Thursday, 28 November 2013

Homemade Pizzas

Now these are really so easy that you don’t need to call a take away. Plus, I have a big cheat! Also, kids love to help so get them involved too.

Buy the packets from the supermarket that have flour and yeast in them, ready to add water. All you need to do it add warm water to the flour and then knead it for 10 minutes until soft and bouncy. Rest for an hour in a warm place, then split into two and roll out into two thin pizza bases. For a base, use passata with added herbs/parmesan and then layer with slices of mozzarella and any veg/meat. Be warned though – sometimes you need to fry off mushrooms as the water can come out in them when you cook them. 

Cook on the highest temp your oven will go (traditionally pizza ovens are extremely hot so anything to replicate that makes the best pizzas). If the oven is at its hottest then the pizza will crisp up better and not get a soggy middle. Fast and high temp cooking is what is needed for pizzas.

Serve with plenty of family, friends and fun. Oh, and maybe a salad.

We ended up making 6 pizzas for 9 people with a rough cost of £10 in total: that's £1.66 a pizza. A bargain compared to the takeaway...

Get making!
ZP x

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Unearthing passions in poetry: it's time...

I've just seen a blog post by Fiona Moore about The Rialto and how they edit and pick their poems. I'm still fiddling with my own poems (I've collected up all journals/notebooks I've written in the last few years and starting to refine the poems inside them) and I'm in a stage where they never feel finished. I must learn to leave them alone but I can't. Maybe I should pluck up the courage and send some in to some magazines next year: I think have just discovered my New Year's resolution.

Recently, I've been reading 'trashy' novels (mainly a rebellion against the strict set texts that I had at University) which I have been reveling in but I'm now tempted back into the books I truly love. I think my rebellious streak has ended - I can now settle into being me again. Old, dusty books will always be there but right now I am yearning for a new, crisp spine of a freshly published book. And right now I'm craving philosophy and poetry. The philosophy side to this comes from my boyfriend - he loves it - and has inspired me to read more, but also to think more. The poetry side is me going back to what I loved during my years at University. I loved it then, and still love it now, but life got in the way, or rather, I was living a life without my true passions.

I have had a few suggestions from my poetry tutor, Carrie Etter (see her blog here) and upon her posts online, ordered Rhian Gallagher's Shift (2012) and now deciding on a few more. Maybe a review or two will appear here soon. Mostly, I am looking forward to writing again but I don't feel in a rhythm just yet. I like to read a lot in order to inspire me to write. When I'm not reading, my writing is rubbish. I was told by another tutor of mine, Tim Liardet, that reading is more important than writing, and he was right. You don't know where you writing stands if you don't read. You don't know what people are writing, you don't know the trends or the things to step away from. By reading other writing, you get a sense of your own writing and how you want it to stand out amongst the rest of it all. Also, the type of books you are reading rubs off in your own writing so by reading a whole range of writing will expand your writing horizons. Well, that's my theory anyway!

I'm off to Pascale Petit's poetry reading at Magdalen College, Oxford, tomorrow evening. I saw her last time a few years ago in Bath where Carrie introduced me to her so I am looking forward to hearing her talk again.

All I want to do at the moment (especially with all this cold weather) is hibernate and read until the chill makes way for spring. So that's what I'm going to do. Oh, and maybe cook a few nice meals.

ZP x

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Sausage stew

This is now a Preston favourite. I cooked this up in the lakes for the family and they loved it. It's just what you need this time of year: filling, heart-warming, and just generally yummy.

I like to take the skins off my sausages and then roll up into balls but to save time, you can just leave them whole (however, putting them into balls makes the meat seem like it goes further). Sear the sausages in a very large saucepan (the biggest one you’ve got). I used two packets (so 12 sausages) but if its just for one or for two people, then use one packet and you’ll have plenty left over. Once slightly browned on all sides, take out of the pan onto kitchen paper and then add 2-3 onions sliced in half moons, 3-4 garlic cloves chopped up, 2-3 peppers chopped, a fennel chopped, a few diced carrots and any other hardy veg (such as squashes etc) you fancy. Stir and colour them off slightly then add a glass of red (if you have any left over). Let the wine simmer down to almost nothing and then add 2 tins of chopped tomatoes (or if whole then use a knife and chop up in the can). Add half a tin of water too. Put the sausages back in, add a few bay leaves, salt, pepper, and any hard herbs such as rosemary or thyme.

The good thing about this dish is that you can add anything you have in the cupboards so if you’ve got some flavoured ketchup, mango chutney, fruit chutney, purees, then add them in and see how it tastes. I find a bit of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar makes it tastier. You can use it to use up your leftover veg and those sausages that have been sat in the freezer for ages. There really isn’t a time in which it needs to simmer for either – once the ingredients are in then just let it simmer until it tastes and looks ready to eat. If the vegetables are soft, the sausages are cooked, and the sauce has turned into a reduced tomatoey-richness, then eat away! A steaming stew is what everyone would come home for.

Serve with jacket potatoes, cous cous, mash or anything you fancy.

ZP x

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Scallops and Chorizo

This is actually the starter that we had before the baked Sea bass (click here to view it). It’s a perfect little taster, but if you wanted to bulk it out then and add some bread or perhaps make a bean stew to go underneath.

So, to prep the scallops, I like to take off the coral of the scallops (I cook them separate as some people tend to shy away from their strong taste). Fry the chorizo on a high heat until browned slightly (no fat needed in the pan as fat comes out whilst cooking) then place on kitchen paper. 

Fry the scallops off in the remaining oil. Spread them out evenly in the pan otherwise they'll steam and not sear. Cook on each flat side of the scallop for 2-3 minutes. Add butter towards the end to add more colour and flavour, then remove from the pan. Don't over cook - they'll be chewy. Add parsley, salt and pepper to the butter, and serve in a pretty fashion. A perfect dainty starter.

ZP x

Friday, 22 November 2013

Baked sea bass, fennel, tomatoes, and lemon

*Recognise the background of this blog? It's my chopping board from this recipe!*

There's nothing like a big, fat, fresh fish that's been steamed in wine with veg. YUM.

Buy the sea bass whole and gutted (fishmongers do this with ease so ask if it’s not already done - I got mine done in the Oxford Covered Market) then place on a large square of foil on top of sliced fennel, tomato, lemon wedges, salt, pepper, and any herbs you fancy. I like stuffing mine with flat leaf parsley, maybe some thyme, dill or whatever fresh herbs you have around. Salt and pepper the fish, then start wrapping it up from one side (like a pasty) and once one side is air tight, pour half a glass of white wine through the gap on the other side. Seal it all the way up and place on a baking tray for 20-30 mins at 180. 

Here in the pic, there are scallops too. I will show this recipe (we had it for starter) in the next blog post, click here to view it. 

I've made homemade mayo (2 egg yolks and a few drops of white wine vinegar whisked with oil gradually until it emulsifies the egg and amalgamates) to go with this:

Serve with boiled new potatoes coated in butter and salt, along with the rest of the white wine. 

Only use wine in cooking that you like to drink (it improves the quality of the cooking but you can also enjoy the leftovers!)

So, appreciate you local fish mongers and get healthy cooking!

ZP x

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Fresh egg pasta: Beef ravioli with oven-dried tomatoes, pesto oil, and mascarpone

So yesterday I attempted pasta for the first time ever. Yes, Mum, that means that I have finally used your Christmas present of the pasta machine after all these years!

My attempt went very, very well and apart from the first batch sticking to the work surface, there were no problems at all. I'd definitely make it again tomorrow - it was that easy! Honestly!

I started out by drying out the tomatoes in a 100 degree oven (low temp) and left them in there for a couple of hours while I cook.

Next, I started the pasta dough. I used a Georgio Locatelli measurement which was 300g '00' flour to 3 eggs and 2 egg yolks. The Italian '00' flour is meant to be better for pasta.

Make a well with the flour and add the eggs into it. Use fingers to stir the eggs gradually into the flour in a circular motion.

Once it comes together, knead well for 10 minutes. Push down with the heel of your hand, bring it back and quarter turn it every time. You'll soon get into a rhythm and it'll get smoother but still quite tough to knead. Once smooth to touch and you're out of breath (kneading should require you to get a slight sweat on otherwise you haven't put enough into it!), then cut into two parts and leave to rest in damp cloths.

Leave to rest for an hour or so while you make the filling. I've put toegther onions, mushrooms and the leftover roasting beef from Sunday's roast. I sauted onions with a few whole garlic cloves then added a glass of red wine and reduced right down to a tablespoon then added mushrooms to sweat down a bit, then tomato puree, some oregano, salt and pepper and then finally the beef. I didn't want to cook the beef very much as it is already cooked and I will be boiling it within the ravioli later.

Next, I made the pesto oil by mixing pesto (pine nuts/parmesan/basil/garlic/olive oil/salt/pepper) with more olive oil to make it into a drizzle consistency.

By this time, I had time to sit for 10-15 mins while the rest of the pasta rested and enjoyed a glass of red.

Once the pasta has rested for an hour, it's time to roll it out. With one of the halves, start with a rolling pin so it's gets to about a centimeter in a oblong shape. Then, feed into the largest width on the pasta machine and after two feeds on the widest width move to a smaller size each time. Gradually get down to the thinnest you can manage - I got to 8 out of 10 on my pasta machine scale. I could slightly see through it and this is plenty thin enough. Make sure you flour every surface and even the machine. It gets hot and will start to stick to everything so work quickly but carefully.

Once rolled out, lay flat and put your filling in little blobs along the sheets. Then carefully lay the second sheet over the top and squidge all the air round the edges. Any air left in the ravioli will burst when you boil them. I used a ravioli cutter here to trim the edges but a knife will do - just make sure to seal the edges firmly.

Here, you can see I've made two strips, one single ravioli and one double ravioli, it just depends on how the pasta rolls out. Little tip from the Italian: prick any air bubbles with a cocktail stick and then seal it back up with a little pinch. Also, semolina would also help instead of flour (it's traditionally used but I had flour in the cupboard).

I ended up with about 25 pieces of ravioli, and about 5 had to be thrown as the holes that I made in them couldn't be patched up.

Boil the ravioli for 5 minutes, putting in one at a time, in the biggest saucepan of hot water you can muster (with a big pinch of salt in). Test a corner of one to check, then dress your plate and serve with the leftover vino.

So, here you have it: my final dish. Beef ravioli with pesto oil, oven-dried tomatoes, and mascarpone. I've served it with a parmesan and rocket salad with a balsamic dressing. My italian neighbour loved it and I even got high praise from her Mum! Successful evening in the kitchen!

So, turn away from that takeaway menu tonight and get creating: it's cheaper and way more rewarding!

ZP x

Monday, 18 November 2013

Sunday roast: topside of beef

Not a nice Monday morning at the dentist. Being sofa ridden with a numb eye and aching jaw after 4 fillings, I thought I would show the roast beef I made last night.

I was impressed by how little time it needed cooking - it's certainly an easy joint to roast but the expense of it means that my usual chicken roast is more affordable. But having friends over and enjoying great food together was worth all the fuss. 

The creamed leeks I made are also amazing for a roast - just fry 3 large leeks with 3 gloves of garlic until soft then add a small tub of cream with 2 handfuls of cheese (I chose one handful of Parmesan and one of cheddar). Reduce the cream slightly and then put into an oven proof dish, top with a bit more cheese, and then roast for 15-20 mins until golden. It's a good dish to go with a roast because you can get it ready for the oven beforehand and then put in with the Yorkshires at the end.

Also, this weekend, I've had stew at my mums house - it was just as good as I remember - but it tastes better than it looks!

So, while I'm on a Liquid diet until I can feel my face again, I will be thinking about all the lovely things I can cook. I'm thinking of making stuffed ravioli with mushrooms and beef from the leftover from yesterday's this space...

ZP x

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Marinated steak, purple sprouting broccoli, and homemade horseradish

I marinated the steak with my neighbour's family pesto before-hand. I asked what was in it and she said a mixture of salt, parsley, basil, onion, garlic, tomato, parmesan and oil. Her mother is Italian and makes the most amazing food and this marinading pesto is just the tip of the iceberg! Homemade, self-made cooks are what keeps the country going. So get cooking!

I left the steak out on the side to come to room temperature sitting covered in the marinade, otherwise it’ll go into shock if put in a hot pan straight from the fridge. So, while the steak is warming up, get the broccoli on to steam and make the horseradish.


I picked the horseradish from Tetsworth village green but if you can’t find it locally (look for the big sprouting leaves and dig down to get the root out), then pick some up at a market or supermarket. It’s coming into its strongest time come December so get it while it’s hot! Anyway, grate the horseradish root, add a teaspoon of mustard, pinch salt, pinch pepper, few splashes of cider vinegar (or white or red wine vinegar if that’s all your cupboard holds) and then a few tablespoons of crème fraiche. Mix to taste. It keeps in the fridge for ages so whack it in a jam jar and get it out when you need it. You could add it to dumplings for your winter stew, add it to a mackerel fishcake mixture, or simply with a steak like here.

Back to the steak. Get a pan smoking hot, sear both sides of the marinated steak for as long as you wish. The main thing is to allow the meat to rest for the same amount, if not more than the cooking time. If it rests, then all the fibres and juices go back into place and relax back into a juicier steak (think about how tense the fibres get when put into a boiling hot pan - they need to rest back so the juices won't come pouring out once cut). Once resting, plate up the broccoli and horseradish and pour a large red wine. One of the best, and quickest, dinners ever.

Tomorrow, I'm attempting to cook a beef joint for Sunday dinner...I have cooked plenty of roasts but we've always had chicken or lamb as a family. My beef joint success/failure is soon to follow...

ZP x

Friday, 15 November 2013

Hedgerow delights: Crumble fruit pies

In these dark slow evenings, I find myself harking back to summery days when I went searching in fields for the juiciest berry. I looked back to my recipes and found that after hedgerow picking, look what you could make…

Shortcrust pastry:

Sift flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Use half the amount of fat compared to the flour so if its 100g flour, then use 50g butter/lard. Add the fat into the sieved flour and mix with a knife and then by your fingertips. Rub it just enough to become like fine breadcrumbs. If you rub too much, it’ll become too oily and the pastry will be too crumbly when rolled out. Add cold water to the mixture. Flour absorbs water at different amounts depending on all sorts of circumstances; temperature of the air etc. Add the water table spoon by table spoon (make sure it’s cold) and mix with knife again, and then bring together with hands. The pastry should come together and leave the bowl clean. Wrap it in cling and then leave in the fridge for 30 mins – it’ll help to roll it out better. Bring it out of the fridge and allow to warm up slightly by room temperature. Then roll out to size – preferable evenly in quarter turns to give an even roll.

Blind bake pastry by putting greaseproof paper on top of the pastry and adding weight so it doesn’t rise too much. I filled mine with rice as I had some in an old packet in the cupboard. You can buy baking beans fit for the job, and some people even use coins. Bake blind for 15-20 mins until pastry is slightly golden.

Once blind baked, cut up fruit (I’ve used apples, raspberries, rhubarb, and gooseberries) and mix in a bowl with a few teaspoons of sugar. Put the fruit and sugar into the cases and top with crumble mixture.

Crumble Mixture:

Mix flour and butter together with fingertips (start off like the shortcrust pastry method) but add a few tablespoons of sugar towards the end (depending on how sweet you like your crumble mix). Easy!

Bake for half hour or so on 180 until the fruit is bubbling up and the crumble golden.

Here's some more crumbles made at my Mum's cottage with just the crumble mixture but the filling was blackberries, plums, and apricots:

ZP x