Sunday, April 20, 2008

April 29th, 2008

Retirement is keeping me on the busy side here. I thought when you retired you retired.... well it seems to be busier here than before I retired, but one thing is I am not feeling so tired. Well except for the late nights we have been staying up watching telly. I still get up fairly early but take the mornings in my stride so far. So yes, I am enjoying the retirement.

Since this is a food blog, I thought I would mention a situation we are having with the cats and their diets. We took Cheeky in for his yearly check up and the vet has suggested we put him on a diet. Seems he is a bit overweight...and she is concerned about diabetes and arthritis in his later years. So we are trying to get his weight down here. The problem is we have two cats. And the other one is probably underweight. Jingles has an eating problem and has to have food little and often, so when he eats, Cheeky thinks he has to too. I have been desperately trying to exercise Cheeky too. We do a sort of push up the stairs and then run down them, catch the mouse on the string and feathers on a fishing rod. The thing is, Cheeky is just plain lazy. He lays down to play, I have to tap his back legs to get him to go up the stairs with my fingers and careful he doesn't sit on them in the process. So this is proving to be a challenge and if anyone has any tips on cat dieting I would appreciate them.

Miss Mag's Tea Bread
When I first moved to the UK I wasn't allowed to work for about 6 months or so, but when I did finally get my first job here I met a lovely lady that I dubbed Miss Mags. She was really sweet to me and this is a recipe she shared with me and when I bake it I always think of her.

Take 1 cup of Tea and soak 1 cup of dried mixed fruit in it for about an hour or you can do over night, mixed with 1 cup of brown sugar.
Once the fruit has soaked, add in 1 egg, 2 cups self rising flour.
Bake at 170C for about 1 hour in a well greased and floured loaf tin.
That is it. Really quick and easy and tastes lovely.
Now you should know me by now, I can't leave well enough alone and this bread can change from time to time to something totally different with different additions.
Sometimes instead of the mixed dried fruit, I will use dried apricots, or a mix of my own dried fruits. Fig is lovely in it. Also I will sometimes add nuts. And sometimes a big heaping tablespoon of marmalade is lovely, the one with lots of rind in it. Also you can top it before baking with some cinnamon and sugar mixed for a lovely coating. It is great served with butter or with cream cheese and a nice cup of tea. Thanks Mags!!!


My spinach is doing really well in the garden and coming up with recipes to use it has been fun and challenging, because Brian doesn't like cooked spinach. I on the other hand love it. So I have been sneaking it into lots of different dishes lately.
Risotto is excellent for adding all sorts of veggies to that folks don't like as sometimes they really can't taste it separately from all the other ingredients.
This one I made with mushroom, onion, Smoked sausage, butternut squash and the chopped spinach and chard. It really turned out nice.

I have also been disguising it stuffed in chicken breasts. Take some cream cheese and mix with some sauteed onion and garlic, a few chopped herbs, and some quick stir fried spinach that has been chopped. Add in some pine nuts for texture. Cut a slit into your chicken breast and stuff. Place into a baking dish with oil and sliced onions, top the chicken breasts with bread crumbs and a drizzle of oil and herbs. Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes at 180 to 190 C(Fan) until chicken is cooked.

I served on a bed of spinach and bean spaghetti.
For the spaghetti, I boiled a big pot of water and cooked the pasta as normal. For the sauce, take a large frying pan (I use my non stick wok) and saute some chopped onion and garlic, mushrooms and red pepper chopped. About 5 minutes, next add in a tin of Cannelini beans that have been drained and rinsed and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Add in seasonings and herbs to taste then toss in the spaghetti and right before serving toss in some spinach and cook just till wilted. Sprinkle over some fresh grated Parmesan and enjoy.

Now what to do with left over spaghetti. Usually I have it the next day for breakfast, but I accidentally cooked even more than I could eat for breakfast. So I had a look through my cooking magazines and found this recipe for using up the spaghetti. It is from an old copy of BBC Good Food Vegetarian, December 1999. Yes, I keep all my old cooking mags.

Courgette and Spaghetti Fritata

This is my version. Preheat your grill/broiler.
Saute in some olive oil a chopped onion, chopped clove of garlic and some chopped red bell pepper. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes. Then add in 1 large courgette that has been cut into long thin strips. Some fresh oregano. Toss in your leftover spaghetti. Mix well. (Now make sure and use a non stick pan for this or you will have a mess on your hands.) Add in 3 well beaten eggs and some grated Parmesan. Cook over moderate heat till the base is set. Then place under the grill and cook until golden brown. Garnish with shavings or gratings of fresh Parmesan cheese and some warmed up tomato sauce.
Really quick and a super yummy way to use up the spaghetti. And I could have added in some more spinach!!! Maybe next time.

Friday, April 04, 2008

April 4th, 2008

Well since my last blog, there have been a few changes around here.... I am now retired!!! YEAH!
Brian has given me a super 50th birthday present in letting me retire early. We did all the sums and if we are good, we can afford it. That means cutting back slightly on the grocery bill and also cutting back on our eating out. By doing those two things and watching what we spend, that more than makes up for the amount I was earning on my part time job. I would much rather be at home working here and being with Brian and the cats than out working. We are going to see how it goes..... So far so good.... I have cut our grocery bill down by £20.00 each week so far and we have only noticed that there doesn't seem to be as much going in the bin. I am also going to be supplementing our groceries by growing some of my own veg and a few fruits too. I already have a bit of an herb garden here and grow as many of those that I can.

Great Big Vegetable Challenge Squash Up
Charlotte, Alex and Freddie over at The Great Big Vegetable Challenge are onto the letter S and are now doing recipes for Squash. This is a fruit or vegetable that I enjoy eating quite a bit. They are very good value for money and packed full of flavour and good things for your body. They can be fixed in so many different ways from sweets to savouries. I am learning to enjoy them as savouries, because my family used to use them in pies, cakes, muffins and cookie recipes. One of my favourite salads is pan fried butternut squash with a little balsamic vinegar served with some hunks of grilled goats cheese with salad leaves and red onion slices. I could eat this dish anytime of the year, but now with the weather warming up and sitting out on the patio just around the corner, I think I best be getting in some squash for such an occasion. Hopefully, I will be able to grow some in my garden this summer along with some acorn squash and courgettes. I did however, come up with a recipe that I think Charlotte and the kids might enjoy.....

Slow Cooked Spicy Squash Stew

First off I started by chopping up some braising steak and coating in seasoned flour and pan frying. Once browned I placed into a preheated slow cooker. Then pan fried some chopped onion and then put it into the slow cooker. I also peeled and chopped into good sized chunks one butternut squash this I pan fried too, but with hindsight just put this into the slow cooker. As the precooking made it a bit mushy. Next add in a tin of chopped tomatoes and a tin of chili red beans. Add some ground cumin and chili powder to taste. And about 1/2 a tube of tomato puree. Stir together and let cook on slow for about 5 to 6 hours.

It didn't come out too hot tasting which for me is just fine, but if you like more kick you could add more chili powder or even some chopped chilies to the recipe or a little cayenne. I served with some cooked rice and some freshly grated cheese. Really yummy especially on a busy day here.

Healthy Muffins

I have been wanting a bit of a snack that could also serve as lunch if I wasn't too hungry. So I opted to make some Carrot muffins which I have been enjoying with a lovely cup of tea. Brian has coffee instead. They are great for a quick bite when you are busy around the house doing things, like we have been lately.

Carrot Muffins
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 carrots grated
1 1/3 cups flour (this can be a mix of wholemeal and plain white)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg/or allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 cup soaked raisins, seedless
First off the changes to this recipe that I made are as follows....For the raisins I took a cup of hot tea and soaked some currants and some chopped apricots for about 10 minutes. Drain the liquid off before adding to the mixture. Also I added about 1 cup chopped pecans just before filling the muffin cups. You could use Courgettes in place of the carrots with possibly adding just a tad more flour. Or you could add some grated butternut or acorn squash about 1 cup for the carrot and with those I might add some of the tea liquid to the mix. A great all round recipe to experiment with. I also added in about 1 tablespoon or so of porridge oats to the muffins for a little added nutrition.

Beat the oil, eggs and sugar until blended. Stir in finely grated carrots. In another bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Add the carrots and fruit to the egg mixture and then add in the sifted dry ingredients. Stir just till mixed add in the pecans and oats and stir till combined. Now spoon into paper lined muffin tins. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 15 to 20 minutes. I had to cook mine for up to another 10 minutes. I guess it depends on your oven and on how full you fill your tins. I ended up with 12 large muffins.

Lemon Chicken with Petitpois and Pancetta

These two dishes come from one of my old copies of Good Food and was published in October 2001. Like my cook books I treasure all my magazines that have recipes in them and when I have time to have a sit down I pull out one of my saved copies from the book shelf and have a browse. They give me inspiration to try new things.
The Lemon Chicken...(serves 2)
Take two skinless and boneless chicken breasts and pound flat. Dredge in some seasoned flour(salt and pepper). Pan fry in a bit of olive oil and butter until browned on both sides. Next take the juice of one lemon and the same amount of water and mix. When the chicken is cooked then add the juice to the frying pan and simmer gently until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle over some chopped parsley.
This was really quite quick and delicious. You could really taste the lemon. A definite encore type of dish!!!

Peas with Pancetta.
First chop an onion and pan fry with the pancetta in a bit of butter until the onion is translucent and the pancetta is brown but not crisp. Stir in some frozen peas and a touch of water. Add some sprigs of thyme. I used lemon thyme. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Season to taste with some fresh ground black pepper.

I served this meal with a baked potato with some butter and some chopped parsley. Must remember to start the potato earlier next time.

Spinach From My Garden

I wanted a dish to fix for supper that would be worthy of my Spinach that has been growing all winter. Brian isn't all that keen on cooked spinach so I needed a recipe that had other ingredients too so you didn't get slimy green in your mouth. This spinach wasn't at all slimy tasting.
The recipe comes from Prue Leiths Cookery Bible. It is for Veal Florentine, but I substituted chicken for the veal.
Take one onion and chop fine and fry in a little olive oil. And some chopped mushrooms and two chopped cloves of garlic. Next add some tinned chopped tomatoes and I used two fresh chopped tomatoes too. Place into a baking dish. Clean frying pan and with a little butter wilt down the spinach. The recipe calls for 450grams of spinach for two servings. I picked as much as I could and added a few chard leaves too to get about 400 grams. Wilt this down until most of the liquid is gone and then top the tomato mixture. I sprinkled on some fresh grated Parmesan and some pine nuts. Next take your chicken and pound and cut into strips. Pan fry in a little oil and butter till lightly browned and then place on top of the spinach. Next make a Mornay sauce and cover the chicken with this. Top with some grated cheese and bread crumbs. Bake for about 30 minutes in an 180 C oven and then brown under the grill. Be careful as the bread crumbs will catch rather quickly.

I served with some microwaved Cauliflower and Brocolli, and some spaghetti that had been tossed in some passata once it was cooked. I think this dish was definately worthy of my Spinach.

Mornay Sauce
20 g butter
20g plain flour
pinch of dry English Mustard
pinch of cayenne pepper
290 ml milk
55g grated cheese such as Cheddar, Gruyere or Red Leister
15g grated parmesan cheese
salt and fresh ground pepper
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and stir in the flour, mustard and cayenne pepper. Cook stirring for about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Pour in the milk and mix well with a whisk. Return to the heat and stir till boiling. Simmer stirring well for 2 minute. Add all the cheese and mix well. Don't reboil!!! Season to taste with salt and pepper.