Saturday, May 30, 2009

Brunch Primavera

Brunch Primavera, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.


A blaze of sunshine, at the start of what would become the warmest weekend of the year so far, prodded us out of our bed and into the garden where we spent the late morning and early parts of the afternoon. A fridge bursting with fresh organic vegetables. Some lovely fresh organic eggs. What should we do? We did the simplest thing possible:

I just washed all of the vegetables and cut them into equal-sized pieces. A list of some of the vegetables I had at my disposal included:

green beans
mange tous (snow peas)
courgette (zucchini)
shitake mushrooms
asparagus spears
spring greens (or use Savoy cabbage)

I boiled some water, added some powdered chicken stock and blanched the vegetables - each one separately so I'd avoid the risk of over-cooking any of them. The carrots, the smallest ones in the box, of course took the longest. I cooked the vegetables until they were bright green and still slightly crisp. As I removed them from the water with a slotted spoon I plunged them into a bowl of cold water.

When the vegetables were all cooked Steve whipped up some eggs, seasoned them with salt, pepper and in no time served us both some of the most delicious scrambled eggs I've eaten in a long time.

We ate on the patio with the sun warming our skin for the first time this spring. This set us up nicely for the bicycle ride we went on later in the afternoon.

Enjoy Spring!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wagamama-style Chicken Barbecue

Another sunny Saturday, another barbecue! The idea to use Wagamama salad dressing as a marinade for tonight's chicken was inspired by having left-over dressing from our afternoon brunch salad! It is very tasty as a dressing with flavours that work very well together; soy sauce, oil, vinegar, shallots, tomato ketchup - here's the recipe:

Wagamama Salad Dressing

Makes about 125ml (4fl oz). Can be kept in the fridge for a few days.

2 teaspoons finely chopped shallots

2.5cm (1in) piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and grated

1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

1½ tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon tomato ketchup

1 tablespoon water

100ml (3½fl oz) vegetable oil

3 tablespoons light soy sauce

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl or screwtop jar and set aside.

I usually make a double batch because it keeps for much longer than suggested in the refrigerator. Naturally, it's at its very best when fresh. I like the soy flavour (which really comes through) and the sweetness of the tomato ketchup - these flavours work surprisingly well together. Dead easy to make, and a little goes a long way.

I first skinned the chicken pieces (leg and thigh - the most flavourful part of the bird, in my opinion) and slashed them with a sharp knife to ensure that the meat cooks thoroughly and the marinade penetrates the meat. The chicken was left to marinate for about an hour, while the briquettes were heating up in my Weber kettle barbecue. Once the fire was ready, I shoved the coals to the sides of the grill, and put the whole, un-jointed chicken pieces in the centre of the grill so that they would cook more slowly by indirect heat. I covered the grill and went to watch Steve make his Lemon-Saffron rice:

Lemon Saffron Rice

4 tbsp. butter
2 c. long grain rice
5 c. chicken stock
2 generous pinches saffron
2 tbsp. lemon zest (finely grated peel)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 c. chopped cilantro

1. Melt butter in large heavy saucepan. Add rice and cook, stirring until rice is opaque, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add chicken stock, saffron, salt, garlic and lemon zest. Stir well to dissolve saffron.
3. When stock begins to simmer, lower heat and cook, covered 20 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove garlic.
4. Before serving, gently stir in cilantro.

Now, back to the chicken: After about 30 minutes, I liberally dosed the pieces on both sides with the marinade and turned them over. I turned the pieces once or twice more after that.

When I brought the chicken pieces indoors, I knew I had something special. The chicken was well cooked and tender and smelled delightfully smoky, as though I'd used wood chips to flavour it - wonderful!!

This recipe is a 'keeper'.

Experiment with your food!

Eggs... anyway!

Eggs... anyway!, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.

One cannot live by sprouts alone... so be sure to add some protein to your meal. In this case I used a couple as a foil for a VERRY VEGGIE salad lunch meal thingy. It was a very close call as to whether it tasted or looked better...!! Simply barely hard-boiled eggs, salt, pepper, chopped tomato and chives.

Salad al Fresco

Salad Daze, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.

A sunny Saturday afternoon and what could be better to eat than a fresh salad of chick peas, (home-made) mixed bean sprouts, and tomatoes? Yep, was *real good". mmmmm!

Eat with your eyes...

Sprout and hummus burrito

Sprout and hummus burrito, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.

Mmmmm! This is just 'drop-dead' good - a flour tortilla (110 calories), two tablespoons of store-bought hummus (75 calories) as many home-grown sprouts as will fit in the burrito (er... maybe 10 calories??) and 2 tablespoons of low-fat cottage cheese (about 50 calories, max) ... well, go figger... maybe 240 calories??? That's 240 calories of goodness! We had one of these for lunch today along with a hard-boiled egg each and a salad of lettuce, tomato and sprouts (approx 2 tablespoons of home-made dressing, each, MAYBE).Mmmmmmmm!!!!!

I'm cutting back on fat and calories for a while. It's Spring, after all - no need to stock up on fat calories to stay warm! My best friend from grad school is coming to visit us in September and she is both a lover of food AND health conscious so I'm looking to develop recipes that are both pretty fricking delicious AND healthy to offer her. So a lot of my posts will reflect my attempt to be more health conscious. So there.
But they won't *all* be that good... :b

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lazy weeknight bean burritos

Lazy weeknight bean burritos, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.

Oh, dear... I've been feeling tired *all week* - and it's only Tuesday! Sheesh! Well, a woman's got to eat - and so does her husband. Not being the sort to go out every time we feel too lazy to cook, we try to figure out ways to make weekday meals fun and tasty and, most importantly, not very hard to put together.

Jazzed up frozen or chilled pizzas and stuffed baked potatoes are favourites and recently, bean burritos have been topping the charts. Part of the fun of the burritos is shopping for them. Tonight we got the cilantro, an avocado and the refried beans from one shop and the tortillas, guacamole and salsa from another.

The real fun is to be found in the assembly of the burritos - I always mess around with the ingredients, adding lime juice, crushed garlic, olive oil and cilantro to the salsa and lime juice, garlic and fresh avocado to the fresh avocado guacamole I get from the market. Then we heat up a black iron pan and brown the tortillas (on both sides) before piling on the refried beans, guacamole, sour cream salsa, fresh cilantro and freshly grated cheddar. Pop these into the microwave for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes et voila! Messy, munchy, scrummy bean burritos!
Hasta luego muchachos!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Hake Steak & Puy Lentils

Hake Steak & Puy Lentils, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg

A Friday afternoon, a trip to the market, a visit to the fishmonger's stall... a meal to remember. There was sooo much gorgeous fish to choose from but only 3 meals in the weekend! I had to decide. I settled on a couple of hake steaks (they looked fantastically fresh!), some tiny baby octopuses and a couple of rainbow trout.

When we got home I decided I was really in the mood to cook the hake and I was soon trawling the web for a recipe to guide me. The search was made especially easy because I knew I wanted to have lentils with the fish. The recipe I found, from Delicious magazine (via Channel 4) is reproduced below (and includes my recipe for spring greens, an inspired addition):

Roast cod on spiced Puy lentils

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
2 tsp mild curry powder
4 x 200g pieces thick cod fillet (I used hake steaks)

For the spiced Puy lentils:
275g Puy lentils
1 tbsp olive oil
2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium-hot red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 small red onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp fresh chicken stock
Lemon juice, to taste
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Low-fat natural yogurt, cayenne pepper and fresh coriander sprigs, to garnish

For the spring greens:
Enough spring greens for 4 people
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
100 g panchetta or bacon, cubed
3-4 tbsp water
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 220°C

Make the spiced lentils: Cook the lentils in a pan of simmering water for 20 minutes, or until tender.

The spring greens were an inspiration and they worked very well with this dish. Prepare them now:

1. Rinse and dry the spring greens and cut them into 1 cm wide strips.
2. Heat a large sauté pan and add the olive oil, garlic and panchetta. Saute until the panchetta is lightly cooked but not browned, around 3 minutes.
3. Add the greens to the pan and use some tongs to lift and turn them in the oil/pancetta mixture, to coat.
4. Turn the heat to medium, sprinkle the greens with salt and pepper, add the water and cover.
5. Cook over medium heat, checking to make sure the greens don't dry out (add water, if necessary) for around 10 minutes or until the greens are limp.
Check seasoning.

For the cod (or hake!):
1. Once the lentils are ready, mix the olive oil for the fish with the curry powder.
2. Brush the oil and curry powder all over the cod and season with salt and pepper.
3. Heat an ovenproof frying pan over a medium-high heat.
4. Grease the pan with a little oil and add the cod, meaty-side down.
5. Fry for 2 minutes until light golden in colour.
6. Turn over and and immediately transfer the pan to the hot oven. Roast for 5 minutes.

Once the fish is in the oven, finish preparing the lentils:
1. Drain the lentils.
2. Heat the oil in a clean pan. Add the garlic, chilli and cumin.
3. Once sizzling, stir in the lentils, onion and stock, until warmed through.
4. Add lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Stir in the coriander.

To assemble:
Spoon lentils onto warmed plates, top these with spring greens and perch the cod on top of the mound to achieve an artistic effect. Garnish with coriander sprigs and a dollop of yoghurt.

Serve, with additional yogurt in a separate bowl, inviting your dinner guests to help themselves.

Enjoy shopping, cooking AND friends!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Roasted Artichoke "roses"

Roasted Artichoke "roses", originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.

I finally got artichokes in my vegetable box this week and I was quick to try out a simple method of cooking them which I got from the cooking blog "Tamarind and Thyme". They were a doddle to prepare and didn't upset my husband Steve (who can't bear the smell of boiling artichokes!)

As I am an inveterate tinkerer, I couldn't resist embellishing the final effect. Using a sharp knife, I first cut the tops off of the artichokes then cut the tougher outer leaves so that they resembled roses. Then, as per the method I was following, I drizzled them with olive oil before sprinkling with coarse sea salt. Into the hot oven they went and 40 minutes later we had them as a starter, dipping the tender bases of the leaves in home-made vinaigrette.

And the verdict? Well, I found them a little bit dry but that could be attributed to the artichokes themselves which were small - there really wasn't much yield there. I think I'll try the method again but the next time I'll try using bigger, more 'globular' Globe artichokes!
It was fun, though - and Steve was alright with both the smell of the roasting vegetable and the fiddley eating ritual. Two out of 3 ain't bad!

Explore new cooking methods for old favourites.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Moroccan-Style Braised Beef with Carrots and Couscous

Moroccan-style Beef Couscous, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.

Today, in a moment of madness, I decided to give my pantry a 'spring clean'. This entailed climbing up on a step-ladder and pulling down pots and pans and things, sorting through them all and going through bags of beans and boxes of crackers to determine what would stay and what needed to be got rid of. I also decided to deploy my newly-acquired second-hand label maker and labelling my shelves as I reorganised things. In doing this I discovered a package of handmade couscous that my Algerian friend Miyyada had given me a couple of months ago. She'd brought several kilos of the stuff with her when she moved to the UK to study at Cambridge. It is remarkably fine-grained - finer than any couscous I've ever seen before.

As we had some beef in the fridge to cook tonight (the same cut as we roasted last weekend...) I thought it would be nice to cook the couscous with the beef for a dinner that was slightly out of the ordinary.

Google is my unofficial 'best friend' - always there when I need a recipe or instructions on how to do something I've never done before. And so it was. I found this recipe for 'Moroccan-Style Beef Couscous with Carrots' on and after reading it through, I decided to try it. I modified the recipe very little, as noted:

Moroccan-Style Braised Beef with Carrots and Couscous

Dried apricots and North African spices render a hearty stew. Use an immersion blender to thicken the braising mixture gravy--no need for a roux.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound lean beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 cups thinly sliced onion
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin (I might use a tad less, next time)
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika (I used 1/2 tsp chilli/cayenne powder, 1 tsp paprika)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 (14-ounce) cans less-sodium beef broth
1/4 cup packed dried apricots (didn't have any so I substituted a handful of mixed dried fruit)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups diagonally sliced peeled carrot (about 4 - 5carrots)
2 tablespoons water (optional) (didn't need it)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I only had the curly kind... *sigh*)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/3 cup less-sodium beef broth
1/3 cup water
2/3 cup uncooked couscous
1/4 cup chopped green onions

Our home-made, fine-grained Algerian couscous required twice as much water as suggested so 1:1 couscous and water.

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided

To prepare beef, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle beef with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add beef to pan, and cook 4 minutes or until beef is browned on all sides, turning occasionally. Transfer beef to a bowl; cover and keep warm.

Add 3 cups onion to pan; cook 10 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add 4 garlic cloves and next 4 ingredients (through ginger); cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 2 cans broth; bring to a boil. Add apricots; reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 30 minutes. Using an immersion blender in pan, puree onion mixture. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Return beef to onion mixture; cook over medium-low heat 1 hour or until beef is tender. Add carrot to pan; cover and cook 15 minutes or until carrot is tender, adding 2 tablespoons water, if desired, to loosen sauce. Season to taste (I needed to add quite a bit more salt for my taste...)

Stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley.

While beef cooks, prepare couscous. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add crushed garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon turmeric. Stir in 1/3 cup broth and 1/3 cup water; bring to a boil. Gradually stir in couscous. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 5 minutes; fluff with a fork. Stir in green onions.

Spoon couscous onto plates. Top evenly with the stew, and sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon parsley. This amount serves 4.

The resulting dish was delicious - full of exotic flavours and made just a bit spicy by the addition of chilli powder. Wow! And the couscous itself was sublime - very fine-grained and with a lovely, delicate flavour. For my part, the beef dish, although it required a bit of preparation before actually putting the dish together, the individual steps were very easy. Steve says that he had to add more liquid to the couscous than the recipe suggested - but I don't think the recipe was for hand-made Algerian couscous!

Be adventurous in your kitchen... tonight!