Is it wrong that I love retro food quite as much as I do? I’ll happily feed friends my beef stroganoff and without a side of irony, or talk Hubby into picking up an M&S prawn cocktail on his way home (if Heston can eat them, so can I!). If there’s a Black Forest Gateau option for dessert then I can be usually persuaded to indulge my rare sweet tooth. And I’ve got my eye out for steak diane on a menu because it’s been forever since I’ve had one of those.
So it will come as no surprise that I have an irrational fondness for vol-au-vents. If there’s a plate of them on a buffet table I will make a beeline for them. And Christmas isn’t Christmas if I haven’t had at least one pack of M&S’s party food vol-au-vents.
I finally made them myself over Jubilee weekend, having scoured the interwebs for an appealing filling recipe I found this on Gourmet Traveller’s site, and thought the celebratory tone the champagne gives it would be perfect for a family get together. And they went down a treat! So much so that I didn’t eat nearly enough of them and promised Hubby I’d make them again “just for us”, which I finally did this weekend 🙂 I also seem to be having a love affair with tarragon at the moment so this killed two cravings with one dish!
The original recipe seems to be for small canape sized vol-au-vents, however, life is too short to make my own so I cheated and bought some ready to bake ones from Jus-Rol. They’re quite a bit bigger than bite sized, at least two-bite sized, so I’ve adapted my recipe accordingly.
Champagne Chicken Vol-Au-Vents
More retro indulgence! Puff pastry nibbles for parties or seriously posh TV snackage.
1/2 small leek (40gm), white part only, thinly sliced
1 lemon, finely grated rind and juice
2 tbsp double cream
1 small chicken breast (about 250gm)
250 ml Champagne or sparkling white wine
125 ml water
In a small saucepan, small enough to fit the chicken snugly and cover with the poaching liquor, combine the champagne, water, leek, lemon rind and tarrogon sprigs. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then add the chicken and return to the boil for 10 minutes (keep an eye on the pot as it will try to bubble over).
After the 10 minutes, remove the pan from the heat, cover, and leave to cool completely while the chicken poaches through.
Once the poaching liquor has cooled down, remove the chicken and finely shred it (fingers or two small forks are perfect) and refrigerate it until needed.
Strain the poaching liquor only into a clean sauccepan (you can throw away the tarrogon sprigs and leeks) and bring to the boil again over a medium heat. Cook the poaching liquor down until it’s reduced to 50ml which should take 15 to 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it as it can cook down quickly – I kept pouring it into a measuring jug to check how much was left, then pouring it back into the pan and then back into the measuring jug, until I had my 50ml. Leave to cool completely.
While the liquor is cooling, preheat the oven to 200C. Brush the vol-au-vent cases with a little milk or egg and cook per the package instructions.
While the cases are cooking, combine the chicken, reduced cooking liquor, cream and sliced tarrogon in a bowl. Season to taste with lemon juice and sea salt.
When the pastry cases are ready, divide the chicken filling among them and then return to the overn for 2-3 minutes, until the chicken is warmed through. Scatter with something green and decorative, and serve immediately with the remainder of your bottle of champagne!
I’ve always made tuna the same way, always and forever the same way, honestly since I was about 12 or 13 years old and my friend Zara introduced me to her tuna mayo which was flavoured with, of all things, thyme. It really doesn’t feel like that long ago that we were sat in her kitchen eating it straight out of the bowl with spoons… I’m not sure if the squeeze of lemon came after, but my fallback and failsafe tuna recipe for the last 30 years has been tuna, mayo, squeeze of lemon and a crush of thyme, maybe a little chopped red onion through it as well if I’m not planning on being sociable 😉
And then I found this recipe on Natalie’s Daily Crave, and being permanently on the look out for good sandwich filler recipes (which is more difficult than you might think!) and having recently succumbed to the magic of tarragon I knew I had to give it a go. It did not disappoint!! I think it also helped that I accidentally bought a can of tuna in sunflower oil for this…, having bought tuna in brine or springwater for years now, I have to say the can in oil was so much nicer.
I didn’t have everything to hand so have noted the substitions I made which I don’t think would have detracted at all from the original.
Tuna Mayo Sarnie with Tarragon & Avocado
A newly discovered take on a failsafe and fallback sandwich filler that is intriguingly tasty.
2 generous tbsp mayo (or keep dobbing it in until it’s how you like it!)
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp whole grain dijon
1 medium shallot (about 1 tbsp, or equivalent finely chopped red onion)
1 tsp freshly chopped tarragon (I used trusty old Schwartz which turned out just fine)
1 avocado, sliced
4 slices of fresh bread
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Drain the tuna and tip into a bowl, then mash the tuna with a fork to break it up. Add the mayo, mustard and vinegar and mix well. Then add the shallot and tarragon and mix through. Taste and then season as required.
Whack it between two slices of buttered bread with the avocado slices and eat up 🙂
When my little brother was at University he used to come home at the weekends with a pack of hungry lost boys in tow and I’d go into surrogate big sister mode and feed them all. One even took to phoning me on a Thursday night to put in a request for his favourite dish! But my culinary repertoire must have been getting repetitive because my brother bought me a cookbook one weekend, and then pointed out which of the recipes in it he’d like me to make… Cheeky! Years later, the cookbook still gets hauled out every couple of months, primarily to make this which is still one of my favourites. It’s more of an Autumn/Winter kind of a dish, but seeing how this has been the wettest summer since records began in 1910 (!) forgive me while I opt for a little comfort food this weekend 🙂
This recipe has become “a little” adapted over time, I like more Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice than the original recipe because I like the sauce seriously tangy (and it is!). If you find it too much, a spoonful of creme freche stirred in at the end will mellow it out, or cut back on the Worcestershire sauce/lemon juice the next time you make it.
This is good with a heap of creamy mash but its even better with boiled rice, but then, I think everything is better with boiled rice… When it comes out of the oven I like to slice the pork chops up and then mix them back into the sauce to coat every last bit before ladling up over rice. Serve with something green, like stir fried broccoli or garlicky butter-fried courgette slices, and get stuck in!
If you are going to eat it with mash you can double the number of chops to four and use the measures for sauce as per the recipe. Rice just soaks up “jup” in a way that mash doesn’t (because rice > mash!) If you don’t believe me, scroll down to the bottom of this page to see my proof 😉
Piquant Pork Chops
Tender pork chops in a tasty tangy sauce, great with creamy mash but even better with rice!
Dice the onions. Mix the sugar, dry mustard, tomato puree and beef stock cube together (if using a beef stock pot rather than a cube leave it out)
First things first, get the oven on to 180 C/350 F.
Pan fry the pork chops on a high heat for a couple of minutes each side to seal and brown the meat. Remove to an ovenproof baking dish.
In the same pan, heat the oil and fy the onion gently until it is lightly browned.
Stir the sugar, mustard powder, tomato puree and beef stock cube into the cooked onion and mix it all together well (if you’re using a beef stock pot rather than a stock cube, mix everything else in first and then mix in the stock pot last) before stirring in the cold water (it has to be cold or else the mustard powder has a hissy fit!).
Bring it all to the boil, stirring continuously, then add the Worcestershire sauce and the lemon juice into the onion and spice mixture, then check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the sauce into the baking dish and over the pork chops.
Pop in the preheated oven and cook for about 30-35 minutes, or until the meat is tender.
Remove the chops from the sauce and leave to rest for 8-10 minutes, while you pop the sauce back into the oven to keep warm.
After the chops have rested, slice thinly and pop back into the sauce to coat before serving over rice.
So here he is, our Herman, and didn’t he scrub up nicely! He also tasted properly delicious, crazy moist and all cinnamony, with teasing nibbles of apple here and raisins there. The only thing that might have improved him would have been a slick of Danish bun style icing on the top. Maybe next time.
I read somewhwere that Herman is the modern equivalent of the chain letter, which I can see, but Herman didn’t threaten me with bad luck until the end of time if I didn’t pass him on. And he turned into a delicious cake instead of wastepaper bin fodder. So yeah, I’ll take Herman and his eventual cakey self over chain letters any time 🙂
Caring for him was actually kind of fun, although Hubby will tell you that the first thing I did upon rehousing him into a mixing bowl when I brought him home was try and delegate all care of Herman to Hubby. Which isn’t strictly a lie… But it was almost like having a pet, as the gluey blob of beige became a personality in his own right. Strange but true! That I then felt no remorse at a) baking him, and b) scoffing him is also strange but true… So if you get offered a Herman, do accept, he really is worth it. And that’s coming from a self-proclaimed savoury head! And if you can’t wait for someone to pass you some Herman, you can very easily start your own. A quick google of “Herman starter” throws up a bunch of websites with instructions on how to make your own Herman sourdough starter. All you need then are some instructions to pass on with your little Hermans when they’re ready. Here are the ones that came with mine, sad faces and all LOL
Hello, my name is Herman. I am a sourdough cake. I need to sit on your kitchen worktop for 10 days without a lid on. Please do not put me in the fridge or I will die. If I stop bubbling then I am dead 🙁
Day 1: When you get Herman home, put him in a large non-metallic mixing bowl and cover loosely with a clean tea towel.
Day 2: Stir well with a wooden spoon
Day 3: Stir well
Day 4: Herman is hungry! Add 1 cup of plain flour, I cup of sugar and 1 cup of milk. Stir well
Day 5: Stir Well
Day 6: Stir Well
Day 7: Stir Well
Day 8: Stir Well
Day 9: Herman is hungry again! Add 1 cup of plain flour, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of milk, and stir well. Divide into 4 equal portion, keep 1 portion and give the other 3 away to friends with a copy of these instructions.
Day 10: Herman is VERY hungry! And so are we…
Herman, the German Friendship Cake
Delicious, crazy moist and all cinnamony, with teasing nibbles of apple here and raisins there... Friendship cake, does it get any better than that?
Herman is VERY hungry! Stir well, and then add all of the ingredients in the first list above.
Mix everything together and put into a large greased baking tin. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and melted butter per the second list above.
Preheat the oven to 170-180 C before put the cake mixture in. Bake for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, the top should be nice and brown (and the amazing smell of the cake should be setting your dribble off!). Cover with tin foil and bake for a further 15 minutes, just to make sure that the middle of the cake is cooked well enough. Stick a knife in the middle to test, if you get wet cake mix on the knife then it needs more baking.
Don’t worry about over-cooking Herman or drying him out, the apple makes him lovely and moist.
When you’re happy that Herman is cooked, take him out of the oven and leave him to cool down a little. If you can’t wait, he tastes great while still warm with a little cream or ice-cream.
Herman also freezes well, which given the amount of cake he makes is probably just as well!
It’s almost time to put the comfort food aside and enjoy the slide into summer. However, the rain is chucking it down tonight so I’ve gone with an in-between recipe, courtesy of Jamie Oliver, that is just perfect for this time of year as its hearty but without being heavy. What I really love though is how fresh it tastes! The insane amount of cherry tomatoes and the fresh herbs it uses makes this dish taste like summer 🙂 And the minimal amount of prep and of washing up afterwards is just a bonus (other than washing the blood of a million cherry tomatoes off your hands, that is! )
Hubby and I tend to devour this with a good-quality loaf of bread, something soft that you can tear into chunks to mop up the tomato sauce with. Or, if your bread is particularly crusty, pile everything on top of it instead like I did above and let the tomato sauce soak in and soften that crust. Alternatively, Jamie suggests mash, rice or polenta and a green salad. And if there are any leftovers, “if” being the operative word, Jamie says to chop them up and make into a chunky pasta dish, using penne or rigatoni, the next day. I haven’t actually been able to test this yet, but I’m fairly certain Jamie isn’t lying…
Jamie's Sweet Cherry Tomato & Sausage Bake
The insane amount of cherry tomatoes and the fresh herbs this dish uses makes it taste like summer in a bowl.
2kg lovely ripe cherry tomatoes, mixed colours if you can find them
2 sprigs each of fresh thyme, rosemary and bay
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped (or minced)
12 good-quality Cumberland or coarse Italian pork sausages
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start by preheating the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.
In the roasting tray that's large enough to take all the tomatoes in one snug fitting layer, put in all of your tomatoes, the herb sprigs, oregano, garlic and sausages. Make sure there are enough tomatoes to pack down without gaps because the sausages want to sit on top of them, not sink into them where they will broil and look kind of peely wally. Or, you can quickly brown the sausages all over in a frying pan first, which definitely makes them look more appetising.
Drizzle well with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Toss together, then make sure the tomatoes are packed tight on the bottom and the sausages are on top.
Pop the tray into the oven for 30 minutes.
After this time, give the tray a good shake and turn the sausages over. Put back into the oven for another 30 minutes.
Once it’s cooked, you want to have an intense, tomatoey sauce. If the tomato sauce is a little too thin, lift out the sausages and place the tray on the hob to cook it down to the consistency you like – I like mine thick and exceedingly mop-uppable! This is also a good time to pick out all the bits of herbs.
Meet my new friend, Herman, the German Friendship Cake. Only, he’s not quite cake yet. More a bubbling blob of beige that kind of smells like glue…
If you’re not familiar with Herman, he’s a sourdough cake starter that you are gifted by a friend, that you feed and nurture for ten days. By this time he will have quadrupled in size, so you split him into four batches and pass three on to friends who then start their own ten day feeding cycle of the Herman sprogs. The fourth batch you bake into a delicious cake, full of cinnamon and apples, and share with more friends. How lovely is that!
So this is my Herman, on day 2. The instructions that he came with are hilarious! They’re handwritten and besides those days where Herman gets hungry and you have to feed him, they’ve drawn a sad face next to the “or he’ll die” warning LOL I’ll be back when he’s less blobby and more cakey, which I’ve already tasked Hubby with the baking of since Herman is of Amish origin, apparently, and Hubby hails from Amish country (although isn’t actually Amish himself…)