Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Batch cooking for baby: Lasagne

My lasagne is okay. Not great or amazing, but okay. I'll post the recipe below, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to link you to Felicity Cloake's Perfect... series that she writes for The Guardian. Ms. Cloake takes a classic recipe and compares versions from across the world, and, perhaps more interestingly, from different food writers. Even if you don't like the original, it makes for fascinating reading.

So, back in November 2010, Ms. Cloake wrote about the Perfect Bolognese. Apparently, white wine, not red, chicken livers and milk are key ingredients for bolognese sauce.

I have always made my sauce for bolognese and lasagne in exactly the same way. However, in November 2011, Felicity experimented with the various components which make up the Perfect Lasagne. Here, she found that red wine, rather than white, was important, and, interestingly, a white bechamel, with parmesan added on the top, were the keys to the perfect lasagne. The chicken livers stayed. I have to admit, I haven't tried making either bolognese sauce or lasagne with chicken livers yet.

This is what I would call an 'everyday' lasagne. Lasagne is a brilliant family dish, and pretty much guaranteed to make my husband happy, if it's served alongside some salad and perhaps some ciabatta bread. However, an authentic lasagne takes hours to cook, and I didn't have that much time. This probably takes about an hour, start to finish.

My Lasagne Recipe

Ragu sauce
1 carrot
1 onion
1 stick of celery
2 tbs Olive oil
3 cloves garlic
500g minced beef
3-4 rashers bacon
1 tbs tomato puree
2 tsp Italian herbs
Optional: Mushrooms and peppers if you want to up the vegetable content
2 tins tomatoes
Red wine if you have it
Worcester sauce

Bechamel Sauce
50g butter
50g plain flour
600ml milk
200g Cheddar cheese or a mixture of cheddar and parmesan

9-10 sheets of dried lasagne pasta

1. Chop the carrot, onion and celery very finely. Fry in olive oil gently in a large saucepan, to soften rather than colour. Add the garlic, crushed. When the vegetables are starting to soften, add the minced beef in small pieces, allowing them to break up and brown. Add the bacon, chopped into small pieces. Add the tomato puree and italian herbs and stir well. At this point, if you want to add mushrooms and peppers, chopped fairly small, do so.

2. Add the tinned tomatoes to the saucepan, along with 100ml of red wine, and worcester sauce to taste. Season generously, and let simmer while you get on with the bechamel sauce.

3. Melt the butter in another saucepan over a medium heat. When it has melted, turn the heat down, and whisk in the flour. When the butter and flour are smoothly combined, add in the milk, gradually, and whisking all the time. When all the milk is incorporated, turn the heat up and bring to the boil, allowing the mixture to thicken. Keep whisking all the time to avoid any lumps. Grate the cheese and stir it inot the sauce. Grate some nutmeg over the sauce.

4. Arrange the lasagne in your dish. The best way I have found is to have a third of the meat sauce, then a layer of pasta, then a layer of the white sauce. Repeat this, so that you have a layer of sauce left over at the end to finish it off. 

5. Bake in an oven at 200 C for around 40 minutes. Serve with salad and ciabatta bread.

Freezing notes: I assembled this in 3 small dishes and cooked them for around 20 minutes each. To cook for eating, defrost and then cook in a hot oven for 25 minutes.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Batch cooking for baby: Salmon and Dill Potato Bake

We're expecting a baby in August. We're also having our kitchen completely redesigned and re-fitted. All of this upheaval, not surprisingly, turns my mind to meals. I'm quite good at meal planning now, but I also know how invaluable it can be to have something convenient stashed away in the freezer, ready either to be cooked from frozen, or defrosted without any additional preparation needed.

I've done a fair amount of cooking now, and the freezer is gradually being stocked up. So I thought I'd collect some of these recipes together.

This was adapted from a recipe from deliciousmagazine.co.uk, and the first batch was absolutely delicious.

Salmon and Dill Potato Bake


4 skinless salmon fillets
600g potatoes
200g baby spinach
1 onion
1 lemon
50g butter
50g flour
500ml semi-skimmed milk
15g dill


Peel and slice the potatoes. Put them in a large saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Allow to boil for 10 minutes. Drain and set to one side.

Chop the salmon fillets into small chunks. Chop the onion, and combine in a bowl with the salmon. Wilt the spinach, by pouring boiling water over a colander full of the spinach. Drain well, and add to the salmon and onion. Zest and juice the lemon and add to the salmon mixture.

Make a white sauce, by melting the butter and then whisk in the flour. Cook for one minute, stirring well. Gradually add the milk a little at a time. Bring to the boil, whisking, and allow the sauce to thicken. When the sauce has thickened, add the dill, finely chopped.

Pour the sauce over the salmon mixture and stir gently to combine. Transfer to an ovenproof dish - I used the foil take-away style dishes from the supermarket.

Layer the potatoes on top of the salmon mixture. You can freeze the dish at this point. To cook, make sure the bake is thoroughly defrosted, and dot the potatoes with butter. Bake in a preheated oven at 200C, for 45 minutes, or until piping hot throughout.