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Posts from the ‘Food’ Category

Mon petit chou-fleur

It is about this time of year that I start to long for longer days and a glimpse of sunshine. Winter, be gone! In the kitchen, although I am still looking for comfort food as we slowly ease out of the darkness of this dreary season, I am also keen to try some fresh new tastes and to add some bright colours to my plate.

Well, I have just the thing for it. A comforting cauliflower, combined with juicy tomatoes, some spices and some citrus juice. It’s fresh, it has warmth and it is very different to any curry you will have ever tried before. Plus it’s all made in one pot so less washing-up!

Cauliflower & Tomato Curry
Adapted from Orchards in the Oasis by Josceline Dimbleby

Ingredients
1 medium to large cauliflower, cut into florets
500g plum tomatoes, peeled and quartered (method below)
4 tablespoons groundnut oil
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black onion seeds
4cm ginger, peeled and chopped
1-2 chillies, seeds and core removed, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of ½ lemon
Chopped coriander
Salt

Method

Heat the oven to 160 degrees.

Place the tomatoes in a pyrex bowl and cover them in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes. Remove and peel. Cut into quarters.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pan. Once hot add the spices and fry for about a minute, then add in the chilli, garlic and ginger. Fry for another minute. Add the cauliflower and coat with the spice mixture. Once the cauliflower is smothered in the spice mixture, remove from heat. Place the quartered tomatoes amongst the cauliflower.

Add the orange and lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt. Put the pan back on the heat and bring to a simmer. Cover and place in the oven for 50 minutes. Serve with some brown rice.

This post is dedicated to my Grand-Mamy Read more

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Smokin’

Smoked haddock. Whenever I cook it, it reminds me of my Granny’s house. Westbury Road: with the ominous sounding doorbell, the blue and pink hydrangeas, the patterned carpets, the familiar smell of home, the verdant garden and the badminton matches played on the lawn on balmy summer afternoons. I still dream about that house from time to time, it makes me feel happy and safe.

Whenever Granny made smoked haddock, poached in milk, it felt like a treat. The flaky texture of the fish, the smokiness combined with the saltiness, it is quite simply magnificent. The perfect winter fare. I like it in risotto with leeks: gratifying, nutritious, comforting, just how food should be at this time of year.

Smoked Haddock and Leek Risotto
Adapted from roast figs sugar snow food to warm the soul by Diana Henry


Ingredients

10g butter
1 medium leek, sliced finely
125g smoked haddock
450ml of chicken stock (plus some for poaching)
75g risotto rice
20g parmesan, grated

Method

Melt the butter in a saucepan and sweat the leeks for about 15 minutes. Remove any skin from the fish and poach in the stock (make sure it covers the fish). When it’s cooked, leave covered with stock so it stays moist.

Add rice to the leeks making sure it is nicely glazed with the juices. Have your stock simmering on the side and slowly add it, one ladle at a time. Always make sure the liquid is fully absorbed before adding any more. Stir constantly during this process, which should take about 20 mins. Near the end, use some of the stock the fish has been poached in, not too much or it could be too fishy and salty!! Taste as you go along.

When the 20 minutes is up, add tbsp of parmesan and delicately break the fish into chunks and stir into the risotto. Add some black pepper if you wish.

Serves one generously.

Back to basics

Recent times have shown how adversity can bring people together, you recognise you are stronger than you thought you were and from the murky depths you found yourself in, you re-emerge feeling like someone new, a better version of the one who came before.

It has been a dark journey, interspersed with moments of delight, quiet contemplation and learning. It is one journey which I cannot imagine myself not having as part of my life. It is part of who I am, it has shaped me.

This has prompted me to take everything back to basics, to crave simplicity, clean lines and tastes. To start from scratch with solid, plain ingredients.

This soup is all of those things. The first time I made it, I fell in love with it. The texture of the different ingredients, the clean yet comforting taste, the subtlety of it all. It’s all there. It is where I am at now.

Lemon & Spinach Lentil Soup
Slightly adapted from Cook in Boots by Ravinder Bhogal

Ingredients
225g split red lentils
1.5 litres of water
1 knob unsalted butter
Sea salt & ground black pepper for seasoning
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic gloves, chopped
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
150g baby leaf spinach

Method
Rinse the lentil until the water runs clear, then put in saucepan with the cold water, butter and the seasoning (be generous). Bring to the boil, cover the pan and cook the lentils for about 20 minutes. You might find foam from the lentils comes to the surface, this is normal, just scoop it out.

Heat olive in a frying pan and cook onion and garlic until soft. Add the lemon zest, cook for a further minute, then set aside.

Once the lentils are tender, put the onions & garlic in the pan and add the spinach. Add the lemon juice and take off the heat.

Serves four.

Love at first bite

You know that recipe you are not quite sure will turn out well, or, in fact, at all. The one which could be quite dull. Or a failure. Or make you curse under your breath. And then out of the blue it comes and blindsides you with its almighty success. BAM! It’s a roaring and cheering crowd, it’s like winning the 100m at school, it’s love at first bite. People, I bring you polpette di spinaci alle nocciole, found on an Italian food blog recommended by a work colleague. The fact it was in Italian wasn’t going to stop me (thank you Google Translate). Don’t let it put you off either. This fabulous blog, Mozza In Carrozza, is a must if you are serious about your food.

Polpette di spinaci alle nocciole
Adapted from Mozza in Carrozza

Ingredients
1 egg
Salt, pepper, oil
A handful of breadcrumbs
100g potatoes
500g spinach
15g chopped hazelnuts
30g grated parmesan

Method
Put the spinach in a colander (you might have to do this in batches) and pour boiling water from the kettle over it. Drain and carefully squeeze out the water. Spread out on kitchen paper if need be and soak up the excess water by patting it with more paper.

Wash and peel potatoes, then cut it into pieces. Cook in boiling water until soft. Drain. Mash the potatoes and mix with the spinach. Add in the parmesan cheese, egg and hazelnuts. Season with salt and pepper.

Lightly grease your hands (I use spray oil) and shape the mixture into balls the size of a walnut. Place on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle the spinach balls with breadcrumbs and then place in a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius.

Serves two generously as a starter.

Sweetness & Light

Food is my favourite way to show my love and appreciation of my family and friends. It is all about pleasure; it has always been that way for me and I hope it brings a little bit of happiness to those I cook for.

I also think that making something for someone, if you are able to, is so much more thoughtful than buying it in a shop, ready-made. I’ve made cakes, cupcakes, chocolates and pain d’épices for friends as gifts, and it’s always been well received.

It was my sister-in-law’s birthday at the weekend and I really wanted to make her something bite-size and tasty. Who could resist a combination of dates, pistachios, almonds and honey?

Dates Stuffed with Pistachios & Almonds
Inspired by Food & Travel Magazine

Ingredients
25 dates
100g shelled pistachios
1 tbsp good quality honey
1 tsp good quality rosewater
50g ground almonds

Method

Stone the dates by making a slit lengthways to remove the stone.

Save 25 whole pistachios for decoration. Put the rest in a food processor along with the honey and rosewater. Process until well combined but still with little chunks of pistachios in the mixture so it retains a bit of crunch.

Put the mixture in a bowl and combine with the ground almonds. Carefully stuff the paste in the pre-prepared dates and top with a whole pistachio for decoration.

Place in petits fours cases. Make someone happy.

Tea in the library

… said with an overly posh English accent. My mother used to utter these words when she described my brother’s English accent back in our childhood and teens. We’re not quite sure where it came from. She thought he was only a step away from drinking said tea with his little finger in the air, in true English gentry style. Needless to say, things have moved on since then, I think coffee might be his drink of choice now. As for the accent, it’s still there sometimes, lingering.

Which brings me nicely onto scones. Not your typical English scones but some made with wholemeal flour. And triangular in shape. I know this is blasphemy in some circles. Never mind. I hope you won’t hold it against me.

I read quite a few American food blogs and the book which kept coming up time and again was Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. I’d made the Rosemary Olive Oil Cake which Heidi Swanson adapted for her 101 Cookbooks blog. It was superb. When I brought the cake into the office, I was nearly nominated employee of the week. Of course I am overstating it somewhat but I must convey how good it was. I was sold. So I got the book. Best thing I did. Divided into different sections for rye, spelt, barley, wholegrain etc, it’s got some great and sometimes unusual recipes.

I plumped for the Barley Strawberry Scones only to realise that I couldn’t find barley flour for love, nor money. Large supermarkets didn’t have it. Health food stores didn’t stock it. So I made it with wholemeal flour instead. The recipe also calls for buttermilk. Same story as the barley. I ended up making my own substitute with some full fat milk and lemon juice. It worked perfectly. These scones are best eaten warm. With a cup of tea in the library.

Wholemeal Strawberry Scones
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

Ingredients

For the scones
½ cup of butter (equivalent to 115 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus more for greasing the baking sheet
1 cup plus 2 tbsp wholemeal flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup regular or low-fat buttermilk (if you can’t find it, mix 1 cup full fat milk with 1 tbsp lemon juice)
1 large egg

For assembly
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Method
Preheat the oven to 175 C. Use a little butter to grease a rimmed baking sheet.

Sift the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl, pouring into the bowl any grains that may remain in the sifter. Add the butter, then use your hands to break the butter into pieces the size of grains of rice. The quicker you work, the more solid the butter will remain, which is important.
Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in a small bowl, then pour it into the flour mixture and stir until barely combined.

Liberally flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the surface and dust the top of it and your hands with additional flour, folding the dough a few times so it is not sticky.

Divide the dough in half. Flour your hands and pat each piece into a disk 7 inches across and about 3/4-inch thick. Use a pastry scraper to loosen the disks from the work surface.

Spread one disk of dough with the strawberry jam. Place the remaining disk on top, pressing down gently so the dough settles into the jam. Brush the top of the second disk with the melted butter, and then sprinkle it with the sugar.

Use a sharp knife to cut the double-decker disk into 8 equal wedges. Carefully transfer them to the baking sheet, spaced a few inches apart. Bake on the middle rack for 22 to 26 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. The scones are ready when their tops are golden brown and some of the jam has bubbled over onto the baking sheet.

Use a metal spatula to transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool slightly (and to stop them from sticking to the sheet as they cool).

Serve warm with clotted cream.

Mango Kiss

There I was, the other week, discussing with one of my colleagues a cookbook which I’d heard from various sources was a little disappointing. Interestingly enough though, said colleague, a keen cook like me, was raving about it and after describing how he’d made several mouth-watering dishes, I vowed to make something out of it that very next weekend. What I chose to concoct was a departure for me.

Salads excepted, I have never been a big fan of fruit in savoury dishes. I was scarred for life by my Mother’s chicken curry with bananas and sultanas. Why would you do that to your own child? What was she thinking? There was obviously some logic there as she was very experimental but I never bought into it. It was far too sweet for my liking.

What finally tempted me back into this realm was some langoustine tempura which I had in a restaurant called La Vache qui Vole (there was a papier mâché flying cow complete with wings hanging from the ceiling of this establishment) in Martigny in Switzerland. The dish was served with a mango salsa. It was good. Very good in fact, and the mango, not too sweet or tart, was the perfect accompaniment to the tempura. I was hooked. Well I lie, I have been hooked on dried mango for a long time but I could take or leave fresh mango. When I came across a Vietnamese dish called Tom Sot Xoai in Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey, I knew I had to try it. It was a revelation; it was fresh and flavoursome, with the mango and prawns brought into perfect balance by the fish sauce. An absolute must-make again.

Stir-fried prawns with mango (Tom sot xoai)
Adapted from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey

Ingredients
1 small underripe (but not green) mango
1 tsp cornflour
2tbsp vegetable oil
8g garlic, finely chopped
80g shallots, finely chopped
1-1 ½ red bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
250g large raw peeled prawns
Juice of 1 lime
1tbsp fish sauce
Large handful of Thai sweet basil leaves
White pepper, freshly ground

Method
Peel mango and slice flesh away from stone in the middle. Cut up roughly into 1cm pieces.

Mix cornflour with 1tbsp water, set aside.

Heat oil in a wok or a large frying pan over a medium to high heat. Add garlic, cook for a few seconds, add shallots, cook for another 30 seconds. Add red chillies and prawns, turn heat up and stir-fry for approx 2 minutes, till the prawns are pink and just cooked through.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of water (less if using frozen prawns), lime juice, fish sauce and cornflour mixture and stir-fry for a few seconds till sauce thickens. Add the mango, cooking for a short time until heated through. Stir in basil and season with the white pepper. Serve with rice. Serves 2 generously.

Stillness

I spent last weekend in Switzerland, and it rained. Mostly. Every day. I attract the bad weather. Jinxed I tell thee. Despite this poor show on the meteorology front, we went to this beautifully peaceful place called Champex-Lac. The stillness. The stunning surroundings. It brought peace. The photos speak for themselves.

I have no recipes for you this week. I did make Heidi Swanson’s Pierce Street Vegetarian Chilli when I was there. It was delicious and the texture was perfect! I’d add some smoked paprika to give it a little more depth. I served it with some potato wedges with melted Gruyère. I’ll be back next week with some new recipes.

Living by the rules

I love leafing through a brand new cookbook. The smell of the crisp clean pages, the mouth-watering photographs, the unusual combinations, the recipes that challenge your skills and delight your friends. It’s a treat. I read my cookbooks in bed, before going to sleep. Bedtime stories for grown-ups. Grown-ups infatuated with food.

I have a three-recipe rule when using a new cookbook. If the first recipe does not live up to its expectations, it could possibly be down to bad luck or my culinary skills. If the second recipe is below par, then serious questions need to be asked. Everyone has off days, but two recipes from the same book which are not up standard and alarm bells start chiming like Big Ben. Being stubborn, I have to commit to a third. If that fails, I will ruthlessly toss the book aside and let it gather dust, never to be used again. So long baby.

Cook In Boots by Ravinder Bhogal passed the test. With honours. Ignoring the girly fluff within, this is what home cooking is about. Good hearty recipes which always work, taste fantastic and leave you feeling rather contented.

The Portobello Mushroom & Cheddar Crumble is up there, in my comfort food hall of fame, in bright shiny lights. The chunkiness of the mushrooms combined with the spicy tomato sauce and the scrumptious cheddar crumble make this one of my favourite all time vegetarian recipes.

I’ve adapted it because I don’t think there is near enough tomato sauce. I also use wholemeal bread instead of white as I much prefer it. Don’t forget to serve with a nice crisp green salad or if you fancy something a little peppery, try rocket.

Portobello Mushroom & Cheddar Crumble
Adapted from Cook in Boots by Ravinder Bhogal

Ingredients

3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
8 portobello mushrooms, peeled and trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

For the tomato sauce
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tsp caster sugar
Salt & pepper
3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

For the crumble
200g wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
20g Parmesan cheese, grated
50g Cheddar cheese, grated
1 handful torn basil leaves

Method

Preheat oven to 190º.

Prepare the crumble by mixing all the ingredients together. Set aside.

In a frying pan, heat olive oil and cook onion until translucent and soft. Add chopped garlic and chilli and fry for 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes, sugar and season. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes on a low heat. It will thicken, make sure it doesn’t dry out, add a bit of water if so. Finally stir in chopped parsley.

Spread 1/3 to half the tomato sauce in a large ovenproof dish or roasting tin. Then add the mushrooms topped with the sliced garlic, stalk side up. Pour the rest of the sauce over the mushrooms. Cover with the crumble. Drizzle some olive oil on top and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Serves 4.

Take me to the cornfield

Don’t you just love sweetcorn? Corn on the cob gleaming with butter; crunchy, salty, sweet. Or blinis made with fresh corn served with crème fraiche and caviar (or in my case, lumpfish roe). Dreamy. Take me to the cornfield now.

There was such a field near our house when we were kids and we’d spend hours running up and down playing hide and seek. I was recounting the story to John recently and he looked horror-struck. He then said very quietly: ‘Have you not seen the Children of The Corn movie?’. I hadn’t. It has certainly added some edge to my childhood memories. Thank you for that.

Anyway, back to the sweetcorn. I found this recipe in a magazine and immediately took to it, it’s full of fresh healthy ingredients, it has a Mexican vibe to it and you can add cheese for a bit of naughtiness.

Sweetcorn & Courgette Tacos
Loosely based on a recipe in Top Santé magazine

Ingredients
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 fresh corn cobs, kernels cut off
1 green chilli, seeds removed and chopped
2 large courgettes, diced
1 tbsp chopped chervil
1 tbsp chopped mint
Juice of ½ a lime
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Grated cheese (optional)
Taco shells

Method
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the shallots, garlic, sweetcorn, green chilli and courgette. Cook until shallots are translucent and the other ingredients are starting to go golden. This should take about 8-10 minutes.

Add the lime juice, stir, then add the herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange taco shells on plates and carefully spoon in the mixture of vegetables. Sprinkle liberally with grated cheese.

Serves 4 as a light lunch.