21/12/2006

Christmas Pudding

traditional Christmas pudding
Christmas Pudding
Serves 4-6 per pudding

Ingredients:
120g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch salt
150g shredded suet (regular or vegetarian)
120g breadcrumbs
60g ground almonds
120g demerara sugar
120g raisins
120g sultanas
120g currants
90g chopped mixed peel
1 lemon, grated rind and juice
4 eggs, beaten
330ml brown ale or beer

Method:
Grease two 600-ml overnproof basins (or pyrex bowls), or three 400ml ones. Place the flour, spices and salt into a bowl, then stir in everything else, to make a soft dropping consistency. Put into the basins evenly, leaving a gap at top of about 2cm. Cover each with a double layer of greasefree paper with pleats in it, to allow the pudding to rise, then cover with a similar piece of foil.

Secure with string round the rim, or ensure that the foil is tightly against the edge of the basin. Place each one in a pan with water to come half way up the sides, or a steamer, and simmer for about six hours, checking the water frequently to ensure it does not dry out.

Either serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate, then simmer a further 2 hours before eating. Turn out carefully onto a plate. Traditionally served with sweet cornflour sauce or brandy butter. 


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This is a traditional Christmas pudding, usually served as dessert in the UK and elsewhere on Christmas day. It used to be known as 'plum pudding', and some recipes contain dried plums or prunes, but this is closest to the variation I grew up with. For some reason it is not appreciated, generally by those from the USA, and shredded suet is not easily available there; so I have not included imperial measurements.

Note that the quantities of dried fruit included can be adjusted so long as the total remains the same. If you do not like dried peel, for instance, leave it out and include an extra 90g of other dried fruit. If you have bags of 'mixed dried fruit', often available in supermarkets in December, you can simply use 450g mixed dried fruit in place of the raisins, sultanas, currants and peel.

Do not worry that the mixture looks pale, gloopy and decidedly unappetising - something like this photo - when you have poured in all the ingredients and mixed them together. I was quite worried about it the first time I made Christmas puddings, and wondered if my recipe had somehow missed out some black treacle, or something else to give the dark colour I expected.

I then learned that the steaming process makes the pudding go dark brown as well as making it set. This is why it takes so long to cook; if you use pyrex bowls, you can check to see if it's done, although if you plan to re-steam it later, you can get away with about four hours the first time, so long as you give it a lot longer on the day you plan to eat it.

If you are going to steam the puddings individually in large saucepans, it's a good idea to use string around the sides, and to loop extra string over the top so as to make it easier to remove them, particularly when you want to serve them, as they will be hot. It's also vital to be in the house and to check regularly - water needs to come about half-way up the sides of the pan - no higher, or there will not be sufficient steam to cook them properly - but it must not be allowed to dry out, so you will need to keep topping it up with boiling water.

This is why I use my three-tier steamer, which switches itself off after an hour if nobody turns it on again, so it will not run out of water if it is forgotten. It has the advantage that you can see the colour of the puddings as they steam, so you should see when they start to go darker.

Some people like to set the puddings briefly on fire before serving; we have never managed to do this (and don't even try, usually) but apparently the secret is to pour a little hot brandy on the top, and then set a match to it. However, this is entirely unnecessary!

These puddings look rather small for six people, but they are quite rich, and if served after a large turkey meal nobody is likely to want a huge amount.

Christmas pudding can easily be re-heated, either by re-steaming, or in the microwave. If you use the latter method, note that the dried fruit can get VERY hot.

Gingerbread

( makes 1 14x10 inch tin full)

450g plain flour (or substitute 100g for wholemeal flour)
4 level tsp ginger
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda (US: baking soda)
1 level tsp salt
100g sultanas or raisins
200g soft brown sugar
150g margarine or butter
175g molasses or treacle
175g golden syrup or corn syrup
300ml milk or soya milk
2 eggs

Method:
Line a 14 x 10 inch dish such as a roasting pan with greased greaseproof paper. Mix flour with ginger, bicarb and salt. Stir in sultanas. Put sugar, butter, treacle and molasses in a pan, and heat gently until melted together.

Warm the milk and beat in the eggs. Mix the butter mixture into the flour, then the milk and egg. Pour the gingerbread into the prepared pan. Bake at 170C for about 45 minutes or until cooked. Turn out and cool on a wire rack.

02/05/2006

Apricot (or loquat) crunch

(serves 4)

120g/4oz margarine or butter
120g/4oz soft brown sugar
120g/4oz rolled oats
40g/1.5oz sultanas or raisins
15oz/428g can apricot halves (or stewed sweetened loquats or apricots)
1 tblsp lemon juice

Method:
Cream the butter and sugar, then stir in the oats and sultanas, mixing well. Drain the apricots, then tip the fruit into a 600ml/1 pint ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over a little apricot syrup mixed with lemon juice. Gently spoon the topping over the fruit and firm it with a knife. Cook for 30-40 minutes at 350F/ 180C/ Gas 4 until golden brown on top.

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This is a very flexible dessert, ideal for the family or doubled when there are guests. The oven temperature isn't vital - it can be cooked along with anything else, although it's better to have it lower rather than higher.

Since we have a loquat (mespila) tree, I pick several kilograms each year and then freeze them in a light syrup, to use in this dessert. About 500g frozen fruit is right for this - I tip it straight into a saucepan, simmer until soft, and then use as if it were from a can. Sometimes when doubling I use a large can of pears mixed with loquats or apricots for a little variety.

This is excellent served with evaporated milk, or home-made ice cream or yogurt.

01/05/2006

Tomato and Rosemary Bread

(makes a 1kg/2lb loaf)

50g sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
2 tblsp oil (from the sundried tomato jar)
1 tsp dried rosemary
320ml lukewarm water (or half milk)
200g granary or malted flour
150g plain white flour
150g white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp instant dried yeast

Method:
Place the ingredients in a breadmaker in the correct order - usually liquids, then flours, then salt and yeast. Switch to the lightest crust, regular white bread setting.

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It took me a while to get the ingredients in the correct quantities for my breadmaker; for some reason the first few times I made it, the mixture was rather too wet and the result heavy and not very well-risen, though still tasty. I tend to use half soya milk when making this; for some reason the bread is a little firmer and easier to cut than when I use all water.

Jars of sun-dried tomatoes in oil which I've found seem to contain about 150g actual tomatoes, so I use about a third of the jar each time. The rest keep well in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks, perhaps more. The tomatoes can be added right at the beginning with the other ingredients, since the initial kneading chops them a little more and distributes them well.

We find this particularly good with cheese and marmite, or egg mayonnaise. It's also extremely good lightly spread with butter or Bertolli, when still warm.

I haven't tried this without a breadmaker, but it should work in the traditional way, with mixing, kneading, rising, knocking down, re-rising in a 1kg bread pan, and baking in the oven.

29/04/2006

Stifado

(Serves 2-3)

500g (1lb) stewing beef, in chunks
2 large onions, roughly chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tblsp vinegar
300g (10 oz) can or pack chopped tomatoes or puree
1 tsp cinnamon
wine and/or water
salt and pepper

Fry the meat and onions gently in the oil until the meat is sealed and the onions are soft. Add the garlic and vinegar; boil well for about a minute. Add the tomatoes, seasonings, and enough wine or water to cover the meat. Cover and cook the stifado very gently for about three hours, adding extra liquid as necessary.

This can also be made in a crockpot (slow cooker), though you may need to double or treble the ingredients, depending on the size, so that it is at least half full. No need to do the initial frying, unless you wish to; I just put the onions at the bottom of the crockpot, the stewing steak on top, and then the rest of the ingredients. I cooked on high for about two hours, then reduced to low and simmered for around eight hours more, and it turned out very well. But the cooking times do depend, somewhat, on the slow cooker.

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This is a very easy version of a traditional dish served locally in Cyprus. It's more correct to use tiny onions for stifado: frying them at the start, removing them, and adding them back towards the end, but we prefer it with regular chopped onions and it's simpler this way. It's best to have reasonably lean stewing beef, but any type will do; the long, slow cooking ensures it should be very tender. If you're in doubt, cook for even longer.

If we happen to have some wine leftover in the fridge I pour it in, and then top up with water. Otherwise I just use water, and the taste isn't much different. If you like garlic, you can add more than one clove, but it's a bit bland if you leave it out altogether.

We like to serve stifado with baked jacket potatoes and some veggies such as broccoli and peas, but it can be eaten with bread, pittas, rice, potato wedges, even pasta. It's an excellent dish to serve when guests are expected, since the time schedule is approximate; if they're late, it's all the better.

If there is any left over it freezes well, and the meat is even more tender after thawing and reheating.

28/04/2006

Chocolate Biscuit Cake

(serves 4-6)

200/7oz dark/plain chocolate
1 tblsp golden syrup
50g/2oz butter or spread
2 tblsp milk or thin cream
200g/7oz digestive biscuits
50g/2oz sultanas or raisins
50g/2oz chopped glacé cherries or dried apricots

Lightly grease and line a 22.5cm/10 inch round flan tin, or equivalent sized rectangle tin. Melt the chocolate in the microwave on medium heat, or over hot water in a large bowl, then add the syrup and milk. Stir until smooth. Break up the biscuits into small pieces but don’t fully crumble them; mix into the chocolate with the rest of ingredients and stir gently until well coated.

Press into the greased dish, smooth with the back of a large spoon, and chill for at least an hour.

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This is a really easy dessert that uses store-cupboard ingredients, and is quick to prepare - ideal for unexpected guests, or when your planned dessert doesn't work. It's fairly soft, so doesn't work in a loaf pan and sliced like some other variations on this recipe, but is nonetheless delicious. We use Bournville chocolate and coconut milk, and the results are excellent. Using dried apricots rather than glacé cherries is a recent addition and one which we think improves it significantly.

Other biscuits can be used instead of digestives: American 'graham crackers' would probably work, or any bits of leftover biscuit mixed with digestives. Chopped nuts can be added, or substituted for either the cherries or the sultanas if you like them. The nearest American equivalent to golden syrup is corn syrup, but honey could probably be used instead to make it slightly more nutritious.

Excellent served with home-made ice cream, or yogurt, or pouring cream or evaporated milk.

22/04/2006

Strawberry Jam

To make about 1kg (2lb) jam

1.15kg strawberries, hulled and washed
2 tblsp fresh lemon juice
1kg sugar

Method:
Place the strawberries in a jam-pan or other large saucepan, and chop lightly if they're big. Sprinkle the lemon juice over, then cook gently over a low heat for about 30 minutes until the fruit is very soft, stirring occasionally.

Add the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is fully dissolved, then turn up the heat and boil until the setting stage is reached, stirring occasionally - this takes around 15-20 minutes but depends partly on the temperature of the hob.

Leave to cool for about ten minutes, then put in hot clean jars and seal.



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Note that this really does need a LARGE pan. After the sugar has been added, the jam gradually creeps higher and higher in the pan as it boils, and is in danger of boiling over unless there is a lot of room.

To test whether the jam has set, put a few drops on a cold plate, leave for a minute, then push your finger gently over the surface. If it's still runny, then it needs more boiling. If it's set, the blob of jam should feel slightly different, and will wrinkle a little as you push your finger over it. Don't leave it too long, however, or the jam will start to burn on the bottom of the pan.

13/04/2006

Chili con Carne

(serves about 4)

500g (1lb) mince - meat or vegetarian
1/2 cup red lentils, washed and drained (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed, or 1 tsp garlic powder
1 chopped green or red bell pepper
1 400g can crushed tomatoes, or equivalent fresh/frozen
1 200g (approx) can or packet of tomato puree
¼ - ½ tsp chili powder, depending on strength
1 tsp turmeric (optional)
125g (4 oz) dried pinto or other red beans (or 1 medium can, drained)

Method:
If using dried beans, soak them overnight in cold water, boil rapidly for at least ten minutes, then simmer gently for half an hour until softened.

Cook the mince with the pepper, onion and garlic in a large pan, stirring until the mince is brown and the onion transparent. Add the lentils with a little water if it starts to stick, or about a tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the rest of the ingredients with the drained beans, and a little extra water if the mixture looks too dry. Simmer for about half an hour, adding extra water if necessary.

Alternatively, use a slow-cooker. If you have a large one, you may need to double the ingredients, but this freezes well. You can do the pre-cooking as in this recipe, or you can simply dump everything in the slow-cooker, stir well, and leave to simmer on medium for 5-6 hours or longer.

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This is a quick and easy recipe for the whole family which is almost infinitely flexible. You can adjust the ingredients to suit your family's tastes. We usually serve with rice, and perhaps some cabbage and peas; we also like it with baked potatoes and a selection of vegetables.

Use any kind of mince: ground beef is my preference, but other kinds can work; you could even use vegetarian mince. The lentils are optional, but we find they make the consistency better, and they add to the protein content inexpensively.

Use chili powder sparingly, as a small amount goes a long way, or leave it (and the beans) out altogether for a basic mince and tomato meat dish. 

Lemon Cream Crunch (Key Lemon Pie)

(serves 4-6)

Base:
100g (4 oz) butter or margarine
200g (8 oz) digestive biscuits (or American graham crackers)

Filling:
400g (14 oz) can condensed milk
300ml (12 fl oz) whipping cream
3-4 lemons, juice and grated yellow part of rind

Method:
Melt the butter in a covered container in the microwave, or very gently in a pan on the hob. Crush the digestive biscuits and stir into the melted butter. Press in the base of a greased 22cm (9-inch) flan tin or serving dish, and cool.

Whip the cream, then fold in the condensed milk until blended. Add in the grated lemon rind and juice, stir quickly, then pour into the base. This sets extremely fast once the lemon juice has been added. Refrigerate. If you like you can sprinkle grated chocolate or sugar strands over the top before serving.

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This is a quick, easy and highly calorific dessert, very similar to what is called 'key lime pie' in the USA. I find the digestive biscuit base makes it taste a little like cheesecake, although there is no cheese and no cooking required to make it set! I used to make it over a base consisting of melted chocolate, melted butter and rice crispies. This was popular with small children but rather messy, and did not keep more than a day in the fridge as the rice crispies became soggy.

Use unwaxed lemons, and scrub well to get rid of any dirt before grating. If the lemons are large, you may want to use less of the juice. I find about 200ml juice is about right - much more than that leaves the filling a little runny, although lemony and delicious.

Cheese and Lentil Bake

(serves about 3-4 people)

1 cup lentils, rinsed
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
pinch of sage, marjoram, thyme
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup canned tomatoes, tomato juice or water
2 large carrots, sliced
1 tblsp dried parsley
1 cup grated cheese

Method:
Put all the ingredients except for the carrots, parsley and cheese in an ovenproof dish, cover, and bake at 175C for about half an hour. Stir gently, add the sliced carrots, cover again, and bake for a further 30 minutes. Sprinkle over the parsley and cheese, then bake uncovered for about five minutes until the cheese is melted.

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This is a simple vegetarian meal based on lentils. Added cheese makes this a good source of protein: use rennet-free cheese for strict vegetarians. Serve with vegetables, and perhaps some garlic bread or baked potatoes if you have hungry teenagers.

12/04/2006

Mexican Chicken

(Serves about 4-6)

450g-900g (1lb - 2lb) boneless chicken or turkey pieces
1-2 tblsp vegetable oil (olive oil is best)
2 large onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed, or 1 tsp garlic
2-3 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium can chopped tomatoes in juice or puree
1 medium can or packet (about 1-1½ cups) tomato sauce or paste
1 tsp basil
1 tsp cumin seeds
¼-½ tsp chili powder, depending on strength and preference

Method:
Fry the chicken pieces in the oil, turning constantly, until browned on all sides. Set aside. Fry the onion and garlic in the same pan, adding the chopped carrots and pepper after about a minute. Cook until softened, stirring all the time. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste, and bring to a gentle simmer, still stirring. Add the browned meat and the spices.

Either cover with a loosely fitting lid and simmer gently for about an hour, stirring occasionally, or place the contents of the pan in an ovenproof dish, and bake (covered) in the oven for about an hour.

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If you cook this in the pan on the stove, serve with rice or mashed potatoes; if you cook in the oven, serve with oven-baked potatoes in jackets. This also goes well with sweetcorn, or mixed green salad, and can be topped with natural thick yogurt or tsatsiki.

It's important to use chicken or turkey pieces without bones. Usually I buy individual filletted meat; alternatively you could buy a large turkey breast, and cut it up. The amount you need will vary depending on your family's appetite! This recipe can easily be doubled to serve guests. Adapt quantities of ingredients depending on sizes available, and personal tastes. For instance, if you don't like strong spices, omit the chili powder. We made it once without chili, onion or garlic and it was still a tasty chicken-tomato casserole.

If you have a vegetarian in the family, you can cook the basic sauce and serve it with some cooked beans to serve at the same time as the rest of the family eats this dish.

09/04/2006

Nut Roast

(Serves 3-4 people).

1 onion, chopped
25g olive oil
225g mixed nuts, eg almonds, walnuts
100g bread
150ml vegetable stock or water
2 tsp marmite/yeast extract
1 tsp mixed herbs (thyme and parsley work well)
1 beaten egg
salt and pepper to taste

Method
Cook the onion gently in the oil until transparent. Grind the nuts and bread together in a liquidiser until they are quite fine (or do them separately).

Heat the stock and yeast extract until boiling, then combine all the ingredients and mix well. The consistency should be like porridge, not too stiff. Turn the mixture into a shallow greased baking dish, or loaf pan; level the surface, sprinkle with a few extra breadcrumbs, and bake at 180C for about half an hour until golden brown. Turn out and serve sliced.

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This is an excellent meal for vegetarians (and many meat-eaters enjoy it too!) It works well to serve as a veggie alternative to roast meat, as it goes well with roast potatoes, mint sauce, cranberry jelly, yorkshire puddings etc.

Use a mixture of nuts, according to preference. We generally use about equal quantities of almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, but you could use just one variety for a more pronounced flavour. Note that peanuts (even in small quantity) tend to give a strong peanut-butter taste, which is fine if you like peanut butter. If not, don't put peanuts in this.

Vegemite would probably work instead of Marmite, or even Bovril if serving to people who are not vegetarians. But it's rather bland if you don't include this at all.

06/04/2006

Sweet and Sour Cheese

(serves about 3-4 people)

2 carrots, sliced
¼ pint vegetable stock or water
12oz can pineapple pieces in syrup
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp tomato puree
1 level tsp sugar
2 tblsp vinegar
1 level tblsp cornflour
8 oz cubed cheese (cheddar or mozarella work well)

Method:
Put the carrot in pan with stock. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the pineapple, including the syrup, with the garlic, tomato puree and sugar. Blend the vinegar with the cornflour in a small bowl, then stir into the pan slowly. Bring to the boil stirring well, until thickened - this takes about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the cheese. Serve at once.

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A quick and easy light meal suitable for vegetarians. Use rennet-free cheese if you have a strict vegetarian. If serving to meat-eaters, you can use chicken stock instead of vegetable stock. We like this served over rice, with cooked green vegetables or a salad.

05/04/2006

Banoffi Pie

(to serve 4-6)

Base:
175g/6 ounces digestive biscuits (US: graham crackers)
85g/3 ounces melted butter margarine

Centre: (use one of these options)
Easy method:
420g/14oz can sweetened condensed milk, previously boiled (see below)

Second method:
420g/14 ounce (large) can sweetened condensed milk
175g/6 ounces butter
175g/6 ounces sugar

Topping:
2-3 bananas
lemon juice
200ml/5 fluid ounces whipped cream to decorate (optional)

Method:
Crush the digestive biscuits and mix with melted butter; press onto the base and sides of a 20cm (8-inch pie) plate or flan tin.

For easy method, simply open the can of boiled condensed milk (so long as it is cool!) and scrape out the contents into the base.

For second method, pour unboiled condensed milk into a non-stick saucepan with the butter and sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves, then boil for about five minutes, stirring constantly, to make a light golden caramel. Wait until the colour changes, but do not over-boil! Pour into the crumb crust and leave to cool. (If you didn't boil for long enough, the mixture will stay rather runny, and will be messy to eat but still delicious!)

For the topping: slice the bananas and sprinkle the slices with lemon juice, so they won't go brown in the air. Arrange over the toffee centre. Decorate with whipped cream if liked. Refrigerate before serving.

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Banoffi pie is one of the easiest desserts to make, relying on store-cupboard ingredients and bananas. The easy method for the centre relies on previously-boiled cans of condensed milk, which will keep in your cupboard for several months.

To boil a can of condensed milk, place on its side in a large saucepan, with water to cover. Bring to the boil, then put on a lid and simmer gently for about three hours, adding extra water as necessary to ensure that the pan does not boil dry (this is important!!).

When finished, cool to room temperature before opening, as the contents will be extremely hot. The condensed milk will have turned to soft toffee. I usually do about three cans at a time, and then label them, since they will keep for several months in a cupboard.

The second method is not quite so straightforward, but is a great deal quicker if you don't have a previously boiled can of condensed milk, and don't have time to boil and cool one.

Chocolate Chip Applesauce Cake

Chocolate chip applesauce cake
chocolate chip applesauce cake
Makes about 24 squares, serves 6-8 as dessert

Ingredients:
125ml (½ cup) oil
2 eggs
250g (1 1/4 cups) sugar
250g (2 cups) flour (plain, or half wholewheat)
500ml (2 cups) applesauce
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp baking soda
3 tblsp unsweetened cocoa

Topping:
150g (1 cup) chocolate chips
2 tblsp sugar

Method:
Mix the oil, sugar and eggs with a wooden spoon in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients except those for the topping, and mix until blended. Pour into a greased ovenproof dish, approx 22x32 cm (9x13 inch). Sprinkle on the topping, then bake at about 180C (350F) for 35-40 mins. When ready, the cake will be firm but not burned and the topping will make a light sugary crust. When cool, cut into squares.

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This is a simple dessert or cake which can be mixed in a few minutes. Although the quantities are given in grams, this is very easy to make using American cups. If you don't have a set of measuring cups, you can approximate with any mug or glass that holds 250ml liquid. We use olive oil and dairy-free chocolate chips, which makes this suitable for those on a dairy-free diet.

I was given the US version of this recipe by a friend in Chicago, many years ago, and have used it frequently in the USA, UK and now Cyprus. It's fairly low in fat, other than the chocolate chips. The original had one and a half cups of sugar in the main cake, but we found that a bit too sweet so I reduced it little. You might find just 200g (one cup) is sufficient - but don't reduce it too much as the sugar is needed to make the consistency right. The sweetness partly depends on the sweetness of the apple sauce. I make my own from raw apples, which can vary in sweetness. If you use cooked apple purée, and don't sweeten it, you may find that you need more sugar in the cake.

Chocolate chip applesauce cake can be eaten alone as cake, or with thick yogurt or ice cream as a dessert. It freezes well.

Lemon Curd

(To make about 1kg (2lb) lemon curd)

4 medium lemons: squeeze the juice and finely grate the yellow part of the rind
100g (about 4 ounces) unsalted butter [do NOT use margarine]
450g (about 2 cups) sugar
4 largish eggs (or 6 small), beaten

Method:

Mix together the lemon rind and juice, then put with the butter and sugar in a tall pyrex or other suitable container, uncovered. There should be about 300ml lemon juice altogether, although it doesn't matter if there's a little less. If the lemons are very juicy and there is more than this, the result will be quite runny.

Microwave on full (high) for about four minutes, stirring after two minutes. Stir well to dissolve the sugar fully, and make sure the butter is completely melted. Microwave a little longer if necessary.

Add the beaten eggs, stirring in thoroughly. Microwave for a further five to six minutes, stirring well after every minute, until the mixture is thick and creamy. Do not over-cook - stop when it thickens and give a final stir.

Cool slightly, then put in clean, warm jars with lids. Refrigerate when cold.


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Note: ensure the mixture comes less than half-way up the sides of your microwave container, or it will boil over! If you don't have a large enough jug, you can make it in two halves.

Lemon curd is a sweet preserve, used like jam on bread and butter, toast, or muffins (the English variety!) It's also good spooned into little pastry cases and baked in the oven. In some places it's known as 'lemon butter' - but this can cause confusion as lemon butter may also be a savoury, salty spread.

Lemon curd used to be time-consuming to make, needing a large pan of simmering water over a low heat, stirring constantly in a heatproof bowl. But with a microwave oven, it becomes quick and easy. It's best kept refrigerated and used within a couple of months.

20/03/2006

Lasagne

(serves 4-6)

1 packet lasagne pasta

Meat sauce:
500g/1lb minced beef (or other ground meat)
2 medium onions, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed, or 1tsp garlic powder
125g/4 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tblsp parsley
1 large can chopped tomatoes in puree
or: 1 medium can chopped tomatoes and 1 medium packet tomato puree or sauce

Cheese sauce:
2 tblsp butter or margarine
1 tblsp flour
about 300ml / 2 cups milk
about 200g / 6 oz cheddar cheese, grated

Method:
If the lasagne pasta require pre-cooking, boil a large pan of slightly salted water and add a few drops of cooking oil. (This stops the pasta sticking). Check the packet for the quantity required for 4-6 people, then add the pasta one sheet at a time, and boil for the time recommended on the packet. Drain.

Meanwhile, fry the meat gently in a large non-stick pan, stirring all the time. You shouldn't need to add any fat as it will produce its own, unless you have very low-fat mince. Add the onions, garlic and mushrooms when the fat starts to appear, and fry with the meat, stirring constantly until softened and the meat is browned all over.

Add the rest of the meat ingredients and heat, stirring, until simmering. Boil gently for about ten minutes, adding a little water if it seems to thicken too fast. Those outside the USA and Canada can add a teaspoon of Marmite or Vegemite at this stage, for added flavour and nutrition. (These products are not generally available in North America).

While the meat is simmering, put the butter in a large microwavable jug, or a non-stick saucepan, and heat until just melted. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, and cook for a further 30 seconds. Add the milk very gradually, stirring after each addition, so that no lumps appear. If you are using a saucepan over the stove, keep the pan on the stove on a low heat while you add each bit of milk, and stir all the time as you bring it to the boil. It should thicken to give a pouring sauce. If you are using a microwave, add all the milk gradually, then cook on High for a minute at a time, stirring well after each minute, until the sauce is thickened. Add half of the grated cheese.

Now take a large rectangular lasagne dish or similar, and grease it lightly with a butter wrapper. Spoon a very small amount of the meat sauce into the bottom, then cover with a layer of lasagne pasta, cutting as necessary to fit. Cover with another thin layer of meat, and then another layer of pasta, and continue until both are used up, ending with a layer of pasta. Pour the cheese sauce over the top, and then sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese on top. Place in a medium oven and cook for about half an hour, until the cheese is well melted and the meat bubbling. (If you use pasta which requires no pre-cooking, you may need to cook for longer - check on the packet).

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This is my most basic recipe for lasagne. It sounds complicated but is much easier than it sounds, particularly if you use a microwave for the cheese sauce. You can use any kind of minced meat - or vegetarian mince - and adapt the herbs to suit your family's tastes. For speed, use lasagne pasta that does not require any pre-cooking.

The same meat sauce is good by itself with spaghetti, topped with parmesan or grated cheddar cheese for a quick meal. Either way, it's good served with buttered french bread, or garlic bread, and mixed green salad or cooked vegetables.

If you particularly like cheese sauce, and don't mind the extra fat, make twice as much and then pour half of it over the second layer of meat. If you're cutting down on dairy products, you can use soya milk and goat's cheese, although you might want less of the cheese!

For a low-fat version of this meal, use half-fat cheese, low-fat chicken or vegetarian mince, and low-fat margarine. You can add in finely chopped peppers and/or carrots to increase nutritive value.

For a very quick version (although it won't taste as good), use a large jar of spaghetti sauce, lasagne pasta that does not require pre-cooking, and ready-made cheese sauce. Put together as described and top with grated cheese, then cook in the oven for the time recommended on the pasta packet.

15/03/2006

Enchiladas

(serves about 4 people)

8 flour tortillas

1 tblsp olive oil

250g (1/2lb) minced beef or other ground meat
OR 150g frozen spinach, thawed and drained

400g can pinto or black beans, drained
OR equivalent cooked dried beans (any kind)

1-2 onions, chopped
2-3 clove garlic, crushed
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼-½ teaspoon chili powder
1 medium can (about 1 cup) tomato puree, fresh or processed
100g (4 oz) grated cheese (about 1 cup when grated)

Method:
Gently stir-fry the onions and garlic in the oil, until almost translucent. Add the chopped pepper with the cumin and chili powder, and stir for a minute, then add the mince, if used, and mix in over the heat until cooked.

Add in the beans and mix well, crushing a few of them, and then the spinach, if used. Simmer together for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until well-mixed without any extraneous liquid.

For each tortilla, put a generous heaped tablespoon of the mixture lengthways in the centre. Roll up and place in a greased or non-stick dish with the end of the roll at the bottom. Repeat for all the other tortillas, using up all the meat or spinach mixture. They should fit fairly tightly in the dish, so the enchiladas do not unroll.

Cover with the tomato puree or sauce, and then top with grated cheese. Put in a hot oven (about 180C) for about 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the enchiladas heated thoroughly.

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If you do not want to use ready-made tortillas, you can make your own wheat tortilla wraps; they are a bit time-consuming, but worth the effort. If you make the dough before starting the enchiladas, you can then roll them while the meat or spinach mixture is simmering, and then remove that from the heat while you cook the tortillas.

There are many variations on this basic enchilada recipe. Adjust the chili powder to taste, of course. You can use cooked lentils in place of the mince or spinach if you prefer, or you can can add some tomato sauce into the cooked mixture. If you have some leftover bolognese or chili con carne, either meat-based or vegetarian, you can use those in place of the filling. If you have leftover vegetables in the fridge, they can mix in too.

You can make a simple tomato sauce by taking about 800g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped, or the contents of two 400g cans of tomatoes, and simmering with a little chili powder and garlic until well reduced. At the other extreme, you could use a jar of ready-made pasta sauce instead of tomato puree over the enchiladas before topping with cheese. As with any recipe, it's best to adapt to your family's tastes, whatever they are.

This is good to serve with a green salad, sweetcorn and tzatsiki, or with stir-fried cabbage and peas.

13/03/2006

Quiche

(To serve 2-3 people)

200g flour
100g margarine
cold water to mix

1 onion, sliced
olive oil
few mushrooms, sliced (optional)
50g cheese, thinly sliced
3 medium eggs
200ml milk (regular or soya)

Method:
For the pastry: rub the margarine into the flour with fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (or use a food processor). Add a small amount of cold water (preferably refrigerated) and mix with a knife until it goes together roughly. With floured hands, gather together into a ball and knead for a few seconds. If possible, put in the fridge for half an hour to rest, but this isn't necessary.

Roll the pastry out on a floured work surface using a floured rolling pin, until it's the right size for a large quiche dish or pie plate (or two smaller ones). Line the dish with the pastry and trim the edges.

For the filling: cook the onions (and mushrooms, if used) gently in the oil, in a saucepan on the stove or in the microwave, until the onions are soft. Spread them over the pastry. Put the sliced cheese on top.

Beat the eggs lightly with a fork, then stir in the milk. Pour over the top of the cheese and cook at about 200C (400F) for half an hour or a bit longer, until firm, risen, and slightly brown on the top.

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We usually just serve this with some vegetables, such as broccoli or stir-fried courgettes, and it serves two hearty appetites. For three (or even four) people it could be served with baked potatoes and more veg. Alternatively it's very good eaten cold with a salad. Sometime we double the recipe so as to have some cold for the next day!

I usually use 50g wholewheat flour with 150g plain flour in the pastry. This gives a slightly crunchier texture and is of course more healthful than using just white flour. Any sort of margarine can be used (we ensure we use one without hydrogenated fats). Indeed, any other pastry recipe could be substituted, or even shop-bought frozen pastry, thawed.

13/02/2006

Marinated Chicken

(serves about 3-4)

approx 450g (1lb) boneless chicken, cubed
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Dijon mustard
2 tsp vegetable oil
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Method:
Mix the sauce ingredients to make a marinade. Put the chicken pieces in a bowl or dish and pour the marinade over it, then refrigerate. This should ideally be for about six hours, turning every hour or so to re-coat, but it still works if you forget to do this earlier in the day, and only leave it for half an hour or so!

To serve, either cook directly in the oven, covered, for about 30-40 minutes at a fairly high temperature, or remove from the marinade and barbecue or grill (US: broil), turning frequently. You can heat the marinade in a small pan, or in the microwave, and serve over the meat. Do ensure that you cook this thoroughly, so that it boils, as it has been used to marinade raw poultry!

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This recipe can be used with skinless boneless chicken or turkey breast, and also works well with chicken kebabs, which you can sometimes buy ready-threaded on skewers. The amount of meat to use depends on family appetite and preference: we find that about 400-500g of raw meat is right for 3-4 people, but it's better to cook too much the first time, and freeze anything left over, than to have too little.

If you leave (or thread) your meat onto kebab skewers, this is easy to serve in warmed pittas with mixed salad and coleslaw. Alternatively serve with any kind of potatoes and vegetables. We like this with oven-cooked potato wedges, corn and french beans.

If you have a vegetarian in the family, you could serve something like halloumi cheese fried in olive oil at the same time, paticularly if you are eating this as a quick meal with pitta bread and salad.

Note: a 'cup' measure is 8 fluid ounces. You may be able to buy sets of American measuring cups to make this easier, or use a jug with measurements. Alternatively you could just guess, using an ordinary cup or mug. The exact quantities do not matter and can be adjusted to taste.

09/02/2006

Pineapple Chocolate Fudge Pie

(serves 3-4)

Base:
100g digestive biscuits (US: graham crackers), crumbled
25g coconut (optional)
75g butter or margarine, melted

Filling:
100g butter or margarine
75g soft brown sugar
150g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
25g cocoa powder
225g can pineapple slices or chunks
50ml milk, approx


Method:
Make the base by mixing crumbs (and coconut if used) into melted butter, and pressing into a greased 20cm/8 inch flan dish or pie plate. Cook at 190C/Gas 5 for 5 minutes, and remove from oven.

Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar, then stir in all the dry ingredients alternatively with milk and the juice from the pineapple. Arrange the pineapple pieces in the crumb base, then spoon the topping over them. Cook for about 30 minutes at 170C/Gas 4, until the top is firm to touch. The inside should still be slightly gooey but not sufficiently that it will collapse.

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Here's a close-up showing how it looks after a few pieces have been cut, showing the softer inside:

We sometimes make this dessert for a special occasion, and serve with thick yogurt or ice cream. It works well if you double all quantities, to serve six to eight people; use a 28-30cm round flan dish if you do so.

To convert to imperial measurements, treat 25g as approximately 1 ounce (or a little under). To make it suitable for dairy-free eating, use soya milk instead of ordinary milk, and dairy-free spreads such as Pure soya or Flora dairy-free instead of butter.

05/01/2006

Basic wholewheat and oat loaf

Makes 1 medium loaf

1 ½ cups warm milk or milk and water
¼ cup molasses or honey
2 ½ tsp yeast or 1 package
1 egg
3 cups wholewheat flour
1 cup plain flour
½ cup rolled oats
1 ½ tsp salt
1/3 cup sunflower seeds

Method:
Mix all ingredients other than sunflower seeds in food processor and process for a minute, or combine in a bowl and knead for ten minutes. Leave to rise for an hour in a warm place. Punch down, then roll in the sunflower seeds and form into a loaf shape. Place in a greased pan and leave to rise for about half an hour. Bake at 180C until done, about 30 minutes.

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Alternately, use a breadmaker on the setting for 1kg (2lb) with light crust, making sure the liquid ingredients are added first and the yeast last. I find the setting for white bread works better than the wholemeal setting, though I'm not sure why, and it needs 2tsp yeast rather than a whole package. The sunflower seed addition doesn't really work with a breadmaker, so instead I add flaxseeds when the machine beeps after the first kneading, telling me that extra ingredients can be added.

The photo above is for this loaf made on the medium breadmaker setting (for a 750g loaf) which is just right for our family of four for lunchtime. I use one-and-an-eighth cups of warm milk (soya milk sometimes), a good dessertspoon of honey, one-and-three-quarters teaspoons of yeast (added last), two cups wholewheat flour, one cup white flour, just under half a cup of oats, an egg, 1 tsp salt, and flaxseeds if I remember. Too much yeast makes it rise too fast and then sink in the baking, since a breadmaker isn't as flexible as hand baking. But it's much less trouble!

Shepherds' Pie

(serves about four people)

500g (1lb) minced meat such as lamb or turkey, or veggie mince, or cooked lentils
1-2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried cinnamon
1 cup water
1 tsp marmite (for Brits; vegemite for Australians; ignore this for Americans!)
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp brown sauce
1 medium can baked beans in tomato sauce
1 kg (2 lb) potatoes
milk for mashing

Method:
Peel the potatoes and chop into medium sized pieces, then boil until soft. Drain, then mash thoroughly, mixing in sufficient milk to make a smooth consistency.

While the potatoes are boiling, heat the mince in a pan with the onions, stirring until the mince is browned and the onions translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients, other than the baked beans, and stir gently until just boiling. Simmer until the liquid is reduced, then stir in the baked beans and put the mince mixture in a large ovenproof baking dish.

Top with the mashed potato, and run a fork over the top to smooth it down and leave a pattern. Place in a fairly hot oven and cook for at least half an hour or until the top of the potato is crispy. If you like it very brown, place under the grill (broiler) for a few minutes but watch it the whole time or it will burn.

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A warming meal for chilly winter evenings - this is a traditional British dish. Serve with peas and other vegetables, and lots of tomato ketchup! Technically, it should use lamb mince; the beef mince equivalent is really called Cottage Pie. But it can be made with chicken or turkey mince, or vegetarian mince such as the Linda McCartney variety, or lentils instead of any kind of mince. To make this for a vegan, use soya milk to mix the mashed potatoes.

04/01/2006

Lemon Meringue Pie

serves 4-6

pastry:
160g flour
pinch of salt (optional)
80g margarine
1-2 tsp cold water

filling and topping:
4 tblsp cornflour
300ml water
25g butter
grated rind and juice of two lemons
2 eggs, separated
150g sugar

Method:
Make the pastry in a food processor, or by hand (rub fat into flour then bind with water). Roll out on a floured surface, and use it to line a 20cm flan dish or shallow cake tin. Bake on its own at 190C for about 15-20 minutes.

Blend the cornflour with a little water in a small pan. Add the remaining water and butter, and bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. Cook, stirring, for three minutes. Remove from the heat, then add the lemon juice and rind, egg yolks, and 50g of the sugar. Pour into pastry.

Whisk the egg whites stiffly, then whisk in 50g of sugar and fold in the rest. Spread over the filling. Bake at 160C for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

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Not, perhaps, the simplest of desserts but one of the most delicious, particularly with fresh lemons picked from the garden! If you buy lemons, make sure they're unwaxed (preferably organic) and wash well prior to grating the rind. Just grate the yellow bit, not any of the white pith.

The easiest way to make pastry is to throw the ingredients in a food processor, then process (with metal or plastic blade) until a ball is formed. If it doesn't go together, add a tad more cold water until it does. Too much water makes it difficult to roll, so just add tiny amounts. By hand it's much messier: use fingertips to rub the margarine in the flour gently between the fingers and thumbs, shaking every so often until the whole looks a bit like breadcrumbs. Then use a knife to mix in the water - again, add just a little at a time, and try to gather it into a ball. If it goes together, knead it slightly and it should be slightly pliable.

Of course you could always buy a 250g pack of ready-made pastry and use that instead. It won't taste so good, and may have some additives, but it's less messy than making your own.

Roll the pastry on a well-floured surface using a floured rolling-pin. Turn it so it rolls evenly and makes an approximate circle.

When whisking the egg whites to make the meringue topping, it's much easiest to use an electric whisk. If you don't have one, a hand-whisk with a handle to turn will work but takes longer. A balloon whisk without a turning-handle might possibly work but would take ages!