Some days you need a lunch dish that’s fast, fast, fast.
Its still grey outside so it needs to be warming and fairly robust but also bring a hint of the spring that’s coming (it seems like it is – I can see daffodils poking through the ground and buds appearing on the trees – balmy days of sipping rosé and chucking fresh basil on every dish must surely only be round the corner).
So what will fit the bill?
Well pasta is always a winner I think – quick and easy (I mean the dried stuff not making your own and then hand rolling it – delicious though that is, it’s a kind of all day project). And what to have with the pasta – well lets not be completely lazy and tip out something from a supermarket tub, lets cook a couple of things up in the same time it takes the water to boil and the pasta to cook.
Yesterday’s choice for me was some salami cut into strips and some baby plum tomatoes cut in half, sautéed in olive oil, mixed into the drained pasta, sprinkled with pine nuts and parmesan, et voila.
Start to finish 15 minutes (not including the eating time!).
I’ve always had a bit of an on-off thing with porridge. I certainly wasn’t a ‘Ready Brek’ kid despite my mum’s best efforts; I stuck firmly with the Weetabix back then.
As I got older I found that porridge was sometimes good but mostly only with a heavy sprinkling of brown sugar and the creamy top of the milk.
And it was a staple on camping weekends with friends, helping stave off the damp and any budding hangover before nipping up a few hills in the Lake District. For the most part though porridge never entered my regular list of breakfasts.
Well eventually I realised that most people make porridge with milk (or part milk, part water) and if there is one thing I don’t like its the smell of warm milk. Cold milk great. Warm milk ugh. In fact anything with warm milk makes my stomach turn slightly (custard, hot chocolate). So doesn’t the creamy top of milk go warm when it hits the porridge? Maybe a little but it stays pretty cold and it doesn’t have that warm milk smell and the porridge itself must have been made with water – so no warm milk odour anywhere. Of course porridge made with water is a bit dull, its okay but its not going to become a favorite without something else added – the sugar, the cream, maybe raisins.
But somewhere deep down I knew I kind of liked porridge, the comforting texture, its warming qualities. So I thought I’d try again but without the milk. What to use instead. Milk substitutes have always seemed a slightly weird idea to me (well except for people who genuinely can’t have milk) but I happened to find something called ‘oat milk’. And here was the first step on the road to a renewed relationship with porridge. Oat milk can only taste of oats, it can’t smell like warm milk, it simply enhances the oatiness on the porridge.
Step two was the lazy persons find – porridge with the fruity bits already added. Just how hard can it be to add raisins, or sultanas, or dried blueberries when cooking up the porridge. It CAN’T be can it? No of course not but when venturing into something new sometimes things need to be a little bit easy or the challenge becomes too great. A small step is often the way to open up a whole new and exciting world. There in the cereal aisle was just what I needed – the small step – porridge oats with fruit already added.
So armed with the right ingredients (and with recent damp and/or cold weather that makes porridge seem like the right option) I have ventured in to a land of porridgey breakfasts. For me about 50g of porridge and 150ml of the oat milk works a treat, simmer for 5-6 minutes and eat – no cream or brown sugar needed. Tasty oaty porridge to start the day. I might even take up hill walking again!
I’ve been thinking about my favourite foods recently, listing, considering, adding, subtracting, juggling, testing…….although I’ve not quite got to my top 5 just yet I’m getting close.
But one thing that has just got to be on there is MUSHROOMS.
I love them in all their different guises. From elegant looking oysters to hearty portobellos and every stop in between, they are a (very) regular feature of my cooking. Stews, stir fries, omelette, risotto, pasta and fry ups.
But I’d stake a lot on the two best ways being:
1. Sauteed in butter and eaten on toast (rye or sourdough for preference)
2. The thing that makes a bacon sandwich truly great (oh joy)
And here are some big fat organic field mushrooms cut into generous sized chunks being sauteed in butter – wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
Sometimes you just NEED to have a burger in a bun for your supper. Well yesterday that was me.
A quick search in the freezer revealed some organic beef burgers that seemed to fit the bill – each quite small so it wouldn’t count as sheer greed but only mild gluttony to have two.
So out they came to be defrosted during the day and sit winking at me from the counter each time I passed. I thought carefully about what condiments and sides should accompany them to add to the experience. I spooled through ideas in my head remembering previous winning combinations and all the while the anticipation was building.
At last I settled on an ‘open burger’ – only 1 bun between two burgers so there would be no ‘lid’. Off I set to get some buns, choice was limited and I had to settle for wholemeal floured rolls (perhaps at this point I should have spotted that things might be about to go wrong but no I continued to think I was building the dream burger I craved).
Back home the burgers were cooked on very hot chargrill pan for about 5 minutes per side, each of the two sides of the bun was given a different treatment – one had mayo, one ketchup (find both of them at the Stokes brand of Essfoods) – and the side orders of saute portobello mushrooms and grilled baby plum tomatoes duly prepared. Then the whole things was rapidly assembled and whisked to the table to be greedily devoured.
But something had gone wrong – perhaps not very wrong – after all I still managed to eat everything but some how it just didn’t cut it. The bread was tasteless and dry, the burger tasteless and kind of watery – its texture was fine but there was just nothing to the whole thing – no zing, no nice beefy flavour, no soft but fresh tasting bread effect. To be fair the mayo and the ketchup and the sides were great but instead of supporting a strong main act they were left to hold up the whole show on their own!
So the problem – well I can only think that the burgers didn’t stand up to the freezing very well on this occasion. I’ve had the same burgers before both fresh and defrosted and they have been pretty good – not as good as if you made them yourself but there isn’t always time for that kind of thing. And as for the buns well maybe wholemeal just doesn’t work with burgers – I love wholemeal bread but it doesn’t seem to do it on the burger front.
Or just perhaps, the fact I had been dreaming of perfect burgers all day meant nothing would live up to the expectation!
Its been pretty cold the last day or so with a snow fall of about 6 inches today – something we haven’t seen for a long time (18 years according to the records). So its mostly all about curling up near the heater/fire/radiator with a warm drink and a small snack whilst contemplating which warming dish to have for lunch or dinner.
Soups and stews are the order of the day and better still if there are a few things to hand to cook one up relatively quickly. Who wants to have to scrape the snow off the car to go and get dinner in weather like this when the time could be better spent making snowmen and going for a brisk walk? So its been a search in the fridge and cupboards for things that can quickly be rustled up into hearty dishes.
Porridge for breakfast – always good on a cold day; then a soup for lunch made from onion, canned beans, sliced leftover sausage (salami, ham or bacon would also do the trick) and the last bits of a cabbage – a kind of muddled up caldo verdo/minestrone.
The search for dinner possibilities revealed beef stew leftovers (always happens when there are two of you to feed – stew and casserole recipes don’t seem to be devised for less than 4 – but hey why worry when they are almost always tastier on the second go). We added some big field mushrooms and then some pasta which we cooked and stirred in at the last minute.
All good warming dishes, no trip to the shops needed and plenty of chance to make snowmen because there won’t be another chance to do that for nearly 20 years!
I’ve been reading quite a few cookbooks recently that have a seasonal theme to get some new ideas for different winter dishes.
I’ve been particularly enjoying Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s (HFW) ‘The River Cottage Year‘ (this link is to Amazon.co.uk). I’d already tried a couple of the soup recipes and then I spotted the recipe for ‘Smoky cheaty brandade’ (page 49) and I just happened to have some smoked haddock that I’d been planning to use for kedgeree but thought I’d try the brandade instead.
It was fairly simple to make (about 1 hour total from start to sitting down to eat – and of that time about 20 mins was prep the rest was the dish cooking). I made half the quantity in Hugh’s recipe and 2 of us ate half of it so I now have plenty left which I’m planning to fry up as fish cakes later the week. I guess if you had a really big appetite it wouldn’t go this far but with some braised courgette and greens it made a good size main course which we followed with some cheese.
The recipe goes like this – adapted from Hugh (with my comments in brackets):
(per HFW this serves 4 as a main, 8 as a starter or 12 as a canape – but see my comment above):
500g smoked haddock or cod fillet
whole milk (actually I used semi skimmed and it was fine) – about 400ml
500g mashing potatoes – peeled (floury ones that mash well are king edwards and maris piper)
4 tbsp good olive oil, plus extra
2-3 large garlic cloves
optional – 1-2 tbsp double cream (I didn’t use this)
- Poach the fish in the milk for about 5 minutes (the milk should just cover the fish and if the fillet is particularly thick it may take a few minutes extra – its ready when the flakes will separate easily – use a sharp knife to test it). Leave the fish in the milk to cool.
- Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until tender, drain then mash with a generous knob of butter and some of the poaching milk to get a soft but not sloppy mash.
- Remove the fish from the milk and flake it off the skin and make sure you pick out any stray bones, discard the skin and bones.
- Pour the olive oil into a small pan and add the finely chopped garlic, sweat on a very low heat for 2-3 minutes and don’t let the garlic colour. (I used the full 4 tbsps of olive oil even though I used only half the quantity of fish and potato).
- Put the fish into a food processor and pulse to a paste whist adding the olive oil/garlic until the fish is the consistency of mash potato – add more oil or the cream or some of the poaching milk to achieve this.
- Mix the fish and mashed potato together – BUT NOT in the food processor or it will go all gluey – and season with black pepper.
- Spread in an oven proof dish and bake at gas 5 (190C) for 15-20 mins. (It didn’t go very brown on the top so you might want to crank the oven up for the last few mins or pop it under the grill if this is the effect you are looking for. I imagine it would be pretty tasty with some grated cheese on top).
- Serve with toast and/or greens, leek, chicory or other green veg. (We had greens and courgette – tho I admit the latter is not very seasonal).