Friday Night Carbonara

This one comes with only half the guilt, you’ll be pleased to hear, which is perfect for a quick Friday night supper to be accompanied by a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio, and it can pretty much be whipped up with whatever’s in your fridge. I included sautéed onions to make a change, but they were a bit too sweet with the wholewheat spaghetti, especially as it was unsmoked bacon I had to hand.

I have to give credit to my wise old boyfriend, Charles, (who, by the way, has a cracking B&B
and picture framing business in the Scottish Borders) for teaching me how to make this, though I’ve since changed some if the technique to make things easier for myself and to help to avoid scrambling.

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For 1 decent portion, you’ll want:

2 rashers of bacon, smoked is best

optional clove of grated garlic

2-3 tablespoons full fat creme fraiche (or half fat if you really must but I don’t get it!)

1 medium egg

a sprinkling of fresh or dried parsley

salt

cracked black pepper

a grating of nutmeg

your usual helping of dried spaghetti (they say 75g usually, but who weighs pasta?!), I used wholewheat

olive oil to fry the bacon in if it isn’t fatty enough

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1. Chop the bacon into squares or strips and fry until it’s as gilded as you’d like. If you decided to include the garlic, cook it along side the bacon, but try not to burn it.

2. Meanwhile, boil up a kettle of water and get your pasta on with a decent pinch of salt in the water. You don’t need any oil to stop it from sticking; just give it a few stirs in the first couple of minutes of cooking and it shouldn’t stick. The spaghetti is best when it isn’t too well cooked, but cook to taste; the sauce has to wait for it anyway. It should take between 10 and 15 minutes.

3. While the spaghetti is cooking, spoon the creme fraiche into a bowl, loosen off with your spoon a little, then crack in the egg. Give it a good mix until you have a sort of raw custard. Add parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg and mix again.

4. When the spaghetti is ready, drain and put back on a low to medium heat to steam out any residual water. You don’t want the hob to be too hot at this stage as you are about to add your eggy custard, and you don’t want that to scramble!

5. Quickly pour in the egg and creme fresh mixture and rapidly stir the spaghetti around in it, then tip in the bacon. I find silicone tongs best for this as you can really control where the spaghetti is going. Keep swirling until the egg mixture has thickened and coated the pasta. Make it as well done as you like. I prefer mine silky and creamy but Charles likes his slightly scrambled.

If it isn’t saucy enough for you, you can add some extra creme fraiche at this stage before serving.

Enjoy!

Cheese and Chorizo Pizza

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t bought a supermarket pizza since learning how to make this little baby (because everyone needs to be lazy every now and again) but I’m certainly more inclined to make them from scratch.  For me, it’s all about the base (’bout the bass, no treble…).  That’s what makes or breaks a pizza for me.  Most supermarket pizza bases are pretty soggy and fibrous, and taste as bland as the syrofoam they’re packaged with, (though if you really want to buy one, the Pizza Express supermarket range and the Co-op’s versions are pretty good).  After that, they’re hugely versatile.  You can stick anything you want on there – mix it up, find out what you like best.  These recipes usually call for a very hot oven and a baking stone for best results, but to be honest, the concept of an oven hotter than 200C combined with a slab of dry stone terrifies me a little, so I don’t always use it.  This might be a good time to tell you that I’m still working out a lot of things myself – bread being a key theme – but I think I’m getting better.  As such, due to being all fingers and thumbs, I sometimes find it easier to bake the pizza off for 5 minutes or so until it’s rigid enough to shoogle onto the hot baking stone, but have made a mental note to remember to invest in a pizza peel.  Those in the know would have you turn a tray upside down and cover it with lashings of polenta/semolina flour, but this doesn’t help with the shaping process in the slightest.  Anyway…to the baking stone!

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To make 1 amply sized pizza base, you will need:

125 g strong white flour

2g yeast

2g sugar (caster or granulated are ok)

2 tsp olive oil

163 ml luke warm water

1. Put the flour in a bowl or on a spankingly clean worktop.  Add the salt and sugar on one side and the yeast on the other and mix into the flour.  This is important.  If you immediately dump salt all over the yeast you will kill it and you’ll end up with a doughy, Styrofoam base (then you might as well have bought it).

2.  Add the olive oil and water and stir together to form a dough.  If, like me, you don’t mind this being messy, I think it’s better to do this part with your hands.  If someone comes to the door or phones you,  they’ll just have to wait.

3.  Once the dough has come together, put some oil on the board and on your hands and knead for a good 20 minutes.  There are too many schools of thought as to how you should knead.  In my experience, the important part is just getting the dough moving, tearing and stretching it as much as you can before putting it back together and starting again.  It’s about friction and getting warmth into it to wake the yeast up, and you’ll start to feel it turn into something more lively.  The perfect smooth, elastic finish is not critical for a pizza base as it’ll be too thin to form a noticeably bready crumb.

4. Place back in the bowl and cover with cling film (that’s plastic/Saran Wrap, America!) and leave to rise while you get all the other things together.  Again, as this isn’t a loaf of bread, the hour rise isn’t necessary.  20 minutes to half an hour should do the trick.  Any longer and the process starts to lose its nifty beauty.

To make the sauce, you will need:

1 tub/jar of pasata

1 clove garlic, grated

salt and pepper

a squeeze of lemon

a pinch of sugar

a variety of herbs and spices – I like parsley, oregano, basil, chilli and paprika

5. Put your pizza stone – rubbed down with oil and sprinkled with polenta – in your oven at 200C (or as hot as you dare).  If you’re not using a stone, just crank your oven up as hot as it’ll go to pre-heat.

6.  Fry the garlic in a little oil for a minute or so – do not burn it! Add in the passata, salt, sugar, herbs and lemon and cook down for as long as you like, but a few minutes is enough – It will get cooked again once it’s on the pizza.  Leave to cool for awhile.  You won’t need anywhere near all of this but it freezes really well for the next time.

7. Once you’ve made your sauce, retrieve your pizza dough and knock it back with your fist.  If you want to be professional, look at someone else’s blog!  My technique for turning this lump of dough into a delightful disk is pretty fly by the seat of your pants, but it works for me, and you don’t need any skill to make it work; just patience. Squash it out flat onto a round tin, board or peel and try to keep it vaguely circular.  You might realise that I haven’t advocated a second prove yet – in my experience leaving it for a few minutes here and there then having another bash at shaping the dough is enough for it to pillow up as much as you’d want it to – unless you want a fat, deep pan base, of course.  I usually stop when it gets to the size I want then start putting the topping on.  If you want, you can attempt to have a sporting try at spinning it and pulling it out in your hands, but I only do this when I have lots of time on my hands as you have to start again if you put your nail through it by mistake!  Anyone else’s tips would be welcome – but I’m trying to keep this speedy enough to be suitable for a weeknight supper…..

Toppings!  For this pizza, you may want:

1/2 onion, red or white, sautéed in a pan for a while to start the softening process

1/2 pepper, colour of your choice or mixed (the jarred, roasted peppers you can buy in supermarkets or delis are great for this)

8-10 slices of cooked chorizo

1 handful of grated or chopped cheese of your choice.  Even cream cheese works really well.  I used some grated, strong cheddar.

8.  Spread on a few tablespoons of the sauce and spread out with the back of the spoon.  I like to take mine right to the edge, but feel free to define yourself a nice crust.  If you really like a crust, you can mark one out with your thumbs whilst you’re shaping your base – that way the outside will be deeper than the middle, but I like mine fairly uniform.

9. Add your onions, peppers and chorizo all over the top, add a crack of black pepper and sprinkle the cheese over everything.

10.  Shuffle this onto the stone or chuck it into the oven on a tray and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the fat is bubbling in the chorizo.

Random tip: when removing it from the oven, try to shuffle it back off the pizza stone then turn off the oven – rapid changes in temperature will risk your stone cracking.  Also, you’re likely to get a bit of steam when you open the oven door, so if, like me, your smoke alarm is just outside the kitchen door, shut the door or you’ll risk annoying your neighbours immensely!

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

As I do every year, I spent Christmas 2014 with my family, surrounded by far too much rich food and wine and generally loafing around for too long.  So, by the time the new work year swang around, I was really craving something fresh, tasty and simple to cook to start my recipe diary.  This recipe is really quick, very simple, delicious and looks fairly impressive, as well as filling you up with lots of wholesome, fresh ingredients.  You should know, as an aside, that I have as many recipe books as I can possibly fit into my one-bed flat, but I hardly ever use them.  Even when I do read them, I generally just flick through them for inspiration.  When there’s something I like the look of, I Google, read other books and watch videos on YouTube to get the general gist of something before making up my own version, as there are generally ingredients I want to miss out (lemongrass, fresh coriander etc.) as well as extras I think will add another dimension to the dish.  True to this ‘philosophy’ as it were, feel free to add or take away anything you like or dislike – I’d love to hear what makes your version yours!

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You might want (to serve one, or multiples of to serve the masses):

1 steak (I used topside because it was on offer in M&S but use whatever quality of beef you like)

1 clove garlic, grated or crushed

1 inch square piece of ginger (none of this thumb-sized nonsense), grated

1/2 an onion (I used a white one to give things a Chinese takeaway feel), sliced

1/2 a red pepper, chopped or stripped

6 or so florets of broccoli

3 spring onions, chopped

1 tsp brown sugar/honey if you want it a bit healthier

beef stock

soy sauce to taste

a small amount of cornflour and cold water to hand

1.  Take your steak out of the fridge half an hour or so before you plan to start cooking, although this step is less essential when the temperature in the kitchen is hardly any higher than the temperature in the fridge!  Slice into strips and toss in a bowl with around a tablespoon of cornflour and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce. You may prefer more or less of either, but the idea is to give the steak a good coating and then leave to sit for 10 minutes or so.

2.  At this point, if I’m using regular broccoli, I stick it in some hot water for a few minutes to start cooking it through.  This is an optional step depending on the tenderness of your broccoli and how crunchy you like it.

3.  Put some oil in a large pan or wok and turn up the heat!   When the oil has reached a fierce temperature, throw in the beef strips in small batches – you’re looking to sear these to seal in the beefy juices and get some good colour on the outside, because it’ll look nice and taste better, without cooking the beef through. If you chuck it all in at once, there’s likely to be too much water in your pan, meaning the beef will boil rather than sear.  Remove from the wok as soon as it has good colour on both sides and place somewhere relatively cool to stop the cooking process in its tracks.

4. Without wasting any of the nice caramelisation in the pan (although you may want to add a little more oil), sauté the onion, garlic and ginger then add the pepper, depending on how crunchy you like it, and then the broccoli, bearing in mind that you want to get more heat and flavour into the broccoli than colour – you might want to turn the heat down and allow everything to soften and sweeten a bit – for 5-10 mins.

5. Mix the stock, sugar/honey and soy together in a bowl and add to the pan, cranking the heat back up to let everything reduce down.

6.  Mix a couple of teaspoons of cornflour with enough water to cover it then add to the pan, stirring rapidly to let the mixture thicken the sauce.  You’re aiming for a sauce that will coat the beef and veg – not a pool to drown your rice in.  Add half of the chopped spring onions to wilt a little.

7.  Once you’re happy with the consistency of the sauce, put the beef and its resting juices back in the pan for a minute or so, depending on how well done you like it – pink is best!

Serve with jasmine rice, brown rice or noodles and sprinkle with the rest of the chopped spring onions.

 

5-a-Day and 40 Minutes

So, it’s February already and I haven’t done so well with my 2015 challenge. Well, I have in some ways, but not in terms of the feats that require just a smidge of bravery.

This year’s challenge was born out of a desire to step up my relatively new exercise regime a bit, but also to start eating fresher, healthier, more local food.   This effort was was to be several-fold:

1. Eat more fruit and veg – 5-a-day, if possible

2. Cook more often and more widely

3. Keep a recipe diary

4. Exercise 5 times a week, 30-40 minutes per day (except when on holiday)

5. Do more of what I’m passionate about.

This has meant gorging myself on soup, fruit and vegetables and avoiding, as far as is humanly possible, guilty lunch-time panini and cheesy, carby suppers, then fitting in 40 minutes of jumping around in front of my iPad every evening (much to my neighbours’ chagrin) before settling in to revise and cook a fresh, wholesome supper which takes in howevermany of 5-a-day I missed at work.

I’m doing ok, I think, but I keep falling behind on my recipe diary.  So, something drastic has to be done. THE BLOG is promising me it will be the answer.

Common Sense recipes for everyday eating