Monthly Archives: January 2012

December & January in the Garden…..

To be truthful there’s been very little garden action to report of late, which is why I’ve put a couple of months together and even then it’s pushing it with much to say! It’s a very sorry state of affairs, as you can see it’s pretty baron out there, apart from a whole lot of weeds:

This is mainly due to the fact I failed in my task as newbie gardener to sow and plant much winter fair, a combination of lack of time and organisation!. And the veggies that I did manage to get out there have been largely destroyed by our new feathery friends who love nothing more than to scrat around in my beloved patch!:

They’ve successfully managed to make dinner out of all the broccoli heads and leaves (or Calabrese to be a little more precise), destroyed the baby Savoy cabbage, uprooted most of the beetroot and nibbled away all the tasty tops and somehow made magically disappear the baby carrots, swiss chard and last few remaining lettuces. Hmmmm, things have got to change.

They obviously don’t have much of a taste for herbs though, as my perennial thyme, rosemary and sage are left unscathed. As are fortunately all my baby broad bean plants and garlic which seem to be growing pretty well:

On another positive note I recently found much to my surprise some baby onions growing where I’d grown them last summer….they must have self seeded, clever mother nature!:

Other than a little garden clearing earlier in the month I’ve not been out there apart from to do plenty of head scratching trying to plan the plot for this year. I’ve decided to increase the size fairly considerably, adding about an extra 20 to 30 sq meters. Needless to say I’m going to fence it off from the chickens, once it’s been rotavated by our trusty tractor owning farmer/mayor friend and neighbour. As for exactly what I’m going to grow and the layout I’ve not got around to that yet!

I’m really hoping I’ll have more to report next month, although with a two week trip planned to the UK for the second half of February I’m not too sure I’ll have much time to get out on the patch again, though I’ll hopefully have sowed a few seeds in pots indoors.

Until then….

Louisa

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Pasta & Meatballs!

Everyone loves meatballs don’t they, veggies aside obviously? I really should make these more often as they’re such a savoured treat in our house and always put a smile on the dinner table faces. A perfect weekend family dinner. We had these last Saturday and they went down a storm with all of us, even Jacques managed to munch his way through THREE WHOLE meatballs (and he’s only 21 months old!). Totally delish.

The recipe I’ve always used for Meatballs is actually based on Nigella’s (from her Nigella Bites book) and to be honest you can’t really fault it! Wonderful half pork, half beef ever so slightly cheesy meatballs. All cooked and served in a lovely tomato sauce on a bed of pasta. Nigella makes her sauce with tomato passata, but as I rarely have it in I tend to make my own from a can of chopped tomatoes and a little tomato puree. I also like to add the merest touch of chilli to my tomato sauce, but feel free to omit if you don’t like the heat.

She also makes her own tagliatelle in the recipe. In my pre-children days I often used to make my own pasta, but I simply don’t have the same luxury of time these days and tend to use dried as a perfectly good substitute. But if you do have a little more time than me GO FOR IT, homemade pasta is unbeatable, and actually pretty simple when you’ve made it a few times.

I haven’t specified any weight for the dried pasta (spaghetti, tagliatelle or linguine all work particularly well) as I find pasta is such a variant and my family have particularly enormous appetites for it!. Just cook the same amount you would normally for yourselves for a bolognese or similar.

Makes about 14 small meatballs, and enough for a family of Four:

200g of good quality pork mince

200g of good quality beef mince

2 tbsps finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

1 egg

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 heaped tsp of dried oregano

2 heaped tbsps of breadcrumbs

salt & pepper

For the Tomato Sauce:

olive oil

1 small onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp of dried oregano

the merest pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)

a pinch of sugar

1 desert spoon of tomato puree

1 400g can of chopped tomatoes

200ml of water

100ml full fat milk

salt & pepper

and Pasta of your choice, fresh or dried spaghetti, tagliatelle or linguine

Start with making your meatballs. Simply add all the meatball ingredients to a large bowl and mix very thoroughly, the best way to do this is by hand squidging the mix through your hands and fingers (and if feels soooo lush!). Once well combined shape into smallish balls, by taking a little of the mixture and rolling it around in your hands a little. They should each be a smidgen bigger than a walnut. Aim for about 14 balls. Once made place on a layer of cling film on top of a plate or tray. Cover with another layer of cling film and place in the fridge until ready to cook.

Now for the sauce. In a large wide saucepan or casserole dish (that you have a lid for) add a generous glug of olive oil and heat. Add the diced onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes on a gentle heat, stirring regularly. Now add the chilli (if using) and oregano and cook for a moment or two more. Then add a pinch of sugar, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Take off the heat and whiz the sauce up, preferably with a stick blender straight into the saucepan. You could obviously use a food processor too but that creates too much washing up for me!. Taste the sauce and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to suit. Now add the milk and stir well.

Place the sauce back on the heat and bring to a simmer again. Now it’s time to add the meatballs. Carefully drop them individually into the sauce. Don’t stir them at all at this point, you must wait until the meatballs have turned from pink to brown as you don’t want them to break up.

Cook for 20 minutes with the lid partially covering the pan. Towards the end of this time you can stir the meatballs a little to turn them over.

Whilst they’re cooking cook your pasta to packet instructions.

Have a final taste check of the sauce and serve the meatballs and sauce immediately on a bed of pasta with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan.


Sticky Apple Pudding

As I’ve said before I don’t make many baked puddings these days as our gas oven is so awful they tend to come out with a barely cooked top and a very burnt bum. But after steaming christmas puddings a few weeks ago I had a rather rare brainwave that I could steam a pud and bypass the dratted oven altogether. Amazing.

So here it is, christmas pudding aside, my first ever steamed pud, and what a triumph. Not a pretty triumph, but a wonderfully sticky and ever so naughty triumph….and a triumph not too suitable for those sticking to a New Year diet! And even if you don’t have a dodgy cooker like me please try a steamed pud, they’re so moist and sticky and utterly delish. Watch out for lots more Chez Foti steamed pud recipes coming up.

I set out to make an apple pud, as we still have lots of stored surplus from our apple harvest in the Autumn, and besides we all love an appley pud. So I took a normal steamed apple pud recipe (which is essentially just the same as a sponge cake recipe but with apples on the top) and stickied (loving my new word there) up the apples with some good old Golden Syrup and added lots of lemon zest to the sponge base. Yum. Combining the lemon and apple together worked marvellously, my winter pudding heaven!

Enough for 4:

3 tbsps of golden syrup

65g butter, at room temperature

3 apples, peeled, cored and cut into a small dice

a little flour and butter to grease and line the pudding basin

65g caster sugar

1 lemon, zested

1 and a half eggs, beaten

85g self-raising flour

3 tbsp milk

Place the golden syrup in a deep frying pan or saucepan along with 20g of the butter. Heat until bubbling a little and add the diced apple. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile  beat together the rest of the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, preferably with an electric whisk. Add the lemon zest and beat in the eggs. Then beat in the flour and milk.

Grease and line a small pudding basin. Add the sticky apples first, then pile the cake mixture on top.

Cover the basin with a couple of layers of foil or baking paper forming a pleat on the top, and tie round the sides with string to secure firmly in place.

Place the basin in a saucepan of simmering water (the water level should come to about two thirds of the height of the basin) and simmer for an hour with the saucepan lid on. It’s cooked when you can insert a fork or skewer and it comes out clean.

When cooked turn out on to a plate and serve immediately with lashings of custard.

If you like this recipe, how about trying my Bread & Butter Leftovers Pud


Smoked Salmon & Broccoli Penne

An extremely simple and extremely quick pasta supper for all the family today that’s oh so yum. Our kids love it, but then they really like fish, and broccoli’s interestingly both their fave veggie.

Unknowingly I think I may have used the last of our lovely Chez Foti broccoli in this dish. I went out to pick some more today thinking we had loads to eat up, only to find our new feathery residents have stripped all the heads bare!. They’ve also nibbled up all my baby savoy cabbages and uprooted the lovely beetroot. Hmmmm. Me thinks it’s time to fence off the veggie plot.

Enough for a family of four:

A smallish broccoli, separated into bite size florets

200g dried penne pasta, or similar

5 spring onions, sliced

olive oil

3 tbsps of creme fraiche

zest of one lemon, plus a little juice

a large handful of parsley, finely chopped

180g smoked salmon, cut into small strips

salt & pepper

grated Parmesan to serve

Steam the broccoli florets until they’re al dente – cooked but with a tiny bit of bite to them. At the same time, but in a different pan, cook the pasta to packet instructions, again so it’s al dente. Once cooked drain and set aside.

Meanwhile heat a frying pan or large saucepan and add the merest dash of olive oil and the diced spring onions. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly. Add the steamed broccoli florets, creme fraiche, lemon zest, chopped parsley and the salmon. Give everything a good stir around and heat until bubbling and allow to cook for a couple of minutes more.

Taste the sauce and add plenty of freshly ground black pepper, salt if necessary (the smoked salmon’s pretty salty so you may not need to add any more), and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.  Taste again and add more of each to suit.

Stir in the pasta and serve immediately with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan over the top.

Simple as that!

Like this? Have you tried these other recipes – Kid’s Bolognese, Pumpkin Mac n’ Cheese, Roasted Veggie Lasagne or Salmon Fishcakes?


Kid’s Bolognese

I make a bolognese pasta sauce especially for my children throwing in a whole heap of veggies to bulk out the meat. Not only does this make your bolognese a good deal healthier for little tums, but also a good deal cheaper, making a little meat go a long way. It seems that however much other goodness you add the sauce still retains the lovely meaty bolognesy flavour which kids adore. And obviously it doesn’t have to be just for the wee ones, it really is very yummy for big people too!.

You really can throw in a huge variety of veggies to this. In addition to the onions and carrots I added about 300g of finely diced pumpkin, 75g of carrots, and 125g of french beans from my freezer. You could use mushrooms, parsnips, squash, swede, sweet potato, peas, spinach, sweetcorn, celery, peppers, aubergine…the list goes on!. I’ve even added potatoes and chick peas in the past, and both work extremely well. Be brave, chuck it in!.

Try to only use good quality mince, that’s preferably been minced by the butcher in front of you. I tend to add lots of fresh thyme to my bolognese as it grows in abundance here, but if you don’t have any to hand I wouldn’t go to the trouble and expense of buying it especially.

I tend to make the sauce in pretty large batches so I can freeze the leftovers in tupperware portions to bring out for a quick no brainer dinner when I’m short on time.

Enough for 10 to 12 little kids portions:

2 tbsps of olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

500g mixed veggies, cut into a small dice

400g good quality minced beef

2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes

1 dessertspoon of tomato puree

a few sprigs of thyme (optional)

2 bay leaves

1 tsp of worcester sauce

black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or casserole. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes until softened, stirring regularly.

Now add the veggies that you’ve selected. If you’re using peas, spinach, sweetcorn or any other easily cooked veggie leave out until nearer the end of the cooking process. Cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring regularly.

Add the minced beef and cook until browned.

Throw in the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, bay leaves, thyme (if using), worcester sauce and a little freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for one hour. If your using veggies that take less time to cook don’t forget to add them a few minutes before the end of the cooking time.

And it’s easy as that!. One large vat of healthy and delicious bolognese sauce to fill those little tums done!

Serve on the pasta of your children’s choice with a generous sprinkling of cheese….my kids love to do the ‘sprinkles’ themselves!

Like my bowls and spoons, they’re lovely aren’t they? They’re from Oogaa who design and sell fabulous and safe feeding products for babies and young children, in gorgeous and fun designs and colours. For more information check out the Oogaa website, www.oogaa.com.

Have you tried any of my other kids dinners? How about my Simple Chicken Stew, Pumpkin Mac ‘n Cheese, Fish & Chips, Cottage Pie , Kids Fish Pie , Kid’s 5-a-day pasta sauce or Salmon Fishcakes recipes?


Butternut Squash & Chorizo Soup with Chorizo Croutons

We’re still munching our through all our lovely homegrown squash and pumpkins and in an effort to add a little variety to our staple pumpkin or squash soups I’ve been experimenting with adding new flavours, and the addition of a little Chorizo is a definite favourite in the Foti household! The kids and Phil go crazy for it. Admittedly a pretty heavy soup, especially with the addition of homemade Chorizo flavoured croutons, so probably best kept for the depths of winter like we’re in now. A very comforting and filling ‘meal’ of a soup.

Living so close to Spain Chorizo is really cheap and easily available here, and so I tend to cook with it quite a bit these days. It is however also pretty easily available in UK supermarkets. It’s a great flavour and colour enhancer to meaty stews, casseroles and soups and I regularly add a little to salads, omelettes, pizzas and pies.

I’ve used Butternut Squash in this recipe, but you could substitute with any other flavoursome squash or pumpkin. I didn’t bother to peel my Butternut as the skin is perfectly edible when cooked…and as it’s to be whizzed up you can’t tell the difference. By roasting the squash first you intensify it’s sweetness which works wonderfully with the intense meatiness of the Chorizo.

Enough for 4 grown ups:

850g Butternut squash, cut into 2 cm dice

olive oil

salt & pepper

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

70g Chorizo, finely diced

600ml of chicken stock

For the croutons:

70g stale chunky white bread, cut into about 1.5 to 2cm cubes

olive oil

25g Chorizo finely diced

a pinch of Spanish sweet smoked Paprika (optional)

salt & pepper

Combine the squash with a tablespoon of olive oil, a little salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Place on a baking tray in a preheated oven for about 25 minutes at 220°C. The squash is ready when it’s soft and starting to brown a little.

Meanwhile heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan and add the diced onion and garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes until softened a little, now add the Chorizo. Continue to cook on a gentle heat for a few more minutes, stirring regularly so nothing catches.

Once the squash is roasted add it to the onions and Chorizo and cook for a further couple of minutes before adding the stock. Bring to the boil and leave on a gentle simmer for 10 minutes.

While the soup is simmering prepare the croutons. Add a good glug of olive oil to a frying pan and heat. Add a pinch of Spanish sweet smoked Paprika if you have any (it’s one of the main colourings and flavourings in Chorizo), the Chorizo pieces, a little salt and a good grinding of pepper. Heat until the Chorizo is starting to ‘bleed’ it’s lovely oil and colour. Now add the bread pieces to the hot oil. Cook on all sides until the cubes are coloured and crunchy, making sure they are regularly turned.

After ten minutes of simmering remove the soup from the heat and whiz thoroughly, I usually use a stick blender to do this as it’s much less washing up than a processor or blender!. Taste the soup and add plenty of freshly ground black pepper to suit, it’s unlikely you’ll need more salt.

Serve piping hots with a generous scattering of the fried Chorizo pieces and croutons.

Here’s Jacques enjoying his crispy croutons!:

If you like this, have you tried my Creamy Roasted Pumpkin Soup recipe?


Here come the Chickens!

Since the first day we arrived at Chez Foti back in November 2010 we’ve wanted chickens, and it seemed we were the only ones living here without them! A while back some of our neighbours asked if we’d like theirs when they went off travelling for 5 months, so we’ve kind of been waiting until now to have their brood. And what a lovely gang they are too. Seven hens and a mighty fine and very gentle cock, named Rocky the Rooster. We’re so loving having them and I’m certain this is the just the start of our chicken owning lives.

Over the last few months Phil’s been gradually preparing their new home, converting a section of the original pig sty into a chicken shed. They now have a new roof, strengthened structure, new mud brick walls (which I hasten to add I also got my hands mucky in helping construct!), and a window and shutter.

After a couple of days in their new chickenopolis they were set free to roam around as free range as free range can be. And I think we have some very happy hens as they’ve not stopped laying ever since.

As for the kids, they’re more excited about the chickens than christmas! Every day Francesca wakes up and begs us to let her go and let the chickens out and check for eggs. And on her way home from school, she’s literally exploding with excitement to check the chicken house again!  Little Jacques spends hours studying them totally and utterly enchanted, and squeals with delight at their every move. When he’s in the house, he’s always pushing chairs up to the windows so he can be high enough to look out at them. It certainly beats tv. Even Freddy the dog seems to have taken to them, always eyeing them up with a good deal of curiosity….though luckily not in a lunch or dinner kind of way!

And as for the eggs, they’re obviously totally yummy. The kids are going crazy for dippy eggs and solders which they seem to be having rather too often lately!. As well as lots of poached and scrambled eggs, we’ve also been gorging on some fantastic omelettes and I even put them into some lovely homemade custard at the weekend. Watch this space for lots of eggy recipes!


Beetroot, Spinach & Chickpea Curry

Guess what’s in season at Chez Foti at the minute? Beetroot, hence the recent influx of recipes! It’s probably growing a little later than most as I didn’t get around to sowing my seeds until early October. What an easy peasy veggie to grow and so so delicioso. Not to mention pretty as a picture to cook with, if you don’t mind your food a tad on the barbie pink side!. This is my first ever attempt at a beetroot curry and I must admit a highly successful one. Beetroot’s natural sweetness works really well with a touch of heat and spice.

And a very healthy recipe too, great if you’re still keeping up those New Year’s resolutions. Which I’m not. Failing miserably as ever.

More of a grown up curry today, but you could always tone down the chilli and serve to your wee ones. They may just love a pink dinner!

Although I’ve called this a Beetroot, Spinach and Chickpea Curry, I actually used my beetroot tops instead of spinach, but I’m guessing these are only available to those that grow their own. I use them regularly in stews, curries and stir fries just as you would spinach, and if you don’t mind the pink tinge from the stalks they’re a wonderful veggie freebie.

Either serve the curry on it’s own with steamed rice and/or chapattis, or as a veggie side to accompany a larger meal.

Enough for 4 as a main curry, or lots more as a veggie side

2 tsp of cumin seeds

2 tsp of coriander seeds

1 heaped tsp of turmeric

sunflower oil

1 onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, grated

a thumb sized piece of ginger, grated

3 small dried chillies, finely chopped

6 baby beetroot or 1 to 2 large full sized ones, cooked and cooled (see my Goats Cheese & Beetroot Salad recipe for how to cook beetroot), diced into 1 cm pieces

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 x 400g tin of chick peas

200ml of water

200ml of plain yogurt

200g of spinach leaves or beetroot tops, washed and roughly chopped

salt & pepper

juice of ½ a lemon

Grind the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and turmeric together.

In a large saucepan or frying pan, heat a little sunflower oil and fry the spice mix until you can smell the spices, stir continuously so the spices don’t catch and burn. Add the ginger, garlic and chillies and cook for a minute or two, stirring continuously. Add the onions and continue to cook until the onions are soft.

Now add the beetroot and chickpeas and cook for a further few minutes, stirring regularly. Add the chopped tomatoes, yogurt and water, bring to the boil and simmer for twenty minutes.

Finally add the spinach or beetroot tops to the curry and cook for a few minutes until the greens are tender.

Stir in the lemon juice, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Have a good taste to check the seasoning, adding more lemon, salt or pepper to suit.

If you like this, how about trying my Goats Cheese & Beetroot Salad or Potato, Cauliflower & Pumpkin Curry recipes?


A Simple Chicken Stew

Hoping you all had a wonderful christmas with lots of tasty fodder, and wishing a very happy and prosperous 2012!. My apologies for over three weeks absence from the blog, but Chez Foti all went to England for Christmas and although it was my best of intentions to continue blogging, time was most definitely short….and the laptop I intended to use was festively soaked in rather too much vin rouge (luckily it’s now made a full and dried out recovery).

To kick off the New Year I’m blogging my very simple, and not to mention very healthy, Chicken Stew recipe. I tend to make this with the kids in mind, though more often than not it’s our family supper too. Any leftovers get put into small portion sized tupperware pots and frozen for a later convenience dinner for the wee ones.

You can add lots of different veggies to the stew, depending on what’s in season or what you have lurking. Today I used cauliflower, carrots, some pumpkin and a few green beans from the freezer. Peppers, squash, mushrooms, swede, parsnips, sweet potato, cabbage, peas, spinach etc are all great additions. This stew’s a lovely way to fill up those wee little tummies with an abundance of good veg.

Enough for 8 children’s portions or a family of 4:

3 whole chicken legs, skin removed

olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 carrots, sliced

2 sticks of celery, sliced

500g of other veggies, cut into appropriate sized pieces

a large glass of white wine (optional)

a heaped tbsp of tomato puree

3 bay leaves

2 sprigs of thyme (optional)

500ml of chicken stock

black pepper

Add a good glug of olive oil to a large saucepan or casserole and place on the heat. Add the chicken legs and fry on  both sides until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onions and garlic to the pan and fry for a few minutes until softened, adding a little extra olive oil if necessary. Now add the carrots and celery and all the other veggies, though if you’re using less robust veggies like cabbage, spinach or peas add these towards the end of the cooking process. Cook all the veggies for a few minutes, stirring regularly.

Return the chicken to the pan, along with the white wine if using, the tomato puree, the bay leaves and thyme (if using). Pour in the chicken stock and add a good grind of black pepper.

Bring to the boil and cover and simmer gently for one hour, until the chicken is falling off the bone and the veggies are very tender.

Remove the chicken from the bone and return the meat to the stew.

Serve with a big pile of fluffy buttery mash.


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