Monday, 29 November 2010

Tomato and Mozzarella Tart

I originally served this as part of a lunch in the summer - with a few buttered new potatoes and a mixed salad it was perfect. I’m posting it now because it occurred to me it could also be a handy thing to put out on a Christmas buffet table.

I made a similar thing a few weeks previous to this but, like the idiot I am, I forgot to take any pictures...duh! The earlier one had a bed of caramelised onions mixed with a spoonful of red onion marmalade, dotted with some crumbled goats cheese and a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves. Like I said, no pictures, but you get the drift.

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
2 tbsp pesto
6 tomatoes, thinly sliced
150g chopped mozzarella
a few chopped green olives

Unroll the pastry and lay it on a large baking sheet; score it with a sharp knife about 2cms in from each edge and prick inside the scored edge with a fork to stop it puffing up in the oven. Bake at 200C for 10 minutes. If the middle does puff up just push it down while it's still warm. You now have a nice little box-shaped tart case.

Spread the base of the tart with the pesto then cover with the sliced tomatoes and the chunks of mozzarella. Sprinkle with the chopped olives then bake at 180C for 10-15 mins.

Cut into 6 or 8 pieces and serve warm.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Shepherd's Pie....

.....for vegetarian Shepherds!

Well, the winter has certainly arrived – it’s flippin’ freezing out there! With snow forecast for the weekend and temperatures supposedly not creeping above 0°C, I think the best thing is to stay indoors and cook!

I made a couple of trays of mince pies this afternoon to put in the freezer for Christmas and then set-to on something warming for dinner tonight. I’ve tried making Shepherd's pie with beans and lentils, but to be honest I like my veggie mince version best; it’s a common or garden midweek meal, but the addition of cheesy leek mash really lifts it out of the ordinary.

Just right for a cold wintry night.

1 onion, peeled and chopped
100g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1tbsp plain flour
1 tin chopped tomatoes
200ml stock
a good shake of Worcester sauce
150g Realeat Soya Vegemince
4 large King Edward potatoes (or other floury potato)
1 leek, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
100g mature Cheddar cheese, grated

On a medium heat fry the onion and mushrooms in the olive oil for 5 minutes; stir in the flour then add the tomatoes, stock, Worcester sauce and the Vegemince. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 15 minutes and set aside.

Peel and chop the potatoes into chunks and boil or steam until tender. Meanwhile, fry the chopped leeks in the oil until golden. Drain and mash the potatoes then add half the grated Cheddar and the leeks and mix into the mash.

Put the vegemince mixture in an ovenproof dish and cover with the mash. Fluff up the surface of the mash with a fork and sprinkle liberally with the rest of the cheese. Bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes until the top is golden.

I like green beans and glazed carrots with this; the husband likes it with baked beans...I'll leave it up to you.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Red Onion Marmalade

It’s a bit late now to start getting chutneys made up for Christmas – they generally need a good few weeks at least to mature, in fact I usually leave mine for a couple of months, but it isn’t too late to make up a quick batch of sublime red onion marmalade.

This stuff is truly addictive….rich, dark and flavoursome. Try it in a baguette with brie and rocket; with a chunk of mature cheddar and crackers; with Not Sausage Rolls; in a nut roast sandwich or a spoonful with a curry instead of mango chutney…I could go on! Just don’t blame me if you spend a fortune on lovely breads and cheeses to eat it with!

1.5kg red onions, thinly sliced
25g butter
700g light Muscovado sugar
200ml red wine vinegar
250ml red wine
50ml balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried thyme

Put everything into a large heavy based pan, stir well and bring slowly to the boil. Turn the heat down and allow to bubble away gently, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 hours or until the onions are translucent and the liquid has reduced and turned into a gorgeous sticky syrup; no liquid should remain when a channel is drawn across the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon (it may take up to 3 hours). Keep an eye on it and stir a bit more frequently towards the end of the cooking time or it may ‘catch’ on the bottom.

Pot up whilst still hot into hot sterilised jars and try to leave it for a couple of weeks before eating.

Makes 5 medium jars

Friday, 19 November 2010

Chocolate Orange Trifle

If you're looking for a dessert to add to your buffet table for Boxing Day, look no further - I have just the thing!

Last Christmas a chocolate orange trifle was requested by certain family members, so I started searching the net for a decent recipe. What a waste of time! Every recipe I unearthed had jelly in it; well, quite apart from it not being veggie, I've always thought jelly has no place in a trifle. I found a few chocolate and cherry concoctions, but other than that there really didn't seem to be much else out there.

So, it looked like it was down to me. After some experimenting, I can now present....drum roll, please....Denise's Definitive Chocolate Orange Trifle!

It's a bit of a cheek to actually call this a 'recipe' because all you have to do is assemble a few ingredients. It looks impressive and tastes divine, but it's embarrassingly easy to do - it probably took me longer to type this than it did to actually make it!

Update 24.3.13

I've just seen my trifle recipe on the Waitrose website...woo-hoo!! I wonder how long it's been there? I entered it in a competion they ran to find new chocolate recipes; needless to say I didn't win, but at least I've received fame by proxy!

4 double-choc-chip muffins
3 tbsp orange marmalade (sieved to remove peel)
4 tbsp Cointreau
2 tins mandarin oranges in juice (drain and reserve juice)***
200g bar of Green & Blacks Maya Gold chocolate
250g tub of mascarpone
400g pot of ready-made vanilla custard
250ml double cream

Cut the muffins into thick slices, spread each slice with the sieved marmalade, stick them back together again, then break them into chunky pieces and put into a deep glass serving bowl. Drizzle over the Cointreau and add some of the reserved mandarin juice if the muffins still look a bit dry, or if the mood takes you, you could just use more Cointreau...! Scatter the drained mandarins on top of the muffins making sure some go right up to the glass.

Break the chocolate up into chunks and reserve 30g for later. Melt the chocolate over a pan of very hot (not boiling) water, stirring until it’s smooth. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, put the mascarpone and custard into a large bowl and beat together until combined. Add the cooled chocolate and mix well. Pour this gorgeous mixture over the mandarins and muffins. At this point feel free to lick the bowl – cook’s perks! Whip the cream until just floppy, do not over-whip or it'll turn to butter, then spoon onto the chocolate layer.

Chop the reserved chocolate with a sharp knife and scatter the chocolate shards over the cream. Cover loosely with clingfilm and chill for a couple of hours before serving.

Serves 8

***If you happen to have one of those jars of clementines in liqueur that are always on the supermarket shelves around Christmas time they would be ideal in this recipe. Unfortunately, I was unable to get my hands on one so I was forced into using mandarins instead. You could try using fresh orange segments but I think they would be a bit too sharp.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Sausage Casserole

Sausage casserole....just the name makes you feel instantly more cheerful!

I was speaking on the phone to someone the other night when he mentioned he was having sausage casserole for dinner; it made me realise I haven't made this since I went veggie nearly 15 years ago! How could I have forgotten it? It used to be one of those weekday standby meals that I could prepare almost with my eyes shut; I decided it was high time it made a re-appearance.

OK, so I've dressed it up a little bit with a splash of red wine and some fresh thyme leaves, but it's still basically the one I used to make all those years ago, only now…'s veggie!

6 Cauldron Lincolnshire Veggie Sausages
1 onion, thinly sliced
150gm chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
50ml red wine
100ml vegetable stock
1 tin mixed beans, drained and rinsed
1 yellow pepper, chopped into chunks
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Fry the onions and mushrooms in the olive oil until golden, add the sausages and fry until nicely brown on all sides then add all the other ingredients. Stir well, bring to the boil then simmer gently for 20 mins.

Serve with rice, potatoes, veg, crusty bread or whatever takes your fancy.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Mini Cheese & Onion Quiches

I’ve been trying to get ahead with bits and pieces of cooking for Christmas recently, so I’ve been doing a little something every couple of days. It’s not that I have masses of things to do, it’s just that I enjoy fiddling about and I like to spread the enjoyment over as long a period as possible!

Boxing Day chutney, red onion marmalade, mincemeat and cake are all sitting in the pantry, Not Sausage Rolls are in the freezer and today I made a batch of mini quiches, also for the freezer. They’re nice little bites, perfect for adding to a buffet, but also good for picnic lunches when the weather is a little less freezing!

I’ve already admitted to being rubbish at pastry, so needless to say I used ready-made; but if you’re better at pastry than me, use home made.

2 packs of ready-made shortcrust pastry
3 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
100gm mature cheddar, grated
few sprigs of fresh thyme
3 eggs
200ml milk
black pepper

Saute the onions in the olive oil until very soft and lightly browned. Unroll the pastry and cut out circles to line 2 12-hole bun trays. Put a teaspoonful of the cooked onions in each pastry case, then top with a few thyme leaves and a sprinkling of grated cheddar. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a jug; fill each mini quiche almost to the top with this mixture then grind over a little black pepper.

Bake at 190C for 15 minutes until puffy and golden.

Allow to cool on a wire rack then freeze in a rigid plastic box. Reheat from frozen in a moderate oven for 10 minutes and serve warm.

Makes 24

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Christmas Mincemeat

I started making my own mincemeat donkey’s years ago; it’s so simple and so much nicer than shop-bought which is usually far too sweet and syrupy for me. I used to use Delia’s recipe but over the years I’ve sort of evolved my own recipe to suit our taste. I’ve found the addition of preserved ginger really peps up the flavour and I love the citrus tanginess of the extra lemon.

I used a mug for measuring all the ingredients one year because the bowl for my old-style kitchen scale was in the dishwasher; it worked out perfectly well and I’ve stuck with it ever since….if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

4 mugs of mixed dried fruit
4 balls of preserved ginger in syrup, finely chopped
½ mug dried apricots, chopped
1 mug veggie suet
1 mug dark Muscovado sugar
1 large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and grated
1 whole nutmeg, grated
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
½ mug of brandy

Mix everything except the brandy in a large ovenproof bowl. Cover with a cloth and leave to stand overnight. Next day put the uncovered bowl into the oven at 110C for an hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, stirring occasionally so that the melted suet gets mixed in throughout the mincemeat. Once cool, add the brandy and mix really well again then pot up into sterilised jars.

If you put some dinky little covers on the jars this is nice to give to friends as Christmas gifts.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Roast Stuffed Butternut

In the winter when the weather's cold and miserable I find I always seem to cook the same old, same old, but I'm trying to break out of that rut.

It was blowing a gale out there last night; perfect conditions for having a rummage in the fridge and seeing what I could find to cook up something warming and different.

I love butternut squash, but I usually only use them for soup or chopped into chunks and cooked alongside roast potatoes. I've never used one as the basis of a main meal before, but I certainly will in future!

This recipe is infinitely adaptable; for the stuffing you can use whatever veg you have to hand and, although I used Feta, I suspect it would work equally well with Brie, Camembert or Mozzarella and if you don't have pine nuts, throw in a few chopped cashews or even olives instead.

See, I said it was adaptable.

1 butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
6 button mushrooms, halved
1 small courgette
½ small red pepper
2 large shallots, peeled and cut into quarters
2 tomatoes quartered
2 tbsp pine nuts
100g feta, chopped into small chunks
1 tbsp grated parmesan-style cheese

Cut the squash in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Drizzle the squash with half the olive oil and put the chopped garlic in the cavities. Roast for 40 minutes at 200C until tender.

Meanwhile, chop the courgette and pepper into smallish chunks, mix with the shallot wedges, mushrooms and remaining olive oil, then roast for 20 minutes. Put the cooked veg in a large bowl, add the tomato quarters, pine nuts and feta chunks; mix well then pile onto the cooked squash halves. Sprinkle with the 'parmesan' and put back in the oven for a further 15 mins.

If you're absolutely ravenous you could serve some garlic bread with this, but to be honest it was very filling on its own.

Serves 2

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Best Ever Tomato Soup

It's November, the clocks have gone back, the weather is miserable and it's cold....what we need is soup!

There's something very comforting about the smell of soup as it's cooking, very homely and warming. Served with a chunk of good bread and maybe a piece of cheese, there's nothing to beat it; the perfect lunch.

I've called this soup 'Best Ever Tomato' because I genuinely think it is. I've made many different variations of tomato soup over the years, and after much experimenting I've found this is the one that really hits the spot. I guarantee you'll never open a tin of Heinz again.

1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp oil from a jar of sunblush tomatoes
6 sunblush tomatoes
2 tins tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp crème fraiche (see note below)
Pesto (optional)

Soften the onion and garlic in the oil over a low heat. Add the sunblush tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, stock, sugar and oregano then bring to the boil. Break up the tinned tomatoes a bit with the back of a wooden spoon then turn the heat down and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and add the crème fraiche, then blitz with a stick blender, adding a little more stock if necessary. Serve with a teaspoon of pesto on top and an extra blob of crème fraiche if you like.

NB. Be sure to use full-fat crème fraiche; the low-fat one will split when you add it to the hot soup.

Serves 4

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

'Not' Sausage Rolls

I've heard it said that people are either good at making cakes or they're good at making pastry. Well, to my shame, I have to tell you that I am completely rubbish at pastry; I've tried, believe me, but I think I'm just too heavy-handed and impatient. Pastry I've made in the past has been successfully used by the local council as paving slabs - I think you get my drift...! However, my lack of skill in the pastry department does not deter me; I just cheat and buy the ready made stuff - thank goodness for Jus-rol!

I make these little rolls every Christmas and they're brilliant, if I say so myself; the 'sausage' filling is a tweaked nut-roast recipe. I've never yet met anyone who doesn't love them - they disappear as fast as you can bake them!

They couldn't be easier to make and you can freeze them uncooked and bake as needed; I've taken to keeping a few in the freezer to whip out for a quick lunch. Served warm with some spicy chutney or a few olives, you can't go wrong; they're also nice for a summer picnic or lunchbox.

This post is especially for my lovely daughter-in-law. She knows who she is!

(Not...!) Sausage Rolls

1 large onion, chopped finely
2 tbsp olive oil
200g ground mixed nuts
100g grated mature cheddar
75g soft breadcrumbs
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano (or any other herb you have to hand)
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp water
a 500g pack of ready-rolled puff pastry
a little milk

Fry the onion in the oil until softened and golden. Mix all the dry filling ingredients together in a large bowl, add the fried onion, then bind with the beaten egg and water. It may look and feel a bit dry but don't worry, it’ll be fine. Press the mixture together and roll it into three long sausage shapes. Cut the sheet of pastry into three equal strips and roll up the sausage shapes in the pastry strips, making sure that the join is underneath, dampen the edge of the pastry with a little milk and press firmly together. It'll be quite a tight fit to get all the filling in but with perseverance I usually manage it!

Cut the rolls into 3cm pieces and brush with milk, then bake on a greased baking tray at 200C for 15-20 mins. (I usually line the tin with baking parchment - it saves on washing up!)

If baking from frozen cook for 20-25 mins.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Cranberry and Apricot Christmas Puddings

I thought I'd have a go at an alternative Christmas pudding. Not everyone likes the rich, fruity cakes and puds that are traditional at Christmas. There are plenty of different cakes to be found, but a pudding is a trickier proposition; obviously you could choose from any number of desserts, but I do feel that Christmas lunch demands a 'proper' pudding, preferably hot and not just something as an afterthought, to continue the sense of occasion. So, if you have someone in your family, as I have, who won’t touch the usual Christmas Pudding, this could be the very thing.

I couldn’t find a recipe that was exactly what I wanted so I decided to adapt my usual sponge pudding recipe. I thought I’d have a couple of dry runs to get the flavour and texture right and I’m so glad I did…..the first attempt was truly awful! I have no idea what I did wrong but instead of being light, fluffy and fruity they were heavy, doughy and horrible and they went straight into the compost bin!

The second try was (thankfully!) much more successful; I shall definitely be using this one at Christmas. I’ve substituted the normal dried fruit for cranberries and chopped apricots and I've also added a soupçon of nutmeg and some orange zest to give that familiar fragrant Christmassy flavour.

These puds look so cute with their little jewels of cranberry and apricot studding the surface; they taste pretty good, too.

Little Cranberry and Apricot Sponge Puds

175g softened butter
140g light muscovado sugar
1 orange, zest only
2 beaten eggs
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
175g self-raising flour
50g dried cranberries
50g chopped dried apricots

You’ll also need 6 individual metal pudding basins, well-buttered and with a disc of baking parchment in the base.

Place the first six ingredients into a large bowl and mix together – don’t overmix, you want to just combine them until no trace of flour can be seen. Stir in the dried fruit then divide the mixture between the greased tins; cover the tins tightly with a square of baking parchment and a double layer of foil folded well down over the rim.

Place in a steamer and steam the puds for 45-55 minutes. When cooked, run a knife round the edge, turn out and serve with pouring cream or custard.

If you like, cook these on Christmas Eve, turn them out of their tins, allow to cool and put them in an airtight container. Microwave each pudding for about 30 seconds before serving.

Serves 6

Friday, 5 November 2010

Christmas Cake I

It’s that time of year again when Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat are on everyone’s mind. I'll post in a day or two about an alternative Christmas Pud and I’ve already made my mincemeat; so that just leaves the cake.

After making a cake every Christmas for about 30 (!) years, in recent years I haven’t bothered. We used to get to the middle of January and still have half a huge cake staring at us, so it kept getting thrown away. Trouble is, I really missed making a cake for Christmas; there’s something about it….soaking the fruit in brandy, grating the nutmeg, double lining the tin… all the silly little rituals that I absolutely love.

So this year I’ve made a cake once again! I’ve always made Delia’s recipe in the past, but I came across a recipe by Nigel Slater for 'A Small, Rich Fruitcake'; the word ‘Small’ jumped out at me…

I rarely follow a recipe to the letter (actually, I rarely follow recipes at all!) but in this case I broke the habit of a lifetime and did exactly as instructed. Things weren’t quite as small as I thought they’d be; in fact, there was so much mixture that I made two cakes in a 1lb loaf tin and a 15cm round tin! However, they look gorgeous and they smell just as they should….of Christmas.

I’m not a big fan of icing so I think I’ll just put a layer of marzipan on the top and then decorate with fruit and nuts and an apricot glaze. In the meantime my little cakes are tucked up snugly in an airtight tin in the pantry, being fed a little brandy from time to time just to keep them happy….

Incidentally, I have a plan to make Christmas last a bit longer this year - I’m thinking in terms of a foodie ‘Advent Calendar’ whereby we have a really nice little something to eat every day leading up to Christmas.

You see, even if you include Christmas Eve, there’s only three days in which to cram all that lovely food so, since there are far too many things I like, the best thing seems to be to spread it over a longer period.

It might be something along the lines of some lovely cheeses, crusty bread and pickles on the 1st; a mince pie and some mulled fruit punch on the 2nd; Not Sausage rolls and homemade chutney on the 3rd; a piece of Stollen with coffee on the 4th…..are you getting the idea?

If enough people spread the word I think this is something that could catch on….well, it certainly will in this house!