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Recipe: Fuchsia Dunlop’s Spicy Peanut Butter Noodles (with Prawns)

Fuchsia Dunlop's Spicy Peanut Butter Noodles with Prawns

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Spicy Peanut Butter Noodles with Prawns

Convenience isn’t always about using your store cupboard bits and bobs. Convenience, for me, is often about avoiding leaving the house. I know. I live in a big city about 10 minutes walk away from a supermarket and 2 minutes from a reasonably stocked corner shop, but some days I am so deep in cabin fever / cosy / lazy / attached to my pjs, I will do anything to just stay indoors.

So, if I want a sandwich I may delay it so that I can bake the bread. Yes, I do that. Not often, but I do. That is also because I can’t stand the really processed stuff and the bakery is, well, 10 minutes away, but you know, I don’t want to leave the house (and I like baking). Or, if I need peanut butter to cook someone else’s store cupboard supper, I will make it at home rather than walk 2 minutes to the corner shop. The result is a much better peanut butter and the effort is not too great.

If you work from home (all the time, not just occasional days), you will understand this sophisticated form of cabin fever. When working from home I hold myself captive, until it spirals out of control and then I become a little weird and try to arrange everything so that it happens within a few metres of my living room. I need to get an office, with a kitchen, can someone arrange that, please?

Back to that peanut butter. Yesterday was OFM Sunday, and this months issue had a lovely feature on store cupboard suppers.[Read more]

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Recipe: Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Dip (Because We Must)

Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Sauce (Recipe)

Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Sauce (Recipe)

Some days demand chicken wings. Today is one. The best bit of the chicken for snacking on, the skin to flesh ratio being somewhere in the region of can-solve-most-of-lifes-problems, chicken wings are also very reasonable. Even in my local posh butcher, a kilo of lovely free range wings costs just over £5.

Everyone should have a recipe for hot wings in their repertoire. So easy and so gorgeous, spiked hot crisp wings dipped into a soothing cool blue cheese dip is all that you have ever wanted after a bad day. Or any day. Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce is what makes the wings sing, you could make your own, and it is the kind of thing that I often do, but in this case, truly, Frank’s have done all the work and made a great sauce. So, like every other hot wing fanatic on the planet, I use that.

They take little work. I roast the wings until the skin is just crisp, prepare the hot sauce which takes, oh, 2 minutes, then douse the wings in the sauce before returning to the oven for a little bit. Then I prepare the dip, which again is very complicated, ridiculously easy, a mish mash of strong blue cheese with natural yogurt, blended until they yield, and embrace each other.

Easy, and perfect for January blues, right? Enjoy.

Recipe: Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Sauce[Read more]

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Thoughts On Dry January, Diets and a Recipe for Salmon Tacos

Homemade Salmon Tacos (Recipe)

Homemade Salmon Tacos

It won’t surprise you, but I don’t do dry January. Nor do I do diets. I reign myself in, become a little more pragmatic and try and restore balance by eating a little lighter but still in normal amounts. Or rather, I start eating normal amounts. Replacing sour cream with yogurt. Eating more fish and less meat. A bit more salad. Lots of avocados. Frying less, although still a little. Lighter Brighter cooking is what I shall call it. It is all about being aware that every little bit makes a difference but not killing the enjoyment of it. Food is sustenance and a source of great pleasure. The key to health is home cooking, moderation and exercise. And good sleep.

With diets, I think a lot of people feel better not because they have cut out a food group (don’t get me started), but because they have started paying attention to what they eat, and what they cook. One very big thing is cutting out processed food. Some go from not cooking at all to eating predominantly home cooked food. I bet that if you speak to a lot of very successful dieters, you will discover that they transitioned from not really thinking about what they ate to being a lot more considerate about what they cooked, and eating less processed food. They almost certainly exercised a lot more.

The reality (certainly for me) is that even when you think about what you cook (and I do a lot), it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily eating well. But when you do think about it from a health perspective, and start to feel the benefits of Lighter Brighter cooking, when you can see exactly what you are eating, not through a film in a plastic tray spinning around in a microwave, but because you have cooked it and see just how much of everything has gone in, that is empowering. When you cook, you can also adapt your recipes to make them lighter and no less delicious.

Enter salmon tacos. I am lucky that I live near a great fishmonger (and I have a great butcher too). Last Saturday I went late and there was not much left, but there was some lovely salmon. I did two things with it it, a teriyaki (a simple combination of 50ml soy sauce & 50 ml mirin with 1 tsp of honey, reduced by half over a medium heat, and then used to glaze a just-cooked piece of salmon, delicious) and also some lovely light salmon tacos.[Read more]

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Burnt aubergine with sweet peppers and red onion

I have a confession to make! I published this post last weekend, and a few hours later a trusted friend queried my photograph, thinking that it didn’t do the dish justice. I took a look, and sure enough, they were right. It was like going out to work hungover and slightly frazzled wearing something that you think looks ok, and realising slowly that it was a horrible choice, ill fitting, and irritating for the rest of the day. So I took it down. I made the dish again today, same recipe, and here’s the post. In my defence, I made this dish for a friend and drank lots of wine as I was cooking (as did they!). So, lesson learned, don’t take food photographs drunk, and don’t rush blog posts!

One of my indulgences is cookbooks, I love them, and I have a ridiculous amount. Some are  very well thumbed with weakening spines, others are neglected, bought out of curiosity and never properly investigated. I love concocting my own food and creating recipes, but I also love to cook from cookbooks, entering the culinary head of another, and seeing how they do things.

A lot of the cookbooks that I have been buying in the last few years are from restaurants and cafes that I really like. Often they’re not as impressive as the restaurant they are associated with, but as always, there are exceptions. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook is one.

I was very excited about this one. I worked reasonably close to the Islington branch for a number of years and would occasionally treat myself to a delicious lunch. When Yotam Ottolenghi started writing recipes in the Guardian I was always enthralled with his approach and combinations. Coming from Israel with a Palestinian business partner, there are some wonderful influences from that region. The first time I used orange blossom water was when I made an Ottolenghi salad and it was a revelation. He uses colour and flavour wonderfully, I remember reading sovewhere that if a dish doesn’t look great, it doesn’t matter how great it tastes, you won’t get it at Ottolenghi.

I’ve had the cookbook since it was published and I really don’t use it enough. I frequently dip in, for inspiration or just a good read, and a flick through the gorgeous pictures. I decided I really should start, and I can safely say after just one recipe, the book is well and truly broken in with splatters and thumb prints all over the page. Ah well.

Burnt aubergine is a gorgeous, intensely savoury flavour. It’s fantastic in a vegetarian dish as it confers a depth that could otherwise be difficult to achieve. I flicked through the book and came across a lovely recipe for a salad including this, so I endeavoured to adapt and try it with the ingredients I had.

aubergine

Burning an aubergine is as easy as it sounds. Rest the aubergine on a gas flame and burn it, turning it as each side is done until complete. Don’t worry if the skin splits, it happens a lot. Let it cool a little and peel the skin off, or scoop out the inside after cutting it in two. Drain in a colander for an hour or so then chop.

The rest of the salad is very straight forward, a simple dressing, some delicate spicing (cumin). This would be wonderful for a BBQ or similar summer event with the sweetness of the peppers and tartness of the tomatoes.

I altered the proportions of the recipe with two different colour peppers and a little less aubergine and tomatoes. I really liked it, and am very much looking forward to trying more of his recipes, and eating there again.

Ingredients:

1 large aubergine, burnt as described above, drained and chopped
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 orange pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
a handful of small fruity cherry tomatoes or similar, halved
a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Dressing:

5 tbsp sunflower oil or similar
3 tbsp cider vinegar
3 tsp fresh cumin, toasted and ground or 3 tsp ground cumin (the first option is infinitely preferable)

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method:

First, make the dressing and check the taste and adjust if necessary.
Mix the other ingredients and add the dressing. Season with S&P to taste and serve.

This is really nice with khobez, pittas or similar.

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

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Asparagus and Truffle Carbonara

Asparagus & truffle carbonara

Life’s simple pleasures are the driving force for getting through each day with a smile on my face. Food, wine, music, friends, jokes, laughter, a good book, some occasional trashy TV, all contribute towards a day I brand a success, and one that makes me want to repeat the experience when I fall out of bed the next morning.

Some days need more than this, whether you’ve had a grim day at the office, are entertaining friends or simply require a dash of some decadence in your life, some extras are called for. When I have had a bad day I comfort shop and I comfort eat. The two are inextricably linked. I buy things that give me comfort: good food, new sheets, nice wine, something nice to wear. I am nice to myself, when for whatever reason, I feel the world is rejecting me or treating me with disdain. Bah!

This particular occasion I was in fine fettle and entertaining a good friend who happens to be a vegetarian, so no need to picture me with a cloud over my head and chocolate stains all around my mouth with a bag of crisps on my hand, running to the nearest department store with a bunch of notes in my hand. Dramatic, yes, but you’ll get used to that! I wanted to make something quick that was full of flavour and indulgent, allowing me plenty of time to catch up, drink wine and still produce a meal that I would enjoy and be proud to share.

truffle goodies

I also had a box of goodies to explore, truffle goodies from Savitar in Italy, the most decadent box I’ve ever had in my cupboard containing a range of superb products, including, for this dish, truffle pecorino (ewe’s milk cheese). I am a big fan of traditional dishes, and generally don’t like to mess with them. I stick faithfully to Marcella Hazan’s recipe for carbonara, it’s a lovely thing, but there are some twists on this that work, and one involves asparagus. I would often have asparagus and pancetta in this, but for this evening, meat was murder and I was temporarily veggie, so to spruce it up I used truffle pecorino in the place of the usual parmesan and pecorino mix.

truffle pecorino

This worked so well. The truffle was sublime and decadent but complimented the asparagus, which fresh and in season was full flavoured. The sauce was light and creamy and licked the linguine without being cloying. I’ll be making this again, although if for me and not vegetatians, I will include pancetta.

I put this together quite intuitively as I have made carbonara or versions many times. I cooked enough linguine for 3 people, about two thirds of a pack. Spaghetti is traditional for this dish, but linguine is a reasonable substitute should you have none, which was the case for me. As it was cooking, I snapped the woody tips from the end of some delicious English asparagus, and boiled thm for a couple of minutes until approaching tender. Place in a bowl of iced water or run under the cold tap to arrest the cooking process. I chopped these so that the stems were in centimetre chunks with the tips at full length.

The next step requires a little prep. I use one egg yolk per person from a large free range organic egg. Beat them with approx. 3 generous tablespoons of the truffle pecorino and one tablespoon of freshly grated pamesan cheese, season and leave to the side. Lightly mash a clover of garlic and fry until golden in some olive oil over a medium high heat. Remove the garlic, add the chopped asparagus and about half a glass of dry white wine. Fry off the alcohol, reducing the volume a little as you do.

When the pasta is cooked, toss in the egg and cheese mixture, and add the asparagus. Serve immediately with some freshly grated pamesan or for extra decadence a mixture of truffle pecorino and parmesan. Enjoy with a fine glass of wine and some good chatter.

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Salsify & Roast Garlic Soup

Salsify & Roast Garlic Soup

Salsify is a most underrated vegetable. It’s ugly, and it’s awkward. It’s like a stroppy teenager that refuses to wash. It’s not much fun to prep and goes off colour really easily. Dark brown and holding onto every bit of dirt, I had some ground into my palms which took so much scrubbing, I  think I’ve lost some layers of skin. It requires a lot of TLC. Putting it mildly. 

So, why bother?

Once  you crack it and this shy vegetable shows you it’s smile, you can’t help but fall in love with it. Tender and delicate, it’s often referred to as the oyster of the vegetable kingdom as it’s reported to have a similar flavour. I find it a little nutty, and so I like to pair it with roast garlic, which I think compliments it well. Once you take the beast that is garlic with some firm roasting, so that it relaxes and releases a sweetness, it holds hands with the salsify in this soup, and they become the best of friends. They don’t overpower each other, it’s a very delicate soup.

This aside, I wanted this to be a robust little soup, thick with lots of flavour, and I really wanted it to be healthy too. So, I added lentils and a carrot and a potato, along with the base shallots. I used a light chicken stock but you could substitute vegetable if you would like a vegetarian soup. 

This would serve 4 very healthy portions. Nice with good crusty bread.

Ingredients:

700g salsify, unpeeled
1 bulb garlic
2 large shallots or 4 small, finely chopped
2l light chicken stock
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
100g red lentils
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs of thyme
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive Oil for frying
S&P

Method:

Scrub, scrub, scrub that salsify. Peel, taking care not to strip too much of the skin. Chop into one inch sections and leave in acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon), so that it doesn’t discolour.

Roast the garlic. I like to roast at 180 degrees, it takes about 20 minutes. Slice the top off a bulb of garlic, exposing the top of each clove and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Roast and allow to cool, then squeeze each clove out of it’s papery jacket. I adore roast garlic. It should really have a post all of it’s own.

Saute the shallots in the olive oil until translucent. Add the carrots and potato for a couple of minutes. After, add the stock, bay leaves, thyme, garlic cloves, lentils and salsify.

Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the salsify is tender. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves and blitz in a blender. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Serve with some thyme leaves as a garnish. I added a swirl of olive oil but cream would work really well too.

Enjoy!

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GOOD Oil & good food, a great combination

Pea & Pecorino Crostini

Pea & Pecorino Crostini

This food blogger cares about her health, it may not be obvious with my clear overindulgence in staples like chorizo and pork belly, but I do care about what I eat, I want to be and to feel healthy, and as a consequence, I do try to maintain a balanced diet. This is increasingly difficult in these busy times but I think I do ok.

Recently, I was invited to try GOOD Oil, a hempseed oil, at a dinner party in West London with a group of fellow bloggers (Alex from Epicurienne,  Melanie from Fake Plastic Noodles, Helen from Food Stories, Lizzie from Hollow Legs, Chris from Londonist) and hosted by the lovely couple that have dedicated the last 8 years of their lives to perfecting this oil, Henry & Glynis, and their son and cook for the evening, Ben. It seemed like a really good opportunity to broaden my culinary horizons and have an all round nice evening with some of my blogger friends.

I always feel like I need to say in these posts, and I’ll say it again, that I will not tout a product because it’s been given to me or promote something that I would not run out to the shop to buy. I feel passionately about the integrity of what I do and I’ll stick by it, even if it offends, it’s important. GOOD Oil impressed me on many levels so I want to share the experience with you and a recipe from that night for you to try at home.

Cheeseboard

Cheeseboard

So, hempseed oil, what’s that? Well, it’s oil that’s made from hempseed…simple really! Henry Braham and Glynis Murray, cinematographer and film producer respectively, bought a farm in Devon almost a decade ago with a view to producing a sustainable crop, and settled on hemp. We all know that hemp is used for fibre (e.g. clothing) but it’s also highly nutritious and contains Omega 3, 6 and 9. Scientific studies have shown that it’s good for arthritis, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, skin, hair and for us ladies, PMT. The only hemp oil available at the time tasted unpleasant, so Henry & Glynis decided to press it like an olive oil with a view to producing something healthy and tasty using traditional methods to get the best from the seed.

They’ve struggled and persevered and I admire them for that. They believed in sustainable agriculture and chose hemp for that reason, they could have gone the traditional route and used hemp for fibre but they felt passionately in the oil, and spent many years perfecting it. They could have used modern less expensive pressing techniques but they wanted the best quality and strove for it. They wanted GOOD Oil. They survived the foot & mouth crisis and even fended off some trips from the police wondering what exactly was this hemp that they were growing! That particular bit, I found very funny!

What’s the result of all this struggle? Was it worth it? YES! GOOD Oil is nutty and rich and healthy, a really pleasant flavour that works well with different foods like mash and ice cream (yes, really, it’s lovely drizzled on vanilla ice cream – I am told it was Jamie Oliver’s idea). In fact, I would substitute it anywhere I would use extra virgin oil and I’ve a few things I want to experiment with using this oil. I want to use it to make nice and healthy winter soups, I really want to try some nice and different salad dressings, and, to use it in super healthy spelt and pearl barley salads. That’s just the start, a new ingredient is always so exciting.

So, GOOD Oil, is good! Give it a go. For now, I’ll leave you with the recipe for the starter that we had that night – pea and pecorino crostini – give it a go, and let me know what you think! I thought it was fresh and lively, and the GOOD Oil worked really well with the nutty pecorino. This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients:

150g shelled peas
75g grated pecorino
Juice of half a lemon
4 slices of sourdough bread
Drizzle of GOOD Oil
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Method:

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees celsius.
Cook the peas until bright green and tender by boiling in water, only a few minutes. Refresh with ice cold water to stop the cooking process and preserve that lovely colour.
Mash the peas with the pecorino and some of the oil, aiming for a guacamole like texture.
Brush the sourdough on both sides with the oil and bake in the oven until crisp. Shouldn’t take anymore than 5 minutes.
Spoon the pea and pecorino mix on top. Shaving of pecorino make a nice garnish.

More info and recipes at http://www.goodwebsite.co.uk/

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Orzo with Butternut Squash, Spinach and Buffalo Ricotta

I wasn’t going to blog this dish. As I keep saying, and I am sure it’s getting dull by now, my cooking lately has been haphazard, last minute and subject to me destroying pots and sustaining injuries. This is fairly normal behaviour, certainly on the injury front, but you know you’re cooking too late when you put some rice and lentils on the hob and then walk away like it never happened, wondering 10 minutes later, what is that burning smell? Sheesh.

Worry not, I have been eating well, and I am certainly not fading away. I am completely spoiled for choice at lunchtime, from Brindisa stews and sandwiches, to Moro’s spiced lamb, Sporeboys risotto, Gujarati Rasoi’s wonderful veggie curries and Ginnan’s chicken katsu curry. That’s but the tip of what’s available in Exmouth Market. The evenings are another story, they have been busy, and I am not complaining, it’s good to be busy, but I have been missing those stolen kitchen hours here and there poking in cupboards and making something new.

So, to rectify, and also in an attempt to fight the descent of a cold, I did some cooking last week, a little not a lot. Just some quick lunches and salads with some very fresh colourful food in. Salads with peashoots and enormous heirloom tomatoes, pumpkins for tis the season, and some random dishes created from what I’ve been stashing in the fridge and cupboard over the last few weeks. Last night I made one such dish and it was really nice. I decided not to post it though as I took a photo in passing, and it was crap, and I wasn’t much in the mood for styling.

MY! What a long rambling story. I am gettting there, promise!

So, I sat down to eat it, and I thought, this tastes nice! The creamy orzo played nicely with the sweet and caramelised butternut squash and the crispy sage taunted all of it with it’s butteriness. It was lovely! And I ate lots.

So, how do you create this wonder of a random dish? The quantities are flexible and I would encourage you to experiment. I fried an eschalion shallot and one clove of garlic, finely chopped, 2 slices of pancetta and 200g peeled and diced butternut squash for about 7-8 minutes until the butternut squash is cooked.  Add 2 tablespoons of ricotta, I used buffalo but cows is fine. Then add a few handfuls of washed and chopped spinach and 100g of cooked orzo (cooked according to packet instructions) and cook until the orzo is warmed through and the spinach cooked but still bright green. To crown it, shred and fry some sage in butter, and when crispy, stir through and serve.If I had them toasted pine nuts would have been a lovely addition.

This eats well hot or cold. Enjoy!

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Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon & Chives

Decadent brunch - Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and chives

It seems silly to write a post about scrambled eggs, maybe I am having a silly day (possible), but, I am sure that it’s more that there’s few things as bad as badly scrambled eggs. Ok, there’s lots of things worse, but when you only have two eggs left and are too lazy to go to the shop, it can screw up your morning. Like it did mine last week, when I overheated the oil accidentally and the eggs turned into an instant omelette whilst splattering and burning me at the same time.

So, determined to redeem myself, the next day I went out and bought some lovely golden burford brown eggs, some smoked salmon and chives. I like my scrambled eggs simple, very simple, this is as a result of a discussion I had some years ago with a friend where I maintained you could put anything in scrambled eggs. I quickly proved that the results of such experimentation can be monstrous so, now, it’s only friends are tomatoes, herbs, smoked salmon and cheese. Maybe some shallots.

This doesn’t need a recipe, just a conversation :-) You need, per person: 2 eggs, a couple of slices of smoked salmon, some butter, some chopped chives and some nice bread for toasting. Toast your bread, heat the butter until foaming, beat the eggs lightly and season with s&p. Add to the butter over a low heat. The eggs will slowly start to cook, stir with a spatula or something similar taking care to pull it in from the sides. Just before the eggs are at the consistency you like them, take them off the heat, for me this is quite fluid. It’s important to do this as the eggs will continue to cook, even off the heat. Stir in most of the chives and half the smoked salmon. Serve on top of the toast with the remaining smoked salmon and chives. Eat immediately.

Enjoy!

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Burrata with heirloom tomatoes

Burrata with heirloom tomatoes

Every now and then, I like to treat myself to something nice to eat from Harrod’s Food Hall. I really like Selfridge’s and Harvey Nichol’s also, but Harrod’s is so vast and decadent and full of treats. On a recent visit I spied a buffalo cheese that I hadn’t seen before – burrata – of which there where two types, one normal and one with truffle. I was so intrigued but I didn’t actually buy any, I was on a mission that day and was looking for borlotti beans. I went back the following week, but, to my dismay, there was no burrata to be had. It’s delivered on a Tuesday and always sells out on the day.

So, the following Tuesday, I made sure I got down there to buy some of this intriguing cheese, but there was none there! I waited impatiently for the lady behind the counter, just to check, and happily they had a box of it stowed away in a fridge. They didn’t have the truffle one so I got the normal one.

Some background on burrata for anyone like me that hadn’t come across it before: it’s a fresh cheese made from buffalo milk and cream from water buffalos. Traditionally it was wrapped in vine leaves, but now is more commonly wraped in plastic. When making it, the hot cheese is formed into a pocket, which is then filled with leftover mozzarella. Fresh cream is added before closing and wrapping in the fresh or synthetic leaves. The fresh leaves would have been an indicator of the freshness of the cheese, if the leaves were green, then the cheese was fresh, if not, it wasn’t.

What does it taste like? A really fresh and milky mozarella. Really delicious. I ate it with with large slices of heirloom tomatoes and some fruity extra virgin olive oil. It was wonderful and shall be adapted for many lunches and starters in the future.

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Latkes with apple sauce

Another conspicuous absence and another apology! I have been keeping a low culinary profile recently but have dug out a dish I made some weeks ago and never had the chance to blog – latkes.

As always there is some sentimentality attached, I first came across these many years ago when I lived in Amsterdam. I had just arrived, and, was staying in a youth hostel that a friend was working in. It was Rosh Hashannah, and, two Jewish girls from the US decided to make latkes. My interest was piqued, I had never heard of them before (I was relatively fresh from the Emerald Isle ;)), and a new way of cooking potatoes that involves frying sounded good, surely, this is a new posh crisp?! I was soon to discover it was much better, and, it’s a recipe that I make now with fond recollection.

I most recently had latkes on my August trip to Paris on a visit to the Marais. I went to the famed Jewish deli, Finkelstajn’s, and indulged. It’s a wonderful deli, full of treats like baked cheesecake and the aforementioned latke’s. Recent weeks have been gloomy and full of upheaval, so to restore my spirits, I made some of these.

I prefer to use a waxy potato when making these, like a Desiree or Charlotte potato. I have made them with floury potatoes and I don’t like the texture that results, they’re too dense. Some people prefer floury potatoes, though, so experiment if these are new to you. I have read that it’s traditional to fry latkes in goose fat but I used light sunflower oil, occasionally I use olive oil, whatever’s your preference really. Matzo meal is a common ingredient in recipes too, although I don’t use it here.

[Read more]

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Salmon Fish Cakes

I was at a BBQ at a friends house at the weekend and came home with lots of leftovers. These leftovers included a side of uncooked salmon and leftover boiled potatoes. I also raided their herb garden and came home with a bouquet of herbs including chives, mint, basil, thyme and rosemary. What to make? Could be fish pie but it’s not Winter (although it feels like it again today) and I wanted something light with some salad on the side. Quick and easy was also important. I had one of those days yesterday and wanted to sit down with a glass of wine, pronto. So, fish cakes it was. Perfect, ready in half an hour and before I knew it I was plonked in front of the tv browsing a stash of cookbooks while watching some food shows, Sanjeev Baskars India, and, dare I say it, Big Brother. Don’t judge me. I was weak. It wasn’t me, yer honour! ;)

Food like this makes me think back to Home Economics class when I was 13 and the first time I made potato cakes. I was amazed that you could make something so nice with leftovers and so quickly. Some mashed potato, flour, butter, egg & seasoning, cooked like a pancake and served in slices. YUM! Home Economics wasn’t always such a success, mind. I was very giddy and one day tipped a whole bag of salt into my homemade vegetable soup by accident. I am feeling very nostalgic for those days and have been trying to source the Home Economics book we had – All about home economics: A complete course in Intermediate Certificate and Day Vocational Certificate home economics byt Deirdre Madden, but to no avail. If anyone knows where I can get a copy I’d be thrilled!

Anyway, back to the fish cakes. They’re so easy. Really. I like my fish cakes to have more salmon than potato but that’s down to your individual preference. Play around with quantities until you get the consistency you want. I used chives but you could use flat leaf parsley or a selection of herbs. The quantities below will serve four. I chose to make 4 big cakes but 8 small ones is good too. I served one each with a side salad of rocket, quartered cherry tomatoes & finely sliced red onion in a balsamic and olive oil dressing – (one third vinegar to oil plus seasoning).[Read more]

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Butter bean, red lentil & rosemary soup

Another quick lunch was required and I fancied some wholesome soup. I wanted something healthy so lentils and beans sounded good. I had also recently pilfered some rosemary from a friends garden so wanted to put that in. I toyed with the idea of making a chorizo, tomato, red pepper & butter bean soup but I’ve been eating so much chorizo lately that I thought that I should give those poor Spanish pigs a break, they’re probably having nightmares about me. I did use Spanish beans though, the giant Spanish butter beans – Judion de la Granja. These are huge white butter beans, quite creamy in texture. They can be hard to get and pricey so feel free to replace with butter beans, it will still be very nice, I just like using different ingredients and the drama of the large beans. If you do want them El Navarrico do them in jars and you can get them in most Spanish deli’s. You can also get them dry at Brindisa in Borough or Exmouth Market in London. Garcia’s in Notting Hill sell the jarred ones as do most Spanish deli’s, this just happens to be the one I know well.

Back to the soup. It’s important to use a good stock here. The soup is quite brothy and the stock delivers much of the flavour. You can use chicken or vegetable and preferably homemade. Mine was vegetable made by boiling some carrots, garlic, cloves, celery, leek, rosemary, just bits I had in the fridge really. As long as you think the veg will complement the veg in your soup it will work well. Stock requires alot of veg so make sure you use plenty. Alternatively, just be sure to use a good shop bought stock. The recipe follows. [Read more]

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Samphire Tabbouleh

Following on from yesterdays post -Wild salmon with samphire, broad bean & tomato salad and crisp sauté new potatoes, I have another samphire post. This one is vegetarian and is based on the salad recipe from yesterdays post. I was looking at the 100g of samphire that I had left and wondering what I could do with it that would be tasty and suitable for lunch the next day. A quick fumble in the cupboard revealed a forgotten bag of organic bulgur. Bulgur is very healthy, it’s more nutritious than rice or cous cous so I always have a bag to hand next to the quinoa. There’s lots of forgotten random bits in my cupboards, it’s like a bunker in there! I have promised myself that I will empty them over the coming months and base my recipes on what’s in there so it should be interesting.

For the samphire, I decided on a chunky samphire tabbouleh. I love tabbouleh, it’s so light and fragrant but can take really robust flavours. I decided that I would use the samphire in place of the herbs and rather than finely chopping the tomatoes, leave them in quarters as the tomatoes I have at the moment deserve prominence in this dish. This is very quick (except for double podding the broad beans but you could probably substitute with peas if you’re in a rush). The bulgur that I used was the medium type but you could use fine if you have it. My favourite tabboulehs are ones that have only the smallest amount of bulgur and are mainly green, like a lebanese tabbouleh, so I was aiming to recreate this. This one was new so there was a little bit of trial and error in the proportions.

Here’s the recipe:
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Wild salmon with samphire, broad bean & tomato salad and crisp sauté new potatoes

Samphire is the ingredient of the moment. It’s on TV (e.g. Great British Menu), in the newspaper food sections (Independent last week, Guardian last month) and on the web (Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini for example). Samphire has many names, sea asparagus, sea beans & salicornia. There are two types of samphire – Marsh Samphire & Rock Samphire, the one you’ve been seeing everywhere is marsh samphire, found growing in the tidal zone and found all along the coast. The Norfolk coastline is particularly rich in it. You can buy it from most fishmongers and farmer’s markets. It’s not cheap, mine cost £1.50 per 100g, 100g works out at approximately a handful so I bought a couple. If you’re having it on it’s own with fish you’ll need about 100g-150g a person, maybe a bit more.

I first had samphire two years ago when we went to the Salusbury Pub & Dining Room in Queens Park for my birthday. It was served with sea bream and roast potatoes and was absolutely delicious. I have been a fan ever since. My samphire that night was absolutely soaked in butter, it works really well with it, but as a lactose intolerant that generally isn’t an option for me. Besides, I wanted to make something light & summery that paired well with the rich wild salmon that I had bought on my way home from work. Salty samphire pairs extremely well with fish but is also beautiful in salads. I tried both with my 200g batch, for today I’ll talk about the fish dish.

I went to Marylebone Farmers Market at the weekend and bought beautiful Isle of Wight tomatoes and a large bag of broad beans. I was keen to use them in this dish so decided on a samphire salad to go with the salmon.

Recipe notes: Samphire is very easy to cook but it is very salty so I would advise soaking in several changes of water over a few hours. If this isn’t possible, at least wash it in a few changes of water. Early season samphire can be eaten raw, however, it’s no longer early season and besides I like it blanched briefly before eating – 2 minutes or so does it. Take care to remove the woody bits from the end of the samphire stems and any bad bits. Be warned that samphire doesn’t keep very long as I found out last time I bought it! While double podding the broad beans is painful, it really is worth it, otherwise the rubbery broad bean skin overpowers the sweetness of the actual bean. [Read more]

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Prawns with chilli, garlic & parsley in cava

I am calling this a tapa but, in truth, I didn’t have something like this in Spain. But, Spain inspired me to make it. And, I am using cava. Can I get away with that? It seems like something you would get in Spain, perhaps with less chilli? Anyway, here it is.

I love prawns. We eat them really often, preferably from raw. I don’t like buying the precooked ones – they’re too tough and overcooked. I can be quite lazy and frequently buy the ones that are uncooked but have been deshelled & deveined for you to save time. We usually have them in a curry or in pasta with the occasional breakout to piri piri or a fish pie. This time they’re cooked briefly in cava with chilli, garlic & parsley and served on toast.[Read more]

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Broad beans with ham & lemon

I am still on a Spanish buzz! I just can’t get enough of tapas. This dish was inspired by habas con jamon (broad beans with ham) that we had in Spain but using what I had to hand – bacon. We had it twice in Spain. The first time was very disappointing in Plaza Nueva in Granada, in a bodegas which looked great but unfortunately wasn’t. This, incidentally appears to be very rare in Andalucia! The beans were overcooked and I couldn’t even see any ham. However, we had it again and it was delicious, nice bright fresh broad beans amidst chunks of serrano ham, one for the notebook to try and recreate when I got back to London.

It’s broad bean season so I had no problem getting these fresh. At this stage they’re quite large but still tender. To get the best from the broad beans be sure to double pod them. This takes a while but it is worth removing the rubbery skin, especially from larger ones (you can leave it on smaller ones).

Broad beans and ham are a great combination and the lemon lifts it and makes it really summery. It’s a very nice snack with a glass of cava. I will stress that this is my interpretation of the dish and not a traditional spanish recipe. I do intend to dig out the traditional one though and will post the results here.[Read more]

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Pasta with potato, red lentil and pumpkin

Pasta with potato, red lentil and pumpkin

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted anything but I’ve got a few things to post from the weekend. I’ll start with a pasta dish that I made yesterday, one of my comfort food favourites. I tend to make this by eye and by tastebud, adjusting it as I go so feel free to be flexible with the recipe. My mood also affects it, sometimes I like it very soup-y with alot of stock, other times I prefer the pasta to be the star of the show. Yesterday was a pasta day!

I got the idea for it many years ago when I visited Italy with some friends, one of whom was a local. I got many ideas that holiday, we had some wonderful food, much of it cooked by my friends boyfriends Dad whom we were staying with. It was my first time having homemade pumpkin gnocchi and proper neapolitan mozarella di bufala. It was out of this world. You just don’t get that mozarella anywhere else and I have tried very hard to find one that matches it. The shopkeeper that sold it used to travel to the farm at 4am every morning and if I remember right used to sell out by lunch time. The slices of mozarella were like big, juicy mozarella steaks. It was also my first time having pasta e patate, which was a revelation! It’s now one of my favourite dishes much to everyones amusement, me being irish and the dish consisting mainly of potatoes, sigh. It’s a favourite for sick days and hangovers especially, it’s like eating a cushion for your stomach :)[Read more]

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Quinoa with soya beans, parsley, sesame seeds & red onion

Quinoa is one of those foodstuffs that is so nutritious that I try to include it in my diet as regularly as possible. I like the nutty texture and as the flavour is quite subtle it mixes with almost everything. You can use it in the place of cous cous for a healthier tabbouleh or as a side dish in place of rice. It’s one of the few non-meat, non-dairy foodstuffs that contains the full complement of essential amino acids. I am not vegetarian but I was for 11 years and still keep to a predominantly vegetarian diet, mainly because I really enjoy vegetarian food and it’s extremely healthy once you take care to mix your proteins. I hadn’t had quinoa for a couple of months so I thought I’d drag it out of the cupboard and make a healthy lunch out of it.

I cook quinoa in a similar way to rice, twice the amount of liquid to grain. The only difference in the way I cook it is I like to fry/toast it briefly first in a little oil so that the texture is a little crispy in the finished dish.

This is a very flexible recipe. You can use different herbs or a mixture, nuts, especially pine nuts or hazelnuts are a lovely addition, I just didn’t have any to hand! You can eat it cold as a salad or warm – whatever works for you.

Ingredients (for one lunch):

100g quinoa
200ml light vegetable stock
Half red onion finely chopped
75g beans (any really, I used tinned soya beans)
25g sesame seeds
A handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
Couple tbsp fresh lemon juice
Olive oil

Method:

Sauté the red onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until soft.
Add the quinoa and stir for approx 2 minutes to ensure it doesn’t stick or burn.
Add the stock and cook for approx 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the quinoa is cooked but still al dente.
Take off the heat and add the sesame seeds, parsley, spring onions and lemon juice.
Season.