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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pasta Bakes

 Pasta bakes, perfect for lazy days, busy days, quiet days or lazy next day left overs. Easy to make, fast. Tasty and the combinations between ingredients, you can use mean that no two pasta bakes, ever need be the same. I’ve used Kassler a German cured and slightly smoked pork, tuna, chicken and ham. You can throw in all kinds of veggies. Use tomato sauce, white sauce, creamy vodka sauce or cheese sauce, top it with cheese or bread crumbs or both. With a ready in time of 30-40 minutes and the most effort required is turning the dial of your oven, what’s not to love? For even less effort you could use store bought sauces, I normally have several of the powdered sachets from knorr, and there is a jarred tomato and garlic one we like, to hand, just in case. Although I prefer to make my own – on days where you need no fuss and ease, a pasta bake is the perfect answer, it can be whipped up in minutes. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from also adding your store bought sauce! Like I said the sky is your limit.

macaroni and bacon gratin

300 grams macaroni, cooked according to directions, drained

100 grams bacon strips, diced

1 tomato, diced

1 tap Italian seasonings

1 tsp basil

100 grams grated cheese

salt, pepper and cayenne to taste

3 egg yolks at room temperature

125 grams cream

1/8 litre milk

1. Mix the macaroni, bacon and tomato with the herbs and season with the salt and pepper.

 2. Preheat the oven to 200°C (410°F approximately). Mix the cheese egg, cream and milk with a little salt and pepper.

 3. Grease the dish you are using, put in the macaroni with the cheese and cream mix. Bake for the 30 minutes.

 As I said earlier I am all for “shortcuts” after all if it’s good enough for the likes of Jamie Oliver, it should be good enough for us all, especially on those busy days when cooking is the last thing on our minds, I think most of us live busy lives, whether it’s because we work or are stay at home parents. However when I say “shortcuts” this by no means, means take out every night, or pre-cooked, pre-prepared frozen meal or some such. By “shortcuts” I am referring to, store bought pastry or naan bread, jarred tomato sauce, powdered sauces, basically anything which will help reduce cooking times……. I take a dim view on anyone – unless single, buying frozen meals or eating take out everyday. There comes a certain satisfaction out of cooking when you make a meal, even when minimal effort has been applied and I defy anyone even someone who can’t abide being in the kitchen, to tell me that they don’t get some austere satisfaction or sense of pride when they’ve put a meal on the table that everyone has eaten and enjoyed! I guess that’s easy for me to say because I love being in the kitchen, I love buying cookbooks and kitchen gadgets or utensils, I only buy what I’m going to use though. My kitchen is not big enough to buy just anything! Cookbooks on the other hand are bedtime reading for me. I have read them all and once they go on the bookshelf they become points of reference, if I was asked for a recipe I could easily pull one or two books of the shelf and have it for you in a matter of minutes maybe even more than one variation of the same recipe. I’m quite possibly a kitchen zealot in which case I’m in no position to be defying anyone to do anything.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dips in abundance

The five layer dip I made, is a recipe which I first tried at a friends house, she would often hold parties with some really good finger food, nibbles or quite frankly posh, eat off your napkin type stuff, but this five layer dip so delicious, I had to recreate it, the combination of the heat from the salsa, creaminess of the guacamole, salty olives and the bitter sour cream, topped with the cheese is a taste bud tickler, especially if you get scoop tortilla chips, scooping all the way through to the bottom of the five layers. It’s easy to make and if you use a glass bowl, for parties it’s also very aesthetically pleasing. So not only do you have a crowd pleasing dip it looks pretty too. The only thing I would say about this one is that whilst it’s fine to use store bought salsa (although I am going to include a salsa recipe) I would fully recommend using the guacamole, included with this recipe. I find that store bought guacamole can be a little too sharp and you don’t get the same creaminess out of it, that you do when you make your own.

Five Layer Dip

2 medium ripe avocados, peeled and sliced

2 tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp garlic salt

1/8 tsp hot pepper sauce

1 cup sour cream

1 can chopped ripe black olives

1 jar thick and chunky salsa

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

tortilla chips

1. In a large bowl mash the avocado, then stir in the lemon juice, garlic salt and hot pepper sauce, spoon into an 8" glass bowl.

2. Layer with sour cream, olives, salsa and cheese. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve with chips.

This Salsa is a little fiddly to make in that it involves a lot of fine chopping (unless you want it chunky). I would suggest wearing latex gloves when you chop the jalapeño. I didn’t the first time around and had a rather painful experience when I made the mistake of rubbing my eyes. Also if you don’t want too much heat you can remove the seeds, the tomatoes are very refreshing so don’t be afraid to experiment with the jalapeños. Start off with a little and keep adding until you have just the right amount of heat for you. We aren’t cilantro (coriander) fans so I use parsley instead. Personally I prefer to use lime juice but you could use lemon juice instead, I would use a little and then taste and add some more if needed. If you have the time you could use this salsa in the five layer dip, but to be honest I use store bought and then make this one as an added extra – not everyone likes avocado and olives so to have a few extra ones is never a bad thing.


1 cup tomatoes, seeded and finely diced

1/3 cup red onion, minced

2-4 fresh jalapeño's finely diced

2 tbsp lime juice

2 tbsp fresh cilantro chopped

¼ tsp salt

4 Cloves fresh garlic minced

1. In a bowl stir together all the ingredients.

2. Cover and chill for 2-48 hours

You could try beer dip which is basically cream cheese, beer, salt, pepper, garlic and a few herbs (if your in the States, ranch dip seasoning mix is what I use)

Beer Dip

2 package (8oz) cream cheese

1/3 cup beer

1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat all the ingredients until smooth.

Yield: 3½ cups

 Artichoke Dip

1 can of Artichoke hearts
1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 - 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 clove minced garlic
Dash hot pepper sauce

1. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together, well. Then place in a greased baking pan.

2. Place it in a 350 degree oven and bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden, to be served warm.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Spanish Chucks

Chicken And Spanish Vegetables, this is one of those do I, don’t I? Recipes, my intention was to cook something, healthy and low in calories. 325 calories per portion seemed like a good option. The only down side was the peppers (bell peppers), I’m not a huge fan, but not totally against them either! This was the first time that I had really cooked with fresh vegetables and chicken breast. The lesson I learned from this recipe was that it is very easy to over cook chicken, mostly out of fear of not cooking it properly. Although, hindsight is a wonderful thing, cooking is definitely about letting go, whilst at the same time realising that you can’t ignore all the rules. You don’t want to over cook the chicken or it becomes dry (if not burnt, way to go me for stating the obvious), but at the same time under cooked chicken could leave you with that really icky bug, called Salmonella. You want to cook it until it is piping hot in the middle and the juices run clear. Better still it should reach a core temperature of a minimum 165˚F (taken from the USDA website) I don’t own a meat thermometer so I tend to guess at when it’s ready, but to be honest more often than not I use those bake in bag things you can buy, tastes delicious and you are pretty much guaranteed a perfectly cooked piece of chicken.

Chicken And Spanish Vegetables

2 green bell pepper seeded and sliced

2 red bell pepper seeded and sliced

50 grams green olives, sliced

150 grams mushrooms, sliced

4 chicken breast halves

salt and black pepper to taste

2 tbsp flour

½ teaspoon paprika

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp tomato paste

150 ml chicken stock

1. Pat the chicken dry, salt and pepper. Mix the flour and paprika on a flat plate, then cover the chicken in the flour, shaking off any excess.

2. In a big pan heat the oil and fry the chicken on both sides until golden and cooked, place on a warm plate, cover and keep warm.

3. Mix the tomato puree in the fat from the chicken, add the vegetables, fry for a short time, stirring until soft, add the stock and boil.

4. place chicken breast on plate and cover with the vegetables - serve with pasta.

Servings: 4

Cooking Times

Total Time: 30 minutes