#Cookalongfriday – Something for the weekend – Ham & Pasta

A change in tack here at the cookalong:  I’ve gone into partnership with @relucthousedad, he of Reluctant Housedad blog.  He’s an all-round great guy and, it turns out, quite the chef.  You should try his steak!  Between us we’ll provide you with recipes galore to entertain and delight.  Or at least that’s the plan.  If you’re reading this and want to join in, add recipes to the mix, you’re all more than welcome!

Over at his blog today you’ll find Chicken Scallopini, a treat for the one(s) you love.  For my part, knowing there’s a few kids out there who would turn up their noses at such wonderful, sophisticated, fare, I present one of my children’s favourites:  Ham and Pasta.

This dish can be as simple or as complex as you like.  Once you’ve done it, you’ll see where you’ll want to make changes.

Shopping List

  • Ham.  Depending on the number of kids, I reckon on 2 nice thick slices per person.  What sort of ham is entirely up to you – smoked, unsmoked, Yorkshire…  Your choice.
  • Onion.  1 large for every 4 people you’re feeding.
  • Double cream.  1/3 pint per 4 people, maybe more, maybe less.
  • Wholegrain mustard.  1 tbsp
  • Pasta.  Portions according to manufacturer’s instructions.  To be honest, I’ve never used those instructions.  I use the “how hungry am I?” scale and work from that.

Lets get to work.

One thing about cooking when you’ve got a family is that faster dishes are better and more likely to make it onto the menu.  The pasta takes 11 minutes to cook, that’s how long it takes to do the rest.

  1. Boil the kettle, put a half-inch of water into the saucepan you’re cooking the pasta in, salt generously.
  2. While you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, chop the onion fairly finely, cut the ham into 1″ squares.
  3. Once kettle and pan are boiling, bang the pasta in the pan, cover with boiling water, put the lid on.  This is going to boil over, so when the lid starts rattling, open it by an inch or so.
  4. Put a large frying pan on a medium heat, fry the onions for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the ham to the pan, continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
  6. Add double cream, stir in mustard, make sure everything’s thoroughly coated.
  7. Season to taste.
  8. Pasta should be ready now, so turn down the heat on the frying pan while you drain it.
  9. Add contents of frying pan to saucepan containing pasta, stir.
  10. Serve in bowls/on plates/large leaves/big scallop shells/whatever comes to hand.

And that’s the long and short of it!  My kids love this (hell, I love this.  Especially with a good grate of black pepper once it’s served), you’re done in under 15 minutes and there’s not a lot of washing up to do.

Next time I’m cooking this, I’ll bring this post up to the high standard @relucthousedad’s set with suitable photographs of the cooking in action and of children being told to look like you’re enjoying this or it’s an early bed and no supper.

Next week:  We test the chefs.  I’ll be finding out if you can do a Jamie Oliver 20 minute meal in 20 minutes.  There’s an app for that, you know.

Spring lamb curry #cookalongfriday

Back on familiar ground this week, though with a twist.  And, no.  That twist isn’t a Royal Wedding-themed curry.  To be honest, I’d be the man on the train into London wondering where everyone was going or on the M25 wondering why it was so quiet.  I know there’s been blanket coverage on the TV but these things just don’t register on my radar!

Anyway, today’s curry is a 3-part affair – preparation, the long cook and the final 5 minutes.  It’s also got an unusual ingredient that’s abundant in my garden at the moment…

Ingredients:

  • 2lb lamb, cubed (2cm/1in)
  • 4 onions, finely sliced.  Whenever a recipe says this I put them through the Kenwood although I do now have  a wonderful ceramic cleaver and I now know the meaning of “finely sliced”!!!
  • 3 tsp ginger and garlic paste
  • 1tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder / paprika
  • 4floz chicken stock
  • Handful of coriander, same amount of mint (there’s the secret ingredient)
  • 3 chillies (optional)
  • 3tbsp lemon juice
  • 1tsp sugar

The Preparation

Put everything from the lamb down to the chicken stock into a large pan.  That’s it.

The Long Cook

Fire up the hob to a medium heat, bring everything to a simmer then drop the heat to low.  Bang on a lid, leave it mostly alone for two hours (long enough to watch some of that Royal Wedding coverage!).  Check on it from time to time, removing any oil that comes to the surface.

Or…

Whack the lot in a slow cooker and ignore.

Or…

Put it in the pressure cooker.  Cook for half an hour with no pressure then 15-30 minutes at full pressure (your mileage may vary!).  Sometimes this works wonderfully, sometimes the stuff sticks like dried-on Weetabix and burns.  I’ve not worked out how to judge this one yet, I’m just starting on my pressure-cooker career.

The Final 5 Minutes

Add the rest of the ingredients (but not the sugar) along with a couple of tablespoons of the juice from the pan to a blender and blend until smooth.  Stir this into the lamb mix, bring it back to a simmer, add the sugar, taste and adjust seasoning, serve.

Cunning Tip Number 1 – You’re cooking for kids and adults and you want a full-heat version for the grown-ups.  Split the contents of the main pan and the blender in two (or whatever the ratio of kids to adults is), stir the un-chillied blend into pan 1, add chillies and blend again before adding to pan 2 for a full-heat, feel-the-burn, toilet-paper-in-the-fridge adults mix.

So there you go.  Nothing particularly hard or scary about this one, fully adjustable heat levels so you can watch the looks of amazement on the other parent’s faces when you say “Oh, yes, my kids eat curry” as if it’s something perfectly normal and they’re the weird ones for not eating it!  Personally, I love the fact that I don’t have to cook different meals for the adults and the kids.

Works wonderfully well with all that fine spring lamb that’s frolicking in the fields at the moment and the fresh mint that’s sprouting in the garden.

Enjoy and tell me all about it in the comments!

Pizza, food of the Gods (#cookalongfriday #amcooking)

Pizza today, and in a break from providing you with a complete recipe I’m going to treat you a general discussion and to my favourite toppings.
I had put a tweet out to a number of famous (and not-so-famous) types to find out what the strangest pizza topping they’d had and enjoyed was but as of time-of-writing, I’ve had nothing back.

Anyway.  Pizza breaks down into 3 components.  The base, the tomato sauce and the toppings.  Until recently it wasn’t always possible to reliably obtain pizza bases from the supermarket.  Back in the Somerfield days here on the rock we *could* get pizza bases from the bit at the back of the store where they prepared pizza but it depended entirely on who was serving.  Some were happy to sell us the bases on the grounds that it was a sale and that cash is always welcome.  Others were adamant that you could only buy a pizza base from them if you bought the rest of the pizza with it.  And there was no clear direction from on high.  So we improvised:

  • French sticks, cut in half and lightly grilled, work very well.  The downside is that the bread has a hard crust and can wreak havoc on the skin of your mouth.
  • Naan breads also work rather well, and you’ve got the advantage of building some flavour direct into the base if you go for a garlic and coriander naan in the first place.
  • If you’ve the time and the inclination, you can make the base yourself.

We’ve done all three of these in the past and wolfed down every one.  Now we’ve got a Tescos, they’ve started stocking ready-made pizza bases and all is well with the world.  We’ll still make our own from time to time, though, just to prove we can!  I say “we”, it’s actually my wife that makes the bread and she’s damn good at it.

That’s the base.  Now, the tomato sauce.I’ve seen a lot of recipes for this over the years, some a lot more complicated than others.  Ours involves a few key ingredients:  Tomato puree, wine vinegar, salt, pepper and fresh chopped basil.  After that, the additions are there to be made depending on what you’re putting on there.  Fresh herbs from the garden, where possible, are fantastic.  I can guarantee that there’ll be fresh parsley in today’s pizza base, it’s too yummy to miss out.  If we’re doing a seafood pizza we’ll stick in chopped anchovies and mussels to really round out the flavour.

Now, the toppings.  Cheese goes without saying.  Experiment!  Wendsleydale isn’t half bad, feta makes a nice addition, I’ve not tried haloumi but I think it could work rather well.  We’ll bang on some stilton if we’ve got it, assorted strong (extra-mature, uber-Farmhouse-industrial-strength) cheddars and, of course, mozarella.  But under the cheese, ahh, that’s where things get interesting.

Right.  In Norwich, many years ago (so long ago I’ve been informed they’ve closed the restaurant now) there used to be a place called Pizza One and Pasta Two.  In there I had “The Monty Python”.  Described as “Something completely different”, this was a curry and banana pizza.  And it was wonderful!  In fact, banana makes a few appearances on my pizza favourites (and if people will put up with pineapple, why not banana too?).  Tuna and banana, one I first had from Sinatra’s on the Lothian Road in Edinburgh, is one my kids love.  Bacon and banana likewise, although I don’t remember seeing this one commercially available anywhere.  On the Isle of Skye there used to be a pizza shop called Creeler’s.  Don’t know if it’s still there.  Had a seafood pizza from them when I was in the area, spent most of my time trying to work out just what it was I was eating!  “Seafood” being, apparently, whatever they pulled out of the sea and chopped up.  I know there were mussels and squid but there was stuff I’d need a degree in marine biology to recognise.  In Paris, they put smoked salmon on my seafood pizza (and charged accordingly!)

@saccostomus on Twitter tells me he’s had haggis pizza, and a chilli and bitter chocolate one.  That sounds rather good.  I had a pizza in Leeds once that was topped with green chillis and very little else.  Painful but very tasty.  Very tasty indeed.

I’m looking forward to my kids growing up so that I can slowly increase the amount of heat in these dishes.  Nothing better than the burn of a chilli on your pizza in my opinion.

So…  Over to you.  What’s the best (or the worst) pizza topping you’ve had?  Where’s the best pizza you’ve had?  Anyone had one of those massive pizzas they featured on Friends?