Thursday, 19 December 2013

Aloo Gobi - The Mighty Cauliflower at it's best

I love meat. I eat a lot of meat. According to general recommendations I eat far too much meat. The idea of
No animals were harmed in the making of this.
vegetarianism fascinates me and terrifies me slightly, yet I love vegetables, and if a dish is interesting enough, in terms of texture and flavour, I don't miss the meat. I slurped on the most incredible Hot Pot in China once, and it was only when I'd finished that I realised it was completely veggie. I liked that, and I think you should enjoy food enough to not have look for something that's 'missing'. I have recently been trying to eat meat free once a week (when the Boyfriend is out, heaven forbid I try to give him rabbit food) and it's generally Indian themed, I find there is so much variety and it's all so delicious. Cooking without meat is cheaper and I always feel good for it.

Aloo gobi is more often than not a side dish picked at during feast at an Indian restaurant, but eating it on it's own with a chapati or two, you can really appreciate it for the delicious and satisfying dish it is. A recent trip to India has confirmed my obsession with Indian food, I just can't get enough.

Feeds two. In a medium sized saucepan fry a chopped onion in a decent splash of vegetable oil until it's browning at the edges, but not burnt! Add a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic and fry for another 2 minutes. Add a generous tsp of garam masala and Kashmiri chilli powder, a pinch of salt, and fry for another minute. Add one large roughly chopped tomato and let it cook down for a few minutes, then add two medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into smallish cubes (I had some baby new potatoes to use up which were great). Pour in about 200ml water, bring to the boil and simmer, turn heat down, cover and cook until the potatoes are nearly done, about 7 minutes. At this point throw in half a head of cauliflower broken into small florets, mix in, and cook for another 6 minutes or so, with the lid half on, until everything is cooked but the cauliflower retains a little bite. It should have sauce but not be too wet so remove lid and let it reduce if it looks a bit sloppy. Sprinkle with chopped coriander. This is heaven with a couple of chapatis and a dollop of natural yoghurt.

Devour, feel self righteous, then look in the freezer to see what meat you can take out for tomorrow's dinner.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

And a partridge in a... roasting pot.

I have a confession. I've shot partridge many times, but never really got into eating them. A surplus of pheasant is the usual happy situation and so, when faced with a freezer full of partridge, I was keen to do the pretty little birds proud. Each bird feeds one person perfectly, and makes a great alternative to a roast chicken on a Sunday evening. This recipe is super simple and surprisingly quick, a one pot wonder (apart from veg) which is perfect when cooking dinner having had a few sharpeners down the local before hand.

Feeds two. Pre-heat the oven to 200c. In an oven proof casserole or deep baking tray, heat a glug of olive oil and brown two oven-ready partridge all over, seasoning as you go. Take the birds out and add two large hand-fulls of baby potatoes, or diced normal ones, along with a  couple of bashed garlic cloves. Move them around in the oil and give them a blast in the oven for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, stuff each partridge with a big knob of butter, a few sprigs of thyme and sage (or rosemary if you'd rather). Return them to the pot/tray, nestling them in with the potatoes and roast for 15-20 minutes, basting occasionally and give the potatoes a bit of a roll around. Prepare whatever veg you want with it and get stuck in. I kind of forgot to make gravy from the pan but the meat was so moist it didn't really matter.

You might need to go a bit caveman on the partridge, especially to get the meat off the legs, but it should be juicy and delicious. Pick it up with your hands and just go for it.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Beige Food Isn't Always Awful - Cauliflower & Parmesan Soup

Everyone loves a comedy tea cup right?
Yes, yes, it's November and it's getting chilly and oh how lovely is all that kale in the shops, and isn't slow cooking amazing blah blah blah. Anyone with the slightest interest in food and cooking knows this, yet every year it's rammed down our throats with almost as much enthusiasm as January diets. It's true though, we do need something to warm us up, a fresh zingy salad just isn't what we need or want, and though a big fat stew might be a bit much for lunch, soup provides us with endless opportunities to eat cheaply, use up bits from the fridge, saving room for 6 hour ox cheek for dinner. Don't get stuck in a soup rut though; so many times I dismiss soup as being mundane (although I when I was a child it was the only thing I'd order in a restaurant) but then I give it a go and don't regret it. Branch out and try something new, leek and potato is great and all that but 'meh'. 

Feeds 2 with a bit leftover for another day, so 3 really. In a large saucepan gently fry a chopped onion in a generous knob of butter until completely soft. Add a chopped clove of garlic and a head of cauliflower broken into little florets. Give it a good stir to slick it with the melted butter and add approximately one litre of chicken stock (just add some water if you don't have enough). Pop the lid on, bring to the boil and let it simmer for about 7 minutes, until the cauliflower is of school dinner worthy texture. Season very generously, it will take a lot of salt, and grate in some nutmeg*, maybe half a reaspoon, again, you can be quite generous. Once cooled a little, blitz with a stick blender until mostly smooth (I have no problem with a lump or two, but you might), stir in a good handful of grated Parmesan and check for seasoning. Pour into bowls or over-sized mugs and add some garlicky croutons, or go all out and make mini cheese on toasts to float on top. Do sprinkle with extra Parmesan though. 

It might not knock your socks off but it will make you feel good and sometimes that is more important. 

*Whatever you do make sure you grate the nutmeg fresh, don't buy powdered stuff. Nutmeg lasts for ages and the fresh stuff is sooo potent and lovely. And you need it for rum punch. Oh is it not normal for rum punch to be a staple requirement?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Arancini - Amazeballs

Delicious golden balls
Leftover risotto is never a joy to behold. Cold and congealed, what was delicious and comforting is now,
quite frankly,  a bit gross. Well praise the Italian food gods who invented arancini for this precise reason. The clever folk from Sicily decided that if you are going to go to the trouble of making risotto, you might as well make a bit extra and make something else with it. Something delicious and round and deep fried, AND with an oozy cheesy filling, ohhh yeaaah. Only a fool would make risotto especially for this (that would be me, I've wanted to cook these forever but always forget*) but once you've tried this you'll make risotto by the bucket load, so you can whip up this delightful snackette at a moments notice. Mushroom risotto seems to be favoured for this, but I think any type would work, just make sure it's not too wet and there are no big chunks of anything, you want exactly the congealed, un-appetising stodge you get left over from fresh risotto. I won't bore you with a recipe for risotto, use  this one if you're in need of one, and replace mushrooms with chicken and leave out the tarragon. About 250g of uncooked aborio rice made enough for 15 balls. Yes this recipe is loose, but it's the method which is important.

 Make sure your risotto has been chilled for at least an hour, a few days is fine if it was supper the other night. Stir a beaten egg, two for a really big batch, into the cold risotto. Chill again for ten minutes or so. Take a flat tray/large plate and cover in cling film. Spoon some risotto into your hand and roll into a large golf ball. It's a bit sticky but just go with it. Make an indent right into the middle with your little finger and insert a little cube of some delicious Italian soft-ish cheese. I used Fontina but Mozzarella would be awesome too. Cover up the hole, and roll your perfect sphere in breadcrumbs. Carefully place on your plate/tray and keep going until there is no more rice. You may need to wash your hands half way through as it gets messy. Chill them until you need them, at least half an hour though. When you want to eat them, half fill a medium heavy bottomed saucepan with vegetable oil (you only just need to cover the balls) and heat until anything dipped into the oil goes bonkers. Gently place the arancini in the pan, don't over fill, and let them bubble away for about 3/4 minutes, until golden brown, give them a nudge every now and again to get an even colour. Do them in batches, roll on kitchen roll and keep warm on a rack in a low oven, don't put them on a plate, the rack helps them stay crispy.

When they are all cooked, have fun arranging them artfully, and make sure that you warn the recipients that the middle might be hotter than the sun.

*I've also wanted to do a sweet version with left over rice pudding which would just be shamazing, this will happen soon. Just imagine it for pudding...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Fish Stew with Absinthe

Gently does it...
It sounds hardcore but it's not really. You only use a little slurp of green crazy juice, and to be perfectly honest I only used it because I was out of Pernod (isn't everyone, apart from my Dad?!). I was planning on making this lovely fish stew from my trusty Casa Moro book, but I then discovered my epic fail of an Ocado shop had left me lacking a few bits and bobs, so I changed it quite a bit to suit what I had and it was bloody lovely. This is a light supper (N.B. the Boyfriend wailed with hunger an hour after eating it and had to resort to a mug of Bovril and bread, but it suited me fine). Take your time cooking this, and the simple flavours will all hold hands and create something magical.

Feeds 2. Steep a pinch of saffron in an eggcup of boiling water. Finely chop a small onion and cook gently in olive oil, with a pinch of salt, in a medium saucepan for a good 10 minutes, until gently caramelised. Now add a finely shopped bulb of fennell (save any fronds) and two sliced cloves of garlic and cook for a further 10 minutes. Add a slurp of Absinthe or Pernod and let it bubble for a couple of minutes to get rid of the alcohol. There, see, not so scary now. In a pestle and mortar roughly grind a handful of blanched,
The green fairy
toasted almonds
and add to the pan. Add a good litre of hot water and peeled, diced potatoes (I used one big Maris Piper), the saffron water, lots of seasoning, bring to the boil, and simmer gently, lid off, until the potatoes are just under-cooked. Now for the fish. You can use whatever you like, any little clams, mussels, white fish, squid, anything. I used 150g diced cod and a big handful of raw tiger prawns. Give a gentle stir and simmer for a further two minutes with the lid on. Taste for seasoning, add more if you need it (I found it needed lots of salt), squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and serve in bowls with the chopped fennel fronds on top (use parsley if you don't have enough). Add a final flourish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Some bread is useful to mop up the juices.

This stew really does have the most beautiful delicate fragrance and I'm glad I resisted the urge to go mental on the flavours. Hold back, and you will be rewarded with the most gentle taste sensation. Which, in my case was ruined by the Boyfriend's holler of 'What??? There's no more???' and a request that I make rice pudding  immediately to fill him up.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Pre Party Rabbit

Gone are the days when eating before going out for a night on the lash was unnecessary. 'Eating is cheating' was the mantra. I secretly never liked this, as I just love eating too much, but there was always the kebab on the way home to look forward to. These days I like to line my stomach. Eating is not cheating, but a way to lessen the likely-hood of ending up face-down on the dance floor (but not a guarantee) and will certainly add a bit of longevity to the evening's festivities. 

I was on holiday with two girlfriends in Spain recently, Lanzarote to be precise, and determined that we were not too old to impersonate the teens on 'Sun, Sex & Suspicious Parents' we partied like 17 year olds on day release from dull summer jobs. I reckon it was all down to this rabbit stew but apparently the helpful barmen had something to do with it too. 
Eating is most definitely not cheating

Feeds three for dinner with enough sauce for a restorative pasta sauce a few days later. 

Take one jointed rabbit and brown well in some olive oil in a big saucepan. Remove and set aside. In the same pan gently fry one finely chopped onion for five minutes, then add a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic and continue until softened. Add more oil if you need it. Pour in a glass of white wine and let it bubble away the alcohol for a minute or so (don't worry, there will be plenty of booze later). Return the rabbit to the pan along with a tin of passata or chopped tomatoes and a big teaspoon of hot paprika. Simmer gently with the lid on for about 40 minutes, or until the rabbit is very tender and easy to remove from the bone. Add a tin of drained chickpeas 10 minutes before the end of cooking, add a decent slurp of single cream or creme fraiche and season well. Slop into bowls with some crusty bread and top with some chopped flat leaf parsley. If you're a bit of a wuss with bones, by all means take the meat off the bone, but we had horrible cocktails beckoning us so I didn't have time. 

Go out and party, safe in the knowledge that your Mother would be happy with the sensible dinner you have just eaten, and don't worry too much about falling in a cactus round about 6am on the way home. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

White Chocolate & Cardamom Mousse - Heaven in a ramekin

Mostly air so pretty healthy right?
Everyone loves a chocolate pudding (don't they?!), but this one is special. It's white, it's light, it's fluffy and it's delicately scented with the exotic aroma of cardamom, with a sneaky bit of bay in there as well. It turns out cardamom and bay are really good friends and play very nicely together. Gotta love a pud that can be whipped up in advance and left to set in the fridge while you frantically trash the kitchen creating the rest of dinner. It's so nice to just reach into the fridge, et voila, pudding is served, look how organised I am...

Makes 8 little ramekin sized mousses. You will need three bowls for this, or two bowls and a measuring jug, as I don't have three mixing bowls. Not serious. Use the biggest one for the egg whites.

Pour 100ml milk into a small saucepan, add 8 pre-bashed green cardamom pods and three bay leaves and gently heat. Just before it boils, turn the heat off and leave to infuse for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 250g white chocolate (go with Green & Blacks, it's worth it) in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Watch it, because if you keep heating it after it has melted it can go lumpy, so remove from the saucepan when melted. Whip 300ml double cream to soft mound status, and in a separate bowl, beat three egg whites to stiff peak turn the bowl upside down over your head status. Strain the milk through a sieve into the melted chocolate and stir it in really well until it becomes a bit velvety. A whisk makes this easier than a spoon. With a metal spoon, fold the milky chocolate mixture into the egg whites, and once gently combined, fold in the whipped cream, making sure it's combined really well, but don't smack all the air out. This is a mousse, not a blancmange. Pour into ramekins/teacups/one big bowl and leave to set in the fridge for at least two hours, longer if you have it.

You can sprinkle some cocoa powder on top before handing them out, but last night, after too many vinos, I forgot. Oooh some artistically grated dark chocolate would be nice... woah, let's not get carried away. Once served, these little beauties should disappear in less than 30 seconds. If they don't, you're doing it wrong.

Friday, 9 August 2013

To Sear or Not To Sear? A Beef Carpaccio Dilemma

For many meat lovers, a beautiful beef carpaccio is a sight to behold. Ruby red wafer thin slices of raw fillet beef artfully displayed, ready to almost dissolve on your tongue, with some kind of crunchy vegetable adornment slicked in a tangy vinaigrette, pure heaven. To others, it's simply raw beef, and un-thinkable. Well think again. Never one to go cheapo on his guests, my Dad loves to 'make' carpaccio and it's always divine. Last week however, he took Jamie Oliver's  advice and seared the fillet first. He was rather concerned about this, but I thought it was a great idea. The beef would still 99% raw, but you get the divine flavour from searing it which simply does not exist with the fully raw one. If you want to get technical, read this about the 'Maillard' reaction which goes to some lengths to explain why you sear meat for a casserole, why it tastes good, and why it is important.

Or you could just cook take a very decent fillet of beef (you only need a little per person so no need to go overboard, Dad), rub a little olive oil all over it, season really well, and sear on all sides in a very hot pan, no need to add any more oil as you've oiled your beef already. If the pan is hot enough it should only take a minute or two per side, you want a deep golden brown colour all over. Slice as thin as you can and serve on a pretty place, sprinkled with shaved fennel, a little grated orange zest, rocket, shaved Parmesan, a dribble of extra virgin olive oil and a little more salt and pepper. 

Searing the beef makes it much less 'scary' even though it is still essential raw. The searing troubled Dad for some reason, he couldn't slice the beef as thinly as when it's all raw and semi frozen (helps you slice it thinner as it stays firm), but I can't see the harm in freezing it once seared and then slicing it.

What Dad should have been worried about was how much his head would hurt the next day, after staying up well past his bedtime with my Godfather, un-supervised, with a bottle of brandy. The beef was delicious, his hangover was not.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Lazy Fried Aubergine

I may have burnt one little slice...
It always seems a shame to cut up the mighty aubergine, it's just so beautiful, but it definitely makes it easier to cook with. This is a great super fast nibble that you can produce in no time. I don't even bother salting the aubergine, although if I had more time I think I would, to see if it made any difference. A really nice starter, which I like to make when the aubergine-hating (what a freak) Boyfriend is away. This could be done with courgettes just as successfully.

Feeds 2/3 as a starter. Bash one big clove of garlic with a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar until you have a garlicky mush. Stir in about 200g natural yoghurt and set aside. Slice one aubergine into thick rounds. Heat a splash of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Dip each slice of aubergine into a small bowl of milk, then roll it around a small dish with seasoned flour in it. You want a decent covering of flour. Once the oil is hot, fry until golden on each side and place on kitchen roll to get rid of excess oil (those pesky aubergines do like to suck it up). Sprinkle with salt flakes and roughly chopped fresh mint (really important to add some fresh zing)  and serve with the garlic yoghurt. 

You may stink of garlic for a while, but it's all good, and life is too short to worry about things like that.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Secret to Amazing Boiled Eggs with Soldiers

Is it weird that I'm 30 and I can't have a soft boiled egg without soldiers? Do I care? No. And no I'm not
going to tell you how to boil an egg, Delia can do that. I'm going to let you in on a little secret (cue everyone saying they do this already)...

After you butter your toast, and before you slice it into soldiers, grind salt and pepper over it.* That is all.

*I only realised how necessary salt and pepper were to this delightful nursery breakfast after watching The Boyfriend struggle to season his egg, having to top up every few mouth-fulls. Giggling with smugness I simply seasoned my toast as he looked on incredulously. It was, I admit, probably the most sensible thing I have ever done.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Pink Dip! Or Beetroot Dip (if you're not a girl)

A dipper's delight
One day I will think of something more inventive to give to hungry supper guests on arrival, than various bowls of various dips, but for the time being I will stick with it. It's nice to be able to wizz up multi-coloured bowls to stab/scoop at and loose the odd tortilla chip in, and none are prettier than this one. Healthy, delicious and PINK this is very much based on Ottolenghi's recipe from Jerusalem. I have made it with both fresh beets and those clever vacuum packed cooked ones, and although the latter are far quicker and are less likely to dip-dye your fingers, I would definitely recommend cooking raw ones, as the result is let wet, and I'm sure the colour was more intense. Which is obviously the most important issue when making pink food...

Feeds 6 as part of a platter, or as a nibble before dinner kicks off properly. Pre-heat the oven to 180c. Cut the leaves off and wash 6 raw beets, dry and wrap each one in a little foil blanket and roast on a tray for about 45 mins to an hour, until they are softened. Carefully (they're HOT) unwrap the beets and leave to cool. Once cooled, peel the beetroot and slice into rough wedges. If using ready cooked beets, start the recipe here. In a food processer, wizz the beets, 2 cloves of sliced garlic, half a red chilli, seeds removed and chopped, 3 large tbsp natural yoghurt, some salt and pepper and juice of half a lemon. Once it's pretty smooth, stir in a really decent drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a tbsp za'atar and more seasoning if you need it. Artfully plop in a shallow bowl and garnish with 3 finely sliced spring onions, a small hand-full of toasted almond slivers (or hazelnuts, or pine nuts), some crumbled goats cheese or feta and an even more artistic sprinkling of olive oil.  

Friday, 14 June 2013

Mushrooms on Toast (with a poached egg on top)- A Halleluja moment

So they don't have to look like and taste (as I imagine) like slugs!
The holy grail of egg and no slugs

When I was younger (I normally say little, then hilarious people say 'But you're still little!') I thought mushrooms = slugs. I was once given mushrooms on toast, and the slimy, squishy, soggy, quite frankly revolting mushrooms that somehow didn't slide off the toast they were slopped onto, basically put me off for life. Well that's an exaggeration because I love them now! Not being a foragey knowledgeable type, I have a preference for what is classed as a wild mushroom (surely they can all be wild somewhere in the world?) and a particular devotion to oyster mushrooms. The mushroom is another foodstuff that falls into the category of things The Boyfriend would rather stab his own eyes out than eat, which makes them all the more special for me. Like a sordid sneaky love affair that is neither sordid or sneaky when I come to think of it. I digress. To wrap it up, as soon as I realised mushrooms didn't have to resemble homeless snails, they became a true love of mine, and I love this little recipe for breakfast/brunch/hungry times. I'm afraid Hovis won't do it here, you need a handsome but dense slab of rye or sourdough for your base, at the very least some chewy ciabatta. 

Feeds one indulgent person, cheating on her other half with erm, mushrooms. Toast, or if, like me, the Little Dinner Lady, your kitchen is as small as your stature, and can't fit a toaster in it, grill a slice of sourdough bread so it's good and crunchy. Get a small saucepan of water at just about ticking over at a gentle simmer. Add a dash of vinegar. Meanwhile, melt a little butter in a small frying pan on a gentle heat and add half a clove of sliced garlic (save the other half). Fry gently for one minute, DON'T let it burn. Add a hand-full of cleaned mushrooms of your choice, stir so the butter gives everything a lick and gently crack and drop an egg into your pan of water. Make sure the water is just about simmering, nothing more. Stir the mushrooms around for a couple of minutes and don't forget your toast. Rub your toast with the saved half clove of garlic. Squeeze a few teaspoons of lemon juice into the mushrooms and season, and by now your egg should be poached to perfection. Pile the mushrooms onto the toast and gently lift the egg out of the water, let any drips erm, drip off, and gently place on top of the mushrooms. You are a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a drizzle (yes I hate that word too, suggestions for a new word please) of extra virgin olive oil away from perfection.

I am 30 years old and I have only just realised the key to a good poached egg is a gentle touch and faith (and fresh eggs and a drop of vinegar). Be gentle with it and believe it will be ok. You with your cling film and your weird poaching cups and your witchcraft can bugger off because  I have finally figured it out. 

Imam Bayildi - Beautiful Aubergine Goodness

A bit like a fragrant ratatouille, ace with lamb
The Boyfriend has been away quite a lot recently. Instead of lamenting his absence, and feeling lonely and sorry for myself, I've been stuffing my face with ALL the things he turns his nose up; principally, aubergines. How can you not love them? The meatiest of all the veg, the shiny, taught smooth dark skin that makes you HAVE to touch them, wow this is verging on sexual...anyway. Originally from Turkey, this particular recipe for Imam Bayildi comes all the way from Australia, written by (and these words may not all be mine) Michael Adams QC, the late Chief Magistrate of Victoria, escoffier extraordinaire, champion of soppy girlies, philosopher, lover of dogs and the occasional pussycat, piggy, chook, horse and pygmy cow, and one of my Dad's greatest mates ever who kept him on the straight and narrow. So now you know. So I had a couple of sexy aubergines lolling on my work surface and I cooked this: (As I am writing this in England, it seems only right to change eggplant to aubergine and cups into 'very rough, I'm sure it will be ok' metric measurements. Weird Aussies. 

Feeds about 4 as a side dish. Slice 2 aubergines in half lengthways and then into long slices about an inch squared and the length of the aubergine. Place in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt, let it stand over a basin for at least 30 minutes to de-gorge the bitter juices. Rinse and pat dry with a clean tea-towel or kitchen roll.  Gently heat an indecent amount of olive oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the aubergines. Cook over medium to high heat until they brown, (they will initially take up a lot of oil but they will let it out again). Add the one large sliced onion and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes, then add two or three cloves of chopped garlic, and cook for further 2 minutes. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, a squirt of tomato puree, juice of half a lemon, a cinnamon stick, two bay leaves and a generous tsp of dried oregano. Cover and reduce heat to a very slow simmer and cook for about 45 to 60 minutes or it's good in the oven too, although the pot will be a pain in the arse to wash up. This can be served hot, warm or at room temperature and is amaaazing with lamb. Just before serving, stir a good hand-full of chopped parsley. 

Michael has written some wonderful recipes, always with great charm. My favourite being his recipe for sweetcorn fritters, one part which read something like 'Whatever you do, don't fuck them up. If you do, give up cooking.' 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Polenta Cake (NOT placenta cake)

What shall I make for pud? A pretty normal sounding question which resulted in a pretty scary answer: a very excited scream of 'PLACENTA CAKE!!! Definitely make placenta cake!'. After several minutes of horrified protest from me, my Mother explained that this is what my hilarious Father likes to call polenta cake. Despite his gross name for it, his enthusiasm made me want to make it right away, this recipe was cut out of some magazine by my Mum years ago and gets pulled out every once in a while when my Dad is in the mood for delicious moist lemony polenta goodness, not pregnancy-based offal. Eurgh.

Because this requires a little precision, I will list the ingredients in a more organised way than my usual slap-dash fashion.
Feeds around 8 with leftovers.

350g demerara sugar

4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
finely grated zest 2 lemons
250ml light olive oil (why is this cake so moist? Oh that's why)
250ml fruity white wine
300g plain flour
2.5 tsp baking powder
125g dried polenta

To make it pretty and extra delish:
450g soft summer fruits ( I used rasberries on their own)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
A sprinkling of chopped fresh mint
You will also need a 25cm spring-form cake tin lined with grease-proof paper.

Preheat oven to 180, 160 fan oven, gas 4.  Sprinkle 3 tbsp demerara sugar over base of prepared tin. Beat together the rest of the sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest, then pour in the oil & wine & beat to mix well.

Sift together flour, baking powder and polenta, then add this to the wet mixture and combine well.  Pour over the sugar in the prepared tin and bake for 30 mins. Cover with oil and cook for a further 30 mins. Check by inserting a skewer, it should come out clean. I always find it's best to check early as you can always put it back in the oven. Cool in the tin, loosen sides and turn out.

Combine the fruit with the balsamic and add the sugar. Leave in fridge for 30 mins. Serve the warm cake (still good cold) with the fruit sprinkled with the chopped mint. You don't have to put the fruit on top, but it elevates it from a great cake to a sublime cake, it's just gorgeous. For pregnant women and those without child, alike. 

Friday, 3 May 2013

Cauliflower - Don't boil, roast!

Seeming a little like broccoli's unfortunate anaemic looking cousin, in the UK, cauliflower is normally either boiled to smithereens in school canteens (it was in mine) or smothered in cheese sauce (nothing wrong this this at all). That's not much excitement for anyone. Indians know how to treat a cauliflower with respect though, and they understand how well it works with a little help from a bit of spice. I absolutely love them deep fried as pakoras, but that can make your kitchen smell a bit and sometimes you just can't be faffed to have a pan of boiling oil bubbling away, waiting for you to knock it off the hob (oh yes, that did happen once. Oil slick ahoy. And we had guests). Roasting cauliflower was a revelation, sprinkle it with chilli and cumin seeds and you can have it with curry, rub it with paprika and garlic and you've gone to Spain. A tiny bit of ground cinnamon and almond flakes with fresh mint and coriander a la Eattori and you've got a perfect and spunky accompaniment to fish, the possibilities are (almost) endless.

This recipe is what I would eat with curry as a healthier alternative to pakoras, but go nuts, use what you have and elevate the humble cauliflower to a new and exciting status.

Feeds two generously. Pre-heat the oven to 180c. Remove outer leaves from one whole head of cauliflower,  discard the tough leaves but keep the softer thinner ones from inside. Break/cut the florets away from the stalk and slice the upper third of the stalk into rounds about half a centimetre thick. Take a baking try and tumble the cauliflower (and leaves) in, slightly drizzle with olive oil, don't soak it, and combine with half a tsp turmeric, and a tbsp of garam masala. Toss really well and season. Bake for about 15 minutes and check on progress. You want the edges to go brown but the veg to retain a tiny bit of bite. If it looks a bit burny and raw turn the temperature down and put the tray in the bottom of the oven. Cover with foil if you're worried. When cooked, toss with a handful fresh coriander and if you want, a squeeze of lemon.

This is so good with roast chicken, you can play with the flavours as much as you like, to your taste. Just promise to never boil it again!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Chicken & Tarragon Risotto (Frugal food in disguise)

Risotto may not fill your imagination with excitement and thrills, but suppertime is sometimes more about
something reliable, easy and not bank breaking. You can save your fancy foams and sous-vided zebra for payday. This recipe is definitely not boring, but it is simple, and is a staple 'a couple of days after the roast chicken on Sunday' recipe in my house. Being a texture maniac I love the fresh crunch of aniseed from the shaved fennel on the top, along with the feathery fronds on top of the soft creamy rice. You can omit any crunchy bits for special people like the Boyfriend who doesn't like surprises.

I tend to only cook this after having roasted a chicken, so I use stock I have made from the carcass and the left-over meat stripped after we can't eat any more. It's always a good idea to buy a bigger chicken than you need, simply because you then have nice cold roast chook for recipes like this. Or to dip straight into the mayo jar, illuminated by the glow of the fridge, door wide open. I definitely don't do that.

Quantities can vary to suit you. but allow approx 75g risotto rice per person and as much chicken as you need to use up. This is for 2. You will need approximately a litre of chicken stock. Reserve a third of a fennel bulb and finely chop the rest, saving the green fronds on top. Gently fry this in a saucepan in a splash of olive oil, and when softened add a finely chopped clove of garlic. Fry for another 2 minutes then add the rice. Stir well for a minute, coating the rice in the oil, then add a glass of white wine. Let it cook, stirring most of the time until absorbed, then add hot stock, ladle by ladle, waiting each time for it to be absorbed, until the rice is almost tender but with a teeny bit of bite. Not crunch, bite. Take your time, don't let it bubble away angrily, this is a caaaaalm dish. Half way through add a large tbsp of tarragon (I don't use it often so find dried works perfectly well). Season and add the chicken in shreddy bits. You only need to warm it though. Stir in a handful of grated Parmesan and serve with the reserved fennel shaved with a peeler on top with the chopped fronds sprinkled over.

You might be a bit tipsy by the time you eat this, as the temptation to down a bottle of wine while doing all that stirring can be overwhelming, either way it's a lovely light risotto, and you feel be nice and wholesome in the knowledge that you got the absolute most out of Sunday's chicken.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Home-made Pita Bread (almost too much excitement)*

Who doesn't love a bit of dip and pita bread? Whether it's hummus straight from the tub at 12.30am after a
Something a bit biblical about a basket of bread!
trip to the pub, or dipped into some lovely beetrooty-yoghurty puree (will post once my hands have returned to their normal colour), faithful pita bread has been an important and useful part of my feeding regime for many years. But I have always bought it. Never thought to make it. Which is weird as I normally like to have a go at most things, chapatis, yes, focaccia, yes, pizza, yes, all sorts of exciting bready things, but never pita. This was a very silly mistake as it turns out it's so simple even a moron could make it. I did a bit of internet based research and found recipes varying from super complicated (mix ingredients, leave to prove for 3.5 days, punch air out and prove again for 38 minutes precisely) etc etc, and also found some much simpler ones, and this recipe is an amalgamation of the sensible suggestions. I first made these for an Easter Feast on Easter Sunday to go with a lamb shwawarma thing I made, just because I wanted to tell everyone it was kebabs for lunch.

Makes 10-ish. In a large mixing bowl add 1 tsp of quick action yeast to 235ml warm water and mix. Leave to dissolve for 5 minutes then. Measure out 350g plain flour, then  reserving a small handful for later, add the flour to the bowl, along with a pinch of salt and a small glug of olive oil. Roll up your sleeves and get mixing, it will make quite a sticky dough but once you've kneeded it for a good five minutes it should become nice and elastic and smooth. If too sticky add more flour, if it keeps breaking up, a tiny bit of water should fix it. I do it all in the bowl otherwise flour goes EVERYWHERE. I'm messy with flour. Take out the dough and plop a little olive oil in the bowl, put the dough back in and move it around so it is coated with a thin layer of olive oil all over. Leave somewhere warm for an hour to prove, and put a clean tea towel over the bowl. When you are ready to cook, get the oven to 230c and get a baking sheet nice and hot in there. To make the pita simply break off bits of dough about the size of a large walnut and on a floured surface and roll into a disc about 1/2 a cm thick. Do as many as you can fit on the baking sheet, lay them on the sheet and bake for about 3 minutes on each side. You don't have to turn them  but it does give them a nice bit of colour. *Watch with amazement as they puff up like little bready pillows and squeal with delight as your hard work pays off. Try not to cry as they deflate an hour later when your friends arrive for lunch. As they are cooking, roll out more so you're ready to cook the next batch. 

You don't even have to cook all the dough as it keeps in clingfilm in the fridge for a week. So you can say to your mates 'Oh don't worry about going to the shops, I'll just whip up a batch of pitta mwahahaha (that's your smug laugh)'.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Portuguese Carrots - Nostalgic Nibbles

As predicted, when I bought my paella dish, my life  improved. Who's wouldn't when you can stand at the hob pretending to be teeny tiny midget cook (oh hang on...) stirring away at a giant pan?! It is fun, it looks impressive and genuinely cooks a paella better than doing it in a frying pan which is quite frankly the wrong size and shape. I love Spanish food for it's bold bright flavours, and all the bits and pieces that come with a nice tapas spread. However, a Spanish feast can sometimes lack a good balance of meat and veg, and although a confirmed carnivore, I do like to offset my meat consumption with the crunch of some veg. These carrots are nearly always served up as a little nibble in the restaurants we visit on holiday in the Algarve, accompanied by tiny bitter olives and gross anchovy paste that only my Father will eat. So it's not Spanish but I don't think anyone minds me borrowing a dish from over the border. Masterchef, this ain't, but it's a lovely little nibble that does very well as part of a tapas or mezze spread, or with a bowl of fried chorizo (and useful for hummus and pitta ruts).

No real measurements but you do need it to have a nice nudge of garlic, as opposed to a headbutt, and you should be able to taste the olive oil through the dressing, so go easy on the vinegar. Peel about one carrot per person and chop into rounds. Boil them in salted water for a few minutes, and drain. You want the raw crunch gone but stay away from mushy territory. In a frying pan heat a very decent glug of very decent extra virgin olive oil and very gently fry some chopped garlic (about one big clove for every three carrots). Be careful as you are just infusing the oil and taking the raw edge off the garlic. Once this has happened remove from the heat and let the oil cool slightly. Season it and add a splash of white wine vinegar (go easy, you can always add more) and a handful of chopped parsley. Check the taste. Add the carrots and mix well.

Serve as part of a spread, it would go with tapas, a more Middle Eastern mezze platter, or even cold meats, anti pasti style. Don't forget some nice bread to soak up the heavenly garlicky oil, and suddenly you could be on holiday.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Spaghetti with Chorizo and pretend Parmesan (Pangritata)

Pasta crumble - tastes less studenty than it sounds/looks
As with many culinary delights, pangritata was borne out of poverty, and is known as a 'poor man's substitute for Parmesan'. Italians would never use poverty as an excuse not to eat well. Happily,  I can afford Parmesan, but I enjoyed this immensely and totally recommend giving it a whirl. The little bit of crunch it provides is awesome and the perfume of the rosemary works brilliantly. Perfect weekend lunchtime food. Pasta pretty much being a permanent fixture on the menu in my house at the weekend being quick and easy, using pretty much staple store cupboard ingredients.

Serves two. Get your spag on the go first of all. Into a dry frying pan add about 100g chopped chorizo and let it get crispy and oily. Add some chilli flakes, a clove of finely chopped garlic and a big handful of cherry tomatoes. Keep cooking until the tomatoes burst their skins. In a separate smaller frying pan, fry a large handful of white breadcrumbs (ciabatta preferably) in a glug of olive oil. They are ready when they have crisped up and browned slightly. Now stir through two sprigs of rosemary (leaves removed from the stem) which have been very finely chopped. Drain the pasta and add it to the chorizo/tomato pan, stir through and sprinkle liberally with the pangritata.

Add Parmesan if you want to be totally outrageous.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Chocolate Souffle - do not be afraid!

Racing out of the office, homeward bound to hopefully get to my house before my girlfriend who was coming for dinner, I realised I had no pud planned for the evening. If a friend can be bothered to schlep all the way to mine, the least I can do is provide a sweet finale at the dinner table. But I was in a mad rush (had no idea what kind of state the Boyfriend had left the house in) and I reeeeally didn't want to slow myself down by going to the shop. What could I make that used stuff I already had? PING! Genius moment, chocolate souffle. Win. Thanks Google. This is based on a Channel 4 Food thingy. Very basic ingredients, and really simple to make, just follow the recipe and you can't fail to impress. And if a pudding is basically just air then it's excellent diet food right?

Feeds 4 (I halved for us two). Pre-heat the oven to 200c and shove a baking tray in. Break up 120g good quality dark chocolate into a heat-proof bowl and add a splash of brandy. Gently melt the chocolate into the brandy in the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Grease 4 ramekins with butter and dust the insides with caster sugar. Stir 4 egg yolks into the chocolate which has slightly cooled by now. Take a clean bowl and whisk 4 egg whites until stiff. Gradually tip in 60g caster sugar, keep whisking throughout. It will be all shiny and glossy and beautiful like Cheryl Cole's hair. Now stir a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate until combines, then fold in the rest. Carefully distribute between the ramekins, making sure any excess mixture is wiped off and devoured. Bake for 12 minutes on the baking tray, they should be well risen by then, much to your delight, as there is little more exciting than watching a gooey mixture transform into floaty light chocolate souffle. Lightly dust with icing sugar to make it even prettier. That's lightly dust, not dump with icing sugar, as my dinner guest decided would be better. Thanks for your help there (see photo).

Pat yourself on the back and marvel at how simple it was. High five.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Daube Provencal, snow food at its best

Check out the fancy pasta!
If there was ever a time to use food as a hot water bottle, it is NOW people! We need to be warmed from the inside out and this recipe for beef daube provencal really hits the spot. There are many different versions of this very classic French dish but this is mine and it works nicely. Perfect for entertaining as the hard work (not even mildly strenuous actually) is done the night before.

Feeds 4. Take a kilo of beef braising steak, and if not done already, cut into smallish chunks. Put in a big bowl. Add to the bowl the following ingredients in no particular order: a bouquet garni of parsley, bay and thyme, two onions, finely chopped,  three cloves chopped garlic, one hot crushed dried chili, two celery stalks finely chopped, a couple pared slices of orange zest, half a bottle of red wine, a decent glug of brandy, salt and pepper, one large finely chopped carrot and mix well. Stick in the fridge overnight. When you are ready to cook pre-heat the oven to 160c. Carefully remove the beef from its marinade and pat dry on kitchen roll. Take a big casserole and brown the meat well in some olive oil. Remove and put to the side. In the same pan fry a decent handful of diced smoked bacon or pancetta and when crispy and coloured, scoop out all the veg from the marinade bowl, add to the pan and cook for 10 minutes until softened. Add the meat back, along with the rest of the marinade and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Mix well, bring to the boil and place covered, in the oven. Cook for at least three hours but keep checking that it hasn't dried out, add more wine or some water if it does. When finished the beef should have really broken up, not in chunks anymore, more an appetising meaty mush, that tastes mush nicer than anything called mush. When you dish up, remove the herbs and orange zest. It's great with mash but I think it works best with some nice fat fettuccine, or even better, exciting fancy multi-coloured pasta I got for Christmas from my Auntie!

The French might be furious that I eat this with pasta but who cares, it tastes divine. The orange is subtle but sets it apart from a normal ragu. You can jazz it up with a gremolata of chopped parsley, raw garlic and a little lemon zest, but you might not notice the lovely soft flavours so much. Either way it will warm your bones.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Chorizo & Chickpea Stew (to put it simply)

Yawn yawn yawn. How many times have you seen a recipe like this? It's in every cookbook entitled something like '100 quick and easy meals'. It's so simple and store-cupboardy and BORING, but I had a load of chorizo and chick peas and decided I'd make something with them. What a revelation, it was so bloody delicious I couldn't believe I hadn't bothered in the past! With chorizo, a little goes a long way and how cheap are chick peas? Um very. It's super quick, easy and simple. AND it's a one pot wonder. So all in all a winner.

Feeds 4. Take the skin off a medium sized ring of chorizo and slice to roughly the thickness of a £1 coin. Get  a casserole dish on the hob and when hot, throw in the chorizo (note that no oil is needed). Keep it moving and cook until it starts getting crispy and releases all it's lovely orangey paprika-ry oil. Add one big finely sliced onion, some chilli flakes, three chopped cloves of garlic and a couple of finely chopped celery sticks. Cook for about 10 minutes, a little more gently until softened. Add two tins of tomatoes, a tsp of sugar and two tins of drained chickpeas (or the equivilent of dried ones that have already been cooked, even cheaper). Season well and let it bubble away for about 10 minutes until thickened. Check for seasoning and serve with a bit of chopped flat leaf parsley artistically scattered over the top.

For some girls (I'm including myself here at the moment as I'm trying to reduce my general intake of er, everything) this is enough on its own (I actually plonked the stew on top of a bowl of wilted baby leaf greens), but to man it up a bit some cous cous adds some bulk. This was so tasty I didn't even add any Tabasco. That's saying something.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Sprouts - Mini cabbage genius

Wooooo it's 2013 and time to be good (better, anyway) and all that jazz. It seems my current favourite cookbook (yes I have jumped on the excellent Ottoloenghi band-wagon and am obsessed with 'Jerusalem') is packed with healthy, interesting, veggie based ideas that make my mouth water. This is a good thing and it's already changing the way I think about meals and putting dishes together. I can't really blog every recipe I cook from the book, that wouldn't be very interesting for anyone, but basically, if you haven't got it, buy it, and be happy forever!

You know when it's all got a bit indulgent when you are lying on the sofa/floor hungover, and all you can think about is green veg and how much you would like some. This was me yesterday, New Year's Day. Happy bloody new year. I grilled a load of asparagus (yeah I know it's not in season and was from Peru or something but we can't all be perfectly seasonal all the time) and devoured it with glee, with a bit of olive oil, salt and lemon juice. Simple. And I felt better. My body hadn't quite forgiven me for drinking the crate of Cava the night before but we were getting there. Veg is good and although I eat a fair bit, I need more. I want to think of it less of something on the side of my meat, boiled quickly and without much thought, and more of part of the main event. Fear not, I am not going to suppress my carniverous side but try to eat more veg and enjoy it in interesting and new ways.

Sad sprouts
Look at these sprouts. They look so sad an un-appetising, and have never been top of my list. I eat them becuase they are good for me and The Boyfriend loves them. I don't like them on their own, but with a nice salty partner, classic sprouts and pancetta at Christmas is great, but why just Christmas? I saw something on telly the other day where they were really finely sliced and used in a sort of fritter and I couldn't believe I had never thought to do something like that. They are really mini-cabbages, and when sliced up take on a whole different persona, and are great in anything from stir-fries to pasta. Even when they are a few weeks old and bit wrinkly, just take off the outer leaves and it's good as new.

This recipe for sprout and broccoli pasta was a ready steady cook moment, really couldn't be arsed to go to the shops but we were both starving hungry and needed a quick lunch. Everything is done in the time it takes for the pasta to boil. Feeds 2. Get enough pasta for 2 boiling away, I used linguine this time, but only because it was all I had. Take a handful of brussels sprouts (yep just found out it's brussels, not brussel!), trim, remove any skanky bits and finely slice. Take a handful of broccoli florets and also slice finely, you want it to cook quickly. If I was making this just for me I would have finely sliced most of the 'trunk' of the broccoli as I love it, but that would have been a step too far for The Boyfriend. Toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry frying pan until golden. Eat a few while still hot. Don't burn your mouth or fingers. In a medium saucepan, heat a splash of olive oil and gently fry the sprouts, broccoli, a chopped chilli/pinch of chilli flakes and a sliced clove of garlic until softened but still with a little bite. Add a splash of white wine and let it bubble away for a minute. Add a tbsp creme fraiche/single cream and a handful of grated parmesan. Season with lots of black pepper. Drain the pasta, but add a splash of the cooking water to the pan with the veg, add the pasta to the veg pan with the pine nuts and mix well. Dig in.

I am aware this is a very simple and basic pasta recipe but this time last year I wouldn't have used sprouts in that way, and I wanted to share it! It's a good 'use up the dregs in the fridge' recipe, just chop up whatever veg you have and go with it. It's so good The Boyfriend didn't even notice there was no meat in it...