Monday, 28 February 2011

Paneer and Peas

I'm just going to have a little moan about something that's been giving me the pip for a while now.

It used to be just the overpaid cheffy types on TV, but I see the media has now taken up the ‘cooking from scratch’ mantra and I keep seeing people on food forums banging on about it as well; it seems to have become the new foodie religion and woe betide you if you don't join in. Don't get me wrong - I cook every day and I very rarely buy ready meals or convenience foods, but I don't get hung up about making absolutely everything myself. However, an awful lot of people would have you believe they grow their own wheat, mill their own flour and churn their own butter with the milk from the cow they keep at the end of the garden! They're almost evangelical in their self-righteous fervour and they're getting right up my nose!

On a forum the other day somebody mentioned a jar of *shock…horror* curry sauce which he'd found very tasty. Well, the 'knit your own broccoli' brigade came down on him like a ton of bricks - you'd have thought he'd committed some heinous crime when, actually, all he'd done was cook himself a nice curry.

Now, I'm partial to a nice curry myself but I don’t keep umpteen different Indian spices in the pantry, all lovingly ground by my own fair hand, because to be perfectly honest I can’t be bothered. I use a reliable good quality curry paste and I don’t feel in the slightest bit guilty about it; only, keep it to yourself for God's sake or I'll have the food police beating a path to the front door!!

Right, now I've got that off my chest....back to last night’s dinner; this is my take on Paneer and Peas, which is a great dish in its own right, but I had some mushrooms and spinach hanging around in the fridge so I threw those in as well. It was one of those ‘clear out the veg drawer’ meals but it worked really well – I make no claims about its authenticity but it tasted pretty damned good!

small knob of butter
2 onions, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 largish potato, peeled and chopped
1 tsp black onion seeds
1 heaped tbsp Patak's Tikka Masala curry paste
1 tin chopped tomatoes
100ml water
220gm pack of paneer, chopped into 1cm cubes
200gm frozen peas
3 good handfuls of baby spinach
1 tsp Garam Masala
small bunch of coriander, chopped

Saute the onions and garlic gently in the butter in a large pan for 5-10 minutes. Add the black onion seeds and potatoes and saute for a further 5 minutes. Add the curry paste, tomatoes and water, stir well and bring to the boil then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the paneer, peas and Garam Masala, simmer for 5 mins then add the spinach and allow to wilt. Take off the heat and stir in the chopped coriander just before serving. Garnish with extra chopped coriander and serve with rice.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Potato, Onion and Cheese Frittata

This is a recipe I never thought I'd post because until six weeks ago I hadn’t eaten a recognisable egg in about 40 years!

There was just something about them that I couldn’t handle; I was fine if they were disguised in a quiche or a cake, but an egg that was quite clearly an egg was a no-no. I never really understood why, but that’s just the way I was. During all these years of not eating them I have quite happily used eggs as a cooking ingredient; I have also scrambled, fried, boiled and poached them and made numerous omelettes for others…but never for me. So, on December 31st I rather rashly made a New Year’s resolution to stop being such a wuss and at least try to eat eggs; other people I know have no problem with them so what was I faffing about at? Get a grip, woman!

Having decided that something not too recognisably eggy (!) was the best route to take, I made a mushroom omelette one evening with two of the organic free-range variety. Taking a deep breath, and telling myself sternly it was ‘just a quiche without the pastry’, I took a forkful and it was really rather good; in fact, I ate the entire thing!

Since then I haven’t looked back; true, I haven’t yet progressed to eating eggs boiled, fried or poached (they’re still a bit too eggy!) but I can now cook something that everyone else has been eating since Adam was a lad…Frittata. Potato, onion and cheese Frittata to be exact and, although I never thought to hear myself say this, it was delicious!

1 smallish red onion
1 smallish white onion
2 tbsp olive oil
200g of sliced cooked potato
4 large eggs
30g grated cheddar
ground black pepper

Peel and slice the onions and cook gently in the olive oil in a small frying pan until golden. Tip the potato into the pan and mix well with the onions. Lightly beat the eggs with a tablespoon of cold water and a couple of grinds of black pepper then pour into the frying pan, lower the heat and cook for 6-8 minutes until almost set. Turn the grill on; sprinkle the cheese onto the frittata then put under the grill until the top is set and golden.

Serves 4 with salad and a chunk of good bread.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Cranberry Pecan Biscuits

I don’t do a lot of baking and I can’t remember the last time I made biscuits. I don't even make cakes very often but biscuits seem to have passed me by completely. However, I saw this recipe the other day and it looked so easy and quick I just had to have a go. It was obviously one of those ‘meant to be’ moments because, amazingly, I had all the ingredients in the pantry already.

I'm not wild about blueberries so I swapped them for cranberries, but other than that I followed the recipe exactly; I was too nervous to do my usual tweaking, in case I ended up with one big biscuit the same size as the baking sheet! Next time I make them (there will definitely be a next time!) I'll try raisin and walnut or maybe apricot and almond.

Just one point – the recipe says it makes 12, but I made 22 3-inch biscuits from this mix. God knows how big they would have been if I’d only made 12!

Give them a go, they're brilliant and really easy; actually, they'd be worth doing just for the gorgeous warm cinnamon aroma in the kitchen. It was torture waiting for them to cool down, but they were well worth waiting for.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Mushrooms Provençal

You may have noticed there’s a preponderance of mushroom recipes on here at the moment, owing to the fact that I bought a massive box of them at the market recently for the princely sum of £2!

Mushrooms on toast were delicious; we’ve had a gorgeous mushroom risotto; spaghetti with garlic mushrooms was also very nice and I gave a bagful to my daughter-in-law which left just enough for last night's dinner...

Now, I have no idea whether this recipe is really "Provençal" or not, but I had a mental block and couldn't think what else to call it. It seems to have most of the composite parts of other Provençal recipes I've found online so if I say it's from Provence, then it is!

2 banana shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1tbsp olive oil
400gm chestnut mushrooms, sliced or quartered if large
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
10 green olives, sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
100ml red wine
chopped parsley to sprinkle

Heat the oil in a very large saucepan (you'll need plenty of room when you add the mushrooms) and saute the chopped shallots until golden. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until all the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated. Add the tomatoes, olives, wine and thyme. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 20 mins without a lid until the sauce has reduced and thickened a little.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with rice and a green veg.

Serves 2 generously.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

When is a Veggie NOT a Veggie?

You’d think that was a fairly easy question, wouldn’t you, but some people have real difficulty with it. The problem arises when people say “I’m a vegetarian” when they quite clearly aren’t; you know the sort….they sometimes eat fish, or bacon, or maybe even chicken!!!

The trouble is, these people who call themselves veggies really make things a lot harder for the rest of us. It’s still common to be offered fish as a ‘veggie’ option on a menu, but it isn’t too surprising when so many alleged veggies are quite happy to eat fish.

Here's a little anecdote to illustrate my point: Before I retired I used to work at a hospital, where you might think a chef would know something about diet. One day in the canteen the 'veggie' option was tuna pasta bake! I asked to speak to the chef who got quite shirty with me when I asked, innocently "What vegetable is a tuna, exactly?" I got just as shirty back and told him he was in the wrong job if he couldn't distinguish a fish from a vegetable!

Unbelievably, I recently saw someone on a food forum say “I don’t eat meat but I do eat fish and chicken”! I so wanted to reply “Fish and chicken ARE meat, you brainless cretin!” I didn’t, because I’m far too well-mannered, but oh, I wanted to!

So to end my rant, if you eat bacon, fish, chicken etc. that’s fine, it’s your life and your prerogative…I’m happy for you. But could you do the rest of us a favour and please stop calling yourself a bloody vegetarian?!

Thank you.

I've included this picture of peppers, just because it's cheerful and I like it.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Quick Spaghetti with Mushrooms

Early retirement is a wonderful thing - I have as much time as I like to faff about in the kitchen to my heart's content! When I was at work it was a different matter though, I was always on the lookout for superfast meals. By the time I got home, tired and stressed, I could just about manage 30 mins in the kitchen before collapsing on the sofa in a heap!

This is a really good weeknight meal - it's quick, filling and tasty. From start to finish it should take about 20 minutes; nearly as quick as going for a takeaway, but a lot cheaper and you'll know exactly what's in it!

1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 dsp tomato puree
50ml red wine
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1tbsp olive oil
4 shallots, peeled and quartered
200gm chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
200gm spaghetti
25gm pine nuts, toasted
50gm 'parmesan-style' cheese

Put the tomatoes, puree, red wine and herbs in a small pan and bring to the boil; simmer for 15 minutes until reduced and thickened. Fry the shallots and mushrooms in the olive oil until golden, adding the garlic for the last minute or so of the cooking time. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling water until al dente and toast the pine nuts.

Drain the spaghetti, mix with the hot tomato sauce and divide between two warmed pasta bowls; top with the garlicky onions and mushrooms, sprinkle with the pine nuts and serve with a bowl of 'parmesan' for sprinkling.

Serves 2

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Mushroom Risotto...

…the ubiquitous meal offered to veggies at seemingly every restaurant in the land. Is there a vegetarian in the entire country who hasn’t had to plough their way through mountains of indifferent rice and sorry-looking funghi? Sadly, probably not.

However, there is good mushroom risotto and there is bad mushroom risotto. This one isn’t just good, it’s great! In fact, it’s almost as great as the one I had at a restaurant in Venice overlooking the Grand Canal. Unfortunately I couldn’t recreate the view but I guarantee this will give you a little taste of Italy!

There seems to be some debate recently over whether risotto needs to be continuously stirred or whether it can be left to simmer on its own as you would with any other rice. I am firmly in the 'stirring' camp; for me, it's part of the enjoyment of a good soothing and therapeutic.

I followed this recipe from Carluccio's but I halved the quantities to serve 2.

I’m thrilled to say my local supermarket has now started to stock veggie parmesan (well done, Waitrose) but if you find it hard to come by you can buy it online from

My lovely son bought me a gift box of Italian goodies at Christmas so I have him to thank for our dinner tonight.