Monday, 27 October 2008

Rocket Pesto

I'll never understand why people buy those horrid, bland ready made pasta sauces from the supermarket, full of who knows what and expensive! Pasta is the quickest, easiest thing to cook, you can often assemble a sauce in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Like this rocket pesto, and if you make lots, you can keep leftovers in the fridge for future quick pasta dinners. Below we had it as a quick lunch with some cherry tomatoes and bit of goats cheese that was languishing in the back of the fridge

This is a recipe from Cranks Bible, one of my favourite recipe books. I remember discovering this at university when rocket was the trendy new thing, what a revelation, rocket pesto is completely different to a classic pesto with the sweet creaminess of pine nuts and basil, this is altogether different; peppery, garlicky, it really packs a culinary punch.

Rocket, parmesan, looots of garlic, lemon juice and almonds all blended into a knobbly paste. You can then keep it in a jar in the fridge for at least a month. Eat this with linguine, some oily black olives, and a few sunblush tomatoes for a pleasing colour contrast as much as anything. Cranky also suggests stirring into a risotto, half way through cooking the rice for rocket and parmesan risotto.


Makes about 6 portions

3 cloves garlic
50g parmesan or strong cheddar, grated finely
50g blanched almonds
150ml olive oil
a few basil leaves (optional)
½tsp grain mustard
juice ½ lemon
1 red chilli

Throw everything into a small blender with a generous amount of seasoning and whizz until smooth. Simple as that! Adjust the amount of seasoning and lemon juice according to taste and decant into a clean dry jar. Read more...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Amazing Mackerel on Toast

Valentine Warner is a bit of a new celebrity crush of mine - reading all the hype a few months ago, I was unconvinced/jealous. But as soon as you watch a programme, his infectious enthusiasm rubs off on you and I always warm to someone as downright greedy as he is.

So, when he made this on Monday's episode, my friends and I were practically salivating. A cucumber in my vegetable box was a sure sign that it needed to be made. First, peel a cucumber and slice thinly (I used the slicer on the side of my grater, quite an exciting discovery!) , drop them into a colander and salt generously. The idea is draw most of the water out so you're left with lovely crispy slivers.

For the mackerel, all you need to do is season and fry for a few mins on each side in hot pan with a knob of butter and drizzle of oil. Toast a thick slice of sourdough, butter generously, top with a handful of cucumber, a mackerel fillet, some thinly sliced red onion and a wedge of lemon. Perfection.

Now, the icing on the cake (so to speak) was the horseradish sauce he made with it, I loved the idea of punchy sauce to go with the mackerel. needless to say, I couldn't find fresh horseradish in Brixton, so I decided to a really simple lemony yoghurty dressing instead. A few tablespoons of yoghurt, the juice of half a lemon, plenty of seasoning, a little garlic and some capers. Really you just want something moist to go with this and you can't really fault lemon and fish. But next time, I will be steeling myself to try the horseradish (I cry enough over onions, I'm a bit scared of horseradish...)

Here's the recipe should you need it, and here's his fabulous book that I'm stopping myself buying... I'm getting a little too click happy at the moment on Amazon, I just bought this recipe book holder though - very exciting! Read more...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Cauliflower and Cannellini Soup

Hurray! Its cauliflower time of the year. I've resisted the urge to douse it in cheese sauce and did a little recipe investigation instead, I've already had success with this soup, so was excited when I read about one with cannelini beans flavoured with rosemary.

Thankfully, it turned out superbly, cauliflower is so creamy when blended, a bit of extra texture from the beans and some lovely thyme salt sprinkled on top. A perfect autumn meal, I was also lucky enough to have chunks of delicious homemade rye bread to dunk in. Surely the best part of soup?

This recipe came from Valentine Warner in Olive magazine. What follows is my take, he faffs making a chicken stock, but the sentiments are the same.


serves 4

1 onion, roughly chopped
50g butter
1 llarge cauliflower, approx 1kg
1500ml vegetable stock
½ small 184ml pot double cream
2 cans cannellini bean, drianed and rinsed
1tbsp sea salt
1 large sprig thyme

  • Sweat the onions in the butter in a large pan, meanwhile chop the cauliflower into small florets and toss into the pan too, stir to coat in the butter and sweat too for about 5mins.
  • Now pour over the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15mins until the cauliflower is completely soft.
  • Take off the heat and blend until completely smooth.
  • Now stir in the double cream and cannellini beans.
  • Warm through to serve.
  • when ready, chop the thyme leaves and salt as finely as possible, sprinkle this over the soup, with a dribble of oil and a grind of black pepper.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Throw it in Spicy Soup

This is one for using up any vegetables languishing in the bottom of the fridge. Save them from the compost and make soup! Now that the weather is turning, its the perfect time for a warm bowl of comforting soup. Soup is possibly the easiest thing to make with the least output for maximum pleasure. What's better that a steaming bowl of homemade soup?

Now, most soups require time, not that they're difficult, you just need to leave a pan to putter away on a stove top for a while, ideally eating it the next day once the flavours have developed. Don't get me wrong, this is fabulous for cooking in advance so that you can come home to dinner already made, or freeze portions ahead, for that, try these recipes.

This soup is all about knocking up a batch in 20mins flat and having endless variations, when you can't think what to make to make for dinner, but you want to feel like you're eating something 'homemade'.

This is barely a recipe, simply fry a tablespoon or two, depending on how hot you like it of thai curry paste in a large pan until the heady fragrance are released. now throw in your vegetables, whatever you've got, think stir fry, you want everything sliced or finely chopped. Give them a stir until they start to catch. Now add a can of coconut milk, fill the empty can with water and add this too, maybe a little bouillon powder too to boost flavours. Let this simmer happily for 5mins or so. To bulk it out, add a couple of nests of noodles, perhaps adding some extra water, make you stir well and untangle them as they soften.

Try chickpeas, noodles, tofu, shredded roast chicken, sweetcorn, carrot, mushrooms, greens, chunks of salmon, bean sprouts... the list goes on. then you get to garnish, a squeeze of lime, a flutter of coriander leaves, sliced spring onions.... Read more...

Monday, 20 October 2008

Couscous Salad

I went camping this weekend, no ordinary camping, to a tipi! Camping trips always conjure up thoughts of lovely local shops selling lovely local food and cosy pubs with lovely warm fires. In reality, depending where you are, it can be hard to find a good pub and even harder to find one with good food. So, as we arrived late on Friday and wanted to make the most of our tipi, I planned ahead. Out came some sausages from the freezer, some homemade bread, leftover haloumi and... busy trying to use as much things from the fridge that were on the turn as possible, I decided on couscous, the perfect snack for the journey.

In reality of course, the campsite was brilliant (another winner from The Cool Camping Guide), with a delightful cafe on site, selling delicious breakfast and several pubs all within walking distant selling grat pub food, mostly mussels, which were literally caught over the road. Still... being the country, by the time we arrived on Friday, nowhere was selling food so I glad of my pack lunch (and the bottle of wine I thought to pack).

I love couscous, its such a pleasing vehicle for so many things - roasted carrots, smoked mackerel and brocolli.. I like it fresh and zingy as below with feta, parsley and lots of lemon juice, or with roasted vegetables and flaked almonds. The recipe below is obviously just a starting point, use whatever you have handy - peppers always nice, as are olives, anything you'd put into a salad really... Hummus is another great partner, or some leaves packed into the top of the box so they don't get soggy.

Serves 2

150g couscous
225ml hot vegetable stock
1/2 can chickpeas
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cucumber, cut in half, the middle scooped out and sliced
100g feta, crumbled
1 medium carrot, grated
bunch parsley(and some mint too if you have it), chopped
juice 1/2 lemon
3tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small handful toasted sunflower seeds or pine nuts

This is really just an assembly job...

  • wiegh the couscous out in a large bowl, pour over the hot stock, cover a with a large plate and leave to steep for about 5mins.
  • Once all the stock has been absorbed, fluff up using a fork. Pile all the ingredients into the bowl and mix thoroughly.
  • Squeeze the lemon juice over and pour in the olive. Mix really well and taste, it'll probably need some salt and pepper.


Friday, 17 October 2008

Sausage carbonara

I have a lot of Jamie Oliver books, they make good reading, but haven't actually cooked that many of his recipes, he's all about using amazing (expensive) ingredients simply, when I'm often not. That said, you can't really fault him, he does make beautiful food and on his Ministry of Food website, he's some delicious looking basic recipes too. I'm also mildly obsessed with his website, In this case, I found this rather decadent pasta dish that looked pretty simple, being a glutton in general, I always defualt to creamy pasta dishes as opposed to tomate-ey ones...

Jamie's Italian credentials are pretty good too, having worked at the River Cafe, with Gennaro Contaldo and travelling around Italy to write his book - Jamie's Italy, I'm always keen to try his pasta recipes.

This is a classic carbonara in that it uses eggs as the base, they are tossed with the hot cooked pasta, golden crispy sausage and bacon, and cooked gently to form a smooth and silky sauce. The emphasis being on gentle otherwise you'll end up with scrambled egg. Some lemon zest and parsley add freshness and cut through the richness of the sauce. Delicious and simple.

Recipe

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Kale and Mushroom Stir fry

I was pretty excited when I saw the dark green leaves bursting out of the top of my vegetable box this week, but then quickly I was lost. I felt like kale would be delicious but what to do with it? I've already made this, delicious by the way, but I wanted something else... Internet searching proved fruitless, so I changed tactic and figured that kale is really just a winter green so searched for 'greens' recipes. Many were a take on stir fry and I soon had my heat set on a big bowl of intensely flavoured stir fry on some steaming white rice.

I had planned on using oyster sauce, but checking the list of ingredients on a bottle in the supermarket, I decided to do my own thing. A simple stir fry, using mushrooms for a bit of oomph (I didn't want to just eat a plate of greens!) and some toasted cashews nuts for crunch.

Serves 2 generously

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped
1tbsp ginger, grated
250g mushrooms, sliced
100g kale, tough stalks removed and finely sliced
1 carrots, sliced lengthways and sliced
100g cashews
½ cup vegetable stock
3tbsp soy sauce
2tbsp sesame oil
Rice to serve

  • Stirfrys are all about preparation, so sharpen you knife and make sure everything is ready beforehand.
  • Heat a wok or large saucepan, toss in the cashews and move them around until golden and toasty. Remove.
  • Continue heating the wok as hot as you can bear, glug in a little sunflower oil (or vegetable) and heat until smoking.
  • Throw in the garlic, chilli and ginger, stirring frantically for a minute.
  • Next add the mushrooms and carrots and fry hard for a few mins until starting to brown around the edges.
  • Next add the kale, stir around and pour in the stock watching the pan spit and splutter, allow to bubble away for a few mins until the kale is cooked through and the stock reduced.
  • Next stir in the sesame oil and soy sauce. Taste and add more of each to if you prefer.
  • Serve with the rice and sprinkle over the cashew nuts.


Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Damp Chocolate Cake

Another treat from How to Be a Domestic Goddess this is a simple plain loaf cake. That's not to say it isn't incredibly damp, intense and worryingly moreish. This is perfect on its own with tea or coffee or made more elaborate with the addition of some berries and ice cream or custard. Nigella confesses to liking it spread with cream chees, hmm will have to try that one out...

As its so moist, this cake keep like a dream, just make sure you line the tin well, or get some liners. It also improves after a day or so, perfect to make in advance.


225g soft butter
375g dark muscavado sugar
2 large eggs
1tsp vanilla
100g dark chocolate, melted
200g plain flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda, added to the flour
250ml boiling water

  • Preheat the oven to 190C and line your loaf tin.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the eggs and vanilla, beating in well.
  • Next pour in the chocolate and mix this in well too.
  • Add half the flour to the batter and stir well, now add half the water and stir carefully until fully combined. Repeat with he rest of the flour and water.
  • Be patient stirring the batter as you will end up with a very liquid consistency. Now decant into the loaf tin, don't be alarmed if it fills the tin almost to the top, the cake barely rises on cooking.
  • Bake for 30mins, then turn the oven down and bake for another 15mins.
  • Bear in mind a cake tester won't come out completely clean as the cake is so squidgy, it will also tend to sink a little in the middle for the same reason.
  • Once cooked, remove from the tin and allow to cool.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Party Time

A birthday is always a good excuse for a party, couple that with just having moved into a flat and you're onto a winner. I resisted the temptation to spend days creating elaborate canapes as although I knew people would expect food (it is my party) they'd be more interested in the wine...

We're into baking bread at the moment, so I thought several loaves of homemade bread, some dips - hummus, tapenade, roasted red pepper pesto, maybe a baked camembert or two, and some posh crisps ought to do it. the idea was to have lots of finger food that didn't require plates (less washing up or wasteful paper plates).

My one concession to canapes were fabulous little caramelised onion and feta pastries. Deliciously sweet onions are well known partners to sharp, salty feta and these were little mouthfuls of joy. Seen as though everyone liked them so much, here's the recipe below.

Caramelised Red Onion and Feta Pastries


Makes about 50

250g shortcurst pastry
8 medium red onions, sliced into half moons
50g butter
4tbsp balsamic vinegar
4tbsp sugar
200g feta, crumbled
1 small bunch parsley, chopped or a small bunch thyme (just the leaves)

  • Heat the butter in a large frying pan and tip in the onions, stir to coat in the butter and leave to cook on a low heat for about 15mins, stirring occasionally until completely soft.
  • Season well, add the sugar and blasamic vinegar, and leave to simmer until the onions are sticky, brown and caramelised.
  • Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.
  • Preheat the oven to 180C
  • Roll the pastry out until a few mms thick and cut into rounds (I used a small glass to do this, bear in mind that you want the pastry in mouth sized circles).
  • Place onto a baking tray lined with greasproof paper and bake in the oven for about 10mins until golden and cooked through. (the pastry will rise a little and bubble in places, after a few mins baking, whilst the pastry is still soft, you can push the bubles down gently).
  • Once all the pastry is cooked, leave to cool.
  • To assemble, you probably need someone to help, to get an assembly line going. One person to spoon the onions onto the pastry and someone else to sprinkle on the cumbled feta and a little parsley or thyme. Just try not to eat too many whilst you're making them!


Saturday, 11 October 2008

Potato Bread

We've been making our own bread recently, not even with a breadmaker (which I happen to have tucked away in some dark corner), just old fashioned mixing in a bowl, a bit of kneading, some proving here a spot of baking there and you're left with a delicious loaf of bread. And believe me, it is delicious, worth the (minimal) faffing it involves.

Although it doesn't exactly take long, its realistic that this would be more of weekend activity, in which case, double up and freeze half so you have lovely homemade bread all the time.

So, this is our current favourite. Potato bread From How to be a Domestic Goddess, almost sourdough like tanginess, a chewy crust and the most incredible toast. I had this freshly baked on the morning of my birthday, a suitably decadent way to start the day I think.

Potato Bread (from How to be a Domestic Goddess)

300g cold or warm boiled potatoes
700-800g strong white flour
1tbsp salt
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
1tbsp yoghurt
300ml tepid potato water (water the potatoes were cooked in)

  • Rice (or mash) the potatoes into a large bowl and add 600g flour, the salt and yeast.
  • Mix together, add the yoghurt and potato water slowly until you have something resembling a dough.
  • Tip this out onto a surface and knead, add the rest of the flour slowly. This will be a rather damp and sticky dough so be prepared to knead for about 10mins.
  • Once the dough is smooth, tur into a butter bowl, cover and leave to prove. you want it to be doubled in size. Either leave the dough in the fridge overnight or in a warm place for an hour or so.
  • Once doubled in size, punch the air out the dough, a useful de-stressing exercise, knead for a minute and shape into whatever shape you like. I prefer a longer, thinner loaf as its easier to slice.
  • Sit on a baking tray and cover loosely with a tea towel for about 30mins until the bread is aerated again and almost doubled in size, in the meantime, preheat the oven to 200C.
  • Once puffy, bake the bread for a bout 30mins until brown.
  • To test whether the bread is cooked, tap the bottom of the bread and it should sound hollow.
  • Sneak a little slice whilst the bread is still warm, slather with butter, eat and feel smug at your breadmaking skills

Friday, 10 October 2008

Happy Birthday to me

I've been chided by several friends for my lack of posting recently. I've been busy cooking and eating lots of delicious food, naturally, I just haven't found the time to sit down and write about it. In particular, it was my birthday last week and I got a fancy new camera, so much of the day was spent taking pictures of food, there was plenty of oppurtunity as we went to Borough Market to buy indulgent food, and then lunch at Franco Manca, the pizzeria in Brixton that everyone's talking about. If you're ever in the area, or even if you're not, go here. Organic thin crust sourdough pizza cooked in a wood burning stove at 500C, this is pizza as pizza should be and all for about £5 a pizza! Like I said, go here.


Monday, 6 October 2008

Simple Chickpea Stew

This is simplicity itself. I wanted something vaguely healthy (chickpeas count as a portion of your 5-a-day) that was comforting, ideally eaten from a bowl with enough sauce to soak into some carbohydrate, my choice being couscous. A dollop of yoghurt on top (I love yoghurt) and you're away.

This is basically, onions, garlic chilli, paprika, ground coriander and chickpeas simmered with chopped tomatoes for about 20mins and that's it! I like to always have chopped parsley around and its a nice contrast of green, but definitely not necessary, it also occurred to me that some toasted flaked almonds might add some texture, maybe next time.


Serves 4

2 onions, diced (or sliced if you prefer)
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped
1tsp smoked paprika
2tsp ground coriander
½tsp vegetable stock powder (bouillon), optional
2 cans chickpeas, drained
1 can chopped tomatoes

  • Fry the onions, garlic and chilli over a low heat for 5-10mins until the onions are completely soft.
  • Stir in the spices and fry until they release their pungent aroma.
  • Pour in the chickpeas and stir well so that each chickpea is coated in the spice mixture
  • Add the tomatoes. fill the empty can about half way with water, swill and pour into the pan.
  • Add the bouillon powder and stir. Allow the mixture to simmer happily for about 15mins, after which taste and check for seasoning. You may need to add a little bit more water and/or paprika and ground coriander.
  • Serve with couscous, yoghurt, and chopped parsley.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


I've not written a post on eating out for a long time, mostly because I've just moved into a new flat, so we've been eating in A LOT. Happily, GBK were doing 2for1 vouchers so we felt vindicated in spending money eating out.

Aaah GBK, why are your burgers so big?? Just look at this monster - yes it looks impressive, but no, I cannot fit it into my mouth. So, when I inevitably try (I refuse to use a knife and fork) everything splodges out onto the plate and my lap and the floor and I am left only with a corner of bun. This acutally drives me mad, why make a burger that doesn't fit into your mouth???

Ok, rant over, the burger pictured, was actually very mediocre, I'm not really a fan of 'veggie burgers' that are actually just vegetables (portobello mushroom 'burger' anyone?), a much better vegetarian option is the falafel burger, its still massive and this time with hummus and cucmber raita and sweet chilli sauce to dribble down your front, so it will still end in tears naturally, but at least it astes good. Meat eaters will do a lot better, the burgers are apparently amazing and much more mouth friendly.

Oh and the chips are tasty too, but you have to order them separately and on top of the burger, it the amount of food that literally leaves you waddling out of the door. Read more...