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.