remember to prepare your stock a little before the lamb is to be removed from the oven. I just used a stock cube, but obviously you may use home made "real" stock, which, I must admit, I have never made myself!

The lamb should look something like this when you remove it from the oven.

Add the tomatoes and stock, give it another good stir, and return to the oven, covered, for 1 1/4 hours (or add the extra 15 minutes if you like).

Prepare the orzo ready to be added to the lamb.

Remove the casserole from the oven once again,

add the orzo

and stir well.

On the final removal from the oven, it should look something like this. You can see the meat is tender and falling apart.

Give it another final stir,

and serve.

This meal serves up perfectly for children as well as adults. It is healthy and very, very tasty. Both my boys asked for more, and fortuntely there were a few scrapings left. 

Don't forget to add copious amounts of parmesan!

This is such a delicious meal and will really go down well with everyone, and is also a change for children who like eating pasta, as so many do. Orzo is certainly easier to eat than lots of other pasta shapes! There is nothing at all difficult about cooking this meal; the ingredients are all simple, and you will find Orzo in the pasta aisle of most larger supermarkets. As you can see, I got mine in Tesco (surprise!), but I have also seen it in Morrisons and Asda. The only thing you do need is a little more time, but a lot of it is oven time, so you can do other things while it's in.

So, be a little adventurous with a new ingredient this week, even if it is really an old ingredient in disguise. As always, I'd love to see your photos if you make it; share them on the Facebook page or send me a message via the same. 

Happy cooking :)

x Sam

Monday, 27 April 2015

Veggie cakes bakealong

Everyone! I'm really excited to write this post because it's regarding something I've been wanting to do for ages but which I hadn't been able to find the time to fit in. I mentioned in this post my love of unusual cake ingredients, and I've been coming across more and more exciting and innovative cake recipes lately, incorporating the most fantastic veggies. So I have decided to hold a bakealong and I would be so excited for as many people to get involved as possible.

How does it work?

Between tomorrow, Tuesday 28th April, and Monday 4th May, choose a cake or traybake style recipe which includes a vegetable as its main ingredient. Bake it, photograph it, choose some willing recipients and consume! To make it even more fun, don't let on to your eaters that there is anything unusual about your cake and see if they notice anything. The most likely thing they will notice is the moistness, as cakes baked with vegetables are usually tremendously moist. Or, if there is a group of you who would like to bake, each bake your cake but don't reveal to each other what your secret ingredient is, and have fun guessing what each others are. Maybe you could hold an afternoon tea!

Once you've taken your photos, post them on the Facebook page using the title "Veggie cakes bakealong" so everyone can see what you've made. You can join the event there too. Afterwards, I'll put together a blog post to showcase all your hard work.

Since this is the recipe which inspired me to hold a bakealong, I'll share it as the first of a few recipes to help inspire you; Sweet potato brownies from Deliciously Ella.

 Image from deliciouslyella.com

I absolutely adore sweet potatoes (though husb thinks I cook with them far too much, so I'll definitely be keeping this ingredient a secret until the first bite!) so this is an obvious choice for me. I purchased the required raw cacao from the fantastically named Beanfreaks health food shop on Albany Road in Roath, Cardiff, and the remaining ingredients from Tesco.

Another simply delicious brownie recipe which I actually baked a couple of years ago is this beetroot brownie from BBC Good Food. Really, incredibly moist and delicious; I highly recommend it.

Image courtesy of bbcgoodfood.com

Another interesting Good Food recipe, for a cake this time, is this Frosted Courgette and Lemon cake. It really is as delicious as it looks; I've made it at least twice, though I do recommend you eat it on the day it's made.

Image courtesy of bbcgoodfood.com

Another delicious recipe I've made a few times is the Hebegebe cake in River Cottage Cakes. It's a chocolate courgette cake and really is mouthwatering. So if you happen to own that book and haven't yet tried the recipe, now's the time!

Please feel free to bake any cake you like though, based on the criteria. It can be from a book or online, from a supermarket free magazine or an expensive, glossy foodie magazine, or maybe handed down through many generations on a ragged piece of parchment. The idea is to experiment and have fun. I can't wait to see what you bake and eat!

xxx Sam

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Laid-back bowl of roast

Do you ever crave the delicious taste of a Sunday roast but without the formality it inherently entails? Oh, and the amount of washing up! Last Sunday I had to invent a meal on the spur of the moment, which is something I very rarely do, but I hadn't been sure of what we would be doing on the day (after going to church in the morning) and whether or not we'd be at home. As it happened, we did end up being at home, so in the morning I had a quick brain scan of what I could remember being in the fridge (plus a little help from Tesco metro), and managed to cobble together in my mind something which encapsulated the taste of a roast, but with a bit of quirkiness and zing. Enter, laid-back roast in a bowl. 

This dish worked out so well because, although I rarely make a roast, my mouth was really watering for one, so it was a really easy option, using only one large roasting tray and a frying pan. The cooking time admittedly isn't too shy of the time it takes to put a roast together, but as I said before, the lack of washing up makes it worth it.

To make your own laid-back bowl of roast, you will need:

Selection of root vegetables (I used a majority of sweet potato, plus a couple of potatoes and a parsnip I needed to use up)
Chicken breasts for however many people you are feeding
Chestnut mushrooms
Clove or two of garlic
Celery salt
Olive/rapeseed/sunflower oil (whichever is your preference)
Approx. 1cm slice of butter

Pre-heat oven to fan 190C.

Chop up the root veg into smallish pieces approximately 1 1/2" across, place in a saucepan of water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, simmer for no longer than five minutes. If you are using parsnips, I would recommend adding them once the water is simmering as they can soften to nothing before you realise. Empty the roots out onto a large roasting tray, toss in oil and season, then arrange so as to leave a space in the centre for the chicken breasts. Place in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, remove from the oven and add the chicken to the tray, taking care to baste the chicken as you add it, and season once in place. Put back in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. If you are cooking this for a larger number of people, just use two separate roasting trays, one for the veg and another for the chicken. You could certainly use a whole chicken if you are cooking for a lot of people, just check the cooking time and adjust the sequence for adding everything to the oven accordingly. You would most likely need to put the chicken in before the roots.

Prepare the remaining vegetables.

Slice the leeks, peel and slice the chestnut mushrooms and cut the garlic into thin slices. Peel the shallots.

When there are 20 minutes left on the timer, add the butter to a large frying pan, melting it but taking care not to let it burn.

Add the sliced leeks, mushrooms and garlic and soften on a medium to low heat for about ten minutes, covering once the leeks are nicely falling apart. Stir occasionally.

Once the veg has nicely softened, remove the lid, add the shallots and turn up the heat. You want to give the softened veg a nice, golden crispiness, and also cook the shallots sufficiently (if you prefer, you could roast the shallots for approximately 20 minutes, just throw them in the roasting tin with the roots.)

At this point, you need to add the piece (ou est le "e accent"?) de resistance; celery salt. Give it a generous shake, along with some salt and pepper to your taste. This will give this dish the unique taste I was so delighted with; as the veg becomes golden, the celery salt will cling and imbue it with flavour.

Keep on the hob until the roots and chicken are ready.

When the chicken has been removed from the oven, place it on a chopping board and shred...

...then add to the pan with the leeks...

...followed by the roots.

Stir to combine, then serve in large bowls.

You will (hopefully) find the oil and butter used in the cooking make this meal plenty moist enough without being greasy, and render the usual British desire for gravy on one's roast unnecessary.The celery salt really does make this meal though. If you've never used it, it can be found in the herbs and spices section of your supermarket. It isn't an obscure ingredient, so you shouldn't need to visit a particularly large supermarket, but it probably won't be stocked in an express style shop.

This meal went down really well in our house; the Tonjus loved it, and husb and I guzzled it down (in the most civilised way, I assure you.) Actually, I am always the last to finish because I savour eating, so there was less guzzling done by me, but there was plenty of appreciation. 

So maybe, if you were thinking about what to eat tomorrow but really didn't fancy getting out an array of pots and pans to cook a roast, you'll consider this instead. I'd love to know how it goes if you do, so please send a message via the facebook group, (post on the wall or leave a message) or link on the comments section here.

As always, thanks so much for reading :)

x Sam

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Cornmeal-fried pork chops with goats' cheese smashed potatoes

Good evening my discerning readers! This evening I have the most delicious recipe to share with you, which I tried out this week. It's from the actually rather famous website Smitten Kitchen, owned and written by Deb Perelman, which, I must admit, I only recently stumbled upon online, although I had heard of it some time ago. There are some severely mouth-wathering recipes to be found there, in fact, Deb must be one busy lady to make time to experiment with all those dishes. I believe some are her own invention and others are reviews of other cooks' recipes, as is this one (details in the recipe link).

The recipe I made was Cornmeal-fried pork chops with goats' cheese smashed potatoes, and if that title isn't self explanatory, I don't know what is, but I can assure you that the flavours in this dish will blow you away. So simple yet rich; few ingredients yet the way they play off one another is delicious.
 I clearly wasn't thinking when I started this dish, as I haven't taken my standard "ingredients" photo - alas! The ingredients are listed on the recipe page linked to above, so please click there for that information.

The first step of this simple recipe is to bash out your pork chops to about 1/8" thick. Bash bash bash! I just used my marble chopping board as a base and covered over only the tops of the chops with clingfilm before giving them a good bash. The chops I used were already reasonable thin, and I also found them considerable easier to bash out than chicken breasts, which are really the only other meat I've pounded flat.

The next step is to marinate the chops in buttermilk for at least four hours, preferably overnight. I only had two hours, but this seemed to work fine. Once marinated, the chops are removed from the buttermilk, the residue removed, and they are seasoned before being dredged in a bowl full of cornmeal (I used polenta, I believe it was a fairly coarse grind).

Unfortunately I seem to have another omission here, as I don't have a photo of the polenta dredging stage, but let me assure you that the buttermilk enables the polenta to adhere beautifully to the chops, and they transfer fantastically well to the frying pan, losing barely any crumbs. The recipe recommends using two frying pans, oiled and preheated, and a bit of faffing around with changing oil when the chops are turned over. I managed to fit four chops in one pan, snuggly admittedly, but there was no excessive charring or making of crumbs, as the original recipe creator seems to have feared.I made three chops for Husb and meto share, and one for the boys to share between them.

I used rubber ended tongs to place the chops into the pan and also to turn them over and remove them, which definitely helped reduce the risk of losing slabs of beautifully crisp polenta coating to the depths of the pan!

 I'd put the potatoes on to boil so that the end of their cooking co-incided with the pork being ready. As this is the UK, and we don't have such an ingredient as "half and half" as specified in the recipe, I went with Deb's suggestion of using half milk and half double cream, so also prepared this mixture, having brought it to the boil ready to pour over the smashed potatoes.

Now I must tell you, smashed potatoes are not like generic mashed potato. Because they are still reasonably intact, their flavour is preserved. Also, the type of potatoes one would use the smashing (or crushing) method on tend to be baby sized, with their skin still on, and flavoursome. I used Charlotte potatoes for this recipe as those were the baby sized potatoes thay were available in Tesco, and I often use them because of their slightly sweet taste. They were perfect!

 I wish this photograph could convey the pleasingness of the tastes found therein; the meltingness of the butter, the richness of the goats' cheese and cream, the freshness of chives and the saltiness of seasoning. It does, in fact, look like a rather uninspiring photo of a bowl of potatoes with something white chucked over them, with a few flecks of green. Let me assure you though, that, in this case, a picture does not speak a thousand words, and that you are missing out if you do not eat this meal.

I didn't accompany this dish with anything green or leafy, and, surprisingly for me, even with hindsight I don't know that I would accompany it with anything next time I make it. Certainly I absolutely love salad and jazzed up green beans, for instance, which I might have made had I had my brain been switched on, but this dish is so rich and flavoursome that I don't feel any addition to the plate would be necessarily beneficial. Having said that, something refreshing your mouth every so often from the richness of the flavours could be welcome. It is also filling, due to its richness, and even though the portions were not huge by any means, I had definitely eaten my fill by the time I'd finished. Perhaps this dish would be best followed by a pallette cleansing sorbet, and that is said in no way to disparage the recipe, which I urge you to go and make as soon as you possibly can!

So coming up on the blog, I have home made cereal bars to share with you. A quest, in fact, for the perfect home made healthy snack, and some more baking with vegetables, besides many more meal recipes, of which I am rapidly accumulating photos.

Happy cooking; embrace the freedom of creating in your kitchen!

x Sam
Cooking for Sanity