Sunday, 16 December 2012

Potato and Mushroom Gratin

This nice little recipe is from Nigella's 'Express' cookbook, and is a good accompaniment to roast chicken or, in our case tonight, a proper veal saltimbocca.  Not too creamy, it uses milk rather than cream and not very much butter, so not too naughty - deeply mushroomy, too.  For 4 people, you need to peel and thinly slice 3 medium-ish potatoes - go for Maris Piper or King Edward's.  Heat 360ml of milk in a pan, along with 3 tablespoons of white wine (don't miss this bit out, it really lifts the flavour).  Season well with salt and pepper.  Add the sliced potatoes and simmer gently whilst getting on with the mushrooms: slice 250g of chestnut mushrooms and saute in a frying pan in 25g of butter and a grated or crushed clove of garlic.  I added some fresh thyme at this stage, because I had some, along with a grating of nutmeg because - well, life is better with nutmeg!  Once the mushrooms have sauteed for a few minutes and given off some of their liquid, tip the contents into the pan with the milk and potatoes and stir well.  Pour all of this into a buttered shallow gratin dish, smooth the top, grate over a little parmesan and bake at 180 for about 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender, most of the milk has been absorbed and the top is lovely and crusty brown.   As there were only 2 of us we have some leftover, but I think they will reheat well tomorrow - if I can stop picking at the dish in the kitchen.......oh dear!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Chickpea, Chard and Porcini Soup

Another lovely winter warmer from Hugh F-W's 'Veg Everyday' book, although I varied it by adding some shredded ham hock which turned it into a real rib sticker.  Even though you have to splash out on a packet of dried porcini (two quid from Tesco!) this still comes in well under a fiver and is so rich, mushroomy and warming.  If you don't have chard, kale or spinach or savoy cabbage would do just as well - just make sure it is dark green and full of iron!  Start the usual way by sweating a large chopped onion in a tablespoon or so of oil over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes.  Whilst this is happening, soak a 25g pack of dried porcini in 800mls boiling water in a jug.  Prep your chard by stripping the leaves from the stalks, slicing the stalks finely and then shredding the leaves.  When the onion is done, add a couple of stalks of rosemary and 2 cloves of crushed garlic, and cook for a couple of minutes.  Fish out the soaked porcini using a draining spoon and put on a wodge of kitchen paper - keep the soaking liquid.  Chop the porcini on a board, as finely as you can, then add to the pot.  Empty in a tin of drained, rinsed chickpeas, half a tin of chopped tomatoes and the chard stalks.  Stir well.  Now, place a sheet of kitchen paper in a sieve and carefully strain the mushroom liquid into the pan, to filter out any grit.  Bring to the boil, add a teaspoon of tomato puree and some marigold veg stock powder or a veg stock cube, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Return to just under the boil and add the chard leaves. Add the shredded ham hock (or some cooked chicken, maybe, or cooked chorizo). Simmer for about 8 minutes until the leaves are cooked but still lovely and green.  Adjust the seasoning, fish out the rosemary stalks and serve piping hot in big bowls with crusty bread and some cheese slices on the side.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Five Hour Roast Lamb Shoulder

There are loads of recipes on the web for this dish - I didn't follow a particular recipe, rather than a set of basic principles: good meat, lots of aromatic seasonings, a little liquid, good covering and long, slow cooking!  I started with a whole shoulder of lamb, either on the bone or boned and rolled, whichever you prefer.  Season well with salt and pepper, make some slits in the meaty bits and shove slivers of garlic and sprigs of fresh rosemary in them.  Now, take a solid roasting tin, put a little oil in the bottom (a tablespoon or so) and then strew (lovely word!) 2 peeled and thickly sliced onions over the bottom.  Peel and roughly chop 4 or 5 garlic cloves and add to the onions, along with a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a couple of bay leaves.  Now pour in 120mls of wine (whatever you have, but I prefer white for this dish) and a further 120mls of water.  Place the lamb on top, then cover the roasting tin really well with foil, tucking it tightly around the rim to make it as good a seal as possible.  Put in an oven heated to 150C or the gas equivalent and then leave to cook.  After 3 hours, carefully check under the foil (watch out! It will be hot and steamy!) just to check that there is still liquid - there should be lots as the meat will shed loads of juice.  But add a little more hot water from the kettle if it is at all dry.  Reseal the foil and return to the oven for another 2 hours, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes to brown the meat if it needs it.  Now, remove the lamb to a board and cover well with foil then a tea towel to keep warm.  Spoon the copious amounts of liquid fat from the surface of the juices in the roasting tin.  If the liquid is at all watery, boil over a high heat for a few minutes until reduced to the intensity you want - taste and adjust the seasoning.  You can either sieve the onions out of the gravy or not, your choice (I quite like the soft onions left in).  Now serve the lamb - it will be falling off the bone and you should be able to cut it and pull it apart with a fork and spoon.  Pour over the hot juice and serve with mash to mop it all up. Any leftovers make a sublime Shepherd's Pie or (as we did tonight), a Moussaka.  It is rich meat and serves a lot!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Now HERE is a new one!  Making a wheat-free pizza crust from cauliflower, egg and cheese.  If you are gluten-intolerant or just have a cauli to use up, this is an intriguing idea.  You won't get the same texture as a bread crust but it is worth trying.  My sister makes a flour-free souffle using pureed cauliflower, so this is on the same lines.  First, you have to blitz a raw cauliflower in a food processor until it looks like rice - you can include some of the stalk, too, which is a bonus.  Steam the cauli over a little water for about 6 to 8 minutes, then cool.  Now, for each 10" base, you need a cup of cooled cauliflower, half a cup of grated cheddar and an egg.  Mix together well and season with lots of pepper - you don't need salt because of the cheese.  Line a baking sheet with baking parchment, and set the oven to a high 220C.  Spread the cauli mix out to a rough 10" circle and spray with a little olive oil (or brush lightly with oil using a pastry brush).  Bake for 20 minutes until brown and set.  Now top with your favourite pizza toppings (don't go mad, and be stingy with the cheese, given the amount in the crust) and bake again until the topping is done to your liking.  Serve asap.  This isn't a low-fat option but is a good way to get loads more veg into kids - don't tell them it is cauliflower!  Tasty too, and certainly a novelty.  I found you can make the base in advance and it reheats really quickly with the toppings on, but it is a bit more fragile than a wheat base, so not easy to pick up in large wedges - hence my advice to not over-load it with toppings.

Sausage, Cannellini Bean and Pumpkin Stew

Sometimes, when it is cold and rainy and you feel under the weather, it HAS to be a stew - or soup - or something in between the two, as this is.  Essentially, this is good pork sausages, browned, then braised in herby stock with cannellini beans, carrots and chunks of squash and potato.  Lovely served in a big bowl with crusty bread, and under a fiver if you are careful with your shopping - don't skimp on the bangers, though, they should be the best quality you can afford.  For 4, take a pack of 6 or 8 bangers, halving them if you like, and brown a little in a tablespoon of olive oil in a casserole or ovenproof pot.  Remove, then add an onion, chopped, 2 cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, a large potato, cut into chunks (peel if you like), a couple of carrots, also cut into chunks and a wedge of pumpkin or squash of similar quantity to the potato and carrots, peeled and cut into chunks.  Stir this all together in the fat in the pan.  Whilst this is happening, dissolve a chicken stock cube in a pint of boiling water with a tablespoon of tomato puree and a good splosh of Worcesterrrrrshire Sauce and pour over the veg.  Bring to the boil, then tip in a tin of drained cannellini beans (or any other tinned bean of preference, rinsed too) and then place the bangers back on top.  Cover, and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes or so until the veg is soft and the liquid has reduced a little - a temperature of about 180C should do nicely.  Sprinkle over some chopped fresh parsley and dish up the soupy beany stew with thick hunks of crusty bread to dip into the herby broth.  Then go back to bed and feel sorry for yourself, albeit on a full tum.  That's what I did.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Mexican Shepherd's Pie

I have no ide whether a Mexican Shepherd would eat this!  It just seemed like the best name for an improvised dish that will be cooked again and again, it was so delicious (and simple and cheap, other qualities to recommend it by).  It is, essentially, chickpeas, tomato and spinach or kale cooked with chilli, cumin and paprika, then topped with a coriander and Parmesan mash - great for veggies if you use a suitable cheese alternative.  All you do is saute an onion, chopped (I used a red one, but go with whatever you have) in a tablespoon of oil until softening, then add 2 cloves of crushed garlic, a finely chopped red chilli, a heaped teaspoon each of ground cumin, sweet paprika (not the smoked kind) and dried oregano.  Stir for a moment then add a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes and a tin of drained, rinsed chickpeas.  Season,, bring to a simmer and let it cook and reduce a little until thick - around 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, boil or steam about 750g to 1K of mashing potatoes (Maris Piper of King Edward's for me).  When the chickpea mix has reduced, cram in either a 200g bag of spinach or in my case, a head of Cavalo Nero kale that had just arrived in the Riverford box, well washed and thinly shredded.  Allow this to cook and wilt - a matter of moments for spinach but for around 5 minutes if you use the kale.  Tip the saucy mixture into a pie dish (see photo).  Now, mash the spuds, and mix in about 30g of butter and a couple of tablespoons of milk, and season well with salt and pepper.  Grate 50g of Parmesan or veggie equivalent, and stir 30g into the potato, along with some chopped coriander leaf - about 20g should do.  Don't miss this bit out, the flavour combo is divine!  Spread over the chickpea mix.  Now, mix the remaining Parmesan with a tablespoon or so of breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top.  Bake at 180 for 25-30 minutes until piping hot, crisp and bubbling.  This was soooooo good and would easily feed four with a salad, some extra veggies on the side or even some crusty bread and butter for a carb overload!  Qualifies for Under a Fiver easily.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Persimmon Pudding

I am sorry.  I have been very lazy about both cooking and blogging and a ticking-off from a friend last week made me get back to both.  It isn't that I haven't been cooking, just not doing anything particularly spectacular.  But let's kick off November's entries with a new dessert for me - Persimmon Pudding.  This pud is very popular in the States, where the persimmon tree is often found in people's back yards.  For this pudding, you need the Hachiya Persimmon variety, also known in Europe as kaki - NOT the Fuyu or Sharon fruit, which will never ripen to the correct jellied pulp that is needed for this pud.  Luckily, Riverford have been supplying the Hachiya variety, and careful nurturing to bring them to just the right stage of readiness (borderline suppurating foetidity) meant we were ready to try this dessert, a favourite of the peerless Alice Waters in her Berkeley, CA restaurant, Chez Panisse.  Essentially, you puree the fruit, mix it with flour, milk, eggs, nuts and spices and bake into a sticky pudding, and serve with Cognac-flavoured cream.  The easiest thing is to link to a recipe on the Bojon Gourmet blog.  A really interesting flavour, sweet, honeyed but with a hint of tannin from the fruit - if you like pumpkin pie, you'll like this one, an early nod to Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Do you like to dunk your bread in some soup? Do you like beans on toast?  If so, this is the meal for you, combining, as it does, both those culinary textural delights.  I had a head of Cavalo Nero in the fridge, it is cold and drizzly and dark outside, so this Tuscan speciality was just crying out to be eaten.  It is a thick - REALLY thick - bean and vegetable soup that is ladled over a slice of chargrilled country bread, and is totally scrummy.  Cheap too, so it qualifies for the Under a Fiver challenge and will feed 4 people handsomely.  In a large pot, sweat 2 large onions, 2 sticks of celery and 2 carrots - all peeled and finely-chopped (I peel the celery by running the potato peeler from top to bottom to remove the stringy filaments).  Use a good couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  After 10 minutes, tip in a drained 400g can of borlotti beans, a 200g tin of Chair de Tomate or really good tinned chopped tomatoes, a teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary and the leaves picked from a branch of thyme.  Pour over about a litre of boiling water from the kettle.  Add some Marigold veg stock or just salt and pepper, cover and simmer for a good half-an-hour.  Stir from time to time, and mash the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the soup.  Take a head of Cavalo Nero (or the big outer green leaves of a Savoy cabbage) and cut across the head into thin ribbons.  Simmer in the soup for 10 minutes, then drizzzle over a further 2 tablespoons of olive oil and leave, covered, to one side for a few minutes.  Whilst this is happening, cut 4 big pieces of good country bread - sourdough or a French Pain de Campagne or equivalent.  Drizzle with oil and toast on a chargrill pan or under the grill, then rub each side with a cut clove of garlic.  Place a slice of toast in the bottom of shallow bowls and ladle over the thick beany soup.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan and drizzle on a little more olive oil - your best, green, peppery one - and eat, feeling the central heating effect filter through your blood vessels!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Spiced Roast Parsnip and Carrot Soup

It has suddenly turned a bit nippy in the south of England (snow and blizzards in Scotland - brrrrr!) so a good soup is what is needed to warm you from the tip of your nose to the ends of your toes, and this one certainly did.  If you like Curried Parsnip Soup, if you like Carrot and Coriander soup, and if you like a bit of a warm chilli kick in your food, then this is just the ticket.  You need to peel and dice 2 large parsnips (and I mean large - the mud-encrusted ones in our veg-box probably weighed 250g each) and you then need to peel and dice the equivalent weight of carrots.  Also peel a couple of garlic cloves, but keep them whole.  Now, toss them all in a tablespoon of oil (I like English cold-pressed rape seed oil, but then again, I am a food snob!) and roast on a baking sheet for about 20 minutes until nearly tender and tinged with a little brown here and there.  Whilst this is happening, peel and chop a large onion and also a leek, if you have one (white part only).  Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pot over a medium heat and allow the onion and leek to sweat and soften - don't colour them.  Trim and de-seed a red chilli (we had some wonderful Devon-grown hot little ones delivered in the veg box) and add to the onions too.  Now, assemble the following in a little bowl: 1 heaped teaspoon of ground coriander, 1 level teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 level teaspoon of ground ginger and half a teaspoon of turmeric.  Boil the kettle.  When the veg have roasted, remove from the oven.  Add the spices and veg to the onions and leek in the pan and stir well for a minute or two - don't let the spices catch, but allow them to release their fragrance in the oil.  Pour over boiled water from the kettle to cover the veg by about half-an-inch, then add a couple of teaspoons of Marigold stock powder or your preferred brand of veggie stock (or make your own!).  Allow to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, then blend in your usual way (I use a stick blender).  Thin with a little more stock if it is too thick.  Reheat and serve with a little natural yoghurt swirled in, and fresh coriander leaf if you have any.  Spme naan bread to dunk is good, too.   Lovely, and there is plenty for hubby to take to the rugby tomorrow evening to keep the chill out.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Pears Poached in Caramel with Toasted Brioche and Creme Fraiche

This lovely dessert is simpler than it sounds, and is a variation on a rather more elaborate recipe by Raymond Blanc, where he encases the poached pears in a 'charlotte' of brioche and bakes it.  He suggests the simpler version of poaching the pears in caramel sauce and serving it with a slice of toasted brioche with a spoonful of creme fraiche, so this is the route I took.  We had more of the perfect little baby Williams Pears from Riverford this week, so peeled them and poached them in the rich caramel sauce which is made thus: dissolve 5 tablespoons of caster sugar with 2 tablespoons of water in a heavy pan over a low heat.  Turn up the heat, and cook to a good golden caramel, not quite as dark as you would for a creme caramel but a good dark colour all the same.  DON'T stir it whilst this is happening, else the sugar will crystallise and be ruined.  If necessary, just swish the pan occasionally.  When the correct colour is attained, take off the heat and immediately add 100ml of double cream - take care as it will spatter.  When it has all subsided, return to a low heat, add 25g of butter and a tablespoon each of lemon juice and either Calvados, Cognac or Poires William if you have it.  Now submerge 8 small or 4 larger peeled pears in the sauce, cover, and simmer until tender.  This depends on size and ripeness, but our baby pears were done in about 8 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool with the lid on, then transfer the pears with all their delicious caramel sauce to a bowl and refrigerate.  You can eat them as they are with vanilla ice cream, toasted nuts, shortbread, whatever floats your boat.  Or, if you have some brioche knocking about (as you do), toast a small slice per person, and serve the sweet bread with the pear, some sauce and ice cream or creme fraiche.  Perfect.

Roasted Squash with Merguez-Spiced Chickpeas

I am so in love with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Veg Every Day" cookbook - a constant source of inspiration for using up the veg from my Riverford box.  We've eaten much more healthily (and cheaply) with the arrival of both these essentials in our lives!  The party last night gave us another opportunity to try out one of the recipes, and this was a delicious, cheap and filling dish to plonk on the table alongside all the other goodies.  I was so busy yesterday, I forgot to take pictures of most of the food, so I will simply link to the channel 4 website which gives both the recipe and a nice picture of the finished dish.  There is no meat in this - the reference to merguez relates to the classic seasoning for the North African sausage, which is put to use in a seasoned oil to dress the veg and pulses - a heady blend of garlic, caraway, fennel seed, cumin, smoked paprika, rosemary and Cayenne pepper.  I used tinned chickpeas rather than cook my own (I never seem to be able to get the chickpeas soft when I prep them from dry, and the 'East End' brand provides lovely soft, yielding peas) and I also cheated massively by using a bag of frozen butternut squash from Waitrose - what a BRILLIANT timesaver!  Anyway, a really nice dish, and one for the under a fiver thread too.

Roasted Carrot Hummus

So, a mammoth cookathon over the last 48 hours, starting with a cookery day hosted by Sophie Grigson on Moroccan and North African food - more on that later!  We were at a friend's for a party last night and we all contributed various dishes on the theme of mezze and tapas.  I have been wanting to try this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for a while, so this was a perfect opportunity.  You start off by mixing a dessertspoon of honey in a bowl with 3 tablespoons olive oil, a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander and some salt and pepper.  Peel 4 cloves of garlic and add to the oil.  Peel 500g of carrots and cut into 5mm slices, then toss in the spicy oil.  Scrape all of this onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and roast for 35 minutes or so until the carrot is soft and slightly caramelised.  Cool a little, then scrape into a food processor.  Add the juice of half an orange and half a lemon, 3 tablespoons of tahini and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Blend until smooth, adding a little more juice if it needs thinning.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.  I have to admit that, straight after mixing, I wasn't impressed with this - it seemed too sweet.  However, 8 hours later at the party, it had mellowed into a mildly spiced, fruity, sweet and savoury whole and was delicious with crusty bread and pitta toasts.  One to make again, just follow my advice and make it in advance!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Churchill Cocktail

My hubby made me laugh by saying "ah, those were the days, when you could be pissed and gaga and still be Prime Minister after three strokes".  Wonderful, and this is what's missing in national politics today, I think.  Anyway, this cocktail was named after the great man himself (although he apparently hated Scotch.....).  It consists of (for 1 person) 3 parts of Scotch, 1 part fresh lime juice, 1 part Sweet Vermouth, and 1 part Cointreau.  Sweeten if needed with a teaspoon of sugar syrup.  I'll leave you to decide how big your parts are, fnar, fnar! (forgive me, I'm drunk).  For those concerned with provenance, this is from the Savoy cocktail book, by Harry Craddock (no relation to Fanny!! Fnar, fnar!)

Red Wine Poached Pears

I love this time of year - with all the fabulous Autumnal fruit and veg, you are spoilt for choice.  In this week's Riverford delivery were 8 perfect baby Williams pears, just crying out to be peeled and poached, so how could I resist?  I use Alice Waters' recipe from the Chez Panisse Fruit book - a source of constant inspiration and reliable classics.  Prepare the poaching base which is an entire bottle of good red wine - nothing vintage but it must be drinkable - with the pared zest and juice of a lemon and a cinnamon stick, with a cup of caster sugar.  Bring to a simmer in a non-reactive pot (i.e. not aluminium or copper), whilst you wash and peel your pears, keeping the stalk on if you can.  Using the tip of your paring knife, dig out a little of the core on the bottom.  Immerse the pears in the simmering wine, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the pears are tender - this will depend on the size and ripeness of your pears so keep testing after 20 minutes.  Turn off the heat and leave the pears to cool in the liquid.  An hour later, they will be buttery-tender and the most amazing colour.  Carefully remove them with a slotted spoon and put in a bowl.  Now, return the poaching liquor to a high heat and boil and reduce to about a cup/250ml, until thick and syrupy.  Your house will smell amazing!  Resist the temptation to drink this straight away and spoon carefully over the pears, leaving them glossy and glorious.  When cool, cover and refrigerate and serve just as they are or with creme fraiche, whipped cream, ice cream, Greek yoghurt, or - in our case - with some chilled creamy vanilla egg custard and sprinkled with toasted slivered almonds.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Hot and Sour Vegetable Noodle Soup

A friend gave me a bag of lovely crisp sugar snap peas during the week, and it was a toss-up between this or a coconutty laksa.  I wanted something spicy and cleansing, so went down the hot and sour route.  Use whatever veg you have to hand - in my case, some red pepper, mushrooms, beansprouts, onions and the said sugar snaps.  The ingredients here are for 2 people but just double for 4.  Prep the veg for a stir-fry and leave to one side.  Cook some noodles - entirely up to you what variety, but I went for medium rice noodles - one 'nest' per person.  Now prepare your broth: make up 700ml of veg stock using Marigold powder and bring to a boil in a pot.  Add a good thumb-size piece of peeled grated ginger, a grated clove of garlic and one finely-sliced hot red or green chilli.  Now add a tablespoon of tamari or light soy sauce, a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar and a teaspoon of brown sugar.  Add plenty of ground black pepper, or a little Szechuan pepper if you have it - careful, it'll blow yer socks off! Finely-chop around a tablespoonful of fresh coriander and slice a lime into 'cheeks' and keep to one side.   Keep this broth base simmering as you heat a tablespoon of light oil (I like rape-seed) in a wok and quickly stir-fry the veg, keeping them crisp and colourful.   In big, warm bowls, divide the noodles on the bottom, top with the cooked veg and pour over the simmering stock, to which you have added the coriander.  Serve right away, with the lime to squeeze over to enhance the 'sour' element, and perhaps some Tabasco sauce to add extra heat at the table.  Delicious, warming, reviving and incredibly healthy.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Spiced Coconut Greens

Based on a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe, this was a lovely accompaniment to Thai-chicken in romaine lettuce leaf wraps.  I stir-fried a shredded leek with some grated garlic and ginger for a few moments, then stirred in a quarter-teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli flakes.  I then tipped in a big handful of shredded kale, a 160ml tin of coconut milk and 100ml of veg stock, and half a tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed.  This was stirred over a high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, then the juice of half a lime was added, with some salt and pepper.  This would work with spinach or chard, but the bitter chewy nature of wonderfully fresh green kale was most welcome.  This served 2 but would easily be doubled for more, or doubled and served with rice as a main course.  I think it qualifies for under a fiver.

Leek Beetroot and Potato Soup

I'm back in the blogging saddle again after a spot of bother with Google Blogger.  And a great soup to start us off with.  It is absurd to get excited over something as simple as a leek, but when two beautiful specimens turned up in the veg box, it made my heart sing!  After trimming and thoroughly washing one, I partnered it in a soup with onions, beetroot and potato.  Made the usual way, I sweated said leek with a chopped onion in a tablespoon of rape seed oil and around 25g of butter.  I peeled 2 good sized raw beetroot (ignoring the 'Psycho' red splattering on hands, kitchen tiles, chopping board and apron) and 2 similar-sized potatoes, chopped them and added them to the pot.  After being just covered with Marigold veggie stock, the pot simmered for half-an-hour and was then blended with a stick blender until a smooth vision of creamy pinkness emerged.  I stirred in a dollop of creme fraiche and served it with another spoonful on top, some chopped chives (actually, spring onion tops!) and a drizzle of a little more rape seed oil, but these embellishments are optional - just plain and simple, it was a soup of sweet, smooth earthiness.

Perfect Sauteed Potatoes

Well, perfect as far as we're concerned!  The secret of a perfect sauteed potato is time.  And a non-stick frying pan.  If you rush your spud, it will brown too quickly and not be cooked on the inside.  Don't par-boil them, either, as they go mushy.  The other secret is not to stir them too often.  And use waxy new potatoes, as maincrop will just go mushy too.  OK, so that's four secrets, not one, but I like to give you value for money.  Chop as many spuds as you like, but make sure you have a big enough pan for them to be in one layer.  Cubes of about half an inch, or the metric equivalent, will be fine.  Heat 3 tablespoons of oil (I never said these were low fat!) in your pan - I like a blend of rape seed and extra virgin oil.  Keep the heat to medium and let the oil heat properly before adding the spuds, which should gently sizzle as they hit the pan.  As they do, toss them in the oil, shake them out to an even layer, sprinkle in some salt and pepper, and LEAVE THEM ALONE.  Let them cook at a moderate sizzle for a good 5 minutes without disturbing them.  Meanwhile, chop a large red onion and a clove or 2 of garlic.  After 5 minutes, stir and toss the potatoes and throw in the onions and garlic.  Stir again, then leave for another 5 minutes.  Stir every 5 to 10 minutes until all sides are brown and the onions have gone a delicious caramelly gooey texture.  Taste the potatoes after half an hour.  Add more salt and pepper, and if they are cooked through, turn up the heat and fry briskly until everything is crisp.  Keep an eye on them so they don't burn and adjust the heat accordingly.  Chop a handful of flat-leaf parsley and stir through at the very last moment before turning into a bowl and eating promptly with whatever takes your fancy - steak, fried chicken, lamb or pork chops, or grilled mackerel, which we had last night.  DEE-lish!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Apologies for the lack of updates

Google Blogger doesn't seem to want me to upload any photos, so I haven't been able to do any posting for a while.  I do apologise, and have a backlog of recipes for when it gets resolved - in the meantime, take a swing through the archives!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Bircher Muesli

It is my poor hubby's first day off in 11 days, so I wanted to give him his favourite breakfast.  Being the (generally) virtuous bloke he is, this isn't a fry-up, but a plate of Bircher Muesli and lots of fruit.  On a lovely sunny early Autumn morning, it hit just the spot.  It is essential to use a good quality muesli base for this, and I like Dorset Cereals - not cheap but great quality.  Start the night before. For three servings (he has the leftovers tomorrow), put 9 heaped tablespoons of muesli in a bowl and pour over fruit juice to just cover - I used apple juice.  stir well, cover and leave in the fridge over night.  The next morning, grate an apple, peel and all, and stir into the muesli with a splash more apple juice.  Now stir in yoghurt, whatever flavour you like, but I went with peach yoghurt to match the flavours of the fruit.  Use as much or as little as you like to get the texture and consistency you prefer.  Spoon into plates and serve with a selection of perfect fruit - I used a glorious French white peach, skinned and sliced, some wonderful scottish raspberries and local strawberries, and a handful of brambles from the wild bit at the bottom of the garden, still warm from the briar.  This could only have been improved by eating it on a balcony overlooking the Devon or Cornish coast, but you can't have everything.  With gallons of tea, toast and homemade marmalade, I hope the old man had an oasis of rest before back to the slog again tomorrow.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Courgette, Mozzarella and Basil Fritters

I know, I KNOW, yet ANOTHER recipe for courgette fritters.  But, in my defence, they are so quick and easy to make, tasty and are a solution to the courgette mountain at this time of year.  And, although I don't own any, I imagine kids would love them.  Tonight's variation, which made plenty for 4 people, is as follows.  Grate 2 medium courgettes, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain in a colander.  After 20 minutes or so, scoop up handfuls and squeeze the moisture out.  In the meantime, crack 2 eggs into a bowl, add about 60mls of milk and 2 heaped tablespoons of self-raising flour.  Whisk into a thick batter.  Season with a little salt (not too much, we've salted the courgettes, remember), lots of black pepper and half a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes.  Finely chop a couple of spring onions and add to the batter.  Now drain a ball of mozzarella and chop into little dice.  Add to the batter along with the courgettes, 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese and a handful of basil leaves, rolled and cut into shreds.  Mix well, and then drop tablespoons of the batter into a non-stick frying pan with half a centimetre of sunflower or rapeseed oil in.  Fry on each side over a medium heat for a couple of minutes until golden brown and lay out on a parchment lined baking sheet.  You can do this well in advance and reheat in a hot oven for 10 minutes until golden, puffy and sizzling.  Lovely served with tomato sauce or sweet chilli dipping sauce.  Definitely under a fiver.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Nigel Slater Kitchen Diaries Vol II

Hurrah!  Event of the year on 13 September, when Nigel publishes Volume II of the Kitchen Diaries.  You can guess what the subject of this blog will be in 2013!

Cherry and Peach Crostata

I have blogged various versions of the crostata before, including Fig and Raspberry, Rhubarb and Strawberry amongst others.  We enjoyed last week's combination of cherries and peaches in a clafoutis so much that I thought I'd put them in a crostata with some frangipane on the base.  It was delicious again, with cream or creme fraiche, whichever you prefer.  Make some rich shortcrust by blitzing together 150g of plain flour with 75g of chilled, diced unsalted butter and a tablespoon of caster sugar.  Now mix an egg yolk and a tablespoon of chilled water, and pour over the dry mix in the processor.  Blitz again until just coming togther into a ball, adding a tiny bit of water if necessary.  Tip onto a sheet of cling film, flatten into a disk, wrap and chill for at least an hour.  Bring out of the fridge for about 20 minutes on a warm day to soften, then roll into a rough disk about 14 inches in diameter.  I do this on the clingfilm to make lifting easy.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Now cream 50g of soft unsalted butter and 50g of caster sugar until pale and creamy.  Add an egg, 100g of ground almonds and a dash of vanilla essence.  Quickly mix then spread on the pastry base, leaving a 2 inch border all round.  Pile 3 skinned and chopped white peaches on top of the frangipane, and a big handful of stoned cherries.  Bring the edges of the pastry up around the side - it should be ragged and rustic looking.  Sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of sugar and bake at 170C (fan) for half an hour until browned.  Best served just warm rather than hot from the oven.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Prawn Linguine with Chorizo Tomato Sauce

This recipe is from Lorraine Pascale and when I saw it on her new TV programme, I knew we had to cook it.  The best thing to do is link to her online recipe - I pretty much followed it but used a glass of the rose wine we were drinking rather than cabernet sauvignon.  I also left out the harissa, as we wanted more of an Italian vibe than a southern Spanish/Morrocan one.  The fennel seed is essential though, as is the oregano - all of these make it Italian in spirit. This was a fabulous recipe, and I would urge you to make it!  We made the full amount of sauce and saved half to make Patatas Bravas tomorrow.  Definitely one to make again.  My camera was out of juice, so I have pinched Lorraine's photo.
Photo courtesy of Daily Mail/Lorraine Pascale/myles new

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

These are SOOOOO much better than any cookies you can buy, and such a doddle to make.  I use the recipe from Smitten Kitchen's blog which, if you haven't discovered yet, I urge you to visit, if only to keep up with the growing charm of her toddler son.  This is just about the most famous food blog on the planet so you might have seen it already!  Anyway, great recipe, reliable, quick and easy, and I get about 18 cookies from this quantity of dough.  Perfect for a work fundraiser tomorrow, along with some chocolate Vanilla Cupcakes, based on the Hummingbird Bakery recipe I've blogged on here before.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Peach and Cherry Clafoutis

The English cherry season is late this year, and the fruit isn't the best, to be honest - all the rain made for poor pollination and a rather soft and mushy fruit.  But, they are fine for cooking and a good handful made a lovely clafoutis with chunks of ripe, skinned Italian white peaches.  I use Alice Waters' recipe for the batter from her Chez Panisse Fruit cookbook.  She flavours her batter with the grated zest of half a lemon and the merest knife-tip of ground cinnamon.  To make the batter, whisk together 3 tablespoons each of plain flour and casgter sugar, 2 eggs and 150ml each of whole milk and cream.  Stir through a couple of drops of vanilla extract, the lemon zest and cinnamon.  Spread the prepared fruit (a big handful of cherries with the stones removed and large chunks of skinned peach) in a shallow china or glass dish, pour over the batter and bake at 165C (fan) for 30 minutes until golden brown and set.  Leave until warm, dust with icing sugar, and serve with a dollop of Creme Fraiche and some more fruit, if liked.

Baked Parmesan Salmon

I have to admit to nicking this idea from a Hellman's Mayonnaise tv advert!  I tarted it up a little - of course, and they used chicken instead of fish.  The Italians insist that fish and cheese don't go together, but I think, used judiciously, they can make a good pairing.  I wouldn't go down the Cheddar route with salmon, but Parmesan is fine.  For two fillets of salmon, I put 2 tablespoons of full-fat Hellman's mayo in a bowl, stirred in 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan.  Lightly oil a sheet of foil on a baking tray, put the salmon fillets on and spread the flavoured mayo over each of them.  Top with a little more Parmesan and some black pepper, then bake at 200C (fan) for 12-15 minutes until the fish is just cooked through (this depends on the thickness of the fish so do check early) and bubbling brown on top.  Serve with lemon wedges.  Surprisingly nice and lovely for this hot weather!

Toasted Hummus

Well, toasted is taking it a bit far, but several of the components have been toasted so I think the name is justified!  Also, there is a little more texture than regular hummus.  It is simply hummus made the usual way (which for me is a tin of well-rinsed and drained East End chickpeas, 2 tablespoons of tahini paste, a peeled garlic clove, a teaspoon of ground cumin, the juice of half a lemon, about 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of boiling water, blitzed in a processor).  After blending, I stir in 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil, a tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds and 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped.  Add salt and pepper to taste, spoon into a bowl, drizzle over more olive oil, sprinkle over some more sesame seeds and pine nuts and some paprika, and tuck in with toasted pitta breads.  We'll have the remainder in a sandwich tomorrow with grated carrot and lots of salad.  Yum!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Porotos Granados

This is like a kind of Chilean Minestrone, thick with white beans, green beans, sweetcorn and squash.  I adapted it slightly from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe in his wonderful 'Veg Every Day' cookbook - I added a teaspoon of tomato puree and changed the spicing from smoked paprika to a teaspoon each of ground cumin and dried red chilli flakes, along with his suggested oregano.  It was a really lovely soup, thick and hearty and filling.  It definitely qualifies for the 'under a fiver' challenge, and will feed four people most generously - low fat and very high in fibre, too.  All the ingredients are coming into season now, so it is perfect for drizzly August nights that shade into early September Autumn.  If you are lucky enough to grow your own fresh Borlotti or Cranberry beans - these would be a wonderful alternative to the dried or tinned that Hugh uses in his recipe.  If you are a carnivore, some online versions include slices of fried chorizo, which would be nice too, but we were happy with the veggie version with some toasted ciabatta to provide complementary protein.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Roasted Corn and Tomato Salsa

This was a great accompaniment to some grilled fillets of mackerel last night.  The limey chilli flavour cut through the oiliness of the fish perfectly.  I removed the husk and silk from a fresh ear of corn and rubbed it in olive oil.  Then, it was roasted under a hot grill for about 10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until lightly toasted and the kernels are tender.  Allow to cool, before stripping the kernels off with a sharp knife, run from top to bottom of the corn head whilst holding it upright on a board.  Meanwhile, finely dice 4 cherry or 2 ordinary tomatoes and add to the corn kernels in a bowl.  Finely chop a small red onion or some spring onions and add to the corn and tomato.  Squeeze in the juice from a large lime, a couple of shakes of Tobasco sauce and a good bunch of coriander leaves, finely chopped.  Season to taste with salt - it needs quite a bit - and half a teaspoon of sugar if it is too acidic for you.  Allow to sit for half-an-hour, then serve with whatever you like - mackerel, grilled salmon, sausages, steak, chicken breast, griddled aubergine or courgettes, courgette fritters, or slices of grilled haloumi cheese.  Or just as a dip with tortilla chips.


Such an easy thing to make, and SOOO expensive to buy ready-made, so if you are fond of this spread, make it yourself, and it tastes much better too.  The only consideration is whether to 'anchovy' or not.  I'm not a huge fan of the little fish, myself, so I leave it out, but add a well-drained fillet or two if you like it.  I take a jar of pitted black olives in brine, about 120g drained weight, rinsed well under a running tap.  Bung into a food processor along with a tablespoon of well-rinsed salted capers, half a clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and a spritz of lemon juice.  Grind in lots of black pepper, but no salt, then pour in 3 or 4 tablespoons of good olive oil.  Zazz in the processor for 30 seconds, then scrape the sides of the bowl, add another spoonful or two of oil and zazz for another 30 seconds.  Spoon and scrape into a bowl, pour over another tablespoon of oil, and keep covered, in the fridge.  This lasts well for a couple of weeks in the fridge, and is lovely spread on toasted ciabatta, or spread on a chunky piece of fish before grilling, or as a dip for baby new potatoes, so many things.  A great supper, by the way, is a pouch of Merchant Gourmet ready-cooked Puy Lentils, piled on salad, topped with a soft-boiled or poached egg, and toasted sourdough with tapenade spread on.  I could happily live on this!  In the meantime, on toast for us tonight, to accompany a Dry Martini.  Cin cin!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Creamy Roast Tomato Sauce

When you think of roasted tomatoes, you probably also think of olive oil as the logical fat to use to cook them.  But adding a little butter and cream raises the sweet roasted flavour to a different dimension, as well as mellowing the acidity.  For 2 people, I simply halve 5 large ripe tomatoes, cover with a clove or two of chopped garlic, some salt and pepper and a couple of teaspoons of olive oil drizzled over.  Roast for 30 minutes until starting to go golden and juicy.  Blend in a processor or with a hand blender, then stir in around 25g of butter and a tablespoon of cream, creme fraiche or mascarpone.  Add basil if liked, and stir through 200g of freshly cooked pasta with some freshly-grated Parmesan or veggie equivalent.  Simple, cheap and delicious for a summer supper.  Double up to serve four, and it will still cost less than a fiver, especially as we move into the UK tomato season.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Greek Courgette Pie

I was challenged at work today by 2 colleagues to make a meal for two people with 2 courgettes and 2 eggs.  I've done better than that - I've made a meal for four people (with a little extra help along the way!).  This is based on a Sarah Raven recipe from her Garden cookbook, a great option for seasonal veg cooking.  You start off by gently sauteeing a chopped red or white onion, 2 medium courgettes, grated, and a crushed clove of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil - Greek if you have it.  Let this cook for 15 minutes until soft and most of the moisture has been driven off.  Cool a little whilst you beat the 2 eggs in a bowl with a tablespoon of Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche, some salt and pepper (not too much salt, as the feta is salty), a sprinkle of dried red chilli flakes, and a tablespoon each of chopped parsley and mint.  If you have fresh dill, add a tablespoon of this too.  If you have toasted pine nuts lying around (I keep mine in the freezer) then add a tablespoon or so to the mix.  Now fold in the cooled courgette mixture and 100g of proper Greek feta, cut into squares.  Then, melt about 25g of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan.  Take a baking tin (wide and shallow is best) and brush with some of the butter/oil, then line with a sheet of filo pastry, letting the excess hang over the edge.  Brush with a little butter/oil, then lay another sheet of filo.  Repeat.  Now pour the courgette mixture onto the pastry.  Fold over the excess overhanging pastry and brush with more butter.  Lay another sheet of filo over, brush with butter and then scrunch another couple of sheets over the top.  Brush the whole thing with more butter/oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds if you have any (I didn't) then bake for 30  to 35 minutes at around 180C (fan)  until golden brown and crisp and the filling is gently set.  Serve warm or cold.  Definitely under a fiver territory here, and you can scale it up to feed more people in a bigger tin for a picnic, perhaps.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall does a version of this in his 'Veg Every Day' book with rice added, but I felt the rice didn't soften enough when added raw.  You could bulk this out by part-boiling a cup of Basmati and adding it to the filling, but it will be a firmer, denser stuffing, albeit a more substantial one.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Not Quite Paella

I make no claims about the authenticity of this but it makes for a delicious Paella-style dish.  I sauteed sliced onion, a Romano red pepper and the remains of last night's fennel bulb with half a horse-shoe of chorizo in olive oil, until all was just beginning to become tinged gold and the oil has rendered from the sausage.  Grate in a couple of garlic cloves, add half a teaspoon of hot smoked paprika and a teacupful of Bomba or Callasparra Valencia rice (Waitrose sells it).  Stir well, then stir in a mixture of 3/4 pint veg stock, a teaspoon of tomato puree, a good pinch of best-quality saffron (I use Iranian, brought from there by my friend Noshin) and 1/4 pint of dry white wine.  Bring to the boil, turn the heat right down, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.  Then stir in about 12 peeled de-veined King prawns and tiny broad beans or petit pois.  Cover again, and simmer for 4-5 minutes.  Finally, add chopped parsley and serve with lots of lemon chunks.  Lovely!  We started the meal with fresh corn cobs with chilli and coriander butter and washed down with Margaritas - Ay Carrumba!!!!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Composed Warm Chicken Salad with Beetroot, Fennel and Orange

I love salads where you distribute everything on a big platter, pour over the dressing and dig in - everything gets well blended as you dish up, and you can layer the dish with texture, colour and flavour.  This was a great example with a base of Batavia lettuce leaves, sliced freshly-boiled beetroot, shaved fennel and fillets of orange.  Topped with chunks of chicken marinated in lemon, rosemary and garlic, then quickly sauteed, and little croutons of bread sizzled to golden deliciousness in olive oil, and then all dressed with a vinaigrette made from the orange juice, you end up with a vibrant and healthy supper.  You can vary this so much, and I could have used smoked or grilled mackerel, poached salmon, chunks of good tinned or fresh tuna, strips of juicy steak, chunks of fried chorizo, garlic prawns, or feta or goats' cheese for a veggie option, instead of the chicken.  Use your imagination and whatever is best in the market and in season.  Just think about the overall colour and make sure there is textural variation as well to keep things interesting.  As well as crunch from croutons, you can get the same effect from cucmber or red pepper, and spring onion adds texture and a sharp savour too.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Courgette and Sweetcorn Fritters with Tzatziki (revisited)

I've blogged courgette fritters before, and they are a great favourite of ours.  However, I tinker with the recipe, and discovered today that using self raising flour, instead of my usual plain, makes for a much lighter, fluffier fritter.  I made a batter with 2 very heaped tablespoons of SR flour, 2 eggs (from a neighbour's chooks, and fresh as anything) and a tablespoon or so of milk.  Mix well with a whisk, and season lightly with salt and plenty of pepper.  Allow to sit for half an hour.  Meanwhile, grate two medium courgettes, sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and let them drain in a colander while the batter rests.  Strip the kernels from an ear of fresh corn (or use a small, well-drained tin), and finely-chop a couple of spring onions.  Break up a 100g block of feta into small chunks.  Now, drain the courgettes really well by squeezing handfuls tightly and then drying even more in kitchen paper.  Stir everything into the batter, and fry tablespoons of the batter in hot sunflower or rape seed oil until golden brown on each side.  You can do this in advance and reheat in a hot oven on a non-stick baking sheet for 10 minutes - they'll puff up again.  Make the tzatziki by grating half a cucumber and mixing with a small pot of Greek yoghurt, a grated clove of garlic, the juice of half a lemon, a handful of mint, finely-chopped, and salt and pepper.  Serve with the fritters with salad and perhaps roasted tomatoes, or maybe ham if you want some meat.  A great dish for kids, packing a real veggie punch, and definitely under a fiver.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Caldo Verde

This Portuguese soup is great for a not-particularly-warm summer evening, and provided you watch your timings, you'll have a fresh veggie-packed, vibrant supper, best eaten with lots of crusty bread.  There are as many recipes for Caldo Verde as there are Portuguese.  However, most seem to require the presence of onion, potatoes and fresh leafy greens such as kale or chard (my green of choice today).  You can then add layers of texture and flavour depending on what you have available - I added fresh sweetcorn kernels, some tinned chickpeas, a couple of finely diced tomatoes and half a 'horse-shoe' of good chorizo, sliced.  Simmered in chicken broth, with garlic and a little smoked hot paprika to boost the sausage flavours, it was a fabulous, filling, savoury, brothy soup, packed full of veg.  Just make sure you add the greens and tomato if used) a few minutes before serving to preserve their colour and texture.  As this only uses half a chorizo, this qualifies for 'Under a fiver' easily.  You could make it veggie/vegan too, by using veg stock and omitting the sausage.