Let’s Start Cooking!…
(All Recipes have Gluten-Free Options)
Welcome to Menu Mistress…
I love cookbooks and have an extensive collection! The idea of Menu Mistress is to share recipes from these books, that I have tried and tested. All you have to do is add the ingredients to your shopping list and follow the recipes, thus injecting some fresh flavours into your home cooking. This blog is essentially for people who love food but don’t have the time, energy or patience to find that winning recipe – that’s the job of Menu Mistress!…
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Florentine Meringue Cake (Serves 6-8)
This is a real show-stopping dessert and one which is perfect for the Christmas season. It’s my interpretation of a recipe I found in Skye McAlpine’s cookbook ‘A Table for Friends’ which layers meringue with a marron glacé-cream filling. I found that this version was overly sweet, plus it seemed a rather extravagant use of the expensive candied ‘marrons’; McAlpine does suggest similar additions such as candied peel, so I started playing around with different cream-filling combinations. I can proudly say I’ve come up with the ultimate meringue cake one which, as its name suggests, is inspired by a favourite of mine, florentines! Despite being incredibly easy to make it looks incredibly impressive on the dinner table; topped with redcurrants frosted with sugar it makes the perfect winter dessert – a fantastic centrepiece for a Christmas celebration!…
300g caster sugar
6 egg whites
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons icing sugar
700ml double cream
200g plain dark chocolate, roughly chopped
40g candied peel, chopped
20-30g soft caramel sweets (I use Werther’s Soft Caramels), roughly chopped
30g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons caster sugar
*You will need three baking trays and grease-proof paper.
- On three separate pieces of grease-proof paper draw a circle roughly 23cm in diameter (you could trace around a cake tin). Place each piece of paper on separate baking trays and set aside.
- Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar. Once the egg whites are stiff and glossy gently fold in the cornflour and vinegar. Divide the meringue evenly between the baking trays, using the circles as a guide.
- Bake in a preheated oven, 130’c fan, for 1 hour, then switch off the oven and leave the meringues there to harden for another hour.
- Meanwhile, prepare the frosted redcurrants (if using to decorate). Simply dip the redcurrant sprigs in water, then gently roll in the caster sugar and set aside to dry out.
- When you are ready to serve the meringue cake, sift the icing sugar into the cream and whip until firm but still silky.
- Set one of the meringue discs on a serving plate and top with one-third of the cream and sprinkle over a third of the chopped plain chocolate, candied peel, caramel and pistachios. Top with the second meringue disc and repeat. Finally, top with the third meringue, followed by the remaining cream, chocolate, candied peel, caramel and pistachios.
- Finally, if using, decorate the top of the cake with the frosted sprigs of redcurrants.
- Chill in the fridge until ready to serve, it will keep for up to 12 hours.
Christmas is on the horizon and that means a ‘festive cooking list’. Recently my son, Felix, having returned home from university has moved into a nearby flat, so this Christmas he has suggested that he could invite us over for dinner during the Christmas holidays – I’m sure the novelty will soon wear off! Naturally, he has asked me for some recipe ideas, so I’ve been thinking of dishes which are ideal for casual entertaining and which won’t cause a lot of stress for the cook. I am well aware that for many of us the season of ‘treats’ means spending a lot of time in our kitchens but let’s face it, it shouldn’t be ‘all work, no play’. Remember, entertaining can be casual, the main thing is that we’re enjoying time together! The key is balance – finding a couple of recipes that can be prepared in advance and that will happily sit in a warm oven whilst you enjoy one or two aperitifs with your close ones. You’ll be pleased to hear that this month I’m sharing some recipes that fit that criteria – nothing too fancy, just good, honest dishes which everyone will enjoy!… (Of course, all of these recipes work just as well for a family supper at any time of the year!).
Menu One is ‘Beef, Tomato and Fennel Pie with Mustard and Gruyere Mash’. This delicious dish was made for sharing, it can be prepared in advance and just heated up when your guests arrive. It’s also a great dish to bring to a party – I’m bearing this recipe in mind in case my invite to Felix’s ends up as a ‘Mum can you bring over the diner’!… Menu Two is ‘Orecchiette, Pork, Milk & Fennel’, this is perfect for feeding friends, a real crowd-pleaser. Yes, it’s just a pasta dish, but wow what flavours it has, it’s definitely a dish which will impress your guests. It’s easy to prepare the sauce well ahead of any guests’ arrival, leaving you to simply make the pasta and perhaps a big green salad when they arrive. Menu Three is ‘Pot Roast Pollack, Chickpeas and Chorizo’, a wonderful, slightly smoky flavoured dish from Tom Kerridge’s cookbook ‘Proper Pub Food’. It’s excellent for entertaining as you can prepare the chickpea and chorizo stew beforehand and then when your guests are ready to eat just reheat it with the fish on top for about 15 minutes – easy peasy!… Finally, a vegetarian stew, ‘Black-eyed Beans and Chickpea Stew’ – yes, chickpeas again but this time they are delicately spiced and served with a good sprinkling of fresh coriander and rice on the side. If needed, you can make this well in advance and reheat it before serving.
There, sorted!… Merry Christmas!!… For my Christmas Dinner menu click here!
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A little bit of housekeeping…
To find all the recipes from my blogs go to the Recipes page, where there is a link to print them off.
Oven Settings – All my recipes presume that you are cooking with a fan oven, increase the temperature by 20’c for conventional ovens without a fan.
‘Staple Side Dishes’ – when you see this beside a recipe, it indicates that I have previously published this side dish on Menu Mistress. I have re-published it so that you don’t have to trawl through my old recipe blogs to find it – Menu Mistress is about making your life in the kitchen easier!
Gluten-Free – I am gluten-free, so all of my recipes have gluten-free options, although I must stress that if you have an allergy please double check all ingredients. If flour is used you can substitute it with gluten-free flour (I use Dove’s Free From range) and likewise with other ingredients such as pasta or soy sauce, you can use gluten free options.
Most of the recipes on Menu Mistress are courtesy of the creativity of cookery book writers, old and new. The recipes are an ‘amuse-bouche’ for those available in the books. Please go to my Cookbooks page for more information.
Beef, Tomato and Fennel Pie with Mustard and Gruyere Mash (Serves 4 – 6)
This is a dish reminiscent of ‘Shepherds Pie’ but only better. Believe me, it really is a special dish, perfect on a chilly night – pure comfort!…
1kg beef (chuck), cubed
10g dried porcini mushrooms
2 onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 fennel bulb, chopped
4 bay leaves
Bunch of thyme, leaves picked and chopped
Bunch of sage, leaves picked and chopped
300g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
2 tablespoons tomato purée
400g cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons redcurrant jelly
175ml marsala wine
175ml red wine
750ml beef stock
25ml full fat milk
2 tablespoons mustard
200g gruyere cheese, grated
Sea salt and black pepper
- First of all put the porcini in a small boil, cover with boiling water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain and chop. Put to one side.
- Meanwhile heat some oil in large pan, add the beef in batches, sear and brown. Once browned remove from the pan and put to one side.
- Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds, chopped fennel, bay leaves, sage and thyme to the pan and sauté for about 5 minutes until they are starting to caramelise. Add the mushrooms and cook for another few minutes before returning the beef to the pan. Add the tomato purée and the cherry tomatoes, mix and then add the porcini, red currant jelly, marsala wine, red wine and stock, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for 2-3 hours until the meat has broken down. Now remove the lid and boil rapidly for 5 minutes or so to reduce and thicken the sauce.
- Meanwhile make the mash – peel the potatoes and chop into quarters, place in a pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 20 minutes until cooked through. Mash until smooth, adding the butter, milk, mustard and cheese and season generously.
- Spoon the beef mixture into a large pie dish, probably you will not need all of the gravy, but keep it to one side (it’s delicious!). Top the pie with the mash, spreading it out to cover the meat filling – it can look a bit messy, but no worries it cooks up beautifully!
- Cook in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for about 25 minutes until golden and bubbling. Allow to cool a little before serving, reheating any reserved gravy to pass around.
Orecchiette, Pork, Milk & Fennel (Serves 6)
This is a wonderful slow cooked recipe in which the pork becomes beautifully tender and flavoured with the stock and milk. You could, of course, serve it with any pasta shape but the orecchiette work particularly well as the ‘little ears’ of pasta pick up the braised pork and capers perfectly. Serve with plenty of parmesan and, if you wish, an extra sprinkle of chilli flakes. This recipe is courtesy of Florence Knight, the wonderful chef from London’s ‘Sessions Arts Club’ (review here!).
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
½-1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
2 rosemary sprigs, picked and roughly chopped
500g pork mince
125ml dry white wine
200ml chicken stock
120ml whole milk
40g baby capers, rinsed
Zest of ½ lemon
340g dried orecchiette (or gluten-free pasta if required)
80g Parmesan cheese (to serve)
- First of all in a dry, small frying pan toast the fennel seeds over a high heat for a minute or so until aromatic. Remove and grind in a mortar and pestle. Set to one side
- Place a large heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat and add the olive oil. Once warm, add the shallots and salt and cover with a lid for 10-15 minutes until soft but without colour.
- Stir through the garlic, chilli, rosemary and ground fennel seeds. Cook for a couple of minutes.
- Turn up the heat and crumble in the pork mince. Stir to separate the mince, cook for a few minutes then pour over the wine. Once bubbling add the stock and half of the milk. Reduce the heat to a gently simmer and cook over a low heat for 30-40 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the meat is tender.
- Take the pan off the heat and stir through the remaining milk, capers and lemon zest.
- Meanwhile cook the orecchiette until al dente, according to their packet instructions. Stir through the warm sauce, adding a ladle or two of cooking water to encourage the starch to bind it all together. Grate one third of the parmesan into the pasta, stirring to combine.
- Serve hot with plenty of extra grated Parmesean cheese.
Pot-Roasted Pollack, Chickpeas & Chorizo (Serves 4-6)
This is a wonderful, slightly smoky flavoured dish from Tom Kerridge’s cookbook ‘Proper Pub Food’. It’s excellent for entertaining as you can prepare the chickpea and chorizo stew beforehand and then when your guests are ready to eat just reheat it with the fish on top for about 15 minutes! Instead of pollack you could make it with another firm white fish, such as haddock or cod. (The original recipe uses dried chickpeas, but for an easy alternative I use tinned).
4 tablespoons sea salt flakes
A pinch of saffron
1 fillet of pollock, about 500g skinned and pin-boned (or another white fish such as haddock)
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 fresh red chillies, chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cooking chorizos, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 dried bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
150g tinned chickpeas, drained
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
200ml chicken stock
200g spinach leaves
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Mix together the sea salt flakes and saffron. Place a piece of clingfilm large enough to wrap around the pollack on the work surface, sprinkle with half the salt mix and place the pollack on top, then sprinkle the remaining salt mix over the fish and wrap in the clingfilm tightly. Leave in the fridge for 1½ hours.
- Heat the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole over a medium heat. Add the garlic, red chillies and onions and fry, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes until the onion has softened.
- Add the chorizo to the pot and continue frying for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cumin and paprika and fry, stirring, for a further 3-4 minutes.
- Add the chickpeas to the pot, then the tinned tomatoes and the stock. Bring to the boil and put in a preheated oven, 170’c fan, for 45 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven. The sauce should have reduced a little and thickened. Taste and add salt if necessary.
- Rinse the pollack thoroughly under cold running water. Pat dry and place on top of the chickpeas. Place the pot back in the oven for a further 10-15 minute, until the fish is cooked through and the flesh flakes easily.
- Remove the pot from the oven. Gently take the fish from the pot and place on a large serving plate. Stir the spinach into the hot chickpeas until it just wilts. Spoon this mix over and around the fish and serve immediately.
Black Eyed Beans and Chickpea Stew (Serves 4-6)
This is a delicately spiced vegetarian stew, serve it with a good sprinkling of fresh coriander and rice on the side. The recipe is from Darina Allen’s cookbook ‘A Year at Ballymaloe Cookery School’.
225g fresh chestnut mushrooms
6 tablespoons groundnut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
140g onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Pinch of sugar
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
225g tinned black eyed beans, drained
225g tinned chick peas, drained
3 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
1-2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
- Cut the mushrooms into thick slices. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. When hot put in the whole cumin seeds and cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle for 5-6 seconds then add the onion and garlic. Stir fry until the onions are just beginning to brown. Add the mushrooms, stir fry until they begin to wilt. Now add the tomatoes, ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, sugar and cayenne. Stir and cook for a minute. Cover the pan and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes.
- Add the drained black-eyed beans and chickpeas, 150ml of water, 2 tablespoons of the chopped coriander and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring the stew to the boil again, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.
- Serve with a generous sprinkling of the remaining chopped coriander and the mint, with rice on the side and a good green salad.
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