Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Oat and Raisin Cookies

I like chocolate in the right context - a dark and fugy brownie, thick and gloopy for dunking churros or an intense chocolate cake. But when it comes to most sweet things, ice cream, cakes etc. I prefer something a little plainer.

I like the simplicity of these oat and raisins cookies. To be honest, I thought about doing away with the raisins altogether and just having a soft and chewy oat cookie flavoured with cinnamon; but they do impart a little nugget of sweetness. The inclusion of oats also makes them fair game for breakfast. I made about 24 cookies from this, baked in two batches. Truth be told, the first lot burnt and I threw them out in a temper, but the second half were delicious, they kept happily in tupperware for several days.

The recipe is from Bake! by Rachel Allen and pretty straightforward. The only snag with making cookies is knowing when to remove them from the oven. Perfect chewy cookies become rocks in a matter of minutes. You want them golden around the edges, just hard; and still very soft in the middle. Once out of the oven, they will firm up a huge amount, I prefer mine on the edge of too soft rather than hard.

**Recipe from Bake! by Rachel Allen


Makes 25-30 cookies

110g soft butter
110g caster sugar
110g soft brown sugar
1 egg
2tbsp water
1tsp vanilla extract
250g porridge oats
110g self raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
110g raisins

  • Cream the butter and sugars together with a wooden spoon or electric whisk until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the egg, water and vanilla.
  • Stir in the oats, flour, salt and raisins until you have a thick and stciky dough.
  • Roll the dough into walnut sized pieced and place onto a lined baking sheet, spaced out.
  • Bake at 180C for 15-20mins until light golden brown but still soft.
  • Allow to cool for a few mins and then transfer to a wire rack.


Peanut Noodle Salad

My weekends are for cooking and while I tend to rely heavily on leftovers for lunch, I like to make some kind of salad to stash in the fridge during the week for snacking or for lunch when we've been over zealous and eaten every last scrap of dinner.

Something robust that will survive a few days in the fridge is in order - couscous, or rice usually. I've also recently re-discovered the joys of this simple brown rice salad dressed in thick and syrupy ginger soy dressing with lots of cashews, if you're not a fan of brown rice, this will turn you. So, this weekend I tried another gem from Nigella, Sesame Noodle Salad - noodles dressed in salty and sweet satay sauce with plenty of crunchy veg. This is very much open to interpretation, use whatever you have - red cabbage, carrot, cucumber, radish, spinach, mushrooms. I like to add a handful of chopped peanuts to the mix for extra crunch and some extra garlic and chilli. Just make sure you keep the ratio of sauce to noodles, you need enough sauce to coat everything well. Read more...

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Smocked Mackerel and Sweetcorn Chowder

I've been thinking about making chowder for a while. Something about it just appeals, kind of like a liquid fish pie - in a good way. Unfortunately, a certain someone is allergic to white fish so this has been off the menu until I realised that smoked mackerel would work just as well as haddock, imparting the same smoky flavour and healthier too. I tend to add smoked mackerel to everything these days, but the haddock would be just as good, as would peas or fresh sweetcorn I imagine.

This is certainly filling, but not as rich as it looks, the milk base is surprisingly light. Eat with plenty of bread and butter of course.


serves 4

50g butter
2 large leeks, white part finely chopped
small bunch parsley, leaves and stalks separated
750ml whole milk
250ml vegetable stock
400g (about 2 medium) potatoes , peeled and cut into small cubes
400g smoked mackerel fillets, skin removed
1 small can sweetcorn, drained (approx 160g can)

  • Heat a large saucepan and drop in the butter. Once melted, add the leeks and fry on a medium heat until softened.
  • Meanwhile chop the stalks of the parsley as finely as possible and add to the pan. Reserve the leaves for sprinkling over the finished soup.
  • Pour in the milk and stock and stir in the potatoes. Bring to the boil and simmer for a 10 minutes. Flake in the smoked mackerel and stir in the sweetcorn. Simmer for another few minutes. Add plenty of black pepper and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.


Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Dan Dan Noodles

During my visit home, while rooting through my mum's cookbook collection; I found Chinese Food Made Easy by Ching-He Huang. I knew my mum wouldn't use this book, she rarely uses a recipe for anything and so, I managed to commandeer it for myself.

I'm not a fan of the cookery shows myself, a bit too smug and she annoyingly overuses the words fragrant and delicious. But the book has some lovely photos (if not enough) and the recipes are certainly a gentle, healthy introduction to authentic Chinese cooking.

This recipe caught my eye, mostly due to the picture but also as it's unlike anything I've cooked before. Luckily, there's a chinese supermarket in Brixton, so off we went (after a delicious trip to Franco Manca) and purchased vast bottles of chinese ingredients and sauces for next to nothing.

She suggested using beef mince, I think pork is more authentic, but I actually used veggie mince which worked fine; there are so many other flavours going on that you don't notice.

The results went down well, apparently 'one of the best things I've cooked'. I have to say that this was down to me tweaking the recipe somewhat. Apparently the broth for the noodles was supposed to be a mix of tahini, sesame oil and balsamic vinegar (or Chinkiang black rice vinegar), but when I combined these in a saucepan as instructed, it looked a little like gone off milk... Out went that idea and I simply cooked the noodles in vegetable stock with a drop of sesame oil, the starch in the noodles helps to thicken the broth. I used plenty of chilli to make this a cleansing, warming soup and added some radish for crunch. You can add whatver vegetables are to hand really, add mushrooms to the mince, some beansprouts, shredded spinach or cabbage could go into the broth or matchsticked carrots.


Serves 4

750ml vegetable stock
2tsp sesame oil
400g noodles
1 small bunch radishes, sliced
2tbsp sunflower oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1tbsp grated ginger
1 chilli, finely chopped
250g mince
1tbsp Shaoshing rice wine or dry sherry
100g gherkins, finely chopped
To serve:
1 small bunch spring onions, finely sliced
1 small bunch coriander, chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
soy sauce to taste.

  • Heat the vegetable stock until boiling, add the sesame oil and noodles. stir to untangle and cook gently until soft. Stir in the radishes.
  • Meanwhile heat a wok or large frying with the oil until smoking. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and fry for a few minutes. Add the mince and stir until well browned. Pour over the rice wine and allow it to buble away. Stir in the gherkins and take off the heat.
  • To serve, spoon some noodles into a bowl with a ladleful of broth, top with the mince, spring onions, coriander and as much chilli as you dare.


Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Vegetable Curry

I spent the weekend visiting the family in Manchester. While I was obviously required to make brownies, we did most of our eating in some delicious restaurants. I came home yesterday to a rather sad looking romanseco cauliflower and was itching to get back into the kitchen. My knee-jerk reaction is generally to douse it in cheese sauce, instead I thought I'd try to re-create a very successful curry from last week.

Loosely inspired by the legendary Leon Gobi - this is rich in coconut milk and sweet from ground almonds, feel free to enhance this further with raisins; but I can't stand them in savoury food - especially curry. Of course, you can also use any vegetables you have lying around - I find this a really good way to use up root vegetables, the sweetness works perfectly; or throw in chickpeas, they're delicious in everything. The richness also means it goes particularly well with brown rice - making this an altogether virtuous meal.


Serves 4

1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 chilli
1 2inch piece ginger
5 cloves garlic
2 tsp Madras curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
about 250g sweet root vegetables cut into chunks e.g. carrots, swede, sweet potato, pumpkin, squash
1 cauliflower, broken into florets
1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
4 tbsp ground almonds
Juice of ½ a lemon
coriander, roughly chopped

Blend the garlic, ginger and chilli to a paste.
Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan with the oil, add the onions and fry until soft.
Tumble in the vegetables (apart from the peas) and sprinkle over the spices. Stir well.
Pour in the coconut milk, half fill the can again with water and add to the pan.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 15mins.
Add the ground almonds and peas, simmer for a few mins more.
Add the lemon juice and season to taste.
Serve with lots of chopped coriander.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Smoked Mackerel, Radish and New Potato Salad

I was a bit stumped when the we got these radishes in the veg box, lovely and pink as they are. They taste a bit like turnip and add crunch and colour to a simple salad. But I wanted something new and exciting. I found an interesting one in my Abel and Cole Cookbook, a salad of new potatoes and radish with olives and feta, all good but several ingredients I din't have and had no intention of buying.

So, as usual, in between dozing off on my tube journey, I planned my dinner for the evening and thought of this. Crispy little slices of roast new potatoes, fresh, crunchy pink radish and parsley, flakes of smoked mackerel and zingy little capers. All doused in a lemony, mustardy, yoghurt dressing. If I do day so myself, the flavour combinations worked perfectly, capers and lemon are smoked mackerel's best friend. We happily gobbled it up for dinner.


Serves 4

750g new potatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp capers
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 lemon, juiced
300g radishes, quartered
400g smoked mackerel
200g greek yoghurt
2tsp english mustard

  • Heat the oven to 200°C and heat a large roasting tray with the olive oil.
  • Meanwhile clean the potatoes and slice into 1cm thick coins. Add to the baking tray, stir until well coated in the hot oil and season well.
  • Roast for 30mins, stirring occasionally until golden and soft inside. Don't worry if the slices become a little stuck, use a spatula to scrape them off the bottom, this just creates more crispy bits. After 20mins place the mackerel fillets onto the potatoes in the oven to warm up.
  • Meanwhile, add the english mustard and half the lemon juice to the yoghurt along with a pinch of salt and pepper and stir well.
  • Once cooked, transfer the potato slices to a large bowl along with as much of the roasting oil as possible. Flake in the smoked mackerel and add the red onion, capers, parsley, radishes and the rest of the lemon juice.
  • Dollop on the dressing and mix very gently, you don't want the salad to be completey covered.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Beef Goulash

Our vegetable box is delivered on Friday, so my current Saturday morning routine consists of getting up in time for Saturday Kitchen, sitting amidst my various cookbooks and looking for new recipes to try with my muddy bounty. One eye on James Martin, one on the books.

My routine was somewhat upset this week as I awoke not only nursing a hangover, but to the chaos left behind by several of us drinking too much fizzy wine and eating lots of good food (fajitas with bean chilli, cheese and lashings of gaucamole and soured cream; followed by key lime pie).

The upshot of this is that I was somewhat randomnly inspired by a sad looking bowl of leftover soured cream. I decided to try goulash, remembering a delicious looking version Jamie Oliver cooked on Jamie at Home (part of our Sunday night aspirational viewing on More 4 along with River Cottage). A rich stew of slow cooked pork and peppers served with creme fraiche.

In the end, my version was completely different, I looked around for inspiration and came up with a really simple version that doesn't use chopped tomatoes but is flavoured with paprika and smoky roasted peppers. This is best with cheaper cuts of braising beef and left to cook long and slow, the peppers almost melt into the sauce to give a rich stew . Given the opportunity, I would cook this day before and let the flavours develop. Even so, cooked on the night this absolutely delivious, full of flavour and meltingly tender. We eat ours with thick ribbons of pasta, a dollop of sour cream and lots of parsley, but mash would be divine too.


Serves 4

1kg braising beef, cut into chunks
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp sunflower oil
25g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 jar roasted red peppers (approx 300g), or 4 peppers roasted and skinned
200ml beef or vegetable stock
1 small (140ml) tub soured cream
Chopped flat leaf parsley to serve

  • Season the meat and sprinkle over the flour to coat well.
  • Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan. When hot, fry the beef in batches until sealed and beginning to brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Add the butter to the pan. Once melted, add the onion and fry for a few mins until softened.
  • Add the beef back to the pan and sprinkle over the paprika, stir well so that the beef is well coated.
  • Slice the roasted peppers into long thin strips and add to the pan as well.
  • Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for at least an hour until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened.
  • Before serving, stir in half the soured cream, reserving the rest to dollop on top with a liberal sprinkling of parsley.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Vegetable Laksa

In my university days of cooking for 5 people in a 'kitchen' that consisted of a Baby Belling, a sink and fridge to do all my prep on; this was always a special treat. We got it from our culinary bible of the time - Cranks, a revelation of vegetarian cooking and not a bean chilli in sight.

I've since tweaked it a little and cut down the long of ingredients to make it something I might be able to rustle up from ingredients at home. Of course, the authenticity leaves a lot to be desired. But, what you do get is noodles cooked in an aromatic coconut milk broth, spicy with chilli and sour from lime, topped with chickpeas, stir fried vegetables and lots of coriander. A comforting and soothing bowl.


Serves 4

1 tin coconut milk
3 cloves, garlic
1 red chilli
3cm piece of ginger
1 small bunch coriander
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 litre vegetable stock
400g egg noodles
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 tbsp sunflower oil
spalsh soy sauce
200g carrots, peeled, halved and sliced
250g mushrooms (shitake work best)
2 heads pak choi, sliced
1-2 limes

  • Either blitz in a blender or finely chop the garlic, chilli, ginger and stalks of the coriander. Add to a large saucepan with the coconut milk, stock and fish sauce. Bring to the boil and take off the heat.
  • Add the noodles, stir to untangle and leave to soften in the heat with the chickpeas. Add some lime juice to taste, until you have a nice sour contrast.
  • In the meantime, heat a large wok and the sunflower oil, stir fry the mushrooms, carrots and pak choi for 5 or so mins until cooked through, finish with a splash of soy sauce.
  • To serve, heat the noodles and broth until piping hot. Spoon a nest of noodles into a shallow soup bowl and top with some of the vegetables, ladle over a generous amount of the aromatic, coconut broth and top with a lime wedge and lots of coriander.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Spaghetti with Tomato and Sausage

We got some tomatoes in the veg box this week, which was a welcome change, although we of course got the ubiquitous swede of course too (which I made into tasty rostis). I'm always a bit stumped as to what to do with tomatoes, cooking them seems to be a waste as I really want to make the most of their fresh, sweet flavour.

After a bit of time with my recipe books and Google, my favourite Saturday morning past time, I decided on a fresh pasta tomato sauce. I diced the tomatoes, added a little, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil and left them to marinade before stirring them through hot pasta with a little creme fraiche.

If the tomatoes were firm, red and tasted of summer as I'd hoped, I'd definitely have skipped the creme fraiche and just added some basil. Unfortunately, they were a little insipid and overripe, so needed a boost, but at least I have a recipe for tomatoes past their best.

This spaghetti and almond pasta is another favourite way to eat tomatoes.


Serves 4

350g spaghetti
4 sausages
2 tbsp olive oil
300 tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
handful chopped thyme or oregano
6-8 tbsp creme fraiche

  • Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water.
  • Add the garlic, 1tbsp olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper to the tomatoes, stir well and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat a frying pan. Cut a slit into the sausages, remove the skin and break up the filling into small pieces.
  • Add these to the pan with 1tbsp olive oil and thyme.
  • Fry until the sausage is golden, add the tomatoes, cooked pasta and creme fraiche and stir well before serving.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Cauliflower Cheese

Most things are improved by the addition of cheese sauce. I remember eating a sunday dinner at a friend's house once; the usual roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips and greens. The meat of choice was a large ham, with a sticky sweet glaze. All in all a good spread I thought, then out came the piece de resistance, a jug of cheese sauce! Can you think of anything better than being allowed to douse all of your food in a cheesy blanket?

Alas, I like to think to think that my tastes have moved on a little and these days, I sometimes even eat meals that don't don't contain any cheese. But cauliflower and any other slightly bitter counterparts such as green cabbage and kale really do benefit from a bit of cheese sauce. I'll often eat it as a meal in itself with some salad or a few roasted vegetables. Roast potatoes, super crispy with a fluffy centre are particularly divine dipped into the sauce.


Serves 4

1 medium cauliflower
40g butter
40g flour
500ml milk
125g strong cheddar, grated
1/2tsp english mustard
2tbsp breadcrumbs

  • Remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower and break into small florets. Place in a large saucepan, cover with water, add 1/2 tsp salt and bring to the boil.
  • Once the water comes to the boil, drain and tip into a large baking dish.
  • Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large saucepan, once melted add the flour and whisk thorughly, continue cooking until the mixture (a 'roux') turns a nutty brown colour.
  • Now add the milk slowly, whisk it completely into the mixture as you go to avoid lumps.
  • One all the milk is added, cook over a low heat, stirring all the time until the sauce thickens, it should coat the back of a spoon.
  • Now take off the heat, season well and add the cheese and mustard, allow it melt for a minute or so and stir well.
  • Pour over the cauliflower and top with the breadcrumbs.
  • Cook at 200C for 20-30mins until bubbling and golden.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Lovely Roast Chicken

The simplest things in life are often the best. A classic roast chicken, one of the easiest things to make, yet so tasty and comforting. Of course, I always buy the best quality I can and eek out the whole chicken to get as many meals as possible. See these tips from Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and River Cottage.

I roasted it up on Sunday in plenty of herby, garlicky butter and we feasted on it with some roast butternut squash and cauliflower cheese (see below). Then came the messy part, I pulled off every last shred of meat for use in a vietnamese(ish) chicken salad, and the scraps will go into a soup with various odds and ends from the veg box. The carcass and giblets can then go into a pot for several hours with a carrot, onion and some bay to become a thick and wobbly stock. Of course, more often than not, I don't exactly feel like making stock late on a Sunday night, so I chuck the bones in the freezer, ready to make a big batch at a later date.


Serves 4

1 free-range or organic chicken at room temperature
50g soft butter
2 fat cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 handful herbs such as sage, thyme, rosemary, marjoram
1 lemon

  • Remove any trussing and giblets from the bird, give it a quick rinse inside and out, pat dry and place in a large roasting tin.
  • Make two slices in the thighs all the way to the bone, this will allow the bird to cook more evenly so you end up with succulent breast meat and tender thighs.
  • Put the butter in a bowl with the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and the zest of the lemon. squish th emixture together with your fingers.
  • Gently prize the skin away from the breast so you're left with a gap, squeeze half you butter in between and rub it all over the breast. Smear the remainder over the thighs. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze a little over the bird and put the rest in the cavity.
  • Place in the middle of a hot oven for 30 mins until the skin begins to crispen, now turn it down to 180C and cook for a further 40mins.
  • You can tell the chicken is done by poking a knife into the chicken where the thigh joins the breast; the juices released should run clear.
  • Take the bird out and allow to rest for 20-30mins before carving.