Sunday, 12 January 2014

Cheat's moussaka

My love of Greek food is limitless and moussaka is one of my favourite comfort foods, especially in winter. There's a passing resemblance to lasagne, with its layers of meat, bechamel sauce and cheesy topping, and the pasta replaced with aubergine and potato.

Like lasagne, it's fiddly to assemble if you go down the traditional route and make a bechamel - something I'd only bother with if cooking for friends. This cheat's version substitutes the bechamel with yoghurt and crème fraiche. I also don't bother to fry or grill the aubergine slices first, but layer them straight in uncooked.

Enough for two portions, so you can freeze one (or it'll keep in the fridge for up three days).

What you need: 
300g minced lamb
1 onion, diced
Olive oil
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 dsp tomato purée
Glass of red wine
Salt, pepper
Small aubergine, thinly sliced
Medium potato, peeled and very thinly sliced
Greek yoghurt / crème fraiche
Feta or Parmesan cheese
Breadcrumbs (optional)

What to do:
Sauté the onion in a glug of olive oil over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent. Turn up the heat, add the lamb and fry it until it's browned. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée, wine and oregano. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes. Season to taste.

To assemble the moussaka, put a layer of potatoes in the bottom of two individual-size pie dishes. Put a layer of aubergine on top. Add the lamb, then another layer of aubergine and spoon over enough yoghurt to cover. Finish with a layer of potato. Cover each moussaka with a couple of spoonfuls of the creme fraiche, then sprinkle over a little crumbled feta or finely grated Parmesan cheese. You can layer on some breadcrumbs before the cheese, as some Greeks do. Bake for an hour at 180C until the potatoes are tender enough to put a knife through.
Cook's tips:
Make sure you slice the potatoes as thinly as possible - they should be almost translucent. If they are too thick, they will take too long to cook through and everything else will be overcooked and possibly burned by then.

To make the honeyed thyme carrots in the photo, cut the carrots into batons, put in an ovenproof dish, then add a small amount of olive oil a generous drizzle of runny honey, a pinch of dried thyme (or some fresh leaves stripped off the stalks if you have some) and some seasoning. Bake alongside the moussaka for about 45 minutes. Sometimes I make khoriatiki if I fancy a salad instead.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Some thoughts on eating alone

No recipe today - I'm recovering from New Year's Eve and can only manage toast and coffee today! Social engagements over the next few days mean I won't really start cooking properly again until the weekend - I'll be bringing you some wintry comfort food shortly.

Pic: Table For One, Tumblr
In the meantime, this Guardian article on eating alone - Eating alone: there's no shame in a table for one - struck a chord with me. It was published a week before Christmas but I wanted to post this at the start of a new year.

Eating alone in restaurants in the UK is still seen as rather sad and pathetic. Often enough, it's a guarantee you'll be given a table tucked away at the back and service will be hurried so as to get rid of you as soon as possible. That way they can give the table to two people.

I've experienced the complete opposite abroad. Travelling around Europe, as I do two to three times a year, I've never been given a horrible dark corner and the wait staff have never seemed to mind me lingering as long as I want. I've always felt welcomed.

If I'm on holiday, I don't want to be rushed - I want to relax and enjoy my meal, sip my way through a bottle of wine and people-watch. I usually have my Kindle with me so I can read if I wish. (I'm not the only one - just look at the number of lone diners reading while they eat on the Table For One Tumblr.)

Pic: Table For One, Tumblr
I'd like to see some of that European sensibility rub off on restaurateurs here - after all, our money is as good as anyone else's. As the number of us living alone rises (currently around 9 million), they'd be foolish to ignore the solo pound.

However, I'm not sure I agree with the Guardian article's round-up of ways to make lone diners feel, well, less alone. They do imply that eating on your tod is still a bad thing. I don't think it is. And I definitely disagree that cooking for one is "not easy". That sort of attitude will send lots of people scurrying back to the chill cabinet for ready meals. I and all of you who land on The Lone Gourmet know that cooking for one can be both simple and pleasurable.

The comments below, when you get past the trollish ones, are enlightening, particularly the ones about women who dine solo. It's never been a problem for me but I can see that it could be for other women. 

What do you all think? Do leave a comment!

I'll end by wishing you all a happy 2014 - here's to cooking up a storm for the next 12 months!