Week Thirty One

We have survived the first month of 2021! I must admit that the month of January is when I allow myself to be my absolute laziest, it’s my hibernating month, so I need this new month of February to get me kickstarted!  Prior to the world of lockdown, January was also the month in which I would indulge myself with lots of outings to the cinema, as generally, it was the month with all the best film releases before the various annual award ceremonies. But, of course, this year I couldn’t even go out to the cinema, so I must admit that I have been even lazier than normal and I have been watching far too many films at home on my sofa (with chocolate!). I’ve been downloading a few of the Oscar nominated films such as ‘Mank’ and the ‘Chicago 7’, so have been getting my normal ‘cinema hit’, but I have also been binge watching boxsets (‘The Undoing’, ‘Bridgerton’ and the ‘Serpent’) and even re-watching some of my favourite movies such as last years ‘Little Women’ and the old classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

It was whilst recently re-watching one of my favourite ‘food themed’ films, ‘Julia and Julie’, that it hit me, why, during these uncertain covid times, Menu Mistress has been so good for me (and hopefully you!)…in the film, whilst making chocolate mousse, Julie says to her husband, “You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure…you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. That’s such a comfort”. That is exactly how I feel about cooking good recipes, they allow me to have control in an uncertain world; despite all this Covid world upheaval, at the end of the day, I can cook something which I can enjoy. Hopefully, the recipes which I am sharing (all tried and tested in my kitchen) are also bringing some certainty to your everyday lives and inspiring you to cook more… which brings me to this week’s new recipes!…

This month it is, of course, Valentine’s Day, so I thought it would be a great excuse to share a perfect steak recipe, Peppercorn Steak with Aligot. This is a classic French bistrot recipe, the steak is an elegant treat whilst the addition of the Aligot makes it particularly comforting. All you need on the side is a classically dressed green salad.  Menu Two is Chicken Milanese, I must admit that if I asked both Nick and Felix what they would like me to cook for their Valentine’s treat, it would probably be this. In this recipe, chicken escalopes are breadcrumbed, pan fried and then served on a plate of spaghetti dressed with a rich tomato sauce – it has long been a family favourite (I’m also sharing a gluten free option for this recipe). Menu Three is Spicy Red Lentil Soup, this vegetarian soup is the perfect weekday meal on a cold February night, it’s spice will definitely warm you up!

Finally, not only do we have the excuse for a Valentine’s feast but also, with Shrove Tuesday on 17th February, we also have the perfect excuse for a Pancake feast…so this week, so that you can plan ahead, I thought I would also share my favourite foolproof pancake recipe, including a gluten free version that really does work! Plus there is a recipe for a delicious savoury pancake filling. I have to admit that I could just eat all my Shrove Tuesday pancakes simply with lemon and sugar, one after the other, after the other…but this savoury filling means that you can make a midweek supper completely out of pancakes – a main course and then a dessert with lemon and sugar ones!

Remember that I will be posting a ‘Tuesday Treat’ next Tuesday 10th February! The recipe I am planning to share will offer you the perfect end to your special Valentines meal…

Also, on MenuMusic, I’m posting a new Spotify playlist for you to cook along to. This new playlist is a modern mix of chilled tracks, which I hope you’ll enjoy…it’s perfect music to bake a cake to, on a lazy Sunday afternoon!

Menu One

Steak with Peppercorn Sauce and Aligot Potatoes (Serves 4)

This is a super simple way to take a steak dinner to an even higher level! The sauce is quickly cooked in the pan after frying the steaks. You could serve this simply with Homemade Oven Chips (recipe here) or for pure indulgence, serve French style, with Aligot potatoes, I also like a green salad with a little torn parsley on the side, dressed with a classic vinaigrette (both recipes below).

4 sirloin steaks (or a steak cut of your choice)

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

For the Sauce:

170ml brandy

370ml beef stock

250ml double cream

4-6 teaspoons whole black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

  1. Lightly brush the steaks with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and a little black pepper.
  2. Heat a frying pan until very hot. Place the steaks in the pan and cook for about 1½ minutes of each side for rare or a little longer depending on your taste. I also like to turn the steaks on their ‘fat’ edge, for 30 seconds to crisp it up.
  3. Remove the steaks to a plate to rest whilst you make the sauce.
  4. Add the brandy to the pan and let it simmer rapidly, scraping the bottom of the pan, when most of it has reduced (and lost its harsh alcohol smell), add the stock and simmer to reduce by half.
  5. Lower the heat. Add the cream, peppercorns and any juices from the resting steaks, stir, then simmer for about 2 minutes until it thickens (do not let it boil). Season with salt.
  6. Transfer the steaks to plates and spoon over the sauce.

Aligot (Serves 4)

Aligot is a traditional recipe of puréed potatoes with cheese from the South of France. Traditionally it is made with Tomme de Savoie, but this is very difficult to find in the UK, so in this recipe it is substituted with Emmental. Although not completely authentic it is absolutely delicious! You will often find Aligot served in good French bistrots with a simple steak and green salad, but it is equally good with a pork chop or sausages – a French take on ‘bangers and mash’! Aligot does require a bit of ‘elbow grease’ – the grating of cheese (my pet hate!) and beating it into the mash – but the end result makes it all worth it!

1 kg potatoes (such as Maris Piper)

400g Emmental cheese, grated

50g butter

100ml milk

1 garlic clove, crushed

150g Créme Fraîche

Whole nutmeg to be grated

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into even-sized chunks. Steam until completely cooked through.
  2. Heat the milk with the butter and garlic.
  3. Mash the potatoes with the milk and melted butter mixture.
  4. Return the pan with the mashed potatoes to the hob and over a low heat quickly mix in the cheese and cremé fraîche – this requires a bit of elbow grease, but as the cheese melts you will notice that the potato becomes wonderfully smooth.
  5. Finally season with a grating of nutmeg and salt and pepper.

Green Salad with a Classic Vinaigrette

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and pepper

A salad of your choice

  1. Simply put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together (or place in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously).

Menu Two

Chicken Milanese with Spaghetti & Tomato Sauce (Serves 4)

(with a Gluten Free Option)

This is one of our family favourites! It is a recipe I found years ago, on a ‘Jamie Oliver’ phone app, the app has since been deleted, but fortunately, I made a note of the recipe!… For a gluten free option I ‘bread’ the chicken pieces in ‘Mrs Crimble’s Gluten Free Ready to Use Breadcrumbs’ which you can buy in UK supermarkets; they are a very good alternative, in fact, the Chicken Milanese in the final photo above, is made with them!

2 – 3 chicken breasts

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 small bunch of basil

½ bunch of parsley

400g tin chopped tomatoes

Plain flour for dusting (gluten free if required)

1-2 eggs

1 loaf of ciabatta

Olive oil

300g spaghetti (gluten free if required)

Sea salt and pepper

  1. Cut the crusts off of the ciabatta, tear the bread into the bowl of a food processor and process to bread crumbs adding a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Pick the leaves from the herbs, put these to one side and chop the stalks.
  3. Fry the garlic slices in a little olive oil until lightly golden, add the chopped herb stalks, fry for 30 seconds before adding the chopped tomatoes. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. For the chicken ‘Milanese’, Cut the chicken breasts into 3 lengthways, cover these slices with clingfilm and flatten to the thickness of £1 coin, by hitting with the base of a heavy saucepan (see the video of me doing this here!).
  5. Put a couple of tablespoons of flour on a plate and mix with some salt and pepper. Beat the egg(s) in a bowl big enough for dipping the chicken pieces in. Put the breadcrumbs in another bowl.
  6. Toss each chicken piece first in the flour, shaking off any excess, then dip them in the beaten egg and finally in the breadcrumbs, to coat completely.
  7. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and fry each breaded chicken piece until golden and cooked through.
  8. Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions, until al dente.
  9. To serve: roughly chop the basil and parsley leaves and stir through the cooked spaghetti. Divide the spaghetti onto plates, add a dollop of the hot tomato sauce and top with the fried chicken pieces.

Menu Three

Spicy Red Lentil Soup (Serves 4)

This is a very warming soup, and quite spicy, I would add less chilli the first time you make it, as you can always add more chilli flakes at the end of cooking, it’s one of those recipes which you have to let your taste buds lead you!.. (Toasted Naan breads are good with this soup!)

200g split red lentils

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

A little groundnut oil

A small thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated

3 cloves garlic, peeled

4 tomatoes, quartered

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1-2 small red chillies (less to taste – see note above)

1-2 teaspoons of dried chilli flakes (less to taste – see note above)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 litre vegetable stock (I use ‘Marigold Swiss Vegetable Boullion’)

A small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped

Sea salt

  1. In a heavy based saucepan, gently fry the onion in the groundnut oil, until softened but not coloured.
  2. Add the mustard seeds and cook until the seeds start to pop a little.
  3. Add the lentils, ginger, garlic cloves, tomatoes, chopped and dried chillies and the ground turmeric, stir well before adding the stock and a pinch of salt.
  4. Bring to the boil, skim off any froth that appears on the surface. Lower the temperature, half cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the lentils have softened and have started to fall apart.
  5. Add most of the chopped coriander (keep some back to serve). Place in a food processor and process until smooth, check the seasoning.
  6. Serve sprinkled with the remaining chopped coriander.

Menu Four

Basic Pancakes (and Chicken, Chilli and Basil Pancake Wraps)

All too often we tend to forget about pancakes and then the annual Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day arrives and we go mad for them! They really deserve to be served up more often and the recipe for Chicken, Chilli and Basil Pancake Wraps (below), is a great way to make them into savoury supper dish at any time of the year…followed by dessert of pancakes sprinkled with lemon and sugar!

Basic Pancakes (with Gluten)

110g plain flour

A pinch of salt

2 large eggs

200ml milk mixed together with 75ml water

2 tablespoons melted butter, plus extra for cooking the pancakes

  1. Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl (hold the sieve up high to give the flour an ‘airing’).
  2. Make a well in the middle of the flour and break the eggs into it.
  3. Whisk the eggs into the flour, incorporating the bits from the sides.
  4. Start to add small quantities of the milk and water mixture gradually, until it has all been added and the batter is smooth.
  5. When you are ready to cook the pancakes add the 2 tablespoons of melted butter to the batter and stir well.
  6. Melt about a teaspoon of butter in a small frying pan. Swirl it around the pan and tip off any excess butter – the pan only needs a light coating.
  7. When the pan is really hot, turn down the heat to medium and add about 3 tablespoons of batter to the pan, tip it around from side to side so that the base is evenly coated. It should only take ½ -1 minute to cook, you will notice little bubbles rising under the surface. Use a palette knife (or if you’re feeling brave, toss it!) to turn the pancake over to cook the other side, then slide on to a plate, cover with foil to keep warm whilst you cook the next pancake.

(The first pancake is often ‘a tester’, so that you can determine how much batter your pan needs, so don’t be surprised if it isn’t perfect).

Basic Gluten-Free Pancakes

100g gluten free plain flour (I use Doves)

A pinch of salt

2 large eggs

1½ teaspoons melted butter, plus extra for cooking the pancakes

240ml whole milk

60ml water

  1. Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl (hold the sieve up high to give the flour an ‘airing’).
  2. Make a well in the middle of the flour and break the eggs into it and add the melted butter and about ¼ of the milk, whisk to combine to a thick mixture, incorporating all of the flour around the sides.
  3. Slowly whisk in the rest of the milk and the water, until the batter is smooth.
  4. Leave to sit for 20-30 minutes. Mix well again when you are ready to cook the pancakes.
  5. Melt about a teaspoon of butter in a small frying pan. Swirl it around the pan and tip off any excess butter – the pan only needs a light coating.
  6. When the pan is really hot, turn down the heat to medium and add about 3 tablespoons of batter to the pan, tip it around from side to side so that the base is evenly coated. It should only take ½ – 1 minute to cook. Use a palette knife (or if you’re feeling brave, toss it!) to turn the pancake over to cook the other side, then slide on to a plate, cover with foil to keep warm whilst you cook the next pancake.

(The first pancake is often ‘a tester’, so that you can determine how much batter your pan needs, so don’t be surprised if it isn’t perfect).

*It is important to give the batter a good mix just before using for each pancake as the flour tends to settle at the bottom.

Chicken, Chilli and Basil Pancake Wraps (Serves 4)

This is a great recipe for a savoury option on Shrove Tuesday, but don’t just save the recipe for ‘Pancake Day’, it really is delicious at any time of the year! The stir-fry chicken needs to be cooked quickly so it is a good idea to have everything weighed out and prepared beside the stove, before cooking. By chargrilling the cooked pancakes you get a wonderful ‘charred flavour’!

For the Pancakes

Batter as above – either with or without gluten

1 level teaspoon vegetable stock powder (such as Marigold Swiss Vegetable Boullion)

Sesame oil for brushing

For the chicken
500g chicken breast fillets, cut into thin strips
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
20g red chillies, roughly chopped
A generous pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce (gluten free if required)
1 tablespoon caster sugar
Large handful of basil leaves, torn

To serve
135g cucumber, cut into sticks
40g fresh coriander leaves
1 large red chilli, halved, deseeded and finely sliced lengthways
Lime wedges

  1. Whisk the stock powder into the pancake batter until dissolved, then make the pancakes following the method for the basic pancakes, above. Set aside while you make the filling.
  2. For the chicken: Pound the garlic, chillies and salt in a mortar to make a paste. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the paste and stir-fry over a high heat for 30 seconds — be careful not to burn the garlic. Add the chicken strips and stir-fry for 2 min until just cooked through. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar, and stir-fry for a further 30 seconds then toss in the torn basil leaves. Set aside, keeping warm.
  3. Set a grill pan over a high heat. While the pan is heating, lightly brush one side of each pancake with sesame oil. Place a pancake in the pan, oiled-side down, and cook for 1 min, or until charred with stripes underneath. Flip and cook for 30 seconds more. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining pancakes.
  4. Place some of the chicken mixture on one half of a pancake. Top with some cucumber, coriander leaves, chilli and a squeeze of lime juice. Roll up and eat immediately.

3 thoughts on “Week Thirty One

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