Ultimate baked pasta

Hi all, today I find myself in the peculiar position of sitting in a Mcdonald’s eating breakfast (Only some porridge and a tea) waiting for my ride to work and taking advantage of their free WIFI facility. Peculiar only due to the fact that I am present in one of their ‘restaurant’s’ as I usually find their take on food as totally abhorrent and something I would never partake in, however I feel I’m safe with tea and porridge. Possibly. Cue the e-mails about their porridge oats being genetically manufactured in Scotland by mad scientists dressed as clowns.

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I am finding it hard to find slots in my time to physically sit down and write blog posts at present as I commute long distances for work but this is a good example of how I’m trying to fit it all in, between lifts and shifts. one could say I have an undying commitment to the cause, although this may possibly be a minor over-dramatization to the alternative of ‘fitting it in when I can’, so at present I would say a post every few weeks is a realistic target.

As some of my older posts have shown I am really keen on Italian food, I have always found its ability to combine artistry with simplicity incredibly attractive. Whether your an outright novice or an experienced veteran in the kitchen its a type of cooking that offers something for everybody. This dish present you with a relatively simple method but offers a show stopping flavour and combination of textures that elevate it beyond the typical ‘Pasta bakes’ of Homepride and Dolmio fame. The ingredients can be as cheap or as expensive as you can make them and you can finish the entire dish in around an hour, definitely one to please a few house guests at the weekend.

What you’ll need:

300g short tube pasta (Macaroni, ziti etc)
200g lamb mince
1 heaped Tbspn dried oregano
100g sliced salami
100g sliced pepperoni
Handful of red Leicester cheese
Large handful of fresh spinach
1 ball of mozzarella cheese
3 large fresh eggs
olive oil
salt
pepper

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons of red pesto
1 tin chopped Tomatoes
1 Tbspn mascarpone
handful of basil leaves
Salt
Pepper

Method:

1: In a bowl, add the lamb mince and the oregano with a little salt and pepper to taste. Combine well and roll into small meatballs. Around 1.5 inches in diameter.

2:Add pasta to a pan of boiling water and cook to packet instructions. Approximately 20 minutes in salted, boiling water.

3: Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to a frying pan and on a medium heat, lightly fry the meatballs until browned. This will take roughly 3 minutes. You don’t want to fully cook them yet. Remove from the pan to rest, leaving the fat in the pan. (We need it shortly)

4: In a blender blitz the tomatoes with the basil leaves. Add it to the frying pan on a medium heat with the reserved lamb fat. Add the pesto and the mascarpone, stirring well until well combined then leave to simmer for 5 minutes.

5: By now the pasta should be cooked, drain the pasta while reserving a little of the cooking water. Reintroduce the pasta to the pan with the reserved water and add the sauce and spinach. Mix thoroughly.

6: Preheat oven at 180 degrees or equivalent temperature. Beat the eggs together well in a cup or bowl.

7: In a medium to large lasagne dish, add a few tablespoons of the sauce to the bottom and create a layer of the pepperoni and salami in nice tidy rows. Add a big spoon of the pasta and spread evenly. Repeat until the dish is full, ending with a layer of pasta. This usually covers around 3-4 layers dependant on how big your dish is!

8: Add the meatballs to the top of the pasta and push in so they are half submerged in the pasta. Tear the mozzarella and scatter around the meatballs, then sprinkle on your red Leicester.

9: Take the beaten eggs and pour over the whole dish nice and evenly, it should seep through all the gaps and go down the sides of the pasta. Gives a few prods with a fork so it totally penetrates the pasta, it will bind together into a perfect harmony of cheesy, pasta goodness. Now add it to the oven and bake for around 30-40 minutes.

10: Remove from the oven and check the eggs are cooked through with a skewer or a knife, it should come out without any raw egg on. If still not cooked cook for further 3-5 minutes and check regularly.

11: Indulge it with your family and friends. Your onto a winner. Guarantee you’ll make it more than once. Best thing is it’s adaptable so make it your own, go to town add what you want and experiment.

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Perfect roast potatoes…everytime!


Roast potatoes. Something that in my opinion makes a roast dinner what it is. They are the quintessential accompaniment to a joint of Beef or a leg of lamb on a Sunday. I mean, can you imagine a Christmas dinner not having them? I genuinely cant. Such a simple idea can turn a relatively run of the mill ingredient into something that the kids argue over at the table.

They are a cornerstone of British cuisine that some people just don’t get right, leaving some underwhelmed family members craving the crunchy shell and fluffy insides that a well cooked roastie provides. Infact, I put so much emphasis on these crunchy little gems being part of a Sunday roast that I think you shouldn’t be legally be aloud to have one without them (This will be enforced when I come into power people). There’s a few do’s and don’ts to remember to get a perfect tatty. So ill give you a few below.

Don’t

  • Cut the potatoes and just whack them in the oven. They will take forever, not crisp up properly and be more like a baked potato. Its mainly preference here. But trust me and try my way just once. You’ll see the difference.
  • Under season them. They need to be well seasoned to perk them up and take them from dud to spud.
  • Use the wrong type of potato. Some just aren’t cut out for the job and need to be mashed into oblivion or used as a jacket potato and drowned in beans and cheese. (My recommended types coming up below…)
  • Be impatient. Preheat your oven properly. Don’t put them in a semi warmed oven, they need to be hugged in real heat!

 

Do’s

  • Parboil. it helps crank up the fluffiness and helps use the oven time for crisping.
  • Leave the skins on. They crisp up really well and adds a different level of texture to them.
  • Oil the baking tray and put it in the oven. It should be screaming hot when you put the potatoes on it so be careful!
  • Sprinkle a little flour on them and rough them u after boiling. Nice and fluffy does the trick and this is the way to do it.
  • Use a suitable potato such as: Apache (when in season), Albert bartlet rooster, Maris piper or king Edward. New potatoes roast well and are genuinely amazing when roasted whole, however they are not suitable for this recipe.

 

 

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So the recipe for my personal perfect crunchy spud. What you’ll need to feed 4:

  • 4 large king Edward potatoes (cut into quarters or slightly smaller if preferred)  or 300g Apache potatoes (Halved).
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • salt and pepper.
  • Plain flour.

 

Method:

  1.  Pre-heat your oven at 200 degrees/ 180C/ gas mark 6.
  2. Spread the oil on the baking tray and place in the oven. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.
  3. Boil the potatoes for 15 minutes or until they start to slip off a skewer.
  4. Drain the spuds in a colander, drop them back into the pan. (Off the heat) Add a few big pinches of flour, sprinkled evenly and a big helping of salt and pepper. Around a teaspoon of each will do just fine. Put a lid on the pan or cover with the colander and give them a good shake around.
  5. Remove your now incredibly hot oiled tray from the oven and spread them evenly around it.
  6. Place tray back in the oven on the middle shelf for 35-40 minutes. Some ovens differ so keep an eye on them. Your looking for an even, golden crust on all of the edges.
  7. Serve straight away with a meal or just in a bowl with a jar of mayonnaise. I wont judge you.

Enjoy! Oh and one last tip – One of my favourite ways to use them is adding a big handful to a plate of left over gammon ham with a couple of eggs and some peas, it makes for a great midweek dinner. Give it a go!

 

Chicken and chorizo stew.

Over the course of 2014, I had found myself doing a lot of new things and being inspired to create new recipes, make dishes that can take me away from the everyday trudge of mealtime and keep eating after work just as enjoyable as eating at the weekend. Monday blues are no excuse to stick to beans on toast (not that there’s anything wrong with beans on toast!) purely through a lack of inspiration.

I have a few stalwart recipes that come to mind that tend to remedy this, however, This one in particular is fast becoming a favourite for me and my family! I have cooked this for a fair few people now and its always met with the same positive reaction, which makes me feel pretty confident that its something you guys will love.  Its hearty, its healthy, and its full of ingredients that when put together, create a great ‘feel good’ kind of meal that is quite suitable for battling Monday blues, getting over the Wednesday hump or any day of the week you need a bit of a pick me up. Oh and don’t worry about not having time. It doesn’t take more than 5o minutes in total, So get somebody to help with the prep or chop your ingredients in advance to save time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbspn rapeseed oil.
  • 4 Chicken breasts. Diced.
  • 1 Chorizo ring.
  • 200g Diced butternut squash.
  • 100ml Red wine.
  • 1 Tin chopped tomatoes.
  • 300ml Good chicken stock.
  • 1 tbspn Dijon mustard.
  • 1 tbspn Paprika.
  • 1 tbspn Turmeric.
  • 2 Chopped sticks of celery.
  • 2 tbspn Worcester sauce.
  • 1 Can butter beans.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

  1. Add oil to a large cast iron dish or saucepan on a low heat, add the oil, chorizo and celery. Fry for a few minutes until the chorizo releases its own oil and starts to brown.
  2. Add the chicken a move around the pan until the chicken starts to also take on the reddish brown colour from the chorizo. (About 3-4 minutes).
  3. Splash in the red wine, followed by the squash, tomatoes and chicken stock. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Next pop in the Dijon mustard along with the paprika and turmeric. Leave on a medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring regularly.
  5. A few minutes before serving add the butter beans and give them a good stir around. Put the lid on if you have one and leave them to warm through for a couple of minutes, turn the heat up if you wish to finish it off nicely. (Putting them in at the end retains their form better as they seem to escape their outer casings and disintegrate into the abyss otherwise)
  6. Serve with rice and enjoy being hugged from the inside. I use the easy micro bags of rice to save time and as a bit of a cheat.

 

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There you have it! Its as easy as that to make and its worth every second. Packed full of all the good stuff you need to feel full and satisfied without neglecting your vegetables. The chorizo is just an added bonus to reward your obvious dedication to giving yourself something healthy to eat!

 

Give it a try, get creative and add your own twist to it and add fresh chilies or olives. Go crazy!

Roast duck and fresh gravy

The Christmas break is now a distant memory and I can honestly say it feels like the whole festive season was gone in a blink of an eye. I always find that the whole build up to Christmas far outweighs the impact of the actual event, by the time you actually get there it fizzles out like a spent candle and all that’s left from 9 weeks of build up is a bloated waistline and a new year’s resolution claiming newly found restraint. It leaves me a little deflated as the quality of the Christmas dinner and the buffet style foods that flow between the 25th through to the 1st all of a sudden seem to just fade away leaving naught but the mother of all Monday morning feelings when the majority of us return to work on the 2nd of January.

Therefore I am a believer of the Sunday roast done properly. It keeps the deflating withdrawals from the mass feasting available over Christmas and keeps you satisfied by providing something a little bit special and extravagant once a week for you and your family. Most people stick to the usual suspect’s when it comes to roasts like chicken, lamb and beef, but however great these are don’t let the trend deter you from trying something different every now and then.

Enter the star of today’s show, the duck. The bird provides succulent, dark, decadent flesh and hearty reusable fats. I adore duck as it is a real treat and not as widely used as chicken but it really, really should be. Roasted it just makes me totally content and I want to share that experience with you, so here’s my recipe for roast duck to ease your foodie withdrawal symptoms.

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Ingredients

  • 1 medium duck
  • Large pinch sea salt
  • 600 ml chicken stock
  • 100ml white wine
  • Dash of Worcester sauce
  • Tbsp flour

Method

  1. Pierce the skin of the duck all over. Place on a rack in the kitchen sink, and pour over 2 full kettles of boiling water. Pat it dry with kitchen towel. leave it to dry in the fridge. This will help give you crispy skin!
  2. Preheat the oven to 200 C, 180 C fan, 400 F, gas 6. Place the duck on a rack over a roasting tin, as it will release a lot of fat into the tin.
  3. Add sea salt to the skin and roast for 90 minutes. Basting every 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven and leave to rest.
  5. While the duck is resting, make the gravy. Place the roasting tin over a low flame, then stir in the flour and keep on the heat until you have a slightly thicker paste and have moved some of the sediment from the tray.
  6. Gradually pour in the stock and wine, stirring constantly, until you feel it thicken.
  7. Simmer for 2 minutes, using a wooden spoon to stir, scraping any remaining bits and pieces from the bottom of the tin.
  8. Strain the gravy into a small saucepan, then simmer, adding the Worcester sauce and season.
  9. When you carve the duck, add any extra leaky juices to the gravy for an extra treat.

Simple, but beautiful! Enjoy!

Freshly baked ciabatta bread

So I’ve been mulling over this particular article for a while and today is the day I finally get my act together and get it live. I have never been, and have never claimed to be particularly good at baking, although recently I have a much keener interest in it.

I have started from the ground up and started with making my own bread and I can confirm I am now hooked. Its hard to describe the feeling of accomplishment when it goes right and you end up with a really attractive end product emitting that soul warming smell that makes your home seem that little bit more special. Its a hard feeling to beat.

So rather than me harping on about it, here’s a recipe for you to do it yourself. I challenge you to do this once and not want to do it again!

Ingredients

500g strong white flour
450 ml Luke warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon dry Yeast
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons garlic granules
2 tablespoons oregano and\or 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
Olive Oil

Method

Pre heat oven to 200C or gas mark 8

In a large bowl mix with clean hands flour, sugar, herbs and yeast

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Pour in the water and salt and mix in the bowl with your hands for 5 minutes. The mixture will be like a very thick paste.

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Lift parts of the dough up and fold it over itself to push in a few air pockets. Work the dough in the bowl for 5 minutes. If you have a food mixer, beat it with a dough hook but still finish off with the hand method to push the air pockets in.

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Flour a work surface and continue to work the dough until smooth.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil directly to the dough and mix into it by kneading for a few more minutes.

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Allow to prove in a clean bowl drizzled with a little more oil to stop it sticking, covered with cling film for about 1 hour or until it doubles in size.

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Pour the dough onto a well floured work surface and fold over like an envelope length ways to create the ciabatta ‘look’. At this point you can leave it as a loaf, cut into rolls or get creative and twist them up. Once shaped leave to prove for a further 20 minutes.

Lift dough onto a floured baking tray and (sprinkle some flour onto the top of the bread/s to create a more rustic look) bake for around 25 minutes, until golden and when tapped sounds hollow. Leave till cool on a wire rack or a spare grill pan for 15 minutes before serving.

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Introducing our new contributor!

Hello Gecko readers, I would like to firstly thank Phil for asking me to be a guest blogger and secondly I’d like to introduce myself.

My names Naomi and I have had a passion for food ever since I can remember; my dad often tells me that as a little girl I’d be asking what was for dinner whilst eating my lunch.

I grew up spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my grandma, who is from Jamaica, cooking was always based on using fresh ingredients and putting love and care into the food, not just throwing something in the oven or microwave. Cooking wasn’t about just about filling the hunger; it was about getting together as a family and sharing the love put into the food. The pleasure I got from watching my grandma put wonderful food together and the enjoyment I had from tasting the food and sharing the experience with my family was what really drove my passion for food in general.

My passion for baking (especially cakes) came when I was in primary school and I entered a Halloween cake competition; I made a cake that looked like Medusa, even down to the snake hair and I guess this is when I figured that baking was my thing.

The Skittles cake

The Skittles cake

What do I love about baking? EVERYTHING! I especially love cupcakes, maybe because I’m a girly girl and they can be made to look very cute. To me baking cakes is firstly about the taste, but they also have to look good, as they say we eat with our eyes first. The main thing I enjoy about baking is the enjoyment it gives to others. I love the reaction I get when people see something I have made then I wait for the reaction on their face when they bite into it.

I would like to share some of my work with you and hope that you enjoy it. I would like to show you how easy it can be baking for yourselves, its much more satisfying that buying from the supermarket and trust me, it will taste much better.

One of the first recipes I will be sharing is one of my favourites for this time of the year. Gingerbread and Nutmeg Cupcakes! The warmness of Ginger and Nutmeg is perfect for these colder days. Keep an eye out for the recipe… coming soon.

Naomi

Changing of the seasons

It has been a while since my last proper article and I am very sorry!. Preparation for the trip to London took over my schedule in between work.

Normal service will now be resumed with plenty of things in store in the coming weeks to get your taste buds squeaking with excitement and your empty belly impatiently grumbling for your next feed. Today had a very Autumnal nip to the air and it really started to hit home that summer is fizzling out quicker than anybody would like to admit. The abrupt change in the weather shifts my focus from the bright and colourful al fresco lunches in the garden to hearty, warming soups and huge roasts with beautiful crisp root vegetables and thick, rich gravy. The conkers are preparing to drop and the leaves are slowly making the transformation from their emerald green to their rustic, golden brown and that means a change in direction for everybody interested in seasonal culinary adventure. Put the kettle on and dust off your casserole dishes. Its going to be good!.

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Autumn is a great time to break out your crock pots or slow cooker. As I always say, never be afraid to try new things, and now is as good a time as any to make a change. A great suggestion for a seasonal alternative to the norm is rabbit. There are over 40 million rabbits in United Kingdom and we seldom use them in our modern day cooking, Which is a shame as now is the perfect time to get them. It’s just after mating season has passed giving them chance to feed and recharge so they are back in prime condition around now. Don’t let the image of them being a pet put you off, they were once a staple in this country and usually at under £5 for a whole rabbit, it can really save you some money too. Ill be developing a rabbit stew recipe for you very soon.

What’s new?

This coming month (October) will be Burger month on Gecko, celebrating my amazing experience with the www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk battle of the burgers competition where, even though I didn’t win, I felt I did myself and the blog justice in showing the passion I have for cooking and food in general. It was an amazing experience where I met some incredible people and also learned a few things too from some talented cooks. I will be writing a full run down in the next 24 hours about my experience but thank you to everybody who made my presence there possible and supported me along the way.

So I hope everybody is still enjoying the last of their summer creations and prepared for all of the delights that the transformation into easily my second favourite season of the year.

Phil