Pasta with sauce forestière

Made up by Steve on the spur of the moment based on what was in the fridge and pantry. Definitely worth repeating; it was delicious. It’s the caramelised onions that raise it above the ordinary, so give yourself plenty of time to get them well coloured. It’s called forestière because of the combination of artichokes and mushrooms.
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Vegetarian chilli

Adapted from a recipe in the Slimming World magazine — a useful source of low-calorie recipes that don’t compromise on flavour. I cooked my lentils from scratch, but if you’re lazy or in a hurry, you can use a can. A very easy midweek dinner.
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Ham, leek, and potato pie

Based on a recipe from BBC Good Food; adapted to make it a bit more Slimming World friendly (OK, pastry will never be syn-free, but the rest of it almost is). It may sound fairly ordinary, but it was really delicious and well worth repeating — it’s the mustard that really makes it shine. If you’re not on a diet you can use crème fraîche instead of quark, but we found the quark worked really well; the flour in the sauce stops it curdling. The original recipe specified puff pastry, but we just used home-made shortcrust and it was fine. In fact thinking about it, you could maybe use a few layers of filo pastry on top to reduce fat further. It’s best to make the filling ahead of time and let it cool before adding the pastry.
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Spanish chicken casserole

This is a Lucy Bee recipe from a magazine. Described as “traditional Spanish”, it features coconut oil. But I guess that’s because it’s from a book called Coconut Oil: Recipes for Real Life. So naturally we substituted more authentic olive oil. Effort versus results score: excellent. It was really delicious, and a great one-pot meal for cold weather. When we’d eaten all the chicken and veg there was quite a lot of spicy sauce left over, so we had it with pasta later in the week, and it was worth having leftovers just for that. Definitely a keeper.
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Baked chicken with marmalade glaze

This is one of those delightfully easy “stick it in the oven and forget about it” supper dishes. Other than green veg or salad, you won’t need anything with it, and even drab supermarket chicken will be suitably perked up. It’s from a Sainsbury’s magazine, slightly adapted by me: the original called for halved new potatoes, but it seemed entirely implausible to me that they would cook from raw in the oven in 45 minutes. So I cut my (non-new) potatoes into 2-cm chunks, and they were just barely cooked in an hour. If you do want to use larger pieces, you’d be well advised to parboil them for about 3 minutes first, but this makes a bit more work.

I cooked this in two gratin dishes; it will serve about six.
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What to do with overgrown courgettes

A vexed question. This one was so overgrown it qualified as a marrow. We’d already done the standard stuffed marrow with half of it, and still had enough left for another meal. A bit of googling turned up something called “savoury marrow bake” at AllRecipes. I glanced at it half-heartedly and then realised it wasn’t stuffed marrow but a kind of frittata/crustless quiche for which we had all the ingredients. So we took the idea and ran with it, changing quantities to make a lighter, more slimmer-friendly dish. Of course you could add or substitute other veg if you wanted.

We were very pleasantly surprised by the result. The flour and baking powder give it a smooth yet light texture quite different from frittata. You can eat it warm or cold; we had it with a tomato sauce, but chilli jam would be excellent too. Good picnic or buffet fare, cut into small squares. Or use it as a side dish with anything that has a sauce. Definitely a keeper. Now I just need to think of a name for it.
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Duck stir fry

Quickly put together from bits and pieces in fridge and freezer and inspiration yet again from Slimming World. I served it with some leftover boiled rice; otherwise I would have used Chinese egg noodles. Use a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables to save time, and it will only take 20-25 minutes from starting to getting it on the table.
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The Apple Book, by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan

A neglected cookbook for a neglected blog. This is an old book, published in 1984. At the time we lived in the Vale of Evesham, where fruit and vegetables were plentiful. It’s really intended for people with their own trees, who are desperate for ways of using their gluts. But even if you aren’t surrounded by orchards, apples are available all over the place and all the year round, so it’s well worth having a cookbook dedicated to them.

I used to use it a lot, but it’s gradually migrated to the dusty lower reaches of the bookcase. Flicking through it, there are quite a few food-spattered pages. Some even have notes, including the word “wonderful” scrawled next to the apple and cider sorbet recipe. But there’s one recipe that has become the household standard virtually every time we can get hold of chicken livers: the catchily named Chicken livers with mushrooms, bacon and apples in a peppered cider sauce. You hardly need a recipe after that. It only takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and it’s excellent with pasta.
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Oven-baked frittata

I first discovered frittata via the Cottage Smallholder site. I often cook one from scratch for a quick supper or picnic lunch, but it is a wonderful vehicle for turning leftovers into something delicious in their own right — providing of course that you are selective about what you put in it. Just throwing in the contents of the fridge without regard to whether the flavours and textures are complementary is not going to give you a good result.

Normally, I cook frittata slowly in a frying pan and finish it off with a couple of minutes under the grill to set the top. This time, I had some left-over roasted vegetables to use up, and was inspired to do it differently. It’s a very quick and easy dish if you have left-over roasted veg, but of course you can cook them from scratch. I always do plenty when I roast vegetables, because they are one of the best kinds of left-overs you can have. Toss them into a salad with rice, pasta, or Ebly and some toasted nuts, blend with some home-made stock and spices and make a delicious soup, use them to fill quiches or omelettes …
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The Art of the Tart

mjuk toscakaka

Like almost all keen cooks, I can’t resist buying cookbooks even though I know I already own far too many, with enough recipes in them to last several lifetimes of daily cooking. But even if I don’t cook from them, I love to browse and fantasize about cooking elaborate recipes, or just admire the photos (at least in modern books).

But still. The shelves in our living cum dining room cum kitchen are full, and the reserve collection has overflowed onto the landing upstairs. Some books are well-thumbed, others are pristine and have never risked the slightest gravy splatter or smudge of grease. It was time to take action, I decided, and cook at least one recipe from each of these neglected tomes, if only to establish whether they are unjustifiably taking up shelf space. I don’t know how long it will take me because I haven’t even dared to count them. But along the way I’ll review the books and hopefully find some hidden gems.

I started with The Art of the Tart, by Tamasin Day-Lewis. This lives in the reserve collection, even though I have actually cooked a couple of recipes from it. I’m not usually a fan of “single-dish” books (it was a present) — but it’s true that the tart is a very versatile concept. And some of these aren’t even what I would call a tart, in that they don’t involve pastry. There’s so much you can do with pastry and storecupboard ingredients, from a down-to-earth quiche made from the leftovers in the fridge to a drop-dead elegant dessert. And after all, many of my most successful and popular signature dishes are tarts (see the list at the end of this post).

I’m not keen on the arch title (she even published a follow-up called Tarts with tops on), or Tamasin’s wordy style and the odd bit of name-dropping, but there are some gems all the same. The recipes here range from the obvious (quiche lorraine, apple pie, tarte tatin) to the exotic or just odd (a tart filled with aligot??). The little tomato and prosciutto tarts on the cover are both beautiful and delicious — ideal dinner-party starter material — and quick to make into the bargain. I don’t usually like chocolatey desserts, but I made an exception for Simon Hopkinson’s chocolate tart (in the “Other people’s tarts” section).

For the purposes of this blog post, I started with cheese strata — one of the “not a tart” recipes. It’s basically a savoury bread and butter pudding. I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me before to make something like this, given that buying baguettes inevitably results in a surplus of stale bread. A big chunk of two-day old pain de campagne, an ancient bit of Comté only fit for grating, some eggs approaching their sell by date, mustard, onion and cream. The result is well worth the status of default dinner, and I’ll certainly make it again. I skipped the lardons, but some sun-dried tomatoes would be a nice addition and would keep it vegetarian.

Next, I quickly cooked Mjuk Toscakaka, one of several Swedish recipes. This is another one that is easy to do and uses what you have on hand (and doesn’t involve pastry) — basically a simple sponge cake with a slightly crackly, fudgy topping of sugar and flaked almonds. On its own, a bit dull, and cream didn’t make it any more interesting. But it was considerably livened up with the complementary addition of some Italian cherries in syrup (an impulse buy in Lidl when they were having one of their Italian weeks). Any tart poached fruit would go well with this.

Verdict: I wouldn’t rush out and buy this book if I didn’t have it, but it’s a lot more useful and attractive than I expected it to be. It’s staying on the shelf!

My artful tarts

Apple crumble tart
Apricot frangipane tart
Courgette, cheese, and herb tart
Filo tarts with goat’s cheese
French tarte aux pommes
Pineapple tarte tatin
Prune and Armagnac tart
Rosemary-spiked apricot and almond tart
Tarte à la moutarde
Tarte au citron
Tarte aux myrtilles, or bilberry tart
Tarte Tatin