February 2022

Well, we’ve made it to the end of the ‘dog days’ of January!

I must admit, my January hasn’t been too gloomy as I’ve already had a weekend away!… If you read my blogs/ restaurant reviews, you will know that since my son, Felix, started York University three years ago, I have developed a soft spot for the wonderful, little city of York and its restaurants. I had been wanting to introduce my sister to its finery since before the pandemic, but with the lockdowns and one thing and another, we had to keep postponing our trip. Finally last weekend, we managed to visit. Naturally, we had dinner at my favourite York restaurant, Meltons, which was as delicious as ever (see my review from last year here) and we discovered the perfect place for cocktails with a fantastic view of York Minster (Sora Sky Bar at Malmaison)! During the day, despite the cold, we enjoyed the beautiful, dry, sunny days which were perfect for strolling around the city walls and side streets. Back in London, I managed to keep to one of my New Year resolutions, to make better use of all the museums and galleries which are on my doorstep. This month I visited the V&A to see ‘Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution’, which showcases some of the extraordinary works from Carl Fabergé’s enterprise including several of the legendary eggs – it really is worth a visit if you get the opportunity!…

Apart from venturing up north and getting my London culture fix, I have been snuggling down at home with a few of my new Christmas presents – yes, I received at least four new cookbooks for Christmas. I now have an even longer list of new recipes that I want to try! I hope to share some of these with you over the next few months, but firstly this month I’m sharing some dishes which have long been favourites in my family…

Let’s face it, although we have January behind us we still have February to get through and as we know from experience it can bring some of the coldest weather. So in my opinion, February merits a couple of rich, creamy dishes. Plus, being the month of ‘love’, I’ve decided to post recipes that are special enough for a low key Valentine celebration – yet easy enough for a midweek meal. Menu One is ‘Creamy Bolognese Sauce’. I have already shared my ‘Everyday Bolognese Sauce’ with you (recipe here), but I also wanted to share this recipe for a creamier, richer sauce that is also slightly more sophisticated. Menu Two is ‘Deconstructed Chicken, Porcini, Pancetta & Sage Pies’; with their individual pastry lids these pies are as elegant as any pie could be, plus more importantly, the filling is extremely tasty! Menu Three is ‘Medallions of Pork with Prunes & Cognac’,  I have cooked this dish in various forms over the years, but this recipe from Rick Stein is the winner (so far!). Apart from being a wonderful creamy dish of deliciousness, it’s a recipe that is very quick and easy to cook – it’s a win-win! Finally, Menu Four is ‘Winter Pilau with Beetroot, Cauliflower and Coriander Chutney’. The jewel-like colours of this dish certainly give it an air of romance whilst with the ‘zing’ of the flavours, you’ll find yourself falling in love…with the recipe!

Also this month, I’m sharing some new tunes for your kitchen. Music to Cook to…MenuMusic Seventeen’, is a rather mellow mix, perfect for Valentine’s!

Menu One

Creamy Bolognese Sauce with Spaghetti (Serves 4 generously)

There are two Bolognese sauces which I like to cook at home, one of these is what I call ‘Everyday Bolognese Sauce’ (recipe here), which I think is the more traditional, family-style of the two – a good midweek all-rounder. The other recipe is this one for ‘Creamy Bolognese Sauce’, which, with the addition of cream, is richer and more sophisticated. It also makes a great midweek meal but is a little more special! I have been cooking this recipe for over 20 years, it’s from Diane Seed’s cookbook, ‘The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces’ – a great little book if you can still get it!

500g Spaghetti

2 tablespoons olive oil

80g butter

1 onion,

1 carrot

1 stalk celery

100g bacon

50g pork sausage meat

150g pork mince

150g beef mince

180ml white wine

180ml beef stock

1 tablespoon tomato purée

5 tablespoons double cream

Sea salt and black pepper

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve

  1. Finely chop/mince the onion, carrot, celery stalk and bacon, I like to use a food processor to do this.
  2. Heat the oil and 50g of the butter in a deep saucepan, add the minced onion, carrot, celery and bacon, then cook gently for about 10 minutes. Then add the sausage meat, pork and beef mince and the wine. Cook gently for a further 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  3. Add the tomato paste to the stock, stir to dilute and add to the mince mixture. Season with salt and pepper, stirring well to combine. Cook gently for 1½ hours.
  4. Finally stir in the cream, when it has been absorbed by the sauce remove from the heat and keep warm.
  5. Cook the pasta until al dente, according to the packet instructions.
  6. When you are ready to serve, return the sauce to the heat and stir in the remaining 30g butter. Then stir the sauce through the drained pasta. Serve with the Parmesan cheese on the side.

Menu Two

Deconstructed Chicken, Porcini, Pancetta and Sage Pies with Cavolo Nero (Serves 4)

The filling of these pies is very tasty, the dried porcini give it a deliciously robust flavour. The individual pastry lids mean that you can serve up gluten-free options if required, or for a lighter supper, simply serve the chicken mixture with the cavolo nero. The pastry lids would work just as well with any sort of stew or casserole – a great idea for serving up leftovers!…

500g skinless chicken breasts

25g dried porcini

1 chicken stock cube

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 small red onions sliced into half-moons

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

100g smoked pancetta, cubed

20g fresh sage leaves, chopped

150g portabellini mushrooms, roughly chopped

½ tablespoon cornflour

250g créme fraiche

320g Ready rolled puff pastry (gluten-free if required)

1 egg, beaten

400g cavolo nero (or savoy cabbage)

  1. Put the porcini in a bowl with the stock cube and 250ml boiling water, leave to rehydrate for 5 minutes, then drain, reserving the liquid; roughly chop and set aside until needed.
  2. Season the chicken and place on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and cook in a preheated oven, 160’c fan, for 25 minutes or until the juices run clear; chop and set aside until needed.
  3. Add the oil to a large frying pan and gently sauté the onions over a low heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Increase the heat and add the pancetta and sage, stirring for 2-3 minutes until the pancetta is golden brown.
  4. Add the drained, roughly chopped porcini, cook for a further 2 minutes. Pour in the reserved porcini liquid and the portabellini mushrooms, then continue to cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Mix the cornflour and crème fraiche together and add to the pan. Bring to the boil to thicken, then remove from the heat. Stir in the chopped chicken and set aside until needed.
  6. Unroll the pastry and cut out 4 round lids – a small saucer approx.12cm diameter makes a good template. Gently score a pattern into the pastry. Brush a little beaten egg over the top of each lid and place on a baking tray. Cook in a preheated oven, 180’c fan for about 20 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.
  7. Meanwhile, cook the cavolo nero, cut out the bitter stem from the leaves and discard and roughly chop the leaves. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Drop in the cavolo nero and cook for 3-4 mins until wilted and darker in colour.
  8. Just before serving bring the chicken mixture to the boil. Divide the cavolo nero between four plates, then top with the reheated chicken ‘filling’ and an individual pastry lid.

Menu Three

Medallions of Pork with Prunes & Cognac (Serves 4)

As Rick Stein says in his cookbook ‘Secret France’, this is one of those recipes which has been around forever. Indeed, I have cooked it in various forms over the years, but it is this recipe from Stein’s aforementioned cookbook that is the winner (so far!).  Apart from being delicious, it’s a recipe that is very quick and easy to cook, hence its ongoing popularity. It’s great served with ‘My Favourite Mash’ and ‘Sautéed Spinach with Garlic’ (recipes here).

30g butter

2 teaspoons olive oil

700g pork fillet, trimmed of slivery sinew and cut into 1 cm rounds

2 banana shallots, chopped

60ml Cognac or brandy

150ml double cream

250ml chicken stock

2 teaspoons redcurrant jelly

A few fresh thyme sprigs

12 ready-to-eat pitted prunes

Small handful flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Heat half the butter with the oil in a frying pan and brown the pork medallions for 1-2 minutes, then set them aside.
  2. Add the remaining butter and gently fry the shallots until softened. Then add the Cognac and cook for a minute or so until the liquid is reduced by half.
  3. Add the cream, chicken stock, redcurrant jelly, thyme sprigs and prunes, and cook for a couple of minutes before putting the pork medallions and any of their juices back in the pan. Taste and season with salt and plenty of pepper, then cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the pork is just cooked through.
  4. To serve, remove the thyme and sprinkle with the parsley.

Menu Four

Winter Pilau with Beetroot, Cauliflower and Coriander Chutney (Serves 4)

I love the jewel-like colours of this dish – the brightness of the turmeric stained rice, the pomegranate and beetroot with the vivid green of the coriander chutney is beautiful. That’s just the colours… the flavours will really add a ‘zing’ to your day! This recipe is from Meera Sodha’s cookbook, ‘East’.

300g basmati rice

600g cauliflower, broken into bite-size florets

400g raw beetroot peeled and cut into wedges

300g swede, peeled and cut into 1cm x 3cm slices

2½ teaspoons garam masala

Rapeseed oil

Sea salt

1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk

6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

2cm ginger, peeled

2 green finger chillies

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 large onion, finely sliced

100g fresh coriander

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon caster sugar

2 handfuls of pomegranate seeds

  1. Wash the rice in a few changes of cold water, until the water runs clear then leave to soak in cold water.
  2. Put the cauliflower on a baking tray in a single layer and on another baking tray put the beetroot and swede, again in a single layer. In a small bowl, mix the garam masala, 5 tablespoons of rapeseed oil and ¾ teaspoon of salt, then drizzle this mixture over the veg on both trays, tossing to coat. Roast in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for 25-30 minutes until tender and caramelised in places (the swede and beetroot may need a little longer).
  3. While the vegetables are cooking make the sauce for the rice. Put 300ml of the coconut milk into a blender/processor with the garlic, ginger, one of the chillies, the turmeric and ¾ teaspoon of salt, then blitz until smooth.
  4. In a large frying pan with a tight fitting lid, heat 2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil over a medium heat. Fry the onion for 10 minutes then add the coconut sauce and cook for 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the drained rice with 400ml of freshly boiled water, and bring to the boil. Put on the lid, turn the heat down to very low, so that it is barely simmering, and cook for 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked through.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and fold through the cooked, roasted vegetables, replace the lid, and leave to one side to steam for 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile make the chutney. Put the remaining 100ml of coconut milk in a blender/processor with the coriander, the other chilli, lemon juice, sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Blend until smooth and scrape into a serving bowl.
  7. Transfer the rice to a platter, sprinkle over the pomegranate seed and serve with the coriander chutney alongside.

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