#12Days Get ahead with the veg! Day 2

photo (1)I’m offering some suggestions for get-ahead festive veg. You know what it’s like…… opening presents takes an age and you are planning on eating about 3.   Will they please hurry up with thenunwrapping? My advice is to get ahead and do your veg tomorrow. Then on Christmas Day, quaff back the fizz and relax!

Roast potatoes. My tips.

  • Peel and cut into big chunks. Plunge into boiling water for 3 minutes,  drain. Chuck them about a bit in the colander. Heat fat in a big roasting tray – my preference is duck fat or coconut oil – guaranteed for real crispness – then throw in the potatoes, turn them round in the fat. Put back into the oven  for 30 minutes till they are almost done and starting to go crispy. Then take them out. Either leave,  in a cool place, covered with a clean cloth,  and finish off the next day  in the same pan for 20 minutes, or cool then down and freeze, and cook from frozen for 30 minutes.
  • This method works for roast parsnip, celeriac, any root vegetable in fact
  • If you like you can add slices of onion and chunks of garlic  and black pepper for the second roasting.

Sprouts

God, do I really have to mention sprouts with chestnuts,  or sprouts with lardons? No! I will not!

  • Cut the sprouts in half and stir fry in a wok with some olive oil until slightly charred (you can add chestnuts if you like – I use Merchant Gourmet, vacuum packed
  • This is Hetty’s method. Prepare your sprouts in your usual way, boil them in salted water until just done and drain well. Then mash them with a potato masher till broken up but not mushy.  You will need to use your judgement now because you need to return them to the pan with a little olive oil, a squeeze of garlic, some black pepper, a good grind of nutmeg, and enough double cream to bind it together. Serve in a piping hot dish.

Carrots

  • wash your carrots and if they are big, cut in half lengthways and again so you have quarters. Butter a baking dish, add the carrots, season with salt and black pepper and the juice of one lemon plus a flat dessert spoon of soft brown sugar. Cover with foil and bake on the bottom shelf for about an hour. You could do this the day before then reheat them.

Parsnips

  • Peel your parsnips, plunge into boiling water for two minutes then drain them. Heat some oil in a roasting tray. Add a dessert spoon of cumin seed. Put the parsnips in the pan, drizzle honey over the top then roast for 45 minutes. Or roast for 15 minutes the day before and put back in the oven for 20 on the day

Dauphinoise potatoes

  • probably the easiest potato dish dish in the world, with the exception of jacket potato!
  • use your food processor to slice your peeled potatoes into thin slices (To serve 10 you will need 2kg)
  • pour 1litre full cream milk and 500ml double cream into a large saucepan and add two crushed cloves of garlic and some salt. Bring to a medium heat then add the sliced potatoes and bring almost to the boil.
  • Generously butter a large shallow dish then pour in the milk and potatoes.  Double wrap with foil and cook in the oven at 175C for about 90 minutes. Remove the foil for the last half hour.  The potatoes will have absorbed all the liquid.  At this stage you can either serve immediately or, cook the day before you need it and reheat the next day.

Cabbage

  • Wash and thinly  slice dark green cabbage then drain. Quickly cook the greens in a scant amount of water until they are slightly underdone, then drain and refresh with cold water, to keep them bright green.  In a wide shallow pan, heat olive oil and a little garlic. Add the greens, stirring round quickly, then add chopped almonds (not flaked almonds, use whole almonds which you can break up by placing in a plastic bag then hammering with a rolling pin!  Stir the greens around in the hot oil till reheated, then serve.

Cauliflower

Put two slices of stale bread into the food processor with a couple of green spring onion tops. Pulse. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with a grind of black pepper and a grating of lemon zest.

Cook your cauliflower in the usual way until it is just cooked. Drain it well then return to a buttered dish.  Put a little,oil in a wide pan and heatbit, then add the breadcrumb mixture, stir round to brown it slightly then sprinkle over the cauliflower.

i could go on and on (against my nature, surely?!). But this should give you some non standard options, many of which you can do tomorrow to give you more present opening time on Christmas Day!  Good grief, as I writemImrealise it is only 30 minutes to Christmas Eve.  One more posting on #12Days. Thanks for all your feedback.

#12Days Spinach, pine nut and sweet potato b’stilla Day 10

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In Morocco b’stilla is just ‘pie’.  You can fill it with whatever you like, and I have made a chicken and a pheasant version. But this one is for vegans and vegetarians.  It’s one of those dishes that people eat, look quizzical and ask “oo, what’s in it”?  It’s flavoured with a little cinnamon and spices. It’s rich and the flavour goes on and on. It looks impressive too. Especially if you drift just a little icing sugar over it.  Yes! It is a classic combination of North African flavours that include sweet and savoury. The proportions are entirely up to you, however. This recipe feeds 8. Just make two if you have more guests!

First the filling.  Sweat a large chopped onion with three chopped garlic cloves, a small de-seeded red or green chilli, a grated thumb of fresh ginger. Then add a large peeled and chopped sweet potato and some chopped carrot.  Sweat these till they are soft too.  Add a good grating of nutmeg and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, four large deseeded and chopped tomatoes, salt and black pepper. Stir these in and sweat for a further 10 minutes. Add a little more oil if necessary.  Now you have a choice.  If you have chard in the garden or can lay your hands on some, then chop about 5 large leaves and stalks and lay on top of the mixture in the pan. Alternatively you can use spinach or kale or broccoli. Add about 30ml water put the lid on the pan and cook again for 5 minutes to just cook the greens. Check the seasoning again.  Add a good helping of chopped flatleaf parsley and coriander leaf. At this point you can, if you wish, add about 100g pine nuts and 100g Lexia raisins if you wish.

Now, take a packet of Filo pastry you purchased earlier.  Either use individual tins (see picture) or a large springform cake tin, or just a baking tray on which you can make a parcel. Grease and shake some coarse semolina around the tins. Regular readers of this blog will know that semolina is my favourite ingredient when it comes to greasing and lining tins. It adds a bit of crunch and is better than dusting with flour in my opinion.

Lay squares of overlapping filo over the tins with lots of pastry hanging over the edge. Grease the filo sheets with a little oil as you go. Rotate the tin clockwise with every sheet of filo so the points of the pastry are in different places. Add the filling and push to the edges, sift a little icing sugar over the filling, then fold the pastry sheets over the top, scrunching them up a bit in a haphazard sort of way.  Brush with oil and bake in the oven at 190C for about 35 minutes.  If you are making a big pie, you can do this on a lined baking tray. Use the same method re the pastry except use whole sheets. Pile all the filling in the middle, flatten it out, then fold the pastry over the top. This one will take about 50 minutes to cook. Lining the tray makes it a) stop sticking and b) you can drag the whole thing off the baking tray and onto a flat plate!

If you like the idea of a sweet edge then very lightly dust with icing sugar when ready to serve.  You could even, if you’re feeling fancy, scorch lines on the top with a hot skewer. Or not, if you have a life!

Vegetarian sausage anyone?

Brown rice, chestnut and tofu sausages
Brown rice, chestnut and tofu sausages

Yesterday saw the inaugural trial of the sausage-maker attachment for the Kenwood mixer.

Today, we pottered around North Suffolk looking for a house – but I was seriously distracted. How likely was it that the vegan sausage casings would be delivered today? Not likely, I thought. I was wrong! Alex the postman (who sometimes brings me rabbit, partridge and pheasant in the back of the post van) was crowned my champion of the day.

Whilst David was still unpacking the campervan, I was already chopping. I had been mulling over the recipe for his vegetarian sausages in my head all day. By the time you read this we will have already eaten them and David pronounced them superb. I agree.

He always misses out (I think, being a confirmed carnivore) when we have a ‘hit the top of the oven’ toad-in-the-hole or a sausage casserole, simply because he is a vegetarian. I promised I would make him sausages worth eating if he bought me a sausage-maker attachment for my Kenwood. He did. And today was the day.

For six sausages I used the following:

Two spring onions, a medium sized wedge off the side of a red pepper, both finely chopped. A small handful of mixed garden herbs – parsley, sage and thyme today chopped small. Two finely chopped cloves of black garlic (thank you Fran). Add about 15ml rapeseed oil to a pan and heat it gently – then add the cooked ingredients and fry very slowly – we are aiming for soft onion and pepper here, not burned.

Turn the ingredients into a scrupulously clean bowl. Add five heaped tablespoons of cooked brown rice (ours was well refrigerated after last night’s curry), six to eight vacuum-packed chestnuts, 120g firm tofu and 100g Tartuffi (soy cream cheese). Then add about a tablespoon of brown miso paste, about a teaspoon of ground white pepper, a quarter of a teaspoon of cayenne powder, one teaspoon of whole caraway seed and half a teaspoon of roughly ground fennel seed. You should not need more salt as the miso is salty – but taste the mixture anyway, and either add more miso or seasalt if you think you need it. I find with many foods, especially those containing rice, that it pays to slightly ‘over season’ as the flavour frequently mellows when cooked.

Wash your hands, or don plastic gloves. Now do a lot of squidging to combine all the ingredients and to break the chestnuts into small pieces. The mixture will make satisfyingly squelching noises! Taste again. I found mine needed just a little more miso. Now you are ready to fill the casings.

Yesterday I learned a lot during my first attempt using the sausage maker……..

make sure the sausage prong thing is wet – it makes it easier to apply the casing
dont over-fill the casing or it will pop
don’t over-estimate how much mixture there is in the bowl
practice first
better to make four or five at a time to start with, rather than pretend you are a Master Butcher and fight with a string of 20. It could get ugly
Leave long tails at each end of the sausage tube when filled, to allow for knotting
look up how to tie knots in sausages before you have them bulging and expectant in the casing
have kitchen towel available to mop up as the mixture squirts out of both ends when you haven’t allowed sufficiently long ‘ends’
four arms and four hands are helpful – as is a calm demeanour
if you have someone helping you, make sure it is someone who loves you
don’t drink before trying this, It gets messy!
Sadly most of that learning went out of the window today as – is my usual style – I decided to go off-piste and use a piping bag with a ginormous nozzle instead of the sausage-maker, due to the small volume of mixture I’d made. So I requested help from David – who had by then emptied the campervan and downed a couple of glasses of wine.

He expertly clamped the end of the tube of vegan casing onto the nozzle and having transferred the mixture from the bowl into the piping bag, I squeezed hard. In fact it was easy peasy and we soon had a tube of sausage. This mixture made six large sausages.

Once made and tied, I suggest you put them in the fridge for an hour to firm up. Then either baste with a little oil and grill, or fry gently, turning the sausages regularly for an even brown. Make sure they are piping hot as you should be careful when re-heating rice. If you intend to use rice made on the day then make sure it is cooled before you use it. If you are using rice from a previous meal ensure that you chill it quickly after use as reheated rice is a common cause of upset tummies unless it is piping hot).

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It seems to me after this first attempt at vegetarian sausages, that the trick is to use sufficient oil to keep the sausage moist inside the casing, and that using the tofu and Tartuffi certainly helped the mixture to bind, and it increases the nutritional value of course. I’m going to experiment again tomorrow using chick peas, buckwheat and wasabi. Watch this space!

Tonight’s sausages were served with new potatoes and onion gravy with buttery greens. They had a great flavour, the caraway and fennel came through nicely and I really liked the rough ‘sausage-meat’ texture. Next stop toad-in-the-hole.

Spiralling out of control

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I have a thing about gadgets. The problem with gadgets is that they are often strangely shaped ( think potato ricer; hand mixer; breadmaker; chinois sieve) and therefore a constant irritation in cupboards that are never meant to contain them. But I’d always hankered after a Spiraliser. Yes I know they are new-fangled and ‘always’ is probably not the correct word. But since I first saw one I wanted one.

That gremlin inner-voice said ‘Why?’ You will use it once; it’s another bit of clutter; charity-shop fodder in 12 months’ time etc etc.  But I wanted one.

I have a thing about time. I feel compelled to fill it.  I have been feeling self-righteous about going part-time (giving myself permission to work less)  – but at the moment ‘spare’ time seems in short supply because I am filling that time with the list of things that must be done. Like buy a Spiraliser. And then play around with it for a while.

So what is it?  It has a prongy thing and a clamp and a handle and three inter-changeable blades. You clamp a vegetable in its vice-like grip and it makes twirly vegetables – wide or narrow. I tried to  make crisps with it today but failed. Inevitably I sliced my finger on the blade. There is blood on this keyboard. And the mouse. David provided the elastoplast – he recognises the characteristic whimper that accompanies dripping blood. One day, you must remind me to tell you the story of when my parents in law followed the trail of blood through the house to find me slumped on the toilet seat looking wan.

Dinner a deux:

Spiraliser. And last night’s dinner…………….

I was more successful at  Spiralising itsy spaghetti-like strips of courgette and carrot yesterday evening, than the sweet potato crisps this afternoon.

Make courgetti and carrotetti with the Spiraliser with two medium sized courgettes and a small to medium carrot.

Cook about 100g linguini to al dente and keep about 75ml of the cooking liquid after you’ve drained it, rinse the linguini in cold water and set aside in the colander, rubbing a little olive oil through to stop it sticking.

In a wide, shallow pan gently fry one finely chopped onion, 6 anchovies straight from the tin. When the onions are soft add four large tomatoes each one cut into 8 (leave the skins on) and the tops of a bunch of asparagus.  Add a large knob of butter and a large clove of garlic grated on a Microplane.  Scatter with a little seasalt, a large grind of black pepper and a dessert-spoon of finely chopped parsley, rosemary and thyme and a good grating of lemon rind (by which I mean about half a lemon’s worth of rind – again, the Microplane is good for this).

Pour in the 75ml of cooking liquor and cook gently with the lid of for a further five minutes. Then add the cooked pasta and then the courgetti and carrotetti on top, spreading them evenly across the pan.  Add a little olive oil then put the lid back on the pan. Keep the heat on medium and cook for a futher five minutes.  The pasta will have warmed through and the courgetti and carrotetti will be soft and there will be some buttery anchovy juice still left in the bottom of the pan.

Grate some parmesan.  Lift the lid and stir the contents of your pan.  Serve into wide bowls and sprinkle with parmesan.  Delicious. I love my Spiraliser!

Sweet potato and spinach Bastilla

IMG_2597In a rash moment a few months ago, I said we would host two popup supper clubs for the charity Sistema in Norwich. These little Bastilla (pies) were a hit and are very easy to make. They were part of the North African six course taster menu. Although a savoury dish, traditionally they would be served dusted with icing sugar seared  with a red-hot skewer searing a criss-cross pattern on top.

To make six bastilla (or one big one, as I did tonight) peel and chop two or three sweet potatoes (about medium sized) – chunks about 1.5cm – and  finely chop an onion, some garlic and half a red chilli de-seeded. Take four or five fresh tomatoes, cut in quarters and then each quarter in half again.  Beat two medium sized eggs in a small bowl.

In a shallow and wide pan, gently sweat the onion, garlic and chilli in about 30ml Norfolk rapeseed oil or olive oil until soft, turn up the heat and add the potatoes. Swirl around a bit (the contents of the pan I mean, I am not expecting you to dance!) then add two teaspoons of ground cinnamon and two teaspoons of ground turmeric, a heavy pinch of salt and ground black pepper, four ground juniper berries and four ground cloves and a scant 50ml water.  Add the tomatoes and swirl again, clamp on the lid till the steam comes out then turn down the heat.  The aim here is to cook the potatoes mostly by steam, keeping the mixture relatively ‘dry’.  After about 10 minutes, test the potato which should be slightly firm, but done, and add 250g leaf spinach. Clamp on the lid again and cook for a further 5 minutes until the spinach has wilted, but not released its water.

When you lift the lid you will be hit with a wonderful warm, aromatic waft of spice and the vegetables will be glistening in an oily/tomato emulsion with just a small amount of juice. This is exactly right.  Check the seasoning then add the beaten egg and stir it through the mixture, on the heat.  Yes, it’s a bit like Foo-Yung!  At this stage I would normally transfer the mixture onto a cold plate to help it cool down. Once cold you could put in the fridge and finish the pie the next day if you wish.  However if you are moving onto the next stage (making the pie right now), you must ensure that the mixture is cold before it hits the Filo pastry.

Now comes the fun bit.  You can either make little individual pies (as illustrated), or one big pie (illustrated below – or it will be when the internet downloads it).  If you are making individual pies, grease little pie tins with a bit of oil and rub around with kitchen towel, then add coarse semolina or polenta (as you would with butter and flour if you were making a cake or a flan) and shake off the excess.  To be failsafe, cut discs of baking parchment and put in the bottom of the tins.  Now take Filo pastry out of its packaging and lay it out horizontally on a clean damp teacloth.  Open it out and cut the pile of Filo vertically, through the centre of the rectangle so you now have two square piles of Filo.  Then cut each square pile into four, horizontally and vertically, so you have eight squares.  Cover with a clean damp teacloth.

Now all you do is layer the filo, fanning it round the tin and over the edges, and brushing each layer with a little melted butter.  When your tin is covered, add a generous heap of the potato and spinach filling, press it into the sides so there are no gaps, then fold the Filo over the top, then take another couple of squares and lay them over the top and tuck the edges in and brush with butter.  It  doesn’t matter if it looks creased.  It all sounds a bit of a faff but it is easy-peasy, honestly!

Whilst you are doing this, you should have your oven on at about 200C fan and a baking tray in the hot oven.  Once you have made your pies, put the little tins on the hot baking tray and cook in the centre of the oven for about 20-25 minutes.  They are done when the top is golden brown and you hear sizzling.  When you take them out of the oven, wait five minutes then run a sharp knife round the inside of the tin to release the sides, lift the tin and invert onto your other hand (protected by a clean tea-towel), remove the disk or parchment paper, then flip back onto the plate.  Voila!

If you want to make one big pie, put your baking tray in the oven as before, whilst the oven is heating.  Leave the Filo sheets as they are and layer some oiled Filo on a piece of baking parchment a bit bigger than your baking tray, making sure there is plenty of overhang because you are going to fold it back over the top of the filling,  then add all of the cold filling and fold the pastry back over the top of the pie. It doesn’t need to be neat.  Moisten between the pastry layers (on top) with some olive or rapeseed oil or melted butter.  Cover with another couple of sheets of filo – the top will look like a crumpled napkin.  Brush with oil or butter, then slide the baking parchment off the edge of the work surface and onto the hot baking tray.  Cook at 200C fan for between 25 and 30 minutes.

Leave for 10 minutes, just so it settles, then use the baking parchment to help slide  it off the baking sheet onto a serving plate.    It’s a humdinger, that’s for sure. A real crowd pleaser.

 

 

 

 

 

Broad bean bash

Well you either love ’em or you hate ’em.  I love ’em.  Broad beans.

Early pickings in the spring – steamed in their pods till just tender. Two minutes will do.

Or if you have some time on your hands – maybe The Archers Omnibus on Sunday morning or World Music on Radio 3 in the afternoon – remove from the pod and blanche in boiling water for just a minute. Then refresh with very cold water. After 5 minutes, remove all the husks (the chooks will love them).  At this stage you can  cover and use later in the day to stir into a rich risotto base, enlivened with Pernod, chopped flatleaf parsley and mint and then fold in a good handful of grated parmesan and a knob of butter to make it glisten.  Risotto should be loose, with some liquid still visible. In our house it is eaten with a spoon and a slurp.

Alternatively, treat the beans in the same way as when you prepared for the risotto – blanche and de-husk – but instead make the most gorgeous green bean hummus.  First eaten at Jan’s house with toasted ciabatta years ago it was a never to be forgotten experience.  Have ready plenty of de-husked beans, then slug some good olive oil in a pan and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic (easiest way to mush up the garlic is to use a Microplane – but watch your fingers), add the beans, season with seasalt and black pepper then take off the heat and mash with a fork. You are looking for a combination of soft mush but with chunks of bean.  There’s something about mint and broad beans that is a marriage made in heaven.  Throw in some chopped mint and a squeeze of lemon to keep it fresh.  Toast some ciabatta or sourdough and pile on a plate. Put the dish of bean-hummus in the middle of the table and dig in – serving extra lemon on the side and maybe – just maybe – some chilli oil.

A tiny concession to the carnivores here………..  quickly cook some chopped Chorizo. When I’ve not been able to stock up at Brindisa, I get mine from The Chilli Company in Mendlesham.  Theirs is a big hearty chunky chorizo with plenty of paprika and a slight acid edge. Its really robust. Anyway. I digress.  Chop the chorizo into chunks and throw into a hot pan with olive oil and garlic.  Turn the chorizo round in the pan till it catches, then throw in a couple of finely chopped tomatoes. Stand back, it will sizzle!  When the juice of the tomatoes hits the oil and the chorizo it makes a gorgeous juice. Add small broad beans and cook for two minutes.  Serve with a large glass of red, chunks of bread to mop up the juice, maybe a chunk of Manchego.  Even better with good friends and hot sunshine. Salud!

Four sheep and a woodburning oven

We arrived late at our Casita way up in the Sierra de Tramantana between Soller and Deia.  Hell’s teeth the gradient getting up  to the house was steep – strong smell of burning clutch which lasted about 10 days.

First we were greeted by three ewes and a ram, one with a bell. Their favourite trick was to run up and down the outside stairs at about 3am. When I was feeling generous I would smile and imagine the ram, helpless to resist the pull of lady-sheep pheronomes. Not to mention the inability to quell his rampant instincts.  Feeling less generous at 3am, I would imagine they were charging up and down those stairs like pantomime sheep, deliberately disturbing my peace.  Then I dreamed of little lamb chops, or a leg of lamb on a spit, gently dropping its rich juices into the fire.

We were also greeted by two gas rings (one didn’t work). And one woodburning oven in a pretty small room (it was between 28 and 34C outside). Of course a lesser mortal would have screeched and demanded to be taken out to dinner every night.  As for me, I felt excited, challenged and my imagination was already running riot.  That lamb! Aubergine. Fish. Flatbread. One pot dishes. Almonds and pears. Figs. Prawns.

David took charge of the firing-up. I took claimed custody of the woodburner, and mine it remained for the next two weeks. We experimented and it really was ok.  Had to be more conscious of timing. Would I put a meal  in on the rising heat or the falling heat? And what dish should I use?  All of a sudden terracotta came into its own. Especially those wide terracotta dishes with convex bases – which of course sat neatly on the gas ring and then on a circular terracotta ring in the oven itself.  I’ve had many a disaster cooking in these dishes at home, stupidly not using a diffuser. Stupidly not soaking them for 24 hours in water before the first use. They dont work well on electric plates. Gas is better. But woodburing ovens rule now, in my world. And I want one.

So just to give you a taster – some Tapas.

Chop and roast over a high heat half a kilo of large good ripe tomatoes with some chilli flakes, a teaspoon of sugar, hot smoked paprika, olive oil and just a little water.  Mash down with a fork when they are mushy and season with sea salt, black pepper and oregano. Take off the heat.  Add the sauce to previously wood-oven roasted chopped potatoes and you have instant Patatas Bravas.

Roughly chop some meaty Chorizo and either roast or fry it for no more than 5 minutes – keep it juice and sweet, don’t draw the life out of it by too much heat. Make  it the last thing you cook. Chorizo done.

In a shallow terracotta dish pour in a good glug of olive oil and sliced red peppers: Oh those gorgeous peppers – huge, mis-shapen, dull red on the outside, slightly grey on the inside – sweet and juicy.  Roast them in the rising oven put in at about 150C and cook at around 200C. You want them charred. When almost stuck to the dish, take out of the oven and divide the peppers into four rough ‘pockets’ in the dish, drop an egg in each pocket and cover with foil. Leave on the worksurface and the residual heat in the dish will cook the eggs in about 10 minutes.

Whilst the peppers are in the oven, put an aubergine or two on a metal tray and just a little oil.  Roast and char until the skin is BURNED and the flesh is soft (about 15 minutes). Then remove and put in a plastic bag and fold it up so no air gets in.  Leave for 5 minutes then carefully peel back the charred skin (hot, hot hot) and tip the roasted flesh into a bowl, stir in a little ground cumin, cinnamon, mashed garlic and a heavy glug of olive oil and seasalt.

Take last night’s left over rice  out of the fridge (which you cooled quickly once you’d had enough risotto or paella).  With wet hands, form it into balls the size of a golf ball.  Push in a small chunk of cheese or ham into the middle. Then coat in egg and breadcrumbs and deep or shallow fry.

Slap some triangles of roughly rolled bread dough onto the base of the oven whilst you are putting all the other dishes on the table. Turn the flatbread after 2 minutes and cook for one more minute on the other side.

Hey presto – a supper before your eyes in about 45 minutes accompanied by wonderful olives, preserved baby aubergine and onions in red wine. all with a delightful hint of woodsmoke from the oven.

Eat, preferably outside, with the new moon rising  over the mountains with a cold beer or a good glug of red. And good friends.

More Spanish food adventures to come – including little lamb chops, sizzling prawns, paella poisoning, Spanish Markets, olives, squid, rabbit with offal, crocquettas bacalao……….

Hummus

Hummus is a regular in our house but it took me ages to get to the stage where I was happy with it. Happy enough to say yes, that’s just about as good as I’ve eaten in Turkey. I thought I knew what hummus was until I ate it with warm flatbread lounging on a large cushion in Istanbul.  Then I realised it is meant to be creamy not sliceable, and that it is enhanced by more lemon.

Take one tin of chickpeas and drain them but keep the liquid.  Life’s too short to boil dried chick peas for an hour, let’s face it.  Put in the food processor with two cloves of garlic, half a teaspoon of cumin powder (fresh, not that stuff you’ve had in the back of the cupboard for years please), a three finger pinch of salt.  Blitz in the processor till broken into fine bits. Then scrape down the sides of the processor and add 100g tahini. Blitz again. Then add the juice of a lemon, about a tablespoon of good olive oil and then in a slow trickle, add about 75ml of the liquid you drained from the can, running the processor all the time until the hummus is smooth. Really smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Now, some of you might have already known about the adding the liquid trick. But I didn’t and it makes all the difference – turning the hummus into a wonderful smooth emulsion.

#12Days Nut roast and good gravy Day 10

P1020654This recipe is requested by adventurers Dean and Rachel who are almost at the end of their 6 month world trip with Fred.

We are a 50% vegetarian household. He doesn’t eat meat. I do. It’s not a chore as some seem to think it might be. It’s the way we have lived for nearly 30 years and we’ve found an easy accommodation of one another’s tastes and it means there’s always another experiment to be had.

I don’t understand, for instance, why people think nut roast is a difficult dish to cook.  But then maybe it’s because we have made so many over the years that it’s  been refined till we do it without thinking.  That’s the benefit to you – I know this recipe works every time! The picture, by the way, is the goose that didn’t fit in the oven. I know. It’s not nut roast. But it is funny!

So.  Your best friend with this recipe is your food processor.

Set your oven at 180C.  Lightly oil a 3lb loaf tin and dust it with fine semolina. Lay one strip of parchment paper along the length of the tin and up the short sides (don’t bother with the long sides – so long as you have greased and dusted with semolina it will be fine.  Then lay two bay leaves and a few slices of tomato in the bottom.  Take a 2.5 thick slice from a good stoneground wholemeal loaf and put it in the food processor with one large onion, two cloves of garlic and one large carrot.  Pulse until broken up but not to the ‘breadcrumb’ stage.  Then add your nut selection.  My preference is 50% cashew and 25% each of hazlenuts and walnuts. But to be honest you can use whatever you have available. (If you use peanuts I recommend not using the salted variety!) You will need  200g nuts.

Add these to the processor and whizz till you get almost to the texture you want.  Some people like a bit of ‘bite’ in their nut roast, others prefer it smooth. Stop just before your preferred texture. Add the following:  2tbsp dark soy sauce, a handful of parsley, two sprigs of thyme, black pepper, the merest sprinkle of chilli flakes two eggs (leave the eggs out if you are vegan and add 15ml cold water instead) and a good squirt of HP sauce.  Sorry about that bit – it’s a bit arcane I know, but when you look at the label and read the ingredients you can see why – tamarind, tomatoes, vinegar, spices. Why would you add them separately?  Whizz up again and check for seasoning.  The mixture should be moist and drop off a spoon.  If it isn’t add a little vegetable stock.

Put half in the loaf tin, then add a layer of sliced tomatoes, season, add a layer of thinly sliced feta (if you like it, if not leave it out or use another cheese) and then the rest of the nut roast mixture.  Drizzle the top with a little olive oil. Cover the top with a layer of baking parchment and then foil.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes then take it out and LEAVE IT IN THE TIN for at least 15 minutes before attempting to remove the nut roast.  When you are ready, slide a sharp knife round the edges, invert onto a plate and remove the bottom layer of parchment.  You can now cover the nut roast with foil, whilst still on its plate Th and keep for later, then put back in the oven to warm through when you are ready, or you can serve it now.

If you want a good gravy to go with it, fry off some finely chopped shallot in butter with a teaspoon of cumin seed and a flat teaspoon of turmeric. Add three tablespoons of cooked red lentils, a tablespoon of tomato puree, 50ml water and 100ml coconut milk.  Combine with a wooden spoon, check seasoning and bring to the simmer and cook for 5 minutes, then whizz with a stick blender.  There you have a perfect creamy gravy to go with the nut roast.

The nut roast freezes well – you can prepare it and freeze it uncooked in the tin – or cook it through. cool and freeze. It is easier to freeze it in the tin.  Defrost overnight before cooking.  You can also use the nutmeat as ‘burgers’ – great in a bun with tomato and dill pickle –  or as ‘nutballs’  with tomato sauce and pasta.  It also is gorgeous cold because it keeps its moisture and the flavours are really well developed. So it stands up well against the cold ham and turkey with pickles on Boxing Day!

Chick peas with chard

CHICK PEAS and CHARD

This is so easy you can do it standing on your head.  No, that’s not a good idea. Don’t stand on your head unless you are very flexible!

Sweat a large onion, two or three large carrots sliced or diced, a handful of chopped celery (no leaves – they’re bitter), a clove of garlic in olive oil and butter. Do it gently.  Then add a heaped teaspoon of hot smoked paprika, stir round, then add a tin or two of drained chickpeas (depending on how many you are feeding).  Combine the cooked vegetables and spice with the chickpeas, add black pepper but not salt (yet).  Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes and a  flat dessert spoon of soft brown sugar. Crazy. But it works.  Have you noticed that people like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigella, Ottolenghi all add a pinch of sugar to tomato based dishes?  There’s a reason for it and it’s all part of the alchemy.  Cooking isn’t just a matter of taste it’s also chemistry.  So use just a little sugar to counterbalance the acidity of the tomatoes.

Cook gently, uncovered for about 20 minutes then add some salt to taste (only now,because cooking legumes (like chickpeas) with salt makes the skins tough).  Then add the chopped stalks of white, ruby or rainbow chard and cover.  Lastly, add the chopped green leaves and stir.  Cover and cook again for two minutes. Check the seasoning again.  It should taste dense, rich and smoky. Ready?

Sometimes I add green beans toward the end. Sometimes I add sweet potato or squash at the beginning. Sometimes, if there are no vegetarians in the house, I sneak in some Chorizo. It depends on the mood, who is in the house and what is in the garden.  So if you sneak a look at the photo you might spot a bit of Chorizo or two. But just ignore it if you are a veggie.

At the end of cooking I leave the pan to stand for 5 minutes, having sprinkled some chopped dill leaf over the top.  Then I serve it in a bowl with flatbread.

Winter bake with goats curd

 

Rain slashing down, wind howling. But the woodburner’s burbling away to itself and the warmth is seeping into the kitchen.  In the basket I have potatoes, parsnip, carrot, beetroot, onion, squash, spinach.  And in the fridge I have some wonderful goat’s curd from our friends at Fielding Cottage which I bought at Wymondham Farmers Market on Saturday.  Although I noticed today that a gorgeous new deli has opened in Wymondham and they sell Fielding Cottage Cheese too. And other wonderful cheeses like Mrs Lambert’s, Chorizo all the way from Spain, hand raised pork pies, preserves and apparently some gorgeous Serrano ham coming in next week. I also bought some chilli oil whilst I was in there and some golden rapeseed oil.  It’s so good to see a proper artisan shop like Disney’s open in Wymondham.  Good luck to them – I’ll be a regular for sure.

Anyway, back to the winter warmer.   Chop the vegetables into chunks, season and then steam them till just done. Wilt a medium sized pan full of spinach in a little butter with the lid on but no water.  Remove from the pan before totally wilted and leave the lid on. Put about 25g butter in the bottom of a dish (I use a terracotta one) and grate some garlic into it.  Put in  microwave for about 30 seconds to melt the butter and just sizzle the garlic.  The add the vegetables and mix round a bit. Add the drained spinach.  Season again  but only with black pepper and stir in a handful of chopped flatleaf parsley and dill.

Pour 200ml sour cream (or  I’ve used natural yogurt before now) into a bowl. Stir in 100g goat’s curd, 1 heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard and 50g grated gruyere cheese and two eggs.  You won’t need any more salt because the curd is salty enough, but you could add a twist of black pepper and a litte grating of nutmeg.  Then pour over the vegetables and put into a hot oven.  Five minutes before it’s cooked and bubbling  – about 40 minutes – sprinkle some more parmesan on the top and return to the oven for another five minutes till golden brown.

I suggest taking it out of the oven and leaving it to stand for a good ten minutes. You need to eat this hot but not so hot as to lose the wonderful savoury edge which the topping gives to the sweet vegetables.

Smoky stuffed aubergine

I invented this in Spain where, you  will remember, we had one working gas ring and a woodburning oven.

First, slice your aubergine/s in half lengthways.  First brush with olive oil.  Then season well with salt and pepper.  Insert slices of raw garlic into the flat side.  Put your griddle pan on the heat until it is very hot.  Then put the aubergines flat side down on the griddle. Note that I oiled the aubergine and not the pan.  That way, you reduce the amount of black smoke in your kitchen!  The idea is that you char the aubergine on both sides.  Don’t be tempted to turn it over too quickly or you will leave the contents of the aubergine on the griddle.  Leave it until it is brown and crispy. There is method in the madness here because this is what gives the aubergine its wonderful smoky flavour.  When brown and crispy on the flat side, turn it over.  Depending on the fierceness of the heat it can take between 20 and 30 minutes to cook the aubergine so that the flesh is soft and cooked inside.  If you don’t have a griddle pan use your woodburning oven (that was a joke!) or put them under the grill.

Meanwhile put about a cup full of couscous into a shallow dish (one cup full for two aubergine, so double up for more).  Pour boiling water over the couscous until it is just covered. Then put a tea towel over the dish and it will steam away gently all by itself.  Whilst it is cooking itself under the tea towel, gently soften some onion in plenty of butter and olive oil and add a big chopped garlic clove and a measure of sunflower seeds near the end of the cooking time.  Then add, to your taste, chopped green or black olives, chopped ripe tomato (minus the seeds and juicy bits).  Putting the tomato in last is deliberate.  I’m not aiming for a thick tomatoey sauce here – more a cous cous content with texture and tomato evident as tomato instead of juice.

Having removed the aubergine from the pan when it is cooked, it is probably cool enough to handle now.  Put a double layer of kitchen towel on one hand and scoop out most of the aubergine flesh with a dessert spoon and mix into the cous cous mixture.  Try to keep the skin intact. Now you have a wonderful smoky filling, moist with tomato and garlicky onion, spiked with salty olives. The only thing left to do is to add loads of chopped mint, season with salt and black pepper, then pile back into the aubergine skins.

Put in the oven (woodburning or otherwise) at 160C for about 25 minutes till hot and the skins practically bursting.  If you wanted you could add a  little feta on the top before serving and a fresh sprinkling of mint.  We served this with a salad of green beans dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and fresh oregano.

Chestnut Pie

Forever ago, in the 70s I remember Delia published a recipe for chestnut pie in the London Evening Standard. I cut it out and put it in one of those little scrap books many of us had in our kitchens when we were young, eager and acquisitive. A couple of years ago my brother in law Mark made the most delicious chestnut pie when we were staying with them in Bristol and he said it was a Delia recipe. My old scrap book had long been consigned to the bin but I was really pleased when he photocopied it for me (typewritten, faded, spattered with dried-on ingredients).

So. Here we go.

Melt some butter, add a finely chopped onion and celery and a large clove of garlic. Fry until soft then all one chopped skinned tomato, 225g chestnut puree, 200g chopped cashews and walnuts, 125 finely chopped mushrooms, half a teaspoon of paprika, chopped fresh thyme and basil, one beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of brandy. Mix all the ingredients together and season well with black pepper a little salt and a tablespoon of Burgess’ mushroom ketchup. Put in the fridge.

Then fry slices of large field mushrooms in butter and garlic, sufficient to fill one layer of your tin.

I find the pie is easiest to manage (ie serve) if I put it in small loaf tins rather than one big tin. Doing this ensures it is cooked in the middle and the slices are a good enough size without being unwieldly. So I use two small (500g) loaf tins, preferably non-stick.

Cut a big square of baking parchment. Chop off 80% chunk of pastry and roll it out on the parchment till you have a rectangle large enough to fit the base and sides of your tin. Put four little bits of pastry in each corner of the tin and drop in a piece of baking parchment along the length of the tin and up the ends (not sides). Press it down onto the little bits of pastry. Crazy I know. But foolproof. Not all ‘non-sticks’ are non-stick and there is nothing more frustrating than a pie in a tin that won’t budge when you want to get it out. This way, you can just lift it out.

So, with pastry in the tin add the filling and then top with the field mushrooms you cooked earlier. Then roll out the pastry lid, brush a little beat egg round the edge of the pie, roll the lid onto it , press down to make a good seal, then ‘knock up’ the edges with the blunt side of the knife. Brush with egg wash, piece the top and cook in the middle of the oven at 220C for about 25 minutes. It’s yummy.

CORRECTION:

My dear bruv-in-law has corrected my previous posting about Chestnut, walnut and mushroom pie. And I stand corrected. Here’s what he said:

“actually for the sake of accuracy/credit where credit is due the recipe is by Rose Elliott (rather than Delia), it was her famous Woman’s Hour recipe – back in the days of fact sheets it was the subject of the highest ever number or requests for a WH factsheet and the pdf I sent you was a scan of our original copy. The recipe is now in a Rose Elliott vegetarian recipe book, still described as the Woman’s Hour recipe. It’s a great favourite of ours and works well for a veggie Christmas dinner, non veggie guests like to have some too – it’s like stuffing to go with their turkey or whatever”

Thanks Mark.

Herb pie

After a day exploring the mountains beyond Lanjaron -to Bercules, Beznar, Chite, Restabal and Pinos del Valle – the clouds started to build and we headed home for a late supper. Patatas Bravas (on another page in this blog), green beans with rock salt and wine vinegar and herb pie. A family favourite. Usually i cook it in a shallow terracotta dish but today its cooked swiftly in a frying pan. Chop courgette and onion and garlic and sweat in butter and olive oil. Add chopped chard stalks and cook with the lid on for five minutes. Then add shredded green chard leaves and loads of chopped mint, oregano and marjoram. Season lightly and add chopped salty goats cheese (or feta). Beat as many eggs as you need and pour over the vegetables, keeping it on a fairly high heat for a couple of minutes. Then turn the heat down and put the lid on. Cook for three or four minutes till just set. Take off the heat.

You can serve this hot or cold. I prefer it mid way! Enough time to drink a small beer or a glass of wine. Invert the pie onto a plate before serving.

Broad Bean hummus

One of the joys of getting older is the delight of watching things come round again. In a good way, I mean, not the inevitable ‘why are they doing that AGAIN?’. So today, through a chance meeting with a colleague, I rediscovered some childhood memories and watching them come round again, discovered other unknown connections.

The plan today was to call in to see my mum and then pick up the invitation to lunch with Mark and Marina at The Apricot Centre, a 4 acre smallholding specialising in fruit production and sustainable living. I really recommend using the link to read about what Marina is doing there. Today was one of those rare peaceful days, unencumbered by anyone else. I was just on my own. And much as I love everyone, its good to take some time for yourself.

I wandered through the acres of apple, plum, greengage, raspberry, tayberry planted in groups related to dates of cropping to make it easier to harvest, underfoot was short and long grass, bumble bees and birds were in flight. And not a sound of an engine.  In the space of four hours I was reminded of my links with this land as a teenager, the friends I had here, the Land Settlement Association (more about this later), more links with Dutch friends and farmers, memories of working in greenhouses and packing sheds, cycling to friends’ houses on hot summer evenings, old clothes, agricultural shows and the smell of scorched grass and the sound of gymkhana commentaries drifting in the air to my house. And we discovered – Marina, Mark and me – mutual friends first met 35 years ago, associations with Dartington Hall, wholefood shops, sustainable food production and the pleasure of picking food – gathering salads, examining apricots and peaches ripening in the warmth of the polytunnel, and eating it together: Oma, we three and children.

The simplest of pleasures.  Broad bean hummus.  It’s different every time I make it, and this time Mark made it.  Blanch as many broad beans as you have, drain them, then take to a table outside and sit with a friend whilst putting the world to rights (that bit’s not necessary by the way – but making this is a  contemplative and companionable activity).  remove the outer husks (give them to the chickens) then chop some garlic with a little salt and squash half of it with the flat blade of a knife, leaving some crunchy bits behind.  In a good sized bowl or pestle and mortar (not the itsy one you used Mark!) pound the de-husked broad beans with a large handful of basil and mint, a little black pepper, fresh lemon juice and good olive oil to taste.  Pile onto sourdough and eat right now.  Heaven on a plate. Heavenly day.  Thank you Marina and Mark, Ruby, Lily-Mae and Jo.

The Land Settlement Association was started in the mid 30s to re-settle the unemployed (often from the north of England) and offer training in horticulture, housing and 4 acres of land.  Redolent of course  of the attempts by this Government to ‘resettle’ families in 2013 but with a strange twist, this time to areas of high unemployment and deprivation, where rents are lower – in the north of England!  My memories of the Land Settlements (as we called them) are vivid, working in the school holidays grading cauliflowers, packing lettuce, celery and cucumbers, working in the pack house making up cardboard boxes, the houses on large plots of land, lots of greenhouses, a separate community from our village and – in the 60s – a large number of families from The Netherlands. Local people too were glad of employment, part time and full time, but now the LSA has been disbanded and the collaborative elements of what was, essentially, a co-operative method of food production (in the 70s the LSA (10 sites in England) provided over 70% of salad crops to the UK market) have shifted to competition instead of collaboration. And now each working smallholding employs many seasonal migrant workers.   Marina is currently researching the history of the LSA, the means of production, the workforce and  horticultural methods.

What to do with all that chard?

The garden is bursting with produce in spite of the heat. Or maybe because of it. Winter was cold. Spring was interminably wet and gloomy. Then summer bursts upon us and we are overburdened with produce. The greenest green – broad beans and peas, chard, lettuce, mizuna, fennel, basil, mint, flat leaf parsley; the brightest reds and oranges – chard, peppers, carrots, radishes; the darkest burgundies of beetroot and black beans, aubergine.

Last night we were tired and edgy and at the last minute decided to go out to eat. The Inn on the Green was closed but its sister pub was open. At The Gamekeepers we scoffed hugely satisfying and piping hot halibut in beer batter with hand cut chips and home made minty mushy peas. But tonight we are going green. Sometimes I yearn to eat plates brimming with green things and tonight is the night for chard. I guess this is really a take on Spanokopita. It uses Fielding Cottage goats curd, and the harder Norfolk Mardler.

Take a handful of chard – more than you think you need. First chop the stems off at the bottom of the leaf, then slice the stems lengthways and chop. The roll the leaves lengthways and slice thinly across the rolled leaf – it’s called a chiffonade apparently!

Add a glug and a half of Yare Valley rapeseed oil or olive oil and a knob of butter to a shallow pan, allow it to heat gently then add the chopped chard stalks and chopped spring onion tops and clamp on the lid. Steam away merrily for a couple of minutes, then add the chard leaf and a cup of peas (frozen if you dont have fresh). When the leaves are only just wilted it is time to grate in two cloves of garlic. Don’t chop it or add it too early – you want the fresh hit of garlic as opposed to the sweet roasted flavour. Season very lightly with seasalt and black pepper. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile, unpack your filo pastry carefully and spread in single sheets in one long line, overlapping edges by about 2.5cm having first oiled the edges with oil (I use a mixture of rape seed and walnut oil here. The add the cooled greens along the top edge, then crumbled curd cheese (or you could use feta) and chopped parsley, basil and chives. Oil the edges and turn them in toward the middle, then quickly and carefully, roll it up like a swiss roll, then curl it round like a pinwheel.

It will feel (and is) fragile, but no matter, do the best you can. Use a flat blade or two flat blades. Drop into a springform, loose bottomed tin (I just dust it with semolina or polenta).

Cook toward the top of the oven at 190C for about 25 minutes. When it’s done it looks like this. then whilst it is still warm, grate a little Norfolk Mardler (semi curado goat’s cheese) over the top and it looks like this.

 

Biryani on a hot, sultry July day

It was hot. Sultry. Steaming. Oppressive.  And that was just in the garden.  I had the germ of an idea for supper but it felt incongruous. But then again, it felt right. Vegetable biryani. All the windows and doors were wide open but not a breath of cool air. I was drawn to warm sweet spices – cumin, cinnamon, chilli, cardamom this evening.

In a heavy based wide shallow pan warm plenty of (about 30ml)  gorgeous Yare Valley rapeseed oil. It is so beautiful. Almost the colour of saffron.Lightly cover the bottom of the pan with chilli flakes and cumin seed, crushed green cardomom and half a stick of cinnamon broken into pieces.  Let the spices heat very gently, then added sliced shallot, some chopped fennel, chunks of the last butternut squash from last year’s winter garden, and chopped courgette – cooking them gently for 10 minutes with the lid on.  Then turn up the heat, added a large chopped tomato (minus the pips), black pepper, a little salt and a scant dessert spoon of sugar which combined with the high heat will char the edges slightly.  By now the vegetables should be just cooked but still firm.  Add two handful’s of basmati rice quickly followed by 750ml hot vegetable stock and the lid!

When the steam is vigorously belching out from under the lid, KEEP THE LID ON and turn the head down low, letting it gently steam away.  Don’t be tempted to lift the lid. The idea is that the stock turns to steam and the steam hits the lid then drops back down on the rice. That way you get lovely fluffy rice and no mush.

Whilst it is placidly gurgling away to itself on a low heat, put more rapeseed oil into a pan and add more cumin seed and chilli flakes then fry sliced onions until golden brown.  You will have noticed that these so-called measurements are desperately imprecise.  That’s because 1) whatever is in the fridge will go in the Biryani, 2) I have no idea how hot or spicy you like your Biryani but you do! 3) The freshness of your spices will influence the over all flavour.  A gorgeous Biryani will be full of flavour and spice without it overwhelming the flavour of the vegetables. The spicing should enhance the vegetable flavours, not drown them.  Anyway, after 20  minutes  (with the lid on!) the Biryani will be ready. Resist temptation.  Just leave it there for another 10.  The flavours will develop and will offer up intense warm spicyness and aroma without too much of a fiery chilli hit. When you are ready to eat, simply remove the cinnamon sticks and discard them, and  tip the crispy onions onto the top.  In my view the Biryani is best eaten about 30  minutes after this – still warm and definitely not hot.

Me. Him. The sofa.  Beer. Wallander.  The rain and the thunderstorm came about  2 hours later.

Celeriac

Yummy yummy in my tummy. Celeriac is one of my favourite vegetables. Last year we fell into Josef’s vegetarian joint in Bury St Edmunds. Sadly, when I Googled it just now, it looks like it’s closed which is a shame because it was there that I experienced a celeriac burger. It was a revelation and I have been trying to replicate it ever since. Think I’m there now. And Joseph – wherever you are, hope life is good for you and that you are happier than your Google post implied.

Using a sharp knife, peel the knobbly bits and the skin off the celeriac, then slice it into 2cm rounds. This is your burger so treat it carefully. Pour some vegetable stock into a wide shallow pan. (If you are really keen you can make your own from the washed celeriac peelings, a sliced onion and the skin, a clove of garlic, a carrot, a bayleaf, some thyme and some of the the washed celeriac tops. Boil these in about 750ml water and add salt at the end of the process, not at the beginning).

Place your celeriac rounds into gently simmering stock and cook till the middle bit is only just tender. Don’t overcook. Then take out and drain on kitchen paper. Meanwhile make some fine wholemeal breadcrumbs in the food processor – maybe 25% of a loaf. Add a little salt and a grind of black pepper and half a flat teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Put these on a flat plate. Beat two eggs in a bowl. Now comes the messy bit. Line up the following – right to left. Drained celeriac. Beaten egg. Breadcrumbs. Clean plate covered in lightly oiled clingfilm. Take a burger and drop into the beaten egg and make sure it is coated all over. Then lift it into the breadcrumbs and press them into the soggy egg covered celeriac. Then move onto the plate. When you’ve done this to your celeriac rounds place the plate in the fridge. This will firm it all up. The trick to achieve is 1) don’t overcook the celeriac. 2) leave them to rest in the fridge before you cook them.
You could freeze it at this stage if you wanted to.

Now, add enough golden rapeseed oil to a frying pan so that when you add two or three burgers there is plenty of room around them and the oil comes half way up the burger. You need the oil to be hot but not smoking. But equally if the oil temperature is too low, too much will soak in. The key to frying is achieving the correct temperature. The best way to test is 1) brink it up to smoking point then take off the heat and leave it for 3 minutes before returning the pan to the ring on a lower heat and/or 2) throwing in a small piece of bread which should immediately bob up to the surface and begin to sizzle. Frying food is not bad for you – if you get the oil temperature correct then the food cooks quickly and the outside is crispy. The worst thing is frying in oil where the temperature is too low – then the oil is absorbed by the food and is greasy and won’t crisp. So fry your burgers – about 3 minutes each side – then drain and place in a bun full of salad and onion and with whatever relish you like. Sometimes I add a sprinkle of gremolata on the burger (picture above). Finely chop flatleaf parsley, garlic and lemon zest – I put this in a jamjar and it keeps fresh for about a week.

More ideas for celeriac…………..
Grate it, then add a thick vinaigrette dressing made with wholegrain mustard (one crushed garlic clove, twist of salt and pepper, half a squeezed lemon, 5ml runny honey, 10ml (two teaspoons) wholegrain mustard, 50ml good oil).
Or mash it. Peel and chop into chunks then boil it and drain it. Put back in the pan with a good knob of butter and white pepper, 15ml cream or yogurt then mash. Sometimes I add grated parmesan.
Gratin it. Slice thinly and blanch slices for two minutes then drain. Put in a dish, alternating layers of thinly sliced onion and garlic and celeriac. Pour single cream or full cream milk over and add a dusting of parmesan. Bake in the oven for about 1.5 hours.
Make soup with it. Combine with equal amounts of celeriac, chopped carrot and onion. Saute gently with the lid on then add 750ml or so of stock and simmer gently. Whiz with a stick blender until about 50% is blended (or 100% if you prefer a smooth soup).

Celeriac and potato roast, or gratin

Quick way to bang some carbs into the freezer and pull out over the Christmas season.

Peel potatoes and celeriac. Chop into large chunks if roasting, slice if baking or gratin.

Put a large pot of salted water to boil then throw in the potato and celeriac. Drain and cool quickly after 3 minutes.

ROASTING: Heat the oven to 200C. Heat golden rapeseed oil in a roasting pan on the hob. Toss the potatoes and celeriac gently in seasoned coarse semolina. The easiest way to do this is to put the semolina in a carrier bag with the seasoning. Carefully empty the potatoes and celeriac into the bag and gently move it around till they are all coated with the semolina.  Sounds wierd. But it works, trust me. Then drop them carefully into the hot roasting pan and oil. Keep on the heat for 5 minutes then turn them. Then put in the oven for 20 minutes only.  Take them out. let it cool, then freeze on the tray. When you  need them, remove from the freezer and put back into the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes tops until golden brown.

DAUPHINOISE:

Layer slices of potato in a buttered dish and add sufficient stock to cover them. Then season, add a bay leaf, cover with foil and cook in the oven for 1 hour. Cool and freeze. Return to the oven for another hour (when defrosted) when needed, or if you want them straight away, cook for 2 hours removing the foil at the half way point.

GRATIN:

As above but add half milk and half cream instead of stock. And grated parmesan on top for the last 20 minutes if you wish.

A fine vegeburger

OK, so it’s never going to be a fine steak burger. But in our house, a confirmed vegetarian would never eat a steakburger anyway. So the search is always on for a good, tasty veggieburger that does’t taste of dehydrated soy product. I think this might be it.

Finely grate one carrot. Microwave 4 small potatoes. Finely chop half a pack of vacuum packed chestnuts. Finely chop about 5cm from the tops of a bunch of spring onions. Finely chop a handful of flatleaf parsley. You will notice I have not used the food processor! A little gentle chopping is very soothing. And chopping in a processor does tend to bring out the juice in any of the ingredients.

Remove the potatoes from their skins and put in a bowl with all the other ingredients. Add a quarter of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a good grind of black pepper, salt, a teaspoon of freshly ground coriander seed. The secret ingredient is a dessert spoon of goat curd – or you could use cream cheese. This helps bind it all together without the need for an egg, which would make it too wet. Get your hands in the bowl and squeeze all the ingredients together.

Form into burgers (or sausage shapes), dip in beaten egg, then drop into coarse semolina or polenta, mixed with some cayenne (to your taste) and make sure it is all covered. Put on a plate and put in the fridge for half an hour.While the burgers are settling down and recovering, fry some onions and set aside. Make a chopped salad. In ours tonight we had cucumber, apple and dill; fresh fennel and avocado; chicory, red pepper and celery. The dressing was a thick vinaigrette, loosened with a little plain yogurt and a dash of maple syrup.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the burgers gently on both sides will they are golden then stuff between tasted focaccia (left over from lunch today) with the onions. Serve with the salad and maybe sauce, or chutney or wholegrain mustard.

Habas cocidas al horno en tostada

Another hot and sunny day in Spain. I was awake and it was unconscionably early for a holiday day. I was laying in bed reading my Hemingway biography, the sun streaming in and the mountains beyond were lit by the sun and I was aware of barely suppressed muttering and cursing in the kitchen. The cupboard was bare and the cyclist was a man on a mission. The necessary carb-loading was being delayed by insufficient food in the cupboard. I tried to ignore the unspoken invitation to rescue, but failed.

On entering the kitchen, his lovely self stood there in lycra bib-shorts, turning in an aimless circle his brain audibly seeking something slightly more substantial than an insubstantial bowl of organic natural yogurt. I peered sleepily into the fridge and found half an onion, two tomatoes, half a small tub of passata and a jar of haricot beans. Result!

Whilst he added another layer of lycra, plus socks and silly shoes I set to with a small saucepan and some olive oil. Chopped one small onion and two tomatoes and a big clove of garlic. Fried them off with some added smoked paprika. Added about 75ml passata and a teaspoon of honey, then added 3 tablespoons of the beans. All on a high heat. After all, cycling was being delayed in the process! Toasted two slices from a stale loaf, checked beans for seasoning. Piled beans on the toast.

imageNow. I have watched Huge Fearnleywhittingstallperson do this in the past. And not being a fan of baked beans, I had never been tempted. Until today. Never one to serve small portions, even two rounds of my B-O-T were too much for the king of the mountains and so I got to eat the leftovers after he had cycled off up the hill. Pretty good I’d say. And the beans on toast weren’t bad, either. Back to Hemingway….

What to do with all that chard?

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1-photo (3)The garden is bursting with produce in spite of the heat. Or maybe because of it. Winter was cold. Spring was interminably wet and gloomy. Then summer bursts upon us and we are overburdened with produce.  The greenest green – broad beans and peas, chard, lettuce, mizuna, fennel, basil, mint, flat leaf parsley; the brightest reds and oranges – chard, peppers, carrots, radishes; the darkest burgundies of beetroot and black beans, aubergine.

Last night we were tired and edgy and at the last minute decided to go out to eat. The Inn on the Green was closed but its sister pub was open. At The Gamekeepers we scoffed hugely satisfying and piping hot halibut in beer batter with hand cut chips and home made minty mushy peas.  But tonight we are going green. Sometimes I yearn to eat plates brimming with green things and tonight is the night for chard. I guess this is really a take on Spanokopita. It uses Fielding Cottage goats curd, and the harder Norfolk Mardler.

Take a handful of chard – more than you think you need. First chop the stems off at the bottom of the leaf, then slice the stems lengthways and chop. The roll the leaves lengthways and slice thinly across the rolled leaf – it’s called a chiffonade apparently!

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Add a glug and a half of Yare Valley rapeseed oil or olive oil and a knob of butter to a shallow pan, allow it to heat gently then add the chopped chard stalks and chopped spring onion tops and clamp on the lid.  Steam away merrily for a couple of minutes, then add the chard leaf and a cup of peas (frozen if you dont have fresh).  When the leaves are only just wilted it is time to grate in two cloves of garlic. Don’t chop it or add it too early – you want the fresh hit of garlic as opposed to the sweet roasted flavour.  Season very lightly with seasalt and black pepper.  Leave to cool.

Meanwhile, unpack your filo pastry carefully and spread in single sheets in one long line, overlapping edges by about 2.5cm having first oiled the edges with oil (I use a mixture of rape seed and walnut oil here.  The add the cooled greens along the top edge, then crumbled curd cheese (or you could use feta) and chopped parsley, basil and chives.  Oil the edges and turn them in toward the middle, then quickly and carefully, roll it up like a swiss roll, then curl it round like a pinwheel.

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It will feel (and is) fragile, but no matter, do the best you can.  Use a flat blade or two flat blades.  Drop into a springform, loose bottomed tin (I just dust it with semolina or polenta).

Cook toward the top of the oven at 190C for about 25 minutes.  When it’s done it looks like this

1-photo (3)-001then whilst it is still warm, grate a little Norfolk Mardler (semi curado goat’s cheese) over the top and it looks like this.

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!! προσχηματικός

Vegetable Biryani on a hot and humid July evening

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It was hot. Sultry. Steaming. Oppressive.  And that was just in the garden.  I had the germ of an idea for supper but it felt incongruous. But then again, it felt right. Vegetable biryani. All the windows and doors were wide open but not a breath of cool air. I was drawn to warm sweet spices – cumin, cinnamon, chilli, cardamom this evening.

In a heavy based wide shallow pan warm plenty of (about 30ml)  gorgeous Yare Valley rapeseed oil. It is so beautiful. Almost the colour of saffron.Lightly cover the bottom of the pan with chilli flakes and cumin seed, crushed green cardomom and half a stick of cinnamon broken into pieces.  Let the spices heat very gently, then added sliced shallot, some chopped fennel, chunks of the last butternut squash from last year’s winter garden, and chopped courgette – cooking them gently for 10 minutes with the lid on.  Then turn up the heat, added a large chopped tomato (minus the pips), black pepper, a little salt and a scant dessert spoon of sugar which combined with the high heat will char the edges slightly.  By now the vegetables should be just cooked but still firm.  Add two handful’s of basmati rice quickly followed by 750ml hot vegetable stock and the lid!

When the steam is vigorously belching out from under the lid, KEEP THE LID ON and turn the head down low, letting it gently steam away.  Don’t be tempted to lift the lid. The idea is that the stock turns to steam and the steam hits the lid then drops back down on the rice. That way you get lovely fluffy rice and no mush.

Whilst it is placidly gurgling away to itself on a low heat, put more rapeseed oil into a pan and add more cumin seed and chilli flakes then fry sliced onions until golden brown.  You will have noticed that these so-called measurements are desperately imprecise.  That’s because 1) whatever is in the fridge will go in the Biryani, 2) I have no idea how hot or spicy you like your Biryani but you do! 3) The freshness of your spices will influence the over all flavour.  A gorgeous Biryani will be full of flavour and spice without it overwhelming the flavour of the vegetables. The spicing should enhance the vegetable flavours, not drown them.  Anyway, after 20  minutes  (with the lid on!) the Biryani will be ready. Resist temptation.  Just leave it there for another 10.  The flavours will develop and will offer up intense warm spicyness and aroma without too much of a fiery chilli hit. When you are ready to eat, simply remove the cinnamon sticks and discard them, and  tip the crispy onions onto the top.  In my view the Biryani is best eaten about 30  minutes after this – still warm and definitely not hot.

Me. Him. The sofa.  Beer. Wallander.  The rain and the thunderstorm came about  2 hours later.

Johansen’s surprise with smoky bacon cabbage

Johannsen’s surprise with smoky bacon cabbage

Urgent need for comfort food. Running late on everything. Need warmth, ease, flavour, just a fork. In a bowl. On the sofa.

Thinly slice 750g potatoes and a large onion (use the slicer on your food processor if you have one, it’s done in a trice). Put them in a deep saucepan with salt, chopped garlic, a tin of anchovies and the oil (yes, I know, but trust me) and enough full cream milk to just cover. The add about 2 tablespoons of dried dill. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are just soft.

Turn into a wide shallow dish. Let me rephrase that.  Pour the contents of the saucepan into a wide shallow dish and without further ado put it into the oven with no further fuss – at 180C for about 40 minutes.  By then the potatoes will have absorbed the milk and the top will be crispy.  Then take out of the oven and leave for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile put some butter and oil in a good sized pan. Add chopped smoky bacon offcuts and fry gently for five minutes. Then add lots of sliced savoy cabbage and grated rind of half a lemon.  Stir round a bit.  Slap on the lid and steam away for about 5 minutes.  Depending on how crunchy you like your cabbage either leave the lid on and add no more water, or add a little water – by this I mean probably 100ml tops – and steam away for another couple of minutes.  Add some black pepper and you are done.

Now, take a bowl.  Serve yourself some potatoes, cabbage and bacon and enjoy some simple culinary heaven.

Gloomy November afternoon

November gloom outside but soothed inside by R3, Beethoven and the gentle rhythm of rolling out flatbread. A few gems gently simmering on the stove – gorgeous orange squash with garlic, red peppers, chick peas, fennel seed and a base mix of spices (roast Urud dhal, cumin, black cardamom, clove and a hint of chilli). Later I will flash roast aubergine in strips and lace with pomegranate jewels (can you hear Nigella?) and a little spritz (again?) of pomegranate molasses. And then maybe a crisp herb salad full of spinach, pine nuts or walnuts (can’t decide), parsley and mint.  What better for a November evening?

Punchy Noodles

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There is no doubt in my mind, that this noodle dish is a combination that gets me salivating every time.  It is hot, fragrant, smoky and crispy.  You could add a small handful of crushed unsalted peanuts if you wanted. Or prawns. Or chicken.  Tonight it is sans everything with the exception of marinated smoked tofu, which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite ingredients.

Chop the tofu into chunks and marinade in dark soy sauce (about 25 ml) and a good squeeze of agave nectar.  Then chop and slice your favourite stirfry ingredients – tonight it is spring onions, long red peppers, carrot, fennel, little slivers of spring green.  Pound together two large cloves of garlic and a stick of lemongrass (if you look closely you can see mine has ice on it – it freezes really well) and a couple of red or green chillies and a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger (this also freezes well) and mix these ingredients with about 25ml rapeseed oil. Put 50ml fish sauce and 50ml tamarind concentrate in a saucepan with a couple of dessert spoons of agave nectar or brown sugar, bring to the boil and then take off the heat.

When you are ready to eat, pour boiling water over as many rice noodles as you want, leave them for just a couple of minutes and then drain and cool by running them under the tap.  Whack the wok on the burner with a little oil in the bottom.  When it is smoking, add the garlic/lemongrass/chilli and ginger. Stir it round for a couple of minutes then add all the vegetables.  Keep them moving round in the wok all the time for just a couple of minutes then throw in the tofu with its marinade (or chicken or prawns and.or peanuts). Stir round again till hot, then add the fish sauce mixture or, as an alternative, 100ml coconut milk.  Add the noodles last, mix gently whilst still on the heat.  Pour into bowls, squeeze over some lime juice and chopped coriander leaf.

Head for the sofa with this steaming fragrant bowl of loveliness, a glass of beer and a good book.  Bliss.

via Facebook.

Seitan pot pie

I am not going to post a picture because quite frankly, Seitan looks disgusting. But in the spirit of enquiry I steeled myself to make this. The recipe is adapted from one in Veganomican which has become my bible this month. I’ve learned a lot in the process.

So. Seitan? It is wheat gluten – obviously no good for wheat intolerants – separated from the rest of the wheat. You can make it yourself and I haven’t tried that yet, Instead I bought some ready-made in a jar from Rainbow Wholefoods. It looks distressingly faecal. Sorry!

Drain the liquid and marinaded the seitan chunks in dark soy sauce, a squeeze of agave nectar, a crushed clove of garlic and a little cayenne for a couple of hours. Meanwhile, sauté a cup of finely diced onion, another of carrot, another of celery and celeriac, plus some garlic, in about 75ml olive or rapeseed oil till soft and then add 3 tablespoons of gram (chickpea) flour which is really soft and a beautiful creamy yellow. Turn the heat down and keep stirring, you are aiming for the colour to deepen. After 4-5 minutes, add 1 teaspoon of mustard powder and gently pour in 100ml white wine, stirring all the time till the sauce thickens. Then add the seitan and its marinade, about 100ml vegetable stock and some frozen peas. Because i have become obsessed with Freekah this month, I also added a tablespoon of that too. Cook it gently for about 15 minutes till all the flavours have combined and the vegetables are soft.

When I tasted it I was so surprised, and delighted, to find the flavour deeply savoury and with no need for further seasoning. Pour into a deep pie dish (cute little porcelain blackbird in the middle) and let it cool.

Meanwhile make pastry! 50g wholewheat flour, 50g plain flour and 50g gram flour, a spoon-end of baking powder with some salt and 75g margarine (yes, in the old days, it would have been butter!) roughly rubbed in and bound with unsweetened almond milk till it comes together in the bowl. Cover and leave till you are ready and the seitan and vegetables are cooled. Then roll out the pastry between two sheets if parchment paper, make a little running strip of pastry around the edge of the dish, moisten the top and then lay on the pastry lid and crimp up the edges. Make a milk wash by mixing one teaspoon of mustard powder with 25ml almond milk and brush it all over the top and the edges of the pastry. Place in the centre of the oven at 190c for about 30 minutes or until the juices are bubbling up around the blackbird and the pastry is golden.

Served with peppery potato and leek mash let down with olive oil, and dark savoy cabbage it makes a hearty supper. I cannot tell a lie. So long as you do not have to look at seitan, in this dish it tasted delicious! I would be interested to hear from you if you use seitan regularly- tell me what you cook!

Veganuary Day 27 black lentils with burnt aubergine

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Easypeasy supper thanks to Yotam. Roast an aubergine rubbed in oil either under the grill, on a gas ring or with a blow torch. Roast deep and hard till the skin is charred and the insides are soft. Put aubergine in a sealable sandwich bag. Yes, really!

Chop equal proportions of celery, onion and carrot. Sweat in rapeseed or olive oil till soft with half a chopped chilli plus seeds then squeeze on a clove of garlic and sprinkle on half a teaspoon of ground cumin. Pour 25ml red wine vinegar on the sautéed vegetables and boil till almost gone then add a packet if Merchant Gourmet black beluga lentils, chopped fresh parsley and 150 ml vegetable stock. Cook gently till most if the stock has been absorbed then season with a little salt and lots of black pepper. Keep warm.

Rub the aubergine around in the bag till the charred skin is loosened then remove from the bag and pick out most if the black bits. Put the squishy – and it must be squishy – aubergine in a bowl and mix till roughly puree’d. Season with black pepper, add a bit more oil, a little smoked paprika and some chopped almonds.

Pile the lentils into a dish, top with aubergine and dairy or soya yogurt sprinkled with chopped coriander and nigella seeds.

Yum yum with flatbread.

#Veganuary Day 7 Freekeh with pumpkin and Collejas

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This is a quick and easy one.  After a busy day (reading, gardening) I just want something quick and easy.  Freekeh, like quinoa, is stacked with protein and doesn’t need to be combined with legumes to complete the protein chain (unlike, for example, brown rice).  Simply boil it in a little stock or water. It only takes 10 minutes.  I combined mine with chunks of roasted pumpkin and shallot and the sweetest, smokiest black garlic sent by Fran from the Isle of Wight. For which many thanks. My own experiment with black garlic has yet to produce anything remotely like the Isle of Wight black garlic.

Now to the main act.  Collejas.  Greens with almonds to you! It’s one of David’s favourite dishes and he is in charge of cooking it in case you think I’ve had a sex change.

Chop any sort of greens (David used Savoy here, but spring greens are just as lovely).  Saute chopped carrot and onion in olive oil or Yare Valley rapeseed oil till soft and then season. Remove from the pan, then add a good handful of whole almonds (preferably with skins on) and saute them for a couple of minutes. Remove from the pan. Whilst cooling, quickly blanch the greens in about 100ml of water with a lid on tight till slightly underdone, then drain – keep the cooking water.  Crush the almonds, but keep some chunky bits. Put the carrot and shallot back in the pan with the oil, add the greens then throw in the almonds.  Season.  Add a small amount of the reserved cooking water, clamp on the lid and cook for one more minute.  Voila!

Pile on the carbs for the cyclist

onion squash with leek and quinoiaThe fact is of course, that this post would have been visible last night had I not tried to be clever.

Sanity Warning. Remember to hit ‘save’ before using the back key next time. I stomped off to bed in frustration and a flurry of fury last night; abandoning the ipad and leaving a trail of dangling power leads, adaptors and photo files having failed to do so and losing the plot in the process. It has taken me a good 15 hours, a swim, a walk, a 2 hour meditation on the beauty of the mountain on the opposite side of the valley and a little afternoon snooze to regain my equilibrium.

imageWhat I had been writing about was my lycra-clad lungs-on-legs husband, who left the house yesterday all togged up in his lucky orange Bic strip, his Oakleys, special chamois padded shorts and perky little fingerless gloves, on     his favourite Orbea road bike that travelled all the way here in its special box for his trip up the Sierra de la Contraviesa, Taha, Lujar (not all on the same day, I might add).  And what I had been describing was the manner of his return. First, the sound of the clanging gate, then the crunch of the wheels on the gravel, then the dog in the cortijo below us, then the tippy-tappy of the special shoes that look like they originated in The Smurfs; closely followed by gasping. And then he appears on the terrace all pink and dripping and infinitely satisfied. This time, he has (verified by the god which is the cycle computer) cycled 50k – mainly uphill – at an average speed of 15kph, expended 1200 calories, with a maximum speed of 65kph downhill in two and a bit hours.

Meanwhile all I had done was wander down into Orgiva, buy some bread, drink a coffee and consume a pan con tomate. Which is why his waist is only 2.5cm bigger than it was 30 years ago. And mine is not. And why he can consume vast quantities of carbohydrate and I should not.

Post-cycling eating always involves lots of carbs. Tonight it was roasted squash with quinoa. And other carbs.

imageDry roast 4 tablespoons of quinoa in a frying pan till it turns and smells toasty. Then carefully add 300ml boiling water and cook for just under 10 minutes till just tender. Then drain it and run cold water through it to prevent further cooking.

De-seed, peel and then slice any sort of squash into decent sized pieces and drop into a plastic bag.  Add leeks chopped into 5cm pieces and lots of chopped garlic, a whole red chilli sliced lengthways, and chopped rosemary. Add 30ml of good olive oil, a generous tablespoon of honey and season with black pepper. No salt yet. Rub all the vegetables around in the bag and then turn out into a heavy based frying pan or roasting pan on a medium heat. Cook for 15 minutes without disturbing anything in the pan and then carefully turn the vegetables. They should be sticky and caramelised. Now chop two large tomatoes and add to the pan, season with a little sea salt. Then add some chopped halloumi and about 15ml sherry vinegar. Turn up the heat and cook for 5 minutes more. Sprinkle of the quinoa and serve with smoked paprika roasted potatoes and squeaky green beans.

imageThat should satisfy any carbohydrate craving you might have, and the quinoa adds protein. – being the only whole grain that is a complete source of protein, unlike pulses that need to be combined with whole grains to offer their full nutritional protein loading.

Onion squash with leek and Quinoa

onion squash with leek and quinoiaHis loveliness the vegetarian rode off over the Sierra de la Contraviesa about 08.30 this morning. All legs, lungs and lycra. Being an expert in these matters – feeding the fit person in my life (not me) – the small matter of lunch and dinner was preoccupying me. When he returns the pattern is predicatable.  Prancing beside me, dripping with exertion, tip-tapping in those funny shoes that look like Smurf feet. Gulp down a pint of water or two. Detach cycle computer and relate all the fascinating (sic) statistics – number of kilometers, average speed, top speed, altitude gained, calories consumed, route taken, how fast he pedalled, heart rate. Enough already!  Todays stats were: total journey 50k, average speed 23kph (up a mountain), 2,600m of climbing, 1056 calories consumed, top speed 62kph. Incase you are interested!

Feeding a very slim, fit man with a mania for cycling is a heartbreaking task for a generously covered middle aged woman. Especially in relation to protein and carbs. The ideal meal for my build would be a small amount of protein, small amount of carbs and loads of greens. Mr lungs-on-legs of course, thrives on protein and carbs. And in the nearly 30 years we have been together he is just 3kg heavier and his waist 2.5cm bigger. Wish I could say the same for me!

Lunch was fresh rye bread with home made cheese, babaganoush, a large salad, followed by fresh cherries. And water. Big mistake to offer a carbohydrate feast immediately after a big ride. But dinner….. That’s a different matter altogether, and the matter was already in hand!

Whilst he was cycling I had been meandering in Orgiva. I found some beautiful onion squash in the wholefood shop, along with freshly dug leeks and soft wet garlic.  So here is the recipe for dinner………  Roast squash with garlic, leek, quinoa and halloumi.

Pour about four tablespoons of quinoa into a heavy based frying pan and dry roast it till it turns a light toasty brown. Then carefully  add about 300ml boiling water and cook it gently until al dente (about 6 minutes). Drain and run cold water through it to prevent it cooking in its residual heat. Quinoa has a very high protein content and is a complete protein – meaning, unlike pulses that must be combined with whole grains to complete the protein chain – quinoa does not need to be eaten in combination with other foods to be totally nutritious.

imageNutrition lesson over! Chop a small squash (about the size of a grapefruit) in half, scoop out the seeds, peel it and then chop into wedges. Wash one large leek, and chop it into 6 or 8 pieces. Slice one red chilli and chop half a dozen cloves of garlic.    Put them all in a shallow pan with a very generous glug of olive oil and half a lemon sliced into 4 pieces.  Season with salt and black pepper and throw in some chopped fresh rosemary. Finally, drizzle with about a tablespoon of runny honey. Then turn on the gas to a medium heat and cook without stirring it, for about 20 minutes. Then turn the squash and leeks over, turn up the heat and add one large chopped tomato and some chunks of halloumi cheese and about 20ml sherry vinegar. The oil, tomato, vinegar and honey combine to make the mist delicious reduction.

Serve with potatoes roasted with smoked paprika and green beans.

This is a pretty perfect combination of protein and carbs for the cyclist. However, it is a pretty catastrophic combination for my waistline. But there we are – the cyclist must be fed!

By the way- for the cyclists amongst you – the squash seeds make wonderful snacks if you wash them and then roast them in equal quantities of oil, honey and good quality soy sauce. A perfect pick-you-up for when you are half way up a mountain!

Making ricotta cheese

I woke early, eager to get on with the ricotta, after yesterday’s cheesemaking adventures! Waylaid rather, by lack of bread, beer, tomatoes – and, it transpires, a whole rucksack of provisions that then had to be yomped uphill in a rucksack – and then further waylaid by the good coffee at Galindo’s and toasted bread soaked in olive oil and rubbed with large juicy garlics and tomato – we didn’t get back to the casita till nearly mid day.   Then we had to round up the dogs, which knew instinctively that Kalyani had returned to the UK this morning, and thus had gone walkabout. Except the mastiff. He knew that squirming through the hole in the fence and prancing around in the street looking happy and making an exhibition of himself, sniffing everything that moved was beneath himimage imageSo he stayed asleep under the trees, barely lifting an eyebrow. 

And so, to the 4 litres of whey left over from yesterday. Into a large cauldron, bring slowly to the boil and then boil for 10 minutes, stirring all the time.  The whey has a very pleasant slightly acetic tang. And it looks so unpromising. How can solids come from liquid?

My propensity for hoarding came into its own when I found myself, before we left home,  unearthing a nappy muslin from the depths of the airing cupboard without a second thought. It last saw the light of day when it was wrapped  around Anna’s bottom 34 years ago. Amazing what memories lurk in the depths of this brain of mine. Now, bleached and sheer, and white as the driven snow, and draped over an arcane lime green plastic colander in a casita way up a mountain in Spain, it receives the liquid whey. With a sigh, I find myself muttering with pleasure at the simplicity of it all.  WTF? What is that splashing noise? Why are my legs dripping? Ah yes. Forgot to put a container under the colander. Spot the deliberate mistake….. Having mopped the floor, and washed my hands,  decided that probably a shower was a better idea, so I didn’t walk round for the rest of the day with an aroma of baby sick about my person.

Whilst for the draining process to conclude, I started to think about how I would use the ricotta. So I sliced and fried some aubergine in olive oil and chopped chilli’s then drained them.  In fact, I had previously poached some citrus peel in the pan (see another post for this) and a scant amount of the syrup was still in the pan when I added the oil. Not only did this help caramelise the aubergines, it also sorely tested the smoke alarm. Many times. Enough! Finally the ricotta stopped dripping, and there was about 250g of ricotta nesting in the muslin. And about 3 litres of whey to be used tomorrow to make hallumi.

The final dish will be warm caramelised (!) aubergine on a bed of herby black and red tomatoes, topped with ricotta dotted with more herbs, lemon zest and drizzled with olive oil. And fresh bread. And lettuce and chicory salad.

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Unctious peppers

I should be asleep. But I’m not. I should be out for the count. But I’m not. I should be warm and cosy under the duvet listening to the gentle snorts and incomprehensible sleep mumbles of my man. But here I am with cold feet and jet lag, whiling away the hours till sleep arrived from mid-Atlantic to meet me. So this is for John and Eleanor. You requested it today. Maybe it was the seed of guilt that I had not sent it to you that is keeping me awake!

This pepper dish serves you well for supper with good bread. As a starter. With tapas. Or completely whizzed and pulsed into a puree, spread onto a pizza base and dotted with dollops of mozarella and fresh basil. Or spread thickly on a bagel over some cream cheese. Or spooned over buttery new potatoes. Or pasta. It’s that versatile.

Halve as many red, yellow or orange peppers as you like. But don’t use green ones. Try hard not to break the halves, and leave the stalks on.  Remove the seeds and the white stuff in the middle.  Place in an earthenware dish. Into each pepper half, put one small tomato, one anchovy fillet, one clove of garlic, an olive or two and a leaf or two of fresh basil. Put a few tomatoes into the dish too. Add a scant spinkle of chilli seeds – or leave them out if you prefer. Generously glug golden rapeseed oil (and the anchovy oil) into each pepper, and around them. Add about 1.5ml deep syrupy balsamic vinegar to each pepper half. Season with salt and black pepper.

Place the dish in the middle of a preheated oven at 175C for at least an hour until they are soft. You want the peppers to collapse and to have a slightly charred edge. Leave in the oven for longer if they are not done. Then either serve hot, warm or cold as suggested above with a good Rioja or Barolo.

1001 ways with a courgette

For years my friends teased me about my obsession with writing a cookbook on 1001 things to do with mince. I guess those times were linked to cooking on an extremely low budget and I needed to do something to lift my spirits; like writing a cookbook about mince.  I can see the irony in it now.

But here I sit with a glut of courgettes, as there is every year. And every year those same friends say ‘why dont you write a cookbook about 1001 things to do with a  courgette’. At risk of appearing both rude and crude, I have resisted.  However here are a few ideas.

COURGETTE WITH LEMON

Slice the courgettes on the diagonal, drizzle with olive oil, rock salt and black pepper.  Heat a ridged pan till it is smoking then sear the courgettes on both sides, leaving them to cook until they are only just done.  Then turn into a warm dish and add the zest of a lemon and chopped lemon balm, a squeeze of juice and some beautiful golden rapeseed oil

COURGETTE FRITTATA

Buried somewhere on this blog are a couple of versions of this summer staple.  Grate 2 large courgettes and lay them on a clean tea towel. Sprinkle with salt and leave for 10 minutes. Then wrap the grated courgettes in the teatowel and squeeze hard over the sink. Loads of water will come out. You want to get it as dry as you can.  Then soften shallot  in oil in a pan the pedigree of which you can trust in the oven – my trusty  copper frying pan is the one I use most often. It looks dead posh but actually came from Sainsburys about 12 years ago.  I digress: when the shallot is soft, add squeezed garlic – as much as you like – stir it around a bit then add a little more oil and then the courgette.  Season with pepper but no more salt, then add about 200g feta or goat cheese or goat curd and a really big handful of chopped fresh mint and chives. Then beat 4 eggs with 80ml plain yogurt (or you could use cream, or milk) and pour over the courgette and cheese mixture (keeping the heat fairly high). Move the mixture around a bit to make sure the egg is well distributed and  keep on that high heat for 5 minutes – the purpose of this is to seal the bottom so it will easily turn out of the pan.  Then clamp on a lid, turn down the heat and cook on low to medium for about 10 minutes. After that just put it under the grill till the top is golden brown. Then invert onto a plate and serve, you can eat this hot or cold. However there’s never enough left to eat it cold in our house.

COURGETTE TEMPURA WITH GARLICKY TOMATO AIOLI

Slice courgettes  on a broad diagonal so you get plenty of surface area.  Beat one or two egg whites (depending on the size of the eggs) till really stiff, then fold in 75g cornflour, 50g plain flour, a pinch of salt.  Then add the essential ingredient – about 190ml very cold carbonated water. Mix it all together, dip courgette slices into cornflour till lightly coated, tap them on the side of the plate and then into the batter and immediately drop into very hot rapeseed oil. They will pop and hiss and fluff up and will be ready in 2 minutes.  Drain on kitchen towel.  For the aioli, take 6 tablespoons of excellent mayonnaise mixed with some tomato puree and crushed garlic to your taste.  Or you can make it yourself with a stick blender.  The trick is to keep the blender flat on the bottom for 10 seconds then slowly lift it up.  It will turn the ingredients into a beautiful emulsion 100% – every time. Use 2 egg yolks, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt, 15ml white wine vinegar and 250ml rapeseed oil. Then add a tablespoon of tomato puree and a crushed clove of garlic. I found this really easy method on the BBC Good Food Youtube clip and it is completely failsafe.

COURGETTE IN NUT ROAST

Use my usual recipe for nutroast already on this blog, but instead of using tomato and cheese in the middle, use grated courgette. Treat it to the salt and teatowel method described on this page, then mix with fresh herbs like lemon thyme or marjoram, and add a 1.5 cm layer in the middle of the nut roast. If you add more than than then I suggest increasing the cooking time.

INSIDEOUT NUT ROAST

Cut the courgettes in half then scoop out the seeds in the middle till you have a channel along ithe length. Lay the courgettes on a thick bed of seasoned de-seeded chopped tomatoes and spring onions, then lay the nutroast mixture on top of the courgettes.  Season well and cover with more chopped tomatoes and spring onions. Bake covered in foil at 180 for 20 minutes then uncovered for 10 minutes.

SWEET TREATS

COURGETTE MUFFINS

Think of carrot cake. What’s the difference using a courgette? Not a lot is the answer. Essentially the carrot/courgette/whatever adds some texture but mostly it adds moisture.  So any cake recipe which calls for grated carrot can also use grated courgette.  For this recipe grate 2 large courgettes (about 200g) and treat as before. Then add them to 225g wholemeal flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate soda, the zest of an orange and 100g sultanas.  Whisk 2 eggs, 175ml rapeseed oil and 4 tablespoons of orange juice into the mixture.  Pour into lined muffin tins or greaseproof cups and cook for 25 minutes at 180C. bet there won’t be any left by tomorrow!

CHOCOLATE COURGETTE CAKE

OK so beetroot and chocolate is de rigeur.  But I prefer courgette!  Grate 500g courgettes and prepare as before.  Mix 150g self raising flour and 200g wholemeal flour with 1 teaspoon of mixed spice and 300g raw cane sugar. I advise not using muscovado, which makes a lot of liquid in the cooking.  Whisk together 3 eggs with 175ml rapeseed oil, two teaspoons of good vanilla extract. Then add the courgettes and the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix carefully.  Finally add 140g toasted chopped hazlenuts, or even better in my view, pine nuts.  Pour this into a lined 24cm springform tin and bake for 40-45 minutes.  When it is done, let it cool completely, remove from the tin then carefully melt 200g 70% cocoa solids chocolate  in the microwave and add 100ml hot cream.  Mix well and it will thicken.  Leave it 5 minutes then pour this ganche onto the cake.  You can keep your devil’s foodcake.  This is the one for me – light, deeply chocolatey, studded with nuts and a gooey topping. I dare you to eat only one slice!

Muffin tops

Here’s a dish to match the winter waistline.  Hetty cooked this a couple of weeks ago one cold windy night in deepest Suffolk. We had been working outside all day and when she brought it to the table we proceeded to pitch ourselves over the top of the dish and drown in a rich, fragrant, warm, herb infused dish of braised vegetables with the most wonderful muffin top.  And muffin tops  were what we ended up with after third helpings!

Originally posted on BBC Good Food website as a beef stew, it is easily subverted into a vegetarian version.

Gently sweat three or four banana shallots or onions in olive oil, chopped garlic and a bay leaf.  Meanwhile put a good handful of dried mushrooms in a pan with 300ml water, bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes till the mushrooms are dehydrated and the liqour has reduced to about 200ml and inky dark.  Chop carrots, celery, celeriac and swede into 2.5cm cubes and add to the onion with a little more oil, a new bayleaf, a little dried thyme and a pinch of dried chilli. Stir and put the lid on and cook for another 10 minutes or so.  Then add 450g chopped tomatoes (minus the pips). Stir again and cook for another 10 minutes without the lid, then add the mushrooms and the liquor and 25ml Worcestershire sauce.  Taste, once all the ingredients are incorporated, and adjust seasoning. You are aiming for what I would call a heavy, rich, woody flavour rather than thin and under-seasoned.  I have subsequently added whole vacuum packed chestnuts and fresh mushrooms and it is equally scrummy.

If you have cooked the vegetables in a double handed pan that can be transferred to the oven, all the better.  Otherwise, transfer to a dish.  Now for the muffin top.

Into 125g plain white flour mixed with 100g wholemeal flour (all purpose, not bread flour) mix 1 tsp salt, 2 flat tsps of mustard powder, 100g strong grated cheddar, 2 tbsp olive oil and 150ml milk.  Mix together until it looks like a wet scone mixture then simply spoon it on top of the vegetable stew base, sprinkle about 50g grated cheese on top and put on the middle shelf of the oven at 150C (or 130C in a fan oven).  Check it after 15 minutes, but its more likely to be  ready in 20.  The trick here is to use a relatively shallow dish rather than a deep one so that the muffin top cooks through. The first time I cooked this, the chickens really enjoyed the uncooked muffin that lurked neath the fine brown golden crust!  I had the fan oven temperature too high and used a deep rather than a wide dish.

Unexpected pleasures

Poor mother is ill and not coming for Easter as planned. This meant an unexpected day out for us both today. We meandered down through Banham to Stanton farm shope where they have a great cheese counter, baker and the best treacle back bacon. We came away with Suffolk Gold, Hawes Reserve Wensleydale and Old Amsterdam. And bacon. And other stuff.

Bury St Edmunds is always a surprise, such a civilised place. Grand Georgian houses cheek by jowl with medieval houses. We spent ages in The Cook Shop, replenishing our stock of 40 year old wooden spoons. Next time i do that i shall be 100. Scary thought.

We fell upon Gastronono-me, a Deli and artisan bakery which offerd delights, hummus with chilli, olives, soda bread. That’s supper sorted. Bread, cheese, olives, Rioja, sofa. Perfect.

Just as we were bewailing the paucity of vegetarian eateries we stumbled upon Josef’s Vegetarian Cafe in St John’s Street. Apparent,y they were looking for premises for a Charity shop and decided to open a vegetarian restaurant instead. I like that sort of serendipity. I had a celeriac steak served with mustard sauce, potato wedges roast Portobello mushroom and roast tomato with a perfectly dressed salad. David had a well spiced lentil burger on a toasted bun with tomato salsa. Both were perfect and we recommend you try it for yourselves.

I’m not a fan of pasta

Unlike the rest of my family I am not a great fan of pasta. Maybe I’ve never eaten great pasta. Or maybe I can conjure a meal without the need for quick-pasta solution. Either way, it has never been a first port of call when deciding what to eat. Consequently, I am ashamed to say, I have never made pasta. Until  yesterday. I was pretty pleased with the result but I learned a lot whilst making it.

  • you don’t need a pasta machine
  • the food processor (again) was king of the kitchen
  • my standard 30 year old rolling pin was too short
  • it needs to be much thinner than you think
  • it is a good way to spend an hour in contemplative mode
  • I should have worked on the round table and not the work surface
  • unlike pastry it is AOK to stretch the dough as you roll it (although I didn’t at the time and later watched a really helpful clip on YouTube

300g 00 flour, 4 eggs, 1/2 tsp salt, 25ml olive oil.  Into the food processor you go and whizz round till it begins to bind.  Then turn onto a floured surface and knead away, as with bread dough, for 10 minutes.  Wrap in clingfilm then put to one side for at least half an hour. It is beautifully tactile, smooth and springy and golden yellow.

De-seed and peel half an onion squash (or any squash, but the more orange the better the colour). Chop into 2cm dice and throw into a hot frying pan (or roast them) with a little olive oil, a sprinkle of chilli flakes, a grind of black pepper and a couple of bay leaves.  Put the lid on and shake around every five minutes until soft. Then add some sea salt to taste.  When cool, mash the squash (having removed the bay leaves).  Combine with 200g ricotta cheese. Add finely chopped parsley and a grating of garlic. Check seasoning again.

Now for the pasta.  What I did was to roll it out as I would roll out pastry till it was very thin. The mistake I made was that even though I thought it was rolled very thin, when cooked, of course, it thickens up. So it needs to be even thinner.  The YouTube clip subsequently taught me the helpful trick of using a long thin rolling pin and to roll the pastry onto the pin, stretching the pastry as you go (watch to clip to see what I mean).  No doubt many of you know this already, but it was news to me!

As it was, I rolled out the pastry, dropped a teaspoon of the ricotta and squash filling in rows across the pasta then covered them with another layer of pasta, carefully pressing out the air before sealing the edges, then cutting into ravioli shapes with a sharp knife.  This technique worked perfectly.

Then I dropped half a dozen ravioli into boiling water and cooked for about 3 minutes, drained onto kitchen paper and served with butter sauce (melted butter with a tablespoon of the cooking liquor to emulsify it).

The result was very pleasing.  The filling was delicious, but the pasta a little too hefty for my liking. I think it will be improved by refining the rolling technique.  I shall try again.  By the way you might wonder where are the pictures – the answer is that I have sand in my camera and its not working at the moment. More of that another day.

Samosas with mango salsa

A long run of visitors and little time for the blog.  Apologies.

Tonight we had a re-run of last night’s farewell curry festival when Mark spent the last night with us before returning to Norway. I was sad to see him go – we had rekindled so easily, the friendship of our childhood and shared many happy family memories.  But I made far too  much curry  – lamb rogan josh, eight hour chick peas, hot and sour vegetable curry, cauliflower and potato curry,  mango salsa, potato and pea samosa – which meant that tonight there was only a small amount of cooking to do (ie replenish the samosa stock).coriander and coconut chutney

So here’s the samosa recipe.

You’ll need your food processor for ease, but you can also mix the pastry by hand.  Mix together 300g gram (chick pea) flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 25ml vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon black mustard seed and 1 teaspoon cumin seed.  Then add cold water bit by bit until you have a soft dough.  Put the dough in a plastic bag and leave for about an hour.

Dice four medium sized potatoes into small dice (don’t bother peeling them).  In a shallow pan heat about 1 tbsp oil then add 2 tablespoons of the garam masala spice mix (on this blog). Cook it gently for a minute, then add half a finely chopped red chilli.  Then add the potatoes and mix in with the spices.  Fry these for about 5 minutes then add 75ml water and put the lid on, cooking the potato gently until all the water has disappeard and the potato is just cooked.  Then add a mug full of frozen peas, stir into the spice and potato mix and then add some salt.  Take off the heat and allow to cool completely.

The key to a good samosa is remembering two things.  1) the filling should be hotter (chilli heat) and slightly saltier than you think it should, and 2) the oil for the final frying should be smoking hot (that way the samosa gets crispy but doesn’t absorb the oil).

Take the dough out of the bag and knead it.  It should be fairly soft but not sticky.  Then scatter the work surface with coarse semolina (I use this instead of flour), pull walnut sized pieces off the dough and roll out quickly  and cut into circles.  Then cut each circle in half.

P1020863Pick up a semi-circle of pastry and dampen the straight edges, then fold it and press together the straight edges.

P1020864P1020865Now open it out so the open edge is at the top and fill with the spiced potato and peas, then dampen the open edges and pinch together carefully.

P1020866P1020867P1020868Repeat this many times, getting into a gentle, contemplative rhythm, until you have tons of samosas looking like this.

P1020869Now, simply fry them in very hot oil, a few at a time so the temperature of the oil doesn’t drop, probably about one minute each side, then remove onto kitchen towel.

Serve piping hot with mango salsa  finely chop one green mango, and mix with half a chopped red chilli, a one inch cube of finely chopped fresh ginger, mint or coriander leaves, a little salt, about a teaspoon of sugar and the juice of one lime.  Then fry a tablespoon of black  mustard seed in a tablespoon of oil with some more chopped chilli for about 30 seconds, then pour over the salsa.

Hope you enjoy them!.

Little gem lettuce with peas

It works, I swear!

The potato topped bean mushroom and tomato  pie was in the oven but there were no greens in the fridge. Tragedy!

So this little gem (sic.) came to pass. it is adapted from a little gem, pea, avocado and mint salad I  make in the summer.

But this is winter. Take two little gem lettuce and slice lengthways into eight. Snick the bitter end off (but not too much).  Chop a small bunch of spring onions including the green bits.  Add a knob of butter to a shallow pan on a medium heat and a splash of rape seed oil.  Add the onions then the lettuce then two cups of frozen peas, 50ml water and a squeeze of juicy garlic.  Turn the heat up high. Clamp on the lid and when it is steaming, give it 3 minutes.  Then remove from the heat and stir in two tablespoons of coriander chutney (see lamb curry recipe). Swirl around a bit.

It is divine.