JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Friday, January 13, 2006

A request ...

A sweet tooth seems to be common amongst food bloggers; certainly I get the most comments if I write about puddings (apart from the banoffee pie, which you all seem to have decided, probably rightly, was too disgusting to trouble yourselves with). We don't eat pudding all that often, but, even so, it's the area of our new diet which has consistently given me the most trouble. I'm stuck in a meringue / fruit salad rut.

With that in mind, I'd like to ask you all a favour ... can you give me your best low-fat pudding recipe? No butter, no cream, not too many eggs (although limitless egg whites), no coconut.

Thank you!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Banoffee pie

Alfred is very keen on bananas, and there was a bunch left blackening in the fruit bowl while we were away in Switzerland. I couldn't bear to throw them away, but Alfred doesn't really like them unless they're bright yellow. So I was pleased to find a recipe entitled 'healthy banoffee pie' in this month's issue of the Waitrose food magazine.

The difficulty we have with lots of puds is the piecrust problem, because most piecrusts, whether or not they are pastry, contain fearsome amounts of butter. This one solves the problem by making the crust out of nuts and dates. It's quite successful (although I have to admit, I didn't use the specified almonds, because I didn't have any and there were hazelnuts galore in the larder), but I think I will have to play with it some more to make it really good - somehow, the crust seemed bitty, even though I used extra dates to glue it all together. It's definitely worth trying, because it's got lots of flavour, and is very light.

*220g hazelnuts
*250g stoned dates
300g 0% Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
3-4 sliced bananas

Oil a large cake tin with removable sides. Blitz the nuts, then add the dates. Press this gooey mess into the tin. Freeze. Meanwhile, put the yoghurt into a shallow dish, sprinkle it with sugar and put it in the fridge. Assemble by putting the base onto a large plate (leave it on the base of the tin, otherwise you'll have a terrible mess), covering it with sliced banana, and adding the yoghurt (stir it lightly first, to make sugary streaks). You can decorate this with shavings of dark chocolate (use a potato peeler).

The recipe says that it should be served immediately, because the nut case will soften at room temperature. We ate half straight away, the rest the next day, and it was still delicious, despite its soggy bottom.

* the original recipe specified 220g blanched almonds and 180g stoned dates

Quick post about a quick lunch

All the children have gone back to their various colleges and schools, so today is the first quiet day of the year. I normally don't bother to make lunch when it's just me (there's nearly always something left over in the fridge, or fruit, or salad), but I've got a cold, and hanker after carbohydrate. I cooked a bowl of spaghetti, coated it in olive oil and the juice of half a lime, added some finely chopped coriander, then some of the fried anchovy crumbs which are now a permanent feature of my fridge, together with a little pinch of dried chilli seeds. Delicious. The key to fast food is a little preparation, carried out when you've got time and/or feel like cooking.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lamb chops

Horatio asked for lamb chops for supper. We don't really eat chops any more, as they can be 50% fat; instead, I buy leg steaks, which are cut across the leg and have no visible fat, so need to be cooked carefully if they are not to end up the texture of cardboard. He looked rather suspiciously at them, and even more so at the chick pea puree I had made to go with them.

The thing is, I've been reading Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. In some ways it's a very annoying book - I mean, what's wrong with a blog if you want to tell people what you're eating day to day, rather than make them wait over a year (especially if you're trying to get them to see the point of seasonal eating, you'd think doing it in real time would ram the point home rather more forcefully)? On the other hand, it's full of things you want to eat, that are just slightly nicer than the way you already cook them.

I didn't actually follow any of the recipes, but this supper was very definitely inspired by the Kitchen Diaries.

Chickpea puree
Rinse two tins of chickpeas, warm them through in water. Meanwhile, in a lot more oil than you would normally use, fry a chopped onion until brown, perhaps crisping at the edges. Blitz the chickpeas to a puree with the oil (but not the onions), some garlic and a little salt. Put in a hot dish and cover with the onions.

Fennel salad
Finely chop a head of fennel. Mix with equal quantities of rocket (or watercress) in a shallow dish. Grate the zest of a lemon over the salad. Make a vinaigrette with lemon juice and pour over the salad.

Grill your lamb. Meanwhile, fry up some chopped garlic and finely shredded mint, to go over the lamb when you serve it.

I thought this was about as good as supper gets, particularly the chickpeas. Horatio said it wasn't quite what he was imagining when he asked for chops: "I was thinking more, mashed potato and peas," he said. "Fennel, that's the one I don't like that tastes aniseedy." Lucius ate the chickpea puree dutifully, rather like a small boy eating his greens because he's been told they're good for him. Girly food, clearly. They loved the lamb, though.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Vegetables for lunch

The BBC website has a story today that new research at Imperial College London shows that eating lots of veg cuts blood pressure. Researchers studied 4,680 middle-aged people, and found significant benefits to eating vegetable protein. On the other hand, they didn't find evidence that eating lots of meat was linked to high blood pressure. So - plenty of veg, including lots of beans for the protein, some meat (with the visible fat removed), along with regular portions of oily fish. Puddings to be fruit-based where possible. More or less what we're doing.

Yesterday, for lunch, I had noodle soup. Just one of those small cheap blocks of 3-minute noodles. But it couldn't have been further from the salty, monosodium-glutamatey taste the manufacturers had prepared in a sachet to go with them. First I chopped and stir fried some spring greens with a little chopped garlic. Then I added some home-made stock I had in the fridge which I made at the weekend after we had roast chicken for supper. When the noodles were cooked, I stirred in some crabmeat which I couldn't resist when I went shopping in the morning. A squeeze of lemon, some pepper. Delicious. And it only took about a minute longer than opening the sachet over the noodles. Afterwards I thought that it would be one dish where tinned crabmeat would be perfectly acceptable.

Today, I had a stir-fry of more spring greens, lots of them, with some chopped garlic. When they were done, I stirred in a teaspoon of the chilli jam I made in the autumn, and sprinkled them with some re-fried anchovy breadcrumbs lurking in the back of the fridge, then squirted the juice of half a lime which has been sitting around on the worktop for several days. Really good, lots of flavours.

There were three key ingredients which made these meals quick and easy to prepare, all of them home-made, but none of them particularly time-consuming:

Stock is something I make automatically after we have roast chicken; it doesn't take long, I feel thrifty, the ingredients are all to hand, and it means there's no temptation to use expensive stock which comes in not very bio-degradable plastic pots (I don't use stock cubes any more, because even the best-quality ones have ingredients which I either don't understand or know I don't want to eat). To make stock, I remove any meat left which can be used for another meal; I put the bones in a large pan with any leftover veg (but not potato, because the starch clouds the stock). I put in some fresh veg if I have it - celery, carrots, parsley stalks - and a few whole peppercorns (mine are multi-coloured), occasionally, for a change, a couple of cloves. I cover this with water, put the pot on to simmer, covered, for a couple of hours. Or more if I forget it. Then I strain it, cool it, put it in the fridge, and when I start to run out of it, I go out and buy another chicken for dinner. The main thing is not to get hung up on quantities or even timing, just to do it, and then do it again better - which is to say, how you like it. Recipe books often tell you to reduce it; I don't bother, because it steams up the kitchen, and you quite often have to add more water when it's concentrated (especiallly if you're making risotto). Sometimes I'll reduce a little for a specific dish, and that saves a lot of trouble.

I've written about the anchovy crumbs before (you just blitz some bread, add a tin of anchovies, blitz again, then fry them up, and use them instead of cheese on pasta, in soup, as a crispy topping for tuna bake, or - well, with whatever could do with a little crunch and zip). Now I have discovered that anchovy crumbs keep very well in the fridge, and can be used either straight from the fridge, or refried. I shall start making them in bulk and keeping them in an airtight box (at the moment, storage is haphazard, although they don't seem to suffer).

The chilli jam was something I made in November, when I felt like cooking one afternoon; there wasn't much work involved, although I had to be around to watch it while it cooked down. I've just sent the last bottle to a fellow food blogger, so I'll have to make some more in the next couple of weeks, as I now can't imagine life without it for pepping things up. As I said earlier, I have stopped using stock cubes, so I sometimes need strong tastes to stir in to sauces - chilli jam makes a change from, say, Worcester sauce or Marmite, or even stock. I'm not techie enough to give you a link to the original recipe, so I'm reproducing it here:

"This is terrific chilli jam, better than any I've made before. It takes moments to prepare, and then not quite an hour and a half to simmer before bottling. This is enough for nearly three Bonne Maman jars.

"Blend 400g whole tomatoes, four chillies (seeds and all), six cloves of garlic, two small knobs of ginger (don't bother to peel them), & half a little bottle of Thai fish sauce. Put this in a saucepan with 450g ordinary sugar, and 8 tbsp red wine vinegar. Bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, finely chop another 400g tomatoes. Add them to the pan, and gently simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. You have to judge for yourself when it's cooked, and it may well take longer than an hour to reach a set (it will set without trouble, because tomatoes are full of pectin)."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year resolutions - three tips for losing weight

Health and happiness for 2006.

Last night, for the second year in a row, I made positive resolutions, things to achieve in the coming months, rather than things to give up. But I have made one traditional resolution, and that is to do what it takes to lose the couple of pounds I am sure I have put on over Christmas. Last year we were at home, and it was easy to organise a low fat feast. This year, we were away, which made it more difficult. I shall go back to the strictest form of our diet, to the sheet I posted when I began this blog.I am interested, though, in how other people set about losing a couple of pounds, and so I would like to start a meme as I am sure I am not the only person in this position at this time of year.

Three tips for losing weight
1. Cut out saturated fat
2. Drink plenty of weak tea with lemon juice
3. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables

I nominate Zabeena to tell us what her three tips are