Steak and Mushroom Pie

It’s time to get in the festive mood! It’s the fun month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Though I’m already over the cheesy modern Christmas music. Just not the same as the standards. My husband and I had a quiet Thanksgiving as our kids were in South Carolina. My aunt very kindly invited us to her place for Thanksgiving dinner. We had a lovely meal and a lovely time. She is an awesome aunt and she’s very good to us.

Even though the weather can’t decide to be warm or cold this season there has been been opportunity for comfort food. And you can’t go wrong with steak and mushroom pie.

In a small bowl, add about 3 oz of flour and season with sea salt and pepper. Mix well. Take a half pound/8oz of stewing steak and cut it into small cubes. Toss in the flour until well coated.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan and start browning the steak.

Coarsely chop a shallot and a couple of cloves of garlic. Add to the pan.

Cut up enough mushrooms to make half a cup/3-4oz. Sauté in the pan then add about 2 1/2 cups/20oz of vegetable bouillon. Bring to a simmer. For seasoning and flavour I added a half cup of dry sherry and a small handful of fresh oregano, chopped. Slow cook on low for a few hours until the steak is tender and falling apart. To thicken the broth, add either a couple of teaspoons of flour or corn starch(flour) to a couple of tablespoons of water to make a slurry. Add this to the saucepan and bring up to a boil to cook the flour and thicken the broth. Adjust the seasoning as needed as sometimes the flour can dull the flavours.

Split the stew between ramekins. I made enough for two. Melt a tablespoon of butter and brush individual layers of phyllo dough to top the ramekins. Broil/grill til the top is nice and golden.

Perfect with a nice deep red wine on a chilly night!

Parsnip and Roasted Mushroom Soup

I have to hand it to our son, he had his wisdom teeth removed yesterday and he did really well. Me?  Didn’t sleep the night before.  It’s so much easier when stuff is done to you rather than your kids.  Now he gets to hear his parents telling him to eat his ice cream.  Think he’ll be ok.  😊

Woke up being very happy for fuzzy socks with freezing temperatures and gusting winds.  Definitely soup season!  On one of our date nights, my husband ordered an amazing mushroom soup and it sparked an idea for a mushroom and parsnip soup.  Their soup just had mushrooms in it with Gorgonzola cheese.  Well I shouldn’t say just as it was delicious.  But I went off on a tangent.  


As luck would have it, the co-op had a great selection of mushrooms.  Including a Japanese mushroom called maitake.  Slice up the mushrooms and toss them in olive oil.


Roast them at 350F/175C until they are nicely browned.  In the meantime, peel and dice 1 to 2 parsnips depending on the size.  Finely chop a couple of garlic cloves.  Sauté the parsnips and garlic with olive oil in a saucepan.


Add a amall handful of fresh thyme, sauté for another minute or so.  Add about three cups of chicken stock and half a cup of dry sherry.  Bring to a medium simmer.  Once the mushrooms are roasted, add them to the soup.


Season with sea salt and pepper.  Cook until the parsnips are soft and the broth has reduced about a quarter.  Remove from the heat and purée until reasonably smooth.


Top with a dollop of sour cream and a bit of chive.  This could easily be made vegan with a veg broth.  The parsnip makes it very creamy so I didn’t have to add any cream.  

Getting My Husband to Like Aubergine 

We all have a veg we’re not a fan of but the rest of the family likes.  I hate Brussel sprouts, our son isn’t a fan of asparagus and mushroom, and our daughter finds celery particularly weird.  Aubergine is what my husband would be happy to avoid.  I have made the Moroccan Lamb Stew that he likes but as we like to grow the veg I need to come up with more recipes to use up the harvest.


When we were in Little Italy our daughter ordered a starter that layered aubergine, tomato, prosciutto, and basil.  She loved it so this was the inspiration for dinner.  I wanted to use the strong flavours of sun dried tomatoes and garlic for this dish.  I wanted it to pop!  I also used chicken thighs as it is a less expensive cut of meat to use.  

For this dish I used a little more than half a pound/10 oz of chicken.  Cut the chicken into small cubes and finely chop 3-5 cloves of garlic. Slice a large handful of sun dried tomatoes while heating up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet.  Toss in the three ingredients and sauté on medium low to pull the flavours of the garlic and sun dried tomatoes into the oil.  


Once the chicken is halfway cooked add the aubergine.  We grew small Italian finger aubergine which get to about 5in/12.5cm long.  For this dish I used four of the veg, sliced.


Cook for a few minutes then add a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.  Because we ran out of our chicken stock (gasp!) I used veg bouillon instead.  It worked really well with the strong flavours.  Use about a cup/8oz of the bouillon and simmer to reduce slightly.  For once we did really well growing basil this year.  Let’s face it, gardening can be a bit of a crapshoot.  But I tossed in a handful of the fresh basil.  Once the dish is nearly finished cooking add a handful of chopped prosciutto.  You don’t want this ingredient cooking too long as it can get tough and overpowering.


While all this was going on I oven roasted potatoes that I sliced about a 1/4 in/.625cm thick, drizzled with olive oil and sea salt.  Lay out the potatoes and top with the aubergine dish.  Grate fontina cheese over the dish and garnish with fresh basil.


Our daughter said it wasn’t exactly like the dish she had, which was fine as I wasn’t reproducing it, but that she loved it.  My husband’s response? “Congratulations on making aubergine edible!”  😄.  I do love cooking for my family.

Scallops in the Shell

Does anyone have the cure for jet lag?  As we get older it seems to keep a hold on us longer and longer.  It didn’t help we came back to dreary rain.  Good for the garden, not so good at getting us going!  I do hope it means our garden will do better than it did last year.  Last year was a very dusty growing season.

Being back in the UK was wonderful, we had incredible weather and did loads of walking.  We had to walk off all the lovely meals my mother-in-law cooked up!  Of course we like giving her a break from cooking, she runs a B & B so she welcomes the break!  Last year we did a curry night as my father-in-law is a big fan but my MIL isn’t so this time round we did a tapas night.  Which I love doing!  So off we went to the shops to get ingredients.

Aside from the usual dishes that are easy to throw together I found some scallops on the shell, which is near impossible to get stateside, never mind getting scallops with the coral still attached.  So I couldn’t pass this up.

Scallop in the shell 1 2017

Heat up the broiler/griller to medium.  Season the scallops with sea salt and pepper, thyme, olive oil, and rosé wine.  I had some of the wine from our France trip and while it turns out it’s not a favourite of mine I knew it would work well with this dish.

Scallop in the shell 2 2017

Broil/grill until the scallops are cooked.  Be careful not to overcook the scallops, you still want it tender.  This will only take a couple of minutes.

Scallop in the shell 3 2017

Serve on the shell.  This is a fun and quick dish to make, I just wish I could get this round here! It was a great night with good food, good company, and good wine.

Rosemary Lemon Chicken Kebabs

Tomorrow is a big day with the vote in the UK.  It’s surreal because, like for a lot of people, this vote can directly effect how we transition in a few years to move back.  But I can’t vote as subjects of the crown can’t vote if they don’t live in the UK.  So I just have to wait and see.  It will be nice to see the propaganda from both sides to die down.  Talk about muddying the waters!

In the meantime I’ll just keep cooking along.

We didn’t just have a Dalek cake for the small family gathering.  To avoid a sugar high I cooked healthy food as well.  I kept it very simple with grilled veg and chicken kebabs.  I grilled up mushrooms, peppers, onions, scallions, and aubergine.

The inspiration for the chicken came from a restaurant chain, Bertucci’s, where they have a spicy chicken wing with lemon and rosemary.  No idea what the recipe is but I figured I could get close to the recipe.

Rosemary lemon chicken 1 2016

I popped into my local store (my garden) for fresh thyme and rosemary.  I do wish there was an easy way to prep thyme, so annoying, but what can you do?  Finely chop a small handful of each.  In a bowl add a ratio of 2:1 of olive oil and lemon juice, the herbs, 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, sea salt and pepper to taste.  Then add cayenne pepper to the level of spiciness you want.  I kept it on the mild side as my aunt isn’t a huge fan of spicy food.

Rosemary lemon chicken 2 2016

Mix well and add chicken to marinate.

Rosemary lemon chicken 3 2016

When you are ready to grill add the chicken to the skewers and cook until the chicken is cooked through.  Turn a few times so the chicken is cooked evenly.

Rosemary lemon chicken 4 2016

It was a lovely relaxing lunch with family with plenty of room left over for cake!  And any left over chicken and grilled veg is perfect for a salad later on.  Which is handy after a bike ride and you aren’t up to cooking!

Nearly Lost the Battle with the Charcoal….

So apparently chickens are flammable.  I found out the hard way last night while cooking chicken for the non fish lovers in the family.  I’m still getting used to cooking with charcoal and I made the mistake of walking away after I put the chicken thighs on the grill.  I had other parts of the dinner to prepare.  The grill didn’t think that was a good enough excuse.  When I checked the chickens were balls of flame.  I removed the grill part with the chicken from the heat and started blowing the chicken out like candles.  Oops.  Fortunately they weren’t flaming chickens for long and they turned out ok if you ignore the blackened outside.  Forgive me but I was too busy to take a pic. 

Luckily everything else went smoothly.  The other day a few of us popped down to Saumur to check out the market.  It was a lot of fun and quite large.  It wanders through a lot of streets but we found the food side and found some wonderful ingredients.  One was selling fresh mushrooms including pink ones.  I have no idea what they are called but he also had shiitake mushrooms so I got a bit of both.  I also found a lovely piece of salmon.  There was a bit of language juggling as we sorted out I wanted the skin on but the scales off.  But we got there in the end.  

  
 Following the suggestion from the mushroom man, I minced up some fresh garlic, sliced the mushrooms, and prepped the basil to sauté.  

  
In a skillet heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Once it is hot add the mushrooms and garlic.  Stir as it begins to cook so the mushrooms are evenly coated with the olive oil.  The mushrooms will shrink a bit.  As they begin to brown add a bit of lemon juice to taste along with salt and pepper.  Near the end add a healthy handful of the basil.

  
Once they have browned nicely they are ready to serve.

  
In addition to setting the chicken on fire I also grilled salmon.  I was much more successful with that.  I added a bit of lemon juice and thyme along with salt and pepper to the salmon and cooked it medium rare.  

 
Yesterday we went to Fontevraud Abby which was very interesting.  The scale of it is immense.  It has been sanitised quite a lot and almost looks brand new in some areas.  Still I was glad we went.  

   

  

  

I’m not sure what rose this was but it was stunning.  It was like it was lit from within.  The gardens were lovely though in the cisterns I thought ducks were stuck given the sounds.  Turns out to be two frogs.  Not sure if there was a massive argument or one of them was hoping Barry White music would break out.  But one was running and one was chasing!

Roger from Food, Photography, and France was kind enough to email me about Les Halles in the towns.  So I went back today as I didn’t know what market was on and this one came recommended.  It had some amazing cheeses to chose from.  And there was a fresh produce stall.  So thank you Roger!  

We found a bistro to have lunch.  They seriously know how to do cheese plates here.

  
I also spotted pork belly on the menu.  The flavour was really good.  I think they should have slow cooked it more as it was pretty firm though.

 
As you can see, I’m still having loads of fun.  It’s going to be hard going home.  Tomorrow I’m taking an art lesson so I’m excited for that.  Life is good!

Lovely Farmer’s Markets and Grilling Cod

The schedule for the markets in the surrounding towns is being figured out.  We went to our first one in Noyant and what fun!  It isn’t a big one but you won’t lack for food.  Though for this one, in order to get fresh herbs I had to buy a thyme plant.  Where there’s a way!

 
It wasn’t expensive and my in-laws can keep it when they go home.  

  

With our phrase book, little French, and the vendors’ little English (or sometimes big English!) we managed to get everything we needed for the special dinner of celebrating my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary.  Quite the accomplishment these days!  

  
We also managed to find some lovely cured meats, cheeses, and the most amazing crevettes.  They are very messy to peel and eat but it’s worth it.

  
The fish monger had a very good selection of fish so I bought some cod to grill.  The stall that sold cured meats also sold spices and we got a mix that was like a citrusy dry rub that had paprika in it.  I thought it would be perfect for the cod.  We found some ready prepared kebabs made with turkey and beef for the non fish lovers to round out the meal.

I prepared the cod two ways.  First I rubbed the fish with the dry rub and added olive oil.  I wrapped it in the tin foil and put it in the fridge.

  
For the second preparation of the cod.  I seasoned it with salt and pepper, added lemon slices, thyme sprigs, olive oil, and dry white wine.

  
Wrap in tin foil and place it in the fridge until ready to grill.  I also prepped aubergine with salt and pepper and olive oil to grill.  The mushrooms I dipped into a lemon thyme dressing I made for the salad.

  
  
I’ve gotten the hang of the charcoal grill but it is very hot work in this heatwave!  Yesterday was 100F/38C.  Even in the shade, trying to be an asthmatic bellow to get the flames going nearly did me in.  But I was successful.  Given that it’s not a large grill I had to do the food in stages with the aubergine put on last.

  
Keep the lemon thyme cod in the tin foil so it poaches in the olive oil and wine.  I decided to be brave and place the other cod directly on the grill.  Conor from One Man’s Meat was kind enough to give me a tip of about five minutes.  This was quite the thick piece so after a few minutes I checked to make sure it was starting to flake before flipping it over to cook on the other side.

  
So far so good!  The kebabs were done so I added the leek to the grill.  You want the fish to be flaky but not dry.  It’s ok to have it medium well rather than well done.

 
My husband made delicious garlic bread and his aunt made a salad.  I have to say, I was really pleased with how the fish came out.  Both ways.

  

We are enjoying the countryside and I love the sunflowers.  Though if you stop on the roadside beware!  I don’t know if I stepped in stinging nettles or some stinging insect nest.  Either way it was painful getting the shot.  Taking the suffering for your art a bit too far I think.  😊 

Bruschetta Chicken Salad

It’s a lovely rainy day today.  I say lovely because we’re still not having many of them.  Optimistically we planted more seed to replace those that didn’t come up.  Right now we have one leek and one onion coming up.  Stand back and prepare to be overwhelmed!

For the life of us we can’t grow beets.  We keep trying.  In fact we had one come up a few weeks ago but it disappeared.  So did the carrots!  So we replanted and also sprinkled blood meal round the beds.  I hope we start to make some progress.

The other night I was in the mood for Italian but nothing heavy as it was hot.  I saw various ideas for bruschetta chicken which sounded wonderful.  The drawbacks to the recipes was that they called for store bought dressings.  It’s easy enough to make it from scratch.

In a bowl mix 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar.  Add fresh thyme and finely chopped garlic.  Season with sea salt and pepper.

Bruschetta chicken salad 1 2015

Add the chicken breasts to marinate for at least an hour.

Bruschetta chicken salad 2 2015

While the chicken is marinating prep the bruschetta part of the dish.

Bruschetta chicken salad 3 2015

Quarter the tomatoes and add a few cloves of finely chopped garlic in a bowl.  Toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, and pepper.  The fresh mozzarella and basil should be added just before serving.  Grill the chicken and the slice it to serve over a bed of lettuce.

Bruschetta chicken salad 4 2015

As a side I also grilled up some veg to make a light supper.  I love this time of year with all the fresh veg.  Not so much the heat but you can’t have it all!

The Lovely Yellow of Saffron…

It’s a busy week with the kids off from school.  For our daughter’s birthday we are redoing her room.  Which means lots of painting.  It’s strange because we’re getting rid of the little girl’s room and ushering in a young lady’s room.  I have to say I like her vision, it is going to look really elegant when it’s finished.

But it does put me in a position of figuring out dinner at the last minute.  I knew we had to use up some chicken but what to do?  A quick trip to the shop to pick up some saffron and paprika did the trick.

Saffron is not cheap but since you don’t need a lot in a dish it can last a very long time.

Saffron Chicken 1 2015Take about two tablespoons of hot water and steep a good pinch of saffron.  Set aside.

Saffron Chicken 2 2015Prep the other ingredients.  This whole dinner is cooked on the grill except the sauce.  For the veg I wanted to do skewers.  I brushed the veg with olive oil and white wine and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Saffron Chicken 4 2015Season the chicken with sea salt and paprika.

Saffron Chicken 3 2015Fire up that grill.  While the chicken, skewers, and the potatoes were grilling I did up the sauce.  In a small skillet I heated up a few tablespoons of olive oil, 1/4 cup of dry white wine, and two large cloves of garlic finely chopped.  Slowly simmer the garlic.  Then add the saffron and a cup of chicken stock.  Continue simmering to reduce down.  Then season with a bit of sea salt and paprika.  About a teaspoon each.

Saffron Chicken 5 2015I am so happy it’s warm enough to grill.  Really cuts back on having a bunch of pots to wash!

Saffron Chicken 6 2015Once the chicken is done, slice and serve with the sauce.

Saffron Chicken 7 2015This is a case where once the components come together the balance is really good.  The sauce by itself was a little sharp but add it to the chicken it was a delicious dish.

Now off to continue with the painting!

Sweet Potato, Apple, and Pork

With trying to branch out in our cooking and the gluten free experiment I have to get creative in how I use the ingredients.  That includes trying to use veg that I really don’t like.  Being a supertaster I’ve been limited because things like squash, sweet potato, zucchini, etc can be bitter to me.  Fortunately I’m having success in making these ingredients palatable for me but still letting some of that flavour that my family likes through.  Which is great because I’d love to be more seasonal with the local foods.  Kind of makes me wish I tried this before!

There was some sweet potato and rutabaga in the fridge that needed to be used up plus a bin full of apples.  I chopped up the sweet potato and rutabaga and covered with two cups chicken stock and 1 cup water.  Cook on a high simmer until they are about half cooked.

Sweet potato apple puree 1 2014

Add some sage and lemon thyme and one chopped apple.  Finish cooking the sweet potato and rutabaga.

Sweet potato apple puree 2 2014

While this is cooking, brown the pork in a skillet and finish it by baking.  Mix some olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.  Set aside and chop up some mustard greens.  In a food processor spoon in the sweet potato, rutabaga, and apple leaving the liquid in reserve.  Add 1/4 cup of dry white wine.  Pulse while adding the cooking liquid a bit at a time until you get the consistency you want.   Layer the pork over the puree and top with the mustard greens.  Dress with the olive oil and lemon.

Sweet potato apple puree 3 2014

Next time I would use a little less rutabaga but we had to use it up.  Other than that I can say I like sweet potato.  In some things.  😉