Coupler Soup

Summer appears to be racing by at a dizzying pace, wildly spinning the wheel of weather as she goes.  From sultry heatwaves to spectacular storms, August has given us plenty of gloriously sunny days too.  It’s always a busy month for us, celebrating birthdays in the first few days & our anniversary later in the month (there’s much cake to be baked & eaten!).  Breakfasts, lazy lunches, pasta & Prosecco have all been enjoyed on the patio,  while the plants have been abundant with their produce & easily picked for dinner.

The last few months, I’ve been sharing the home office with Mr Hungry (his upstairs, mine down) & it’s been a change most households have seen this year.  There are some downsides (other people can hear & see you on live calls), but there are plenty of ups too!  Not so long ago, we would meet for lunch in town to share a coffee & a few kisses, before wandering back to work.  This brief interlude would put a pep in my step & make the afternoon brighter – we have now have resumed our mid-day meet-ups.  Even though we are all in much closer proximity at the moment, it doesn’t mean we should become territorial about sharing space with our loved ones.

Shopping has recently become a bit like a treasure hunt, heightening our resourcefulness & making us more aware of our limited pantry.  This is nothing new to some of us, especially those on a limited budget or diet.  Being frugal can be a blessing, especially in the taste department.  Think of it as one of those old TV shows, where you were given a bag of ingredients & had to make a delicious dish.  It’s a challenge, but you’re up to it!

One of my favourite frugal recipes is based on an old minestrone soup.  Hearty, healthy & heaped with lots of little ingredients that don’t cost much.  We call this the Coupler Soup, because you need a couple of this & a couple of that.  We’ve all bought a tin of this, a packet of that, hoping to use it in some elaborate & exquisite dish, but shoving it to the back of the cupboard.  Bits of leftover dried pasta, a random tin of beans & that twisted up tube of tomato puree with a tiny bit left.  All seemed a bit pointless when you popped them in there, but now they are like gold dust!  You might notice I’ve used spinach instead of Cavolo Nero or cabbage.  This is simply because I like spinach on my pizza & there’s always a bit leftover, just enough to chuck in a soup or whizz into a delicious pesto, as you will know if you’ve been following my blog.  Over the years, I’ve adjusted the recipe to accommodate whatever ingredients were available, but it always has the same result – soupy satisfaction!

One of the main ingredients for this recipe is fresh chicken stock & here’s the link to my stock recipe:  https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-ten-in-a-dish/ .  I dilute it for this recipe, with a little water to wash out the tomato tin.  If you prefer to use a stock cube, make enough according to the instructions on the pack.  Ready to take the plunge?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2 pints of fresh Chicken Stock, well-strained if homemade
4 rashers Bacon (I used streaky smoked or whatever is in the freezer)
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
2 medium Carrots, washed & finely chopped
2 sticks Celery, washed & finely chopped
2 dried Bay Leaves
1 tin White Beans, drained (such as Cannellini or Haricot beans, whatever you have available)
1 tin Italian Plum Tomatoes (save the tin for measuring your pasta)
2 handfuls of Dried Pasta (see above)
2 handfuls of fresh Spinach, washed & chopped chunky, stems & all
1 tablespoon Tomato Puree
1 sprig fresh Rosemary – remove leaves & chop finely (keep the stalk)
2 cloves fresh Garlic, chopped finely
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper

What to do:

Prepare your ingredients first – wash, peel & chop finely as above.  Set them aside, ready to start.  Keep the Rosemary stalk & dry it – they make fabulous skewers for mini kebabs (slide whole cherry tomatoes & bocconcini on, then bake for 5 minutes in a hot oven – delicious!).

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep saucepan (you will need the lid for later) & using some good kitchen scissors, finely snip the smoked bacon into the pan.  Let it sizzle for a couple of moments, allowing it to render it’s fat (this adds essential flavour & in all honesty, it’s a miniscule amount).

Add the onion, carrot & celery to the pan, mixing well with the bacon & oil.  Give everything a good stir & fry for about 4-5 minutes, until slightly softened & the onion become glossy.

Tip in the garlic & Rosemary into the vegetables & then add the beans.  Add the chicken stock & bay leaves, stirring everything gently together.

Pour the plum tomatoes into your hand over the pan, squishing them carefully into the liquid (you can always tip them into a bowl & do this beforehand, if you prefer).

Fill the tin with cold water, swish it around to get the last drops of tomato juice & pour into the pan.

Using the empty tin, fill it with dried pasta pieces – whatever you’ve got in the cupboard is fine.  This recipe is to make the most of those leftover bits you’ve been saving for a rainy day – well it’s chucking it down now!  Carefully, without splashing yourself, sprinkle them into the soupy liquid.

Add the tomato puree, tip the chopped spinach into the pan & get stirring, mixing everything together.

Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer & put the lid half on the pan.  Let it bubble away softly for about 15-20 minutes, giving it a swirl around with the spoon occasionally.

Using a clean spoon, have a taste of your soup  & adjust the seasoning to your personal taste (get a clean spoon before tasting again).  It’s worth noting that any stock (homemade or shop-bought), along with bacon, contain salt, so you shouldn’t need to add much.  When you’re happy with the flavour, turn off the heat & tuck in!

Scoop your soup generously into bowls, making sure you get to the bottom of the pan!  Add some well-buttered, crusty bread for dunking & indulge in some soupy comfort food.  Ladle any leftovers into tubs or pots when cooled, pop them into the fridge & save for another day (it should keep in there for a couple of days at least).  I’ve used jam jars to stash soup in the fridge, just put an upturned cupcake case on the jar before putting on the lid (it gives it a bit of a better seal).

Although an everyday soup, it can also be turned into a souptacular starter.  Got a bit of day old bread that needs using up?  Make your own croutons!  Cut into cubes (as chunky or dainty as you like), drizzle with a little olive oil & bake on a tray in the oven at 220*C for about 10-15 minutes (give them a shake halfway through cooking).  Once bronzed & crisp, tip them onto a sheet of greaseproof paper on a cooling rack, before transferring to a serving plate for people to help themselves.  Pile a few in the centre of your soup, swirl with a little olive oil & a dusting of grated Parmesan.  That’s it!

Whether a romantic lunch or a suppertime starter, try my Coupler Soup to use up those random ingredients & create a hearty, wholesome soup!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

A Ragu-gu-gu!

It’s been a funny old year so far, like one of those intense mystery novels with one dizzying plot twist after another.  None of us know what’s going to happen next, the author has gone rogue & the leading characters are all bickering with each other like petulant, hungry teenagers.  When everything seems to be a swirl of stress & stomach dragons are grumbling, never fear – comfort food is here!  A proper dinner helps calm grumbling of all kinds, soothing those pesky stomach dragons & restoring a little peace (albeit briefly).

Preparing a meal is something I truly enjoy.  It’s impossible not to feel relaxed, while creating something so comforting & satisfying.  The whole process requires you to focus on each task & that in itself seems to release any tension.  It’s not as precise or technical as some recipes, but it’s sheer ease brings a sense of peace as you create a meal for your family.  My adoration of Italian food began when I was a teenager & this is a rush-less ragu recipe I’ve been making for my family ever since.  It is at the heart of my homemade meat lasagne, slowly baked between blankets of cheese sauce & sheets of homemade pasta, regularly shared as a Sunday dinner & often accompanied by my Husband’s focaccia (he’s quite a talented baker).  Sometimes I make it with sausages, sometimes beef or both, usually whatever I’ve got in the freezer (I freeze meat in small batches for this very purpose).  

This is a family-sized recipe & will serve at least six people generously (it makes a decent six portion lasagne too, although I have stretched it to eight on occasion).  Keep some handy in the freezer for when you’re short on time (make sure you use fresh beef or sausage if you intend to freeze it though, not previously frozen).  

A ragu is not fast food – to me it means “Relax And Gradually Unwind”, so just take your time & go at your own pace – there’s definitely no rush.  Ready to ragu?  Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

200g Minced Beef or 4 Plain Pork Sausages, skins removed (or half beef & pork)
2 medium Carrots, washed, peeled & finely chopped
2 sticks of Celery, washed & finely chopped
1 medium Onion, skin removed, topped, tailed & finely chopped
2 tins of Plum Tomatoes & their juice
1 generous tablespoon Tomato Puree
1 or 2 dried Bay Leaves (if you’re unsure, just use one)
1 sprig fresh Rosemary (approx 6″ long), leaves chopped finely
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped/sliced finely
2 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A splash of Balsamic Vinegar (the good stuff – about a teaspoonful)
Seasoning – Sea Salt & Black Pepper, both freshly ground

What to do:

Firstly, prepare your garlic, carrots, onion & celery.  Make sure you wash the carrots & celery thoroughly to remove any grit or dirt.  Peel the carrots & trim the ends off them & the celery.  Chop finely into mini pieces & set aside on your board.

Next, peel the garlic & onion.  Top & tail the onion, then chop finely as before – you can always use the food processor for this if you prefer.  Here’s a little tip from me: wear sunglasses to help reduce any tears (obviously not dark ones, you need to see).

Chop the garlic finely & then the Rosemary.  Remove the spindly leaves from the stem first – I save these for making mini-tomato & vegetable kebabs.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or deep frying pan on a medium heat.  Add the carrot, celery & onion & fry for a few minutes to soften.  Keep them moving around the pan, so they don’t catch & burn.

Add the meat – squeeze the sausages from the skins straight into the pan if it’s easier.  Break any big chunks into finer pieces (I use tongs for this, but a wooden spoon or spatula is just as good).  Stir fry until the meat is thoroughly coloured & all the pink has disappeared.

Season with a little salt & pepper, sprinkle in the garlic, Rosemary & bay leaves, giving everything a good stir (the scent is fabulous).  I don’t add the garlic at the beginning, because it can burn quite quickly & lose it’s sweetness.

Next, add the tomatoes – I tend to buy the whole plum tomatoes & squish them by hand, evenly over the pan.  Yes, it’s messy but you’ll wash.  Half fill each tin with cold water to swirl out those last little drops of tomato juice into the pan too – we don’t waste anything!

Add the tomato puree & a good splash of balsamic vinegar (even a few drops makes all the difference).  Reduce the heat to low & let it softly simmer for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Give it a taste, then add a little salt & pepper as needed (depending on the sausages you use, you might not need very much).  Using a clean spoon, taste it again to make sure it’s to your liking (seasoning is a personal thing).

Once you’re happy, let it bubble away on a gentle simmer for another 30 minutes or so, until reduced to a rich, thick meaty sauce.  Give your ragu another quick taste to check the seasoning is good & adjust it if you need to.  To test if it’s done, drag the spoon through the middle (the parting of the ragu) – if it leaves a gap & you can see the bottom of the pan, then it’s ready!

Get the family together, grab a fork & get stuck in!  It makes a sumptuously lazy supper generously spooned over spaghetti (with a good scattering of grated Parmesan on top), or stuffed in a variety of pasta parcels & shapes.  This versatile rich meat sauce is especially fabulous layered up in lasagne – here’s the link to my vegetable lasagne recipe, just swap the meat ragu for the vegetable one: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/perfect-pastafication/

When the world gets too fast, slow down the pace & make a little comfort in your own kitchen with a fabulously flavourful ragu – Relax And Gradually Unwind.  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

Preekend Profiteroles

It’s fabulous Friday, the weekend is almost here (we call it the Preekend because it’s pre-weekend), so I like to make something special.  When I was a young girl, both my Mum & Grandma would bake all kinds of wonderful delicious treats, including the most beautifully light, crisp choux pastry (pâte à choux).  I remember sitting in the kitchen, watching in amazement as my Mum vigorously beat the dough with such ease, making it seem so effortless.  Of course, I learned later on there is a lot of effort that goes into them – although simple to make, profiteroles need plenty of stamina!

The best bit was when these plump little pastries would be generously glazed with glossy, gooey chocolate sauce & adorned with homemade sparkly spun sugar.  My Mum swiftly whipped a molten sugar-dipped fork through the air & glittery, golden sugar strands would appear as if by magic!  Although I don’t tend to make spun sugar very often, I do still make proper profiteroles & once you have tried them, you’ll be hooked too.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

4oz Plain Flour
2oz Salted Butter (plus extra for greasing trays)
A quarter of a pint of cold Water
3 large Eggs
600ml fresh Double Cream (for filling)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C.

Place the butter in a medium sized saucepan & add the water.  Gently heat until the butter is completely melted, then bring to the boil.

Remove the pan from the heat & add the flour, stirring well.

Put the pan back on the heat, stirring continuously until the mixture comes together into a ball in the pan, then leave to cool.

Beat the eggs in a separate bowl.

Once the mixture has cooled, this is where you need your muscles!  Grab a wooden spoon & gradually add the eggs a bit at a time, while beating them vigorously into the mixture, until you have a silky smooth golden dough.  Then you’re ready to pipe!

Prepare your baking trays – smudge with a little butter, then run them under cold water & tip off the excess (you need a film of moisture to create steam in the oven to help raise them).

Tip your choux paste into a piping bag with round nozzle attachment (usually about 1cm sized).  Sometimes, I like to use a star nozzle because it gives extra texture (which attracts more chocolate sauce later – planning ahead!).  If you stand your piping bag over a tall mug or jug, folding the edges over the top to hold it in place, you can do this with ease & avoid losing your choux paste.  Once filled, get rid of any excess air from the bag & twist the top tightly closed (after all that hard work, you don’t want your bag bursting!).

Pipe the mixture into round little dollops about an inch big, leaving an inch or two gap between each of them so they can grow.

Bake for 20 minutes until risen & slightly golden.  Tip onto a wire rack & while they’re still warm, make a little hole in the side of each (gently poke the end of a knife in).  Leave to cool.

Once cooled, your profiteroles are ready!  If you are preparing them in advance, you can freeze them unfilled & a few at a time in a single layer.  They crisp up beautifully in a warm oven for a couple of minutes & you’ll be able to dish up a dessert at a moment’s notice.

Fill your piping bag with whipped cream & pipe into the tiny hole you made in each profiterole, until just full.  Stack them up on your plate or put them in the fridge in a covered dish, but don’t leave them too long as they will go soggy.

Generously drizzle warm, chocolate sauce over them & serve!  You want the recipe for chocolate sauce, don’t you?  It’s really easy to make & one of my favourite “chuck it all in a pan” recipes.  I make jars of this & store it in the fridge or the cold pantry, then warm it up to make it runny enough to pour over cupcakes (it tastes fabulous spread on hot toast too).   Here it is!

What you need:

4oz Butter, cut into small chunks
8oz Plain Chocolate, chopped into chunks
14oz tin of sweetened Condensed Milk

What to do:

Pour the milk into a dry small saucepan, add the butter & chocolate chunks.

Heat gently on low, slowly stirring with a whisk & making sure everything is combined, for about four or five minutes.  It should be glossy, smooth & silky.

That’s it!  Your sauce is ready, so pour it into a nice serving jug or sauce boat just before the dessert is plated up.  This also makes a fabulous fondue with chunks of pineapple, whole strawberries or fluffy marshmallows dipped in (elasticated waistbands are advisable though).

They even freeze well (unfilled), so you can have a stash ready for unexpected guests or just as a treat when you fancy them.

Those plump little pastries melt in a crisp, gooey cream & chocolatey mouthful within seconds, although they always linger much longer in my memory.  Stay hungry! 😉 Aimee x

 

Freshly Squeezed Sunshine & Sherbet Lemon Cake!

Early mornings are the best time of day for me, when everyone else is either sleeping or getting ready to go out.  It’s usually dark when I leave & I love catching that inky blue sky as it slowly melts into an array of pretty pinks & golds.  It’s a serene time of day for me & as Christmas is getting closer, people are bustling about, bags bulging & feet burning, so I like to soak up the calm before the chaos.

Christmas cakes have been decorated with snowy scenes, presents wrapped & cards sent (except mine, because I’ve not had time to write any yet).  I’ve been sculpting little cute creatures from my homemade modelling chocolate, ready to be wrapped & hopefully not eaten.  This time of year can become a bit of a whirlwind of things to do & when this happens, I find it soothing to put on an apron & bake a cake.  Cake should be created with care, not rushed but relished & enjoyed.  A happy Cook makes a happy cake!

Cake: even the mere mention of this magical food can cause a frenzy of fresh faces at the door, eyes wide in anticipation of sweet creations.  As a child, baking always seemed like some kind of magical spell – you put a tin full of sweet tasting goo in the oven & a fluffy cloud of cake comes out!  This particular cake is the one I am best known for, my Lemon Drizzle Cake.  Lighter-than-air layers of lemon cake & whipped buttercream that seem to evaporate like a zesty zephyr with every mouthful.  It tastes like freshly squeezed sunshine & sherbet lemons, almost defying you not to feel brighter & more cheery as you eat it.  This recipe is for a seven inch three layered cake, perfect for afternoon tea with friends or a celebration of your own & yes, even Christmas!

Now you’re probably only going to need about one lemon’s worth of zest, depending on size, but you need their juice.  You all know by now that I don’t like waste, so zest all the lemons & pop spoonfuls of the extra zest in ice-cube trays & cover with a little water, then freeze for future bakes.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2-3 large Unwaxed Lemons, washed & dried, room temperature

For the Cake:
8oz Unsalted Butter, softened at room temperature
8oz Sugar
8oz Self-Raising Flour
4 large Eggs
2 teaspoons fresh Lemon Zest
A few drops Vanilla Extract

For the Syrup:
100ml approx of fresh Lemon Juice topped up with Sugar to 150ml (see picture here)
1 teaspoon fresh Lemon Zest

For the Buttercream:
5oz Unsalted Butter, softened at room temperature
12oz Icing Sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon fresh Lemon Zest for decoration/filling

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 190*C & prepare your tins.  You will need three 7″ cake tins.  Wipe them out with a little melted butter.  I use the butter wrapper for this – you can keep them in the fridge or freezer for future bakes (you’re welcome!).  Sprinkle with a little additional flour & shake around to coat the inside of your tins.  Tap them upside down to tip out any excess flour.  Place a circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each tin & set them aside on your worktop.

Next, prepare your lemons.  Wash them well in warm soapy water, drying them equally well.  Once cleaned, give them a good firm roll on the worktop.  This will encourage them to give up their juice easier.

Using a zester or the fine side of a cheese grater, remove the zest of the lemons carefully.  You just want to zip off the golden skin, not the white pith underneath, so try not to use too much pressure as you zest.  Cover & set aside.

Cut each lemon in half & squeeze the juice into a cup or mug.  Don’t worry about pips, simply pour the juice into a strainer over a measuring jug.  I use a fork to juice lemons – jab it into the middle & twist while you squeeze the outside.  Set aside.

Now to make the cake batter!  Beat the butter & sugar in a large mixing bowl until a soft golden paste.

Add one egg, beating well until your mixture is glossy & fluffy.  Repeat with the rest of the eggs, one at a time.

Sift half the flour into the mixture carefully, then fold into the wet ingredients using a spatula.  Once it’s started to combine, sift in the rest of the flour & continue to fold until fully blended to a smooth, thick batter.

Sprinkle the lemon zest across the top & stir in well.

Using your whisk, give it one last beating for about 30 seconds, just to get a good gust of air in at the end.

Spoon into the prepare tins equally, smoothing down the mixture until level.

Bake on the shelf just down from the centre of the oven for approximately 18-20 minutes, until well-risen & lightly golden on top.

Using a stem of spaghetti or a skewer, gently poke the cake in the centre – if it comes out clean, it’s cooked.   Place the cakes in their tins on a cooling rack for a minute.

Slide a pallet knife between the edge of the tin & the cake to loosen it.  Turn it out very gently onto a cooling rack & peel off the greaseproof paper circle by pulling it slowly back on itself – don’t lift it up or it will bring half your cake with it.  Turn your cake over very carefully & leave to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, time to make the buttercream.  This is my method to blend puff-free powdered icing sugar with the butter.  It just requires a little effort & will mean you don’t have a cloud of sugar.

Tip the butter into a bowl & using a soft spatula, beat & spread it around the bowl (I usually spread it halfway up around the edges).

Very slowly add all the icing sugar – do not tip it in, use a tablespoon to scoop it into the bowl & add it as close to the butter as possible.

Using the spatula, press it into the butter & scoop from the sides of the bowl, folding & pressing until all the sugar is squished into the butter to form a very stiff paste.

Once it’s all incorporated, add a little of the lemon juice & give everything a good beating with the spatula until very light textured & fluffy.  It should be the palest, creamy colour by now.

Spoon into a piping bag with your preferred nozzle (I used a large star nozzle because that’s my favourite for this).  Fold the end & pop it into the fridge while you make the syrup.

Strain 100ml of the lemon juice into a measuring jug.  Add the sugar evenly until the liquid has risen to 150ml – you should have an equal stripe of sugar & lemon juice in the jug.

Add the lemon zest & give everything a good stir.  Either pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes on full power or dissolve in a small saucepan over a medium heat.  Once the sugar has disappeared completely, your syrup is ready.  Give it a stir again & set aside to cool slightly.

Time to start assembling your cake!  Get yourself a lovely serving plate & remove the buttercream from the fridge.  I’m going to give you a couple of tips here that I’ve learned over the years too.

Firstly, take your buttercream & pipe a small half inch splodge in the centre of your serving plate.  This will stop your cake from sliding around while you’re stacking the layers.

Take your first cake layer & flip it over, so it’s flat side up.  Lay it onto the splodge of buttercream on the plate.

Using a stem of spaghetti or a skewer, poke several holes all over the cake.

Spoon about a third of the  lemon syrup evenly all over the cake – remember, you just want to drizzle not drown the cake, so don’t overdo it or it will go soggy.  Just drizzle enough syrup all over & don’t worry if a bit goes over the edges, it will soak in.

Pipe decorative swirls around the top of the cake, to make a buttercream ring around the edge.  Fill the centre in by piping around the inner edge, getting smaller until in the middle.

Take the next layer of cake, flip it over as before & carefully lay it on top of the buttercream, making sure it’s level & even.

Repeat the above steps, poking little holes in carefully – you don’t want to go through the cake, just make little vents for the syrup to seep into.  Again, don’t worry if it goes over the edges, it will be fine.  Pipe the buttercream as before.

Place the final layer of cake on top carefully, ensuring it is level & your cake layers are all in line with each other (give it a little nudge until you’re happy with it).

Carefully poke some holes in the top cake, as before for the previous layers & add the syrup.  If you have some syrup left at the end, freeze it in ice cube trays (it’s perfect poured over ice-cream or plopped in a glass of Prosecco).

Sprinkle strands of fresh lemon zest all over the top of your cake, with a few on the plate around the edge.  That’s it, your cake is ready to slice & share!  I recommend keeping it as simple as this for an afternoon treat with friends, but if it’s for a birthday or celebration, decorate as you like!

So if you need a little sunshine, try my de-luscious & delightful Lemon Drizzle cake!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Champignon The Wonder Pie!

Gazing into the garden while sipping my first coffee of the day, there is an Autumnal air about it.  The early sunshine is just peaking over the rooftops, causing the dew laden lawn to shimmer in the sunlight & perfectly summing up the Summer.

August has been very much “all or nothing”, either a raging hot heatwave or shivering shade, deluge or drought, & nothing inbetween.  The poor plants don’t seem to know which way to turn & our multi-tasking willow tree has been happily soaking up the excess water, whilst providing welcome cool shade to the local wildlife.  There are baby olives on our little olive tree trying to ripen, green tomatoes just starting to blush red & a bounty of blackberries waiting patiently to be plucked.  The garden seems to be clinging on by it’s very leaf-tips to the last days of Summer, as Autumn has quietly arrived & begun to unpack her colourful attire across the landscape.

Before Autumn settles in, there are some comforting meals we can indulge in to soften the seasonal switch.  Fresh produce is all around us, just waiting to be turned into tasty transitional treats.  Some of my best ideas come from mooching around the markets, shopping when everyone else is sat in traffic (or still in bed), & picking up some fabulous bargains.  The early bird always catches her worm & although thankfully not very worm-like, earthy foods have caught my eye recently – the beautiful but humble mushroom.

Soft, light & flavoursome, mushrooms are one of the most versatile ingredients in cooking.  They go with pretty much everything, adding both subtle & substantial flavour to dishes, & the variety is truly amazing!  From the tiny to the tawny, closed cup or open, the frilly or the flat, these fabulous funghi are just waiting to be turned into delicious dishes!

As I wanted them to be the main attraction, I created my Champignon the Wonder Pie – a delicate mushroom & vegetable stew, tucked in under a crisp comforting blanket of buttery puff pastry.   This is one of those lazy afternoon recipes to make, rather relaxing & a little therapeutic even.  Although simple to make, there is going to be some prep involved – I hear you groaning, but I promise it’s all easy stuff, no mysterious ingredients & worth every minute when you taste the results. 

Firstly, you’re going to need vegetable stock – use either a stock cube or fresh, whatever works best for you & the time you have available.  I make my own & freeze it, as it uses up all the veg trimmings & you know what’s in it (too much salt & mushrooms = watery mess & a soggy pie).  My easy vegetable stock recipe means no standing around watching pans either.  You’ll need a couple of carrots, an onion, two celery sticks & a handful of fresh herbs (half a dozen Sage leaves, some sprigs of Thyme & a couple of Rosemary stems work well), along with any mushroom stems, parsnip, bean or pea trimmings – wash everything well to remove grit & dirt, then chuck them all in a roasting tin with 2-3 pints of cold water, a splash of olive oil & a few good grinds of black pepper & sea salt.  Cover it with foil to seal in all the juices & bake at 200*C for just over an hour, then strain & that’s it.  Use it fresh, stick it in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze it.  Save the veggies to whizz up into soups or sauces & pour any leftovers into jars for the fridge or ice cube trays to freeze.

If you prefer, you can swap the vegetable stock for chicken stock (as long as your guests are not vegetarian) – both work well & it tastes just as lovely either way.  A little bit of tasty trivia for you here: vegetable stock is actually a broth, as stock refers to a liquid that has bones cooked in it.

Next, although I have used two types of pastry (shortcrust for the base & puff for the lid), you could use shortcrust all over or just use shop-bought puff lids if time is limited – please make sure it’s proper all-butter puff to do your pie proud.  If you do fancy having a go at making your own, here’s the link to my puff pastry recipe: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/puff-up-the-volume/   You will only need half the amount, so reduce the measurements accordingly.  It’s easy to make & just needs an hour to rest in the fridge before rolling, so you could make this while the stock is in the oven.

Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the filling:
250g Mushrooms approx (I’ve used closed cup & flat but use what you like here)
1 stick of Celery
1 medium Carrot
1 medium Red Onion
2 tablespoons of Sweetcorn
100ml Vegetable Stock approx
25g Salted Butter
25g Plain Flour
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the base Pastry:
6oz Plain Flour, plus extra for rolling out & prepping your tin
2oz Salted Butter, plus extra for your tin
1 large Egg
A little cold water, about a tablespoon

4oz Puff Pastry (see link above to make fresh or buy all-butter puff pastry)
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan or Medium Cheddar
1 Egg & 2 tablespoons of Milk, whisked together to make egg wash

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare a pie tin.  I’ve used an 8″ square cake tin because it was handy.  Smudge a little butter around the inside of the tin & then sprinkle with flour.  Tip out the flour (save for rolling out) & set the tin aside.

Time to prepare your vegetables!  Give them all a good wash in cold water & remove the onion outer skin.  Top & tail all of them, chop finely & set aside.

Prepare the mushrooms next.  Give them a good wipe with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or grit (if they’re small, use a pastry brush).  Take out about half a dozen & set to one side whole.  Chop the rest up finely & set aside too.

Heat a large frying pan or skillet.  Add the butter & oil, mixing well until melted together.

Add the carrot, onion & celery, stirring well to coat in the oil butter mixture, then fry on a medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes.  Give them a nudge around the pan from time to time, so they don’t catch & burn.  You want them to soften slightly, but not go squishy.

Add the mushrooms & give everything a good stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Sprinkle in the plain flour around the pan & stir fry everything together until the flour has disappeared.  This is going to make a roux in the pan, as it will absorb the butter & oil in the mixture, thickening everything up nicely.

Add the stock gradually & stir well into the mixture, making a smooth sauce.  When everything is combined, turn off the pan.

Slice up the whole mushrooms you saved into bite-sized bits & stir them into the stew.

Make the base pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour.  Add the egg & stir into the flour mixture using a metal spoon or knife.  As it starts to come together, add a trickle of the cold water to form a soft dough.

Turn it out onto a floured surface, sprinkle a little flour on top & roll out until slightly larger than the size of your tin all around.

Flop the pastry over your rolling pin & carefully lift into the tin, draping it inside as you do so.  Press gently into all the edges & leave a little hanging over the tin (to attach the puff pastry lid to later).  Try using the end of the rolling pin for this, as it’s smooth & won’t tear your pastry.

Roll out the puff pastry to just over the size of your pie tin & set aside.

Tip the mushroom pie filling into the pastry lined tin & spread out well.  Dip your finger in a cup of cold water & run it around the edge of the pastry.

Put the puff pastry lid on top & press the edges down to seal the pastry base to the lid.  Prick all over with a fork or a sharp knife.

Brush with a little egg wash all over.  If you want to make little pastry decorations with the leftover bit of puff, do that now & lay them on top, then brush them too (not too many though).  Sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan.

Bake in the oven for about 25 -30 minutes, until thoroughly golden & the layers are starting to show at the edges.  The sides of the pastry will come away from the tin slightly when it’s ready.

Put the pie tin on a cooling rack for a few moments to relax before serving.  That’s it!  Just get everyone around the table & dig in!   Meaty but meatless, this mushroom-packed pastry goes well with either a generous scoop of cheesy mashed potatoes & steamed crisp vegetables, or a zesty green salad scattered with a few spots of aged Balsamic vinegar & toasted pine nuts.  Slice it up cold for a luscious leftover lunch or freeze in slices for indulgent lazy suppers after a long day at work.

However you serve it, this crispy champignon-crammed pie is the perfect comfort food for chilly almost-Autumn evenings.  Stay hungry! 😉 Aimee x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All On A Summer’s Day!

Summer has arrived & although the sunshine has been a bit shy just lately, there are some fabulous fruits in the shops right now, ripe for the picking.  Summer for me has always meant strawberries & as a child, I would love to both pick & eat them.  We grew them in pots in the garden & sometimes would go strawberry picking at a local farm, but they were always lusciously lovely & the mere scent of strawberries brings back those memories instantly!  Sunny Summer afternoons spent sitting on the grass, sipping a glass of my Mum’s homemade elderflower fizz (now there’s a recipe!) & pretending it was the finest Champagne, the hum of bumble bees buzzing around & warm sunshine on my face, whilst indulging in a beautiful blanket banquet.  This would obviously include a bowl of freshly picked strawberries, washed & dunked in a little sugar before being devoured.  This is why I always smell strawberries before buying them (& probably why I get such funny looks from other shoppers!).  The sweeter the scent, the sweeter the berry!  Sometimes the simplest of treats is the most delicious & satisfying to all the senses – we don’t just eat food with our mouths, all the other senses chip in too!

One of my all time favourite treats is a petite pretty pastry, filled to the brim & adorned with ripe, ruby red strawberries.  To call it a jam tart would not do justice to them, as the jam is simply the sweet glue that bonds these beautiful berries together within the pastry cup.  These delicate delicacies are another of my childhood favourites & tremendously easy to make, all it takes is a little preparation & of course a little patience too.  They also work well with a variety of berries or fruit – try cherries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries, or why not pineapple, apricots or apples!  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the pastry:
6oz Plain Flour
2oz Salted Butter, room temperature (slightly softened)
2oz Sugar (I use my homemade vanilla sugar – pop a vanilla pod in a jar of sugar overnight & that’s it!)
1 large Egg
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
Zest of half a Lemon & half an Orange, mixed
A little extra Butter & Flour for preparing your baking tin
A little Milk (approx. 2 tablespoons will do)

For the filling:
Half a jar of good quality Strawberry Conserve or Jam
1 punnet fresh ripe Strawberries
300ml fresh Double Cream
1 teaspoon Icing Sugar
1 plastic or metal Drinking Straw (this is an important piece of kitchen equipment!)

What to do:

Firstly, pre-heat the oven to 200*C.  While that’s warming up, prepare your baking tin.  You’ll need a 12 cup patty tin for this recipe.  Simply wipe a little butter around the inside of each cup & sprinkle in some flour on top.  Shake out the excess onto a clean worktop (where you’ll be preparing your pastry later).  This makes your patty tin non-stick & the pastries will be easier to remove after baking.

Now to prepare your strawberries – give them a wash in cold water & drain well (I usually tip them onto a clean tea towel).  This is where your drinking straw comes in!  Push the straw up from the bottom to the top of the berry, all the way through & then pull the tiny strawberry tree from the straw.  Pop those tiny trees in the composter, ready to turn into lovely rich soil for the next plants!  The riper the strawberries are, the easier it is & this will take moments, leaving you with a bowlful of beautiful hulled berries & not a squishy one in sight! 

Stand the strawberries on their plumper end & slice the edges off, then set aside for later (pop them in the fridge on a plate covered up, especially if it’s a warm day).  Keep the ends to make dinky decorations for your baked tarts.  Slice up the rest of the strawberries into thin slices.  Again, set aside in a dish for later, but separately from your strawberry hearts (in case they give out any juice).

There are a couple of ways to make the pretty heart-shaped strawberry slices like I have.  Either use a small heart-shaped cutter or plunger if you have one or, as the strawberry is naturally shaped that way, simply cut a little V out of the top of the slice & trim the edges to a point at the bottom of the berry.  Make sure you wash your hands after this stage & dry well.

Time to make the pastry cups.  Tip all the pastry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.  Using a knife, mix everything together loosely & break up the eggs, then get your hands in & squish the ingredients together to form a firm ball of dough.

Lightly dust your work surface with a little flour & place your ball of pastry on top.  Roll it out until about 3-4mm thick.  If it sticks to your worktop, slide a pallet knife underneath it & add a little more flour to your worktop.  It is a sticky pastry, so don’t worry if it does this (the taste is worth the effort).

Once rolled, take a circle cookie cutter slightly larger than your patty tin & cut out twelve circles.  Place each circle in the prepared tin & using the end of your rolling pin, gently dab each one into place.

Pop half a teaspoon of jam into the centre of each pastry cup & top with some strawberry slices.  As jam grows, please do not be tempted to fill up the pastry cup with huge dollops of it – it will expand & spread all over like molten lava & it will burn.  Leave the spoon in the jam for later, we’re going to use it again after baking.

Place the tarts in the centre of the oven & bake for 8-10 minutes, until the jam is bubbling around the berries & the pastry has turned a golden hue.

Once baked, remove the tin & place on a cooling rack.  Gently slide your pallet knife under each tart & carefully lift out onto your cooling rack.

While your tarts are still warm, scoop another half teaspoon of jam onto the filling of each.  Don’t worry about spreading it over the fruit, it will be fine.  Allow them to cool completely before the next stage.

To get the strawberry pastry decorations I made, you’re going to need a small calyx cutter (or small star) & a small heart cutter.  You can buy these online or at any good baking retailer.

Roll out your pastry as before & cut out a dozen of each shapes, along with a few spares too (just in case!).

Place the hearts on a sheet of greaseproof baking paper on a flat baking tray.  Using your little finger or a small brush, dab a drip of milk on the top centre of the strawberry shape, then pop your star on top & leave a couple of the points hanging over the top.  Press lightly to attach & there you go – one strawberry pastry shape!  Repeat with the rest & brush them all with a little milk (or use your finger to wipe the milk on), then bake for 8-10 minutes in the centre of the oven.

When cooked, use a pallet knife to carefully lift the pastry strawberries onto a cooling rack.  They should lift easily off the greaseproof paper, plus you have a clean baking tray – no washing up!  Leave to rest until completely cooled.   You can make these the day before & pop them in an airtight container until you’re ready to use them.

Once your tarts are cooled, whip your double cream with the icing sugar until thickened & you can make firm swirls with your beaters (the icing sugar helps the cream hold it’s shape when piped).  Scoop into a piping bag with your preferred nozzle (or just a bag with the tip cut off if you like).

Pipe swirls of cream, starting at the outer edge & working your way towards the centre, getting the cream taller as you pipe.

Place the pastry strawberry on top, tilting it at a slight angle & a strawberry heart on either side of the cream.  Repeat until you have decorated them all & set them onto a pretty plate.  If you’re serving them later, cover them & keep in the fridge until then.  They will keep overnight (as long  as nobody eats them!).

That’s it!  Perfect served as part of an elegant afternoon tea, a special soiree, or simply as a sumptuous strawberry treat with a chilled glass of fizz, these plump little pastries will certainly bring some sunshine to your day!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

A Pearway to Heaven!

The Spring might seem a little way off yet, as this morning’s Wintry winds & persistent downpour are proving, however Nature is just as persistent.  Beautiful golden daffodils, delicate narcissus & tiny tête-à-tête trumpets are all blossoming on patios, windowsills & supermarket shelves, their slender sleeves tightly packed together with golden tips peeking out of the top, ready to burst into brightness!  Nature is defiantly poking her tongue out at the world, with crocuses & snowdrops lining the grass verges too.   It’s this beauty amongst the harshness of Winter that has been my inspiration recently, especially with the sugar art I’ve been creating.  Just the scent of daffodils lifts the spirits, so I decided to try making a sugar version in their honour.

Family birthdays have been at the forefront throughout January, with three birthdays (including my Husband’s) arriving within ten days of each other – that’s a lot of cake to consider!  After the end of year festivities, it’s always nice to make birthday cakes especially light, bright & slightly Spring-like.  Thoughts turn to tiny flowers, pretty petite petals & floral freshness, inspiring me to create a very chocolatey, two tier birthday cake of slightly epic proportions for my Husband’s birthday (there are only two of us now, so anything bigger than a regular cake is epic for us).  The cake had four layers of rich chocolate cake in each tier & took me two days to make & decorate, but the actual decorations took just over a week & a bit to make, as they needed to dry/set before they could be added to the cake.  Fred Bear, a white modelling chocolate creation I made, was sat by the cake with sugar paste balloons for the birthday boy (worry ye not readers, Fred is currently sat with some sugary friends & won’t be eaten – he took a while to make & is far too cute!).

Chilly weather always invites pudding after dinner & this recipe is based on one my Mum used to make when I was a young girl, a flavoursome fluffy sponge cake crowning a layer of sweet fruit.  Now, in those days this was made mostly with apples & earned the name Eve’s Pudding, however I’ve adapted it over the years & used other fruits (usually whatever’s in the fruit bowl that needs using up).  This sumptuously sticky version is my Pearway to Heaven, made with really ripe eating apples & pears (apples & pairs is Cockney rhyming slang for stairs, hence it’s name).  The delicious caramel syrup enveloping the fruit has a light, zesty flavour & will satisfy any sweet cravings during this cold snap, plus that fading fruit in the bowl will be used up, so no waste!  If you’re buying fresh, check out any that are “wonky” or on sale – really ripe fruit has plenty of natural sweetness & requires less sugar.  Ready to get your pud on?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

6 Pears
4 medium Apples (eating apples, like Cox’s Pippin or similar)
3oz Salted Butter
3oz Light Muscovado Sugar
Half a ball of Stem Ginger, finely chopped
Zest of half a Lemon & an Orange, mixed together
Pinch of Ground Cinnamon
Quarter teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

For the Sponge topping:
4oz Butter
4oz Sugar
4oz Self Raising Flour (or Plain with 2 teaspoons of baking powder)
2 large Eggs

What to do:

Firstly, pre-heat the oven to 170*C & grease a casserole dish big enough to get your fruit in (a medium sized one should do).  If you have the wrapper from the butter, these are brilliant for this job – I also save them & stash them in the fridge/freezer for future greasing of cake tins, etc – just fold them over butter side together & pop in a freezer bag.  Once you’ve finished with them, they can go in the recycling.

Next, prepare your fruit. Go through that fruit bowl & pick out any apples & pears that are about to walk out in protest, because they’re so ripe.  The riper the fruit, the better the pudding.

Wash, dry & peel them, then remove the cores & trim away any brown bits.  Chop into small bite-sized chunks, about the size of your little fingernail & put into a deep saucepan.

Add the Muscovado sugar, butter, vanilla extract, sprinkle in the cinnamon & zest.

On a low heat, stir everything together until the butter & sugar have melted into a gooey, caramel sauce.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring gently so as not to break up the fruit too much.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop the fruit into the bottom of the greased casserole dish with the caramel sauce (be careful not to splash yourself, as it’s sugar & it will burn you!).  There should be some liquid left over, so tip this carefully into a heatproof jug  & put in the fridge to chill (you’ll be needing this later).

Now to make the sponge cake topping!  In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar & butter together until fluffy (I do this with a wooden spoon, but you can use an electric whisk if you prefer).

Add the eggs & beat into the buttery sugar mixture until fully incorporated.

Sift the flour into the creamy mixture & fold in (move your spoon around like a figure of eight in the bowl, scooping flour into the mixture).  Make sure all the flour is combined into the cake mixture & give it a good stir at the end just to make sure.

Spoon over your fruit mixture evenly, gently spreading around to the edges (be careful not to press hard, otherwise it will sink).  Don’t worry too much about any gaps at the edge, as the mixture will grow & cover these.

Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 35-40 minutes, until risen & golden (your kitchen will smell absolutely gorgeous by now too!).

To test if your cake is ready, get a piece of spaghetti & gently poke it into the centre of the sponge.  If it comes out clean, the sponge is done.  If not, pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes & check again.

Once ready, place on a cooling rack to allow the pudding to rest & cool for about 10 minutes (it will be hotter than the sun & nobody wants a mouthful of red hot lava-like fruit straight from the oven!).  Trust me, it will still be warm & the sauce will soak into the bottom of the sponge cake nicely.

Scoop into bowls & serve with a drizzle of the leftover zesty caramel sauce.  Add a splodge of ice-cream & get stuck in!  The perfect pudding for warming up these Wintry evenings, my lightly zesty caramel version will satisfy those sweet after-dinner cravings.  Try making it with plums, peaches or blackberries to create your own favourite & use up any fresh fruit that needs eating.

Next time your fruit bowl is looking a bit sad & squishy, turn it into a Pearway to Heaven Pudding!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

 

Swing Your Panés!

Looking out of the window earlier this morning, the garden seemed like it had been dusted with a sprinkling of finely powdered icing sugar, as a layer of frost had settled all over.  Fresh, frosty mornings are always a good excuse to snuggle under the duvet for an extra five minutes (especially as it’s so cold at 5.00am), but every Wintry frost-filled day is another one closer to Spring.  Evenings are beginning to stay lighter,  plus we’ve had bright yellow sunshine & crisp blue skies, bringing a little hope that Winter is on the wane (although it’s been snowing up the road from here & I’m not shedding the thermals just yet).  

Here we are speeding through January, the sugar-free month of sparseness & salads, wine denial & working out, when fast food becomes forbidden.  Whether you’re worn out or just going without, it’s bound to make people a bit tetchy to say the least!  At times like these, you need food that’s quick, easy & satisfying – when you’re not feeling up to much, the last thing you want to be doing is faffing around in the kitchen.  Meals can become a bit boring if you’re not careful too.  It’s far too easy to open a packet of something or do the dial-a-dinner thing, but they don’t tend to hit the spot very often or for very long (usually resulting in ransacking the cupboards for something else afterwards).  This is where a little planning & preparation can help you have dinners done & dusted.

As you probably know by now, I’m a fan of being prepared & getting meals portioned up in pots, frozen for fast fixes of our favourite foods.  Bread is blitzed into breadcrumbs, chucked in bags & frozen, ready for these occasions.  At the weekends, I like to get a couple of chickens in & fillet them, freezing the legs in pairs (these are great for simply defrosting & chucking in the oven with some olive oil, lemon, fresh Rosemary & garlic) & the carcasses are turned into stock for risottos, soups & gravy (nothing gets wasted!).  The chicken breast can be turned into a variety of dishes – my Friday Night Fakeaway or Aisha’s Kick Ass Curry spring to mind, but another favourite of ours is my baked crispy breaded chicken.  This tasty panéed chicken dish is quite possibly the easiest meal to prepare, satisfying those cravings for fried fast food without actually being fried.  Leftovers can be frozen for future lazy suppers, lunchtime wraps with salad or even sliced & tossed in pasta with a little homemade tomato sauce & a few roasted peppers.  To pané means to coat in a little flour, egg & breadcrumbs (in my last blog, I did this with arancini to make crispy risotto balls).  The only tip I will give is you need to keep one hand for the dry ingredients & one for the wet, otherwise you’ll end up with panéed fingers!

These beautiful breadcrumbed chicken pieces can be baked in the oven & dished up faster than a takeaway can be ordered & delivered (yes, really – plus they’re much cheaper & so much healthier, with no hidden ingredients).  If you’re filleting a chicken, a medium sized one makes enough to feed four people generously, just add sides & a salad!  Ready to try making your own?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2 large Chicken Breasts (you can get 8-10 pieces from this)
2 Eggs, beaten in a shallow dish with a tiny pinch of salt
8 slices of Bread (any bread you like)
2oz Plain Flour, in a shallow dish
Zest of a Lemon (wash it well in soapy water first!)
Quarter teaspoon Sea Salt
Quarter teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
Quarter teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme or Oregano (optional)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (about 2-3 tablespoons, but keep the bottle handy as you may need a bit more)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 210*C & drizzle half the olive oil around the bottom of a roasting tin.  Set aside for later.

Blitz the slices of bread, a few at a time, in a food processor until fine breadcrumbs.

Add the salt, pepper, herbs & lemon zest to the breadcrumbs, then give it a good mix.  Set aside for now.

Prepare your chicken breasts.  Using a sharp knife, slice them through the middle as if you were butterflying them – lay them flat on the board & slice across from left to right.  Remove the small piece from underneath that looks like a mini-fillet.  Taking a pair of kitchen scissors, cut out the white piece of thin tendon that will be sticking out (it won’t cook out, it will just make your chicken curl up & taste like chewy elastic).

Dip a piece of chicken in the flour & shake off the excess, then lay gently into the beaten egg.

Using your other hand (so you don’t pané your fingers), move the chicken about to coat in the egg, then shake to remove the excess.

Place the wet chicken piece into the breadcrumb mixture & coat well on both sides, patting it on to ensure even coverage.

Lay it in the roasting tin & repeat the process with all the other pieces of chicken, until all are breaded.  Wash your hands thoroughly.

Drizzle the remainder of the oil generously over the chicken portions & place the tin in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes.  Halfway through cooking, give it a good shake to loosen them from the tin & flip them over.  Because it’s thin, the chicken will cook faster & the crumb coating will stop it drying out.

When cooked, the breadcrumbs will be golden & crispy.  Test one by cutting in half – the meat should be white inside.  Transfer to a warm plate & serve immediately with homemade chunky chips & a crisp green salad or corn on the cob & minted petit pois.  That’s it!

These crispy, crunchy chicken portions have a slightly spicy kick, so I like to serve them with a bowl of my chilled homemade tomato sauce (it’s not just reserved for pasta) or a cooling Greek Yoghurt dip to soothe the tongue.  Blue cheese dip, salsa & pesto all go well with these too, so it’s up to you how you dress them up!

These breaded beauties are perfect for supper on the sofa, snuggled up with your other half & a glass of chilled wine or fizz.  If there are any extra pieces, pop them in the freezer & defrost when you need them.  Just reheat at 180*C in the oven for 10-12 minutes (poke with a sharp knife to check they are piping hot before eating), or simply layer them cold in a sandwich, wrap or salad for lunch the next day.  Try adding a teaspoon of pesto to a tablespoon of Greek yoghurt, spread on seeded bread & pile up with pieces of crispy chicken & snipped up sundried tomatoes for a luscious lunch.

So when you’re craving crunchy crispy chicken, forget the dial-a-dinner & bake a batch of my beautiful breadcrumbed chicken instead!  Stay hungry! A 😉 x

 

 

Get Your Glammon!

Cheery Christmas cards full of festive wishes have started arriving at the Hungry household.  Although we’re halfway into December, the realisation that Christmas is almost upon us has appeared like a flashing neon sign.  We all lead busy lives, with some days seeming to blur into one another & before you know it, you’ve got a glass of fizz in one hand, a saucepan in the other & a houseful of hungry guests.  Juggling your many hats is not an easy task – there’s the Work you, the Home you, the you who everyone turns to when things go backside up & then there’s the you who feeds everyone.  Having a little time in reserve for yourself is rare & when you do get a bit of spare time, everyone wants a share of it.  Sometimes, you have to be a bit selfish because if you don’t look after yourself, you won’t be able to look after anyone else.  This time of year can be a real drain on you too, both physically & mentally, so we all need a bit of help every now & then (& a lot of coffee!).

As you probably know by now, I like to prepare meals in advance as much as I can & do a bit of “stealth cooking”.  This is where I cook a couple of (or ten) extra portions of everything & freeze them for future meals – there’s very little effort in peeling a few extra potatoes or chopping another couple of carrots (especially if you delegate).  It’s like having your own fast food outlet in your freezer & all you’ve got to do is decide what you want for dinner!   Trust me, after a long day at work & being tightly packed on a train for an hour, plus having at least a 20 minute drive home, you really don’t want to be faffing around with food when you get there.  Be kind to yourself & with a little planning, you can be organised like a cooking ninja (just think of me as your Foodie Godmother).

This glamorous glazed gammon ham is something I learned to cook many years ago & is perfect for creating multiple meals.  For those of you who have never heard of gammon before, it is a pork joint made from the haunch or hind legs of a pig.  This is cured like bacon, sometimes brined & salted, but always must be cooked before consuming.  As with bacon, gammon can be smoked or unsmoked & for this recipe, I have used unsmoked so that the flavour of the fragrant spices can infuse with the meat.  The word ‘gammon’ originated from the old French word ‘gambon’ (now ‘jambon’) around the 15th century, which in turn became translated to the English word ‘ham’.

Although it’s great served as a special Sunday dinner, this heavenly ham can also go a lot further than just one meal!  Served hot with buttery mashed potatoes, crisp roasted parsnips & a golden-crusted, velvety cauliflower cheese, it really hits the spot!  Leftovers are deliciously lovely – slice thinly for nibbling with cheese & crackers, layer with salad in sandwiches & a feisty mustard mayo, or chuck chunks into a creamy, cheese-enveloped pasta bake.  I’ve fried it for breakfast, created some fabulous frittatas & it’s even graced a few of my homemade pizzas too!

Over time, I’ve tweaked the recipe but always go back to my favourite way to cook it.  The gammon is boiled & then baked, neither of which you have to stand around watching, but the best bit is the wonderfully fragrant spices, with their mulled wine perfume & delicately warm taste.  The gorgeously gooey glaze gives it a deep rose tinted finish & the scent will definitely make you feel Christmassy!  As it’s the time of year for making mulled wine too, I must confess that I have on occasion added the spices from my homemade version the night before (you can see some of the wine-coloured, slightly sozzled oranges in the photos below), with a few fresh spices thrown in – waste not, want not!  This could possibly be the shimmering jewel on your table for Boxing Day & beyond.  Ready to get your Glammon?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

500g – 1kg Gammon joint, unsmoked
5 Star Anise, whole
1 teaspoon Black Peppercorns, whole
1 teaspoon Cloves, whole
2 Cinnamon sticks
1 chunk of fresh Ginger (about the size of your thumb & twice as wide)
2 medium Oranges (room temperature)
Approx 3 pints of cold Water (it should cover the gammon by at least 3 inches, so depending on the size of your joint/pan, use your own judgement here)

For the Glaze:
Half a jar of Apricot Jam
1 tablespoon Stem Ginger Syrup (from a jar of Stem Ginger)
1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1 tablespoon Mango Chutney (optional)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C & prepare a dish for the baking part of the process (get this out of the way now & you can just pop it into the oven without trying to find a dish).

Line a casserole dish or lasagne dish with greaseproof paper, making sure it comes right up & over the edges like a little paper dish inside.  This will catch all the syrupy sticky glaze & stop it ruining your best baking dishes (I learned the hard way).

Put the gammon into a large, deep saucepan (I’ve got a huge pasta pan that I use for this) – your pan should be big enough to leave about 3-4 inches between the top of the cooking water & the top of the pan.  Make sure you’ve removed all the wrapping from the gammon (including that paper circle around the edge), as you want all the lovely spices to impart their fragrant flavours into the meat.

Snap the cinnamon sticks in half & chuck them in the pan.

Add the cloves, star anise & peppercorns to the pan, just scatter them all over the gammon & around it.

Peel the ginger, cut into a few thick stems & chuck them in the pan too.

Because you want the juice from your oranges as well as their skin, they need to be at room temperature & not cold (the warmer they are, the more juice you’ll get).  Give them a firm roll on a worktop or chopping board – this will help you get the most juice from them.

Cut the oranges into halves, squeeze the juice all over the meat & pop the skins in the pan next to it.

Carefully pour the water into the pan now, making sure there is about three inches of water above the meat, plus enough room between the water & the top of the pan.  Pop the lid almost on the pan, leaving a tiny little gap to allow steam to escape.

Bring to the boil gently, then turn down the heat until it’s just a bubbling simmer.  It’s a bit like giving the gammon a spicy bubble bath & you don’t want any spillages.

Simmer for an hour with the lid almost fully on (leave a tiny gap), checking on it after about 20 minutes, just to make sure it’s all going as planned.

Once boiled, carefully lift the gammon into the prepared casserole dish.  Sometimes, the joint may have started to “unravel” itself, so get a couple of metal skewers & push through each side across each other to pull everything back together.

Stand the gammon on it’s edge, skewer spikes down, ready to be glazed.

Put all the glaze ingredients into a mixing bowl & mash together.  Make sure everything is mixed well into a gooey, gloopy syrup.  Pour all over the gammon, making sure you coat it all over the top & sides thoroughly.

Bake in the lower half of the oven for about 30 minutes, checking halfway through cooking & basting with the glaze – just scoop it up from the dish & spoon it over.

Once ready, it should be shiny & the colour will have deepened slightly.  Remove from the oven & place the dish on a cooling rack to rest for half an hour (I like to cover mine loosely with foil or greaseproof paper – just make a dome shape over the dish, so it doesn’t touch your glazed gammon).

While it’s resting, get your side dishes cooking (this is where those pre-prepared extras you’ve made come in – pop them into little dishes, whack them in the oven & relax).

Remove the skewers carefully from your gammon joint (they will still be very hot) & place the joint on a chopping board in the centre of the table, ready to serve!

You won’t need to call your guests to the table – once your gammon is ready to dish up, there will be a queue of shiny little faces at the kitchen door waiting to taste it.  If you do have any leftovers, try some of the suggestions I’ve made above (especially the pizza one – here’s the link to my pizza dough recipe to give you a bit of help: http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-pizza-cake/).

So there’s my gorgeously gooey & ever so slightly glamorous gammon.  When you’re fed up of turkey or just fancy something spicy & special, get your Glam-mon!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

 

 

Every Rose Has It’s Apple

Looking out of the window this morning, the brilliant blue almost cloudless sky with stunning sunshine, it’s hard to believe the last couple of weeks’ worth of weather that have wreaked havoc in the garden.  Our willow tree spent the beginning of the month with her spindly branches sideways slanted in the wind, the delicate pretty pink clematis petals have all been scattered across the lawn (which I was going to mow, until it got really windy).  Although it’s standard for this time of year here, it always unnerves me a little as I see the plants we nurture all year round getting a blustery battering from the winds & rain.  At the weekend, we did a bit of tidying up, trimming of the willow & eucalyptus trees, even discovering lost treasures (the chiminea was actually a wedding gift, found buried under a pile of leaves & plant pots – we’ve been married 13 years!).  The last of the peppers, beans & tomatoes have been harvested from their vines, with the tomatoes currently sat on the windowsill, getting a top-up tan from the Autumn sunshine.

When my parents visited recently, they brought with them a lovely gift of freshly picked apples from their neighbour (thank you, Lisa!), which I added to the wonderful wonky apples I got from our local Aldi & filled a large bowl on the table (although why they’re called wonky is beyond me – they’re beautiful, just all different shapes & sizes).  The scent of apples, especially when just plucked from the tree, is simply beautiful & their fresh fragrance fills the room.  The russet reds & pale green shiny dappled skins, with that tart crispness just beneath, are always a welcome addition to Autumnal desserts & salads.  Many Sundays gone, I would make a tasty sticky Tarte Tatin as a fruity delight to be devoured after dinner.  Flaky, buttery puff pastry would crown the curved apple quarters, all bathed in a thick, gorgeously gooey caramel syrup (usually with a bit of spillage in the oven, because I always made too much).

It’s these kind of traditional desserts that inspire me to make dainty, more petite portions to nibble on or adorn a cake.  As you probably know, I love making sugar roses & what better way to show off slender slices of apple than to turn them into floral treats.  This is a really simple recipe & I prefer to use my homemade buttery flaky puff pastry as it crisps up perfectly – if you are buying it though, please make sure it’s the all-butter proper stuff to do your dessert some justice.  The recipe for butter puff pastry is here if you want to make it & although it’s simple to make, it does need an hour to rest & allow all the layers to appear (it’s well worth it though & tastes lovely!):   http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/puff-up-the-volume/

Now even if you’re knife skills are good, cutting wafer thin apple slices is not as easy as anticipated, so any odd shaped slices can always be piled into in a pie with some blackberries or under a crispy topped crumble (freeze it for a lazy dessert another day, even in individual portions so you can have a treat anytime).  My Mum suggested using a vegetable peeler & it works brilliantly for this.  Alternatively, you can always use a food processor.  Ready to get rosy?  Hands washed & aprons on, here we go!

What you need:

8oz All Butter Puff Pastry (recipe link above for homemade)
4 small Apples, washed well & dried (any apples you like will do)
2-3oz Light Muscovado Sugar
1 large Egg, beaten with a tiny pinch of Sea Salt (for glazing before baking)
2 tablespoons Milk (for glazing after baking)
Ground Cinnamon (for dusting)
Icing Sugar (for dusting)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 190*C & prepare your baking tray or muffin tin.  Rub butter all over the inside of a muffin tin & that’s it, you’re done.  If you’re using a baking tray, line with greaseproof paper, pressing it down well, remove & turn it over, press it down again, ensuring no bubbles are visible.  Run cold water onto the butter lined tin, shaking off the excess.

Prepare your apples.  Leave the peel on, especially if they are crimson red or a peachy pink colour, as their colour will intensify as they cook.  Cut them into quarters & remove the cores (chuck these in the composter or feed them to the birds).

Slice your apples thinly using a vegetable peeler or you could put them through the food processor if you like, whatever’s easiest for you.  They need to be flexible, so the thinner the better.  Set aside & if you want to stop them going brown, squeeze a few drips of fresh lemon juice over them (don’t go mad, otherwise they will make your ears flap).

Roll out your pastry thinly (not see-through though) & cut into strips twice the width of your apple slices.

Score lightly down the centre, as you’re going to fold them & want them to do this easily.

Overlap the slices of apple along the pastry, flat side towards the score in the middle & the curved side of the apple slices should be slightly popping over the top.

Sprinkle a little of the sugar along the flat edge of the apple slices, then fold the pastry over & press gently down.

Roll up carefully & place in the prepared tin.  Repeat with the rest until you have a bunch of apple roses.

Glaze with beaten egg around the tops & bake in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes, depending on how large you have made them (the ones I baked in my muffin tins were huge, so they needed a bit longer).

Once cooked, they will be all golden on top & the sugar will have turned into a slightly darker caramel colour.

Gently slide out onto a wire cooling rack using a pallet knife & glaze with the cold milk, then dust with a pinch of the cinnamon while they’re still warm.  Using a tea strainer, lightly shake some icing sugar over the tops & serve!

To be honest, I made lots of different sizes when I baked these, mostly to use up all the odd bits of pastry that were leftover (after all the effort of making puff pastry, I really can’t bear to throw any away).  These go great with a scoop of my Mascarpone & Greek Yoghurt ice-cream (see my Fig-Get Me Knots recipe for details), or you could just pour over a little cream.  Don’t think these are just for eating as a sweet either – try with a little piece of Brie, Camembert or soft blue Gorgonzola Dolce (I have a fondness for this creamy blue cheese, spread on warm crisp toast with a few splodges of cranberry sauce – don’t knock it til you try it!).

So while they’re at their finest, go grab some colourful Autumnal apples & bake a bunch of beautiful blooms!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x