Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Roasted, Stuffed Tomatoes with Thyme from the Garden

Our tomato plants just won't give up.  I'm ready for pumpkins, squash and Halloween, but no, we are still eating tomatoes.  I'm grateful, I really am, I like tomatoes as much as the next person - possibly more, but honestly, enough is enough.  These plants have been bountiful for nearly four months, there is no more room in the freezer for soup, sauce or any other tomato creation.  It's time to move on....  but before we do, let me just tell you about the best possible roasted tomato dish ever.....  This recipe is adapted from Heidi Swanson's "Super Natural Everyday Cookbook" - it's a gem.  Roasted tomatoes are a staple in my kitchen, but Heidi makes them a little more interesting and a little more of a meal by stuffing them with whole wheat couscous and yogurt.  I was worried about the yogurt - but it's delicious. 

I'm not promising you that your children will leap up and down with delight when you produce these - but they will bring a smile to your lips.

Stuffed Tomatoes, adapted from Heidi Swanson's "Super Natural  Everyday" cookbook.

8 good sized tomatoes, cut in half width ways
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon of cumin
salt and pepper
Zest of a lemon
olive oil
A large handful of thyme leaves, finely chopped
2 shallots
4 oz of a whole grain (Heidi called for couscous, I didn't have any so I used bulgur wheat, quinoa would also be a great option)

Heat the oven to 350F

Prepare a baking dish by buttering or oiling an ovenproof dish which will hold all the tomato halves snugly.

Pour a tablespoon of olive oil into a saute pan and gently saute the shallots for about 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic clove and cook for about a further 2-3 minutes, until the shallots are soft and just turning golden.  Don't let the garlic burn. 

Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Scoop out most of the inside of the tomatoes, chop finely and put in a bowl.

To make the filling, combine the yogurt, lemon zest, salt, pepper, cumin, chopped thyme and add HALF the tomato flesh.  Add which ever whole grain you are using and the cooled shallots, garlic and thyme.

Pile the stuffing into the tomato shells. 

Bake for 50 minutes.  The tomatoes will wrinkle a little.

Garnish with more herbs and squeeze a little lemon juice over before serving.

I promise you these are incredible with a nice piece of fish.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Do Men Really Want?

When I was around seventeen or so my grandmother, who was the pin up girl for elegance, style, manners and restraint, took me aside and told me most sincerely "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach".  She followed up this statement by telling me when she fell in love with my grandfather she enrolled in "Domestic Science College" to learn how to cook. Then amid great secrecy, akin only to the military planning leading up to the D Day invasion, she made him a pair of pink silk pajamas.  Shortly after she presented him with this extraordinarily brazen gift, Ernest William Edwards and Thelma Irene Foxley became engaged to be married.  This begs the question "what do men really want?"  Is it really as simple as a home cooked meal and a negligee - or silk pajamas - to keep your beloved happy?

In this vein, mistaken or otherwise, I offer up the quintessential home cooked meal. Roast chicken with a rich gravy, mashed potatoes laced with cream, green beans drenched in a buttery lemon sauce and a rich, dark chocolate cake.  The negligee? I'm afraid you're on your own.

For the Roast Chicken.

1, 4 lb chicken (organic if possible)
1 lemon (cut into quarters)
2 cloves of garlic
Fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage)
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (room temperature)
salt and pepper
1 large onion

For the gravy

1/2 cup of white wine
1/2 cup of chicken stock
1 tablespoon of flour
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 425 F

Bring the chicken to room temperature.

Rub the butter all over the chicken.

Stuff the cavity with the lemon, garlic and plenty of fresh herbs.

Season the skin with the salt and pepper.

Place in a good sized roasting pan.  Chop the onion in to quarters and place around the chicken along with a few more fresh herbs.

Place the chicken in the oven and cook for 15 minutes. 

Turn the temperature down to 375F and cook for a further 1- 1/4 hours. 

The chicken is cooked when a thermometer reads 160 degrees in the thickest part of the leg, or if you don't have a thermometer, when the juices run clear.

Baste the chicken as often as you can remember during the cooking process to produce a wonderful golden skin.

When cooked, remove the chicken to a platter and cover with foil.  Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile make the gravy. 

Place the roasting pan on a low heat on the stove.

Add 1/2 cup of white wine, 1/2 cup of chicken stock.

Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.  Scrape up the all the bits on the bottom of the pan.  Let it simmer for a few minutes. 

Spoon off any fat that rises to the surface.

Sprinkle over the flour and stir until the gravy thickens. Check seasonings.

Carve the chicken and pour the luscious gravy over the top. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pork Chops in Brown Butter with Crispy Sage Leaves from the Garden


Chops are very British fare.  When you're watching a BBC costume drama you invariably see the hero rushing off to the "Chop House" to indulge in a juicy bit of meat washed down with a pint of ale.  (Chop houses were hugely popular establishments all over London in 18th/19th century). I washed my chop down with a hearty glass of pinot last night and that worked a treat. 

I have to confess I have not had a happy experience in the past with pork chops.  I memorably cooked some boneless chops a few years ago and they were an unmitigated disaster - at least for me - but not for the dog.  I overcooked them to such a degree that they were dead weights - almost rock like.  I fed them to the dog, who seemed remarkably  pleased.  I was later told that one shouldn't feed pork to a dog - it's bad for them.  I was told that about chocolate too, but my little Jack Russell devoured a large foil wrapped Easter egg at the age of 2 months and was as happy as a clam.  So why would I worry about a piece of pork?

You can understand my trepidation last night as I approached these beautiful looking cuts of meat.  Was I going to wreak havoc again?  Happily these turned out a treat.  They did require a sharp knife to cut them but they still retained their juiciness and the flavor was simply lovely.  The family was happy, the dog went without.

Bone in Pork chops (fat trimmed)
Sage leaves
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of salt
a couple of healthy shakes of pepper
1/4 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of paprika
1/4 teaspoon of fennel seeds (I was going to grind mine but didn't because my spice grinder broke and I was too lazy to pound them)
A splash of white wine (optional)
1/2 cup (or so) chicken stock

To prepare the chops, trim the fat and mix together the cumin, paprika, fennel seeds, salt and pepper.  Rub this mixture all over the chops and let sit for about a half hour.

Heat the butter in a large frying pan until really hot and foaming. 

Press a sage leaf on each of the chops and place them in the pan.  Don't overcrowd, you will probably have to do this in two batches otherwise they will steam and not brown beautifully. 

Cook, without moving them for about 4 minutes.  Lift one up to make sure it's golden, if it is turn it over, turn down the heat a little, partially cover the pan and continue cooking for about another 4 minutes or so, depending on the thickness of your chop.  DON'T overcook!!  Keep checking and spooning the melted butter over the chops as they cook.

When the chops are cooked, remove to a serving plate and cover with foil.  Let them rest of about 10 minutes.

Add the stock and wine to the pan, bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.  Scrap up all the bits in the pan. 

Add another tablespoon of butter to the sauce and swirl gently until it dissolves.

Pour the sauce over the chops.  Garnish with more sage.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Welcome Autumn with a Spiced Apple Bundt Cake

There's something rather perfect about the first day you experience autumn after a long hot summer.  My oven has been on all morning, baking a spiced apple cake, full of cinnamon, orange zest, nutmeg and allspice.  The house is quiet except for the steadily falling rain, cool air enters the kitchen through the screen door and I am rediscovering the delights of an autumnal day.  Welcome Autumn!

Spiced Apple Bundt Cake

3 medium apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 sticks of butter
1 1/2 cups of sucanat (or regular white sugar)
zest of an orange
4 eggs
2 cups of cake flour plus 2 tablespoons for tossing the apple slices
3/4 cup of milk and juice of 1/2 the orange
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of allspice
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg

For the Glaze

1 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon of orange juice
1 tablespoon of maple syrup

Heat the oven to 350 F

Grease a bundt cake mold.

Measure out the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and spices into a bowl. Set aside.

Measure out the milk and orange juice into a measuring jug. Set aside.

Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Toss in a tablespoon of flour. Set aside.

Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest until it is really light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time and scrape down the mixing bowl after every addition.

Add half the flour mixture and very gently combine.

Add the liquid, mix gently and add the other half of the flour mixture.

Stir in the apple slices.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and place in the oven.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until risen and golden and a cake tester comes out clean.

Let the cake cool thoroughly on a cake rack.

To make the frosting combine the confectioner's sugar, orange juice and maple syrup and beat to combine.  You should have a runny consistency.

Pour over the cooled bundt cake.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cake rack to cool completely.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pan Fried Chicken in a Mushroom Cream Sauce

The poor maligned boneless, skinless, chicken breast.  It needs much attention and fussing over to transform this rather dull and potentially dry cut of meat into a dish fit for a King - or Queen.  The magic of the transformation in my view is twofold. Firstly, a light hand in the frying pan and then a sauce that makes the tastebuds sing. 

The inspiration for this dish came from our recent trip to Paris.  One evening my children ordered Pasta with "Champignons" - having absolutely no idea what  "champignons' were.  Who was I to limit there cultural exposure?  When the pasta arrived they looked crest fallen, but they were game and gave it a try.  This luscious sauce was laced with thick shards of Parmesan and delicately sprinkled with fragrant parsley, it won them over.

Why I recreated this sauce for chicken I'm not sure, probably because the chicken needed using up and it's not an altogether new idea.  I loved making this and my family loved eating it - sadly it's not every day I can claim this.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
2-4 tablespoons of all purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper
2-4 shallots, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
1/4 cup of white wine
1/4 - 1/2 cup of chicken stock
One basket of mushrooms (I used organic Baby Bella) wiped and sliced
1 tablespoon of heavy cream

In a large saute pan heat the oil and the butter until hot. 

Dry the chicken breasts and dredge them lightly in the flour seasoned with salt and pepper.

Add the shallots to the pan and saute until soft, add the garlic and saute for a further 2 minutes or so, don't let the garlic burn.

Push the shallots and garlic to one side of the pan and add the chicken. Cook the chicken breasts until they are beautifully golden on each side.  Season with a sprinkling of parsley. 

Add the wine and the chicken stock. 

Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer.

Add the mushrooms, partially cover the chicken with a lid and let the sauce and mushrooms simmer around the chicken until the chicken is cooked through.  These chicken breasts were on the chunky side so it took about 5 - 7 minutes. 

When just cooked through, remove the chicken to a platter and cover.

Add the cream to the sauce and swirl gently until it is incorporated.

Pour the sauce over the chicken and let rest for 5 minutes or so.  Just before you serve it, sprinkle chopped parsley over the top. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Roast Rack of Lamb with Rosemary Crust

I wish I wasn't so conflicted about meat!  I adore lamb, it's the most succulent of all meat, I hardly ever cook it but when I do there's no stopping me.  Actually there's no stopping any of us - rack of lamb is my family's number one favorite.   I was at Trader Joe's (again) and they have the best priced lamb around.  It's a treat to cook as you don't even have to baste it.  Just pop it in the oven and it's done in about a half hour - in fact even less - easy!! I do trim the fat quite radically and then put a breadcrumb herb topping on it and that's that. 

2 racks of lamb, fat trimmed
4 tablespoons of dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoon of olive oil
2 tablespoon of rosemary (minced)
salt and pepper
Zest of a lemon
Heat the oven to 425F.

Mix together the breadcrumbs, rosemary, lemon zest, salt and pepper.

Rub the top side of the rack of lamb with the olive oil.  Press the breadcrumb mixture on top of the olive oil.

Place in a baking pan and put into the oven.  Roast until the internal temperature is 135.  That's the temperature I used when cooking these, so adjust to your preference. Do remember it will cook further when resting.

Remove from the oven, cover and rest for at least 10 minutes.

Carve the chops into single servings and dig in.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chocolate Cream Pie

Once in a while there is a need for complete all out chocolate decadence.  When you feel this need, make this pie!  It is sinfully rich with its deep chocolate blissfulness so don't try and eat half of it at one sitting.  To begin with I thought it was rather a cheat to make a graham cracker crust and not a pastry one, after I ate a piece of this I changed my mind.  I think the graham cracker crust adds to it's gorgeousness. I made this for my mother-in-law after we had skipped off to Paris leaving her alone to cope with Hurricane Irene! 

To make the ultimate chocolate pudding pie you will need:

8 egg yolks
3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of cornstarch
1 1/2 cup of good quality chocolate
2 1/2 cups of milk
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
4 oz butter

For the graham cracker crust;

Follow directions on the graham cracker crumbs box.

For the cream decoration;

4 oz of heavy cream
1 oz of confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350F

Make the graham cracker crust following the directions on the box and let cool thoroughly.

Place the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl of your electric mixer and with the whisk attachment, whisk until very light and thick. 

Melt the chocolate in the microwave, stir until smooth and leave to cool while the eggs and sugar are whisking.

Add the slighty cooled melted chocolate to the eggs and sugar mixture and whisk to combine.

Add the cornstarch to the mixture and whisk to combine.

Heat the milk and vanilla extract in a pan to scalding point.  Pour into a measuring jug.

With the mixer running on low, very slowly pour the vanilla milk into the chocolate mixture. 

Whisk until fully combined.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, on a low heat stir continuously until thick. 

You may start to think it will NEVER EVER thicken.  I have absolutely NO patience with this sort of thing.  It is generally just when I think I can't stand another moment of stirring that the cornstarch magically thickens the mixture and you are left with a beautiful smooth pudding like sauce. 

If the mixture becomes lumpy, remove from the heat and whisk it furiously until smooth.

Pour into the cooled pie crust and place in the refrigerator to fully set and chill.

When cool and set, decorate with whipped cream and a shaving of chocolate.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sauteed Leafy Greens

I'm a mum on a mission at the moment.  I'm trying my hardest to incorporate more greens into my family's diet.  We've all heard how good leafy greens are for us but in my experience it's almost impossible to get children excited about this.  "It's good for you!" just doesn't cut it.  Now I have teenage daughters I try a different tact,  "It's really great for your skin!" "It will make your hair shine!" But no, it makes no difference, they just aren't into greens.

I went to the farmer's market yesterday and bought some delicious looking kale and leeks.  They were simply lovely, the kale was delicate, not like the large, cardboard type leaves you find in the supermarket and the leeks were positively fragrant.  This will hook them I thought!

1 bunch of kale, washed and chopped
2 - 3 leeks, washed and chopped
1 onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Olive oil
1 small knob of unsalted butter
salt and pepper
a splash of white wine or Mirin

In a large saute pan heat the olive oil and the butter until foaming.

Add the onion, sprinkle with salt to stop them burning and saute on a low heat until really soft, then add the garlic.

Add the leeks and continue cooking until they are soft.

Add the kale, a splash of wine and cook, turning with tongs so that it cooks evenly.

After a few minutes when cooked through and the alcohol has cooked off, lift from the pan with a slotted spoon to a serving dish.

I like using Mirin as it gives the dish a slightly sweet taste along with the leeks.  The girls did try this and the older ones admitted that it wasn't bad (that means fantastic!)  I loved it and plan to put the leftovers into a frittata later today. Hope this works for you!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pan Seared Flank Steak

Flank Steak is highly underrated, it's a wonderfully flavorful piece of meat and very economical.  I find the preparation of this steak is important however.  A few minutes trimming the fat and fibers pay off tremendously.   I read the other day that if you make small horizontal slits across the grain of the meat it tenderizers it to no end.  I did this, marinated it and then pan seared it on my beloved griddle pan. It was a huge hit.  Served with some roasted potatoes which I had lightly covered in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper and a teaspoon or so of minced rosemary, along with a salad lightly dressed in a honey mustard vinaigrette, there was a moment of harmony in my household. 

It gets better! This meal is straightforward and quick.  You can marinate the steak, wash the salad and make the vinaigrette in the morning, the potatoes look after themselves in the oven and you just have to spend a few minutes cooking the steak at dinner time

This quite happily served 6 of us;

 1 3/4lb flank steak
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of minced rosemary
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce
4-6 tablespoons olive oil 

To prepare the marinade, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and rosemary.  Whisk in the olive oil one tablespoon at a time until you have a thick vinaigrette.  Marinate the steak for at least a couple of hours but if you can get ahead of the game do this in the morning.  I use a gallon size ziplock bag for this purpose, although I admit it's probably not that good for the environment. 

When you're ready to cook, wipe the marinade off the meat with a paper towel.  Heat your pan (you can use a regular frying pan or cast iron pan) until really hot. 

Lay your steak on it and sear (without moving it so you get those great griddle marks) for about 4 minutes.  Turn it over and cook on the other side for 2-4 minutes depending on how rare you like your meat.

Remove to a platter, cover with aluminium foil and let the steak rest for at least 5 minutes.

To serve, slice thinly at an angle, pour the juices that escape when craving back over the meat.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


We really didn't want to come home, it was perfect in Paris.  The sun shone, the wine flowed and the food - well, the food was an experience.  One of the things I love so much about the French is their innate appreciation for food and drink.  Such care and importance is attached to eating, from the quickest snack to a celebratory dinner. Great thought and effort is put forth and therefore great satisfaction is guaranteed.  If there is one thing I hope to bring home with me, it is that appreciation, that the process of making and the effort it takes is SO worth the result. 

Here are a selection of delights we enjoyed.

A succulent lamb dish

A perfect poached pear 

A beautiful lemon tart

A magical restaurant

Ina Garten has long been a culinary hero of mine and after reading her "Barefoot in Paris" and her reference to Dehillerin, the celebrated cookware store, I promised myself if I was ever there I would pay a visit. 

 I left the family happily splashing in the pool, jumped in a cab and headed across town.  I gazed mesmerized  at the display of copper pots and pans gleaming in the windows. 

 This was no pretty wrapped up in tissue paper Williams Sonoma store.  This was the Home Depot of culinary stores.  This was a real "slaving over a hot stove" cooking store. They had EVERYTHING you could possibly imagine - and more.  I poured over the countless utensils I had never seen before.

 The store was buzzing.  After a couple of laps upstairs and down it was all too much. I felt like a toddler in Toys R Us.  I removed myself as fast as possible to the brasserie across the road and ordered an expresso.  When my heart rate had returned to  normal, I realized that I needed to go home with a small copper pot.  I didn't possess anything copper and after all it was SO French! Another couple of laps around the store and I found my treasure, the sweetest little copper pan that now happily sits on my stove.

We walked for miles, everywhere there were beautiful bakeries, grocers and butchers right in the heart of Paris.

An enchanting candy shop

The fishmonger

Paris was an education and a delight.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

So Happy to be in England!

The first morning in England I awoke to the cooing of a wood pigeon and the pitter patter of gentle rain.  All was right with the World.  The sense of utter contentment was complete - I was home. 

We were fortunate enough to stay in a little holiday cottage on Lord Cowdray's Estate in West Sussex, close to where I grew up.  Surrounded by sheep, cows and the South Downs this was as far away from New York as can be imagined.  The usual frantic pace of life screeched to a halt.  I waited patiently for the kettle to boil, my children spent hours in a nearby field trying to catch a cow - the cow didn't mind.  The biggest decision of the day was which pub should we go to for lunch.

My husband who had valiantly stayed behind in the US texted me to say there had just been an earthquake, a massive hurricane was expected and there had been a shooting at the pool where my older daughter lifeguards.  This hideous trio of disasters seemed so far away they didn't seem real while I was nestled in the comfort of the English countryside.

Let me clear up one thing right away -  I did NOT cook - not once while we were away.  There was a vague attempt at warming up some fish fingers (the UK equivalent to chicken nuggets) but as the oven temperature in our cottage didn't rise above luke warm I abandoned the effort. 

Now, back home in my own kitchen I am rediscovering its delights, but before we get to that, I wanted to share with you a few glimpses into "the Old Country" which I hope you'll enjoy.

Cowdray Castle ruins which date back to 1284.

Come on in, the water's lovely!

The Lifeboat View Cafe on the Isle of Wight.  The lobster, crab and shrimp were caught that morning by the owner of the cafe.  It was an outstanding meal.

I have never tasted such delicious seafood.

Being brave and experiencing new foods!

This beautiful Pavlova was made for my birthday lunch by my lovely sixteen year old niece - these British girls really know how to cook!

I was spoilt rotten - a lovely homemade birthday cake -

The British connection is very amused by my blog.  My mother (very British!) purchased for me the three complete volumns of Delia Smith's "How to Cook."  For those of you who are not familiar with Delia, she is Britian's original Domestic Goodness.  There is no nonsense as far as Delia is concerned.  She is clear, concise and her recipes ALWAYS work -  she is quintessentially British - sort of a national treasure.  They are beautiful books which are standing in pride of place in my cookbook collection.

It was hard to say goodbye to England, it always is, but to soften the blow instead of taking a plane to JFK we took a train - to PARIS! 

Oh my - more on the City of Lights tomorrow.