Spinach, Spud’n’Egg Cocotte:

Spinach, Spud’n’Egg Cocotte:

A lovely veggie lunch or supper.

Prep:           20 mins.

Cooking:      20 mins.

Course:        Veggie lunch or supper

Serves:        4

Rating:         2:  Easy, if a little long-winded before final assembly

There is some amount of phaphin’ about before you can assemble and cook the dish, but it is worth the effort, time and trouble (it’s even worth the washing up!)

  • 4 large/extra large/ruddy ginormous eggs
  • 2 very large duck eggs/a goose egg…. I’d draw the line at an ostrich egg.
  • 1 onion (I prefer red, but yellow, purple…….. blue if you can find one….).
  • Spinach leaves – loads of ‘em (a big supermarket bag of baby spinach leaves would just about do it, I suppose, for a thin-ish layer….. However much you have, it will rarely be enough because spinach cooks down so much).
  • 10-12 new spuds
  • Pot of crème fraiche
  • Fennel seeds
  • Pine nuts (for texture). You could use other shelled nuts, but crush them enough.
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Seasonings: It’ll take a fair amount of salt and a great amount of coarsely milled black pepper before you decide that it’s enough.
  • Frying pan
  • Saucepan
  • Deep oven dish (no, I don’t mean an oven dish for a deep oven; it’s an oven dish that IS DEEP – I’m having to be so careful about what I say. Pay attention at the back there…..) with a lid (or make a foil lid…. with foil!).
  • A larger oven dish, into which the first oven dish will sit, because you are going to cook this using a ‘bain-marie’ (see Tricks’n’Tips to discover whatever a ‘Mary’s bath’ is!)

 

Method:

  • Put the new spuds on to boil for a while. You want them about half-cooked and then let them cool down so that you can handle them.
  • Chop the onion as finely as you can. You can use garlic if you wish; it’s up to you, but keep the finely chopped garlic separate from the prepared onion as they’ll go in at different times.
  • Prick the air sac in the bottom of the eggs (see Tricks’n’Tips) and hard boil them (the eggs, not the air sacs) by keeping them on a gentle boil for ten minutes.
  • Pour the boiling egg water into the washing up bowl (might as well use it as it is clean, it’s hot and you’ve paid for the heat; and will reduce the hot water that you use) and run cold water into the saucepan, over the eggs. Change the cold water after one minute (feel how warm it has become from the eggs?) and keep cooling them down as much as poss, as quickly as poss.  This reduces the amount of black that surrounds the yolk when you cut the egg open.  Why?
  • Pop a good-sized knob of butter and a splash of hot water from the kettle into the same saucepan you used for the spinach. Put it on the heat and melt the butter into water.  Put all of the spinach leaves in the saucepan and stir.  Pretty soon (3-4 minutes?) you’ll have a dark green mass in the bottom of the pan.  Keep it moving when on the heat.  Drain it away. Put the pan aside for now.
  • Crush however many pine nuts you wish to use with the broad edge of a chef’s knife.
  • If the spuds are cool enough to handle, cut them into slices, cubes (not jelly baby shapes because you’ll still be there carving them next Xmas…) or whatever you wish. Just crush them with a fork if you want.
  • Sauté (fry in butter and a little oil – see Tricks’n’Tips) the onions, spuds and the crushed pine nuts until the spuds show signs of colouring. Put aside, ready for assembly.
  • Mix the fennel seeds (go on – guess!) into the crème fraiche, ready for assembly.
  • Put the kettle on to boil – and not just for a cuppa.

Assembly:

  • Lightly oil the bottom of the cocotte/oven dish and layer with the wilted/cooked spinach.
  • Halve or quarter the boiled eggs lengthways and make a layer with them on top of the spinach.
  • Top the eggs with all of the onion/spud/mixture and level it off as much as poss. Season – and don’t spare the freshly ground black pepper here…
  • Plop the crème fraiche mixture on top, levelling off as much as possible.
  • Make two shallow dips in the surface of the crème fraiche and crack a duck egg into each one. Season well.
  • Grate parmesan cheese over the top. Allow some gaps so that you can see when the whites of the duck eggs are actually cooked/set.  If you have some nuts or something attractive left over from something else, pop that on top.
  • Put on the lid.
  • Place the cocotte (the deep oven dish) with the lid into the larger open oven dish.
  • Slide the whole thing onto the oven shelf, just inside the oven, pre-heated to 140 degs C. but do not close the door yet.
  • Pour boiling water into the open oven dish so that the cocotte is sitting in a bath of boiling water – that’s a Bain Marie.
  • Push the two dishes, together, further into the centre of the oven, close the door and set the timer for 20 mins.
  • After 20 mins, open the door and look at the duck egg; if it is set, the dish is ready. If not set, give it a little longer until it is.
  • Ideally, the duck eggs should have a set white and a runny yolk.
  • CAUTION: When taking out a Bain Marie, lift the whole thing out very slowly, remembering that you have a bath of boiling water there.  DO NOT SPILL IT.  If you take the cocotte out of the bath, there is a danger that the boiling water might drip off the cocotte onto your legs; then you’ll drop the ruddy lot!
  • Take off the lid and take the cocotte to the table.
  • Argue about who wants the duck eggs and tuck in. It goes well with a green salad and plenty of wine.

Baked Spud skins: So many different possibilities

Baked Spud skins: So many different possibilities

PICTURE 11

Prep:           5 mins.

Cooking:      1 hr

Course:        Snack/Lunch/Main

Serves:        AMAR

Rating:         2:  Easy

Method:

  • First bake a spud.
  • Scoop out the middle of the baked spud half into a bowl, mix with grated cheese, mixed herbs, ham or other cold meats (of whatever type, thickness, national origin), leftover cooked bacon, sausages, ham, cheeses, pork, beef, lamb, tuna, parking attendant, taxman…… whatever you have hanging around…. baked beans, mushrooms…. anything at all that doesn’t need further cooking to be eaten.
  • Add a knob or two of butter and a splash of milk and then spoon it all back into the skins with perhaps a little grated cheese sprinkled over the top.
  • Put under a hot grill for a minute or two and eat with a salad accompaniment.

Courgette Bake with tomatoes:

Courgette Bake with tomatoes:

Prep:           10 mins.

Cooking:      30 mins.

Course:        Main

Serves:        6

Rating:         3:  Moderate

Find:

  • 6 Courgettes or a marrow
  • Onion
  • Can of tomatoes
  • Shelled walnuts, pine nuts, etc
  • Oil
  • Seasonings
  • Extra bits – see text
  • Frying pan
  • Oven dish

Method:

  • Simple, really… slice an onion and courgettes or a marrow with the seeds removed, cut and slice it/chop it and fry it all off in a pan, low and slow for about ten minutes.
  • Add a can of tomatoes and you have the base. As all ingredients are soft in texture, you need to add a bit of bite.
  • Add walnuts/pine nuts, fried off and chopped, perhaps a bit of goat’s cheese or something else tasty, put all into an oven dish and top with a bit of cheese.
  • Oven bake for 15 mins gas Mk 5 and you have a nice veggie meal – perhaps accompanied by rice or pasta.

Puyaise Portobellos:

Puyaise Portobellos:

Prep:           15 mins.

Cooking:      1 hour in total.

Course:        Starter or main

Serves:        4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

Rating:         3:  Moderate

An unusual veggie dish that can be used as a starter or as a main course.

If you are not veggie, you can replace the puy lentils (which, even as a keen carnivore I actually find very tasty), with the Mince’n’Onion Thingymebob, should you wish.

It is an immensely healthy, vegetarian dish that is low fat, gluten-free, dairy-free and good for you – but despite that, it isn’t taste-free.

Puy lentils (the French green lentils originally grown around the Puy region… hence the name…) will cook to tender in around twenty minutes and will carry flavour readily along with their natural nutty taste.  So, being the sort of ingenious person that you are, latching onto opportunities that present themselves to you, you’re thinking that if they are boiled in a solution of bouillon powder (see Tricks’n’Tips), they will carry that flavour to the table.  Yes.

Correct – go to the top of the class and don’t get dizzy…..and definitely don’t fall off!

Find:

  • 4 large open, dish shaped mushrooms, stem removed

Get Portobello mushrooms if possible – but if not, just get the biggest buggers y’can find.

  • 100g puy lentils
  • Butter
  • Bouillon powder (or veggie stock cubes)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Onion
  • 8 tomatoes
  • Flat-leaved parsley
  • Olive oil
  • Half a glass of sherry (for once, this should be the amount)….it doesn’t stop you drinking a good few glasses of it though!
  • Sauce thickener – probably cornflour

Topping (optional):

  • Cup of breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil
  • Pine nuts, roasted, toasted or fried
  • Italian seasoning mix

Method:

  • So, roast the tomatoes in an oven tin for 30 minutes on gas mk 5, boil the lentils in a saucepan of water and bouillon powder for the same time. Remove the tomato skins from the flesh by squeezin’ ‘em……..easy-peasy!
  • Chop the garlic finely and mix with the tomato, mushroom stems and lentils to make a classic veggie combination. Add lots of black pepper & mix.  Let it sit for 5 mins, mix again and then re-check for seasoning.
  • Boil the Portobello mushrooms, whole, in the bouillon mixture for 5 mins, then drain.
  • Pop a little butter in each cap. Fry the pine nuts very gently in the olive oil to just start to colour, then add breadcrumbs and get them to darken a little.   Add the Italian seasoning and mix.
  • Spoon the lentil mixture into the mushroom caps. Add the breadcrumb topping.
  • Put them into the oven on gas mk 5 (in the same oven tin as the toms – saves washing up) for about another 20 mins.
  • Add the sherry to the bouillon liquid and thicken with the Cornflour (see Tricks’n’Tips), seasoning to taste, and pour over them on the plates.
  • The mushrooms will emerge from the oven looking quite dull in colour; lighten it all up with chopped parsley, red & yellow peppers and other bright colours.
  • Serve with all manner of veggie delights – or just very crusty bread and lovely butter.

Nutty Mushroom Crumble:

Nutty Mushroom Crumble:

PICTURE 6

Prep:           10 mins.

Cooking:      15 + 30 = 45 mins.

Course:        Main

Serves:        4-5

Rating:         3:  Moderate

As a veggie main, serves 4-5, or as a starter 8+

Find:

For the mushroom mixture:

  • 750g ‘Nutty’ Mushrooms – best to get at least two different types, one of them preferably a wild mushroom or at least a chestnut/forestiere muggy – but if common white muggies is all you’s got, well, that’s fine – just use what’s to hand.
  • 60g butter or margarine
  • A little oil (not ‘engine’, ‘baby’ or ‘body’) just to help the butter to not burn in the pan
  • 1 large onion – I like big red onions, but use what’s to hand.
  • …. I like garlic, so I use 3 or 4 cloves. Use as many as you think.
  • 500 ml vegetable stock – or 500 ml (half a litre) of boiling water and three green OXO cubes.

You can use part white wine, especially if you have a bottle that has been opened a fair while.  Recycle it into here…..  Oh yes, if you have any old vermouth hanging around (Cinzano, Martini, Noilly Prat) use a glass of that instead of the equivalent of water in the stock.  I’m all in favour of a bit o’recycling.  Someone who used to take my blood (no, not like that – I am a blood donor!) really goes for the Vermouth taste – so I think I’ll recommend “Tania’s Twist” and say that a white Vermouth should be used in preference to plain, borin’ ol’ white wine!  Ta for the recipe modification, Tania!

  • 60g plain flour
  • Small carton double cream
  • Seasonings & fresh herbs if you have them. I like to use lots of fresh chopped parsley in this dish.  It looks nice too.
  • A little coarse sea salt, if you have it. If not…..

For the crumble mixture:

  • 100g oatmeal – don’t go out especially to buy oatmeal, you are supposed to be saving money (for use at the pub later) you can use porridge oats and chop them through thoroughly with a knife on a chopping board – anyway, this recipe is supposed to be rustic.
  • 100g wholemeal flour
  • 30 – 50g chopped walnuts
  • 30 – 50g chopped pistachio nuts (shelled, of course – it’d be a bit too crunchy otherwise!)
  • A good hefty pinch or two of dried thyme
  • Another good hefty pinch (but not quite so hefty) of fennel seeds
  • 100g softened butter or marg.
  • Frying pan
  • Saucepan
  • Bowl (or use a supermarket bag without any holes, placed in a dry sink)
  • Colander (that’s that thing like a bowl wiv ‘oles in, wot yer used to play soldiers ‘ats wiv when y’were a young ankle-biter…..Oh dear, forgive me – I just had a bit of a turn!) or just use the lid of the saucepan slightly dislodged to allow the water to drain away.
  • Ceramic oven dish. Ensure that it is big enough, or have two ready to double up.  There is a lot of ‘stuff’ here to go into that thar oven.

Method:

  • Put the stock in a big saucepan and bring it to the boil.
  • Using a good, sharp, broad bladed knife (see Hints’n’Tips) slice the mushrooms. Don’t use grotty muggies for this, and don’t peel them first.  Remember NOT to wash them either (they go soggy!).  If they are mucky, wipe ’em off with kitchen roll.
  • Put the sliced mushrooms into the boiling stock and bring back up to fast boil. Turn down to the lowest heat on the smallest ring on the cooker, put on the lid and forget for 15 minutes.
  • Whilst the mushrooms are becoming gorgeous and tender, roughly chop the onion and fry it in a frying pan, using the oil and butter, for 3-4 minutes. Don’t use a high heat – you don’t want the onions to colour, just to soften.
  • Stirring the onions with a wooden spoon, tip in the flour bit by bit and mix so that the oil & butter becomes absorbed by the flour. Cook for a minute or so, low heat, stirring it all the time.  It must not become coloured.  You’re making a ‘roux’ – as in kanga.

Kanga-roux!  Oh, never mind.

  • The mushrooms should have had their 15 minutes of fame by now. Take them off the heat and either lift out the mushrooms from the stock or pour the stock from the mushrooms – it’ll taste the same whichever way you do it – but retain the stock (what do you mean – “it’s down the sink”?  Dingbat!  Go and fetch it……….)
  • Pour the stock into the roux, little by little, making sure that each slosh of stock is absorbed into the flour & onion roux by vigorous stirring with a wooden spoon before adding more. The roux will soften and become creamier.
  • When all the stock is in you can either continue in the frying pan or transfer the whole lot to the saucepan. Your choice.  I’d transfer it, myself as it’s easier to control a sauce in a saucepan (now I wonder why….?).  Ok, now you are really steaming ahead.
  • Cook the mixture gently until it has thickened (10 mins?), then add the mushrooms, seasoning, cream and half of the chopped fresh parsley. Cor, ’tis lookin’ good.
  • Put the lid on and sit it on the cooker, away from heat. It is ready for the oven dish.  The crumble mixture is next.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the flour, oats, nuts, seasoning (of which it will be in very great need) and the dried thyme. Not the fennel seeds.  Not yet.  Hang on.  Don’t rush.
  • If you don’t have a big bowl, use a supermarket carrier bag WITHOUT HOLES!
  • Chuck in the butter/marg and mix it up with yer mitts (your hands). The idea is for any crumble mix – sweet or savoury – to resemble breadcrumbs.  But these breadcrumbs would be very lumpy, funny coloured ones because of the rustic oats etc.

Assembly: 

  • Pour the mushroom mixture into the oven dish. Spread it about.  The level should be about 10mm down from the rim, any nearer to the rim than 10mm and it may squidge over the sides of the dish and mucky-up-yer-oven.  Mistake!  You’d have to clean it.   Not good.
  • Ok, sprinkle the rest of the parsley on top of the mixture – go on, it’ll take lots. At this point, I like to sprinkle a little coarse sea-salt over the mushroom mixture to give little spikes of intense flavour.
  • Gently sprinkle the crumble mix on top. Don’t press down.  Level it out using a fork – very lightly.  If you have any butter left over, a few scrapes or slivers of butter dotted over the top of the crumble mixture adds to visual appeal.
  • Sprinkle the fennel seeds on top and just leave ‘em there.

Cooking: 

  • Preheat the oven to about gas mk 5 (190C/375F) and put the oven dish in for around 30 minutes. Check after 20.
  • Bung a sprig of nice green fresh herbs in the middle and pop it onto the table. Then gloat.  You deserve to.  Well done!

NOTE:  If you have someone who is wheat intolerant, don’t use wheat flour at all, use gram flour, rice flour or something similar that is gluten-free.