Friday, 10 July 2015

Baked Lasagne

Lasagne is a favourite with a lot of people including our family.  Being a tad lazy I usually just throw it together with my quick fire bolognaise sauce which I have perfected to about 10 minutes preparation and then simmering till required for spaghetti or as a lasagne filling.  

Sometimes however it is nice to spend some time and really develop the recipe.  This is not a quick fix for a week night tea.    It takes a seriously long time to prepare and cook the elements before even considering the putting together and final cooking.   The final dish is most certainly worth the effort and the dish does not hang around long in our household.


Beef Mince
Vine Tomatoes 
Bacon Lardons
Onion chopped finely
Celery chopped finely 
Garlic chopped finely
Carrot chopped finely
Red Wine Vinegar
Red Wine
Beef stock
Mixed Herbs 
Bay Leaves
White Sauce 
Parmesan Cheese

 It might seem a strange start but wash your mince through in a colander - it helps break up the strands and allows each bit to cook and become crispy.  


Lay this mince, which is now quite waterlogged, on a flat baking dish and cook in the oven for 40 minutes (190°c)

 Prepare the tomatoes.  When investing the time and effort in a meal like this it is worth getting good tomatoes (and good quality mince if you can).   Cut the tomatoes in half and lay on another baking tray.  Sprinkle with salt and sugar; these both bring different qualities of taste to the forefront and transform a good tomato sauce into a fantastic one. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes or until they are charred and very soft -  this may take longer if they are at the same heat as the mince.

Begin to prepare the rest of the sauce.   Fry the bacon lardons till they are turning crispy.  Add the onions and garlic.  I like to get vegetables into the family and have long used carrots, celery and sometimes even peas in dishes like this. None of which are strictly Italian.   Add any carrots and/or celery at this point (peas can be added shortly before putting the dish together)

Cover the mix with a large spoonful of sugar followed by a good slug of  Red Wine Vinegar.  These work as a great combination together.
Follow with a large glassful of Red Wine.

Heat through allowing the liquid to be soaked up by the vegetables.  

If the tomatoes are not ready, remove the mix from heat and let the flavours marry together in a fusion of hits and delicious blends.   

When the tomatoes are soft and charred add beef stock to the mix with the mince and tomatoes, also add the herbs.  Italian herbs are great, or a mixture of  oregano, rosemary and thyme.  My mother always added a couple of bay leaves to any Italian dish and I follow the tradition popping them in now.

Let the mixture bubble away for a while before layering with pasta sheets.  There needs to be some juice still in the mix but not too much as it will seep out during the baking process.  



Layer pasta, sauce, pasta sauce, finish with a layer of pasta.

Top the lasagne off with a layer of white sauce (I don't add any cheese yet) which I had also added a sprinkling of mustard powder to add depth to the sauce.   I like to let the white sauce cool slightly before pouring over the top of the lasagne.  

Then finish with lots of grated Parmesan cheese.  This is one recipe where it is worth getting the real cheese and grating over.  Remember though, Parmesan is strong so you may need less than you think.

 Pop back into the medium oven for about 30 - 40 minutes and serve to a hungry crowd

 It is your choice how you serve this, garlic bread, green salad, glass of red wine or even chips but the dish can hold it's own in the centre of your table.  

Enjoy and let me know the occasion you might serve this dish.   The wait is certainly worth it but I say again this is  not for a speedy supper, so enjoy the meal.    


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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Rhubarb Pots

Sometimes the seasons dictate our dinner table and when offered some home grown rhubarb it was great to dig out this popular family  recipe, so easy to make and very quick to disappear once served. I like to serve them in individual pots and it gives me  the opportunity to do some fancy decorating but it would do just as well in a large bowl with or without decoration.

This is terribly easy to make and very cleansing after a large meal. This also is quite a good pudding if you are on a diet with a little tweaking.


Rhubarb chopped
Fromage Frais 
Vanilla Extract
Raspberry and Mint leaves to decorate

Melt the butter in a hot pan and add the chopped rhubarb with a good sprinkling of sugar.  Turn the heat down slightly.

Keep this on a low heat stirring occasionally till the rhubarb is completely soft.  you could add a touch of water or some of the vanilla extract if it becomes too dry.

Allow to cool slightly.
Put the fromais frais (I use this but you could use whipped cream, or greek style yoghurt) in a separate bowl and stir in the vanilla extract.  Add the remainder of the sugar here.

Once cool, add the rhubarb to the fromage frais and then mix well, using a liquidiser. 

This can be as soft as you prefer.  Just pulsing the machine allows texture to the pudding.   Share the pudding out into the individual dishes and decorate as you wish.  I chose the raspberry and mint leaf.

It really is that simple.  Leave the pots in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving.

Enjoy and let me know what you think.  This is a great pudding and is even enjoyed by my boys who do not like rhubarb, so it has to be cleverly disguised and this works.


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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Spanish Chicken

I love Chorizo, it is so versatile and can be used as the main ingrediant in many dishes or as in this Spanish Chicken dish it is the subsiduary ingredient that gives a piquant flavouring to chicken.  This technically is more like Mediterranean Chicken rather than just Spanish but the name has stuck in our house.

This is such a simple one pot meal that everyone loves. You need time and you need to keep an eye on it but there is little effort other than that.  It would lend itself well to being in a slow cooker but I would add the tomatoes earlier and may be a little more liquid (an extra tin or some water)


Chicken pieces (I use skinless chicken breast but drumsticks or wings would work)
Olive oil
Chorizo sliced or cut into small chunks 
Baby potatoes (salad or new) 
Onions finely chopped
Zest and juice of an orange
Oregano (dried)
Tin of tomatoes 
Pimento filled Olives (cut in half)

Place chicken in  deep roasting dish with a little olive oil drizzled over the top.

Sprinkle over the chorizo - this determines the heat of the dish - with the children I tend to use the milder versions, but you can ramp up the heat with a spicier version according to the family's taste.

Next throw in the potoatoes and onions - all fairly randomly.  
a good firm shake of the dish will help the oil disperse over the potatoes as well (you can add a touch more oil if you want and if it looks too dry but beware the chorizo will expel plenty of oil as it starts to cook)

Finally add the oregano, librally sprinkling it over the meat and vegetables and finish off with the orange zest (only).  Another good shake will mix the ingredients and then place into a hot oven.  I give it several hours and will turn the oven down as it all cooks and blends together.  (you could just serve after an hour once cooked but the extra time deepens the intensity of the flavours)

This should be checked regularly and turned. Once the chicken is more or less cooked, turn the heat down.   I also tend to cover with foil or a lid at this point to stop any more drying out. I find I need to check it often not because it needs it but it fills the room with such a heady mix of aromas that you get a stream of visitors to the kitchen "what time is tea that smells wonderful"

As the pot starts to dry add the juice of the orange and then the tin of tomatoes and stir well .  This is when to turn it down if you have not already done so and you are looking at about 20 mins to 1/2 hour before serving. 

With about 10 minutes to go - throw in the olives - you can slice these but I tend to cut them in half as the youngest does not like them (the ones he manages to see) and it is easier to pick them out 

Serve straight from the dish and watch how quickly your dishes are cleared, a great warming dish for after a sporting weekend fixture or a telly meal curled up with a steaming bowl full.

Serve some green vegetables or a green salad with this.  I like crispy kale which gives a crispy crackle as you eat.  Empty a bag of Kale on to a roasting dish, cover with a little olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt and pop in the oven - probably not for long in a hot oven but I put it in the cool oven when I added the tomatoes and leave it there till serving.  Beware the kale is very brittle.

Give this a try and enjoy and let me know how you get on -  Add your own bits, take out the olives and use garlic earlier, switch the orange for a lemon or try it with turkey or game 



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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Red Wine Lamb

With the weather thinking about turning colder and Sundays filled with sporting fixtures, I dig out my slow cooker and our meals turn into casseroles, stews and slowly tenderised meats.

This is a very rich melt in the mouth alternative to the Roast which essentially uses the same ingredients but in a slightly different way.

Lamb Steaks 
Redcurrent jelly (or cranberry jelly)
Red Wine - bottle 
Flour for thickening 

I cheat and do not fry the meat off first.  it is usually a question of timing and I chop the onions and garlic 

Put the slow cooker on high. I don't tend to put any oil in as the meat creates its own.
Add the onions and garlic.
The only reason I skim the leaves off the rosemary is the stalks become quite woody after cooking but add the leaves to the pot

Chop the anchovies into small pieces - don't worry nobody will know they are in there (I promise), throw them into the pot as well.

Next just throw in the steaks, no need to cut them.  I add my Jelly to the pot at this time.  Redcurrent works really well but failing that I usually have cranberry jelly in the fridge so that can be a substitute.

Now it is the time for the Red wine  - I confess it is always the bottle on offer at the supermarket and I don't quite use all the bottle. Covering the meat is the most important thing and do remember to keep a tad back for thickening later on.

Almost done,  you can forget about them for a few hours.  I like to turn the cooker to low if I leave the house so I would suggest after about an hour and then it can be left.    Re-entering the home you are met with the most wonderful nostalgic smell of roast lamb and gravy which means I am unable to resist opening the pot and turning the meat over.  By now the steaks are no longer complete but in small bite size morcels that just melt in the mouth.

At least half an hour before serving mix a little flour with some of the left over wine

Stir it into a paste and then add to the casserole.

If there is alot of excess liquid - oil can be spooned off but if there is still too much gravy then wack the heat up to high and remove the lid for a while to reduce it.  

I tend to find once the flour paste is in it thickens anyway.

Take off the heat at least 20mins before serving to allow all the flavours to settle and then serve with mashed potatoes and bright vegetables with mint jelly on the side.  Simply devine and no chewing required as all the flavours just explode into a wonderful reminder of  childhood roasts.   

If there is any sauce left, save it for gravy or stock for soup or stew.  

This does not have to be cooked in a slow cooker - use a very hot oven initially with a covered stew pot then turn it to low for 5 hours or so giving you the same wonderful experience.

Enjoy this and let me know what you think  -  if you prefer the traditional roast see my Slow Roast Lamb here.

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Sunday, 9 March 2014

Yorkshire Puddings

This is a relatively quick recipe if you don't include the chilling time.

It is a very rich recipe which I have adapted over the years.   It does need specific measurements and has to be eaten straight from the oven not that it would last any longer.  I adapt it to go in Toad in the Hole but it makes a wonderful accompaniment to Roast Beef or  a Beef Casserole.

8oz  Plain Flour
8 eggs  - I use large eggs 
1 pint milk 
dripping (good old fashioned dripping can still be bought at the supermarkets)

Weigh out the flour, you can make a well the middle but as we are adding so many eggs it will not make a big difference.

Add all the eggs and when they are all there begin to beat them in gently at first.  Hand beating is best till there are no lumps left.

Add the pint of milk  and mix again.   Cover this mixture and leave to chill for at least a couple of hours.  If I am extra organised overnight is best.

Before you cook the puddings melt the dripping in the dish on a very high heat.     The dripping needs to be totally melted     and piping hot when you add your mixture.

Give the mixture a final beat then pour into the baking dish.  Do not overfill the individual moulds,  a good tip is to fill them to 3/4 full.  They need the space to rise.

Cook them in a very hot oven for about 20 - 25 minutes depending on your oven,  turn the heat down to medium for the last 10 minutes.     If you can cook these in a solitary oven it helps but I have to plan my roasties to tie in with this so I don't keep opening and closing the door.

When you are ready to serve bring them out and eat immediately while they are light and fluffy.     Listen to the ooohs and aaahhs and watch them disappear from the plate quicker than you can serve them.

Add rosemary to the mix before chilling if you are going to serve with sausages in a toad in the hole or let me know what else you do to enhance this wonderful comforting accompaniment.

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Saturday, 8 February 2014

Leek and Potato Soup

There is nothing more warming after a day cheering the children from the sidelines in the cold wind and pouring rain than a steaming bowl of soup. To serve with warm crusty homemade bread you either neither to be ultra efficient or have a partner in crime to put in the oven as you are on your way home.   These days lots of places sell freshly baked so I am guilty of resorting to picking up a loaf on the way.

Many soups need to be made  early on and left to cook but this one I can get away with making and serving once all the potatoes are soft and falling apart.  Just time enough for them to get out of the shower as I throw the ingredients together and then I can shower and warm whilst it cooks.

Onions chopped
Leeks sliced  lots I like it thick and warming
Potatoes cut into small pieces - again lots 
Sherry  - a good splash of this
Chicken stock
Cream and parsley for decoration

Heat the oil gently then add the onions and leeks .  Let them soften rather than fry.  It will not take long so be careful to keep an eye as they can turn quickly.

Add the potatoes.   Stir well then add the good splash of sherry - this is of course optional but the alcohol cooks off and the piquancy of the sherry brings out a fresh depth of flavour in the potatoes.   

Add the chicken stock and bring it to the boil.  If there is not enough liquid, water can be added or if you have some vegetable water add this.  Once boiling turn it to simmer and allow the potatoes to soften and fall apart when touched with a knife probably about 20 minutes.

I use my hand blender in the pan but some people prefer to liquidise and place in a fresh pan.   Serve it from the pan or add to your soup tureen and decorate with the cream and parsley.  Serve with a warm crusty bed and feel the warmth radiate from your insides.   Windy wet sports pitches will be a distant memory in no time.

Enjoy,  let me know what you do to your soups to enhance them. When do you enjoy a bowl of steaming soup?

I always try to make extra for the week ahead, unfortunately one bowl is never enough so there is never any left for my weekday lunches.


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