Monday, 11 December 2017

roasted cherry tomato pasta sauce

I was given a LARGE box of cherry tomatoes on the same day that I realised I hadn't remembered to take anything out of the freezer for supper.  As Big'Un needed a quick bite before dashing off for rugby practice, I knew I wouldn't have any time to defrost something safely in time.

So I picked up a pack of bacon lardons from our lovely Aladdin's cave corner shop and let the kids pick a pack of their choice of shape of pasta from there too.  Yes, they chose bow ties again.  Because bow ties are cool...

Anyway, the first step was to halve the tomatoes and spread them, cut side up, on a lined baking tray.  I then threw a few unpeeled garlic cloves onto the tray.  Next, I ground a little salt and pepper on them all, and then sprinkled ground cumin, mixed herbs, garlic granules, onion salt and balsamic vinegar on to them.

I then sprayed them with a pure olive oil spray and put them in a hot oven (220 degrees) for 20-25 minutes.  I realised I had a bit  more time, so I turned the oven down to about 190 degrees then and turned the tray around and let them cook for another 10-15 minutes.)

After this point the tomatoes should be soft and slightly shrivelled and sticky.  The ones on the edges might look charred - that's all fine.

Now you need to blitz these into a smooth sauce.  First peel the garlic cloves and discard the skins.  Then scoop it all - soft sticky garlic, tomatoes, herbs, spices etc - into a blender, or pour it into a beaker or bowl and use a stick blender, or even a NutriBullet type blender would work.  Add a little water if you like and blend until smooth.  Make sure you scoop or pour as much of the lovely liquid from the tray into the blending receptacle - it's too good to waste!

While this is all roasting, cook your pasta however you prefer, and also fry the bacon until crispy.  If you are feeling decadent, add the bacon fat to the pasta sauce as you blend it.

I served this so that the plain pasta was served into bowls and the sauce was dolloped or ladeled according to each person's preference, and then the bacon was added almost as a seasoning at the end.  Some of the kids had grated cheese as well, but without the cheese was also very good.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Creamy paprika chicken and rice



Regular readers will have realised I love anything that's sort of creamy chicken with rice.  As a Bengali, I adore rice, and I find a creamy sauce stirred in with rice is a wonderfully comforting and soothing element of a meal.

As I'm working outside the home now, I like meals which I can put together quickly in that short gap of time when the kids are taking a bit of downtime after school, or something I can put on and leave for a bit while I keep and eye on them, and make sure all is well.

This paprika chicken is a bit of both and definitely good for the increasingly chilly evenings.


1 pack chicken thigh fillets
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp tarragon (I only use the dried or freeze dried)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp Marigold powder
half a cup of boiling water
3 good dollops of soured cream
a handful or 2 of some green veg - I used green beans which were left over from the meal the dinner before.

rice and another veg to serve.


Heat the oil in a saucepan or saute pan and then gently fry the onion and garlic.  While that is softening, cut the chicken thighs into bite-size pieces, and then add them to the pan.  Stir to prevent the onions and garlic from catching, and cook until the chicken is browned and not raw any longer.

Now add the tarragon, ground cumin and paprika, and stir through.  Next, add the Marigold powder and half a cup of boiling water.  If the handful or 2 of green veg you are adding is raw, add it now too.

Now cover the pan and allow to simmer.  At this point, I cook the rice (in the microwave, or in my rice cooker, or the old-fashioned way - in a saucepan!) and also prepare the side vegetable.  On this occasion, I grilled some corn cobbettes.

Once the rice and vegetables are done, the chicken should also be cooked through, so switch off the heat and then add the small amount of green vegetables if they are already cooked as mine were.

Finally, stir through your generous dollops of soured cream and serve with the rice and side vegetables.

Monday, 16 October 2017

more on no-drain pasta - in which leftover chicken is utilised

As I've mentioned before, I have an issue with draining pasta.  This is partly due to the fact that I have problems with my wrists and hands, and lifting and tipping a full pan of water is painful and uncomfortable for me.  But partly I just don't like doing it.  It feels slow and wasteful and somehow just annoys me.

So when I stumbled across this method for cooking pasta in 4 minutes in the Instant Pot (IP) with minimal water - like an absorption method of cooking pasta - I HAD to try it!  And it is fantastic! Admittedly I probably spend as much time using a slotted spoon to scoop out the pasta as I used to do waiting for water to boil etc, but somehow this just makes me less stressed and irritated than the standard method, and that can only be a good thing! In the future I may use this method to cook the pasta in the IP when I can then just stir something directly into the pot and then serve straight out - cream cheese and smoked salmon/ham springs to mind...

Anyway, I started by letting Tiny choose a pack of bow tie pasta from the corner shop, and we used the whole 500g pack in one go.  This gave us PLENTY of pasta - after cooking, I filled a locknlock box with cooked pasta which was a nice quick and easy lunch for Tiny on the weekend - and the rest served 4 of us generously with another couple of lunches.

As the recipe in the link says, we added about 4 cups of water to the IP, so the pasta was just about covered, maybe a few corners poking up here and there.

I then set the IP to cook for 4 minutes on manual.  I had added boiling water so this went even more quickly than normal.

Once the pot has cooked the pasta for the 4 minutes and beeps that it is finished, switch it off immediately and perform a quick release.

Remove the pasta with a slotted spoon and if required box some up for another day.

I then fried some chopped onions and garlic in a little oil straight in the pan I'd just taken the pasta out of, and then I added a chopped up chicken breast left over from a very frugal Lidl roast chicken supper we'd had recently.  Then I added a bag of prepared cauliflower and broccoli florets which I'd bought in Lidl, along with the obvious spoon of Marigold, and a good squirt of mild mustard.  I finally chucked the cooked pasta back in, and stirred through some soured cream which we'd opened for the not-so-chilli recently.

The result was completely delicious and moreish.  The chicken was not dry, the veg was still slightly crunchy, the creamy but tangy sauce was very comforting and the whole meal was filling and satisfying!  The kids all devoured it hungrily, and the 2 little ones both asked for seconds!  Big'Un and I ate it drizzled with Frank's Buffalo Wings hot sauce, and the little ones even had a taste that way too, and really enjoyed the added flavour.  And when I went to put the leftovers into a tupperware, and I picked a box that was slightly too small, Godpapa was more than happy to just eat up what wouldn't fit, straight from the pan!


Monday, 9 October 2017

Papa made not chilli con carne



I was away for the day at a training course, and it was Papa's day off. I wasn't likely to be back in time to cook supper, so Papa decided he would cook, as long as I gave him nice clear instructions.

So over breakfast, I typed a recipe (my style of recipe, of course!) and emailed it to him.

He followed it, and the result was a spectacularly tasty meal.  Maybe I enjoyed it more because I didn't cook it, but I suspect equally because Papa has a very good palate, this was the best non-chilli I've had.

Notes: we call it non or not chilli because it isn't spicy at all, and those that wish it spicier add hot sauce at the table. Tiny and Littl'Un are terrified of spicy heat (to the point that Tiny recently had plain rice in school because he was frightened of the "chilli" that was being served with it...) so I call it this to reassure them.

Here is the recipe as he used it, edited to make it more general.

Heat up a large frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. 
Swirl it about to spread. Keep flame medium size.
Add a handful or so of the sofrito mix from the freezer and a small amount of frozen chopped onion and also a little finely chopped garlic fresh or frozen. (Clearly, you can use fresh, but I have all these as time savers, and they made this much simpler for an inexperienced chef!)


Stir and cook until no longer frozen. Scrape to one side, away from flame. Add pack of mince to centre of pan and do not move it until one side of meat is brown, then turn meat and repeat. (We had a pack of 750g beef mince, but 500g would be fine for 4-6 people)

If this seems tricky, brown the meat in the oil first then add the frozen sofrito, onions and garlic to the meat.

Once both sides are brown, gently break up the meat and fry until no pink remains. Mix in the previously fried sofrito, onions and garlic. 
Add the mashed up stewed veg* from the gammon stock and mix well. 
Add a teaspoon of ground cumin and one of paprika. Add 1 tsp salt. Add a heaped teaspoon of Marigold.

Stir well. 

Now add a tin or tetra of chopped tomatoes. Stir well.  Add a splash of red wine or water if you can’t find open red wine. Add a beef stock pot or cube. 


Add the drained and rinsed kidney beans.

Allow to simmer for 15-20 mins or longer if that’s possible.  Cook the rice. (I always only use boil in the bag rice for chilli, but you don't have to!!!)


If it's starting to dry, just add a splash more water while it simmers.

Serve with soured cream, grated cheese and some seasonal steamed veg on the side also.


* I mentioned this stewed veg here recently.  Obviously, if you didn't make a stock recently, you won't have this, but if you do make a stock with some veggies which you then normally chuck away, I recommend mashing them up and either using them in a base like this soon, or freezing for a sort of sofrito or concentrate in the future.  It really boosts the flavour with something many people chuck out.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Netflix and stir - how to actually make risotto.




On the previous weekend, I had had an interesting afternoon trying to get some shopping, which culminated in my putting a (purchased, uncooked) joint of gammon into a child's backpack and then walking cross country for half an hour with the child and his backpack to get home in time to cook the gammon.  This was because of the terrible gridlocked traffic that could have kept us stuck in the car park of the supermarket for well over an hour (luckily soon after the footsoldiers returned home and began cooking, the abandoned driver was directed out to an entrance and managed to get home after 45 mins sat not moving at all.)

Anyway, this epicly well-travelled gammon deserved a good expression of its worth, so after the pressure cooked gammon meal, I saved the cooking liquor and the left over meat for greater things.

My initial thought had been to make a pea and ham soup, but Papa mentioned risotto, and Big'Un lit up at this idea, so risotto became the new plan.

I first put the stock/liquor into a saucepan and slowly brought it to the boil. I used a very well known online Instant Pot gammon cooking recipe, and I had used the usual suspects of flavouring vegetables, as well as Marigold and some fairly ordinary cider in with the water.  I had just over a litre, about 2 pints.

While the stock came to the boil, I chopped up the left over gammon, as well as a chunk of ham I had bought from the deli when they sell off the ends of the hams very cheaply as they can't slice them so easily.  I've always had a fondness for "chunky" ham like this!

I got out a large saute pan, and fried this gammon/ham mix of little cubes in some olive oil until it was starting to brown and then I added 2 finely chopped small onions and a tablespoon or so of finely chopped garlic.  I then added 12oz of risotto rice (I always seem to have 2 part used packets in the cupboard at any given time) and stirred well to coat all the rice in the oil.  I then added about a cupful of frozen peas and stirred to mix these too.

Now I grabbed my nearest smartdevice, and started up Netflix.  This is a very important step.  I propped the device up where I could see it while stirring the pan, and started up something easy to watch.  

Only now did I grab a ladle and pour in a ladle of the simmering stock.  And stir.

And once that was absorbed, I added another ladleful of hot stock.

And once that was absorbed, I added another ladleful of hot stock.

And so on. You get the picture.  At one point I paused the ladling and stirring (but not the Netflix) to use a slotted spoon to remove the stewed veggies and mash them up and put them in a tupperware, but the rest of THAT story is to be found in another post. About Chilli Con Carne. You'll have to be patient.  Like with the risotto stirring.

I have to be honest and say that after 17 or 18 minutes with very little stock left, I honestly thought I was doing something wrong as the rice was still too hard and there was not enough liquid left to cook it all, surely?  But I had faith, and I kept going. (What else could I do, too late for takeaway!) And magically after about 23 mins in total, when all the hot stock was in the risotto, and had been sucked all away by the fat glistening little rice grains, there was a creamy richness to the whole dish, and the pink ham and jewelly green peas made such a colourful dish, I was delighted!

A sprinkling of cheese was added at the table to give that special stringy, sticky comfort, freshly ground black pepper for those who like such things, and I have to say, this was a meal EVERYONE enjoyed immensely! And I was happy because I had had a chance to catch up with Netflix for once!



Baked Cheesy Gnocchi with spinach and tomato sauce.



Baked One Pan Gnocchi


On a chilly Friday, I wanted something stodgy and comforting to feed us, and the special offer, impulse-buy pack of gnocchi seemed the right thing.  I had stopped buying them for a while as the kids just didn't seem to enjoy them, but I don't like to give up, and I like a bit of a change sometimes from the pasta/rice/potatoes trinity of carb options. We do occasionally have a bread supper, but that's also rare.

So I began by frying the gnocchi slowly in some olive oil to get them slightly crunchy on the outside, which makes them a nicer texture after baking, I feel.  To make this a true one pot, I used a pan which can go in the oven also, but if you don't have one, you can always pour the contents into a baking dish before the final step.

Once they were starting to be golden all over (and this DOES take time) I added some frozen chopped garlic and allowed it to soften and lose its harsh bite.  I then added a box of Heinz Fritto which is basically a flavoured passata, and also swished out the box with some hot water and added that too.  I then put in a handful of balls of frozen chopped spinach and stirred them in and then brought the whole pan to a gentle bubble.  

Finally, I covered the top with a layer of grated mozzarella and put the pan in a preheated medium oven for about 20 minutes.

I was rewarded with a deliciously crunchy top cheesy layer, with good oozy strings of cheese when served, and a very filling and nutritious meal all round.  The kids did enjoy it, although it wasn't one they immediately said they'd request again, but clean plates and small victories, definitely!

Monday, 25 September 2017

One pan hob tomato pasta

This came about because I *hate* draining pasta.
I have no idea why, but everyone in my family knows it.
I've made a few one pan, bake in oven type pasta bakes, but I wanted something quicker and less house heating and less gas guzzling.

Google helped me with a few thoughts, and then I conjured up this:


Fry chopped onion and garlic until soft and add mixed herbs if desired. Add a carton of passata, flavoured if liked, and a carton full of boiling water. I also added half a bottle of Cirio passata but I'm not so sure it was needed to be honest.
Bring to boil and stir in 350-400g dry pasta. Bring back to boil and simmer, covered, for 20 mins. Stir once in a while.
Flavour with Marigold (obvs) and season to taste.
Just before serving, stir in half to a full pot of mascarpone and 2-3tbsp balsamic vinegar. Finally add a teaspoon of brown sugar.

Serve sprinkled with grated cheddar or parmesan if preferred.

Every child loved this. Hurrah!