Category Archives: Mediterranean Flavours

Alfresco Tapas…

… almost.
The weather was so nice today that we would have liked to spend it in the garden (the daffs have come out!) but the nip in the air drove us indoors. We are fortunate enough to have a conservatory, so we decided to set up home there today for a lazy Saturday reading the paper.

We went out this morning to Lidl and stocked up on tons of fruit and veg, continental meats and cheeses and baked goodies. As we’d not had breakfast, and it was about 2pm by the time we got back, we decided to get some nibbles sorted and eat them almost-alfresco. It’s not truly tapas of course, more a pan-European finger food selection, but it certainly did the job.

We had:
Chorizo cooked with sage (pictured above)
Bruschetta (courtesy of TLM)
Home-made houmous
Some little crispy snacks
Ciabatta with vinegar & oil
Serrano ham
Cheese, with Ducth crispbakes and celery
Crayfish tails
Olives, sun-dried tomatoes and peppers

A feast that took plenty of time to munch through and we’re only just considering something light for dinner (fruit or salad) now at 8pm.

I think we might have to do this more often on a lazy Saturday (though the washing-up generated may make for a busy Sunday morning ;))

Stuffed Peppers with Potato, Leek and Mushroom Gratin

Tonight’s dinner was improvised from various leftovers, which might make it harder to follow this post than usual as it’s a little stream-of-consciousness.

Stage One: dinner started this morning when I was sorting out the leftover rogan josh from last night. As usual, there was sauce aplenty for another dinner but most of the meat had been eaten. To bulk it up, I peeled and cubed some sweet potato, zapped it in the microwave (so it can be easily heated at a later date) and stirred it into the curry before bunging it in the freezer. This, however, left me with half a sweet potato as it was a big’un!

Stage Two: later in the afternoon with half a sweet potato, some small salad-type potatoes and a leek I layered up a gratin (sweet potato, white potato, leek). Realising I had no idea what to do next, I googled for a gratin recipe. It called for cream…. hmmm… no cream. Then I remembered I had some homemade mushroom soup in the freezer, which was mainly a cream mushroom puree really, so I defrosted that, added it, and topped up the gratin with milk.

Stage Three: realising that a gratin alone isn’t very balanced, I used two big red peppers I’d bought with the intention of roasting at some point, and filled them with vine cherry tomatoes. Hmmm, not great. Emptied out the cherry tomatoes. Hmmm… what could I stuff it with? I remembered some leftover frozen bolognese sauce we had in the freezer which I stabbed, slotted frozen into the peppers and then put three cherry tomatoes on top and gave a grating of parmiggiano reggiano.

Gratin and peppers went in at the same time, for about 45-60 minutes.

Dinner turned out to be much better than anticipated. The sweet potatoes, of course, cooked faster than the white potatoes which gave a lovely variation in texture. The leek was crisp, and the mushroom soup made the whole thing sing. Unfortunately, the mushroom soup isn’t the easiest thing to whizz up just for a gratin BUT I have decided that blending some mushrooms, cream and garlic together will give much the same effect. So that I shall do next time. Somewhat unconvinced about sweet and normal potatoes together in a gratin, but I think a sweet potato and red onion gratin-esque concoction (maybe with yoghurt?) would be the next to try.

Popeye Lasagna (with Olive Oil!)

Above: the mini version I made for TLM’s lunch tomorrow
Below: the full lasagna we had for dinner this evening
Lasagna is a favourite for most people, and though I never saw Popeye eat a lasagna (correct me if I’m wrong) I think the inclusion of spinach in this would be to his liking. Why spinach? Well, I just had some left over so as I was layering up the lasagna, I went for: tomato layer, spinach layer, white sauce layer. It seemed to work well, but I think I’ll need to use a deeper dish than my usual lasagna dish if I opt for spinach layers again as it was a little on the over-flowing side.

I tried to make the lasagna a little bit leaner (ha!) by only including two layers of pasta. I also left out the cheese from the white sauce – which made no difference to the flavour so I won’t bother in future – and used a small square of hard cheese rather than cheddar for the crispy topping. Again, no discernible taste difference but a substantial saving in terms of fat and probably cost too.

The basic bechamel sauce doesn’t really vary, but everyone has their preferable way of making the tomato sauce.

My sauce was quickly cooked up while TLM played football, and what a furtive little tomato sauce it turned out to be. I wanted to include a few ‘mutant’ peppers (i.e. the squat, piebald ones in those big bags) rather than chucking them as TLM would have preferred. I cooked down an onion and a small amount of lean steak mince in olive oil and a pinch of salt, then added the peppers and passata. I added some black pepper and, feeling like an accomplished TV chef made use of a bunch of fresh basil and oregano I had rather than dried herbs. It was all I could do to stop myself doing a faux piece-to-camera. But I then did the dirty. I reached into the cupboard and sloshed in Worcestershire sauce. I was obviously having to do penance for the fresh herbs. Then something possessed me and I stirred in some beef gravy granules. I don’t know why. But I won’t apologise for it because it made the sauce awesome. It beefed and thickened up the sauce in a magical instant. This is what has been missing from my tomato sauce until this point. I haven’t told TLM yet.

The lasagna was delicious, very fresh tasting on account of the herbs with the oregano in particular shining through. The spinach of course just contributed to the vegetable count and is yet another way of sneaking it in to people’s lives… mwaha ha ha ha ha.

p.s. I’ve always wondered about lasagna/lasagne – apparently the former is singular, the latter plural. That’s my newly learnt thing of the day then!

Stifado with Orzo

I’ve been searching for orzo for months – none in M&S, Sainsbury’s, Asda or Morrison’s – but today I stumbled across a shelf of orzo in the world foods section of an out-of-the-way Tesco. I was so happy. So what’s an orzo when it’s at home? As far as I can tell, it’s a Mediterranean rice-like pasta, often used in soups but equally in salads (this is how I found out about orzo on a flight to Honiara from Fiji strangely enough!) and served as any other warm pasta. As someone who dislikes rice and doesn’t particularly succeed in the cooking of it, orzo is my perfect solution. And at 45p for a 500g bag, it’s pretty good value too!

I’ve had stifado on my mind for a while. Again, from what I gather it’s a Greek beef and onion stew – but any meat seems to go and any variety of veg chucked in too. Its hallmark is the combination of wine, wine vinegar, cinnamon, rosemary and sometimes honey to make an aromatic almost sweet and sour stew. My recipe called for the addition of potatoes, but I wasn’t in a potato mood so I was going to go for a doorstop of bread to soak up the gravy until I spotted the orzo and I knew I had to have it with the stifado. Is it unorthodox? Who knows, but it was a pretty good taste combination.

I have been plundering my one pot book that I bought from Oxfam before Christmas. Its winning quality is that it consists of easy recipes that you bung into a stockpot or wok, but the downside is that it tends to anglicise and tone down the flavours so I just use my judgement and add a bit more. I’ll add even more next time for more depth of flavour, but this is what I did today:

Ingredients serves 3

  • 1 tin tomatoes (450g ish)
  • 150 ml beef stock
  • 400 g shallots, peeled but whole
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 400 g diced beef
  • veg (I used carrots, the recipe specified potatoes – whatever)
  • 1 glass red wine
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt
  • pepper

How to Make it

In a large pan, cook the shallots and garlic over a low heat for about 5 minutes until coloured. Remove from pan and brown the beef in batches. Add the shallots and garlic back. Tip in the tomatoes, stock, wine, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, bay leaves and honey. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer and cook for 2 hours on the lowest possible heat until meat is tender.

p.s. the stifado is coeliac friendly, the orzo is TOTALLY not

Lamb Marinated in Balsamic Vinegar, Rosemary and Garlic

Again using the farm shop lamb (so organic and delicious) I tried a very different flavour from the Lamb, Leek and Apricot Casserole. This marinade is very unlike the lamb casserole: rather than sweet and toffee-ish, the mustard and vinegar of this marinade make the lamb have a sharper twang. I was very pleased with the complimentary flavours in this dish as a whole – some sweet, some sharp with each mouthful.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (approx) balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • sugar to taste

How to make it

Mix. There shouldn’t be too much vinegar sloshing about in the bottom, so moderate if necessary.

I marinated the lamb for a good 8 hours (put it in in the morning ready for dinner), seared it in a pan, then tipped in the remaining marinade and a good slosh of red wine and let it simmer gently until cooked to our liking. I took out the lamb, let it sit, added a little more sugar to the juices and cooked it down till it was a bit like a sticky glaze and poured it back over the meat.

With it we had honey roasted parsnips and carrots, curly kale with a smidge of garlic butter, and hedgehog potatoes. I think next time I’ll slice the lamb before serving – something that never crossed my mind despite seeing it so many times on Masterchef!

Sweet Lamb, Leek and Apricot Casserole

Before Christmas I found a great book in a charity shop called ‘One Pot’ that is just full of dishes cooked in – you guessed it – one pot. Casserole, stock pot, wok, bowl: the raw materials go in and then come out magically transformed. Love it.

I’d never cooked lamb before, and this casserole ended up being delicious (which pleased me greatly!). It’ll be my dish the next time I cook for friends.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)
  • 1 ┬ákilo of lamb, diced
  • 6 leeks, sliced
  • carrots (as you like)
  • 150 ml red wine
  • 300 ml chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped mint (or a few teaspoons dried)
  • 115g dried apricots, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour

How to make it

Preheat your oven to 180 celsius. Brown the lamb, then set it aside. Cook the leeks and the carrots together for 5 minutes or until the leeks are softening. Add the cornflour and stir in. Pour in the wine and stock and bring to the boil. Quickly stir in the sugar, tomato puree, mint, apricots and season to taste. Put the lamb back in the dish and bake for 1 1/4 hours. By this time the lamb will be on the way to being cooked, and the sauce will be sweet and toffeeish. If you want to do the potatoes separately, cook the lamb for 2 hours in total

I sliced and par boiled the potatoes I wanted for the top, so after the 1 1/4 hours of cooking I put the potatoes on top, pinched some butter over them and whacked the temperatue up to 220 celsius and cook until they’re browned – about half an hour. I might do the potatoes separately next time so I can be more in control of when it all comes together.

This dinner was delicious, and quite unique in its flavour. I was worried about the apricots, but the whole thing melded together and was just sweet and complimentary to the lamb, the sauce was almost toffee-ish. One to add to my folder of favourites.