Thursday, 27 March 2014

Crazy about the chipotle: sweet potato and chipotle mash with lime and coriander chicken




Occasionally Mr LBG has to stay away from home for work during the week. Whilst I would much rather have him here, there is a teeny tiny part of me that enjoys the fact that I don't need to think about what to cook for supper and that I can have ownership of the remote control. Whilst Mr LBG needs a 'proper' meal in the evening, some days I am happy just to look in the fridge and have a snacky type supper or keep it simple with scrambled eggs on toast or a filled jacket potato.

Earlier this week, on one such occasion, I decided to re-stock the freezer with handy meals for my son and spent the evening in the kitchen making a beef casserole, chicken and potato pies and cauliflower cheese. I hadn't given any thought to what I might eat other than throw a large sweet potato in the oven to bake. Halfway through baking and realising that I was rather peckish, I opened the fridge to see what I might put with the sweet potato. Staring at me from the top shelf was a half-used jar of chipotle paste. I LOVE chipotle paste. The smoky heat is so delicious and it adds fantastic depth to my usual chilli con carne. I am always looking for new ways to use it and once spied, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Sweet potato and chipotle mash - why hadn't I thought of this before (a quick google search confirmed my suspicion that plenty of other people had).


To accompany my gloriously smoky, sweet mash, I made a speedy marinade of yoghurt, coriander and lime into which I immersed a flattened chicken breast. A quick bit of cooking on a griddle pan and a delicious Mexican-inspired supper was mine in (almost) an instant.

This recipe serves just one but is easily increased to feed more. I was all rather last-minute so only had half an hour to marinate my chicken but next time, longer would be better!

Coriander and lime chicken with sweet potato and chipotle mash
Serves 1

Ingredients:

For the chicken:
1 chicken breast, flattened between cling film sheets
3 tbsp natural yoghurt (low-fat is fine)
1tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
zest half lime
freshly ground pepper

For the mash:
1 large sweet potato
1-2 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 tbsp chipotle paste

1. Make the marinade; simply mix all ingredients together. With a sharp knife, slash the chicken breasts in several places. Take a ziploc-type food bag and place chicken inside with marinade. Ensure chicken is coated in marinade. Leave for up to four hours or at least half an hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C. Prick the sweet potato and bake for approx 1 hour. 

3. Preheat a griddle pan. Once hot, griddle the chicken for 5 minutes each side, depending on thickness.  Ensure the juices run clear and the chicken is fully cooked.

4. Meanwhile - make the mash. Scoop the flesh from the skin of the sweet potato and mash with yoghurt and chipotle, adding seasoning to taste. You make like a little more or less chipotle and yoghurt - just do to taste.

5. Serve the chicken on top of the mash with a crisp green salad and a wedge of lime.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Pea souper: Pea, asparagus and pesto soup




Mr LBG has given up bread for Lent. I considered joining him but couldn't quite bring myself to do so, bread-a-holic that I am. Breakfast for me is always bread-based and I must admit that lunch also tends to feature something from the bakery aisle. Mr LBG is perhaps marginally less wedded to bread but his weekday lunches do generally feature sandwiches and weekend lunches tend to be lazy soup/cheese/cold meat/lovely loaf of bread type of affairs. The upshot of his bread-less Lent so far is a very pleasing loss of weight (and guilt on my part as I tuck into toast at breakfast time).

In an effort to support him, I decided that I would give up eating sandwiches at lunch time. Not quite the same, I admit, but still a challenge as this is most often what I reach for. I love the speed and ease of a sandwich and the satisfaction that it delivers. I have been trying to find enjoyable yet equally satisfying alternatives and have been experimenting with some new soup flavours. As Mr LBG and I are both weight watching, I find that a bowl of good-for-you soup is ideal for taking the edge of lunchtime hunger whilst pondering what else to eat (I've never been a bowl-of-soup only kind of girl).


I am a huge fan of peas and a pea-based soup is always a winner for me, especially as I always have peas in the freezer. Many pea soup recipes include mint which is the only herb that I really can't abide and, as such, I am always on the look-out for other flavours to accompany my favoured peas. Whilst flicking through one of my many Weight Watchers cookbooks (surprisingly good, on the whole, if you pick and choose carefully), I was drawn to a recipe for a pea, asparagus and pesto soup.

Admittedly, asparagus is not yet in season but we are getting ever closer and the warmer weather has got me in the mood for a taste of Spring. I managed to get some fairly tasty stems (albeit from Peru) and was delighted with the resulting soup. A gorgeous colour and delicious flavour. I made a few tweaks to the original recipe and have made it twice. It is good without the pesto if you don't want to open a pot just to top your soup but it does add a nice touch and an extra burst of flavour. This was a lovely lunchtime soup but would make an elegant starter in asparagus season too.

I am entering this soup into the 'No Croutons Required'  blogging challenge which is hosted this month by Lisa at Lisa's Kitchen.

Pea, asparagus and pesto soup
Adapted from Weight Watchers 'Freezer Friendly Meals'
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

1 tsp olive oil (or spray oil if wishing to cut fat as much as possible)
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, finely sliced
2 tbsp plain flour
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
450g asparagus
300g frozen peas
6-8 tsp pesto


1. Heat oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and leek and cover. Cook gently for 10 minutes until softened, lifting the lid and stirring occasionally.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus. Snap the woody ends off (the asparagus will have a natural break point) and chop into 1 cm pieces. Keep the tips whole so that you can keep a few for decoration!

3. Add the flour to the onion and leek and cook for 30 seconds, stirring. Pour the stock in a little at a time, stirring well between each addition. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the asparagus and peas and simmer for around 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of asparagus (it should be just cooked). Remove a few tips of asparagus for garnishing the soup, if you like.

5. Season the soup well with plenty of pepper and salt to taste. Whizz until smooth with a stick blender or use a liquidizer. Serve the soup with a teaspoon of pesto swirled into each bowl. Garnish with asparagus tips and plenty of black pepper.

If following the weight watchers diet, allow 2 propoints per serving (if serving 8).

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Toddler teatime: salmon and pea frittata




Years ago my mother (or was it Father Christmas?) gave me a very small frying pan. At the time, I cooked on gas and was unable to make the flame small enough to go underneath this miniature pan. It languished at the back of the cupboard unloved and unused. Since moving to the sticks and waving goodbye to modern comforts like gas, it has finally found great favour in my kitchen for all sorts of small jobs. It is the perfect size for a fried egg. Ideal for toasting a few nuts to sprinkle over a salad. Just right for sizzling a few cocktail sausages for my son. It is also the ideal pan for an individual frittata or Spanish omelette for my boy.


Thank goodness for eggs. When time is short, five 'o clock has been and gone and my son is getting fractious, there is nothing quite so useful an egg. In the time it takes for bread to toast, I can scramble an egg and tea is on the table in an instant. I am so relieved that he likes eggs (for the moment - we all know how fickle toddlers can be). If I have leftover potatoes in the fridge, I sometimes make a smidge more effort and turn his teatime egg into a frittata. Add a few vegetables and perhaps a sprinkling of cheese on the top and a balanced meal is yours in moments. On this occasion, I had some cold leftover salmon in the fridge too so I added this along with some peas and a new teatime favourite was born. 

Making this with leftovers makes for a super speedy meal but it wouldn't take long to boil up a couple of baby potatoes and poach a few small cubes of salmon in water before adding to the pan. I made an individual portion for my son in my mini frying pan but scale up the quantities to make one larger frittata for the whole family.  

Salmon and pea frittata
Serves one toddler


Ingredients:

Knob of butter
2 baby potatoes, cooked al dente
1/4 spring onion, very finely chopped (or a few snipped chives)
1/4 fillet of cooked salmon
1 tbsp peas
1 egg
Optional: a small grating of cheese, if you like a browner top

1. Pre-heat the grill.

2. Melt a small knob of butter in a mini frying pan (if you have one!) and add the potatoes, fry for a few minutes along with the spring onion.

3. Flake the salmon and add to the pan, along with the peas. Whisk the egg with a fork and pour over the mixture in the pan. Cook gently for a few minutes until the egg is nearly set, sprinkle with a little cheese if desired and then transfer to the grill to cook the top (cover the handle of the pan in foil if it is not ovenproof).


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Pink and green clouds of sugar: pistachio and raspberry meringues



I'm a recent convert to 'the meringue'. That isn't to say that I don't love 'meringue'. I do. Very much so. Lemon meringue pie, baked Alaska, pavlova... I love almost any sort of dessert that incorporates meringue. A stand-alone meringue however, is a different story. I have never really understood the point of eating a meringue on its own. Even sandwiched together with cream, I've always been rather underwhelmed. I've always felt that meringues needed something else to cut through all the sugar be it a scattering of summer berries or a dollop of lemon curd swirled through the cream.


Recently though, in an attempt to shed some pounds, I have been trying to embrace 'the meringue'. It is, in some ways, the dieter's friend. Ok, ok, it is heavy to sugar. But it is also low in fat - hurrah! A short while ago, Mr LBF cooked a fabulous post-curry dessert from the Hairy Bikers Great Curries cook book involving divine pistachio meringues with raspberries and whipped double cream. The meringues were absolutely fantastic and I have been craving them ever since.


In a serendipitous twist of fate, whilst doing the weekly supermarket shop last week, I found myself purchasing a tube of freeze-dried raspberries. For no particular reason. Just 'as you do'. I had no particular plan for these shocking-pink morsels but simply felt I had to have them in my storecupboard 'just in case'. It suddenly dawned on me that the pistachio meringues could be the ideal destination for my freeze-dried raspberries. Pistachios and raspberries are, in my mind, a match made in heaven. For a start, I love green and pink together (my wedding flowers were all greens and pinks). Secondly, I just think that they work well. 

Pink and green; a match made in heaven!

I ground the pistachios up with the raspberries to fine crumbs and folded them through the meringue  mixture before sprinkling a little of each on top. The resulting meringues are a new favourite. Crisp on the outside and fantastically chewy in the middle. Importantly, the flavour of pistachio and raspberry really come through with the tartness of raspberry a welcome antidote to the sugary meringue itself. I served these with low-fat yoghurt and fresh raspberries but this was actually a mistake. These meringues are so good that they deserve to be eaten as a stand-alone treat. Whilst some lightly whipped double cream couldn't be wrong here, I really enjoyed these meringues on their own. So much so that I cannot bring myself to admit how many Mr LBG and I consumed in one sitting.

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Another joy about meringues is that whilst they take a long time to cook, they are very speedy to prepare and ideal for a make ahead dessert for guests. I reckon that these were ready to go into the oven in about 15 minutes from start to finish. As such, I am submitting them to the Dead Easy Desserts challenge, hosted by Sarah at Maison Cupcake. Entrants must blog a dessert that has a preparation time of fewer than 30 minutes. 

Here is the recipe, with thanks to the Hairy Bikers for the initial idea...

Pistachio and raspberry meringues
Makes approx 9 medium-large meringues

Ingredients

3 large egg whites
150g white caster sugar
25g shelled pistachio nuts, plus a few extra for sprinkling
2 tbsp freeze-dried raspberry pieces (like these), plus a few extra for sprinkling

1. Pre-heat oven to 125C (fan oven). Using a mini-processor or coffee/spice grinder, blitz the pistachios and raspberries until you have fine crumbs.


2. Using spotless equipment, whisk the egg whites until you have stiff peaks. Gradually whisk in the sugar, a spoonful at a time, until you have a lovely glossy mixture. Don't over-whisk.



3. Using a metal spoon, gently fold in the pistachio/raspberry mix. A little streaking is good - it doesn't need to be thoroughly mixed and you don't want the meringue to lose too much volume in the mixing!


4. Dollop the mixture into free-form blobs onto baking sheets lined with baking parchment (not greaseproof paper) or silicone liner (my preference every time!). Or, get fancy and pipe the meringues into perfect swirls.

5. Sprinkle with a few finely chopped pistachios and a few nibs of the raspberries.

6. Place in the oven and immediately turn down to 100C. Cook for 2 hours then turn the oven off and leave the meringues to cool in the oven. Do check the meringues half way through to check they are not browning - turn the oven down further if so.



Friday, 28 February 2014

(Not quite) time to bring out the barbecue: Thai green pork burgers with coriander mayonnaise


Thai pork burgers with coriander mayonnaise

A rare spot of sunshine has got me all excited about the (hopefully) imminent arrival of Spring. It is possible that Spring (and should it be 'Spring' or 'spring' - I have never been sure) is my favourite season. A glimmer of light at the end of the gloom. A season full of promise. Full of new life. Full of asparagus.

LBG's resident dog enjoying the sunshine at the weekend

I actually say this at the start of every new season - each has its merits. I love the cosy log fires of Winter (or winter?!). The long, lazy evenings al fresco of Summer. The crisp air and amber leaves of Autumn. But at the moment, I am excited about the possibility of Spring. So much so that I actually cleared out my pasta/rice/lentil cupboard earlier this week and decanted everything into Kilner jars. I even ventured out into the garden for the first time in months and hacked at a few things with a pair of secateurs (yes, I am aware that this should have been done months ago but gardening in the rain does nothing for me).

I think that the thing I love about Spring is that it is a little like Summer but without the disappointment. You spend more time outdoors, evenings are lighter, colourful flowers start to bloom. If lucky, you might venture out without a coat or think about buying a pair of capri trousers in a lurid shade of pink (or is that just me?!). Summer is all too often a letdown - cancelled barbecues, rained-off picnics and goose pimples on the beach. Last summer was a good one but a rarity in recent years. But a warm, sunny day in Spring is a bonus and definitely cause for celebration. That is why I love Spring.

An early (albeit a tad morbid) glimmer of hope; snowdrops in the village churchyard

All this has virtually nothing to do with the deliciously spicy Thai pork burgers that I made last week. It had been a sunny day and I found myself looking wistfully at the barbecue sitting under its cover and thinking how much I longed for warmer days and the smell of smoky, charring meat. Even by Mr LBG's standards, it was a little early in the year for a barbecue (my money is on him holding out until the first weekend of April) but I couldn't get the idea of homemade burgers out of my mind. Eschewing traditional beef in favour of a porky number, I decided to make spicy Thai burgers to a recipe I've used for years. The recipe in question was given to me by my sister and I think that the found in on a supermarket recipe card back in the days when supermarket recipe cards were still something of a novelty.

These burgers are simplicity itself to whip up and thankfully taste equally good cooked indoors on a griddle pan as they do in the garden over hot coals. Just three ingredients are required for the burgers. The coriander mayonnaise is the perfect compliment, a juicy slice of tomato and a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce are optional but worthy extras. I served these burgers with a side order of sweet potato wedges and a nice crisp salad. A Thai-inspired cucumber and carrot ribbon salad would be good to try next time though.

Thai Green Pork Burgers
Makes 4 burgers
Terrible photos; dark/in a rush/hungry husband etc...

Ingredients:
450g good quality pork mince
1 medium red onion
1 heaped tbsp Thai green curry paste

4 burger buns

6tbsp mayonnaise (shop bought is fine)
Large bunch fresh coriander
Squeeze lime juice

Optional: Large tomatoes, sweet chilli sauce

1. Finely chop the red onion. In a large bowl, mix together the pork mince, curry paste and red onions. Season.

2. Heat a griddle pan and mist with a little cooking oil. Fry the burgers for approx 8 mins each side until cooked through. Whilst they are cooking, make the coriander mayo by finely chopping the coriander and mixing with the mayo and a squeeze of lime juice.

3. Warm the burger buns and serve with a blob of mayo on each burger and tomato and sweet chilli sauce if desired.


Monday, 24 February 2014

Random recipes challenge: chocolate tea bread






It has been an extremely busy couple of weeks for one reason or another. It is good to get to Monday morning and actually be looking forward to the week ahead; a quiet one in which I can potter gently rather than gallivanting around the country and trying to cram too many things into each day. I am looking forward to spending some time in the kitchen surrounded by gently simmering casseroles and slowly baked cakes rather than furiously boiling pots and hot sizzling pans.




I did manage to fit in a little baking towards the end of last week when I took on the random recipe challenge hosted by Dominic at Belleau Kitchen. This month he has joined forces with with Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog who hosts the monthly 'We Should Cocoa' challenging us to select a random chocolate recipe from our collections of recipe books. Running my hand along the bookshelves, the first book I selected turned out to be Delia Smith's 'Summer Collection'. A quick check in the index revealed that chocolate is apparently a seasonal item as it does not feature in this book (which has now gone down in my estimation - surely chocolate is essential year-round?). Fearing the next random book choice would be something equally bereft of chocolate, I decided to make things easier by pulling out the four chocolate-themed books I happen to own. I did a quick shuffle and ended up with a book that was given to me years ago and which I have never found to be particularly inspiring. Disappointing! 

I considered a quick swap for the Green and Black's book I had been hoping for but decided that this would not be true to the challenge. The book in question is a small hardback entitled 'Chocolate' and is written by Jacqueline Bellefontaine. First published in 1999, the book feels rather dated but does include many tempting recipes including a chocolate queen of puddings, white chocolate truffle cake and chocolate zabaglione. Sadly when opening the book at a random page, I did not open it on any of these pages. I wasn't too disappointed though as it opened on a chocolate tea bread. I am a huge fan of loaf cakes and particularly like a fruit-packed tea loaf spread with butter so thought this would be a pretty good variation. The picture looked tempting and the ingredients included raisins, chocolate chips, orange rind and walnuts which I felt would all work together.


Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with this bake. Despite following the recipe, it felt like a heavy brick once baked and cooled. Upon eating it was heavy, dry and dense and definitely needed butter. Most definitely a tea bread as opposed to a loaf cake! I took it to my parents' house for the weekend where my mother declared that it would be quite nice without the chocolate despite my protestations that this rather defeat the object of a chocolate tea bread. Mr LBG thought it would be improved if spread with Nutella and thought it was overbaked. I felt there were too many eggs in the recipe (four for a standard loaf cake) and that this might have contributed to the dense texture.

Sadly, not a recipe I shall be repeating but a great opportunity to dust off and old cook book. 


Friday, 14 February 2014

Soup and bread to soothe the soul: celeriac and blue cheese soda bread and carrot, parsnip and coriander soup

Carrot, parsnip and coriander soup with celeriac and blue cheese soda bread

When will the rain stop? A question on the lips of many at the moment. We live in close proximity to a brook which floods and it is a nerve-wracking time. We have (so far, grabbing onto the wooden table for dear life) been fortunate to remain dry unlike the many across the UK who are struggling to deal with the carnage left by the hideous conditions this year. As I type, the rain is once again falling and the wind is whipping through the village. Wheelie bins are being blown down the street, trees are bending awkwardly in the gusts with their roots clinging on for dear life. Water is bubbling out of the drains and I have one eye on the brook, keeping check on the ever-rising level of water.

This winter has been a miserable one so far. Bring me the snow and ice any time over this incessant rain and wind. Compared to many, we are very fortunate, but I have to admit that the conditions are beginning to get me down. Life with an active toddler is no fun in this weather. Yes, the buggy has a rain-cover and yes, we both have waterproofs but, to be honest, being out and about in the pouring rain whilst pushing a buggy is not a great deal of fun. So we are largely spending time at home and, whilst cosy days at home can be fun, I am starting to get a little cabin fever. Not helped by the fact that my little boy is under the weather and exceptionally clingy!

Brushing with beaten egg gives a lovely shiny crust

This sort of weather demands soup. There is simply nothing else that will do for lunch on a dreary day such as this. Almost as good as a hug, a bowl of really tasty, hot soup warms you up from within in the same way as a morning bowl of porridge. My vegetable drawer is currently heavy to celeriac. I have three. Now, I love celeriac but nobody needs three celeriac. I toyed with making a celeriac soup but then I remembered a recipe card that had come with my last veg box for a celeriac and blue cheese soda bread. Bread-making and I do not normally get on well. It is for this reason that I purchased a bread maker which does the job brilliantly. I am not sure what it is, but I am never pleased with the results and have rather consigned it to the 'things I don't do well' list. Soda bread, however, is my friend. No yeast required! Quick and simple bread that is fairly foolproof. My kind of bread-making. This recipe could hardly be easier; you simply grate some celeriac and mix with flour and Stilton, add an egg and some milk, shape the dough and bake in the oven. No proving, no kneading. 

Serve the bread warm whilst the Stilton is still oozy!

I had to add a little extra flour as my dough was very sloppy (hence my rather flat 'loaf') but overall, I was impressed with this flavoursome bread. It was a great accompaniment to the warming bowl of soup I made to go alongside. I had a huge bunch of coriander and decided to tweak my usual carrot and coriander soup recipe by adding some parsnip, which worked well. The recipe for the soda bread can be found here and here is the rough recipe for the soup...

Carrot, parsnip and coriander soup
Serves 4


Ingredients:
1 large onion, chopped
1 plump clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
4 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large parsnip, peeled and roughly chopped
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
large handful fresh coriander

1. Heat a little oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onions until starting to soften and look translucent (5 mins). Add the garlic and coriander and cook for a further minute.

2. Add the chunks of carrot and parsnip, place the lid on the pan and cook on a low heat for five minutes or so. Add the stock and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

3. Roughly chop the coriander and add to the soup. Remove from heat and blend to a smooth soup with a hand blender or liquidiser. Garnish with a swirl of cream and a little extra coriander, if liked.

I am entering this lovely soup into two blogging challenges. Firstly, No Croutons Required, which this month is hosted by Jacquline at Tinned Tomatoes. Entrants must make a vegetarian soup or salad in order to enter.

Cooking with Herbs

Secondly, I am entering this into Karen's 'Cooking with Herbs' monthly challenge over at Lavender and Lovage. This month she has asked for an Oriental theme if possible to celebrate Chinese New Year. I can't really claim that this is very oriental but I did use heaps of coriander which does lend a very Asian flavour to the soup.