A Very British Lasagne

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This is probably pretty much the same as the lasagne we used to make in Domestic Science classes in the early 80s, those funny old days when garlic and basil were exotic ingredients, and it seemed very daring to do anything to mince except add some carrots, an onion and a spoonful of Bisto.  However, since I’ve included Double Gloucester cheese as an ingredient, I can’t make any claims to Italian authenticity.

At sixteen, I always used to hope, on the bus home from my Saturday job, that Mum had rustled this up for tea.

Whoosh up 2 onions, 3 cloves of garlic, a carrot and a stick of celery in the processor, but don’t let it turn to mush.  Soften these vegetables in a large frying pan with some olive oil, then add 100g finely chopped mushrooms and fry for about 5 minutes more.  Add 500g of good, lean beef mince and turn the heat up a little, stirring all the time, until it’s completely browned.  Stir in  a teaspoon of dried basil, a teaspoon of paprika, a bay leaf, a teaspoon of Maldon salt and some pepper.  Now add 2 tins of chopped tomatoes and half a tin of water.  Put the lid on and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Stir in a little fresh basil, if you like.

Meanwhile, make your sauce.  First, grate some cheese, either Double Gloucester or cheddar, about 175g.

Then, put a decent knob of butter into a medium-sized pan with 2 rounded dessertspoons of cornflour and a pint of semi-skimmed milk.  Whisk these together over a medium heat.  When the butter is melted and the sauce is starting to boil, turn the heat down and simmer gently for 2 minutes, stirring often.  If the sauce is too thick, and a little more milk and stir in; if it is too thin, mix 2 teaspoons of cornflour to a paste with a tiny bit of water or milk, and stir in.  Either way, reheat gently before adding half of your cheese.  Leave the rest for sprinkling.

You need a rectangular, ovenproof dish about 20×30 cm.  Spread 3 tablespoons of cheese sauce over the bottom, then cover the base with a single layer of lasagne sheets, dried or fresh.  Pour half of your ragu evenly over the top, then cover with lasagne sheets.  Pour half of your cheese sauce evenly over this, then the rest of the mince.  Take care with your last layer of lasagne to cover all of the mince without overlapping too much.  Finish with a thin layer of cheese sauce.  Make sure that you cover all of the gaps and joins extra carefully.

Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese, doing the edges of your dish first.  Put this beauty to one side for as long as you want (it can even be frozen), then cook from room temperature at about 170 degrees for 45 – 60 minutes.

For the full 80s effect, serve with iceberg lettuce.

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Potato and Onion Omelette

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It’s got to be something quick, easy and requiring no shopping at all on a Monday night, hasn’t it?  So here it is, short and simple.

Preheat your grill.

Chop an onion and soften very gently in olive oil.  Meanwhile, peel (or don’t – it’s up to you) and dice 4-5 medium-sized potatoes.  If you don’t want to dirty 2 pans, dice the potatoes into 0.5cm cubes and add them to onion, softening them slowly, stirring all the time.  It’ll take a while (15-20 minutes or so).  If you have a dishwasher, cut the potatoes a big bigger (1cm cubes) boil them for 10 minutes, drain, then add to the onion.  Add a little salt, and more oil if necessary.  Let them colour a little.

Now, whisk up 5 large eggs with about 5 tablespoons of milk and a little more salt.  Pour the liquid over the onions and potatoes, then push the egg mix away from the edge of the pan to allow more liquid to touch the base and cook.  A medium heat should be fine.  After about 5-8 minutes, when you think that the bottom is thoroughly cooked, pop the omelette under a hot grill to brown.

Apple and Berry Crumble

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This tiny amount is perfect for two.    I’ve done this in the simplest possible way, to save you from having to get the scales dirty.  Please use self-raising flour (or add a little baking powder), as this makes it cakey-crumbly rather than hard as rock.

Quarter, core and peel 2 big eating apples.  Tangy is good here.

Put them in an ovenproof glass bowl with a couple of large handfuls of frozen berries and a tablespoon of sugar.  Let it all stew slightly in a medium oven for about 15 minutes.

Now, take 2 heaped tablespoons of self-raising flour.  Add a rounded tablespoon of butter (accept no substitutes – it has to be butter) and rub into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.

Stir in a tablespoon of golden caster sugar.

Pop your berry mix into a smallish oven-proof dish.  I used this one:  http://www.lakeland.co.uk/13251/Traditional-Enamel-18cm-Oblong-Pie-Dish.  In fact, if I’m honest, I just made the crumble today as an excuse to use my lovely cheap little retro enamel dish.  No, I don’t work for Lakeland.

Scatter the crumble mix evenly over the top, then place the dish on a tray in the oven.  There will almost definitely be some sticky overflow.  180 degrees for about 20 – 25 minutes will be fine for most ovens.  But let your nose guide you, and do check after 10 minutes, adjusting the heat if necessary.

Serve with cream or custard.  If you want an easy recipe for custard, just ask.

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Chicken Pathia

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Well, as Dad would say, here’s one to put hairs on your chest.  For those of you who are prepared to venture on regardless, this is a really tasty sweet and sour style curry, and by some miracle, it has turned out pretty much like the ones I’ve had as takeaways.  And given that my beer-enhanced tastebuds normally elevate the takeaway experience to something almost sublime, that’s a proud boast.  There are two easy stages to this curry.

3 onions, halved and sliced

6 thin green chillis, halved lengthways

2-3″ ginger, peeled and grated

5 garlic cloves, bashed

4-6 chicken breasts, in pieces

tin of tomatoes

juice of one lemon

fresh coriander

sugar

spices:  ground coriander, ground cumin, paprika, turmeric, fenugreek, cardamom pods, bay leaves

Stage One

Put one of the onions, half of the tomatoes, the ginger, 2 garlic cloves, the green chillis, a little of the fresh coriander and 4 tablespoons of olive oil into a small pan with a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of turmeric and 200ml water.  Boil together with the lid on for 20 minutes.  Now use a hand blender to blitz this into a sauce.  By all means leave some of the chillis unscathed, if that’s how you like it.

Stage Two

Put 3 tablespoons olive oil into a frying pan.  When it’s hot, add 3 bashed cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, and 2 bashed cardamom pods.  Let them sizzle for a few moments, then add the remaining sliced onions.  When they are just starting to brown, add the chicken and a little more salt.  Let the chicken colour for a couple of minutes before turning down the heat and adding a teaspoon each of ground coriander, cumin and paprika.  Add a small pinch of fenugreek.  Stir well, and add the remaining tomatoes, the sauce from Stage One and about 100-150 ml of water.  Before popping the lid on, add the lemon juice and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Stir in some more fresh coriander before serving.

Etruscan Pepperoni and Fennel Pizza

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Makes 3 – 4 smallish pizzas

The Dough

Mix 500g strong white flour with 2 teaspoons salt and a sachet of dried yeast.

Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a measuring jug with 2 teaspoons sugar, then top up to 300ml with warm (not boiling) water.

Add most of the water mix to the flour and mix with your fingers until it comes together.  Add all of the water if necessary.  Knead for 10 minutes, then cover with cling film, punch in a couple of holes and put aside to rise in a warm place for about 90 minutes.

The Tomato Sauce

Put a tin of tomatoes into your blender with a teaspoon of dried basil or some fresh basil leaves and a clove of garlic.  Pulse until well blended.

If it’s too watery, simmer until it is slightly reduced.  Otherwise, just use it as it is.

Method

After at least 90 minutes’ rising time, divide the dough into 3-4 balls.  Roll out each one and stretch on a lined baking tray until flat and smooth.

Leave for a few minutes while you prepare your toppings.

The Final Flourish

Finely sliced green chilli, red pepper, fennel and slices of mozzarella.

Spread your tomato sauce over the bases, pop some chilli and mozzarella over the top, put 4-5 slices of Etruscan Pepperoni (Sainsbury’s TtD) over each pizza, then sprinkle over some fennel and red pepper.  Pour over a tiny drizzle of runny honey and olive oil before putting the pizzas into a very hot oven (200- 220 degrees) for about 7 – 10 minutes.

When they are completely done (bubbling mozzarella, browned edges, delicious smell – you know the signs), sprinkle with fresh rocket and basil leaves before serving.

Carrot Cake

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250g light muscovado sugar

250ml sunflower oil

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons milk

Beat these all together with an electric whisk.

250g wholemeal SR flour

300g grated carrot (do it in the processor until pulpy)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

100g raisins (optional)

60g ground almonds

2 tablespoons poppy seeds (optional)

Stir all of these ingredients together in a separate bowl.

Now combine the 2 bowls and beat vigorously.  This will be a pretty huge amount, so choose your bowl wisely.

Now for your baking tin options:  for a humdinger of a birthday cake, line two 7″ round tins and share the mixture between them; for a lovely treat for your work colleagues, a traybake in a rectangular tin might be less messy and more portable.  Or why not try my compromise which is a standard brownie tin to do a little traybake, and one 7″ tin which I’ll split in the middle and ice inside and out?

Any way you choose, put your tins in a preheated moderate oven (180 degrees) for 25 – 40 minutes.  Turn around 180 degrees midway through cooking, and turn down a little if they are browning too much before they turn springy.

And now for the best bit…the icing.  The following measurements will make a lawdy-me amount of icing, so adjust according to taste and purpose.

300g full-fat Philadelphia (room temperature)

100g proper butter (soft)

600g icing sugar, sifted

2 – 3 teaspoons vanilla essence

Mix the Philadelphia and the butter together in a food processor or with an electric whisk until smooth, then add the icing sugar and vanilla and whisk until lumpfree and irresistible.  Ice away with gay abandon.