Baked feta with chilli and herbs (or olives)

 

Tapas, mezze, picnic, however you refer to this style of eating I loved putting a load of different dishes on the table to pick at. Whether as lunch itself or simply a couple of things to whet the appetite before the main event.   You will find many such recipes on these pages Cheese Gougeres (November 2016), Moutabal (February 2017), Artichoke Crostini (March 2013), Grissini with Rosemary (May 2015) are a few.  More often than not the little plates I serve are vegetarian and it has often been a good way to entice my children to try something different.  Rather than being faced with an entire supper of something new and unfamiliar – this is an opportunity for them to try something whilst knowing there is a myriad of old favourites to tuck into at the same time.

I am a little ambivalent about feta.  If it is mild I am happy to tuck in, enjoying its salty edge.  Too strong or mature however and it ventures into that hirsute, goaty thing that I struggle with.  In this recipe use whichever type of feta you prefer – you can even find feta style cheese now that only contains cow’s milk.

This baked feta graced our table on Saturday evening amongst some other goodies.  I served it with homemade little tortilla chips (don’t panic the chips are homemade not the tortillas – find the recipe in Girls’ Night In, February 2014) and this was the first empty plate, it literally disappeared before my eyes. Warm, soft, salty with a bite from the chilli – this could be one of the most moreish things I have eaten.

Now this is a winning get out of jail free card if you need a last minute canapé or snack to go with drinks.  The warm soft feta has a completely different character to the cool white chunks more familiarly seen in Greek salads.  It takes on a delicate squidge that is enormously inviting and along with some chilli flakes and a sprinkling of herbs is the perfect mouthful to scoop onto a pita or tortilla chip. Packs of feta last for ages in the fridge and along with some hardy herbs you may have weathering the winter storms and chilli flakes in your cupboard you are all set.  Sometimes I add olives to the dish before baking, it depends whether I have any to hand and its very good either way.

Feta with Chilli and Herbs (or Olives)

The ingredients that follow are what I tend to have on hand and therefore what makes this a store cupboard saviour.  You can use chopped fresh chilli if you prefer and even pickled chillis for a different but very delicious vibe.

200g pack of feta

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes, depending on how hot you like

A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme

25g black or green olives, pitted (optional)

Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200.  Put the feta in a small ovenproof dish, sprinkle over the chilli and thyme, drizzle with oil and add the olives if you are using them.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until soft but not collapsing.  Serve with homemade pita chips, tortilla chips or whatever you like.

 

 

 

Olive, thyme and chilli soda bread

I made this recently to put out before lunch when friends came over and it was gone in minutes.  Served with a garlicky courgette dip it was just the ticket with some pre lunch drinks and kept the children more than happy.  As luck would have it this takes minutes to make and as such is something I regularly turn to.  Although I love making all kinds of bread and make a loaf of white or sourdough weekly, this is a great one to have up your sleeve when the clock is ticking and there is no time for proving and rising.

Whilst I might not have buttermilk in the fridge at all times, I always have yogurt to hand.  This, let down with a bit of milk, works a treat in place of buttermilk and means a loaf of this moreish bread is never more than about half an hour away.   My daughter adores olives and chilli so can polish off half of this loaf without thinking and it takes the sting out of the veggie soup or salad that often accompanies it.

Essentially a riff on my seedy soda bread, April 2013, I add some punchy flavours to this one.  The chilli is up to you but I think it works a treat with the olives and thyme.  There is a thyme plant outside the kitchen that manages to soldier on whatever the weather so along with some store cupboard olives this one is always a contender for lunch or supper.   Or serve as I did at the weekend with a dip, a herby labneh perhaps or hummus and you will have happy faces all round.

Olive, thyme and chilli soda bread

I make this with a mix of wholemeal and regular white flour but you can go with all white if you prefer or if that is what you have.  Buttermilk sometimes comes in 284ml tubs for some reason so just make this up to 300ml with milk.  If you are using yogurt, use 200ml and make it up to 300ml with milk.

150g wholemeal flour, plus a bit extra

150g plain flour

1 teaspoon fine salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 teaspoons soft brown sugar

300ml tub buttermilk (or yogurt, see introduction)

50g olives, I like a mix of green and black, chopped up a bit

1 teaspoon thyme, leaves only

1/2 teaspoon chilli (omit this if you like)

Preheat the oven to 200.  Put the flours, salt, bicarb, sugar, olives, thyme and chilli in a large bowl and mix.  Add the buttermilk and give it a good mix together.  Sprinkle some wholemeal flour on a baking sheet, make the dough into a ball, put on the tin, sprinkle a little more flour over and cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until crusty, golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.

 

 

Meatloaf, Sliders and Meatballs

Meatloaf

I may have mentioned that between them my children like most foods.  Between them that is.  Together there often seems very little common ground.  My daughter would like to live on Sausage Pasta, my son doesn’t like sausages or pasta.  My son would live on salad, hummus and broccoli whilst my daughter would recoil from all three.  Finding something to cook that we all like is therefore challenging.  I am not keen on making different things for everyone but equally the greedy child in me remembers mealtime excitement being dashed when presented with something I didn’t like and I want my two to love their food.

You can imagine my delight therefore when they both scoffed this meatloaf with unseemly haste, plates completely clean, seconds requested and announced not only was it delicious but required on a regular basis.  The joy, the relief.  My son even said “Mamma, your meatloaf is amazing!” now, I don’t know if he has tried any other meatloaf but I happily took the compliment.

These ingredients result in a big old batch but it makes sense this way because the mince comes in 500g packs.  You could happily make two meatloaves and freeze one but I tend to mix it up a bit.  I made the sliders the size of a snooker ball which I then flatten a bit.  Once cooked (in the same way as the meatballs) they have a tendency to crumble a little but for me this adds to their charm as they hit the mark somewhere between a mini hamburger and a sloppy Joe in a bun with salad and ketchup.  The meatballs I freeze in a single layer on a baking tray and then put into a tub once frozen.  These I fry or roast until cooked through, cover in tomato sauce and serve with rice or orzo, inexplicably this being a pasta my son likes.

Meatloaf, sliders and meatballs

This may seem a long list of ingredients but you probably have most of it to hand anyway.  I reckon on this amount making one meatloaf, four sliders and about 12 meatballs.  The tomato sauce below is also great with the meatballs.  If you have any meatloaf left over it makes an incredible sandwich….

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

Salt

500g pork mince

500g beef mince

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

100g breadcrumbs

2 eggs beaten

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

60ml milk

3 tablespoons Worcester sauce

2 tablespoons ketchup

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Tomato sauce –

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic finely chopped

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 tablespoons red wine or 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 200.  Heat the first tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion, with a pinch of salt, until soft then allow to cool.  In a large bowl put the rest of the ingredients (apart from the sauce ones) and mix well together (hands are easiest for mixing this) along with the cooled onions, 1 teaspoon of salt and around 20 turns on the pepper grinder.  Split the mixture and form half into a loaf a similar shape but a little smaller than a housebrick and make the rest into sliders or meatballs (see introduction).  Put the meatloaf onto a baking tray and cook for half an hour but check after 20 minutes and if browning too much cover with foil.  Meanwhile put the second tablespoon of oil into a small pan with the garlic, heat gently and as soon as it sizzles add the tinned tomatoes, sugar, wine or vinegar and a good pinch of salt.  Let this simmer for twenty minutes.  When the meatloaf is cooked let it sit for five minutes and then transfer to a warm serving plate and pour over the sauce.  Enough for two adults and two children.

Meatloaf 2

 

 

Cosy Beef Stew and Parsley Dumplings

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This summer has been fantastic, I have loved the sun, the heat and eating a lot of salads.  Whilst basking in all this however, there was a tiny bit of my happy in the knowledge that come September it might cool down a little and I would be able to light the fire and make some cosy autumn food.

Now, I realise I seem to have dived right into ‘freezing outside, possibly even snowing winter food’ but you know what I couldn’t resist.  It has been months since my last stew (I feel that should have been confession) and it was time for a fix.  Added to that my little boy asked earlier in the week when we would be having stew and dumplings.  Sooner than you think my little treasure I thought to myself.

Here it is and it is a beauty.  Very simple, 30 minutes work tops and then a few hours in the oven.  What you are rewarded with however, far exceeds that brief effort you put in.  Tender falling apart beef, soft carrots, crispy and fluffy dumplings with masses of glistening savoury gravy.  You can then sit around the table, enjoy this with some greens and perhaps raise a glass of good red wine to the fabulous summer of 2013.

Beef and Carrot Stew with Parsley Dumplings

1 kg braising beef, cubed

1 tablespoon oil

1 onion, chopped

7/8 medium carrots, peeled and halved lenthways

1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

500ml beef stock

200ml red wine

1 teaspoon redcurrant jelly

Sprig of thyme

A bayleaf

For the dumplings –

100g self raising flour

50g suet

A handful of parsley, finely chopped

5 tablespoons cold water

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 150c.  Heat the oil in a large casserole (that has a lid) and brown the meat in batches and set aside.  Then fry the onion (you may need a little more oil) until softened.  Return the meat to the pan, sprinkle over the flour and stir it in well.  Pour over the stock and wine and redcurrant jelly, give it a mix then add the carrots, thyme and bay leaf.  Put into the oven for 3 hours.

Just before the time is up, mix the ingredients for the dumplings and form into little balls about the size of a walnut and turn the oven up to 180.  Remove the pan from the oven, quickly (and carefully) check the seasoning and then place the dumplings onto the surface of the stew.  Put the lid back on and return to the oven for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for a further 20 minutes to crisp up the outside of the dumplings.  Enough for 4.

We followed this with a fabulous custard tart (I know, I know, bikini appropriate food clearly now forgotten) and it made me proud of British Food!

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