Cheese and parma pastries

Last weekend, lovely chap got out of bed, wandered off downstairs, and I lay there looking forward to tea being delivered very shortly.

He was gone absolutely ages! Finally, he returned upstairs.

“Where have you been?” I asked

“I’ve been busy”, was the reply. “I’ve put all the washing out, tidied around, made tea, and I’ve made you these”.

He’d used up a bit of leftover puff pastry that had been lurking in the fridge and wrapped this around some cheese and parma ham.

Top start to the weekend!

Cheese and parma ham pastries

Cheese and parma ham pastries

Filo cottage pie with grilled polenta

We had some leftover roast carrots and parsnips, a roll of cheap filo pastry we found in the reduced, and a slab of polenta… what can you do with that little lot?

First, we fried off some frozen beef mince (so much more value than fresh, but that’s just my opinion), added the leftover veggies, transferred to an ovenproof dish and scattered a light dusting of parmesan cheese over the top.

Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta

Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta

Then, we melted some butter and brushed this over one sheet of pastry. Another sheet was added and this too was brushed with butter. The two sheets were then cut into six equal (ish) parts. Each of these was pushed and twisted in the middle to make flower-like shapes, and laid on the top. The whole thing was baked at 180 degrees for about half an hour (or until the pastry is nice and brown and crunchy).

Last of all we sliced some polenta, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and griddled in a hot pan to get the lovely scorch marks. A sprinkling of fresh chives finished it off nicely.

Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta

Filo cottage pie with griddled polenta

Verdict? Scrummy!

Rhubarb vodka

Flavoured vodka isn’t all that common in the UK, so with the first crop of rhubarb ready in the plot, I decided to make my own. I made some last year, and it’s ridiculously simple for such a lovely end product.

Rhubarb vodka ingredients

 

You’ll need:
1 litre of vodka – any cheap stuff will do – but this was on offer this week
5 sticks of washed rhubarb
1 cup of sugar
Large Kilner jar

Chop up the rhubarb and add to the jar. Add the sugar and vodka and seal. Give it a good old shake to agitate, then pop it in a cupboard out of the way. Every now and then, give the jar a gentle shake to keep mixing the flavours.

Rhubarb vodka

Rhubarb vodka

In about 2 to 3 months, it will be ready. At that stage, drain the liquid through a sieve and decant back into the empty bottle (which you saved). You will be rewarded with a beautifully smooth, slightly syrupy, pink liqueur.

Lush!

Chicken and leek pie

We still had a handful of leftover chicken to use up… we throw NOTHING away food-wise!

Today I decided to send it out in style, by transforming it into a chicken and leek pie… so simple, but so delicious.

First up, I heated a little oil and butter in a pan and tossed in two cloves of finely chopped garlic. I added a couple of sliced leeks and a good glug of white wine. After the wine had cooked off, I added a good glug of cream and the leftover chicken. We also had a handful of leftover onions and roasted purple sprouting broccoli from the weekend, so that all went in too. Once warm, I spooned the mixture into a pyrex dish, rolled out some puff pastry and made a lid. This I brushed with beaten egg so it will go lovely and brown.

I then cooked for about 35 minutes at 180 – just until the lid had puffed up and was brown.

Verdict? Delicious!20170412_120832[1]

Sesame chicken and warm salad

The weather was blooming gorgeous this weekend, so as the garden is looking so good at the moment, we had an impromptu barbeque. The tripod barbeque came out of hiding and we proudly set it up on the decking, along with chairs for our guests and outside table laden with condiments, cutlery and the family favourite: spinach and water chestnut dip.

The menu was simple: a couple of chickens started off in the oven and finished on the barbeque, sausages and onions cooked in a pan outside. In addition, we served roasted purple sprouting broccoli in garlic and a huge salad. The food went down a storm, our guests had a great time, and we congratulated ourselves on turning a party around with a moment’s notice.

After everyone had gone, we had leftovers. A large tub of salad and another of chicken. The chicken went into a couple of sandwiches for lunch, but last night we wanted to use it up… and this is where the good bit happened!

The majority of chicken was heated up in a pan with some garam masala and a good spoon of sesame seeds (there’s still a handful of chicken left, but we’ll come to that in a later post). The baby gem lettuce leaves were griddled in the griddle pan so they were slightly wilted but with scorch lines across them. Next, the leftover sliced radish, cucumber and cherry tomatoes were tossed around a pan with some chopped garlic so they were warm but still had a crunch. The whole lot was tossed into a bowl and we tucked in. A sprinkle of coriander leaves and the dish was complete. The verdict? Absolutely blinking delicious – warm salad is so tasty!

Sesame chicken and warm salad

Sesame chicken and warm salad

Spinach and water chestnut dip

This is a really easy dish that goes down a storm at gatherings. The dip is made and served in a hollowed out bloomer loaf. Guests then eat the dip with the bread, cutting or tearing the loaf until there is none left.

Ingredients
approx 300g frozen spinach
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup soured cream
1 small tin of water chestnuts (finely chopped)
3 spring onions (finely chopped)
1 vegetable stock cube (crumbling variety)
Small bloomer loaf

Defrost and drain the spinach – squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Chop up the spinach so that it comes apart easily in the dip.

Add the mayonnaise, soured cream, water chestnuts, spring onions to a bowl and stir together. Crumble in the stock cube and stir again. Add the spinach and mix well. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the flavours to blend together.

Cut the middle from the loaf, and take out the excess bread – you should be left with the shape of a bowl. Put the spinach into the bread, slice up the excess bread into chunks and arrange these around the side.

A guaranteed showstopper at parties 🙂

Seabass and leek bake

There’s a chap in our town who’s a keen allotment keeper. He grows so much stuff that often he will put a basket outside his house where you can buy vegetables. Driving past last week, I noticed the piles of booty and pulled over for a good old rummage. I snaffled up a bag of purple sprouting broccoli, a bag of leeks and a bag of parsnips – for the grand old price of £1.50. Dutifully posting the money through his door, I whizzed off home with my haul.

Last night we decided to do something with the leeks. I also had a bag of spring greens that needed using up. The leeks and greens were chopped up and soaked in cold water – this both cleans them up and brings anything slightly on the wilty side back to life.

 

Leek and spring greens

Leek and spring greens

The leeks and greens were then sweated down with garlic and white wine, and a tub of creme fraiche was added at the end. This mixture was transferred into an oven-proof dish. We then added two seabass steaks to the pan and lightly cooked them with some lemon slices, for extra flavour. These were then laid on top of the leeks.

 

Seabass steaks

Seabass steaks

Last weekend I made a batch of cheese scones – so to use these up, they were sliced and laid on the top – a bit like dumplings. A generous scattering of cheese was added to the top, and the whole lot was popped in the oven at 180 for 30 minutes.

Seabass and leek bake

Seabass and leek bake

The result? Absolutely blooming delicious! And there is enough leftover for my lunch today!

The cost: Leeks 50p, Greens 65p, Seabass steaks reduced to £1.50, creme fraiche 60p… so well under £3 for three portions. And who said you couldn’t eat fab food on a budget!

Curried parsnip soup

Earlier this week, lovely man came striding home, clutching a rather large bag of parsnips. Waggling them under my nose, he announced, “20p… 20p!”. He continued “20 blinking p! For ALL THESE”. He then waggled them at me again, just in case I hadn’t seen them the first time.

“Brilliant!” I trilled… whilst thinking “What the actual chuff are we going to do with ALL THOSE? We’ll be living off parsnips FOREVER! We will smell of parsnips, FFS!”

I repeated… “Brilliant…. whatever shall we do with all those, darling?”

“No idea – but we’ll think of something,” he said confidently.

For a couple of days, the parsnips sat on the kitchen counter, looking at me. I glared back, trying to summon up some inspiration. Today I decided that they were going to have it… I was going to rustle them into something delicious. A quick Google later, and I had a recipe for curried parsnip soup. It went a bit like this…

  1. Peel and chop the parsnips into cubes
  2. Sautee two onions in some butter, and add ALL THE PARSNIPS
  3. Add about a litre of chicken stock, two teaspoons of medium curry powder and a teaspoon of crushed chillies
  4. Simmer until the parsnips are cooked
  5. Blend until smooth and stir in a big dollop of double cream
  6. If it’s too thick, add a bit of cream, milk or water

I now have four pots of the stuff ready to freeze. I’ve just had a taste, and, Oh My Goodness – it’s a taste sensation. Seriously one of the best soups I’ve ever made… and I’ve dabbled with a few.

My life is now complete

AMEN to curried parsnip soup!

 

Blackberry vodka – the update

You may remember, way back in September

(oooh… almost sounds like the beginning of a cheesy Christmas song!)

No… I didn’t give you my heart or anything sloppy like that… I steeped blackberries in sugar and vodka – which, incidentally was A LOT more exciting!

Well, this week was the time to finish off the vodka and sample my concoction. The timing wasn’t specific – the whole thing’s taken around three months from start to finish.

What to do…

  1. Screw tops off bottles
  2. Sniff contents and have cheeky swig
  3. Empty bottles completely of blackberry and vodka
  4. Sample a blackberry
  5. Bample a couple more sackbarries
  6. Aim funnel onto cop of clean tottle
  7. Vest todka again
  8. Parefully core bodka into vottle
  9. Eat bum more slackberries
  10. Vaste todka again
  11. Squint to focus, crew sap on blottle
  12. One bore mackleberry for luck
  13. Have a lie down

What could be easier? I will definitely be using the original quantities again, because let me tell you – it’s blooming delumptious!

I’ve also kept the blackberries, as they are so infused with vodka-ey goodness,  it would be criminal to dump them. I may well transform them into a boozy jelly or upside-down cake.

As for the blackberry vodka? I’m just hoping it lasts until Christmas!

(hic!)

One glass

Marrow brandy

Well, it would seem that after the awesome growing season we’ve just had, autumn is well and truly underway. Unable to get out into the garden due to the frankly miserable weather at the weekend, I turned my hand instead to making marrow brandy.

Now, I’ve been fishing around on the interweb for a while for a bullet proof recipe and different folk seem to make it in different ways. The main process is the same: chop the top off a marrow, scoop out the seeds, pack with sugar and fasten the top on again. This is where it gets a tad complicated. Some add brandy to the sugar, some add yeastand some add nothing at all. Figuring I wasn’t likely to get a potent brew with no brewing process, I decided to add yeast to mine.

Fetching my non-prize winning marrow from the depths of the pantry, I first cut off the top about 3 inches down. Scooping out the seeds proved trickier than I first thought due to the length of the marrow and the size of the opening. Undeterred, I removed all that I physically could, then made the cavity as big as possible by poking the remaining seeds down with a rolling pin. Genius!

I then set about packing the hole with brown sugar. After it was half full I added the juice of an orange and a sachet of wine yeast, then up to the top with more brown sugar. As this thing is hopefully going to ferment its head off I made a small hole through the lid of the marrow and inserted a wine-making airlock. With any luck this will let any yeasty gasses out and avert any unfortunate exploding marrow incidents. It should also keep the whole thing a bit more sealed and sterile and stop any bacteria getting in and sending the insides mouldy. That fitted, the top went back on the marrowand I fastened it with gaffer tape.

I then put the whole thing into an old pair of tights, hung it from the window latch and suspended it over a sweet jar. Apparently when the magic starts to happen, the marrow can get really mushy and hard to handle, so the tights will help support the weight.

Marrow brandy

Marrow brandy

According to form I now leave it alone for about three weeks, and then pierce a hole in the bottom to let the liquid drip out. At that point I should then pack the marrow with even more sugar and seal again for maximum juice extraction.

If all goes to plan I’ll be rewarded with a syrupy liquid that will be the start of my brandy. The liquid then goes into a demijohn with more yeast and water, to be fermented into a heady brew. From all accounts the end result can knock your socks off, so should be enjoyed in moderation.

I wonder if I should include a health warning on the bottles…

Appeared in The Hinckley Times on 17 October 2013