Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Happy Halloween

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I should have really saved a pumpkin recipe to post for today and I'm not even going to make a Halloween Cake until Friday either, but Happy Halloween to you all nontheless. I'm sitting here wondering whether there'll be any Trick or Treaters today or whether I'll have to eat all the mini chocolate bars I've bought this morning myself.

There is some pasta sauce simmering on my hob while I'm typing this. It's nothing particularly fancy. Instead it's one of those meals, I have made so many times that I don't really have a recipe. Today, I have meassured the ingredients though, so that I can share it here. One tip I have is that next time you buy some fresh parmesan and have used it all up, keep the rind. Just throw it into the sauce (or any Italian style tomato sauce) while it's simmering. It adds great flavour. The rinds freeze well too, if you have got no oppertunity to use them straight away.

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Sylvie's Beef and Tomato Pasta Sauce

1/2 onion, chopped
1/2lb lean minced beef
1tsp vegetable or beef stock powder or 1 stock cube, crumbled
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 bell peppers (any colours, I like to use a variety), chopped
1 can of chopped tomatoes with herbs (400gr)
3tbsp Heinz tomato ketchup
3tbsp milk or single cream
1 splash Worcester Sauce
1tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2tbsp dried oregano
3/4tbsp caster sugar
6 chestnut or button mushrooms, sliced
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat a little oil in a heavy bottom frying pan.

Add the onions and fry over medium heat until they start to soften, but not brown.

Add the minced beef, making sure you break it up with your wooden spoon. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sprinkle with the stock powder. Stir occasionally until the meat is no longer pink.

Add the garlic and chopped peppers. Fry for another couple of minutes before adding the chopped tomatoes, ketchup and milk (or cream). Season with Worcester sauce, balsamic vinegar and oregano. Stir in the sugar to take some of the acidity out of the tinned tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook on low for 20 minutes, stirring occassionally.

Add the mushrooms and simmer for a further 15 minutes. The sauce is now ready, but you can simmer it for longer to develop even more flavour. You just need to make sure that it doesn't get too dry, adding some liquid vegetable stock if that happens.

Serve with your favourite pasta and plenty of freshly grated parmesan.
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Monday, 29 October 2007

A Day for Baking Bread

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Today is one of those glorious autumn days, where the sky is bright blue, the sun is shining and the leaves on the trees and the ground really show all their great colours. So, the perfect day for an early morning run. Whilst I was puffing away I got in the mood for baking some bread.

I love baking bread. There is something so satisfying about kneeding the dough and seeing it rise, not to mention the smell it fills your house with. I actually find it quite therapeutical. When I first got into cooking and baking, I didn't really dare to attempt baking bread. I had grown up watching my mum make beautiful fluffy loaves and I just didn't think mine would be the same. Once I tried though I realised that it isn't that difficult at all.

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I used some of the puree I made on Friday to make Pumpkin Bread. This is a German recipe for a yeast bread, so it's completely different from the more common American style Pumpkin Breads, which usually are more cake like. If you can't be bothered roasting your pumpkin to make the puree just for this bread, you can peel and cube a pumpkin and simmer it in water until soft, then drain and puree.

Pumpkin Bread

125ml milk
500gr bread flour
300gr pumpkin puree
1tbsp butter
2tbsp sugar
1tsp salt
1 packet quick action yeast
a handful of pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds (optional)

In a large bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, butter and milk.

In a seperate bowl combine the sugar, yeast, salt, flour. Add bit by bit to the wet ingredients, mixing well. Once it's starting to look like bread dough and you can't stir it with your wooden spoon any longer, turn it out onto a clean, floured surface. Kneed well for about 5 minutes.

If it is very sticky, add some more flour, 1 tbsp at a time. You don't want to overdo it with the flour. The dough should remain nice and elastic. If you add too much flour the bread becomes very dense.

Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size. I usually fill my sink with hot water, place an oven rack over the top of it and stand the bowl on the rack.

Punch the risen dough down and again turn it out onto a clean surface, that you have dusted with flour. Kneed for five minutes. If you like you can roll it in a handful of pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Shape into desired loaf and place on a baking tray, alternatively you can bake it in a greased loaf pan. Cover again with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for a further 30-45 minutes.

Whilst the loaf is rising pre-heat your oven to 170C or Gas Mark 4.

Bake in the middle of the oven for approximately 45 minutes.

You can test if the loaf is done by 'knocking' on the bottom of it. It should sound hollow.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Saturday is Market Day

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Well, in the town where I live it's actually market day on Wednesdays and Fridays as well, but I think the market is best on Saturdays. I love walking down if I have nothing else on and have a look around all the stalls. You can buy everything, from cheap tat to fresh flowers and of course food. There are a number of butchers, fishmongers, green grocers, an egg and cheese stall, a Delicatessen stall and if it tickles your fancy a stall selling tripe.

My favourite butcher had minced lamb on offer and as it's definitely feeling very autumnal today Shepherd's Pie came to my mind straight away.

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I was born and grew up in Germany, so I had never eaten Shepherd's Pie until I came to live in England nine years ago. I think I've probably been hooked since I first ate it. It's one of my favourite autumn and winter comfort foods. When I first started making my own I have to admit to often using one of the ready-made dry mixes for the sauce, but trying to avoid using shop bought mixes, because you never quite know what's in them, I started experimenting with different recipes to make it from scratch. This is what I have finally settled on, it is a combination of various recipes, making a tasty Shepherd's Pie, which'll warm you up on a cold, dark night. You can use minced beef instead of the lamb, but that'll turn it into a Cottage Pie. This recipe is scaled down to serve just two people, but you can easily double all the amounts to serve four.

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Shepherd’s Pie for two

1lb potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 knob of butter
4 tbsp milk
salt, to taste
½ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated

Meat Filling:
vegetable oil
½ onion, chopped
1 smallish carrot, chopped
1/2lb minced lamb (you can use finely cubed left-over roast)
1/2tbsp flour
125-150ml beef, lamb or chicken broth
¾ tsp fresh thyme, chopped
¾ tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 splashes of Worcester sauce
1tsp tomato puree

To make the topping, bring a pan of slightly salted water to the boil. Add the potatoes and cook until tender, which should be about 12-15 minutes, depending on the size of your cubes. Drain.

Heat the milk and the butter in a saucepan, remove from heat and add the potatoes. Sprinkle with nutmeg and mash until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 200C or Gas Mark 6.

Heat a little vegetable oil in a heavy bottom frying pan. Add the chopped onion and carrot and cook over a low heat until softened, but not brown, stirring occasionally. This should take 10-15 minutes. If you like celery you van also add a small chopped rib of celery at this stage.

Once your vegetables are soft, add the minced lamb, making sure you break it up with your wooden spoon. Cook until most of the lamb has browned. (If you’re using left over lamb roast, cook the pieces until they are no longer pink.). Drain off the excess fat.

Stir in the flour and continue to cook, whilst stirring continuously for another 2 minutes.

Now add the broth, herbs and Worcester Sauce if using. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Turn the heat to low and simmer until the sauce has thickened. This should take about 5 minutes. Don’t forget to stir occasionally. (You can also add some frozen peas at this stage if you like.)

Pour the meat and vegetable mixture into a small oven-proof dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Use a fork to ‘rough up’ the top of the potatoes. Alternatively you can pipe the potatoes onto the meat mix, creating little peaks.

Place the dish in the pre-heated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until the tops of the mashed potatoes have turned golden brown.

Serve with your favourite winter vegetables.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Pretty Pumpkins

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Pumpkins are one of the things I really like about this time of year. Not only do they make for some great decorations, but I also really enjoy eating them in all sorts of different ways.

Many recipes ask for pumpkin puree, but as it's not easily available in the shops here in the UK, I make my own. You can freeze it and use it in all kinds of recipes from Pumpkin Pie to Pumpkin & Courgette Bread. I'll be posting some of the recipes as I'll be making them over the next weeks. But for now, here is how I make the puree. I use the orange culinary pumpkins that are smaller than the ones you use for carving, they have a better flavour in my opinion...

Easy Peasy Pumpkin Puree

1 pumpkin (of course you can use more if you like) is all you need.

Preaheat your oven to 180C or Gas Mark 4.

Cut the pumpkin in half or into quarters if they are large and remove all the seeds and stringy bits. (You can keep the seeds to roast them.)

Place the pumpkin quarters, skin side down, onto a large baking tray and roast them for approximately one hour, it might take a little longer depending on the size of your pumpkin.

You can check if it is done by piercing it with a fork, the flesh should be soft.

Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Now cut off the peel, or you might find it easier to scoop the flesh out with a spoon.

Puree in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth.

You can use the puree straight away or freeze it in portions to use in your recipes later on.
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Finding my feet

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So this is it. I've finally done it, started my own blog. Please bear with me while I find my feet.