Friday, 28 October 2011

Double chocolate cookies

These are a bit of a twist on a biscuit I think- slightly denser and with a more "cake" feel to them. Very easy to make and this makes a good size batch of about 32-36 biscuits.

Begin by putting 50g butter and 200g chocolate in a microwavable dish.

Melt in the microwave for about a minute and the continue for 20 second bursts until two thirds of the chocolate is melted. Then stir it all and leave to stand while the rest melts in the residual heat. Stir again.

Add a 400g can of condensced milk (you can use the light version)- this covers the sweetness so no extra sugar is added but also the liquid and extra fat.

Stir to combine.

Add 225g of self-raising flour.

Stir to comine. It will become quite thick now.

 Add 75g white (or milk) chocolate buttons. Again stir to combine- this is quite a stiff mixture now.

Drop large teaspoonfuls on a baking tray and bake at 160 degrees C (fan- 180 degress C otherwise) for about 12 minutes. They should come out still soft since they harden as they cool.

A very satisfying biscuit that went down a storm with the children and adults that had these yesterday.

The melted chocolate in this makes them really rich and a definite treat.

Til soon....

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Thai style roasted butternut curry

A very filling vegetarian curry (but you really don't miss the meat). It's also very economical since this will easily feed 6 hungry people (and that's without adding on any naans or poppadoms).

Begin by preparing your butternut squash.

Peel all the hard skin off and cut off the top and bottom.

Cut into bitesize pieces (keep the seeds to turn roast as in my previous blog).

Meanwhile make the curry paste. Put 2 lemongrass stalks, 5 kaffir lime leaves (these two items are much cheaper if you can buy them in bulk at an oriental supermarket though the big chain supermarkets do also sell them), 6 chopped cloves garlic, small grated piece ginger, 2-3 red chillies chopped (or to taste), 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 2 tbsp soy sauce in a container.

Add two tbsps peanut butter.

Blitz it all together to a smooth paste.

Meanwhile roast your butternut squash. You don't need to do this but it adds a nice flavour to the dish and speeds up the time you need to do the last minute cooking which is great if you are using this as a dish to entertain with.

Put the cubes into a roasting tray and sprinkle with a little oil and season. Add 1 tbsp brown sugar which will help it caramelise. Bake at 180 degrees C for about 40 minutes until the pieces soften and start to brown at the edges.

Cut up two-three red onions into smallish pieces.

Put the paste into a saucepan with a drizzle more oil and cook until it starts to bubble.

Add the onions and coat with the paste. Add some water if the pan seems too dry and cook for a few minutes over a low heat until the onions soften.

At this point add the roasted butternut squash.

Coat the butternut squash with the paste.

Add a tin of coconut milk and 150ml vegetable stock. The vegetables should all be covered by the liquid.

Bring to the boil then reduce to a low simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes until the squash is soft and the sauce has thickened. If you haven't pre-roasted the squash you will need to adust your timings.

 Serve with thai fragrant rice, sprinkled with corriander and lime.

 As I say this is a really substantial meal- the squash has quite a "meaty" texture. You definitely don't need a starter!

Til soon....

Toasted butternut squash seeds

I love this snack- so good for you and full of nutrients and so easy. And best of all made out of the seeds most people discard. Works with pumpkins and other squashes. I was making the butternut squash recipe so had these to hand when I last did this.

 Remove the seeds from the squash. They will be linked by the stringy bits of the squash.

Separate out the seeds and rinse well.

Put on kitchen paper and dry well.

Then move then into a pan and toss in either some oil (or spray with spray oil) and season with a little salt. You can also add other spices- some dry chilli gives a nice kick.

As you can see I had a little helper- my youngest wanted to help so moved all the seeds to the (cold!) pan.

Put over a medium heat and move the seeds around while they toast. They are done when they are lightly browned and "popping".

Move to a plate to cool. Great as a snack or sprinkled on salads or over curries.

Cheap and healthy- what more can you ask for.

Til soon....

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The waste of plenty is the resource of scarcity (Thomas Love Peacock)

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011

It is estimated that the food wastage in America every year could feed 49 million people per year. Around a third of all food bought in the UK is thrown away. In a world where convenience food is relatively cheap and widely available, people are growing up thinking that our resources are infinite. Unfortunately this is not the case. But we are also bringing up a population who simply do not know how to cook. Children are leaving home without knowing how to make themselves even some simple meals and so are living on processed meals and takeaways. This is not good for them or the environment in general.

As the mother of two girls I am conscious that they need to learn from an early age that food is something to enjoy (and not to fear- having grown up surrounded by friends with eating disorders this is something I am acutely aware of). Unfortunately eating disorders is becoming fairly commonplace in young girls and it is important that they learn from an early age that a healthy balanced diet will keep you at a healthy weight rather than binging and then crash dieting. The 18th century French author, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said "Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are" showing how important your diet is to forming who you are. It doesn't just affect you but with diminishing world resources, what you eat affects everyone.

It breaks my heart to see toddlers drinking fizzy drinks from baby bottles while gobbling their way through packets of crisps and biscuits. An NHS report stated that 1 in 5 children leaving primary school are now clinically obese. They are not only suffering from the associated health implications but also are getting into bad habits that will be so difficult for them to break.

Don't get me wrong- my children eat their fair share of treats. I don't believe in forbidding them from eating anything (within reason!) Forbidden fruit is very tempting. Think of alcohol use in different cultures- in countries such as France and Italy drinking is part of the family meal and children don't grow up seeing binge drinking as something that they should be doing as teenagers. We talk to the girls about drinking alcohol and when they are older they will be allowed some wine for example at family meals, so hopefully making the associations with alcohol more positive.

It's the same with treats. My children are allowed chocolate and sweets and other treats - but in moderation. If they have been to a birthday party and stuffed themselves full of sugar they know that if there are more treats in their party bag they will need to be left until another day. And actually already at only 3 and 5 my girls are starting to self-regulate. My eldest refuses to eat any crisps these days since she doesn't like the fact they have a high salt content (though my youngest loves them!) They also have a high proportion of fruit in their diet out of choice and will now actually ask for fruit at snack time as frequently as things such as biscuits.

Our children literally learn from how they see us eat. If we never eat fresh fruit and vegetables, never sit down to a proper meal, always eat in front of the tv, only eat processed ready meals then how can we expect them to grow up having a balanced diet. A lot of children leave home these days unable to make themselves any basic meals. Other than blasting something in the microwave they are pretty stuck.

As parents we need to be educating them so they are able to cook at least basic meals for themselves but also to consider what they are eating for the sake of themselves as well as for the sake of society as a whole. Many parents argue they don't have time to cook family meals and rely on processed food to feed their families. These are not only far less economical in the long run but are not nearly as good for you as meals that you have made yourself. A roast chicken cooked in the same pan as seasonal vegetables takes very little cooking on your part (most is done by the oven) but can produce a family meal as well as left overs for another day. And actually a healthy homecooked meal can usually be made in under 30 minutes. A very simple spaghetti bolognese is a great family meal and you can make a large batch so that you can freeze half for a quick family meal on another day.

I am not saying you have to cook every meal from scratch- but instead make a few changes to meals each week- change the kids cereals for porridge or scrambled eggs on toast a few times a week, have a proper family lunch at the weekend where you all sit round the table (with the tv off), let the kids make their own pizzas one evening (really quick and doesn't have to be unhealthy- you can even buy ready made good quality pastry so you don't have to even make your own dough). If your kids want some chips then make your own - cut up a few potatoes, toss in just a tablespoon of oil and a slight shaking of salt and bake at 220 degrees- much better for you than buying them deep fried from the chip shop.

The other thing that children need to learn about is actually respecting their food. We are not vegetarians but I do feel that animals that become our food should be respected. I would prefer to get less free range chicken and bulk a meal out with vegetables and some carbohdrates than get battery chicken that costs less. I also don't believe in hiding where meat comes from from children- we often visit farms and we'll talk about where various animal products come from and that meat is derived from animals.

We have also grown our own fruit and vegetables which again helps them to see where their food comes from (and is a great incentive to those picky eaters that don't like their fruit and veg!) It also means that this food that you have grown from home hasn't travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles to make it to your plate, so again is much better for the environment. I also like including fruit and vegetables into baking - courgette muffins, beetroot chocolate cake, banana cake.

Children need to learn about food wastage and that our world's resources are not finite. Today's society is used to food whenever they want. People don't need to cook since processed food is readily available and relatively cheap (and also use much more packaging than unprocessed food which means they are using up even more resources). Our grandparents generation who lived through the war learned "waste not, want not". Our children need to learn that for the sake of their children and their children's children not to waste food. And this leads onto other resources- water is also really wasted- don't boil a full kettle for just one cup of tea, clean vegetables in pot of water rather than under a running tap etc.

Serve small portions and let people help themselves to more as they finish rather than having lots of food left over. That way any food left over has not been contaminated and can be stored (correctly) and reused at another meal time. Try and use as much of your food as possible rather than throwing certain parts away- for example a chicken carcass and the tops of leeks that are normally just thrown can be boiled up with a few other vegetables to make a lovely chicken stock to use in soups, rissottos, stews etc. We are lucky that our council collects kitchen and garden waste so we have a kitchen caddy for any scraps. Check if your council does the same otherwise consider doing your own composting which is great for the garden.

None of this is rocket science. It is making small changes so that your family are eating well balanced meals but also taking into account the animals that have provided us with the food, and that resources are finite.

Eliza Acton said in her book "Modern Cookery for Private Families" in 1845 that "it cannot be denied that an improved system of practical domestic cookery, and a better knowledge of its first principles, are still much needed in this country; where, from ignorance, or from mismanagement in their preparation, the daily waste of excellent provisions almost exceeds belief.” Over 150 years on and this is still very relevant today.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Lamb pie

Both my girls came back from school last week raving about the lamb pie that they had had for school lunch and asking me to make them one. So with a quiet weekend for once I decided today to make this for family lunch.

I must admit I was rather disappointed with the pastry. I usually make my own or at a push will use a good quality ready made block. I don't have good pastry hands- you need cool hands and mine are just too warm so I spend a lot of time having to stop and cool them. I have no qualms at using a good quality ready made pastry to save time (though usually will make my own since I do find it theraputic).

I have never used the ready rolled variety but a friend pointed out that sainsburys' had changed its ready made pastry range and what I thought of the ready-rolled shortcrust pastry so I thought I would use that (and it was on offer so was cheaper than making it myself). I was concerned once I saw the ingredients since it uses vegetable oil as the fat rather than butter. This is the major problem with ready made pastry (the problem actually with most ready made things). The oil is easier to use to mass produce and the ingredients used in this pastry will make it store better and last longer, but using it and the taste of it will never be as good as the butter varieties.

As soon as I unwrapped it from the box I was already downheartenend. It was very difficult to unwrap cracked and broke with each unrolling. I should have really photographed it to show what the unrolled product looked like. I tried using it as it was prepared but it barely held together so I ended up having to scrunch it altogether into a ball and rerolling (kind of defeats its purpose!) It still didn't hold as well as proper shortcrust pastry and I found the cook pastry quite tasteless and with a hard consistency.

But back to the recipe. Being by batch cooking about 500g diced lamb in a tablespoon of oil. You can season this first and dust with some flour.

Remove the browned lamb and put to oneside. Put some chopped garlic and a tablespoon of flour into the oil in the pan and cook for a minute.

Then add 1 litre warm lamb stock (you can use chicken if you don't have lamb), a tablespoon of tomato puree, a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar and a dash of worcestershire sauce.

Stir everything together and bring up to a simmer.

Put the lamb back into the pan with a couple of bay leaves and 200ml red wine.

Bring up to simmering point and then cover and simmer for about an hour. 

When the hour is up you should have a nice thick gravy with very tender lamb.

Place this mix into an ovenproof dish and allow to cool. You can add some sauteed vegetables at this point (gently fried chopped shallots/onions and some root veg- carrots, baby parsnips etc). I kept the vegetables to be served alongside but they work well included in the pie.

 At this point take your pastry and cut a few strips long enough to go all the way round. Wet the pie dish edge and stick on the pastry rim and then wet this pastry at the top.

Then take your rolled out pastry (make it bigger than your dish) and place it across the dish and stick it to the rim. Cut off any extra pastry around the edge.

 Cut a few slits into the pastry to allow steam to escape while it is cooking. Brush the top of the pastry with beaten egg (I like to use a silicone brush to do this).

Cook at 180 degrees C for 40 minutes until it is golden and the filling is bubbly.

Serve with your choice of potatoes (roast, boiled, wedges or as we did today mashed) and seasonal vegetables. 

Although I wasn't impressed iwth the pastry, the filling was lovely- very thick gravy and tender lamb. The rest of the family didn't seem bothered either by the pastry (so it's just me being picky!)

Til soon....