30 May 2011

Joe's Cottage Pie

I'm one of those people who really likes my mum's cooking best - but since she tried Joe's cottage pie she's stopped making it. She says there's no point - and I can see what she means - it is pretty good. I've been a bit useless since coming back to London and last night he returned home to whip up a pie for supper with his dad and then made me my favourite thing - capaletti from Sainsbury's with lots of butter, garlic salt, pepper and cheddar. There's nothing quite like it.

I was going to help make the pie... then somehow I found that sitting on the sofa staring into space was much more what I wanted to be doing so he shouted out what he was doing and took pictures for me. Hurrah for Joe in every way...

He'd also like to point out that this is a good recipe for people who don't like carrots in their cottage pie... it does use carrot, but only one and so it's hardly noticeable. I'd like to point out that I know that cottage pie shouldn't really have tinned tomatoes in it... but this one does and it works. This is great to make ahead... or to make loads of and have as yummy left overs... or to have in the freezer as a lazy treat.

Serves 6

4 rashers of bacon (we use Oscar Meyer... how unpatriotic of us)
1 carrot, thinly sliced
2 onions, sliced
900g beef mince
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
A large handful of thyme
750g tinned tomatoes
Tomato puree
9ish King Edwards potatoes (or any that will make nice mash)
Cheese for grating
Salt and pepper

Joe cooks the majority of this in a wok...Pre-heat the oven to 180C/356F.

1. Soften the onion, garlic and carrot in a frying pan (or wok) on a medium heat and then move to a bowl. Turn the heat up and cook the mince in big chunks until brown. Once it is going brown, throw the onion, garlic and carrot back in. (Weird eh?)

2. Add the thyme, bacon and tomatoes to the mince with a cupful of water and a generous squirt of tomato puree, lots of salt and pepper and the sugar. Stir and reduce the heat and cook with the lid off for half and hour.

mince cooking in a wok
3. While the mince is cooking peel and parboil the potatoes then mash with butter, milk (and cream if you've got it) and nutmeg.

4. Tip the mince into your pie dish and top with the mash. Grate some cheese on top and cook in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes to half an hour.

23 May 2011

Nigella's Hot and Sour Soup

This was incredibly easy to make and yummy and the fruits of me trying to be organised and actually go through my cookery books and pick new recipes to try out which makes me feel smug. I love making chicken laksa but wanted a bit of a change and this is a great soup to have in your arsenal and the prawns make a nice change from chicken. It comes from Nigella Bites- an oldy but a goody.

Serves 4-6

1.5 litres chicken stock
1 heaped tbsp tom yum paste
1 stick lemon grass, inner part only, roughly chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp fish sauce
3 small fresh red chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp sugar
150g straw or button mushrooms. halved or quartered
500g peeled raw prawns, thawed if frozen
5 small spring onions, cut into short lengths and then into strips
small bunch coriander, chopped

I didn't have the kaffir lime leaves so I left them out and it was fine. I used button mushrooms which were yummy and defrosted my prawns in the fridge during the day so they were ready to go in when I cooked in the evening.

1. Heat the stock and tom yum in a decent sized saucepan with the lime leaves, lemongrass, lime juice, fish sauce, chillies and sugar.

2. Bring to the boil, add the mushrooms and simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the prawns and spring onions and cook for a further 2-3 minutes or until the prawns are cooked but still tender.

Nigella's hot and sour soup
Does not look as yummy as it was
3. Sprinkle with a little coriander and put more on the table for people to add if they want.

17 May 2011

Horseradish Potato Salad

Brother-in-law carving the beef
I'm excited because I've made potato salad twice in the last fortnight and although that may seem excessive it does mean that it's nearly summer again. I used to have no interest in potato salad at all until I realised it could actually taste of something and it was the ideal accompaniment to my rare roast beef and cherry tomato salad. Well the last two times my sister has been cooking the beef and I've been obsessively making the potato salad so I can feel like I've contributed something and I have to say it was well received. You can obviously do what you like but here's how I do it...

Serves 4-5

1kg new potatoes (I like Maris Piper's but you can use whichever you like)
4 heaped tbsps sour cream
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2-3 tbsp horseradish sauce

I do this by taste and by eye - you technically want more chives than dill (and you can leave the dill out completely if you are not a fan) - but you can do whatever you like. This is just yummy in a lunchbox too - in the summer I make up a batch and then have it with smoked mackerel and salad leaves. Yum.

1. Cook the potatoes until they are fork soft, drain and leave to cool to room temperature.

2. In the bottom of a big bowl that you want to serve the potatoes in put all the other ingredients except the salt and pepper - I chop the herbs in with scissors.

Potato Salad does not look lovely when photographed...
3. When the potatoes are cooked chop them in half or in quarters and mix in with the other ingredients. Add salt and pepper and taste. You can add more horseradish, herbs or seasoning anytime.

11 May 2011

Retail Herb Therapy

mint in a pot
I have always known that retail really does work for me as a form of therapy... but only to a certain spend limit - I also suffer greatly from buyers remorse so I have to get it just right. I returned to London on Sunday night for my anniversary on Monday and to try and find something to squeeze my ever-expanding self into for my father's cremation on Thursday and I'd planned to venture into Westfield and buy myself anything that I tried on that I wanted. I can never afford to do this anymore and thought I deserved it. My darling friend Florence picked me up to drive me there (had been whisked out to lunch by lovely work friend and was short on time) and we stopped off at a garden centre on the way.

I had prepared myself for Westfield, I had not mentally prepared myself for the garden centre. The garden centre had not mentally prepared itself for me. I strolled in there with the dog assuming that I would just get some more flat leaf parsley and maybe some coriander, but then the dog disappeared for a pee under the herb stand so I was stranded there face to face with a strawberry plant... it tipped me over the edge. I had an image of myself spending Tuesday morning in the sun effortlessly potting herbs that would make me look like a culinary goddess and general all round domestic wonder woman. I spent £60 on herbs. £60!! I did buy three terracotta pots and Florence's compost that the overwhelmed lady serving us forgot to put through but still!

Lovely Tuesday morning pootling in the garden turned into hardcore 2 hour slog involving more dragging the dog to the garden centre for extra pots and the tarragon I'd forgotten amidst the buying of herbs I'll never use. Now we have strawberry's, flat leaf parsley, coriander, tarragon, oregano, thyme, mint, marjoram, I managed to resist the basil (much better to buy the supermarket pots and keep them inside and replace when they die) but fell for some dill which I love but will last a week and make me even more resentful of it never being in supermarkets. I even got some lovely white and salmon pink flowers which could be petunias but I can't remember, for the hanging basket of death.

Forgotten flowers in hanging basket of death, with clean laundry being aired behind
I created garden havoc leaving it for Joe to clear up as I had to rush back to Hampshire to have lunch with my mum where I shall now stay until Monday morning... please pray for rain or I'm going to have a meltdown when I return to my pots and pots of dried sticks.
Potted herbs on a fire escape
Tasteful herbs made less tasteful by husbands BBQ in the back... and using old colander for the Thyme

Needless to say I found nothing to wear in Westfield and am planning on cutting holes in the top and sides of a bin bag - I'll end up hating whatever I wear anyway won't I?

7 May 2011

The Bell, Alresford

The Bell, AlresfordI've lived near Alresford for all of my 27 (ugh nearly 28) years and I have never once set foot in The Bell. That is because I have set foot in the Horse and Groom (aptly known to the youth of the the area as the Doom and Gloom) which has one of those red patterned carpets and you can still smell the hundreds of pre-smoking ban fags (most of which were smoked by me) and although I love it for it's familiar atmosphere it's not anywhere I would go for a nice supper. And there's a Pizza Express next door. I can't resist pizza.

Then there's The Globe - which is very nice in a way and the restaurant bit was lovely when I went there but for me there's something missing. Maybe its my complete frustration with the parking or the near-death experience of parking up the street and then going round the bend outside on foot. Or maybe it's because I've never managed to go there when the suns been out so I've always been confined to the crammed inside.

Anyway, The Bell has just been a step too far for me on the Alresford pub circuit. I see now this has been massive mistake. My brother-in-law announced that he was going to take us out to a 'nice gastropub' for supper last night as we'd all rather spent the last week since my father's death staring at the wall and listening to me overuse the word 'soothing' when describing anything (but mostly food). I think none of us wanted to go (except him and my husband who are massive foodies and week of pasta was getting to them rather I think). The thing is we only wanted to stare at the wall and drink gin (in my case vodka - my taste buds are just not grown up enough for gin yet). I for one was also worried that he'd take us to the wonderful Bush at Ovington which was a big favourite of my dad's and I think we'd have started crying as soon as we set foot in the door.

But he went to the trouble of booking us a taxi (sounds easy if you are a city dweller as he is... in the middle of nowhere it's a bit of a nightmare) so we schlepped along after him, me with my belief that The Bell was not going to be quite what he was expecting. Wrong - The Bell was not quite what I was expecting. The atmosphere is just fantastic - it was a Friday night and it was heaving but in such a friendly way that it didn't matter. One of the few places that does nice rose, our table was slightly late so we sat sipping in the garden and looking at the menu. The staff were really nice and polite - which I'm sadly just not used to anymore.

The menu was just fantastic - we're going to have to go back just because there were so many things that we would have liked to have had each! I shared a baked Camembert with Sam and it was without a doubt the best baked Camembert I've ever had. I don't know how they'd done it (we thought possibly with egg and Parmesan brushed on the top) but it was just fantastic - served with parma ham, chorizo, balsamic onions, sun dried tomatoes and olives I would happily have it again every day for a very long time if not for the rest of my life. I'm worried every baked Camembert from now on is going to be a massive let down. Joe and my mother had a very traditional looking prawn cocktail (declared 'soothing' by my mother which made me happy - I like her to be soothed) and my sister had a fantastic looking twice baked watercress and spinach souffle with Parmesan sauce which she declared was delicious but disappeared so quickly that none of us got a look in.

She and I both had the honey glazed pork belly with mashed potatoes and crackling - perfect smooth, creamy mash and proper, crackling. Sam, always the most adventurous had calves liver with bacon, Joe the lamb shank and my mother the soothing halibut. All declared delicious and tried by all and clean plates all round. I felt slightly like I was going to explode by the end - we've all been struggling to eat a small plate of pasta let alone two fantastic courses. I was too full even to have the Hampshire cheese board which, as a Hampshire girl, I'd decided I was duty bound to have.

Delicious rose and house red to go with the food and coffee with those yummy crispy Bendicts mint chocolate to finish - a really perfect supper. Check out the website - the pictures just don't do this delightful pub justice. You can also stay there so if you have a wedding in Winchester or anywhere around there and need somewhere to stay look no further.

4 May 2011

Hipstamatic Pasta

Sadly we're all at home at my parents house as my daddy died last week. No one has felt much like cooking or eating (slight exaggeration... the husbands have felt like eating) but I decided that my Parma ham, pea and marjoram pasta would be something easy to eat and soothing (a word my mother has told me off for over using!). I was too blah to be bothered getting my camera so my brother-in-law took a photo using the hipstamatic setting on my sisters i-phone. It came out incredibly badly but it does mean that this is now known as Hipstamatic Pasta.

Serves 5

600g fettuccine pasta
8 slices parma ham
5 sprigs marjoram
4 cloves garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper

I use a normal saucepan for the pasta and then an oval le creuset for warming up the other ingredients and then tossing it all about.

1. Put the pasta water on to boil, salt the water well and add the pasta.

2. Put the olive oil on to warm up on a medium heat, I use enough oil to cover the bottom on the oval le creuset. Crush the garlic and add to the warming oil.

3. Roll up each slice of ham length ways so it's cigar shaped and then cut with a sharp knife into about 5 pieces.

4. When the garlic is cooking in the oil but not fizzling away too much add the parma ham to the oil. Keep an eye on the parma ham you don't want it crispy or depressingly over cooked, just a bit warmed through really. When it looks done, take the whole thing off the heat.

5. Strip the leaves from the marjoram and chop finely. Grate some Parmesan - how much you use really depends on how much you want. I have some on the table also for people to sprinkle on when they want it.

6. When the pasta is cooked drain it and add it to the oil, garlic and parma ham with a knob of butter and a good lot of salt and pepper. Toss and add the marjoram and Parmesan keeping back a bit of the herbs to sprinkle on top.

7. Sprinkle the rest of the herbs on top and serve.
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