The Leftover Blue Cheese

Its easy to feel melancholy the first weekend in January, we have all gone back to work, its freezing cold and on top of that we have to take down the Christmas decorations! So I ignored that job on Saturday morning and instead put on my socks, then my thick socks, then my welly socks, doubled up my gardening gloves with warm gloves underneath and decided to do some clearing in the garden. After a good few hours of work out there I was starving and had completely forgotten how empty the fridge was. All we had were some last stragglers of veg from before new year and the leftover Christmas Stilton that mum sent us home with and were yet to fully stuff our faces on.

So I set about something hearty, rich and warming to recover from my stint in the garden and prepare myself for the miserable task of taking down the decorations. I debated a quiche or flan with the greens and cheese but they didn’t feel cosy enough for the weather – gooey rich pasta bake though would be spot on and added bonus – all the crucial ingredients are always in the cupboard!

Left Over Blue Cheese Pasta Bake

Enough to serve 6 – or one greedy girl with plenty of leftovers for the next few days

  • 300g dried wholemeal pasta
  • 50g cheddar cheese
  • 350g of Blue Stilton (don’t worry if you dotn have that much anything over 200g will be good)
  • 1 tsp dried herbs
  • Whatever veggies you have in the fridge: I used 1 large leek, 2 shallots, half a head of broccoli and a handful of kale.
  • A handful of breadcrumbs – I had panko in the cupboard so used them

Basic White Sauce

  • 75g butter
  • 75g plain white flour
  • 600ml milk

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Add the pasta to a large pan and cover in boiling water and a couple of generous pinches of salt – simmer until al dente the drain.

Whilst the pasta is cooking make your basic white sauce – recipe below.

Crumble in three quarters of your Stilton and all of your cheddar into the sauce along with the mixed herbs and whisk to combine warm until all the cheese has melted, grind in a generous helping of black pepper and remove from the heat.

Chop all of your veggies and soften for a few minutes in a large frying pan with a dash of oil.

Combine your pasta and veggies in a baking dish and pour over your cheesy sauce.

Crumble the remaining stilton over the top then sprinkle over your breadcrumbs.

Pop the dish in the oven and bake for 30 mins by which time the inside should be nice and gooey with a satisfyingly crispy top.

Basic White Sauce

I avoid calling this a Béchamel as technically you should be heating the milk with bay leaves, mace an onion first but who has time for that – especially when you are about to add as much blue cheese as you can!

Melt the butter over a medium heat, remove the pan from the heat then stir in the flour until in forms a smooth paste with no lumps, put the pan back on the heat – add a splash of the milk and whisk to combine, add the rest of the milk and continue to whisk until all the paste is combined and simmer for about 3 mins to cook out the taste of the flour – whisking occasionally.

I then took down and carefully wrapped all the Christmas decorations ready to go back in the loft for another 11 months.

 

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The Orange

Joel had an idea for this new year, instead of setting resolutions that are inevitably negative and about deprivation we are setting goals for the year instead, for me its to write more on here, to see more paintings out of my 1001 paintings to see before you die and definitely getting started on our garden, I’m sure over the next few weeks there will be more set but I like the idea of striving to achieve something rather than giving something up, which in the dark days of January feels twice as miserable as any other time of year.

I think January is a tough month for people, the depths of darkness with no Christmas to look forward to, the weather tends to get colder, and of course everyone is feeling a little tight on funds after the festive period. Therefore I think we could all do with something bright an fresh to cheer us up, this is a great salad for sharing and you could definitely justify it if unlike me you are trying to stick to those resolutions – plus the dressing uses up some of that cheese board port you still have knocking around (the booze doesn’t count in food, everyone knows that) so why not invite a few people over and brighten up January together.

Oranges always feel like a bit of a faff to me and would normally grab a clementine or tangerine over their full size cousin as the convenience of being able to peel on the go is so easy so I think when you go to the effort with peeling and carefully slicing an orange it feels a bit special. Particularly when they are in season and at their best from closer to the UK at this time of year.

Caramelised Orange and Fig Salad

Adapted from Ottolenghi’s in Plenty More

Serves 4 as a light salad.

  • 75g of caster sugar
  • 4 Medium Oranges – peeled and cut into 1cm slices
  • 8 Fresh Figs – quartered
  • 200g Feta
  • 1 bag Rocket
  • 1 Bag Baby Kale – or other sturdy salad leaf

Port and Lemon Dressing

  • 3 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 3 tbsp Port
  • 1 tsp Fennel Seeds – toasted
  • 4 tbsp Rapeseed or Olive Oil

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Warning: I am crap at making caramel – its gone wrong so many times in the past but the last few times I have done it right so here is the best way I’ve found to do it.

Using a (clean and very dry!) flat based frying pan pour the sugar in ad shake the pan to distribute evenly, put onto a medium heated hob. DO NOTHING, do not touch, do not shake, do not stir, just stand and hold your breath. The sugar should begin to melt and turn a lovely well caramel colour.

If not – if it clumps into a horrible mess unlike me don’t throw a paddy just add a cup of water to the pan and stir to the sugar all dissolves and makes the washing up a lot easier, clean and dry your pan and try again – hey at least sugar is pretty cheap.

Whilst your sugar is melting (or before if you are really anxious to watch it) spread your salad leaves over a serving platter, arrange half of the figs on top and crumble over half the feta.

Once you have your lovely golden caramel add half your orange slices whilst keeping on a medium heat, turn them over after about a minute, by which time they should have a lovely shiny caramel coating, allow another minute on the reverse side, set to one side then repeat with the rest of the oranges.

When all your oranges are caramelised remove the pan from the heat and add your dressing ingredients into the pan along with the caramel, give a quick stir to combine then pour into a jug.

Arrange your Caramelised Slices of orange over your salad platter, scatter your remaining figs and feta over the top.

Serve warm with the warm port and lemon dressing.

Note: If you would like to use this dressing on other things – which I highly recommend as it’s delicious then add a 1½ tbsp of honey to the above ingredients as you wont have the sugar from the caramel to balance!

I hope you have a wonderful new year and you achieve all those goals you set big or small.

Spinach

It feels like we have skipped autumn and jumped right into winter with all the storms we have been having, its not that its cold but it sure as heck is rainy. I love being back up North but I do miss those cold crisp winter days we used to get in London, Manchester is more mild and soggy, the leaves never quite dry up enough to crunch underfoot but its our city and I love it despite the rain.

We have a large Oak tree and a sycamore at the end of our garden which have been keeping us well stocked in soggy leaves so I have been making leafmold ready for the wonderful garden I will have built by this time next year when it is ready. By making leafmold, all I really mean is squashing up the leaves and packing them into black bin bags with a few air wholes in then piling them up at the bottom of the garden. Absolutely minimal effort for what Monty Don assures me will be the gardener’s equivalent of gold dust.

The wild weather does call for something soothing, warm and dare I say it healthy. So time for some green sludge soup. Spinach is a tricky one I add it to a lot of dishes but mainly ones where I can hide the cooked texture a bit, I love the flavour but I find the texture a little slimey so give me it pureed, give me it hidden into dishes or in a stew but never fried on the side – and only ever chopped up minutely in eggs. Soup therefore is the perfect vessel for this veg in my opinion.

Full of vitamins that boost energy levels it should give you a little boost in these rapidly shortening days.

Green Sludge Soup

  • 400g of Spinach
  • 2 Potatoes
  • 2 Shallots
  • 4 cloves of Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp of Vegetable Bouillon Powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper

To serve – and make more elegant, less sludgy

  • Crème Fresh
  • Poached Egg

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Chop the shallots finely and add to a large saucepan with a splash of olive oil, ry until the onions are soft then add the chopped garlic.

Peel and finely dice the two potatoes and add to the pan. Along with the bouillon powder and a litre of boiling water.

Simmer until the potato is cooked through – about 15 mins then add the spinach to the pan – half at a time, it will look like there is no way it is going to al fit in the pan, but trust me it will reduce to almost nothing in the steamy soup. Once all the spinach is added cook for a further 5 mins.

Take off the heat and using a stick blender blend until smooth. Grate in half and nut of nutmeg and a good pinch of salt and pepper, stirring to combine.

To serve mix crème fresh with equal parts of water in order to make a runny cream, drizzle into the bowls of soup, top with a poached egg and another grating of nutmeg and black pepper. Toasted and buttered soldiers are great with it too.

 

 

 

Runner Bean

So things have been very quiet on the blog for a few months, there has been a lot going on for me in the real world, Joel and I have bought and moved into our own house, we got married on a gorgeous sunny day surrounded by all our friends and family, Joel had a nasty bicycle vs car accident, which thankfully he has now recovered from.

We are spending time working on the house, making it ours and I have so many plans for the garden. Although with everything going on this summer the furthest I got with growing veggies was popping in the runner beans Joel’s parents gave us, and my usual salad leaves and herbs. Considering I literally stuck the small runner bean plants in the ground and stretched some string across the fence for support the runner bean plants did amazingly well, we have had a more beans than we could eat since the start of July. They are now coming to an end, the big chunky ones I have left on the plant till they dry out and I can harvest the beans to plant next year, the rest of them I have turned into chutney.

Our family friends Jenny and Peter make this chutney every year and it is always delicious – just the right balance of sweet and tangy so of course I had to get the recipe from them to make with my last batch of beans from the garden. The recipe came from the queen of reliable recipes – Delia, I should have known.

Spiced Pickled Runner Beans

Adapted from Delia’s recipe

  • 900g of Runner Beans – trimmed and sliced
  • 700g Onions – finely chopped
  • 850ml Malt Vinegar
  • 40g Cornflour
  • 1 tbsp Mustard Powder
  • 1 tbsp Turmeric
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 675g Demerara Sugar

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Add the chopped onions and 300mls of the vinegar to a large pan and simmer until softened – around 20 mins.

Boil the sliced beans in a separate pan – Delia suggests 5 mins but I cooked mine for 10 due to now being a little tough, drain and add to the onion and vinegar mixture.

Mix the spices and corn flour with a little of the remaining vinegar to make a paste then add to the onion mix along with the rest of the vinegar.

Simmer for 10 mins, then add the sugar and simmer for a further 15 mins.

Pot the pickle into warm sterilized jars and leave to mature for at least a month.

Also here is a few pictures of our adventures over the past few months I’ve been away from the blog.

 

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Chinese Cabbage

With everything going on at the moment I’m glad to say we have still had time to cook although we are relying on tried and trusted favourites rather than anything particularly creative but there is definitely something to be said for healthy meals you can shop for and cook when you are shattered, have lost your list and wouldn’t be able to remember which cookbook the recipe was from anyway.

When we came back to Manchester I re-signed up to our local veg box scheme that I used to get as a student which is great, every Tuesday evening we get a surprise mix of local and organic vegetables and I get very over excited like a weekly veg equivalent of Christmas morning. Currently we are getting a lot of brassicas – Broccoli, Romonesco, Sprouts and a new variety of cabbage every week – so we can at least feel like we are getting our greens. A couple of weeks ago we received a Chinese cabbage and I thought I’d try something different to my go to shred it and fry in in butter (don’t get me wrong that is still delicious!).

I thought given the name I may as well try an oriental themed dish – I cant promise this would be the most authentic of recipe but the flavours were great and it was surprisingly quick to cook . I’ve never really tried cooking with cabbage leaves as a wrapping and I was a little skeptical that they would hold together rather than collapsing into a pile of mush, but low and behold my off the cuff technique worked really well.

Cabbage Rolls

  • 1 Chinese cabbage
  • 400g pork mince
  • 4 spring onions – finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp grated ginger
  • 3 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil

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Add all the cabbage roll ingredients other than the cabbage to a bowl and combine to make a meatball like consistency.

Carefully separate the leaves of the cabbage and wipe each one clean. Layer the leaves up in a steaming pan and steam for 3 minutes until the leaves are soft but still maintain their structure.

To assemble to rolls take a cabbage leaf, add a rounded tablespoons worth of meatball mixture to the innermost side and roll up towards the green end carefully tucking the sides in so that the cabbage covers all of the meat mixture, repeat until you run out of cabbage leaves or meatball mixture.

Arrange the rolls in a steamer and steam over boiling water for 20 minutes.

Serve with noodles or a crunchy stir fry or both!

Marmalade

I never saw the appeal of marmalade; I found it a bitter imitation of jam, however a few weeks ago I braved some a family friend had made on toast with a big mug of tea and found it irresistible, the balance of acidity, bitterness and sweetness is just perfect. I think the bitter flavours are something you develop into so I’m classing my graduation from jam to marmalade as a sign that I am a grown up and therefore should be getting married and buying a house.

The crucial ingredient in marmalade is the bitter Seville orange, which are only available for a short window from the end of December to the start of March, not exactly local for me (as the name may suggest) however the bright citrusy flavours on a cold Febuary day are hard to resist and the scent in my kitchen was amazing. I had a few Seville oranges left and I’m finding more uses for them – a squeeze of the juice into an Old fashioned gives it a lovely bitter orange edge (and is turned into a real treat when you use chocolate bitters – Chocolate orange in a glass). I am also enjoying having a slice in my morning hot water rather than lemon.

Like any convert I am getting a little evangelical in my new obsession. I’m hoping to go to The Dalemain marmalade awards, held in mid March in the Lake District to buy some excellent new jars and to get ideas for my next years production. Whilst waiting for the award winners I thought I would try a recipe from my favorite preserving book “Salt, Sugar, Smoke” by Diana Henry.

Diana’s recipe calls for blood oranges however as my greengrocer didn’t have any so I used another variety nicknamed “pink oranges” so the finished marmalade still has a pinkish hue rather than the deeper red of the true recipe. My greengrocer also suggested adding a bit of lime juice for a sharp edge – I can’t honestly say I can taste the lime but the marmalade is fab and maybe without it it would be missing something – we wont know until I make it again without.

Note – you need to start the recipe the day before in order to leave the skins to soak.

Breakfast Marmalade

  • 1 pink or red grapefruit
  • 4 pink oranges
  • 3 Seville oranges
  • 150 ml lemon juice
  • 1 lime Juice
  • 2 kg of granulated sugar

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Day 1

Wash all the fruit, peel the grapefruit and cut the skin into fine shreds. Juice all of the oranges (retaining the skins) Measure how much juice you have and top it up with water to 2.5 ltrs in a large mixing bowl.

Scoop the flesh out of the grapefruit and tie into a muslin bag, add to the bowl of juice. Shred the orange skins as finely as possible and add to the bowl.

Leave everything to soak overnight.

Day 2

Add all the contents of the bowl to a preserving pan (or large saucepan) and cook over a medium heat until the skin is completely soft it took mine about 1 hour 45 mins. Strain through a sieve, retaining the shreds but discarding the grapefruit muslin bag. Measure the liquid and top up with water or reduce to 1.5 ltrs, Return to the pan.

Add the lemon juice, lime juice and sugar to the pan ad gently heat to dissolve. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum. Add the shreds and return to the boil.

Continue to boil until it reaches the setting point, either on a sugar thermometer or use the wrinkle test (see below).

Skim off any scrum then allow to cool for 10 minutes before spooning into dry sterilized jars.

The Wrinkle Test

A sugar thermometer is great but if you don’t have one or like me its boxed up at your parents house with most of your other kitchen equipment whilst you wait to move house. When making preserves the wrinkle test is a great way of checking if your jam or marmalade will set without the need for a thermometer.

Before you start making your jam pop a couple of saucers or small plates in the freezer (I use one of my enamel ones as they cool quicker). When you think your preserve is almost set drop a teaspoon of the mixture onto the cold saucer and leave for 60 seconds, push your finger through the middle of the mixture. If the mixture wrinkles as you push through – great you have reached setting point, take it off the heat. If not then cook for another 5 minutes and then perform the test again.

 

Chicken Soup

Busy job, house hunting and marriage preparations are apparently taking it out of me, my first week off from work and my body decides it has had enough and just needs a rest. Well that is how I’m interpreting me getting ill.

It turns out a day in bed watching Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries and a couple of big bowls of chicken soup were exactly what was required.

Now I know everyone will have a view of what the perfect “feel better” chicken soup will consist of, probably based on what they were given as a child – I like sweet corn in mine as it reminds me of my mums chicken pasta bake and I much prefer (on this one occasion) to have dumplings rather than noodles or rice to make it more filling. My brother on the other hand would always insist on chicken noodle cup a soup when ill rather than the real deal.

Stock is the basis to a good chicken soup and homemade really does make it better, whenever I roast a chicken I make sure I make and freeze a load of stock, however when you are feeling unwell you want your hit of soupy goodness as soon as possible and I do use a good quality bought stock if I’m out of homemade, as I was this week.

I use brown meat as I think it gives a much better flavour to the soup and a more interesting texture in this case I used thighs but a mixture of thighs and drumsticks would work just as well. If you do have some left over roast chicken just skip the first step and make sure you use whichever meat you have whether brown or white.

My soup does have some light spice in it – no where near enough to be spicy, just to add that touch of warmth that makes it feel so nourishing when your not feeling your best – it you were bunged up I would up the chilli and ginger a bit as I find the kick really helps.

Feel Better Chicken Soup

For the Soup

  • 400-500g of boneless free-range chicken thighs.
  • 1 tsp herbs de provence
  • 2 white onions
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 400ml of good quality chicken stock
  • ½ a red chili
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • Small bunch of thyme
  • Small bunch of basil (I used thai basil as I had it)
  • 200g fresh or frozen sweetcorn

For the Dumplings

  • 100g butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • ½ tsp of baking powder
  • ½ tsp of dried thyme

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First roast the chicken for 30 mins in a medium oven with a little olive or rapeseed oil drizzled over it and the herbs de provence.

Whilst the chicken is cooking dice the carrots, onions, garlic, chili and grate the ginger. Sauté all these in a casserole dish in a little olive or rapeseed oil with a pinch of salt and pepper for around 10 minutes; they should be becoming a little soft. Add the chopped herbs and bay leaves to the pan and sauté for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock to the pan along with 200-400ml of water (enough to cover all the vegetables plus 2cm of liquid) allow to cook for a further 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the dumplings and shred the cooked chicken.

For the dumplings simply rub the butter into the flour and baking powder with a pinch of salt and pepper and the thyme until it forms a wet sand like consistency, add just enough water to form into a workable dough then roll into walnut sizes balls.

Add the cooked chicken and sweet corn to the pan and drop in the dumplings, cover the pan with the lid and continue cooking for a further 15 minutes by which time the dumplings will have floated to the top (meaning they are cooked) and the soup delicious.

If I fancy a little extra texture to the soup I put the whole casserole dish without lid under a hot grill for a few minutes just so the top of the dumplings crisp up.

 

The chicken soup and rest clearly did its job as I’m feeling much better and ready to tackle work again tomorrow.