Saturday, 31 March 2012

Cheddar Cheese and Chive Souffle

We received some beautiful, freshly-cut chives as a bonus in our organic veg box yesterday, so I wanted to showcase them in a simple recipe that would let their flavour sing out.  Also, we had an abundance of rich, orange-yolked eggs to use up.  We forget that eggs are a seasonal ingredient, and at this time of year, with the lengthening sunny days, hens produce eggs with particularly richly-coloured, nutritious yolks.  So, I found a good recipe from Marks and Sparks, using a strong cheddar.  I followed this recipe pretty much exactly, the only difference being that I coated the inside of the dish with some grated Paremesan and dusted the top with a little, too, before baking.  This gives a wonderful brown, savoury crust to the souffle.  The result was a fluffy, cheesy supper, imbued with the sweet alium flavour of chives.  Accompanied by a simple salad and a glass of chilled rose wine, all was well with the world!  The quantity in the recipe is for 4 for a starter, but it served 2 amply for a main course.  Double it up and it will still cost less than a fiver, so it qualifies in that category for sure.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Cannellini Bean Dip with Rosemary and Lemon

I appear to be on a bit of a cannellini bean trip at the moment - perhaps because my favourite brand of tinned beans, Cirio, have just become available again through Ocado.  I will never be able to convince you that this is delicious by a photo, as it looks, well, like mushed up beans.  But it DOES taste wonderful, and is a doddle to make.  Nicer than bought hummus, and cheaper too.  Drain and rinse a 400g tin of cannellini beans and tip into a food processor bowl.  Ad a clove of garlic, crushed, the zest of a lemon, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a good grinding of pepper, a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon or so of fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped, and 2 tablespoons of good olive oil.  Blend until smooth.  Taste and add some salt and more lemon juice or olive oil if needed.  Scrape into a bowl and serve as a dip or spread on toasted sourdough.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Kohlrabi Latkes

What on earth does one do with that strange, Sputnik-like root, kohlrabi, when it turns up in your veg box?  In the past, I have braised it with butter, stock, garlic and lots of herbs and lemon juice, and I've also made it into a slaw, by finely shredding and mixing the raw veg with spring onions in a herby mayo.  But this is definitely the nicest way - let's face it, anything is improved by being fried!  (except, perhaps, a Mars bar, as my compatriots do in Scotland......hmmmm).  Anyway, grate the peeled kohlrabi and mix with a small egg, a tablespoon of plain flour, a clove of garlic, crushed, the zest of a lemon and plenty of salt and black pepper.  Heat a centimetre of oil (sunflower or rapeseed) in a non-stick pan, and fry dessertspoons of the mix, pressed flat, keeping the heat on the high side.  Turn after a minute or so once lovely and golden, and when done, lay out on several sheets of kitchen paper to blot excess fat.  Eat straight away or reheat in a single layer on a baking sheet and serve with poached eggs and a watercress salad for a lovely lunch or light supper.

Cajun Salmon with Sauteed Kale and Cannellini Beans

The weather here in Oxford has been so beautiful for the last few days.  Warm and sunny and making me think of Betjemen's hymn to Oxford in Spring: "pinkly bursts the spray of prunus and forsythia across the public way" - although the poem is about May-time in Oxford, it perfectly describes it right now, with pink cherry blossoms and yellow forsythia all over the city, contrasting with the honeyed Cotswold stone.  Inevitably, one wants lighter, fresher food in this sort of weather, and this combination worked beautifully.  Simple grilled salmon with Cajun rub, accompanied by shredded kale stir fried in olive oil with shredded leek, chopped garlic, fresh rosemary and a tiny splash of red wine vinegar at the end to freshen and add depth and a tin of drained, rinsed cannellini beans stirred through.  This is actually at its best served warm rather than hot, and a glug of peppery extra virgin olive oil over the greens and beans just before serving, with a spritz of lemon, made for a most delicious supper with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


This'll put hairs on your chest.  A Pasticcio is essentially a greek version of an Italian meat and pasta bake.  The pasta is mixed with a ragu made from minced lamb, onions, garlic and tomatoes, and seasoned with ground cinnamon (not too much) and dried oregano.  Once thick and reduced, mix the sauce with cooked pasta - a chunky variety such as rigatoni is good, then top with a cheesy, nutmeggy white sauce and parmesan and baked until set and bubbly-brown on top.  The cinnamon gives it a really different flavour and is what edges it a couple of countries to the right from Italy to Greece - a moussaka lasagne, if you like.  Anyway, for 4, use 500g of minced lamb and a regular tin of tomatoes, and you will need around 300g of pasta, and half a pint of cheese sauce.  This makes a cheap and substantial dinner, and could be done for around the fiver mark, depending on the cost of your meat - however, I'd say go for good quality and then it might push it up to the six quid bracket.  Still great value though.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Saag Aloo with Spiced Roasted Gobi

This recipe is based on a recipe from the Hairy Bikers, and the easiest thing to do is to link to their original recipe.  A couple of variations: the cauliflower was tossed in a teaspoon of garam masala before roasting, and the Saag Aloo curry had a base of pureed onion, ginger and garlic, as well as a sliced onion - this gives a thicker finish to the dish.  I also used all cauli, as I didn't have any romenesco to hand.  I don't think it diminished the overall result!  This was utterly delicious, the cauliflower being transformed by the roasting and retaining its texture and interest without being water-logged.  Definitely under a fiver too.  Yummy with simple boiled basmati rice.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Pot-roast Lamb Shoulder with Carrots and Onions

We recently visited friends in Lancaster, and amongst the beautiful dishes they prepared for us was a shoulder of lamb, gently pot-roasted for 22 hours.  It was amazingly tender and delicious.  Sadly, because of the slightly bizarre configuration of our flat, we can't do anything like that, as our bedroom is next to our kitchen - the smell overnight would prevent me from sleeping!  However, you can still achieve something approaching that tenderness and succulence in a shorter time, so this version cooked for 5 hours instead.  You brown a boned, rolled shoulder in some oil in a heavy ovenproof casserole, then add lots of large chunks of onions and some peeled chopped carrots.  Add a couple of bay leaves and some sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  Deglaze the pan with 250ml each of white wine and lamb or chicken stock, and season well with salt and pepper.  Clamp the lid on, with a layer of foil underneath if you doubt its airtightness, and bake in a low oven (around 120C) for 4 to 5 hours.  Check after 3 hours and top up with a bit more wine/stock.  It shouldn't be swimming in liquid, but should have some delicious light juices in the bottom.  When you adjudge it to be tender enough to cut with a spoon, dish up in large chunks (slicing is virtually impossible, it is so soft and melting), with the veg around and spoonfuls of the lovely winey lamby juices.  Creamy colcannon, in honour of St Patrick's Day yesterday, went down well with this, as did some sticky, caramelly roasted parsnips.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Apple and Cranberry Bread Pudding

We had some hot cross buns lurking around the kitchen (makes them sound like under-cover hostiles!) so I used them in a bread-and-butter pud, but without the butter, so not too naughty.  (we had all that chocolate cake and caramel flapjacks lying about for those purposes).  Anyway, I peeled and chopped a couple of Bramley apples which were lightly cooked with a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and then mixed with a handful of sultanas and dried cranberries (craisins) which had been soaked in Calvados.  This mix was then placed in the bottom of a Pyrex dish, then topped with 3 chopped hot cross buns.  A custard of 3 eggs, 3/4 pint of milk and 2 tablespoons sugar, along with a teaspoon of vanilla essence, was poured over.  Scatter with a few more dried cranberries, cover with foil, and bake in a bain marie at 175C for 45 minutes.  Serve warm with cream if liked, or I had some custard that I poured over - gilding the lily, I know.  Frugal and delicious after a roast leg of pork.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Frosted Chocolate Tray Bake

Part 2 of my nerve-inspired chocolate baking fest.  This is using Mary Berry's 'Best Ever Chocolate Cake' recipe, but cooking it as a single layer in a 12" by 9" traybake tin, then icing the top with her chocolate ganache icing.  Very good.  I didn't use the layer of apricot jam before the icing that the recipe stipulates, largely because this divided opinion the last time I made it.  Do use Bourneville chocolate, though.  I know it isn't as high in cocoa content as other brands, but its sweet chocolatiness seems to make for a perfect smooth icing.  The remainder will be brought in to work on Monday afternoon - Ady Fenwick, you'd better be there!

Chocolate Peanut Caramel Flapjack

OK, so I have a bit of a baking head on.  I start a secondment next week (finally, as I've been trying to do two jobs for the last few weeks) and am nervous about 2 things: first, that I'll be rubbish in the new post - they have such high expectations about me and I feel a little fraudulent; and second, that my replacement is so good, they might not want me back in my old post when the 12 months is up!  Gulp!  So, I am seeking solace in baked goods with lots of chocolate.  First up, this obscene lump of solid sugar and fat.  I take some comfort that the oats will help reduce some of the cholesterol being ingested.  This is a layer of squidgy flapjack (100g butter, 30g granulated sugar, 70g soft muscovado sugar, 2 tablespoons golden syrup and 175g oat flakes, all melted together, flattened in a parchment-lined 20cm sq brownie pan and baked for 10 mins at 160C - no longer, or else it is too hard).  Allow this to cool, then mix half a tin of Carnation Caramel condensed milk - make sure it is the ready-caramelised one - with 100g of roasted peanuts - your choice whether salted or unsalted, but the salt goes really well with the caramel!  Also, it is up to you to decide what to do with the remining half tin.  It is calling to me from the kitchen.  "Hello? Psst!  Maggie, EAT me!" it is saying.  Spread this over the cooled flapjack, and set in the fridge for a few hours.  Then gently melt 75g each of dark and white chocolate together with a tablespoon of flavourless oil, stirring very gently.  Pour this over the cold caramel layer and return to the fridge.  Leave to set, and then cut with a big sharp knife dipped in boiling water, wiping the knife between each cut.  This is best done on a board, out of the tin.  Use the parchment paper to help lift out of the pan.  Try to keep chilled, so the caramel doesn't seep out too much.  The bulk (I use the word advisedly) of this is going into work on Monday, otherwise we'd scarf the lot. These taste good.  Very good.  Like a Marathon bar with oats in.  (I refuse to call them Snickers - stupid name)

North African Chickpea and Squash Stew

This tasty wonder comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's marvellous book, 'Veg'.  If you haven't got it, buy it, is my advice.  Dare I say (whisper it very softly), it is even better than Nigel Slater's 'Tender: Volume 1' for veggie recipes.  Anyway, this simple yet scrummy dish will feed four people well with couscous (I flavour mine with lemon zest and juice, chopped coriander and ground sumac).  As this recipe is from a book, I shall preserve the copyright, and urge you to consult the book itself, but to give you a gist.........You saute an onion, some chopped garlic and ginger in olive oil.  You add North African spices: chili flakes, ground cinnamon, ground coriander and cumin, saffron and turmeric and I also added some ras al hanout.  You add a tin each of tomatoes and chickpeas and a little water and simmer until all is soft and delicious.  You steam some chunks of butternut squash and add to the stew for the final 5 minutes.  You lift the flavours at the end with chopped coriander and a good squeeze of lemon.  You serve with couscous or rice and, in our case, some fresh chorizo sausages (merguez would be better)  You enjoy with relish and then go and order the book on Amazon for a bargain ten quid.  You do this 'cos Maggie says it is a good idea, and she is always right.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Celeriac and Celery Soup

A friend who had looked at my blog for the first time today said "thanks for telling me what I can do with celeriac".  It is a shame it is a veg that appears to strike fear into people - I love its aniseedy celery flavour and smooth texture.  I decided to use up half of one that has been lurking in the fridge, along with a head of celery and a big leek, to make a soothing, creamy soup on a chilly late Winter day.  It is just the usual approach - clean and chop a leek (keep some of the green part, it adds to the colour), and chop an onion, then sweat these in about 25g of butter and a splosh of olive oil, along with a cleaned, chopped head of celery and a small head of peeled and chopped celeriac.  Do this sweating stage slowly, with the lid on, to help soften and develop the flavours.  Don't allow the veg to colour.  Now, just cover with veg or chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes or so, then blend.  I like to add quite a bit of flat-leaf parsley at this stage - the overall colour at the end is much improved.  Thin with milk or cream if liked, season with celery salt and nutmeg and serve in a big bowl with crusty bread - I had some warm wholemeal soda bread fresh from the oven - heaven!  And cheap too - add some cheese and fruit and you have a substantial lunch or supper for well under a fiver.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Chorizo, Potato and Courgette 'Frittilla'

So, tonight's effort was a cross-cultural blend of Spain and Italy - was I making an egg tortilla or frittata?  It was a combination of both, really, so lo!  The Frittilla is born!  I sauteed some sliced chorizo, thinly sliced potatoes and a red onion in a couple of tablespoons of oil until the potato is soft and the sausage has given up its oil.  At this point, throw in a couple of diced courgettes and cook for a few minutes more to soften.  Meanwhile, beat 6 eggs with a couple of tablespoons of milk, some salt and pepper and a handful of chopped chives if you have any - don't worry if you don't.  Stir in a ball of chopped Mozzarella.  If your pan fits in the oven, simply pour the egg and cheese over the contents of the pan, shake to settle and distribute well, and cook in the oven at 170C for 25 minutes  until brown and just set.  Alternatively, line a roasting tin with baking parchment and tip the contents of the pan in follwed by the egg and cheese.  Again, shake to distribute and then bake in the oven as above until just set.  This quantity serves 4 people generously and, using maybe a third of a 'horseshoe' of chorizo and a ball of bog standard 'essentials' mozzarella from Waitrose, this comes in at around the fiver mark - a filling, hearty meal, served with salad and leftover guacamole from last night (I had planned on courgette fritters but really couldn't be arsed).  And we have a delicious filling for some wraps for lunch tomorrow.

Monday, 5 March 2012


For many years, I have eschewed the avocado, believing I didn't like it.  Then I watched the expert on Mexican food, Thomasina Meirs, making guacamole and thought I'd have a go - especially as I'd been sent a couple of avocados in my veg box.  And, Dear Reader, I now love it so much I could marry it.  Miers' recipe is probably as authentic as it can get, and utterly, utterly delicious.  Mind you, I suspect that has more to do with the prodigious quantities of coriander leaf and lime in it than the actual avocado.  She starts by bashing a clove or two of garlic in a pestle and mortar with the stems and roots (if you have them) of a good bunch of coriander, and a small red chilli.  Add salt as an abrasive and bash and mash until an intensely fragrant slurry forms.  Now prepare your avocados - 2 large ripe ones - the usual way and mash roughly in a bowl with a fork.  Scrape in the slurry from the pestle - or is it the mortar?  Add the juice of a lime, or more to taste, and half a red onion, finely chopped, a tomato, roughly chopped and the bunch of coriander leaves roughly chopped.  Taste and add more salt, some pepper, more lime if liked and a good splash of Tobasco to pep up the flavours.  We served half the bowl tonight in tortilla wraps with some strips of spiced chicken, and the rest will accompany courgette and mozarella fritters tomorrow.  I think I am addicted..........

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Apple and Rhubarb Crumble

It has been snowing here in Oxford, so a crumble and custard is definitely called for!  I discovered this lovely recipe from Tom Parker-Bowles, and it is a winning combo.  I added a spoonful of flour to the fruit, as the rhubarb makes a lot of sauce, which the flour thickened nicely.  I used Calvados, which is apple brandy, after all, and just a tablespoon of it over the fruit has filled the flat with the most incredible smell as it cooks.  Perfect.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Pasta alla Norma

The divine Giorgio Locatelli has just published a magisterial book on Sicilian cooking, and I have already book-marked about 20 things to cook.  The Sicilians are very influenced by the Moors who once ruled their island, and it is thought that they made pasta well before it was introduced on the mainland.  Pasta alla Norma is one of their most famous dishes, and Giorgio's version is rich with roasted and deep-fried aubergines, masses of olive oil, and a cheese called ricotta salata or salted and semi-hard ricotta.  I have simplified this to cut down the need to deep-fry the aubergine, but it is still delicious and a great veggie pasta dish.  Even given that aubergines aren't that cheap, this will still qualify as an 'under a fiver' dish for 4 - easily halved as well.  Start off by cutting two aubergines into chunks about 2cm across.  Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan until hot and then fry the aubergines over a highish heat until golden brown and soft on all sides.  It will drink up the oil - don't be tempted to add more, just keep turning the pieces regularly and it will be fine.  Now make a tomato sauce with a large onion, 4 cloves of garlic (both finely chopped), another couple of tablespoons of olive oil and 2 x 400g tins of good tomatoes - Cirio brand for me.  When the sauce is thick and reduced, add the aubergines and about 20g of chopped fresh basil.  Heat through, whilst cooking 400g of pasta - rigatoni, penne or even bucatini, the thick southern-Italian spaghetti.  Drain the pasta, keeping a little of the cooking water back, and toss with the aubergine and tomato sauce, adding a little cooking water to slacken everything and help it coat.  If you are lucky enough to get hold of ricotta salata, grate it over everything and serve pronto.  If not, Pecorino Romano or Parmesan is good, and I also stirred some chopped mozarella through right at the end.  Why not pop on a CD of Bellini's opera 'Norma', after which the dish is named, whilst you prepare and eat - I favour the recording with Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne or Callas/Ludwig.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Celeriac Remoulade with Smoked Salmon

We have just spent a lovely few days with our friends in Lancashire, where we were treated to some fabulous meat dishes, including an amazing shoulder of lamb cooked for 21 hours.  But I find myself longing for some non-meat dishes, and the tangy spritz of celeriac remoulade did the trick.  Remoulade is really just a posh coleslaw, so don't be put off by the name.  There are numerous recipes on the web - the one thing I'd say is that some of them are a bit generous with the mustard.  This dish should have a refreshing bite from the Dijon, not a mule kick in the head.  I peeled and shredded half a large celeriac - try to get long elegant julienne matchsticks, a mandolin grater helps but patience and a sharp knife will do, too.  Blanch the strips of celeriac in a pot of boiling salted water for just 30 seconds or so, drain and refresh in cold water.  Drain again.  Now, either make your own mayo or get a jar of good old Hellman's - you need about  2 heaped tablespoons of it.  Put it in a bowl, season with a little salt, black pepper, the juice of half a lemon, a teaspoon of smooth Dijon mustard and half a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard.  Mix well.  If it is thick, thin it with a tablespoon of milk.  Adjust the mustard to your own tastes.  Now mix in a tablespoon of very finely chopped parsley, and fold the cool, drained celeriac through it.  Alllow to sit for an hour or so to develop the flavours, then serve with good smoked salmon, some freshly cooked beetroot and some rocket.  We were lucky to get wild River Lune smoked salmon from the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse and it was wonderful - tender, dry, delicate.  A fine supper indeed.