Sunday, 1 May 2011

Champagne Entertaining on a Beer Budget - Part 1

Life is full of challenges!
There are times in life when what was, is no longer, and what is, takes us out of our comfort zone.  These are the times when we need to sit up and take notice, take notice of what we do habitually and how can we change it?  Of course one of our biggest habits is how, what, when and where we eat.

Generally, we habitually buy what we like to eat, we habitually shop weekly for our groceries, we habitually love to go out to eat in our favourite restuarants, and we habitually eat at certain times of the day.  Geez... we even habitually cook the same meals!

Right?  Right!  nothing wrong with having a habitual life.... it's only when life comes along and hands you a new set of rules... and the biggest change...
a significant drop in income...  challenging? oh yeah... but hey I digress a bit.

Talking Food
OK, let's get back to food.  I have always loved my food and always loved to eat and nothing is going to stop me now.  Personally, I have always been a huge salad and vegetable eater, however, it does not make me a vegetarian because I still love my fish, red meat and dairy products.

I prefer to eat "low carb" meals with the odd indulgence in extra special cakes, and I love my fresh brewed coffee first thing in the morning and on odd occasions a fresh croissant.  I love real food.  If I am going to have milk and cream I want the real stuff... none of this low fat, semi-skimmed stuff ! what the hell is that?  it's like ordering a "why bother" - you know those people who order a "decaf soy latte".

Anyway this brings me to the point of wanting to share with you some of my tips on "How to Entertain on a Budget".

Keep it simple!
First Rule in budget entertaining...

  • simplicity - the K.I.S.S. rule... keep it simple stupid... 

no fuss, no worry... stick to something you have made before.  You know how it will turn-out and you know how long it takes to make and how many it will feed.  Can it be made ahead and how long will it keep afterwards (so you can enjoy it later).

Second Rule... 

  • quality and quantity - budget does not mean "cheap and nasty"...
choose quality products you can incorporate into a recipe which will stretch to feed more people.  

Third Rule...
  • variety - variety is the spice of life! right?
provide a variety of dishes - everyone likes to be able to choose; whether it be starters, or a selection of accompaniments for the mains; and a simple combination desert, providing a choice.

Fourth Rule...
  • set a budget - and stick to it!
work out how much you are happy spending (or how much you can afford) on this one occasion.  Are there going to be leftovers? and can you use the remaining unused produce within the week?

Fifth Rule...
  • make your own - as much as possible.
this means extra time preparing.  The more you make yourself the more you save. 

So, simple really... the hard part is deciding what you will serve...
once you have decided on your choice of recipes, write out your shopping list ...

NOW price everything... I normally get online to my local supermarket (Tesco or Sainsburys) and do a "dummie" shop.  I can check the prices and what specials are available in store.  
This way I know before I get to the store how much it is going to cost and whether I am within my budget, and I can also decide whether I need to change a recipe or two.

In my next blog I will give you a few simple recipe ideas...
Bon appetit!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Saumon en croute = Salmon in Crust!

Saumon en croûte à la julienne de légumes

I love to try something new every now and then...
especially when having friends for dinner!
Maybe a bit stressful... you think?
I generally don't try the recipe before the big day...
I just take the plunge and cook on the day and...
serve it to my guests!
and thank God ....
when the new recipe is actually really good to eat!

This recipe is from Rick Stein's "Taste of the Sea" published in 1995.
and yes I made a few adjustments to the recipe - because I wanted to cook without the wine, and also because I wanted to use what I have in my pantry.
Immediately below is the recipe as stated in the book, and just under that you will find a list of what I changed.

UPDATE (May 20, 2013) - just managed to find some photos I took whilst making this salmon recipe for the upteenth time - although without the final result of how it looks after baking - damn - have included a photo from my Spinach and Mushroom Roll - it would look pretty much the same.  Also although I mention below how I changed this recipe the first time I made it, I have now made it many times, following the exact recipe.  Still the super special salmon dish (everyone loves), oh and I have made it without the pastry as well, instead of using pastry, you can wrap in aluminium foil, and bake the same way.  Bon appetit!

100g unsalted butter
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 leek, cut into matchsticks
50 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
50ml white wine
2 tsps roughly chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground white pepper
750g puff pastry, preferably made with butter
900g salmon fillet, skinned and boned
1 egg, beaten
600ml fish stock
175ml double cream
juice of 1/4 lemon


  • use less butter about 50g
  • replace wine with chicken stock cube;
  • replace fresh tarragon with dried tarragon;
  • no salt added;
  • replace white pepper with black pepper;
  • replace puff pastry (butter based) with "Jus-Roll" Puff sheets (vegetable oil based)
  • 4 x frozen salmon fillets (Iceland Foods)
  • no fish stock;
  • no double cream.

I used frozen salmon fillets (Iceland Foods) which by the way are my favourite salmon fillets - I always have a packet or two in the freezer.  So first thing to do is take the salmon and pastry out of the freezer and allow to thaw.

In the meantime, prepare the vegetables and let cool.  I allowed myself plenty of time between all the prep work and the actual dinner.  I first prepared the starter "Mushroom Caviar" (a trial recipe),  it  needed to cool before being served, and then prepared the vegetables for the "saumon en croute".

When everything was cool I proceeded to assemble the salmon, vegetables and pastry and placed it in the fridge to chill before baking in the oven.  The recipe recommends chill for 30 mins - I did mine earlier so it chilled for about 1hr 30mins.  I read on a French recipe website that you can prepare your "saumon en croute" and chill for hours or even freeze.  So I decided to take advantage of this fact, which permitted me to be stress-free, with everything ready to go, well before the guests arrived and time for a bit of relax!

Place 25g butter in fry pan, add the vegetables, tarragon, and chicken stock cube dissolved in 1/2 cup water, season with black pepper.
Cover and cook gently for approx. 5 mins. Remove lid and strain off the juices (keep aside for sauce), cook for another 2 mins, driving off the moisture.  Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Un-roll your pastry sheets, place a sheet of pastry onto a greased baking tray lined with greaseproof baking paper.  Divide your cooked vegetables in half and place half in the centre of pastry sheet, spread to the size of your salmon.  Lay the salmon fillets, side by side, on top of the vegetables and cover with remaining vegetables.

Brush the edges of the pastry with some beaten egg, and lay the other pastry sheet over the salmon and vegetables.  Pinch the edges together to seal.  Brush liberally with the beaten egg.  Place in fridge and chill minimum 30 mins.

Pre-heat the oven to 230 degrees Celsius and bake for 25 mins (Stein recommends 20 mins - I like my salmon cooked not pink in the centre so extended the cooking time a bit), and also not having cooked this before didn't want to open up the pastry to find it still pink!  Anyway it wasn't and always remember to remove the salmon from the oven and leave to rest for at least 5 mins before serving.

Put the strained juices from the vegetables, 25g butter and approx. 100ml single cream into a frypan and gently bring to boil, add fresh dill.  Give a squeeze of lemon.  Pour into warm jug.

I transferred my salmon en croute to a warm serving plate (this is easy to do with the greaseproof baking sheet - just lift, transfer and slide off) and served with boiled charlotte potatoes, steamed savoy cabbage and string beans.  Served with buttery dill sauce and of course, some horseradish cream.

Worst thing about this recipe - I didn't take any photos!  Doh!  

Will have to make this dish again and remember to take photos.

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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Food Glorious Food!

Zurich, Switzerland - en route to Florence
Anyone would think we haven't eaten since I last blogged!

when was that again?

OMG in September 2010....

No time for posting photos, recipes and the like....

too busy travelling and eating our way around Florence....

and then Christmas, New Year and birthdays...

Chocolates in Zurich

Buca Lapi Restaurant, Florence - best steak ever!

Florence - breakfast, lunch, dinner
and my it's now March 2011....

believe me when I say we did eat and we are definitely NOT undernourished!

far from it....

Ventimiglia, Italy - en route to Paris

after New Year we proceeded to watch what we ate and added extra walking into our daily regime...

to work off all the travel and holiday eating!

Nice, France - en route to Paris

So now it's time to kiss and make-up, and start posting a recipe or two!

Check out some of the food we ate whilst travelling and partying!

Mind you we were at times too busy hoeing into the food to even think about taking a photo...

of course we ate dessert and drank too much....

who doesn't whilst on holiday?

D'Orsay Museum Restaurant, Paris, France

Loved every minute of it.........

just looking at these pictures and remembering the flavours is making me drool....

I am ready for the next trip...  just a few more walks and back to starting point!

Long live gluttony!!!

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