Italian Tomato Sauce

Italian Tomato Sauce

We have had one of those very chilled out, gentle days where everyone has been in the same room doing different things and generally allowing time to just waft.  I love these days.

And it is on days such as these that I tend to do my catch up cooking.  Today I am making some hummus, roasting some peppers and cooking a large pot of my all purpose tomato sauce.

The thing about this tomato sauce is that, although it takes a while to make, once it’s done you can use it as a base for anything in the Italian food range, from pizza to lasagne, bolognese to cannelloni, or just as a sauce in itself, to cover spaghetti or another form of pasta.  It’s perfect.  Well, perfect for our family.  Some people get stuff in for the freezer, I make tomato sauce.

So, what I do is finely chop an onion, a few carrots, a couple of sticks of celery and a few cloves of garlic.  Pop in a pan with a generous portion of ordinary olive oil, add some salt and pepper, put the lid on and allow it to all saute, very gently, into itself. I would say if you leave it on a very low heat, keeping your eye on it, everything will be wonderfully soft within around 45 minutes.

Once the vegetable base is softened, chop up 9 or 10 large tomatoes and add to the pot.  Squeeze a good splodge of tomato puree in there and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of oregano depending on how strong you like the flavour to come through.

The next couple of ingredients are both a confession and a statement in my defence.  You see you can’t truly make a good tomato sauce unless you put in red wine and sugar.  I have to admit to having had a splosh of red wine in a bottle sitting next to my oven for about two weeks, waiting for exactly this type of day to arrive. Sadly, to my shame, I have not been able to resist putting in a teaspoonful of sugar to accompany the wine, and enhance the flavour of the tomato.  However, my logic follows that of bread making.  You cannot possible make bread without adding some sweetness as it is a catalyst to the yeast.  Similarly, with home made tomato sauce, I believe it to be imperative in order to allow the tomatoes to shine, that sugar is added.  It’s only the tiniest bit…

And on the subject of sugar, I’m not sure whether I am going through a sugar delirium having not had any for 10 days now, but everything is starting to taste sweet.  Is that what normally occurs?

Anyway, allow everything to simmer in the pot with the lid on, for another 20 – 30 minutes or until you think everything is cooked.  Turn the heat off and let it all sit in itself for a while.

At this juncture I would suggest you make a cup of tea, perhaps have a slice of cake, and put your feet up.

When the tomato sauce has cooled down you can either whizz it up in a blender, leave it chunky, or, as I do, split it and do half and half.

Whatever you decide to do with your sauce, when it’s cooled pop it in a tupperware box, an old large greek yoghurt pot, ice cream pot or whatever has a lid, and either store it in the fridge or separate into small meal sized portions and freeze.

I tell you what, if it does nothing else, it will make you feel very organised and together when you next need an Italian tomato sauce.

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Kitchen Sink Salad

kitchen sink salad

I have called this a kitchen sink salad as I put almost everything but the kitchen sink, into it.

Made me smirk.

What it actually has in it is spinach leaves, beetroot, avocado, blue cheese, red orange and yellow pepper, and tomatoes.  Not that much really, but it seemed a lot at the time.  I was going to put some walnuts in there as well, but forgot.  Which is no surprise really, as this is the first time I have rustled up a salad since last year, and am therefore a little salad rusty.

That’s my excuse anyway.

But I tell you what, it was delicious with some lovely new potatoes.

Meanwhile the wee boy’s dilemma of the day is what he’s going to change his name to when he grows up.  The options are:

1.  Wallace – his favourite films at the moment are the Wallace and Grommit series

2.  The Apprentice – taken from some Star Wars film or other, another favourite

How wonderful it is to be five.

Fish Pie

fish pie - cooked

I absolutely love fish pie.  In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s probably in my top 20.  Which may seem a little underwhelming, but if you think about it, there are so many wonderful things to eat that, until I really spend time deciding on my true top 20, it’s the best I can do.

Meanwhile, we have also been doing some baking today as it is Mollie’s birthday. The wee boy decided, as her present, that she would probably like some chocolate buns.   As Mollie is a hand puppet she didn’t really get a say in the matter, but when you’re five, the question as to whether something is actually alive or not, is irrelevant.  Mollie is his friend and that’s good enough for me.  We even went as far as putting candles on the cakes, lighting them, and singing her ‘happy birthday’. Glorious.

However, this has been my greatest challenge yet in the no sugar stakes, and I have to admit to lapsing without thought, twice.  Firstly, I licked my fingers which were covered in raw cake mixture, and then, later on, I inadvertently popped a piece that had fallen off the cooling rack, into my mouth.  No, truly, it was an accident.  Bloody lovely though.

Anyway, back to the fish pie.  I always put smoked fish in with white fish and some salmon.  I like the combination.  But to be honest, the beauty of fish pie is that you can put whatever fish takes your fancy in there.  I make a white sauce, which consists of cornflour, salt, pepper, milk and butter.  Occasionally, if I have it in, I put a wee bit of anchovy paste in and leave out the salt, and sometimes, like today, I replace some milk with cream, just because it needed using up.

After making the sauce, ensuring it has quite a thick consistency, I add the fish, cut up with scissors.  Make sure not to make the chunks too small as they will disintegrate.  Now then, if you wish, a little chopped parsley is a lovely compliment to fish, but I didn’t have any of that around so this time, omitted it.

Put the fish and sauce into a dish.

Make some mashed potato, place on top, fiddle about with a fork to make a pretty pattern, and place in the oven, gas mark 5 for around 45 minutes.

Take out and let it all sit in itself for a few minutes.  I tend to serve it with peas as I’m a creature of habit, but anything green goes well.  Except green peppers, but I’m not a fan of the taste of those anyway.

I find fish pie so delicious I am always tempted to have seconds, but every time I do, I regret it within approximately ten minutes, as it is very, ‘catches you unaware’, filling.  As a consequence of this, we do have a very large amount of fish pie left, so if anyone fancies popping over for some, do feel free.

Cheese Scones

Cheese Scones

Sundays lend themselves to afternoon tea.  Of course that usually means a wonderful cup of tea to accompany a plate of something cold and savoury, followed by something sweet.  Well I’m having to forego the sweet treat but have, instead, decided to make some cheese scones.

But before we go any further let us address, head on, the elephant in the room.  The pronunciation of the word ‘Scone’.

I am not, at this juncture, prepared to get into any type of disagreeable argument with regards to this word, as I am of the firm belief that, in this particular instance the ‘each to his or her own’ philosophy most befits the situation.

However, I will say that, according to my research, those of us on this little plot of land, are more inclined to the pronunciation of scone to rhyme with the word ‘con’, whereas those of our cousins across various waters, are more inclined to pronounce scone to rhyme with the word ‘tone’.

*leaves slight pause for reflection, thus realising that this information neither helps nor hinders a ‘Scone’ argument*

Throw 8oz self raising flour, a pinch of salt and a pinch of mustard powder into a bowl.  Rub in 2oz of butter until it resembles soft sand.  Add 2oz grated mature cheddar cheese and 5 floz of full fat milk together into the bowl and roll it around until it all forms a ball.  Pop said ball onto a floured surface and flatten it into a round, approximately 2cm thick, circle.  Cut out 10 – 12 scones and place on a baking tray. brush with a little milk and cook in the oven for around 12 – 15 minutes at gas mark 7.

Of course, I completely forgot that I was slow cooking a ham in the oven on a low heat, so put my scones in and thought nothing more of it.  Until 10 minutes later when it dawned on me that I was actually cooking two things in the same oven, at the same time. Thankfully I managed to rescue the situation before the scones decided to give up the rising ghost and turn into cheese biscuits.

I should also probably mention that as the weather is so inclement today, these cheese scones have been prepared, baked and eaten in my ‘at home’ daywear.

Comfort personified.

Hummus

hummus

We are now on day four of no sugar, and my initial ‘rabbit in headlights’ approach is slowly being replaced with a more considered, less panic driven, one.

Now you may be thinking that I am revealing myself to be a bit of a numpty here, surely I should have considered the impact of giving up sugar and therefore have mentally prepared myself for the challenge ahead?  And if this is the case, what’s with the ‘rabbit in headlights’ scenario?

Well all I can say in my defence, is that I genuinely didn’t think I had so many sugar products in my life.  Yesterday I spent the day yearning for a pear.  Today I have had a coffee and, much to my chagrin, have realised that it only highlights my dependence (I usually have ‘just a spoonful’ of sugar in my coffee).

At the same time, I do not want to start going down the crisps and peanuts route simply because they don’t have sugar in them.  So I have, today, whipped up a little something which I love, and takes minutes to make.  Hummus.  Houmous. Hummous.  Spell it as you will, it all means the same.  A beautiful Levantine food comprising of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, cayenne or paprika and garlic.

Or combinations thereof.

You see the wonderful thing about Hummus is that you don’t have to use all the ingredients on the list to make a beautiful dip.  In fact, it is a very personal dish which you can, without fear of ruining the essence of it, adapt to your own desire. How splendid is that?

The other wonderous thing that has flooded the market (forgive me my slight exaggeration) is the tinned chick pea.  A joy, a pleasure and also the catalyst for the quickest Hummus making, bar none.

I whizzed up, with my trusty steed of a hand blender, one tin of drained chick peas, a clove of garlic, a pinch of cayenne and a glug of olive oil.  As the chick peas come in salted water I don’t add salt.  I don’t have any tahini in at the moment so left that out, and instead of just sprinkling cayenne on top of the dip I also added some into it and therefore decided to leave out the lemon juice.

So whilst the boys are merrily munching on malt loaf, we have had Jacob’s flatbreads dipped in hummus.

Delicious.

Cheese and Lentil Loaf

cheese and lentil loaf

This is an old favourite that I used to make when I was a student.  A recipe originally taken from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Kitchen Book, and made on a regular basis as it really is delicious hot or cold and makes a great snack food.  Which is lucky as since giving up sugar – I am now on day 2 – I am trying to beat the urge to snack on bananas.  Let me tell you, when there’s a whole bowl of fruit sitting in front of you waving hello, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to turn a blind eye.

Not that it is in anyway comparable to the multitude of atrocities which humankind bestows upon itself.  A point made very succinctly in another ‘ditch the modern food evils’ diet.  The Whole30 programme.  I don’t know whether you have heard of it, but basically it is a bootcamp for only eating certain foods in which they remind you, albeit very politely, that giving up cheese etc for 30 days is nowhere near akin to losing a right arm.  Well, I’m not sure they use that very same example, but the point is, it’s not true hardship or pain.

Anyway, back to the cheese and lentil loaf.

Wash 175g of red lentils and place into a pan filled with 350ml of water. Pop the lid on and cook for 10 – 15 minutes checking that the pan doesn’t boil dry.  There’s nothing quite like the smell of burnt lentils on the bottom of a pan, and they’re a devil to get off.

When cooked add 110g of grated cheddar cheese, 1 peeled and chopped onion, a tablespoon of fresh parsley or a little less if you decide to use fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, a splash of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of single cream an egg and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix it all up and pour into a greased loaf tin.  Bake at gas mark 5 for approximately 50 minutes.  I say approximately because you need the top to be firm to touch which may take longer than 50 minutes.

Let it cool for 10 minutes and eat with whatever you fancy.  Potatoes, rice, salad, homemade tomato sauce, broccoli…

The world is your oyster.

Sugar

sugar

Did you know that Lent is an old pagan word for Spring?  Me neither.  I learnt that little gem of information from the radio this morning.  And it is today, the first day of Lent that I have decided to give up sugar.

The thing is, I have given up cakes and biscuits before and managed, with very little anxiety, to get through to Easter Sunday, but giving up sugar, I have found, is a lot more than that.

Having read up about the effects of giving up sugar, it has been recommended that I cut out everything for 4 – 6 weeks.  That means I can’t eat any bananas, cake, grapes, melon, tomato ketchup, cake, biscuits, prawn crisps, cake, Thai food (unless I cook it without the brown sugar), cake, Chinese take away (we don’t really eat Chinese take away, so that won’t really affect me), anything with dried fruit in it, cake… and the list goes on and on.

On the plus side…

*pauses to think*

… Oh, why not check it out for yourselves.  Someone suggested I start with www.iquitsugar.com which is what I did, and took it from there.

So goodbye stuff with sugar in.  I’m sure I will miss you more than I should.

Meanwhile, I will continue to use it for the gratification of others, and keep you informed of how I’m getting on.