Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Monday, 11 April 2016

Not quite Barefoot Contessa - Lasagne with Chicken Sausage

My admiration for the Barefoot Contessa knows absolutely no bounds. Ever since that hot June afternoon when I sat down with a tiny Lola and flicked through the TV channels trying to find something to stare absentmindedly at whilst it was bottle time, I have been a fan. There she appeared, on my TV screen, looking all smiley and homely, with her lovely house and her Kitchen Aid and those cute American measuring cups, putting her ‘good vanilla’ and half a pound of butter into a bowl, and I thought, ‘Oh yes, this could be me.’ Unfortunately, instead of ‘habitating’ in The Hamptons, I was lounging somewhere near Liverpool, half asleep, not yet totally dressed, with a little bit of baby dribble adorning my left shoulder but all that was mere detail. This was going to happen. I could breeze in and out in my Mercedes/BMW, the odd dinner party here, the trip to the speciality food store for some mozzarella from the happiest buffalo in the whole world there. Bring it on.
Fast forward 10 years and I have the nice house (though it’s not what you’d call ‘tidy’ – I need at least two hours warning of any visit so I can shift the dogs, children, washing, yesterday’s plates, clothes, etc.)  Phill bought me a Kenwood for my birthday instead of a Kitchen Aid (I am very grateful; I know that sounds like I am not…) and I bought my own measuring cups. Not much going on on the old Mercedes/BMW front but I like to zip about in my little Fiesta up to the farm shop for some carrots… I think the point I am trying to make is that sometimes it’s nice to take an idea and put a twist on it and kind of make it yours, and that is what I did with my ‘I am going to be like the Barefoot Contessa fixation’ and the Barefoot Contessa’s Turkey Sausage Lasagne recipe. I used chicken sausage. And it was fabulous.
Lasagne is a very important dish in our house. I’d like to say it is because of our Italian roots but collectively we’re not that interesting. However, it was a lasagne that wooed Phill (along with, I hope, my stunning wit and repartee, my jolly personality and what I am going to call my ‘allure’) and if I happen to think out loud about what to cook for dinner, I know what the answer is. How would  my brood take to this lasagne craziness? The answer, thankfully, was a general thumbs up, though for the reasons above, Phill said he preferred the real thing. This, however, is a tasty, ramped up humdinger of a dish that epitomises Barefoot Contessa recipes. They’re never bland.
Lasagne with chicken sausage, adapted from ‘Barefoot Contessa Family Style’ by Ina Garten, or you can find the original recipe here
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 lb chicken sausages, casings removed
1 ½ tins chopped tomatoes
5 – 6 tbsp tomato puree
Large handful chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
pack of fresh basil leaves, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound no cook lasagne sheets
15 oz ricotta cheese
3 to 4 oz creamy goat cheese, crumbled
10oz Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large (10- to 12-inch) pan. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat, for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 x 12 x 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add the layers as follows: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and one third of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.

I served this with salad and garlic bread.

Monday, 4 April 2016

I should coco! - Coconut and Lemon Curd Madeleines

I’ll be honest, I’ve been slapping coconut oil on my face for as long as I can remember, and it is indeed as good a moisturiser and restorative as my previous moisturiser, if not better, which, when I discovered this, was brilliant and disappointing rolled into one. It's brilliant when I think on one hand of the money I now save by buying coconut oil and putting that on my dressing table instead of the (expensive) moisturiser that I had been sucked into buying by promises of eternal youth. My savings now go towards my not insubstantial collection of Kurt Geiger shoes, which is very pleasing, but the cloud that goes with this particular silver lining is my thinking of the copious amounts of money I had spent in the years gone by on 'posh' moisturiser which in turn led me to lament the ‘Kurt Geigers’ that could have been mine if I had been a bit more savvy. Life can be cruel.

But my recent discovery of cooking with coconut oil has been a revelation. A bit of reading around led me to discover that coconut oil had been the ‘go to’ oil for cooking and baking, before we discovered the horrors of hydrogenated, manufactured fats and indeed like many other naturally derived oils, coconut oil had long been a beauty/health staple too by those in the know. Win. Win. So, for no real logical explanation, I decided to celebrate my much improved knowledge by making madeleines.
Regular readers to this blog will know that I am a Francophile, pure and simple. That being the case, it is surprising that my madeleine pan, bought at Super U in a pretty Dordogne town one balmy summer when I was young, beautiful and carefree, before such pans were ever readily available here, has had about three airings in all the time I have owned it. Despite my lack of effort, madeleines are a cinch to make, as long as you are vigilant because like most ‘biscuity’ types, blink and they are burned.

Newly inspired, I decided to make coconut and lemon curd madeleines, which are loosely based on the idea of placing a dollop of something in the middle of the raw madeleine mix. I’d seen it done with Nutella, but with my coconut vibe, I thought that the sharp lemon tang would be a great foil to the mellow, nutty coconut. So, I set off to work, replacing the requisite amount of butter for VitaCoco coconut oil and adding about 50g of desiccated coconut, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon orange flower water (I was thinking citrus…) to a well-established madeleine recipe that I had cut out of a French cookery magazine in the dim and distant past. The result was, even though I say so myself, pretty damn good. It was a good thing that madeleines don’t really keep very well and need to be eaten within a few hours of baking. Marcel Proust used to dip his stale madeleines in his tea; Lola, Finn and Phill snaffled these before I had managed to put the kettle on. There can be no better recommendation in my mind.
And if you don’t like lemon curd, what about lime curd for a totally tropical vibe? Or a dollop of raspberry jam? Now, Coconut and raspberry: Let me just think about that for a moment. Or you could visit for some more great recipes!
This recipe is an entry into the #swearbyit challenge with Vita Coco. Find more great coconut oil recipes and tips on using coconut oil at

Coconut and Lemon Curd Madeleines
Makes approximately 18
3 large eggs
130g caster sugar
1 tbsp honey
1tsp orange flower water (optional)
100g Vita Coco Coconut Oil, softened,( but cooled if you have melted it) plus a little more for greasing the tin.
50g desiccated coconut
150g plain flour
6g (a generous teaspoon) of dried yeast
A pinch of salt
About a quarter  to half of a jar of good quality lemon curd

Preheat the oven to 200c

Place the eggs and the sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until light and airy.
Add the honey and the orange flower water if using and mix well.

Add the coconut oil. If it is quite solid, mix it vigorously into the egg mixture until it disperses evenly.

Add the flour, the coconut, a pinch of salt and the yeast and mix until combined. Don’t overbeat. Personally I taste the mixture at this stage to see if I can discern the flavours, in this case, coconut. If it tastes a bit bland, add a little more salt, but be careful.
Grease the madeleine pan very well with the coconut oil. This is imperative as you want your madeleines to come out easily.

Place a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each madeleine mould. Tap the pan down on the working top to encourage the mixture to settle into the mould.

Place a scant teaspoon of lemon curd onto the madeleine mixture.

Top the lemon curd with another generous teaspoon of the madeleine mixture. You may have to use the spoon to disperse the mixture evenly and it may all become a bit messy, but it will be okay.
Give the madeleines a final tap in the pan and then place them in the middle of the preheated oven. They might spread frighteningly and will look pretty awful initially but all will be fine. They should take about 8 – 10 minutes to bake and they should be a light golden brown with perhaps slightly browner ‘shell’ edges. Remove from the oven and when you can do so. If you have greased the pan well, the madeleines should come away from the moulds easily.

Trim the madeleines to their characteristic shell shape. It is likely that some of the mixture will have spread from the mould and therefore some trimming will be needed to neaten the madeleines up. I just think of all those sweet crispy bits and it pleases me enormously.
Eat warm, or whilst they are not quite cold. They will begin to become a little less light once they have been cold for a while, in which case, do what Proust did: make a pot of tea.


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