Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Menu Planning - Spinach & Lentil Lasagne

Monday: Spinach and Lentil Lasagne
I originally came across this recipe on Towards Sustainability.  So the original copyright for the lasagne lies with Julie (from Towards Sustainability).  As usual, I've played a bit with it and have added white sauce from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Recipes.

The white sauce is great for the creamed spinach but also for white sauce for cauliflower. I know the verdict is split on cauliflower and white sauce but I unashamedly love it!  My plan was to have cauliflower with the roast and to make extra white sauce for this recipe.  The plan also included roasting extra vegies to put in the lasagne and/or chopping extra vegies for use in the stir-fry for Tuesday.

[Of course, I've been insanely busy AND I hurt my neck, so there hasn't been too much following of the plan this week... but maybe I can use this for another week.]

Back to the lasagne: I like to make double-quantity of this as it freezes really well and is a delicious, vegetable-filled, dinner for another night.

500g fresh spinach, roughly chopped
375g low fat ricotta cheese
375g low fat cottage cheese
1 cup low fat cheddar cheese, grated
500g jar pasta sauce
2.5 cups water
300g instant wholemeal lasagne sheets
400g can lentils, drained
2 tbs fresh oregano OR 2 tsp dried
1 clove garlic, crushed
1. Preheat oven to 180'C. Drain spinach well and squeeze out any excess moisture.
2. Mix spinach with ricotta, cottage cheese, lentils, oregano and garlic in a large bowl.
3. Mix pasta sauce with the water in a separate bowl.
4. In a large lasagne dish, alternate layers of sauce, lasagne sheets and cheese mix, ending with sauce. Top with the grated cheese.
5. Cover with foil and bake for 60 minutes. Remove foil and bake a further 15 minutes until cheese is golden. Allow to stand for 3-5 minutes before serving.

Ultimate creamed spinach
Serves 4


500g fresh spinach
1 onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
250ml whole milk
1-2 bay leaves
50g unsalted butter
25g plain flour
sea salt
A couple of twists of black pepper
A few gratings of nutmeg

Trim the spinach, stripping out the coarse central stalks and wash well. Cook the spinach, covered, in a large saucepan – you don’t need to add any water, as the droplets clinging to leaves from when you washed them will be enough. When the leaves are wilted and cooked through, refresh them briefly cold water then squeeze them with your hands to extract as much water as you can before roughly chopping.
Put the onion and bay leaves in a pan with the milk. Bring almost to boiling point, remove from the heat then leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a warmed jug, discarding the onion and bay leaves.
Melt the butter in the same pan (you don’t need to wash it) and stir in the flour to get a loose roux. Cook this gently for a couple of minutes, then add half the warm, seasoned milk and stir in. When the sauce is thick and smooth, stir in the rest of the milk. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for just a minute. Season well with salt, pepper and a few grinds of nutmeg.
Next stir in the chopped spinach. Heat through until thoroughly hot, but don’t let it bubble for more than a minute. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and a touch more nutmeg if you like. Serve at once, ladled generously into large warmed bowls.
This recipe has been adapted from The River Cottage Year.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Could This Be the Perfect Iced Coffee?

For some reason yesterday, I suffered from "link blink" (someone, I thought it was Linda - but now I cannot find her reference, referred to this as the act of getting caught going from one link to another until a ridiculous amount of time has passed).  But I did stumble upon a great site for Cold Brew Coffee (it also has fantastic photos, illustrating the process).  There are actually lots and lots of versions out there: feel free to google.
Cold brewing of coffee relies on time to flavour the water (instead of heat, which is applicable for standard hot coffee).  It apparently imparts more coffee flavour and less bitterness.  Essentially, you need to soak ground coffee for hours and then filter it.  You can do this in a plunger/french press (a common brand name rhymes with "snowdum") or just in a jar (in which case you need to use a coffee filter from a dripolator to filter out the ground coffee).  Actually, I've left out the third version: buy a specifically made cold-brew coffee maker!

As usual though, I cannot possibly follow a recipe straight up, so I've tweaked it a bit (original copyright Christy Jordan):
A plunger coffee maker OR
A jar, a sieve, two coffee filter papers (or some muslins) and a bowl
A spoon or chopstick
1/2 cup freshly ground coffee (not instant! never instant! never, ever, ever!*)
1 litre of tepid filtered water (my plunger actually only holds 750mls)
1 tbs chicory (optional)
1- Grind coffee (or just use ready ground coffee from a packet - it's not my preference but sometimes needs must).
2- Place 1/2 cup of freshly ground coffee into plunger or jar.
3- Add 750mls of tepid filtered water.
4- Stir the coffee grounds (a chopstick is ideal for this).
5 - Cover and let sit over night (12-15 hours is ideal).
6a- If you are using a plunger: plunge the coffee.
6b- If using a jar: place strainer over bowl and line strainer with coffee filter/muslin.  Pour over half the coffee and let it strain through; it may take some time.  Remove used filter (and coffee) and replace with a fresh filter.  Pour over remaining coffee and let it strain.  
7- Decant the coffee into the jar in which you will store it.  
8- Add the chicory (optional).
9- Store in fridge (make sure it's well sealed) and use within two weeks**.

Making Iced Coffee:
Mix 1:2 coffee concentrate to milk (adjust ratio to your preference), add ice and, if desired, sugar (or other sweetener) and maybe, if you're feeling decadent, some ice-cream.  Enjoy!

1- This concentrate can also be used to make a hot coffee.  Just use 1:2 concentrate to hot water (adjust to your pref.) and then add sugar, milk, etc. as you would normally.
2- For mocha, just add some chocolate! Either powered or syrup (or even real chocolate that you've melted). If you're going to use real chocolate, try to buy at least 70% cocoa chocolate (preferably fair trade and thus slave free).
3- Instead of chicory, you could substitute vanilla extract (or anything else that takes your fancy).
4- If you don't want ice-cubes making your iced coffee weaker, just freeze some of the concentrate as ice cubes!
5- The used filters and coffee grounds will go really nicely in your compost bin.
6- Some recipes suggest using milk instead of water - I'm a bit concerned about the potential for the concentrate going off, but feel free to try it if you want (let me know how it goes).

* If you're an instant coffee drinker, this is a waste of time, just make a paste and then add milk and ice - but I'd strongly suggest you leave the dark side and come and try some real coffee (I don't even use instant when cooking! Life's just too short).
** It's likely to to be used well before that, but the research I've read suggests this is the comfortable maximum for which you can leave the concentrate.  Other sites suggest it will keep for up to a month in a fridge.  Personally, as it's so little work, my preference would be to make a batch every few days; thus avoiding the potential for any nasty moulds to grow.


It is FANTASTIC with sweet potato! Try adding in some sage (chopped finely and mixed with the sweet potato).  You could also make it with half potato and half sweet potato (I tried this the first time I did it - personally, I wouldn't bother with this - it doesn't taste enough of the sweet potato).  The only thing is to make sure you don't add too much flower - keep a light touch and be parsimonious with flour... otherwise you end up with hard little gnocchi that are inedible (yes... I speak from experience!).
For a sauce you can try lots of things - but a burnt butter sauce is great (

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Home Made Yoghurt

Once again inspired by Julie (I'm starting to sound like a groupie!), I've started making yoghurt.  I bought an EasiYo, which is really just a big thermos, and have successfully made yoghurt a few times.  Using the EasiYo sachets is too easy for words (pretty much just add water and wait), so of course I've found a way to make it more complicated!  I did this for a few reasons, mainly that I don't like powder in packets* (note the hypocrisy of this: I'm going to mention powered milk below!) and also I prefer to keep my ingredients organic (I know, I can get organic EasiYo sachets - that's what I started my yoghurt with - but I've not seen the organic starters at my local supermarket).  I was using these directions, but then found that, by using UHT milk, I could avoid the need for re-pasturisation of the milk (right after I'd coughed up for a candy thermometer; guess I'm really going to have to make marshmallows now).  
I suggest you look here for the post from which this information was taken (It's very comprehensive: I'm just reproducing the directions now as I've made a few small changes and I want to keep the information for easy reference for myself).  

1 litre organic UHT milk**
1/2 to 1/3 cup powdered milk (the more you add, the thicker the yoghurt)
3 tablespoons of plain yoghurt (with no gelatin)
1- Mix yoghurt with a splash of UHT milk until it makes a smooth paste;
2- Add paste to remainder of milk then put it into the container for the EasiYo;
3- Shake the container to mix the milk and paste;
3- Add boiling water to the thermos and leave it on bench overnight;
4- When yoghurt is set, put it in the fridge***;
5- As soon as you open the new batch of yoghurt, get at least 3 tablespoons and place in another container - this yoghurt will be your "starter" for the next batch.
(original Copyright Julie from Towards Sustainability).

* I may change my tune on this VERY soon - check Julie's post for information on special yoghurt cultures. 
** UHT milk = already partially sterilised, so there's apparently no need for re-pasturisation.  If you cannot access UHT milk, follow these instructions for making yoghurt.
*** The longer the yoghurt is left out of the fridge, the tarter it will be.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Garlic Infused Oil

After hearing Nigella wax lyrical (again) about the pleasures of garlic oil, I've decided to give it a go.  There are so many recipes out there that it almost seems redundant to give my version, but I'm going to note it down anyway (even if only for my reference).
This version is inspired by this wonderful post at 64 sq foot kitchen!  I've tweaked it ever so slightly though as I discovered that there is a potential problem with botulism if one uses fresh garlic. 
Allotment Vegetable Gardening suggests that if one heats the oil to 180 degrees (350F), it should reduce the potential problem (I hope!).  It's also possible to use a cold infusion method or heat the oil on a stove.  I've chosen not to use these methods - cold infusion won't overcome the potential botulism issue; and stoves, heat, oil and small children don't really mix.  We do have a fire blanket and extinguisher in the kitchen, but I'm not too keen to use them :)
I'm going to make a very small batch, with my purple home-grown garlic and see how it goes. (Afterword: make sure you read the final verdict - I need to change the process a bit).

1 small head of garlic
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon of peppercorns
1- Heat oven to 200 (or even 220 - botulism doesn't sound like something I wish to experience) degrees centigrade.
2- Slice garlic head in half horizontally.  There's no need to peel the garlic, just make sure the dirt is rubbed off.  As you can see from my photo, rubbing off the dirt actually caused the head to break into cloves, so I worked with what I had.
3- (In theory) Place the garlic head, cut side down, into an oven-proof container, and place the peppercorns and sprigs of thyme around the garlic.
4- Pour over olive oil and cover the dish (with a lid or foil) - except I forgot to cover it; but, as it was in a cup-type dish I didn't have to worry about anything splashing out.
5- Cook in oven for approximately one hour (until garlic is soft and squishy).
6- Strain oil and decant into sterilised container*. 
7- Label the bottle with the type of oil** and the date made (you can obviously, do a "use-by" date, but I find it easier to just use the date created instead);
7- Store the oil in a cool, dark place for up to one month.
9- Enjoy in salad dressings (and pasta and with bread and croutons and aioli and... anything else you can!).
(original Copyright Warda from 64 sq ft Kitchen)

Final Verdict: So how did it go?
Well... I cheated a little: I strained it through paper-towel (couldn't bring myself to swipe some of Ziggy's play muslins).  
As you can see from the "after" picture, the garlic burnt itself to almost nothing - oil tasted great, but there was none of the yummy roasted garlic for which I'd hoped (see ** below).  I'm not sure if it's because I forgot to cover the container with oil or the temperature (I suspect the latter more than the former).  Next time, I'll roast at a lower temperature (I'll try 150 degrees), strain out the garlic, pepper and thyme, and THEN heat the oil to 200 degrees.  
And finally, about a day or two later... The Man knocked the bottle, it broke and the oil spilled all over the floor... is there any point in crying over spilt (extra-virgin, garlic infused) oil?

* Sterilisation:
Warning - I'm  no expert, this is just what I do!  Feel free to search for a better source of information.   
a- wash the screw top lids and glass jars/bottles with warm, soapy water; 
b- rinse with fresh water;
c- place into pot of boiling water and boil for at least 5 minutes (you might need to move the bottles a bit to ensure that there are no air bubbles);
d- remove jars/bottles and lids with tongs (be careful that the boiling water doesn't run down the tongs and onto your arms - yes, I speak from experience...); and
e- place upright on bench, ready for immediate use.
I've also read that it's possible to take things straight from the dishwasher - but the timing is never right for me - or to use an oven to sterilise. The one time I did this though, some plastic on the lid just burned and it didn't sterilise... alas I had to throw out a jar of Red Onion Jam.
** Instead of garlic, you could use chillies; rosemary; sage; thyme;  etc.
Another bonus of using Warda's method to make garlic oil is the garlic mash that's left over! I love garlic mash... mmm... Just remember to store the mash in the refrigerator for up to one month (and yes, on this too, I speak from experience).