Cheats’ Moussaka

A restaurant described Moussaka as a lamb and aubergine pie … well, I suppose it is sort of, but of the many variations I’ve never had it topped with pastry. The whole fandangle takes some effort, so here’s the quickie version – well, at least to prep, it still takes 40 mins in the oven.
You need a really rich lamb mixture: fry off the minced, lean lamb and put aside giving a chance to reduce the fat further. Clean out the pan and soften onions, peppers, maybe a slice or two of fennel, celery and when soft add the meat back. Add tomatoes, fresh skinned or tinned (passim) and a smidge of tomato paste. I usually add ginger, garlic, thyme, rosemary and parsley as the base flavours, pimento and chilli flakes can spice it up a bit. Leave to bubble away merrily.
Slice your aubergine, circle, cross lengths, long lengths, whatever will fit your deep dish. You can salt them and dry them but I’ve never noticed the difference. Fry them off and as you do so layer them in the dish: aubergine at the bottom, then the mince, more aubergine, more lamb, finally aubergine. Then my cheats’ topping.
For a four person dish you need half a large pot of plain yoghourt (low fat’s fine) into which beat three nice eggs (a couple if you use duck’s), plus salt and pepper. Now pour the mix onto the last layer of aubergine – it should be quite thick. Slip a knife down the side of the dish at intervals to give the topping a chance to slither down the side – it looks very attractive if you are using a clear soufflé dish for example. Then – most important – lots and lots of grated nutmeg, and nothing but the real thing, ready ground is just sawdust.
Forty minutes at about 160 and the topping will brown, rising like a soufflé itself. You should be able to take out a slab in a whole piece, spooning out any reluctant lamb. Serve with steamed veg.

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Retro fishpate with twists

Who – at least of my age – hasn’t made tons on smoked mackerel pate? And weren’t we so taken aback when they started doing fillets encrusted with pepper so that this good old sixties stand by could take on yet another life! All those cheffy variations too – adding fresh horseradish seemed positively cuisine minceur .. or not.
Fact is it’s good stuff, but it needs a bit of variation after fourty years. So I tried this one: the technique, as you all know, is simply to stuff the ingredients into the Magimix in order needing to be chopped. So start with some spring onions (half a red one would do nicely too) and a good handful of parsley (get of rid of the worst of the stems but don’t pick off every leaf – this is meant to be easy!); zapp. Pile in a box of philly like cream cheese (‘lite for us porkies) and a pack of smoked salmon pieces and two large or three smaller skinned smoked mackerel fillets (with peppers if you like). More zapp.
It should be spreadable, but with noticeable contents, not just a mush, so I use the zapp button rather than leave it to blend.
Put into brown dishes – yes, they have to be to be properly retro. If you are being posh and not dieting then there’s no doubt that a layer of clarified butter doesn’t do anything but good. Freezes great. But please, please don’t eat straight from the fridge …..

Virtuous Sunday

Chaos still abounds so the soup came in handy for lunch: lots of cheese grated on top and chunky bread beside. Easy and a great comfort after yesterday’s efforts. Masses left over too.
Supper, another one in the bag as it were: a particularly special dried pasta from our friends Napolina (passim) called torchietti, mixed plain and spinach, and a freezer box of home made meat sauce. Positively the last of the salad ingredients laying about: red cabbage, cucumber, grated carrot and celeriac all with a nice olive oil and a splash of balsamic.
Two very nice and very easy meals reaping the benefit of earlier hard graft: virtue rewarded indeed.

Tasty roast on the run then toast on the lap


Straight off the train and only time for a rushed late lunch. Him indoors had roasted a handsome fowl the night before that had full happiness – and potential flavour – credentials – organic, free range. Generous chunks went on some handy leaves and a shared box of M&S pasta salad grabbed at the station. Very nice too, but what was the hint of flavour on the bird I asked? Lime pickle apparently – a not too hot one, generously slathered over the bird with the usual oiling and seasoning.
So, unwittingly we had a revisit to the Nandos of the night before, but much better.
It was such a late lunch that supper was a slice and a half each of Welsh rarebit, not even any more salad: sometimes enough is enough. Apparently “The spelling “Welsh rarebit” is a humourless euphemism” seems odd to me!

Mexican ad lib?


The chores had piled up and late home from the office means one thing, instant grub. There were two portions of vegetable chilli in the freezer and a pack of ‘seeded’ wraps. Maybe something with a Mexican twist, you know those tortilla things that go crunchy, what they called??
Oiled baking dish took four well stuffed, rolled up wraps quite snuggly. Lots of cheese on top and a hot oven for 30 minutes ish. I wanted them piping hot and a bit crunchy too.
Himself wanted boiled yellow potatoes – some sudden fancy, who’s to say no?
And another crunchy salad of all sorts (what we going to do when the newly discovered pointy red cabbages finish?).
Big plates (it was really too much) and lots of not-too-hot lime pickle. Sour cream would have been good but that would have entailed planning, and the whole point was, it wasn’t.

Infinite variations on fishy pies

Knocking up a fish pie should be in everyone’s repertoire of great standbys, whether it has a Fish Pie top (potatoes) or a Fisherman’s (pastry). What goes underneath can adopt the same approach and, if crafty, entail just washing up one pot – apart from the topping that is. With variations of fish and the vegetables you need never cook two the same.
I use a large sauté dish or fry pan – a wok would do just as well – to make the filling from start to finish. It seems daft to make enough just for two/three, (who wants to chop half an onion?) so we usually end up making enough for two pies with the second going straight in the freezer as soon as the finished (but uncooked) pie is chilled down.
So, into some oil in your chosen pan put a chopped onion, followed in cooking order by a pepper, some carrots – diced, and any combination of courgette, fennel (not too much), celery (ditto). Sweat until they’ve lost their bite. Then add a generous heaped tablespoon of cornflower and wiz about a bit, it doesn’t need cooking, but ordinary flour would if you use that. Add two teaspoons of the ubiquitous Marigold vegetable stock powder, or a crumbled cube of something.
Now you’re ready to turn the mess into a rich sauce: start adding milk, first in glugs, then as it thickens and cooks, more at a time until you have a rich, coating texture. Now add frozen peas or beans or even sweetcorn – if you like bright colour! – and let it all come back to the boil. Add some fresh herbs: parsley finely chopped, some fennel if you have it, or whatever. Check the seasoning and overdo the pepper if anything. If you want it to be extra creamy add grated cheese, or do the Jamie Oliver thing and slosh in double cream!
Now the fish. Today I used a couple of slabs of salmon and a big handful of prawns. In truth I prefer solid white fish, cod if we can afford it, but see what’s on offer. And of course, smoked haddock – especially with a cheesy sauce – is quite a distinctive version.
Turn everything over carefully in the sauce and take off the heat.
You should have enough stuff to fill two 2/3 person dishes ready for topping. If using mash, make sure it’s extra creamy: I smooth it flat with a spatula then do plough lines with a fork, going both ways, just like mum taught me. More cheese on top maybe? Dot with butter.
Then 200°C for about 35 – 40 minutes.
It’s got to be peas or steamed beans to go with it.
Afterthoughts: so you don’t fancy freezing one – then use the remaining filling for delicious puff pastry pasties – but watch when eating they tend to be very hot! Or just serve on a baked potato with extra cheese. Or pile into those individual shop bought Yorkshire Puddings ….

The Art of Festering – and nearly instant food

Mentioned this notion before: that some things are best left to their own devices to develop taste and unctuousness by natural processes. This is probably akin to the biological and physical actions called ‘rotting’ in other situations, but let’s not dwell on that.
Supper tonight was a perfect example of many things: the virtue of making a curry from the finest ingredients (in this instance the remains of a leg of lamb that had first been baked on a bed of vegetables to which a can of beer had been added; plenty of herbs and three hours on a very low oven – thank you for the inspiration Rick Stein), not eating it all at once (another virtue indeed), and the festering effect of freezing.
I hope no-one out there’s in the camp that decries microwaves and freezers as devices of the culinary devil. For us they are essential to eating well, cheaply and sometimes fast.
So take the curry: one click top box full of lamb with aubergine and defrost, along with a couple of portions of frozen mixed rice (wild, brown and organic white) cooked to store a week ago. Now, there were last night’s left over potatoes (red salad ones as it happens) and they got diced and thrown into the lamb to reheat.
Now this sort of meal can easily be lacking the fresh veg we need – so I made large bowl of raita: peel and chop half a cucumber; finely chop about a third of a red onion; sprinkle with salt; then fold into thick plain yoghourt. Now you don’t want anything too posh for the yoghourt: it mustn’t have any sense of sweetness for my taste, so the extraordinary River Cottage yoghourt that tastes as though it’s made from double cream is no good. Sprinkle on a quarter teaspoon of garam masala and a pile of chopped coriander and you’re done.
Make sure curry and rice are piping hot. Serve in deep bowls and feast. Chapatis, nan breads et al will bulk out the fibre if you need too …. but they really need to be home made so no time tonight ….