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SCALLOPS WITH CAULIFLOWER

This is such a treat but actually, very affordable, especially if you local fish counter has scallops on offer. It makes a very luxurious and special starter but we enjoy it occasionally as a special lunch dish, in which case you might want to serve five scallops per person instead of three. It is very important that the scallops are not overcooked – they become tough and rubbery very easily but if you use a timer and turn them over as soon as golden and caramelised you can’t go far wrong. The pan must be hot enough for the scallop to form a crust but not so hot that they will burn before it is time to turn them over. I find a minute and a half on one side and then a minute on the other is about perfect, but if they are small then reduce the time to thirty seconds after you have turned them over.

The cauliflower is a delicious and very traditional partner to the luscious scallop – it makes such a smooth and flavourful purée. It is really worth frying the little cauliflower wafers as these add texture to the plate and gives the cauliflower a wonderful caramelisation. If you want to push the boat out a bit further you could add a rasher of crispy pancetta or perhaps fry up some crumbled black pudding and scatter some of that around for the ultimate surf and turf.

Serves Two

6 – 10 fat king scallops (depending on whether a starter or lunch)

1 cauliflower

25g unsalted butter

Whole milk

Rapeseed or olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil (two tablespoons)

Mixed fine herbs (eg chives, parsley, fennel)

1 unwaxed lemon

Sea salt & black pepper

First take your scallops out of the fridge so they can come up to room temperature. Dry them off with some kitchen towel and cut off the row, making sure you remove any tough bits that link the roe to the scallop. You could keep the roes to cook separately if you like. Season the scallops with sea salt and black pepper. Do this just before you are going to cook them.

Take a pestle and mortar and put in a tablespoon or two of finely chopped herbs. Add the extra virgin olive oil, lightly season and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Set aside.

You won’t need all of the cauliflower. Take about 1/4 of it and divide into florets. Reserve a couple. Cut the others into four pieces and place in a small saucepan with a small piece of butter (taken from the 25g) and toss around over a medium heat until the butter has melted and coated the cauliflower. Pour over some whole milk; you want it to almost but not quite cover the florets. Season with sea salt and simmer very gently or about fifteen minutes (covered with a lid) or until the cauliflower is completely soft. Drain the excess milk away. Take a hand held blender and purée the cauliflower. Add seasoning to taste and set aside to keep warm while you prepare everything else. You can make this purée in advance; it will keep well in the fridge for a day or two.

Slice the remaining cauliflower florets into slices about the thickness of a pound coin. You want about three per person. Heat a frying pan and add a little rapeseed or olive oil. (About a scant tablespoonful). Add a little butter and when foaming pop the slices in and fry gently until golden brown on each side. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven.

Warm a couple of plates. Clean out the frying pan and put back onto the heat. Add a couple more tablespoons of rapeseed or olive oil and another knob of butter. Once melted and the fat is medium hot, add the scallops. Work quickly starting at 12.00 and putting them in a circle around the pan. Fry for a minute and a half and then turn them over, starting with the one you put in first (if you put it in using the clockface method it makes it much easier to remember the order!).

Add the remaining butter and cook for another minute. Take off the heat and squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Put the scallops onto a plate lined with kitchen paper.

Take you plates out of the oven. Put a large spoonful of the cauliflower purée on each one and spread out a bit. Arrange the scallops around and add three cauliflower wafers to each plate. Drizzle the herb oil over and around and season the whole thing with a bit more sea salt (eg maldon) and a grind of black pepper. Squeeze over a little more lemon juice and serve immediately while it is still warm.

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Lunch Quick and Easy Starters Quick and Easy Suppers Soups Uncategorized

Parsnip, Fennel & Apple Soup

Autumn is a beautiful season and despite the prospect of chillier days and darker evenings approaching, there is always something rather appealing at the thought of cosying up a bit. This is a lovely soup to welcome in the new season and makes good use of the parsnips and fennel that have thrived in my vegetable patch. We have apples, too and the three go together so well, although a little of the apple will go a long way so be sparing with it. I have used rosemary and sage here – thyme would be perfect too or just parsley if you prefer.

Finish the soup with a scattering of toasted seeds, chopped herbs, sauteed cubes of red skinned eating apple, any or all above a swirl of creme fraiche or soured cream.

50g butter (or 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil)

1 large or 2 small onions

2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed in a pestle & mortar

3 or 4 large parsnips (about 400g)

1 small bulb fennel

1 piece of cooking apple (about 75g)

3 sprigs rosemary

3 sprigs sage

1 litre of chicken/veg stock

Sea salt & black pepper

creme fraiche

Mixed seeds, red skinned apple and/or chopped fine herbs to finish

Peel and chop all the vegetables. Heat the butter in a saucepan and then add the onion. Saute gently for a few minutes before adding the fennel seeds and cook for a minute or two longer. Then add the parsnips, fennel and apple. Season with salt and pepper. Crush the rosemary and put it and the sage into a spice bag (this makes it easier to remove). Add to the vegetables and then pour over the stock, just to cover reserving the rest for later. Simmer for about half an hour or until the parsnip and fennel and very tender.

Blend the soup, then add one or two tablespoons of creme fraiche, depending on how creamy you like it. Adjust the thickness with the rest of the stock. Season again.

Serve with the garnishes if using. You will need to cook the chopped apple in a little butter just to soften it.

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Quick Pickled Beetroot

Beetroot deserves it’s current reputation as a superfood. Those days of heavily vinegared slices leaching into salads are hopefully long gone and it is much more likely to be found roasted and tossed in to a risotto, baked and partnered with a sharp goats cheese or popped in to a pickling liquor.

This recipe works with any kind of beetroot. Just peel, make sure the slice are lovely and thin and then enjoy with salads, ham, cheese or just on it’s own when you have a craving for something sweet, sharp and super healthy. Use any spices you think might work; this is just a suggestion.

Makes enough to pickle a couple of good sized beets

200ml white wine vinegar

100ml filtered water

1 teaspoon coriander seed, toasted

150g granulated or caster sugar

1 teaspoon black pepper corns

1 bay leaf

Good pinch of sea salt

One or two good sized beetroot, any type

Peel the beetroot and finely slice using a mandolin or sharp knife. You could cut into half moon shapes if you prefer. Put into a sterilised jam jar.

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar and water. Add the spices, bay leaf and salt and bring up to a simmer for a minute or two.

Pour the hot pickling liquid over the beetroot and seal. Leave to marinade for a few hours before using. Store in the fridge and use as required.

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Dinner Lunch Soups Starters and Salads Uncategorized

Vichyssoise Soup

Of all the summer soups, this leek and potato classic has to be one of the best loved. It is a little ironic that leeks are in fact at their best from November through to April, not really months in which a chilled soup is going to be of much appeal. Still, they are readily available all year round and none the worse for that. I’ve added celery to this as well as an onion; purists may well frown on these additions but I think they add great flavour. You could of course just add an extra leek or two and leave them out – entirely up to you.

This makes enough for four

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
small knob of butter
3 large leeks
1 onion
1 large stick celery, stringy bits removed
About 3 medium new potatoes (you want about half the weight of the leeks)
750ml chicken stock
200ml double or whipping cream
lots of chopped chives
olive oil (if making the chive oil)
Sea salt and black pepper

Chop all the vegetables, (having peeled the potatoes). Heat the oil and butter together in a saucepan. Add the leeks, celery and onion and sweat gently over a low heat until beginning to soften. Do not allow them to colour.

Add the potatoes and stir around. Add the stock and bring up to a gentle simmer. Season well and then cook gently for about fifteen minutes or until the vegetables are very soft. Liquidise or use a stick blender so that the soup is extremely smooth. You could also pass it through a sieve for an ultra smooth finish.

Whisk in the cream and check the seasoning. Pour into a bowl and chill for at least two or three hours, longer if possible.

Serve in chilled bowls with chives, chive oil and a little more cream swirled on top.

To make the chive oil, simple put chopped chives into a pestle and mortar and add extra virgin olive oil and a little sea salt. Pound until the chives break down and the oil starts to turn green.

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Canapes Dinner Lunch Starters and Salads Uncategorized Vegetarian

Confit of Aubergine & Tomato

Make this to go with lamb, chicken or just have with bruschetta and minted yoghurt. It is best made the day before (or longer) so that the flavours can mingle and make friends but that is all to the better as so useful to have ready in advance.

Serves four to six

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 large or two small aubergine (approx 350g in weight)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 stick celery, finely chopped
300g cherry tomatoes or ripe red tomatoes
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 dessertspoon capers, chopped
1 dessertspoon balsamic vinegar
1 dessertspoon light brown sugar
Pinch dried chilli (optional)
A few olives
Fresh basil and parsley
Salt & pepper

First brush the peppers with a little oil and put into a hot oven for about half an hour until well roasted. Put into a plastic bag and leave for ten minutes to loosen the skin.

Cut up the aubergine quite small (about 1cm pieces). Heat three tablespoons of the oil in a pan and fry the aubergine until golden and cooked through. (about 10 mins). Remove from the pan and add another tablespoon of oil. Fry the onion, garlic and celery until very soft and tinged golden and then return the aubergine to the pan. Season well and add the tomatoes, cut in half if they are cherry or skinned and chopped if they are vine tomatoes. Add the chopped capers, the vinegar and the sugar (be a bit sparing at first with these). Also the chilli. Skin and deseed the peppers in a sieve so that you can catch any juice. Chop up the flesh and add to the pan along with the saved juices. Add half the basil, chopped and simmer the whole thing for about forty minutes or until nicely reduced and rich. About half way through add some roughly chopped olives, if you are using them. Check the seasoning and stir through the rest of the basil and finely chopped parsley. Serve hot, warm or cold.

Very good on bruschetta or with a dollop of greek yoghurt and a sprinkling of mint.

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Lunch Starters and Salads Uncategorized Vegetarian

Broccoli Slaw with Buttermilk Dressing and Figs

Serves Four

1 small head of broccoli
1 large shallot
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (organic and raw if possible)
2 spring onions, chopped
3 soft dried figs, chopped
2 tablespoons mixed seeds, toasted (or a mix of pumpkin/sunflower)
2 – 3 tablespoons chopped parsley/chives/fennel/dill
20 almonds, toasted and chopped (or 50g toasted flaked almonds)
125ml buttermilk
2 teaspoons of runny honey
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Large pinch dried oregano or za’atar
Squeeze lemon juice, to taste
Sea salt & black pepper

Finely slice the shallot. Put into a bowl with the vinegar and leave while you slice your broccoli.

Slice the broccoli very finely on a mandolin or using a very sharp knife. Put into a large bowl and add the shallots and the spring onions.

Add the figs, parsley, mixed seeds and almonds to the bowl. Toss together.

Whisk the buttermilk with the olive oil, honey, the oregano or za’atar and a good amount of seasoning. Add to the bowl and toss well to coat. Add a little lemon juice, adjusting that and the seasoning to taste.

Leave to sit for half an hour to an hour if you can to allow the flavours to mingle. Use it up within a day or so.

Serve on its own or with fresh figs and goats cheese, drizzled with a little honey, lemon and olive oil. Crusty bread essential!

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Lunch Starters and Salads Uncategorized

Watercress, smoked bacon & herb tart with buttermilk

An update on the previous post for leek and goats cheese tart. Do try this version. It was rather delicious using buttermilk in the filling which went very well with the watercress.

Tart base (see previous post)

2 onions, sliced finely
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 clove garlic
Big handful fresh oregano, finely chopped
60g watercress
1 77g pack smoked diced pancetta
100ml double cream
175ml buttermilk
3 eggs (1 whole and 2 yolks)
25g cheese (parmesan, pecorino Romano, cheddar)
Spring onion to garnish

Pre heat the oven to 190 c
Sauté the onions and pancetta in the oil, grating in the clove of garlic and half the finely chopped oregano. Season well.
Put into a bowl and cool slightly before stirring in the watercress. Whisk the eggs, buttermilk and cream together. Season.
Stir the egg mixture into the filling mix, grate in half the cheese and add the rest of the oregano. Turn into the pastry case and top with the rest of the cheese.
Bake for 18 t0 20 minutes or until just set.
Leave to rest for a couple of minutes before serving. Delicious at room temperature as well.5BC8DC30-3FCA-4AA1-8E64-2EC46B143544

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Lunch Starters and Salads Uncategorized Vegetarian

LEEK, FENNEL, OREGANO & GOATS CHEESE TART with PARMESAN PASTRY

Funny how the word quiche conjures up something slightly dispiriting; replace with the ‘tart’ and suddenly my mouth is watering. Which is unfair, as the classic quiche Lorraine is a wonderful thing if properly made.
There are those that claim not to be able to make pastry and it is true that there are excellent ready made shortcrusts on the market which will work extremely well with this recipe. But actually, it is really incredibly easy to make your own and will always be that little bit better. Also there is the added advantage of being able to add herbs, cheese, mustard or even nuts. You can use wholemeal flour if that is your thing but the important thing is to keep everything cold and not overwork it. It also needs to be thinly rolled out and whilst I am lucky enough to have an aga, those who don’t really will need to blind bake their pastry case before adding the filling. It will otherwise remain fairly raw on the base and that is the last thing you want.
In order to keep my pastry as thin and under control as possible I roll it out between two sheets of clingfilm. It makes it so much easier to handle. If you are blind baking make sure you leave a little overhang of pastry all the way around the tin. If you don’t, the pastry may shrink in the oven and there won’t be space for your filling.
I always seem to have leeks and fennel in my fridge. They are two of my favourite vegetables and both are so versatile. They combine beautifully here in this classic tart, lovely together with the goats cheese and parmesan. I have a huge oregano bush in my garden and so use that a lot. I have learnt over the years that oregano has much more flavour dried, but you just have to use a lot of it if it is fresh; it really is delicious but any herbs would work well.
Always use a metal tin. It will conduct the heat through so much better and it also helps to have a baking tray hot in the oven ready to cook your tart on – that will ensure a properly cooked base.
We enjoy this with a fennel and grapefruit slaw.

Serves 4

Pastry

125g plain white flour
50g butter (cold, cut into small cubes)
35g parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon English mustard powder
1 small egg
Large pinch sea salt

Tart filling

1 walnut sized knob butter
1 tablespoon rapeseed/light olive oil
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
1 large leek
1 small bulb fennel
50g fresh oregano, finely chopped
75g soft goats cheese
100ml whole milk
100ml double cream
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
Sea salt and black pepper
20g parmesan cheese

First make the pastry. I always make mine by hand but you could use a food processor.

You will need a fluted loose bottomed tart tin (metal) 23cm wide and 2 1/2 cm deep.

Put the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Whisk well to break up any lumps. Add the butter and rub in using your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the parmesan and mustard and stir to combine. Whisk the egg and add about two thirds of it. Using a knife, cut and fold until you have clumps of pastry forming. You may need to use a little more of the egg, depending on how big it is. Keep any leftover egg as you will need it later. It will take a few minutes but this cutting with a knife will help keep the pastry light. Once it has combined (it must not be sticky) knead very briefly until it is a smooth ball. Put into a plastic bag and chill for at least half an hour in the fridge.
Make the filling. Chop the onion and finely slice the leek and the fennel, discarding any part that might be tough or fibrous. Heat the oil and butter and add the vegetables. Add half of the finely chopped oregano. Sauté very gently over a low heat until softened. Add the rest of the oregano. Season well and put into a bowl to cool.
While your filling is cooling, take your pastry out of the fridge. Roll it out thinly and line your tart tin. If you have an aga you can skip this step but if not, blind bake the pastry at 180c. You will have to line it with baking paper (easiest to scrumple this up first) and add baking beans. Prick all over with a fork. After ten minutes or so remove the baking beans and allow the base to turn a light golden. Allow to cool.
Whisk the egg, egg yolks, milk and cream together and add lots of seasoning. Grate in half the parmesan. Spread the cooked vegetables into the tart case. Add little chunks of the soft goats cheese. Pour over the cream/egg mixture and top with the rest of the parmesan and then bake in an oven at 190c for about minutes until just set and a light golden colour. It should still wobble but be cooked through.
Leave to sit for a few minutes before serving, or allow to cool and eat at room temperature.5CB9A75D-BC3F-4521-B5FB-64B776308A84

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Dinner Lunch Soups Starters and Salads Uncategorized

Lovage Soup

A friend brought round a lovely big bunch of lovage the other day. It is apparently very easy to grow and further investigation taught me that it has a wonderful flavour reminiscent of celery with a hint of parsley and aniseed thrown in for good measure. It does in fact make a good substitute for flat leaf parsley and I particularly like the tender, hollow stems which mean you can chop the whole lot up and use it all, especially if it is going in a casserole or soup. I use a kallo gel stock cube if I don’t have any fresh stock available and find it excellent, as is the marigold bouillon powder. That needs to be added with care though as it can be very salty.
I’m told that lovage makes a wonderful addition to a cheese soufflé but things have been rather more basic in our house this week. Some of the leaves were put to good use over a roast sweet potato and orange salad but the rest made a delicious soup and I have since ordered a plant so that I can make this again. Just right for a spring lunch and made a little be more special with a quenelle of creamed feta garnishing the centre, although that is certainly a very optional extra. Worth doing though, if you happen to have feta or goats cheese available.

Serves Four

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 walnut sized knob of butter
3 stalks celery, stripped of any tough strings and finely chopped
1 large or 2 small leeks (about 250g) chopped
1 medium potato (about 125g), peeled and chopped
125g washed lovage, stalks included
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
1 – 2 tablespoons double cream (don’t worry if none available)
Sea salt & black pepper

Melt the oil and butter together and add the onion and garlic. Sauté very gently until beginning to soften and add the celery. Continue cooking until soft and then add the leeks and potato. Stir around a bit and then add the chicken or vegetable stock.
Simmer for about fifteen minutes or until everything is very soft. Add the lovage and simmer for a couple more minutes before blending everything together until very smooth.
Add the double cream, if using and check the seasoning.

Creamed feta

4” piece feta cheese
2 tablespoons double cream
Black pepper

Mash everything together until very smooth and creamy. If you like you could add some chives. Check seasoning and use teaspoons to make quenelles of this to put on top of the soup.

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Dinner Lunch Quick and Easy Starters Quick and Easy Suppers Soups Starters and Salads Uncategorized

Spiced Root Vegetable Soup with a spicy foaming butter

Soup is very quick to make and very forgiving. Cooking can be a precise art but not here – a few hundred grams or millilitres here and there won’t make much difference and it is so easy to adjust the thickness, creaminess, flavour etc. The only absolute cast iron requirement is some sort of onion; at a pinch you could probably get away with using a leek or two but there really is no substitute for a common brown or white onion unless making a bright and fresh summer soup in which case a spring onion or shallot will be an excellent choice.

Otherwise, play with what vegetables you use to your hearts content. There are, of course the tried and tested recipes that have stood the test of time. But you really can’t go wrong with any combination; just stick to common sense – fennel seed and coconut milk for example is never going to work but use a little Thai curry paste in the base of a butternut squash soup and the coconut milk suddenly makes perfect sense.

A tablespoon or two of double cream can add a wonderful silkiness to soup but here I am using a spiced butter and it is just so delicious swirled on top the fragrant combination of root vegetables, fennel and cumin seed. A touch of luxury to an otherwise everyday staple but worth its weight in gold in terms of nutrition, taste and culinary contentment. This soup freezes well.

Serves 8

2 tablespoons rapeseed or light olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large stick celery, chopped
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1/2 butternut squash, chopped (no need to peel)
2 medium beetroot, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed
Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
2/3 good quality chicken or vegetable gel stock cubes
11/2 to 2 litres boiling water
Salt & black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, leek, garlic and celery. Cook until beginning to soften over a low heat. Add the fennel and cumin (chilli if using) and cook for a minute or two, then add the sweet potato, squash, beetroot and red pepper. Stir around for a bit and then add the stock to cover. You may not need it all. Season and then cover with a lid. Simmer for about thirty minutes until the vegetables are completely soft.

Blitz either in a liquidiser or use a hand held blender. Check seasoning and adjust thickness with any remaining stock. Serve with the spiced butter swirled over.

SPICED BUTTER

50g butter
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Cinnamon stick
Black pepper

Crush the cumin and coriander seed in a pestle and mortar. Melt the butter and add with the cinnamon stick, pepper and mustard seeds. Heat until foaming and drizzle over the soup.
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