Fighting the Sniffle!

The dreaded lurgy has hit the Miles Family!  Luckily seems nothing more serious than a head cold which I take a weird amount of pleasure in trying to banish with a combo of super strength over the counter medication and home remedies, the best of which I share with you below!

Now this one is another one of my ‘years in the perfecting’ offerings.  I’m certain I can’t take full credit as there are probably 100’s of 1,000’s of people who have been doing this for ages, but I pass it on to you all on their behalf, trust me it’s amazing!

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Ingredients

Fat slice of fresh lemon

Large knob (amount the size of a walnut) peeled fresh ginger root

Tablespoon of honey

1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Method – get ready, it’s complex….

Bung all ingredients in a large mug.  Top up with freshly boiled water.  Stir.  Drink.

And that’s it!  It looks a bit like pond scum, tastes simply delicious and the combination is brilliant for everything from the merest of sniffles to a full blown head cold.  We all know the benefit of honey and lemon which provide not only a shot of much needed Vit C but also antibacterial and anti viral goodness.  Add ginger for it’s apparent 12 antiviral and downright warming properties, and a dash of cinnamon for additional comfort and just because it makes it taste so damn good!

NOTE: new learning for me today, cinnamon is one of the most common allergens in the spice world, I’m guessing most people would know if this is an issue for them but please be sure you’re not affected before merrily shovelling it into your drink!

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Vitality Cous Cous Salad

 

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Can’t really call this a recipe, not going to try!  It’s a dish that is standing the test of time in my house and amongst my delightfully diverse circle of family and friends.  In many guises I have offered this to people, and never – not even once, has it been rejected.  It’s hearty and healthy, lively and mellow – and the combination of ingredients deliver such a blast of nutrients and all round goodness it’s difficult not to ignore the occasional high fat content of elements like feta, pine nuts and olive oil.

It is basically a salad – with 3 core components – the cous cous, the veg base and the protein, in today’s case chicken – oh and a simple dressing, so maybe 4 components?  It’s a case of prep all 3 (4?) and bung them together.  It also stays deliciously fresh in the fridge for a couple of days of substantial chilled lunches.

Starting with the veg.  In a huge bowl easy to get your hands stuck into for a bit of gentle tossing – throw a finely half-moon sliced red onion, a few slices of roasted red and yellow peppers, a small bunch each of fresh mint and basil, a decent sized bag of green leafy – I like a combo of spinach, watercress and rocket, seeds from a whole pomegranate (or one of those fab ready picked pots of seeds is perfect), a cubed pack of feta. Prep and put to one side.

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Marinate 2 chicken breasts with a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, zest and juice of a lemon, plenty of salt and pepper and a heaped tablespoon of sumac.  Sumac is your hero spice here, it’s bitter, sour, zesty and unlike anything else, perfect with this dish.  Pan fry or grill the chicken until cooked but still very juicy, then rest for a few minutes before slicing thinly.

Cous cous  – my brother in law Tim’s nemesis.  I’ve encouraged my husband to tolerate it over the years, and in this meal it’s a winner.  I use a whole wheat grain, add salt, sumac and a chicken stock cube, the add boiling water to cover, fling on some cling film and leave to steam for 5 mins or so.

For the dressing, mix olive oil, mint sauce, lemon juice and balsamic until fully combined.

Mix all the ingredients as artfully as your skills and hunger level will allow, fling into salad bowls and top with an extra drizzle of dressing.

Scoff – feeling equally virtuous and indulgent.

Options – I have also made this with salmon, cod, and lamb – either leg steaks of loin fillet grilled or pan-fried to a pink medium rare.

 

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Tomatoes – such simple pleasure!

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It’s been a while people – gently reminded to me by my lovely friend (this one’s for you Bondy).  Life is a touch chaotic and whilst I will never fail to find the time to enjoy cooking, I’m not always getting time to photograph or post – promise that this will change soonest!

So today is all about the very humble tomato following the above pictured superb result of a speedy 5 minute harvest of my parents greenhouse.  I barely scratched the surface of what’s going on in there such is the abundance they have to steal away.  My 4 year old daughter grabs the biggest of the bunch and scoffs them like apples – thank god for stain removal agents for the washing machine, these juicy babies splatter everywhere!

In honesty I could eat these glorious things in any format, raw as they come, sliced into a salad with mozzarella or goats cheese or with good old cheddar on granary toast.  But this little discovery came from a recipe I saw months ago that I promptly forgot and so tried to recreate.  After a few false starts this simplest and most divine concoction is the result.  I love these warm on toast with avocado for brunch, once again with grilled goats cheese as a substantial antipasti starter, cold as part of a salad, or stirred through really nice pasta with a bit of balsamic, parmesan and torn basil – nothing else needed.

It’s really not a recipe as such so here’s the detail.  Take your toms – any size will do but I like the larger ones – cut them in half any way you fancy and lay them cut side up in a single layer in your slow cooker – this would also work in a conventional oven, in a large baking dish at a super low, foil covered 130 or so degrees for 2 – 3 hours.  The single layer bit is important so that they don’t get smooshed up and keep their shape a bit, not essential but pretty.

Sprinkle over some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, a splash of balsamic – you won’t need much at all – and about half a teaspoon of dried thyme.  Lid on, crock pot on low for 4 hours.  You’ll be amazed at how sweet and delicious these are, and how much yummy juice is created.  Keep perfectly well in the fridge for a couple of days but I do admit to scooping them straight from the pot with a spoon – burnt roof of mouth anyone….

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Pasticciotti….

….Italian Custard & Cherry Cakes

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So last Summer I was the lucky recipient of a brilliant gift, a day long cookery class at Caldesi in Campagna in Bray, Berkshire @CaldesiCampagna with Giancarlo Caldesi @MrCaldesi – a man so intelligent and thoroughly charming that he made me swoon, properly swoon, more than once.  I had a truly wonderful day making fresh pasta – chocolate flavoured and filled with blue cheese, yes seriously – amongst other things.  My class, which I shared with 3 delightful gentlemen, was finished with a sublime 4 course lunch in the restaurant which in part we’d prepared ourselves.  I wholeheartedly recommend this experience as a gift for others or yourselves, I’m planning a return visit.

So anyway, I bought some amazing books while I was there, and one of them – The Amalfi Coast, A Collection of Italian Recipes – has become a firm favourite in our house, and this dessert a true ‘go to’ when in need of something decadent and indulgent but really pleasant and stress free to prepare.

A pastry chef I am not, my sister is brilliant with anything sweet so it’s always a bit of a difficult and brave choice to go up against her.  I hope I’ve done Giancarlo justice in my efforts, I can say that my family groan with pleasure when I cook this.  My only alteration is to use 100% butter and not a split with 50% lard, I hope this small change he’ll forgive me!

You’ll need decent quality moulds for these to transfer the heat well.  I use 4 steel dariole moulds, larger than the original recipe but I split each in half as a portion.

Serves 8 people happily if you make 4 large cakes and cut each in half

For the pastry

175g ’00’ flour plus extra for dusting

100g caster sugar

Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g butter at room temp plus a little for greasing

1 large egg

1 tablespoon milk (optional)

For the filling

Cherries – a bit loose on detail yes so here you go:

Giancarlo says use Amarena Fabbri morello cherries in syrup, but good luck finding those.  I’ve used all sorts, I now tend to buy a tin of good quality cherries in syrup, any leftovers can be used as a kind of sauce for the final product, more info to follow.

For the custard

250ml full fat milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract/paste

4 large egg yolks

75g caster sugar

20g cornflour

Method

Start with the pastry

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until a pastry forms.

If making by hand, use your fingers to rub the flour, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and butter together in a large bowl to breadcrumb consistency.  Still using your hands mix in the egg to form a dough, if it’s a little dry add the milk.

The pastry may seem a little grainy or ‘pasty’, this has happened each time I’ve made it and it’s turned out perfectly.

Chill pastry in the fridge for 20 mins wrapped in cling film.

To make the filling, drain the cherries and reserve syrup for later, cut cherries in half.

For the custard

Heat milk and vanilla in a saucepan until very warm.  In a bowl whisk together egg yolks, sugar and cornflour.  Whisk in a little of the warmed milk, then pour the mixture info the saucepan with the rest of the milk.  Stir carefully and thoroughly with a wooden spoon over medium heat until mixture thickens, this could take a few minutes but will happen very suddenly.  When it’s really quite thick remove from the heat, pour the custard into a bowl and cover the surface with cling film, touching the actual custard to prevent a skin from forming.  Allow to cool.

To assemble for cooking

Grease moulds with a little butter.  Roll out the pastry on a well floured surface to a thickness of around 2mm, you’ll be surprised how many times you’ll sprinkle flour onto the surface.  Cut around the moulds leaving an extra rim of around 2 inches, press the shell into each mould very gently.  It may break and you can patch it quite effectively with extra pastry.  Pop in the fridge to chill for 10 mins, then trim the edges with a very sharp knife.

Half fill the moulds with custard, add 3 or 4 cherries to each then spoon more custard on to reach 3/4 full.  Roll out remaining pastry to make lids and seal the edges, trimming with a knife if necessary, cut small slits in the top of each one.  Pop back in the fridge for a few minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 180.  Place moulds on a baking tray and cook for 20 – 25 mins.  Cool for a few minutes in the tin before turning out carefully to cool further on a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

My favourite way to serve is room temp liberally dusted with icing sugar with a bowl of the remaining cherries doused with kirsch served alongside.

They are rich, luscious and completely delicious, you must try them!

 

 

 

 

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Spicy seafood pasta

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My friends, what you are looking at here is the traditional feast of both Good Friday and Christmas Eve in my home, and a plate of deliciousness so difficult to describe I’ll simply let you drool….

Decadent yes – oh very much so.  But simple, honest and true flavours, layers of which keep you diving back in for mouthful after scrummy mouthful – my husband has found himself in a self induced pasta coma more than once thanks to this one.  The core ingredients of tiger prawns and huge scallops are pricey, but everything else in the recipe is not, and those expensive bits could easily be substituted for your choice of a different seafood – smaller prawns, white fish – I’ve even used chicken which is pretty damn good.  I’m very fortunate to have a brilliant fishmonger close by who gets fresh catch in every day, in my opinion a splurge every now and again is worth it – hence it’s a twice a year special!

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I came across this recipe at the start of my almost obsessive love of Ree Drummond – The Pioneer Woman and I happily take zero credit for it.  If you haven’t yet discovered her please do, her story alone is worth investigating – she married a cowboy.  A real life cowboy people!  Her style of cooking is homely, exciting, comforting and absolutely resolutely uncompromising when it comes to flavour.  And did I mentioned the cowboy?

Pasta wise I love to use fusilli lunghi as Ree herself does, the twirly bit is half the drama of the end result, but to be fair any long pasta would work well.

Ingredients – serves 2 generously (I have made for 6 people by upping quantities which worked perfectly well)

The seafood

4 tiger prawns

4 – 6 scallops – depending on the size you can get

The sauce

Olive oil

Large knob of butter

2 fat cloves garlic, grated

Chilli flakes, to taste

Small glass dry white wine

Tin chopped tomatoes – don’t scrimp here, an extra few pence on a quality product will make a difference

Squeeze tomato puree

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

200g fusilli lunghi or your choice of pasta

Small pot double cream

Big handful fresh basil finely shredded

Method – pre-heat oven to 180

Start with the seafood

  1. Take the shells off the prawns, I start by ripping the head off – remarkably satisfying – then use the legs as a starting point and kind of wind strips of the shell around and away from the body.  It’s likely there will be a pretty significant intestinal track running down the back, simply use a small sharp knife to make a shallow incision from head to tail end and you’ll find it lifts away easily.  Not a pleasant job but worth the effort
  2. If the orange roe is still attached to your scallops simple pull gently to remove it along with the small muscle, both will lift easily.  The roe is a very much loved ingredient, I’m not a huge fan myself but understand it to be delicious pan fried for a moment in garlic butter and served on hot toast.  I’m afraid it’s not for me so ends up in the bin.
  3. Heat butter and oil in a large frying pan until very hot, then seal the prawns on both sides until really brown and almost crusty, 30 seconds a side should do it, you don’t want them cooked all the way through.
  4. Same process with the scallops, watch them closely, you want a lovely crust but DO NOT want them fully cooked.
  5. Put the seafood to one side.

 

The sauce

  1.    In the seafood pan add a little more oil and butter and cook the garlic over a medium heat for a minute, don’t let it colour.
  2. Add the wine and bubble for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, chilli flakes, puree, salt and pepper and simmer gently for around 10 minutes, if it seems to be thickening a bit too much add a splash more wine or some water if you prefer.

The pasta

  1.    Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water until almost done, a bit less than al dente is perfect.  Drain.

The oven

  1.    In a large baking dish, layer a couple of sheets of tin foil overlapping, they need to be large enough to create a parcel, then another sheet on the bottom of the dish to create a base.
  2. Tip in the pasta, pour the sauce over the top and mix gently, then nestle the browned seafood in the pasta.  Wrap carefully making sure you make it as air tight as possible and don’t puncture the parcel.
  3. Put the dish in the oven for 10 – 15 mins.
  4. While it’s cooking, heat the double cream in a small saucepan until scalding but not boiling.
  5. After cooking time, take dish out of oven, carefully unwrap the top of the foil (steam will be super hot when it escapes so caution), pour over the double cream, scatter basil over and a quick bit of black pepper.
  6. Prepare yourself for utter gorgeousness, seriously – you must try this one!

You’re welcome!

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Fish pie – child friendly!

Well – for my sometimes fussy child anyway, I make no promises….

This one is another super simple but easy to dress up meal, great for kids and the kind of comforting ‘bowl food’ that adults crave in times of stress.  Utterly delish, easy to throw together and possible to do without both oven and grill as is the case Chez Miles just now – don’t ask, it’s a long story and as the husband is in charge of repairs it may be some time before I’m anything other than a ‘hob’ cook.

This version was specifically for the mini monster and so I’ve kept it reasonably plain, but I’ve added some optional additions/tweaks at the bottom of the page if you’re cooking for grown ups or more adventurous kids.

Makes 6 generous child portions which freeze perfectly

Ingredients

1/2 pint semi skimmed milk

1 pack ready prepped fish pie mix (I like cod/smoked haddock/salmon available for most supermarkets)

50g butter

2 heaped tablespoons plain flour

1 pint full fat milk

Freshly ground black pepper

Handful grated cheddar cheese

Juice of half a lemon

Tablespoon each finely chopped dill and parsley

Mashed potatoes

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Method

  1. First poach the fish – bring the semi skimmed milk to a very gentle simmer in a medium pan, add the prepped fish and let cook on a low heat for 5 – 7 minutes, the fish should flake apart but still be very soft.  Drain the milk and discard – you could use this to make the sauce but I find the flavour a bit strong.  Keep fish to one side.
  2. Now make the white sauce – in a large pan melt half the butter over medium heat until just starting to bubble, chuck in the flour and stir briskly (I love my tiny whisk for this job) until it’s all incorporated. Continue to cook over low – medium heat for a few minutes, if you rush this stage you risk the final dish tasting a bit ‘floury’ and you do need to cook out the raw flavour.  Add about 2/3 of the milk bit by bit, stirring well all the time.  Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, adding a splash more milk if needed, you want it quite thick.  Take it off the heat and add the lemon, cheese and herbs.  Add the fish and stir well, adding a little pepper if your child likes it.
  3. Use the rest of the butter and milk to make mash – I like Maris Piper potatoes – one day I’ll do a post about the perfect mash!
  4. Assembly – I use small ramekins to serve this one, perfect size for my needs and can go straight in the freezer.  Fill about 2/3 with the fish mix then top with potato.  You can put in the oven or under the grill at this stage for a nice crusty top but it’s not necessary – thankfully for me.  As you can see I went very kitsch and served in a scallop shell, was less impressive as a serving dish to the 3.5 year old than I’d hoped but she scoffed the lot regardless!
  5. Serve with peas, broccoli or any other green veg, or baked beans are a very popular side here too.

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Optional extras – do one or a combo:

  • Add raw prawns or scallops, or both!
  • Use gruyere cheese instead of cheddar and plenty of it, gives a gorgeous nutty flavour
  • Huge handful of raw spinach added to the sauce at the end of cooking gives a great colour, flavour and smug feeling or health!
  • For extra indulgence a good splash of double cream in the sauce
  • Before adding the flour to the butter, gently cook finely chopped fennel until soft, then add a splash of Pernod with the herbs and cook for just a minute extra
  • Stir chopped hard boiled egg through the sauce – weird but works

 

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Lemony pork pasta

As a food blogger one of the toughest things is making dishes look as amazingly appetising as they taste when you’re a mediocre photographer using an iPhone!  This is one of those times.  This pasta dish is years in the making, it originally came from a google search one Friday afternoon which brought up the bones of this recipe that I’ve since spent ages adapting and tweaking (as I tend to do with most).  I think I’ve nailed it to my tastes and if I ever remember where I found it originally I will absolutely provide credit.  One of the best bits is that as a busy mum of a seriously energetic 3 year old, you can make the sauce in stages over a few hours, tips in the method.  This recipe should feed 4 if you add a big salad or some veg, in reality in my house it’s 2 starving adults with leftovers for a quick lunch the next day.  Please forgive the pics and promise me you’ll try it, you won’t be sorry….

Ingredients

olive oil

1 small onion

1 stick celery

2 fat cloves garlic

4 rashers streaky bacon

500g pork mince

Small glass white wine

3 tablespoons reduced fat creme fraiche

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Lots of ground black pepper

2 large handfuls freshly grated parmesan cheese

Parsley – finely chopped flat leaf or dried to taste

Fresh taglietelle – 500g will generously serve 4

Method

  1.    In a large pan heat the oil only very slightly, add finely chopped onion, celery and garlic and cook EVER SO GENTLY for as long as you like (this is where I go and bath child), add a splash of water if it seems like it might stick, you want it super soft but not coloured.
  2. Chop bacon into smallish pieces, add to the pan and again cook very slow and low for as long as you like – tonight when I made this it was the time I had a bath myself (candlelit and with a glass of vino, thank you hubby).  As long as it’s super low heat and you add that splash of water it won’t hurt – you don’t want a sizzle.

 

IMG_3887.jpg3.    Add the pork mince.  Stir to break up just a bit but not too much, turn heat up to barely medium and cook until the raw pink colour is gone.

4.    Add the wine and a splash more water if needed, you want a little bit of sauce but not swimming in it.

5.    Cook pasta according to instructions.  Meanwhile add lemon zest, juice and creme fraiche to the pork mix.

6.    Drain the pasta, add to the sauce with a good handful of freshly grated parmesan (if you use the ready grated, dry, sawdust like stuff you risk ruining a beautiful dish, don’t have it in your house.)

7.  Taste for seasoning, add more pepper if needed, it’s a dish that can take a lot.  Throw in parsley of choice and serve in warmed bowls with plenty of parmesan and more parsley on top.  Now herb wise I usually always use fresh but somehow the dried parsley works here – unlike the parmesan, I don’t think I’ll ever condone dried parmesan….

Garnish with a bit of finely chopped spring onion if it’s knocking about in the fridge….

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