Summer “Cooking”

Maybe I’m just making excuses to be lazy but the summer weather means I haven’t felt much like baking or cooking recently.  It hasn’t even been consistently hot and sunny but here in Bristol, even on the wet, grey days, it’s been muggy: not the sort of weather conducive to standing next to a hot oven for a few hours.

The solution is either to get your husband to barbecue or to prepare salads and light dishes requiring minimal cooking time.  I have managed to achieve both of these and thought I’d share with you some of the recipes we’ve enjoyed.

First up, this courgette tart, which was an excellent way of using up some superb homegrown courgettes a friend had given us.  The recipe is by Rose Prince and appeared in the Saturday Telegraph magazine a couple of weeks ago.  You will see that she recommends making your own rough puff pastry but I went for second best and used shop bought pure butter puff pastry.  I was not that successful at getting my courgettes to form “ribbons” but it didn’t matter that much.

IMG_3628

Next, burgers.  This was a very last minute supper.  It was a lovely warm evening and so we shelved our original supper plans and youngest son popped to Waitrose to buy some ground beef (not too lean) and burger buns.  All I do to make burgers is add ground black pepper and an egg, mix well and shape.  I don’t add onion or salt or garlic.  This way you can really taste the beef and get additional flavours from the sauces and other toppings you serve alongside (eg gherkins, ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, cheese, lettuce, sliced tomatoes).  Sometimes we sandwich our burgers in ciabatta but, to be honest, the regular burger buns with sesame seeds work perfectly.  On this occasion, in addition to the toppings listed above, I found some red Romano peppers in the fridge which I halved, deseeded, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt for my husband to grill on the barbecue.  J invited his friend round to join us and by the time we were ready to eat it was nearly dark so we lit some candles and tucked in.  Impromptu evenings like this are very often the most enjoyable.

Once again, my latest favourite cookbook, Honey and Co., came up trumps when I wanted a simple fish recipe the other Friday.  The recipe in the book used sea bream but I could only get sea bass fillets; I doubt there’s much difference.  I just roasted the fish fillets (one each) in the Aga roasting oven for 8-9 minutes with a little olive oil and seasoning and squirted on some lemon juice at the end.  The salad ingredients are as follows (for 4 people):

  • 4 small Lebanese cucumbers or 1 long one
  • 250g red grapes
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped
  • 1 small bunch dill, fronds picked and chopped
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g pain yoghurt (I used Greek style)

Peel the cucumber to create a zebra-striped effect, slice in half lengthways and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds.  Chop into crescents and place in a large bowl.  Wash and halve the grapes and add with the chopped herbs.  Season with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil and mix well.  Spread two tablespoons of yoghurt on each plate and pile some salad on top, ready for the fish when it’s cooked.  Et voilà.

Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise is one of my favourite summer salads.  On summer holidays in France I would always order it.  But what is it exactly?

Last weekend I decided to make it when my son W and his fiancée were home, but realised I’d never used a recipe and always just made it up as I went along.  Browsing some of my cookery books, magazine cuttings and Google, I realised that there were many different versions of this salad.  I consulted Twitter too: there were as many people declaring potatoes were definitely not to be added as there were those who insisted on them.  What to do?  The wonderful Felicity Cloake had of course done the research in this article in her “How to make the perfect” series, but her “perfect” recipe was not my perfect one.  In reading about the salad, I was surprised at how many chefs, including Felicity, did not include tuna.  For me, this salad is one of the best vehicles for tinned tuna.  I was also surprised that green beans were not a regular addition.  I liked the raw broad bean idea but it would be more time consuming for this fairly lazy cook.  (I also didn’t skin or deseed my tomatoes: what of it?)

In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a an agreed upon, universal recipe for Salade Niçoise but what does it matter?  Make a salad with the the ingredients you like and which you have to hand.  On this particular occasion, mine was made with new potatoes which I added to the vinaigrette (some say mustard is a no no but I’m not one of them) while still warm, green beans, cooked and refreshed in cold water, tomatoes, tinned tuna, black olives, anchovies (essential) and hard boiled eggs.  I also added cucumber but this was a mistake: too watery.  It may not have been authentic, but with crusty ciabatta to mop up the dressing, it made for a delicious Saturday lunch.  And next time I make it, it might well be completely different.

 

Casseroles

IMG_2078

 

Spring was definitely in the air last weekend.  It was still chilly, especially in the early morning and evening, but when the sun was shining one could actually feel the heat from it.  Early Spring blossom has started to appear on the trees in Bristol and the daffodils are very much in flower.  So it might seem odd that I chose to cook rather wintry, comfort food dishes, but I thought I’d better get them in before temperatures really do rise.

 

Lancashire Hotpot

My husband says I can’t possibly write a post about this meal because we didn’t take a photo of it, but, with apologies for the lack of illustration, I’ve decided to do it anyway.  It was a success and the ideal thing to cook last Saturday when I had plenty of time in the morning but wanted to watch England play Wales in a crucial Six Nations rugby match in the afternoon.  Honestly, as you will see, this hotpot is more or less just an assembly job.  While I was preparing it I managed to keep an eye on the Italy v Ireland match.

For the ingredients, I more or less followed Felicity Cloake again and make no apologies for that.  Here is what I did.

Ingredients

(Serves 4)

  • 6 lamb cutlets
  • 400g diced lamb shoulder
  • Flour, salt and pepper
  • 3-4 large, floury potatoes
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 300ml stock (Felicity says lamb stock, but I used a homemade chicken one because that’s what I had in the fridge, and it was fine.)
  • 20g melted butter, plus extra to grease.

Method

  • Dust the meat with the flour and seasoning.  Peel and slice the potatoes thinly.
  • Butter a casserole which has a lid.
  • Put a layer of overlapping potato slices in the bottom of the casserole, season them and sprinkle with a little thyme.
  • Put the meat and bay leaf on top, followed by the onions and some more seasoning.
  • Top with the remaining potatoes, overlapping them again.  Season these and pour on the stock, which should not come above the topping.
  • Brush the potatoes with the melted butter.
  • Put the lid on and place the casserole in the simmering oven.  Cook for 4-6 hours.
  • Thirty minutes before serving, remove the lid and transfer to the roasting oven to brown the potatoes.

I placed it in the oven at about 2pm and then all I had to do when we were ready to eat was steam some carrots (in the simmering oven of course) and cook some cabbage.

 

IMG_2565

 

By the way, for afternoon tea on the sofa, in front of the England v Wales match, we had buttered slices of this delicious “hot cross” fruit loaf which I’d bought in the morning from the Bordeaux Quay stall at Whiteladies Road Market.

 

 

 

Simple Stroganoff

This beef stroganoff, based on Delia Smith’s recipe, has the flavours of “proper” stroganoff but the advantage that it can be made ahead instead of at the last minute; it’s ideally suited to Aga cooking.

Ingredients

(Serves 4 people)

  • 700g fairly lean braising beef
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 50g butter
  • 275 ml dry white wine
  • 250g mushrooms, sliced if large
  • 250ml sour cream
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Method

  • Cut the meat into thin strips, about 5mm wide and no more than 6cm long.
  • Melt the butter in a casserole and soften the onion in it in the simmering oven for about 15 minutes.  Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.
  • Place the casserole on the boiling plate and brown the beef in batches.
  • Once the meat is browned, move the casserole to the simmering plate and return the beef and onion to it.  Season and pour in the wine.
  • Bring to simmering point, put on the lid and let it cook in the simmering oven for 3-4 hours.
  • An hour before you want to eat, stir in the mushrooms, cover and return it to the oven.
  • Taste to check seasoning, stir in the sour cream with a good grating of nutmeg.  Don’t let the cream boil.
  • Serve with plain boiled rice and perhaps some broccoli or a green salad.

Depending on the weather, perhaps my next posts will move on to lighter, fresher dishes.

Ginger Cake

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Felicity Cloake’s “How to cook perfect…” series in the Guardian.  This afternoon I’ve had a lovely time trying out her ginger cake.  The recipe appeals to me because it doesn’t contain any black treacle.  I’m eating a slice with my cup of tea as I write this.

I followed Felicity’s recipe precisely and I’m very pleased with it.  I baked it in the baking oven with the rack on the floor.  After 30 minutes I put a piece of baking parchment on top and also slid in the cold plain shelf to cool the oven down a little.  Total baking time: 50 minutes.