Using Up Stuff Spaghetti

So we are finally off on holiday at the end of the week and the ‘using up stuff’ campaign is in full swing. Ridiculously enough at any given moment I seem to have enough food to last all four of us about a week (excluding bread and milk). I suppose if we were ever besieged or stranded in some way this is reassuring.

I’m going with a spaghetti dish as this is always the last carbohydrate item I am prepared to be without and everyone adores it. I have only relatively recently worked out how to make delicious creamy sauces to go with. I have no idea why, perhaps in my middle age I am more prepared to eat them so more motivated to get it right.

So here we go; this is a cream and blue cheese sauce base and I wouldn’t mind betting with the soft fruit season in full swing, odd half cartons of cream are lying around in most fridges right now!

Serves 2 so scale up for more, you will need: 250g Spaghetti, a handful of toasted Pine Nuts, some French Beans, topped and tailed, 6 tbsp Double Cream and 6 tbsp Milk, or 12 tbsp of Single Cream, 30g Blue Cheese (Dolcelatte, Danish Blue, Stilton), a rasher or 2 of Bacon, diced, 1 tbsp Garlic Oil, Black Pepper, Parmesan (optional).

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add a dash of any oil. Once boiling add the spaghetti and the french beans and cook for the stated time and not a second more. (Spaghetti is cooked once a strand has just lost the ‘white’ uncooked center so test strands as you approach the end of the cooking time. If it is overcooked the spaghetti becomes spongy and soaks up the sauce too readily and it disappears. This is then problematic as the spaghetti then clumps and sticks together).

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cream, milk and blue chesse by mashing the cheese into the liquid, add some black pepper. Dry fry the pine nuts in a small frying pan over a moderate heat until toasted and remove to a plate, then cook the bacon in the garlic oil and remove to the plate with the  toasted pine nuts once cooked though.

Once the spaghetti and beans are cooked, drain and return to the saucepan, add the cream-cheese mixture and stir over a very low heat until the cream is heated through (probably less than a minute), add the bacon and pine nuts and toss with the spaghetti. Dollop out onto bowls and serve with grated parmesan and a little more black pepper if you wish.

I might get a chance to blog whilst I am away but I’m not sure, so if not, see you in a couple of weeks! Bon vacances tout les monde!!

More from the Unloved Vegetables: Broad Beans pep up a Ham and Watermelon Low Carb Lunch

It’s the end of term this week and as fate would have it the work load has increased to celebrate. Hmmm….

I have been up to my elbows in melting moments, photogenic cupcakes and Sleeping Beauty↓

However I’m not eating any of this and in fact the recent cream fest has led to a week or so of obsequious eating, and I am happy to share.

The following was absolutely delicious and uses a very unloved vegetable: the broad bean. I have to say I’m not keen on them ‘skin on’ so my advice is to pop them out of the skins once cooked and cooled a little. This does not remove all the bitterness but makes a surprising difference!

Based on the classic ham and melon Italian antipasta dish, you will need for 1 serving: a thick slice of Watermelon, a handful of cooked Broad Beans, skinned, some Feta Cheese, diced, a couple of slices of Parma ham or prosciutto crudo, Mint, chopped, a sprinkle of Pumpkin Seeds, toasted, Lemon Dressing made with 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar).

Start off by expelling some of the pips from the melon, just the big ones, and then using a pastry cutter (around 5cm in diameter), stamp out two or three circles, arrange on the plate, then arrange the ham, shredded roughly, feta cheese, broad beans, mint, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Drizzle over the dressing and you are ready to go. I added a couple of diced cold new potatoes I had lying around as well and it all looked like this:

Despite the work load, roll on the summer holidays…

N.B. You can buy conservative slices of Watermelon in supermarkets and unless you are very keen on the stuff I suggest you seek out these.

Spring Risotto to Warm the Toes

I promised a risotto recipe about a month ago I think when the temperatures were barmy and there were thoughts that Summer must be just around the corner. Well that all changed about 48 hours ago when an arctic front swept across the country just in time for Child 1’s birthday Camp Out. I am typing today in a sleep deprived state, (so apologies if I lose my train of thought or this piece is peppered with worse than usual spelling) as the Camp Out turned into a Camp In. We live in a cottage and consequently ceilings are low, noise travels well and despite the ripe old age my elder son has reached it appears that if you administer food there is still a requirement to ‘let off steam’ immediately afterwards else furniture and/or breakables will be broken. Thankfully I spotted the cabin fever early, sent everyone to bounce on the trampoline and my meager collection of knick-knacks lives on. So with all that out the way, the cake pops issued as take home gifts and guitar cake consumed (not my finest creation for some reason), I have the Easter Weekend to look forward to.

Generally leg of Lamb is popular at such moments and, as I have mentioned before, Greek cooking springs (!) to mind at this time. One of my favourite roasts would be Lamb with Orzo pasta. This pasta is rice shaped, so the dish comprises of a kind of tomato-y risotto with caramelised onions, carrots and slices of delicious garlic studded roast lamb on top. Fantastic. The Orzo pasta can be a little tricky to get hold of and I have no idea how the origins of this Greek dish has pasta at the heart of it, but the Venetians invaded Crete at some point so maybe that fact is relevant. I’ve had a surf about and can’t find the exact recipe (I need to have a search through my Mother’s recipe book shelves to offer something here) but greek lamb with orzo from the bbc/food website will provide something similar.

So authentic risotto it is instead. The whole point of this dish is to use up leftovers. I love this type of cooking. The Italians have lots of dishes which have origins addressing this domestic issue. Salads, pasta sauces, pizza and risottos merely scratch the surface. I am assuming you have some left over roast lamb lying around for this.

  • Pick off some of the meat, to be honest you don’t need loads as the flavour is strong, and shred/chop into bite size pieces or smaller.
  • If you have any lamb gravy left over, pour/spoon into a saucepan and top up with water to give 600ml or 1 pint of stock. A vegetable stock cube will work here too. Get the stock simmering gently on the back of the hob.
  • In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, fry a chopped onion in a slug of olive oil. Cook gently to the transparent stage and then add a finely chopped stick of celery and included some chopped leafy parts too, cook that for a minute or two and add a crushed clove of garlic.
  • Then add 200g of risotto rice, Arborio or Carnaroli and stir continuously until the rice is coated well with the oil. Now you can add a slug of white wine or Vermouth at this stage or just start adding the simmering stock, a couple of ladles full at a time. Stir continuously and once the liquid has been absorbed, add a couple more, stir continuously and continue in this fashion for about 10 minutes or so.
  • Add your lamb, a good handful of frozen peas or so and a grating of parmesan, continue cooking in the gently simmering state for another 5 minutes or so until the rice, when sampled still has a little bite but appears to be almost done, the lamb is piping hot and the peas are tender.
  • At this point check for seasoning and add salt and pepper  to taste, a knob of unsalted butter, a good grating of parmesan if you wish, and a good tablespoon of fresh and finely chopped mint. Stir all that round for a minute or two and then ladle into bowls. This serves 2 adults.
  • Present the bowls with a little more grated parmesan and black pepper.

If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked just continue with recently boiled water from the kettle. This would also be good with ham from the Ham up and try it post! I will post more risotto recipes soon as I still haven’t brought you ‘Running Buddy 2 s’ ‘ yet.

Freshly Milled Black Pepper (or Garlicky Breadcrumbs with Spaghetti)

So if you are reading this over the posting weekend, this comes to you by the power of cutestcakeseveryday IT support, otherwise known as my better half, who has kindly stepped into the blogging breach and has published on my behalf as I am Laptop and iPad-less at my current location. But more of that next week.

I am trying to post twice a week and according to IT support a higher frequency would be an unsustainable blogging rate. This is actually hard to do currently. Despite having many other activities I ought to be engaged in, frantically tapping away to create a new post has started to become quite absorbing. I went past 600 hits last weekend for which I am very thankful and pleased about and the ‘biggest hitting’ posts are always cake related. Apart from the Chicken Noodle Soup. This analysis of the analysis, which wordpress offers to all those with a blogging account, is a fairly additive past-time too. I fully appreciate that no-one is really interested in beetroot and what one might do with it, but another high performing post has been the first Unloved Vegetables one about celeriac, curious….

So, do I start to pander to the audience. I have a ‘poll’ widget winking at me from mission control and I think I might just be tempted to give it a press. I’m supposed to be blogging about the general output from my kitchen but the hits would suggest I should do more chicken and cake related posts.

Decisions, Decisions….

Anyway, whilst I ponder on that, I’ll talk about Black Pepper.

I think for the first time in my culinary existence I ran out of black pepper a few days ago. Since then I have been frustratingly forgetful about replacing it. It just never occurs to me at the appropriate moment. Now I can’t say as a rule I’m deeply impressed by coincidence or subliminal messages and that sort of thing but when I was making a note of the recipe which follows below I was a little amused.

Black Pepper along with salt is one of those culinary must haves. If you were raised on a diet of Delia Smith’s cook books you will be aware that every savoury recipe ingredients list ends with – salt and ‘freshly milled black pepper’. I consequently have a pepper mill by the hob. Mine looks like this  →

My Brother very kindly bought it for me for Christmas. I pretty much put pepper in everything and not having it available has put me out of sorts with a deep seated achy pang.

Why do we put pepper in everything? Can someone enlighten me?

I expect Wikipedia could tell me but I want to try and coax someone into a bit of audience participation. If I post a poll, audience participation will be key. For anyone who is a little virginal when it comes to blog following, polls are widely used by some sites to whip up some chat. They are very straight forward and look like a multiple choice question. They are neatly arranged and usually look very tempting. You merely click on the preferred answer. The results are fed to me and at some future point I let you know the outcome or act upon it. I really love all the comments I receive and as the commenting is becoming more frequent I’m sure we could try something new?

I’m just warming everyone up to the idea for now.

So back to the recipe and the subliminal channeling. This works really well for kids I have discovered and can be adapted to cope with individual food preferences to some degree. It’s also another barely got your hat off moment, but not quite as quick.

Garlic Breadcrumbs and Spaghetti (Serves 2)

Boil kettle full of water, empty boiled water into a saucepan, add a pinch of salt and a drop of oil and return to the boil. Add the required amount of spaghetti  (200g-250g for adults). Return to the boil and simmer for 9 minutes. You want ‘al dente’, so still retains a bit of bite. (I’ll talk about this soon)

Meanwhile in a frying pan add 2 tbsp of Olive Oil and 1 tbsp of Garlic Oil and once warm throw in 50g of breadcrumbs (one standard slice of bread, chuck it all in the mini chopper, crusts and all). Stir to coat in the oil over a moderate heat and continue to stir frequently until the breadcrumbs take on a toasted look and appear to have crisped up. Remove to a plate.

Now the Italians would stop there really as they have pasta as a starter but for a midweek meal for anyone else, add a drop more oil to the frying pan, if needed, and you can add a half a chopped red pepper and a couple of chopped up rashers of bacon or ham! Once all this is cooked through return the garlicky breadcrumbs to the pan to warm through too. Drain the spaghetti once cooked and just before the very last drops of water are gone return it all to the saucepan. Add a good handful of rocket (peppery or what) and toss in the spaghetti until it starts to wilt. Add about ¾’s of the breadcrumb mixture and toss through too and then heap out into the bowls/plates. Garnish with the rest of the breadcrumbs, grated parmesan and, if you have it, freshly milled black pepper!

Note: I am loving all the comments I have received so far, so many thanks. Discussion is the next goal and I think a poll is a good place to start. Usually once one has decided on an answer there is always a natural urge to justify and expand.

And this is what it would look like, you can ‘select’ and ‘vote’ if you wish.

Ham up and give it a try!

This post is for my Brother, his partner and their brand new daughter, my Niece, with love. (See Baking:Recipes and What not Page above for some details on constructing this cake)

Baby in Pram - Vanilla Sponge Cake

Apparently my Mother doesn’t like ham. When she mentioned this in passing during my twenties, it came as quite a surprise. Somehow I had never noticed despite the perpetual complaining about the size of ham my Father wished to buy and bake to help along the Christmas festivities. The general mantra in our house when I was a child on the testy subject of liking food was that ‘you eat what is put in front of you’. Clearly as I had not realised her aversion to ham, she does practice what she preaches, however the genius in this remark is of course that if you are the Senior Buyer and Cook as well, you can serve up what you like. Clever. For the Junior Food Consumers though I remember a couple of battles on this front;

1. The psuedo-chilli.  Something, when I was 8 or 9, resembling some sort of chilli dish (mince-y thing on rice) was served up one evening at tea but tasted utterly alien based on appearance expectations and I have to say, WAS ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING. Very rarely in our house did my Mother misjudge these things but even now as an adult I cannot image what ingredients she had used and why she was trying to pass this concoction off as something more familiar. There were a fair few tears about this, mainly of disappointment on the Junior Food Consumers part (we♥chilli) and I have no recollection of the outcome. (Brother now believes this was a tin won at a Tombola).

2. Mac and Cheesegate. Now, an unusual victory for one Junior Food Consumer in particular. I’m fairly sure this wasn’t the first time this dish had been served up. If I remember rightly our Mac and Cheese came with a squirt of tomato ketchup as a kind of garnish. Yummy. Naturally I was munching away quite happily. (This was back in the 70s way before the food revolution and Jamie Oliver was definitely still in nappies). My Brother, I realised after a little while, was picking at his serving and eventually my Mother passed by, noticed and said something along the lines of  ‘eat your tea up’.

‘ I don’t like it’

‘Never mind about that, just eat it up’

‘But I don’t like it’

Well, eat it now I’ve made it’

‘But….’              you get my drift.

I was long finished and in the circumstances had been allowed to leave the table, but not my unfortunate Brother. One could occasionally hear my Mother’s increasingly irate demands and my Brother’s wailing as he sat there contemplating his fate. Eventually the ultimate sanction was issued, ‘if you don’t eat it you will have to go to you room for the rest of the evening’. And, without missing a beat, he hopped down from the table and headed to his room rather than eat up and get on with his day. The stuff seemed to make him heave and as a result this turned into the one exception from the ‘eat what’s put in front of you’ rule.

Anyway, back to my Mother and the ham. The upshot of all this was there were few meals, now I think about it, which included ham in any form (I’m not sure where she is on bacon) and my Father will always have ham, egg and chips if he sees it on a pub menu.

So the discovery of unsmoked gammon ham joints has been an inevitable revelation. I love the endless and often instant options and find the taste and texture far superior to the regular, sliced stuff in a packet. Most recipes to cook these joints seem to include, at least in part, an instruction to roast in the oven at some point, but I really don’t think this necessary so:

  • Having purchased one of those vacuum packed joints from the supermarket, often around 750g, cut open the wrapper and remove making a note of the weight.
  • Place joint in a saucepan and barely cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and then discard this just boiled water. Process removes scum and excess curing salt.
  • Start again from cold, filling the saucepan so that it barely covers the ham again and return to the boil. This time round though reduce the heat so you achieve a vigorous simmer and cook for 20 minutes per 500g or per lb, so 750g one needs just 30 mins.
  • Remove from the heat and you can either lift it out with a slotted spoon and serve slices of it immediately or leave it in the water for another 30 mins (keeps it lovely and moist) before draining the water in to a bowl (great stock!) or down the sink and allowing it to cool completely on a plate.

The obvious quick meal here is ham, fried egg and JP’s or potato wedges, more yumminess. It goes without saying, it makes great sarnies, and would be a tasty addition to the above Mac and Cheese! Once completely cold, wrap in foil and fridge where it should keep for up to 5 days.

I shall post more recipes with this ham in due course but for the record, lardons (small diced pieces of ham) can be fried until crispy and dropped into the celeriac soup recipe from the Veg box and unloved vegetables post.

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