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.


Patricia Scarpin said...

Dear Pat, happy birthday and congratulations on your retirement!
The veggies and fruit grown by you will be hundreds of times better than the ones in the grocery store, I know that.

Pat said...

Thanks Patricia, They really do taste so much better already. Can't wait until the other veg gets to growing.

katiez said...

Congrats on your new status!
Don't you just love fresh spinach in the spring? And great looking chicken...
My veg garden got tilled today, but it will be a few weeks before I can plant more than spinach...

Pat said...

Hi Katiez, Thanks!!! Well my garden is on hold again!!! We are getting snow as I type this! I think probably spinach will be the only thing I get to grow this year.

David Hall said...

Loving those muffins Pat! A brilliant invention from your homeland.


Pat said...

Thanks David. Muffins are lovely snacks and I don't feel bad about eating them as much as I would cupcakes. Thing is you do have to try to make them healthy rather than filled with chocolate and sugar.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Happy belated Birthday!!

Hope you're enjoying retirement.

Kelly-Jane said...

Hi Pat, Happy Birthday, Happy retirement and enjoy your extra time :)

I'd really like to grow some of my own veg, but in our current garden that's not really possible, really looking forward to seeing more of your home-grown veggies :)

All your food looks lovely as always, I like the lemon chicken with the peas especailly.

Pat said...

Thanks Amanda, hope you are feeling better.

Thanks Kelly, Honest you can fit some veg in in just about any garden. Cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets along with pots of lettuces and some herbs. I even grew courgettes in big pots last year. And potatoes grow in a bag or bucket quite well. I am hoping to grow some squash this year along our fences. You can be surprised where you can put some veg into your garden.

Cynthia said...

Pat darling I am so happy for you and happy birthday!

It is important sometimes to get out of the rat race and enjoy life and the ones we love and doing the things we enjoy. I know that it will all go well.

Sending you big hugs!

Pat said...

Thanks Cynthia and big hugs to you too!!!

Cottage Smallholder said...

Congratulations on your retirement Pat!!!

You'll have loads of fun growing your own veg.

Sometimes it's worth cutting back a bit financially to get a little more freedom, in every sense.

Pat said...

Thanks Fiona. I do enjoy growing my own veg and finding it a bit of a fun challenge pinching pennies here and there. :)