Easy Creamy Garlic pasta (Microwave meal for one)

Easy Creamy Garlic pasta (Microwave meal for one) 

I am aware that the amount of meals for one on my blog at the moment does make me look a little bit like a loner but I’m afraid that is what finals does to you. Is it bad that the evening meal has become the highlight of my day amidst drowning in a sea of books, papers and opera dvds? Talking of which I should probably make this short and sweet.

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Ingredients

1/2 aubergine

1 courgette

100g mushrooms

100ml stock

salt/pepper

parsley

3 cloves garlic

lemon juice

50g penne

2 small tubs of lightest Philadelphia cheese

 

Chop the veg and garlic, place in a microwavable dish. Add the stock and a small amount of pepper and lemon juice. Sprinkle with parsley. Microwave on high for 2-250mins, until roasted. Meanwhile cook the pasta in salted boiling water for 10-12mins. Drain reserving a tbsp of water. Stir the pasta water and pasta into the veg and add the cheese. Enjoy.

Same ingredients, different dish

This time chop the veg, microwave for 20-25mins. Toss with soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar (a bit of chilli if you like it hot) and 2tbsp sugar. Serve with rice or noodles (and if you are feeling particularly healthy money wise) prawns.

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No Bread Pizza – for healthy days

No Bread Pizza – for healthy days

It is one of those days where you’ve spent the past weekend being inundated with free food and drink (in my case choir tour) and consequently eat a lot of cake because it’s free and you’re a student so your brain is always programmed to stock up with free food wherever you go. On top of that you are exhausted so end up buying a lot of chocolate on top of this because chocolate (while bad for your voice) is the best thing to sustain you through a long day. Finally you are also a food blogger so can’t possibly say no to eating three courses when you have already obliged yourself (and promised those around you) that you will blog about it. (see the Italian Isle of Man post.) Right about now you are where I am now, feeling like I’ve eaten an elephant over the weekend, caffeine withdrawal headache, hangover and sleep deprivation. In order to counteract this I have decided to have a day of abstinence/early night/detox, but abstinence doesn’t mean it can’t be tasty!
Here is the recipe for what I cooked myself for dinner, admittedly I have just gone and taken one of the best bits out of a pizza, BUT trust me it is still very filling, low calorie, nutrient rich etc, plus I woke up after this day feeling healthier, happier and ready to get back to the rich foods that normally fill up this blog.

Serves 1
3 tomatoes, chopped in to quarters
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 small courgette, cut into circles
150g Portobello mushrooms (ideal) or chestnut (chea

per)
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
(NB If you like you could also add red onion or aubergine or sweet potato to bulk it up)
salt
pepper lemon juice
basil (ideally fresh but I used dried and it was fine)
(I added smoked paprika to this the other day as well and trust me mind was blown!)
1/2 ball low-fat mozzarella

Place the veg and garlic in a flat dish and sprinkle liberally with salt, a dash of lemon juice, some black pepper and LOTS of Basil. Now I’m not sure how long to cook this in the oven (I only have a microwave), but feel free to experiment, I expect you are looking about 15mins at 180oC. In the microwave, cook the veg on high for about 7-8mins. Scatter with torn bits of mozzarella and put back in the microwave or oven for about 2mins, until melted, enjoy…..

Of course this isn’t an exclusively healthy dish. You could add more mozzarella, add goats cheese, serve with garlic bread, drizzle with olive oil or pesto, add pepperoni or chicken or even for extra decadence try four cheeses and bacon….

Under the Sea

Under the Sea

I have recently been spending a small fortune on Seaweed salad from Yo Sushi. In a similar way to the juice addiction I tend to have small time addictions with food where I eat certain things for months on end, every day at some time or other, and then suddenly decide I don’t want them again and stop eating it altogether. Previous fads have gone from the healthy, Pret’s avocado juice, Sainsbury’s melon snack packs, to the unhealthy, curlywurly’s, coconut and vanilla popcorn, to the plain strange, Bird’s custard with cocoa powder to make chocolate custard…. The main issue with the seaweed salad addiction is the fact it costs £2.50 a pop, which as a poor student I immediately knew was unsustainable. So as the juice before it, I am striving to make this at home.

The first step was research. I clocked the list of ingredients in the Yo Sushi version and shaved it down to the basics. As far as I could tell all I needed was; dried seaweed, soy sauce, sugar, rive vinegar, sesame oil and sesame seeds. I took one of those fairly dangerous gambles and ordered my dried seaweed off Amazon and managed to get four hefty bags for about £10 (I’ve used half so far). When they came, they neither looked nor smelt particularly appetising. When shredded and soaked in water they smelt even worse, but I persevered. I rinsed the slimy seaweed several times and drained it well.

Then I liberally seasoned it with the afore mentioned ingredients (to taste) and I was amazed. Like magic my slimy, smelly seaweed had transformed into a immensely tasty salad, incredibly reminiscent of the Yo Sushi version (although admittedly carrot would have livened up the colour.) In fact the only thing I would do differently was maybe use red Gamma seaweed or something instead of Konbu as it was a little more chewy than I expected, but otherwise I am feeling possibly a little too proud of my recent procrastination.

Playing House

Playing House
There is a reason I cook less in Cambridge. Mostly because my kitchen this year consists of two ‘warming plates’ and a microwave and my fridge (as I’ve said before) resembles the toy fridge that came with the ‘my first kitchen’ I got at the age of three. I have minimal access to an oven and any attempt to use it involves running four floors down my staircase and two floors up on another one, which is always fun when you’re carrying a hot tray…. Plus I have limited (three armchairs) seating and only a desk to eat off. All this makes it less than ideal to throw a dinner party, but I took up the challenge when my friend the Girtonion persuaded me to throw one with her.

We optimistically set a date in a month and a half’s time, although being me, I planned the menu about a week later. Limitations included budget ( if we had a fish starter, we went with a veggie main), gluten intolerance and logistics, oven space (I went with no-cook starter and dessert). 
On the day itself, about an hour and a half before the start of the party, we had an offer of a better venue, with a proper table and enough chairs and and oven in the next door room. While fantastic, this proved an entertaining challenge as we carried 3 large lasagnes through college and across the road, I was surprised we managed to pull this off but with 3 minutes to go we were semi-organised. 
While enjoying a fine selection of wines (my friends have good taste) we sat down.
Gin and Juniper cured Salmon, pickled cucumber and creme fraiche 
( see christmas blog for the recipe)
This was possibly the easiest course to do within our limitations and relatively cheap with Sainsburys basics salmon fillets, who knew. Although I panicked and left the cure on too long so they were a little too salty but luckily managed to balance out with the mellowing flavours of the creme fraiche and cucumber.

Goats Cheese and Butternut Squash no pasta lasagne, with sage and garlic chips and broccoli.
Why I decided to cook a lasagne for a gluten-free meal I am not entirely sure, but I love the Nigella goats cheese and pumpkin lasagne 
So in order to tweak it to suit my limitations, we used squash instead of pumpkin, cut down on expensive goats cheese and upped the mozzarella, increased the garlic (always makes things better), replaced the pine nuts with walnuts and replaced the pasta with slices of courgette and aubergine. my original idea as an interesting side was fried garlic polenta, but alas a lack of interesting ingredients in the supermarkets of Cambridge scuppered this plan. Instead we went with chips. We parboiled the potatoes with salt, sage and garlic, tossed the drained contents in oil and roasted for about an hour – they appeared to go down well, my neighbours at the table started grazing on extra chips of the tray before we had even served all the food. 
Lemon Posset, popping candy and gluten free shortbread.
Lemon posset is a delightfully easy dessert, in this case quirkily served in plastic cups (Ok maybe that is all I had…) Simply bring 600ml cream and 150g sugar and the zest of 3 lemons to the boil, boil for 3 mins before whisking in the juice of 3 lemons, pour into glasses and leave to set. Note to self, next time don’t put the popping candy on till the last minute otherwise you simply create a sort of strawberry flavour creme brûlée topping to your posset…. 
For the shortbread I got to use my new bright red Kitchen aid for the first time. Again devilishly simple. Cream 150g butter, 75g sugar, 1tsp salt, add 250g gluten free self raising flour, roll into flattened balls and bake at 180oC for 12-15mins till golden brown.
There were moments I thought a three course meal for nine would be impossible in college, it wasn’t, but boy it made me appreciate my kitchen at home. 

The Run Up to Christmas – 6 days to Christmas

The Run Up to Christmas – 6 days to Christmas

So the race is on up to Christmas. In my case the race is on to empty the fridge before the shopping arrives in 2 days time, on which I have managed to buy an extraordinary amount of food and enough Gin to probably last the year (my mum pointed out that we already had 2 bottles, I don’t think she’s realised I’m planning on taking some up to Uni….) So dinner today will have to be eating up, an experimental creation. My mother rather unhelpfully made about 5 times too much couscous for a dinner party on wednesday (I wasn’t there, couldn’t be helped) so that is the focus point around which this meal is based. Poking around in the fridge I find some left over tinned tomatoes, half a packet of feta cheese and some Ferraro Rocher chocolates. Poking around in the freezer I found a packet of puff pastry. Leaving the chocolates for later, I decided to make a puff pastry couscous pie. Not only does this use up the majority of my ingredients, but also wins me bonus points for health and environment, it being a vegetarian dish.

So I made a thick chutney using the chopped tomatoes. Boiling them down to a thick constancy with 2 large tbsp of sugar, a large pinch of salt, some ground coriander seeds, a splash of white wine vinegar and for some christmassy warmth some ground cloves. Putting that aside to cool, I toasted about 5 blanched whole almonds I found in the cupboard (using up another thing) and stirred fresh parsley (I say fresh it was frozen fresh….) through my mothers couscous which seemed to contain pumpkin seeds, though I couldn’t tell you what else. Laying out my sheet of puff, I spread a little chutney on one half, topped with a good mound of couscous, scattered over the almonds and some pitted black olives and finished with chunks of feta. I brushed the edges with egg wash, folded over the other half of puff and then painted the whole thing with egg wash. All it needed was to bake in the oven at 200OC for 15-20mins until golden brown.

The Great French Adventure

The Great French Adventure
Rose Wine, garlic and other stories
            This summer I went on yet another choir tour (well choir tour is a relative term, it was more a cookery holiday with the odd bit of singing). I don’t think you can ask for much more than the gorgeous weather of the south of France, great company and a massive kitchen completely at my disposal. Luckily the choir was one to a part so they were quite lenient when I would spend most rehearsals leaving mid song saying ‘just got to check on the cookies’. (I think the fact they got to eat the cookie dough may have helped a little bit) All in all it was a rather good set up, the four singers (plus 2 extra tag alongs) and our hosts, all welcome recipients of my experimentations (even if they often turned out not necessarily as planned). Plus a huge herb garden, which I’m sure any chef will tell you is one of the ultimate luxuries, to be able to go out and pick anything you feel like adding to the dish. On top of all this we were able to give a little back with a small number of concerts we managed to fit in around the swimming, eating and cooking.
            My mantra in France was garlic, butter and cream, from there you couldn’t go much wrong. I would spend most days getting up and dragging people to the boulongerie/patisserie for some of the best croissant I have ever tasted (well it was France), before getting started on a routine of cooking with intermittent rehearsals. Of course I always had willing helpers (especially on the washing up front which was a godsend), the soprano was particularly talented at chopping garlic, the bass successfully whipped about 10 egg whites before I found the electric whisk and the tenor had a moment of spiritual revelation over whipping cream.  (There was also the time I set them shelling pistachios – I was not popular..) Then in the evening (sometimes following a concert), we would sit down to an aperitif (usually rose wine a la region though thanks to my influence Campari later made an appearance) followed by a three-course meal. Of course I made some obvious choices, the pea pesto for instance, but I also got to have a go at gazpacho (a little heavy on the garlic, what wasn’t) and snails. My favourite dessert I made that week was lemon meringue pie, although I learnt a few things
1.     Let the lemon curd cool completely before pouring in the pastry cases
2.     Don’t forget about the pastry cases in the oven – they will burn
3.     Cook the lemon curd for longer than you think (mine was liquid)
4.     Sage makes quite a nice addition to the curd
Another big fail of the week was the last night beef. We had a concert so I was determined that I would slow cook the beef in red wine, however I had failed to take into account that the cut we had bought had very little fat on it so the beef came out of the oven old and tough, luckily the amount of herbs I had shoved in the pot meant it tasted good even if the texture was wrong – note to self fat=tender.
            Another not so much fail, but definite disaster moment was the fish. There were eleven of us eating so I had bought 3 large fillets of some unidentifiable white fish which after flouring and seasoning, I fried using a large flat pan on the stove. Unfortunately not only did the kitchen fill with smoke which made my turning down of a cigarette earlier in the evening seem pointless, but also I almost set myself on fire several times. Is it bad that my first thought at this point was not ‘I almost died’ but ‘what will they do without an alto’…..
            Two of the more exciting desserts were the rhubarb tarte tatin and the peach clafoutis. The tarte tatin was simple. I made a caramel using about 3tbsp sugar and a knob of butter, 1tbsp of honey, a split vanilla pod, large sprinkling of salt and some cinnamon and ginger. Then I placed raw rhubarb into the pan before covering the whole thing with a sheet of puff pastry. I cooked for about 15-25mins or until the top was brown at 140oC, then I let it cool. I served this with an orange and basil infused custard. Once you’ve made custard you realise how surprisingly easy it is. You can add any flavour by infusing it in the cream that you heat up (here orange peel, vanilla seeds and basil), then you need lots of egg yolks, sugar whisked up and the key when you combine these two mixtures is just to heat it over a very low heat and don’t stop stirring. It will feel like it takes forever and you will want to leave it, but don’t. If you need to go to the loo, turn it off, if you need to check on a cake, turn it off, but whatever you do don’t leave it unattended.

            The peach clafoutis was a new dessert I’d always seen but never made, it’s a sort of giant, thick baked pancake. The key here is not to undercook it, add vanilla extract and lots of sugar on top to brulee the top. To make the pancake mix, you heat 125ml cream, 125ml milk in a pan with vanilla extract/ any flavours you would like in it (here I added a little bay leaf). Beat 4 eggs and 170g sugar together, then fold in 3 tbsp flour. Add the cooled milk/cream mix and whisk together. Halve peaches and place facing up in a dish (they add a lovely sourness within the sweet batter). Pour over the batter and dot butter over the top. Cook for 20mins at 180oC, take out of the oven and sprinkle over sugar, put in the oven for a further 10mins till the top has browned slightly. The custard I served with this was grand marnier flavour. For this I added grand marnier at the final stage, when I was slowly cooking the final product so that all the alcohol didn’t evaporate. Unfortunately at 9 in the morning when I decided to make this some of the alcohol did come off, I don’t advise starting the day steaming grand marnier, especially if you then have wine with lunch….. We also found with this custard that the grand marnier appeared to strengthen with age, when we had the leftovers the next day for lunch it was a lot more alcoholic than it had seemed the night before….
            By the end of the night, we were usually singing loudly (it was a good thing we could all actually sing) a wide variety of pieces. We managed to go from Rule Britannia in four part harmony, to a memorable rendition of you’re the one that I want from Grease complete with dancing, to Bruckner motets. We did ask some of the locals on the final night if our singing had disturbed at 1 in the morning, luckily the immediate neighbours assured us that they had enjoyed it and it was an advertisement for our concert rather than a deterrent. Luckily plying them with red onion and goats cheese tart was another factor in appeasing the neighbours.
            If anything can make a kitchen smell amazing, it is slow cooking caramelised onions. All you have to do is finely slice red onions and put in a pan with garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, vinegar, butter and sugar and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally till you get a lovely concoction of sweet smelling, sticky onions. Use this to top a sheet of puff pastry and add slices of goats cheese and you have heaven on earth. The French get a lot right.
            In fact other things the French clearly got right as seen from this holiday choir tour.
1.     Garlic (it basically makes you feel better however much you’ve eaten, dunk, sung)
2.     Croissant
3.     Lunch should take at least 2 hours, dinner 4
4.     Even the most basic ingredients in supermarkets should be nice
5.     Butter and Cream make everything better
6.     Baguettes really do make the best sort of bread
7.     Homemade pate is divine, flavours don’t have to be traditional and it doesn’t need to look pretty (e.g fig, chestnut, pepper..)
8.     Wine co-operatives are such a good idea (where anyone who earns a vineyard, donates their grapes to one co-operative, who make the wine and the profit is split. The community then fill up jerry cans from petrol pumps and it is cheaper, nicer and better for everyone)
9.     A little wine at every meal is so much better than England’s binge drinking society
10. If it’s not in season you will find it had to get hold of, even in a supermarket
11. Champagne and macaroons are the answer to everything

Pea Pesto and Billionaire’s Shortbread

The main issue with starting to have a reputation among your friends as a chef is that they tend to expect a lot from you when you cook for them. Earlier this summer I was staying with friends while working at a catering and events company. There were often up to 10 of us staying in the house all out working during the day, so the obvious solution to getting everybody fed at the end of the day was a food rota. When it came to my turn I was faced with the task of cooking not only for 10 people, but also a vegetarian. While I was perfectly happy cooking chicken for the majority, cooking a vegetarian dish (especially one that excluded quite a lot of cheese that I found out is in fact not vegetarian) pushed me out of my comfort zone. At this point I came across a golden recipe that I have used many times now to a great reception. It’s good with pasta, on toast and even just on it’s own.
Pea Pesto
180g Peas, defrosted
35g Pine Nuts, toasted
2 cloves garlic, crushed
handful mint
handful parsley
80ml olive oil
2 pinches sea salt
pepper
1.     Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and blitz till smooth
While working at my internship I relished in being incredibly busy all day, like my mother and sister I find it hard to stop once I’ve started moving around. So on my days off I usually had no idea what to do. Alone in someone else’s house is a bit disconcerting anyway but with the nearest town a train ride away I tended to get a little bored. So I decided to bake. However my baking was limited to the ingredients of the corner shop 20mins down the road. I decided in the end the best idea would be to combine some of my favourite flavours, shortbread, peanuts and chocolate and hope that it turned out alright. This time it worked and one of my hosts nicknamed it the Billionaire’s Shortbread.
Billionaires Shortbread
For the base
230g unsalted butter, softened
140g brown sugar
340g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
For the topping
115g unsalted butter
200g brown sugar
115g honey
2 tablespoons heavy cream
140g salted roasted peanuts
60g unsalted cashews

100g milk chocolate chips

1.     Preheat the oven to 180oC and line a 9×13-inch pan with foil, leaving enough for a 2-inch overhang on all sides.
2.     Cream butter and sugar together till smooth. Add in flour and salt to make a crumbly dough.
3.     Press the dough into the tin, then prick the top with a fork.
4.     Bake for 20mins till golden brown
5.     Meanwhile combine the butter, sugar, honey and cream over a low heat and stir. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 1 minute.
6.     Take it off the heat and stir in the nuts.
7.     Remove the base from the oven and immediately pour the topping over.
8.     Return to the oven and bake for 20mins.
9.     As soon as you take it out of the oven sprinkle over the chocolate chips and leave to cool.
10.When cool chop into squares.