Huevos Rancheros

huevos racheros

This, my friends, is my new breakfast obsession.  Simple, refreshing, apparently very good for a hangover, and an absolute doddle to make.

However…

Before anyone starts jumping on my case blithering on about how this is not a traditional recipe and really you should be using blah blah blah cheese etc. etc. etc. as they have done with Jamie Oliver, may I remind you of two things.

Thing 1.  All the recipes I share are an eclectic mix of stuff I have read and snippets of useful bits and bobs I have managed to retain from watching others, embellished with a slight dash of my own je ne sais quoi.

Thing 2.  I am not a professional Essex Boy and therefore should be exempt from all slatings.

Right, moving on.

So, I hear you ask, what is in this wunderkind of breakfast what not?

Well, it is the simplest of things.  Collect a couple of red peppers, a few green chilli, a large bunch of fresh tomatoes and blend together in a food processor.  If you no longer have one of these because you’ve given yours to your favourite eldest daughter-in-law, chop all ingredients finely together using a large knife or mezzaluna.

Put a splash of olive oil into a frying pan and warm through before adding the tomato mix and cooking slowly.  Add a little salt.

Meanwhile, put another pan over the heat and place a corn tortilla in it. Warm through one side and turn over.  Place on a plate.

When the tomato mix is cooked, crack open an egg and put on top.  Cook.  You may need to just cover the pan for a wee while so that the tomato base doesn’t burn, although to be honest there should be enough liquid in it from the fresh fruit to stay moist, providing you haven’t used a tiny bit of mixture and a ginormous pan.  Don’t laugh, I’ve done it myself…

Once the egg is almost cooked, grate some of your favourite hard cheese over the egg.  I use cheddar as we always have it in, but I’m sure it would work well with any type of hard cheese.  Allow it to melt slightly before placing the whole tomato, egg and cheese affair on top of the toasted tortilla.

Gloriously more-ish.

Just a word of advice.  I have been using the thin green chilli as I like to feel the heat on my tongue without it leaving a slightly sizzling numbness.  You will need to experiment with this but I suggest you start with a ratio of two chilli to four or five tomatoes and one red pepper.

If you are cooking for more than one, just increase the amounts of fruits etc. proportionately but still cook within the same pan as the eggs just sit on top of the tomato base.  If you are cooking for one, make sure you have all the ingredients in to remake it.

 

Quick Tomato Sauce

Quick Tomato Sauce #2

There are some days when it is almost impossible to really function properly.  I find these days usually follow a rather exciting evening where a couple of sweet sherries have been drunk and the long term committed relationship I have with my bed, has been tested.

We have had just one of those weekends thanks to one of our glorious nieces having her prom night and, as a consequence, my sister in law having a ‘bit of a do’.

These gatherings are always a huge amount of fun, and now that the boys are a little older, not so stressful in terms of getting everyone to bed at an appropriate time.  In fact, the wee one insisted that he curl up on the sofa without us even suggesting it, (with his beloved best friend blanket, obviously) and, as son #1 is 11, we allowed him, with guidance, to make his own decision about when he would retire.

It’s a funny old thing, staying up.  When you’re a child you think it will be so much fun, and, to an extent, it is.  But what is not fun is the next day when you experience your body clock battling with time itself.  However, I am a great believer in trying to understand the various effects lack of sleep can have on you before alcohol is added to the mix.  Therefore, it makes sense to me to equip the boys, whilst in our very protective arms, to get a feel for these things, in the hope that they learn, over time, not only what the lack of sleep does, but how best to look after yourself.

Being gentle with each other and catching up on sleep are two of the three main components to the morning after the night before.  The third one being food.

Ah yes, good old comfort food.

Now here’s the thing.  When you are the one that needs to make the food for the gang who need the food in order to feel comforted, you need something that is nourishing, fulfilling, and quick.

Pasta always fills this role for me, and in recent years I have begun to not just add grated cheese, tomato ketchup and a sprinkling of ground black pepper, but have actually started making my own tomato sauce.

Chop an onion and fry on a low heat in a little olive oil.  I used a red onion, but you can use whichever colour you fancy.

‘That’s not a red onion, it’s purple’, the wee boy said to me.  And he has a point.

Cracking on.  Add two cloves of finely chopped garlic and some salt.  Chop as many different types of fresh tomatoes as you have in the house.  I used cherry tomatoes and salad tomatoes.  Basically the riper they are, the better they will taste.

Add the tomatoes to the onion.  Then add a sprinkling of sugar and black pepper. Pop a lid on and leave on a very low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cook some pasta, make some toast, boil some rice.  Whatever takes your fancy.

Add the two together.  Enjoy.

Breakfast Burger Bagel

Breakfast Burger #2

If you look for half a second with your eyes slightly squinted and the wind blowing in the right direction, do you not think this bears more than a resemblance to the Rolling Stones lips image which, until recently, became ‘a thing’ on almost every piece of cloth produced?  Just me then…

I have had the most indulgent morning hanging out with Nigel Slater.  Not him personally you understand, more specifically, his cookery books, ‘The Kitchen Diaries II’ and ‘eat’.  Both beautifully written, albeit in different styles, both leave me with a slight sense of being at the bottom of a mountain, looking up.

However, as the wee one and I were flicking through, I came upon a breakfast recipe in ‘eat’ and thought two things.  Firstly, I have a version of everything in that is required, and secondly, it looks quite easy.

You will need sausages, bacon, tomatoes, cheese and bagels.

Nigel suggests 3 herb sausages, but we didn’t have those in as my boys are not keen.  We do have gorgeous ‘I know where that pig grew up’ sausages though, which I reckon is just as good.  Similarly with the bacon. Nigel suggests 2 slices of smoked streaky bacon, I used non smoked back bacon from the same known stye.

Skin the sausages and chop the bacon in a bowl.   I added some black pepper at this point, because I really like that little kick it gives.  You may not.  Squidge together. Make into patties.

Put a little oil in a pan and fry on a medium heat, turning regularly.  At Nigel’s suggestion I put a lid over the patties inbetween turning.

Toast the bagels, add slices of ripe tomato onto the bottom piece of bagel, place the cooked burger on the top and cover with cheese.  Today I used mature cheddar which was very complimentary to our burgers, but I reckon a beautiful, nutty, mild cheese such as Jarlsberg or Emmental would be just as delicious.

Put the loaded bagel bottom back under the grill, to melt the cheese.  Place the other empty half of the toasted bagel on top.

Eat.

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.

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.

Chilli

veg chilli

I know what you’re thinking, ‘What the bally heck has a leaf and a stick swimming in a sea of orange, got to do with chilli?’

Well, this is the thing, chilli is a funny old foodstuff if you ask me.  It’s one of those meals everyone seems to learn to cook as soon as they fly the family nest to pastures new and independent.  Consequently there are a plethora of recipes out there, not just on paper, but in people’s heads, about how to cook a chilli that will satisfy all on a cold, dark, night.

However, it’s not until you begin to look at other people’s recipes that, in my opinion, you begin to see a pattern emerging. There are certain ingredients that are a given.  And then, every so often, up pops a little surprise and you think,

‘Well I never, I’m going to give that a go’

And so it was for me, with adding a bay leaf and stick of cinnamon to chilli.  Which is what the leaf and stick, are.  I would never in a month of Sunday’s thought that was a good idea, but I tell you what, I recommend it all the time now.

As for the other ingredients, I put in the following:

Onion, garlic, ground cayenne cumin and coriander, meat (or today, meat free soya alternative) tomatoes, tomato puree, stock cube (usually beef), boiling water and thyme.  Salt and pepper to taste if necessary.

Then add the leaf and stick, and simmer.

Just before I wax lyrically about beans, just a little note regarding meat.  I often cook this with minced beef, but occasionally use the soya alternative and sometimes just use vegetables.  Whatever you decide to put into your chilli, what I do recommend is that you let everything sit in itself for a while.  You know the thing, make it, turn it off and leave it, then come back to it later that day or the next, and just reheat.  There is something about a chilli, like so many other one pot dishes, that improves with time.

Onto beans.  For years I religiously tipped a tin of kidney beans into the chilli after twenty minutes or so, and thought nothing of it.  However, recently a lovely friend of ours made us a chilli and put in haricot beans.  The very same beans that are in tins of baked beans.  And do you know, it was lovely.  It was only then that himself admitted that actually, he wasn’t that keen on kidney beans in chilli, so ever since then I have used haricot.

It takes a while getting used to the different colour, but a sprinkling of fresh coriander always helps brighten any dish and compensates for the anticipated deep aubergine flecks.

Meanwhile, we have a new addition to our household.  A thing of utter beauty who sounds as mellow as the maple tree she was made from.  Yes, we have added to our increasing musical instrument collection and now have Bessie the double bass, lounging elegantly in a corner.  I shall, of course, endeavour to keep you updated on progress as the year unfolds, but for now I must return to the chilli…

Melanzane Parmigiana

aubergine parmesan

As you may or may not be aware, I am a dedicated devotee of the non sandwich lunch.

I do enjoy a sandwich, I just don’t want them to become a daily habit.  I realise that for some the sandwich just fills a hole, but for me, I feel I would be missing out on trying so many other things.  In fact lunchtime is often the only time I can experiment with different foodstuffs and eat what I really love, without feeling under pressure to satisfy a less than enthusiastic crowd.  However, you do need time in order to do this, so it doesn’t happen as often as I’d wish.

This week though, I managed to find time for a delicious home cooked lunch for one. Melanzane Parmigiana, or Aubergine Parmesan to you and me.  Eggplant if you’re across the water.  Although I am not particularly enamoured by the word eggplant. It has no romance.

However.

All you need is one aubergine, some tomato sauce (which consists of onions, tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano, olive oil, salt pepper, sugar, red wine (optional) and a splash of red wine vinegar), mozzarella and parmesan.

Make the tomato sauce, or, if you’re one step ahead of the game, get some out of the fridge that you’ve prepared earlier. Polish your halo.  Slice the aubergine thinly, brush with olive oil and fry until translucent.  Grate a generous amount of mozzarella and parmesan.

Put a little tomato sauce in the bottom of a dish, add a layer of aubergine another layer of tomato sauce and a layer of cheeses. Keep layering until the aubergine has all been used. Finish off with the cheese and place in the middle of the oven, gas mark 4, for 50 minutes.

Take out and leave it to gather itself together for a few minutes.

Enjoy alone, or with friends.