This week has once again flown by, speaking with friends it seems that this is a significant side effect of ‘lockdown’, a phenomenon that has taken us all by surprise; why does time fly by when we are staying at home, rather than living our normal, out and about, busy lives?!… My decision to start this blog was rather spontaneous, so life has become twice as busy. My second week as a ‘blogger’(!) has introduced a few new challenges. I have been continuing to try new recipes but for the first time I have been taking photos of everything I am cooking, at almost every stage, I have even learnt how to take a photo one handed whilst pouring stock into a pan in order to get an ‘action’ shot! As this proved to be rather precarious I bought a little tripod stand, and on Monday, in my venture to improve Menu Mistress, I shot my first cooking video(!), check it out on my social media pages – there’s a link at the bottom of this page! Meanwhile, my husband, Nick, has learnt that he has to wait for his food to be photographed before he can eat it!…
Those are just some of the challenges of cooking for the blog, in addition, navigating through the design of the website has been demanding to say the least, particularly as I am almost completely computer illiterate. There have been some frustrating hours but I must admit that it has been extremely satisfying when I have eventually managed to ‘embed’ a link or upload some photos (thanks to my son, Felix, for helping me navigate through ‘Wordpress’ etc and particularly his patience when I’ve had a ‘senior moment’!).
Before lockdown, Friday evenings were always the evening that Nick and I would have dinner out at a local restaurant. I must admit, eating out is the thing that I miss the most now that our lives have changed under COVID-19. Even though I enjoy cooking, I am not a saint, I do need a break from it now and again (perhaps I shouldn’t be admitting this on my second blog post?!), and last Friday, after a frustrating afternoon with the computer, the idea of cooking was exhausting. Fortunately, I had a simple recipe in mind, all the ingredients were at hand, I just needed a ‘Cook’…step in ‘Mr Menu’, Nick! The recipe was one that I was hoping to try out for the blog, a lemon, pea and prosciutto pasta – a little like a carbonara with a lemon twist, perfect, I thought for a summer menu. Nick is a capable cook so what could go wrong?… This is the reason that recipes need to be tried and tested for Menu Mistress, although it had only a few ingredients, this pasta dish needed to be balanced to perfection, and unfortunately the lemon was totally overpowering whilst the addition of cream made the dish too rich. It was a huge disappointment proving that the simplest recipe is not necessarily a winner. When you’re feeling exhausted and it’s the end of the day, the last thing you want is a failed dish for dinner, I want every recipe on Menu Mistress to work for each and everyone of you; for any cook at any level. Obviously that particular recipe won’t be posted on the blog!
Anyway enough talking, let’s start cooking, here are this week’s recipes – you won’t be disappointed, I have tried and tested each one and they are fool proof!…
Tarragon Chicken Pie with New Potatoes (Serves 4)
This is an absolute favourite in our house and one which Felix insists that I cook when he is back from university! It is a recipe that I picked up from a magazine years ago and have tweaked over the years. I’m gluten free, so unfortunately these days I can’t eat the pastry, but the filling is a treat in itself. I usually serve this with buttered new potatoes. I use ‘Jus Rol, Ready Rolled Puff Pastry’, they have started to make a gluten free puff pastry, I haven’t tried it, but I have heard mixed reviews and so for the moment I will continue to be an unselfish ‘head cook’ and stick to the normal pastry that both Nick and Felix love! I prefer to use fresh chicken stock, but you could use a stock cube.
320g pack of ready rolled puff pastry (see note above)
1 tablespoon olive oil
15g unsalted butter
3 spring onions, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
75g diced pancetta
500g chicken breast, cut into bite size cubes
225ml chicken stock (see note above)
250g frozen peas
8-10 sprigs of tarragon
3 slices of Prosciutto ham, each slice rolled and cut in to 2cm pieces/ribbons
2 tablespoons of double cream
Sea salt and black pepper
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon of milk (for a glaze)
- First of all, take the pastry out of the fridge as it needs at least 20 minutes to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven 200’c.
- Heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan, add the spring onions, shallots and pancetta, fry for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the chicken, season with salt and pepper and fry for another 5 minutes.
- Pour in the chicken stock and peas, bring to a simmer, and add the chopped leaves of 6-7 of the sprigs of tarragon. Cook for 5 minutes until the peas are tender.
- Stir in the prosciutto and the cream, pour into a pie dish. Sprinkle over the chopped leaves of the remaining tarragon.
- For the pastry top, gently lay out the pastry. Cut it into a circular shape to top the pie dish. I find that by cutting strips of the remaining pastry, pressing them around the rim of the pie dish and then topping with the pastry top, helps the pastry rise – see photo. I also cut out a few leaves for decoration, but obviously this doesn’t effect the flavour so if you’re in a hurry I’d leave this out! Lightly score the pastry with a criss-cross pattern to help it rise and make sure you cut out a deep cross in the centre to allow the steam to escape during cooking. Brush over with the egg and milk glaze.
- Place in the preheated oven, bake for 25-30 minutes.
- Serve with new potatoes.
Plaice with Almonds & Thyme with Baby Roast Potatoes and a Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette (Serves 4)
This is a lovely dinner, perfect for a summer evening and very easy to cook. Once again this week, I am serving Baby Roast Potatoes (from Delia Smith) and a Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette. These are ‘staple side dishes’, which you will no doubt see cropping up again on the recipe pages. You could, of course, use a different dressing for the salad, but in my opinion the lemon dressing really compliments the fish. The recipe for the plaice is from ‘Nina St Tropez’ by Nina Parker, this is a cookbook full of the flavours of the south of France, along with fantastic photographs of the beautiful Côte d’Azur!
The plaice cooks very quickly so it is important to get your timings right with the potatoes, they need about 30 minutes in the oven – therefore start cooking the fish 20 minutes after the potatoes have been put in the oven.
Plaice with Almonds and Thyme (serves 4)
If you are cooking this for four people you will have to cook two fish at a time as there won’t be enough space in the pan for four plaice fillets, therefore half the ingredients per pan accordingly (I have noted this in the recipe below). If you want to make this dish gluten free, substitute the flour for gluten free plain flour – I use ‘Doves’.
125g plain flour (or gluten free flour)
4 plaice fillets
20 g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 – 8 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
40g blanched almonds halved lengthways
1 lemon cut into wedges to serve
Sea salt and black pepper
- First of all, mix the thyme leaves, garlic and almonds together, half this mixture into two small bowls ready to add to the fish pan during cooking.
- Put the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Dip each fillet into the flour, coating it thoroughly but shaking off any excess.
- Melt half the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan, when it is beginning to sizzle add two of the plaice fillets (I find it easier to do them skin side up first). Fry for 2 minutes.
- Carefully turn them over and add the herb mixture from one of the bowls, moving it around so that the almonds and garlic begin to colour. Cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove the plaice from the pan and pour over the herb/butter mixture, keep warm.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 to cook the other 2 plaice fillets.
- Serve immediately with the lemon wedges, the baby roast potatoes and a salad of your choice with a lemon vinaigrette.
‘A Staple Side Dish’ – Baby Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary (serves 4-6)
900g unpeeled new potatoes washed and cut roughly into 1cm cubes
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, leaves chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
- Preheat the oven 200’c. Put the olive oil in a roasting tin and place in the oven to heat up.
- Place the potatoes in a clean tea towel and dry them thoroughly.
- Remove tin from the oven and carefully slide the potatoes into the hot fat. Sprinkle over the garlic and rosemary then stir around.
- Cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper before serving.
‘A Staple Side Dish’ – Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Make up a salad as desired and dress with this lemon vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
finely grated zest and juice of half an unwaxed lemon
pinch of sugar
sea salt and black pepper
- Whisk all the ingredients together.
Penne Pasta with Sausage (Serves 4)
I regularly cook this pasta dish as not only is it very tasty but incredibly quick to make. Although just a pinch of nutmeg and cloves are added, they really do make the sauce. The recipe is from ‘Passion for Pasta’ by Antonio Carluccio, I first bought this book over 20 years ago, it became so tattered from over use that I had to buy a second copy! If you are gluten free, like me, you can use gluten free sausages – I get some great ones from my local butcher. you can also make it with gluten free pasta, I think these days it’s hard to fault it; I have given it to Nick and Felix before when I’ve been too lazy to cook two types of pasta and they’ve hardly noticed! I particularly like ‘Barilla’ and ‘Garofalo’ gluten free pasta.
*To watch the video of this sauce being made click here!
375g penne rigate
75g unsalted butter
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
300g pork sausage meat, removed from casings and broken up
1 sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
150ml dry white wine
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
75g freshly grated parmesan cheese
Sea salt and black pepper
- Melt the butter and gently fry the onion and garlic.
- Add the sausage meat, continuing to break it up, mixing it in with the onion and garlic. Fry gently until well browned.
- Add the wine and rosemary, reduce heat and cook gently for 10 minutes.
- Add the nutmeg, cloves and season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile cook the penne according to the instructions on the packet, until al dente.
- Mix the sausage mixture with the parmesan cheese and add to the drained pasta.