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This is a great breakfast or lunch dish that you can make your own, changing the spices, vegetables and herbs to suit what you have in the larder. Shakshuka means ‘shaken up’ and is traditionally made with tomatoes and onion, gently spiced with cumin and harissa. You could use coriander, ground fennel seed, fresh chillies, chipotle paste, fresh ginger…..
Some recipes cut the onion and peppers quite finely but I rather like them a little chunky. Just make sure that they are properly cooked and softened. You certainly don’t want a slightly raw piece of onion first thing in the morning or at any time of day for that matter!d
I use tinned tomatoes here and I do recommmend that you avoid the chopped ones and buy the whole ones. They are much better quality and it is also worth forking out on a good quality brand – it is a matter of a few more pence and really does make a difference. Likewise with the tomato purée – I use an organic one (duchy originals) and the flavour is excellent.

Serves 2

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 red pepper (or mix with yellow & orange) roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 to 1 teaspoon harissa (or to taste)
400g tin good quality plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato purée
Sea salt and black pepper
Big handful spinach leaves
4 organic free range eggs
50g feta, crumbled
Small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
Sumac (optional)

Heat the oil in a shallow frying pan. Add the onion and peppers and cook gently for about ten to fifteen minutes until soft. Try not to colour them too much. Add the garlic, cumin, harissa and paprika and cook for a further two or so minutes.
Add the tinned tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Swill the tin out with a little more water and add that too (about 1/4 tin full). Add the tomato puree. Simmer, uncovered for a further five minutes. Season well.
Add the spinach to the pan and stir until wilted. Then make a well in one side of the pan and break in one of the eggs. Repeat with the other three, cover with a lid and cook very gently for about five minutes or until the eggs are just cooked, with set whites and soft yolks.
Sprinkle over the feta and coriander and serve. A sprinkling of sumac works well as extra seasoning if you have some. Some strained yoghurt (soft labneh) is good on this as well.
Serve in warmed bowls or straight out of the pan! Crusty bread and olive oil is all you need with this.

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Great as a meal in itself – healthy comfort food for winter. Use any root veg you feel like. Below is just a suggestion!

Serves 4 – 6

Olive Oil (for frying)
110g smoked bacon
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large leek, washed & sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 parsnips
1/2 a celeriac, chopped into small pieces
250 – 350g cavolo nero, savoy cabbage or curly kale, washed and shredded
1.8 litres chicken/vegetable stock
400g tin flageolet beans, drained and rinsed
250g chorizo sausage (more if you like it)
2 large handfuls chopped parsley
Bowl of freshly grated parmesan
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Cut the bacon into small pieces. Heat a little oil in a large pan and sauté the bacon until golden. Add the onions and cook until transparent. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes before adding all the vegetables except the kale/cabbage. Pour over the stock and simmer until all the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, slice up the chorizo and fry in a dry pan until golden on each side. Drain off the oil.

Add the kale and simmer for five minutes.

Add the beans and chorizo to the soup and check the seasoning. Heat through and serve in big bowls with a good sprinkling of parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

Hand the parmesan round separately. Serve with warm bread.

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Its a pretty miserable time of year – Spring seems rather far off and the Christmas celebrations are a distant memory, the only reminder being stray pine needles that seem to take up permanent residence under the sofa and the occasional discovery of a forgotten stocking filler.
Lent looms in February and so quite honestly I think we can all be forgiven for indulging in the occasional treat. A homely slice of cake comes under my mantra or ‘all things in moderation’ and as long as you don’t tuck into the whole thing in one go, or perhaps just save it for the weekend I look upon it as a medicinal necessity! Especially if like us you are spending a lot of time clearing garden debris, making bonfires and generally getting rid of the old to make way for the new that is presumably even as I type gearing itself up to pop up over the next few months.
This cake is perfect for this. It’s dense, delicious and keeps for ages in a tin. It can be used as a pudding, with perhaps a toffee sauce, ice cream or just some cream whipped up with orange rind and ginger syrup. Or it is just as good plain, with a dusting of icing sugar (that feels sensible and less indulgent) or with a generous spread of orange & ginger butter icing on top. I particularly like to use the organic, unsulphured dark apricots that don’t look nearly as exciting as the bright day-glo orange variety but my goodness, they certainly deliver on flavour and I think make for a far more interesting and sophisticated flavour. You can vary the date/apricot/ginger combination to suit what you have available.

Serves up to 10

Preheat oven to 170 fan

280g organic apricots
100g good quality stoned dates
3 balls stem ginger from a jar
300ml boiling water
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
90g softened unsalted butter
175g dark brown sugar (or light if you prefer, or a mix of the two)
Rind of one orange
3 large free range eggs
110g wholemeal plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
110g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch sea salt

Line a 9″/23cm springform tin with baking parchment.

Put the apricots and dates into a heatproof bowl with the bicarbonate of soda and pour the boiling water over. Leave to sit for five or ten minutes. Add the ginger and then blitz in a food processor until pureed but still lumpy.

Cream the butter with the sugar until pale and creamy and add the orange rind.
Add in the eggs, one by one. Whisk the flours, baking powder and spices together with a balloon whisk and then fold into the butter/egg mix along with a pinch of salt. Fold in the apricots, dates etc.

Turn into the prepared tin and bake for about fifty minutes until risen and a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Either eat as it is, enjoy with some ginger and orange cream (simply whisk some ginger syrup and orange rind into some double cream until lightly whipped) or spread this butter icing on top.

ORANGE & GINGER BUTTER ICING

100g unsalted softened butter
175g icing sugar, sifted
rind one orange
2 tablespoon ginger syrup from a jar

Whisk the butter well until really well whipped and creamy. Continue whisking in the icing sugar and really well blended and then add in the orange rind and ginger syrup. Spread over the top of the cake and finish with some finely chopped stem ginger, if liked.

This is a great way to use up some of that Stilton that lingers in the fridge after all the festivities. Celeriac, with its wonderful, subtlety celery flavour and velvet texture pairs wonderfully well with any blue cheese that you may need to use up. Sourdough croutons provide an indulgent crunch, somewhat reminiscent of cheese on toast and unfortunately with all of the guilt. But these grey days that seem so short and dark need a bit of a comfort blanket and a delicious soup is as good a place to start as any.
This will keep well in the freezer.

Serves four

1 tablespoon olive or rapeseed oil
Small knob of butter
1 onion
2 sticks celery
1 small potato, peeled and chopped
1 small celeriac, peeled and chopped
1 litre chicken or veg stock
Sea salt and black pepper
50g blue cheese (e.g Stilton or similar)

CROUTONS

100g sourdough bread, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons olive or rapeseed oil
40g Stilton, (or similar) grated
Sea salt and pepper
Fresh thyme leaves (optional)

Start the soup. Cut the opinion finely and chop the celery. Heat the oil and butter in a pan and add the onion and celery. Sweat gently for a few minutes to soften. Add the potato and celeriac and stir to coat well with the rest of the veg. Cook for a minute or two and then add the hot stock. It should just cover the vegetables, reserve the rest for later. Sinner for about twenty minutes until everything is very soft.

Heat the oven to 200c. Toss the bread cubes with the oil and grate over 30g of the Stilton. Mx well and spread out onto a baking tray. Sprinkle with fresh thyme if using. Bake for about ten minutes until golden and then grate over the remaining cheese. Toss again and return to the oven for another two or three minutes.

Blend the soup with a hand held blender or in a liquidiser and add the crumbled cheese. Blend again until smooth. Adjust the thickness of your soup with the remaining stock and season well.

Heat through and serve with the croutons and a little more fresh thyme leaves. Extra cheese crumbled over the top of the soup is an extra indulgence and rather good.

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Sometimes you want some delicious and healthy but without having to spend hours in the kitchen. I often use those lovely, flavoursome salmon fillets that have been lightly smoked, adding another layer of interest to a weekday favourite. Always buy the best salmon you can afford – organic if possible but at the very least from a quality supplier. Check the skin has been properly scaled. Many supermarkets these days don’t bother to scale their fish which I find deeply irritating – no one wants a mouthful of scales and it is really very easy to do, if a little messy! The pesky little things seem to fly all over the place but if you want to eat the skin I do feel that it must be scale free.
This recipe involves roasting the veg in a spiced oil and anything will work well, particularly root vegetables and cauliflower. I love beetroot with this for the colour but you could use potato, celeriac, squash, sweet potato, carrots, cauliflower etc. A little cooking spinach wilted in at the end adds colour and an ironey burst of green leaf but is not essential. Make your tahini dressing how you like it – maybe more or less yoghurt depending on how much you live sesame (a lot, in my case).

For Two

2 lightly smoked salmon fillets
1 large or 2 small beetroot
Six florets cauliflower
3 medium carrot
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil plus a little extra for the salmon
Spinach (optional) a handful
Sea salt & black pepper
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon natural yoghurt (I use yeo valley green)
1 lemon

Pre heat the oven to 200c

Make the dressing. Combine the tahini, yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add about two tablespoons of cold water and whisk well together. Season. It should be about the consistency of double cream.

Grind the fennel and cumin in a pestle and mortar. Put all the vegetables that you have chopped into even pieces, about 2cm diameter into a roasting pan. Sprinkle with the ground spices and the turmeric. Add one tablespoon of the oil and toss to coat. Season well and then roast in the hot oven for about twenty minutes, tossing occasionally until very tender.

Take a frying pan that can go in the oven and drizzle with a little rapeseed oil. Heat gently and then season the salmon fillets. Put skin side down in the pan and cook for about three minutes, without moving the fish. Put the pan in the oven for a further two minutes and then remove an leave to sit in the pan while you take the vegetables out.

Stir a handful of spinach through the hot vegetables. Divide between two plates an sit the salmon on top, skin side up. Drizzle the tahini dressing around and serve.

Serves eight

500ml double cream
1 tin condensed milk
Stem ginger preserve
Stem ginger in syrup

Whip the cream until thick but not too stiff. Whisk in about 200g of the condensed milk. Stir in three tablespoons of the ginger preserve. Chop up three balls of stem ginger and add these along with some of the syrup to taste.

Grate in the rind of a lime and add the juice of half.

Churn in an ice cream machine or put straight into a tun and put in the freezer, whisking occasionally until frozen.

Delicious with the spiced apple cake.

Serves Eight

3 cooking apples
2 lemons
50g dark brown soft sugar
150g light muscovado sugar
150g softened butter
2 large eggs
85g plain flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 heaped teaspoon mixed spice
100g ground almonds
30g butter
25g dark brown sugar
50g flaked almonds

Pre heat oven to 180c

Line a 23cm springform tin with baking parchment.

Peel, core and chop the apples. Put into an oven proof dish,grate over the zest of one lemon and add the juice of two. Sprinkle over 50g of dark brown sugar and cover with baking parchment. Bake for 20 minutes until the fruit is soft. Leave to cool.

Cream the butter with the light brown sugar. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time until well mixed in. Whisk the flour and baking powder together with the mixed spice and ground almonds. Fold into the butter mix and then lightly mix in the apple.

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for thirty minutes. Five minutes before this time is up melt the 30g butter with the 25g dark brown sugar and mix in the flaked almonds. Spread over the top of the cake and bake for a further fifteen to twenty minutes until springy to the touch. Cool in the tin or serve warm, but not hot.

Ginger ice cream is good with this or double cream.

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It’s quite handy to have the odd recipe up your sleeve that looks a lot more complicated than it actually is. This is just one of those and has the added advantage of being made with filo pastry, always handy to have in the freezer and is one the few ingredients that you can actually defrost and re-freeze without dire consequences.

I love this pea and pumpkin seed pesto and it is what makes this tart, arguably a loose version of a spanakopita rather special. Frozen peas are perfect for this and I use a supermarket own petit pois which are lovely and tender without breaking the bank. The pesto provides a soft and highly flavoursome blanket on which to stack your medley of veg and tangy upper layer of sharp feta cheese. A great lunch dish and one that you could easily make the day before and just pop into the oven when you are ready. I’m using a mix of leeks, fennel, chard and spinach here but you could layer up roasted butternut and sweet potato as well. Die hard meat eaters could add in some left over roast chicken.

SERVES FOUR

for the pesto:

250g frozen petit pois peas
10g basil leaves
5g fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil
1 – 2 teaspoons sea salt
Black pepper
25g parmesan cheese, finely grated
25g toasted pumpkin seeds
Squeeze of lemon juice

Cook the peas in boiling salted water, drain and refresh under cold running water.

Put the well drained peas into a food processor and add the herbs, oil and one teaspoon of sea salt. Blitz until blended and then add the parmesan and pumpkin seeds with a good grinding of black pepper. Check the seasoning and add more salt if you think it needs it.

FOR THE TART

The pesto
2 large leeks, sliced finely into half moons
1 small bulb fennel or 1/2 large, core removed and finely sliced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large handful of fresh spinach
4 stalks and leaves of swiss chard, sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil,
Sea salt and black pepper
1 pack filo pastry
25g butter, melted
125g feta cheese, chopped
Sumac

One fluted tin, about 22cm diameter and 3cm deep.

Wilt the spinach and squeeze out any excess water. Put the leeks, garlic and fennel into a saucepan with the oil and cook until tender. Add the chard and cook for a few more minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the chives and spinach and stir together.

Take a sheet of filo and brush all over with the butter. Use to line the tin, letting the sides of the filo hang over the sides. Do the same with a second sheet and then spread your pesto over the base. Top with the vegetables and then scatter the feta over the top. Fold the filo over to start to cover the top of the pie and brush with more butter. Take a final sheet of pastry and cut into four. Brush each piece with butter and the scrumple each up and sit on top of the pie, covering the centre. Give it all a final brush with any remaining butter, dust the whole thing with sumac and bake for about half an hour until golden brown all over. Serve hot or warm with a green salad and crusty bread.

This is just the most delicious, rich, fragrant fish stew imaginable. It takes a bit of effort, especially if you make your own stock but it really is worth it and once you sit down to enjoy your bowlful of piscatorial goodness all your hard labour will be forgotten.
Just adding even a few prawn shells will make a difference to this so it is worth using what bits of shellfish you can, even if you can’t get hold of the crab and it does make flaming the Pernod (essential!) a lot easier. If you haven’t that many crustacean shells then buy some ready made shellfish stock to add along with the fish stock. As long as you keep roughly to about 800ml of liquid.
Crusty bread and a good bottle of wine are all you will need with this; perhaps just a green salad to follow but I find the soup alone is enough

Serves Eight

FOR THE SHELLFISH REDUCTION

Olive oil
A few crab bodies (underside)
A few prawns/any white fish bones or heads you have
One onion or two shallots
One bulb fennel or one leek
Piece of celeriac if you have it
400g passata
Handful parsley stalks
Two celery stalks
Pinch saffron
A couple of anchovy fillets
Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
Two bay leaves
200ml pernod
800ml fresh fish stock or water
Two tablespoons Arborio rice
Sea salt & black pepper

Four large tomatoes, halved and roasted
Two shallots, finely chopped
Two large cloves garlic, crushed
Fresh thyme
Olive oil
Pinch saffron
250ml white wine
Mixture of white fish eg gurnard, pollock, cod, bream, monkfish, sea bass
About 40 mussels
About 24 clams
Eight large raw prawns
Handful finely chopped fresh parsley

First make your reduction. Saute the onion, saffron and chilli with all the crab, prawns and any fish bones you have. It doesn’t matter if it singes a bit. Add the vegetables and anchovy and then pour over the pernod. Set alight and once the flame has gone simmer for a couple of minutes before adding the bayleaves and stock. Add the rice and the passata and leave to simmer gently for about half an hour. Pass through a conical sieve and press to get all the juices through. Season to taste and set aside.

Using the pan in which you will be serving your stew, heat a couple of tablespoons or so of olive oil. Gently cook the shallot, adding the garlic after a few minutes. Add the chopped, roasted tomatoes and a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme and then pour over the wine. Reduce the wine until almost no liquid is left in the pan. Add the reserved reduction and simmer for a few minutes. Check the seasoning. Just before you are ready to serve, bring the pan up to a simmer and add all the fish and seafood. Cover and simmer very gently (hardly bubbling) until the mussels and clams have opened and the fish is cooked through.

Serve in shallow bowls scattered with parsley with toasted ciabatta or sourdough spread with a generous helping of aioli.

AIOLI

2 – 4 cloves garlic
Good pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
Squeeze lemon juice
300ml sunflower oil
75ml extra virgin olive oil
White wine vinegar

Mash the garlic to a puree with the salt. Add in the egg yolks and a squeeze of lemon and then gradually add the oil, whisking all the time until you have a thick mayonnaise. Check seasoning and adjust with salt, pepper and a little lemon juice or white wine vinegar.

If very thick you can add a little boiling water.
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Much as we love a salad the humble lettuce leaf occasionally deserves a change and this easy soup, as delicious hot as it is cold is a great way to use salad leaves and cucumber. A refreshingly iced soup can be very welcome on a hot day and has the advantage of being easily freezable if you don’t want to use it straight away, something that cannot be said of the average salad so a very useful recipe to have if faced with rows of bolting lettuce leaves and in our case, enthusiastic cucumbers.

If you happen to have some nasturtiums growing or see some at a farmers market, pop some of the leaves into the soup and use a flower as a pretty garnish. They are lovely, fantastically easy to grow; the leaves offering a wonderful peppery flavour, while the flowers add a certain style to your salad bowl or as here make a pretty garnish.

I love this with some of that wonderfully mild French goats cheese whipped up with lemon and chives. You can use it as a garnish for the soup or serve separately on toasted sourdough. Either way, it works so well with the delicate soup and makes it a bit more substantial.

This recipe serve four but add and subtract according to what you have available – fennel leaves, courgette, spinach, peas etc will all work well. Mint is surely the ubiquitous summer herb and I use it in everything I possible can during the warmer months. There are so many interesting varieties available to us now – ginger mint is a current favourite that makes a gorgeous restorative tea and I have just planted basil mint which I think is going to be a very promising addition to the kitchen garden.

Spinach is not essential but certainly helps with the colour.

Serves Four

2 medium shallots, finely chopped
1 stick celery (not essential!), finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 generous tablespoon olive or rapeseed oil
750ml vegetable stock (I use the non vegan marigold, green pot)
2 or 3 new potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 whole cucumber, chopped with skin
Big double handful of mixed green lettuce/spinach leaves
Handful of nasturtium leaves (optional)
Big handful of chopped garden mint
Four heaped tablespoons natural yoghurt (always green Yeo valley for me!)
Sea salt and black pepper
Lemon, rind and juice
1 tub French goats cheese
Handful of chopped chives
Four nasturtium flowers
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the shallot, garlic and celery if using. Sauté gently until softened but not brown. Add the potato and straight away 600ml of the stock. Bring up to a simmer and cook unail the potatoes are soft.

Add the cucumber, simmer for two or so minutes and then add the lettuce, spinach, herbs etc. Season well.

Allow to cool a bit and then whizz with a stick blender or in a liquidiser. Add more stock until the co sister is of a thin cream. When most of the heat has gone whisk in the yogurt and lemon juice to taste. Blitz again and if you feel it needs more yoghurt you could add that now.

Put the soup into a fridge to chill for a few hours.

When ready to serve, put the goats cheese into a,bowl and add the rind of the lemon and chopped chives. Whip together with a small whisk until smooth. Season.

Serve the soup in chilled bowls with a quenelle of goats cheese in the centre, garnish with a nasturtium flower and drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil.

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