Monday, December 08, 2008

Elizabeth David's 'Hebrew Soup'
From Summer Cooking

Out of season and a bit odd, I know, but this soup is quite interesting. We pulled up the last of our beetroots only a week or so ago - they'd grown huge and intimidating. I barely scrubbed them, just put them in a big pot with water and boiled until tender, then lifted them from the dirty water and peeled thickly.

What to do with them? I have put some aside to make beetroot falafel, but used the rest to make this Hebrew Soup from Elizabeth David's Summer Cooking.

The instructions are simple and characteristically vague. Chop cooked beetroot (250g) and put into a pan with 1.5 pints water and a splash of vinegar (abour 1tbsp) and some salt. Boil until the beets are tender, then pour over a beaten egg and press the concoction through a sieve (I blended before sieving, to help it along a bit). Chill thoroughly.

Elizabeth David says the soup is to be served cold, but I just couldn't do it (and after I'd followed her recipe so faithfully too!). So I reheated it ever so gently, having steamed a handful of new potatoes (from the plot, in November!) and added a bit of butter to their pan. Then put a ladleful in each soup bowl and spooned over a few potatoes. (ED says, serve each guest a bowl of soup and a saucer of hot potatoes, probably so the potatoes don't all go cold at once because they were added to the soup.)

It was really good - strange but filling and unique. (ED describes it as "ambrosial".) I wouldn't go that far, but... hmm, this beetroot is growing on me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Caramelised Chilli & Rosemary Nuts

You could toss any combination of nuts in this gorgeously sticky, spicy, crunchy glaze and the result would be equally or more wonderful.

I am mildly obsessed with finding the best recipe for this kind of warm, spicy nuts. I have tried a few different recipes but by far the best technique, I think, is to warm the sugar and spices in a large pan - the melted sugar bubbles and browns and sticks everything to the nuts, giving a good balance of flavour on every nut. Other recipes usually suggest warm butter to act as spice glue... but I find this always ends up in a big heap of butter and spice at the bottom of the dish. My way gives out crunchy nuts that are evenly coated - and suitable for storing in an airtight jar, ready for pulling out (and perhaps warming briefly on a baking tray) when visitors arrive. (and making you feel like a truly perfect hostess, despite the dust on the fireplace.)

500g mixed nuts - I buy these separately (macadamia, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts) - skinned. (To skin hazelnuts, toast in a low oven, then rub them in a tea-towel.)
2tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2tbsp brown sugar
2tsp Maldon salt
1tsp Chipotle chilli flakes
2tsp pink peppercorns (or 1/2 tsp black pepper)

Grind the salt, chilli and pepper in a pestle and mortar and mix in the rosemary. In a large pan, warm up the sugar slowly until it starts to melt on the surface. When at least half of it has melted, you can add the nuts. Toss quickly then sprinkle over the spice mix, and continue toasting in the pan until the sugar is caramelly and the nuts are starting to brown here and there. Tip into a bowl or baking tray to cool, then put into an airight jar. The sweet, salty, spicy combination is addictive!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Butchart Gardens, late Sept (for Alicia)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Smashing Veggie Squeak

Look, I know it's not exactly a culinary sensation, and it's not the healthiest dinner in the world, but here's the thing: if you feel like chips or chocolate, or you have a cheese craving, this is a fix that will make you feel far less guilty. It feels like a treat - and, containing just a splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of cheddar, it's not quite so bad as a giant Dairy Milk. But you'll feel equally rewarded.

Eat with fresh bread and butter!

Smashing veggie squeak
For 2

2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cubed (1")
1 cup fresh borlotti or other haricot-type beans
1tsp Marigold vegetable bouillon
2 cobs of sweetcorn, kernels removed
1tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely sliced
1tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2-3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
Plenty of salt and pepper
Large handful cheddar cheese, grated
OPTIONAL: also good would be mushrooms, sweet potato, red pepper, spinach.

Put the potatoes and beans into a pan and just cover with water; sprinkle over the stock, bring to a boil, and cook for 4 minutes; add the sweetcorn kernels and continue for another 2 minutes - until the potato pieces are knife-tender. Drain in a colander.

In a wok or large frying pan, heat 1tbsp olive oil. Toss in the onion, the rosemary, and then the drained vegetables. Season very generously with both salt and pepper. Stir-fry on a high heat for about 4 minutes, getting lots of golden crunchy bits. Preheat the grill. Add the tomatoes and continue for 1 more minute. Taste for seasoning (I seasoned again here - lots of pepper and salt is GOOD).

Dish up into large bowls or plates and sprinkle over the cheese, then put under the grill until melted. Serve.

How to cook chestnuts

First, I wanted to show you some gratuitous pumpkin porn. But now it's onto the chestnuts, I promise.

These pictures of mine are TERRIBLE. But maybe if you shut your eyes a bit and squint at them, they will come slightly into focus? No? Oh well. Humour me.

Here are some chestnuts, fresh from the grass. You can tell they're chestnuts because they have that tuft at the top - unlike conkers (horse chestnuts) which are fully rounded.

Officially, you should slit each one before dropping it into a pan of cold water. I don't bother, thus risking eighty-nine miniature explosions that will send soft shards of chestnut flying all over my kitchen. Luckily, I am not the nominated Kitchen Cleaner in our house, so I don't let miniature explosions bother me too much. So - drop them in, and remove any chestnuts that float to the top. They're bad'uns.

Bring rapidly to the boil, and boil until the nuts feel tender. If they are freshly fallen, this could take just 5 minutes - yours could take longer, so keep an eye on them.

Now remove a few nuts from the pan and put them on your chopping board, ready for the hell to begin. They are easier to peel while hot, so it's best to tackle a few at a time. You will want to clear the nearby rooms of any family members who have done nothing to deserve your wrath.

So - see that brownish lump on my chopping board (brownish background)? It's a chestnut, after boiling. It does not look very different to the way it did pre-boiling, except that I have slit open the top with a knife and peeled away the outer (glossy brown) and inner (the paler brown) skin. Only another eighty-eight nuts to go. Best put on some soothing music - that'll help with the impending chestnut rage...

After what feels like six years, you will be looking at a small heap of the nuts that are now your least favourite nut in the entire world. Your back will ache. Your knife will be dull. And all appetite for these lovely little scamps will be lost. But that's okay. Because you saved a couple of pounds and a trip to the grocer. Now don't you feel good about the world?

Okay. So it will take you some time to feel good about the world. Until then, put these peeled monsters into the fridge or freezer, and try to forget about them. Or throw them immediately into a Mushroom & Chestnut Stroganoff, and destroy the evidence by mouth. Yum!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wipe your feet and come on in

I am in fierce competition with our nextdoor-but-one neighbour when it comes to window displays. Here is my autumn sill. I expect she will top it with an enormous display of dried fennel heads and elegant foliage. Mine always look a bit on the... hm, rustic side. But I prefer to think of them as 'cute'.

PS. Our cottage was built pre-1800, and the Planning officers "prefer us to fix, not replace" the windows. So yes, you are looking at draughty, peeling, rotting, cracked old windows, but at least their history is intact. Be glad you don't get our heating bills.

Welcome to my kitchen. Charlie rules the roost in this house, and she likes to remind us. She especially likes to climb anywhere that she can look down on us. She is doubtless planning a surprise attack of some sort. See how she is sharpening her claws on the ancient wooden beams?

The walls are a fetching swamp-monster green. That's what my husband called it when I painted splodges from trial pots. But now he loves it. Further proof, if needed, that I am virtually always right.

Indulge me. This is my cooker. I often stand in the doorway and gaze lovingly at it. I saved up for this darling and it makes my cooking better in every way. (I am not crying. yet.) And can you say that about a race bike that lives in the shed for 300 days of the year? No. You cannot. Do you think those tins are real antiques? I don't know either. I don't mind, anyway. In case my husband reads this, especially the bike part, I should also point out his lovely white silicone around the worktops and tiles. Beautiful work, yes?

You may be getting the sense that this is a slightly censored kitchen tour. That perhaps I chose a good moment to take pictures... to prove otherwise, here is the sink, complete with dirty dishwater and undried plates.

This dresser was especially sawn up, I mean adapted, for my kitchen. It is loaded with jars and things I have no other place for. But that's what it's for, yes? Charming mess.

Just in case you didn't get a good look at the card in front of the tea caddy: yes, it really does say that. There is no low to which the woman will not stoop to secure her first grandchild. I plan to make her wait a LOT longer, or at least that's my story.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Finding food for free

Our mortgage lender is one of those banks that has gone bankrupt (the irony). I don't understand much of the economic stuff, and I am not very good at economising, either. I have very expensive tastes. Lovely husband is constantly amazed at my unique skill - I can walk into any shop or aisle or look at any catalogue page and instantly pick out the single most expensive item with a firm "I want". Knitwear, shoes, TVs. We often check the prices to see if I have missed something with a bigger price tag! and I haven't failed once!

But one place I do economise - for pleasure more than relief - is in the kitchen. I like to make our own pizza bases and jam, hummus and biscuits, because I know what went into them. I am very fortunate to work at home, which gives me the little extra time to boil pulses or start dough in advance of dinner.

And speaking of blessings... we live in the country, and we have an energetic dog who must be walked for an hour ever day, whether it's hailing or baking. In the last three years I have thus learnt a lot about finding food for free!

At the moment there are a few things for the taking, and I thought I'd give you a quick tour. First of course are the easily recognised Blackberries (pictured above) - which are wonderful combined with windfall apples (any type - a mixture is good) in a crumble or cobbler. (They are also nice simmered gently and pressed through a sieve to make a coulis for vanilla ice-cream, cava cocktails, or cheesecake.)

Elderberries - which are just coming to an end (just! but if you hurry you'll find some clinging on!) - can be used to make a cordial full of Vitamin C. It does taste a bit like cough syrup, mind you, so what I'd suggest is... make a note of where you saw them, and return in late spring for the flowers instead!

Rosehips - the oval red berries (avoid the round ones as, with the exception of haws, the varieties I see are inedible) - supposedly make a tomato-like soup, according to Edible Wild Foods (Grub Street 2007) but are more commonly used for syrup or a crab apple jelly.
And finally, chestnuts - which deserve a post all of their own, and will get one. Before I do, take a walk and look for some chestnuts. Don't confuse them with horse chestnuts (conkers) which are rounded. Sweet chestnuts have little tufts at the top, a bit like small punks. They are ready just about now so, instead of buying them at the grocer, go out and find some!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder

And why not have soup for dinner? Especially if you polish off an entire French stick alongside it. This lovely soup makes the most of some seasonal ingredients, and bay leaves and rosemary from the garden. I'm sure it must count as a couple of our five-a-day. It's particularly cheap if your husband has been pilfering sweetcorn "windfalls" from a nearby field. But if you're not this way inclined, sweetcorn is available widely and (comparatively) cheaply at the moment.

For 2

2 slender leeks, finely diced
1tsp butter
2tsp chopped rosemary
1 sweet potato, in 1cm dice

1 cob of sweetcorn, kernels stripped into a bowl
1 cup stock made with Marigold Bouillon (1tsp)
Salt and pepper
1tbsp milk mixed with 1tsp cornflour
3tbsp milk

Soften the leeks in the butter, then add the rosemary and potato and stir gently for another couple of minutes. Tip in the stock. Bring to a simmer and let it simmer very gently for 6 minutes, then add the corn, simmer for another 2 minutes and switch off the heat. Stir in the cornflour paste, and leave until you are ready to eat. Now taste and season generously, add the extra splash of milk and very, very gently raise the heat until the soup is steaming but not boiling. Check it's hot enough and serve.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Southwestern Succotash and Griddled Polenta

It's been a long time - I know. I have started an allotment blog ( and am failing to keep this or that updated. But both have been very useful to me, as memory aid and inspiration, so I'm going to do my best to keep them going.

We have just returned from a trip to Canada - where we ate so much good food! Tofino, Vancouver and Victoria in particular are great places for foodies. All of my holiday shopping was food-related, and included 'smoky southwest' seasonings, chocolate for cooking, a madeleine tray, cookery books and new table napkins for autumn. When oh When will Williams-Sonoma open a store in the UK? Preferably in Exeter...

This recipe is based on a southwestern ratatouille that I ate at Coyote's Grill in Banff (PICTURED ABOVE). It was served with polenta, which was cooked a bit more softly than I've decided I like. I also took inspiration from the recipe for Lima Bean and Corn Succotash in Bon Appetit, which I read and then lost at Calgary airport (and am now subscribed to both Gourmet and Bon Appetit - there are so many wonderful food magazines in Canada!). The bean, corn and squash combination is the '3 Sisters' from the allotment and this dish makes the most of all three, which are now - of course - in season. (I loved the roadside pumpkin patches on Vancouver Island!) Anyway - less talk, more eating.

1 cup polenta (Merchant Gourmet)
4 cups warm water
Pinch vegetable bouillon
1tsp salt and pepper
1tsp butter
100g feta

Cover a small baking tray with cling film and set close by. Bring water + bouillon to a rolling boil and tip in the polenta, stirring. Now protect your hands as the thickening polenta bubbles madly! Ouch! Stir frequently (but not constantly) over medium heat for five minutes. Stir in the butter, seasoning and feta, crumbled, and smooth the mixture into a slab on the baking tray. Cool for about an hour. This makes enough for 4 people. To finish, cut into 8 triangles (toast-sized slices) and put onto a hot griddle that has been brushed with oil. Griddle for about 20 minutes until golden and crunchy on both sides - surprisingly good!

1/2 butternut or other sweet squash, diced 1cm

2 small corn cobs, corn removed
1 cup borlotti, broad or soya beans
2 tomatoes, chopped
1tsp tomato puree
Pinch sugar, salt and pepper
1 jalapeno, diced
1tbsp each basil and coriander, sliced
Squeeze lemon juice

Simmer the borlotti for about 20 mins in light stock, adding the corn 5 mins before the end. Warm some olive oil and cook the squash gently for 30 minutes, adding the tomatoes, puree, seasonings and half a cup of water 5 mins from the end (for quite a dry result). Stir in the beans and lemon juice, turn heat to high and warm through; add herbs and serve.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Go Broad Beans Go!

Oh. my. word. The first broad beans - the size of my smallest fingernail - are out. This is somewhat premature. I know. But the many books that are piled up beside my bed are always saying how wonderful it is if you grow your own beans, as you can pick them young and tiny, rather than huge and leathery.

Of course, the disadvantage of picking them young is that you get less podded weight (if you see what I mean) - a couple more weeks would allow them to fill out more. I mean, will allow them to fill out more. Because we do intend to let them grow properly now for a bit, before attacking them again.

But we couldn't resist a bagful on Saturday. Softened in butter with pine nuts and chopped sage, then stirred through spaghetti with crumbled feta, they were absolutely wonderful. Some wilted rocket would be a good addition to this.

2 handfuls broad beans - podded
1tbsp butter
2tbsp chopped sage

2tbsp pine nuts
100g crumbled feta
Spaghetti for 2 scant portions - cooked

Soften butter, throw in sage and pine nuts, then broad beans (pod alongside the pan). When the beans begin to change colour, immediately add the cooked spaghetti and stir to heat. Finally crumble in the feta - it will melt and vanish - and serve at once on hot plates.

Small they may be, but (if you make the effort to pick out a single bean while eating) each one tastes like Essence of Broad Bean. All the flavour's here: it just hasn't spread out into a larger surface area yet. Yum, yum, yum.

And this isn't intended to become a blog about growing, but I must also tell you about Oriental Saladini. We have tried growing lettuces before - Cos, Lollo Rossa, Arctic King, and numerous others - with no success whatsoever. But this Saladini mixture has come up trumps. It's Cut and Come Again, so you only need a strip of soil - sow thinly, and wait about 6 weeks before the first cut (possibly less time, now it's warmer). (If growing in the garden, try to choose a spot without nearby rocks or nooks where slugs gather. And surround each row, diligently, with used coffee grounds - this really works!) It's a lovely mixture of leaves, some soft and buttery, some peppery, some lime-green, some red. Alongside, if any more space is available to you, I'd recommend Swiss Chard - one of the coloured varieties - beautiful with its sunny stems. Then Rocket, any type, which is a truly trustworthy choice that never fails.

Okay. that's it. No more gardening stuff, at least until my pictures are downloaded!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jane Grigson free on Google?

I see it's not there in entirety, but there are rather a lot of pages from her Vegetable book available for viewing on Google. How would one go about finding her other works in the same place? And, how come, when I searched Google Books for food, I didn't find this one? Are some of the other classics on there? Eek, am I missing hundreds of wonderful cookery books on Google? Why did I not already know about this? Must hurry back.

Plus, now I can direct you to the source of Fasoulia*, the blissful bean dish that has come the closest I've found to Odyssea's heavenly Gigantes. We ate this alongside husband's roast shoulder of lamb (rubbed with olive oil and seasoned; seared in a hot roasting tray; scattered with rosemary sprigs and garlic cloves, and baked in the oven at 170 for 3 hours). Steamed potatoes and broccoli on a platter beside, and the table was groaning. Cooking the beans in a frightening cupful of olive oil before adding the tomatoes and water makes all the difference. Isn't it clever?

*cited by Jane Grigson, originally committed to paper by Elizabeth David.
Apple-Mint Mojito

Ahh, there's nothing like a 5pm Mojito to get the creative sparks flying. It's refreshing, it's mintily Cubalicious, it's escapism in a cocktail glass.

This is the main reason I grow mint in our garden. Apart from the occasional raita, it's called into service for mojitos only, and I love the fact that my favourite cocktail calls for a quick stroll into the sun. I am a keen mixologist, although I usually never have the right ingredients in the house, so it's more often an eccentric blend of whatever-we-have. A splash of Venetian Limoncello; a sploosh of pomegranate syrup; milk and caramel syrup. I do, though, keep a continuous stash of limes in the fridge. Lime, mint, and rum= a taste of heaven. Made just a little bit more wondrous with a sploosh of Monin's Apple Syrup. Somebody stop me!

Apple-mint mojito

3parts white rum
1part apple syrup
1part fresh lime juice
3-4 sprigs fresh mint

Best made ahead: steep the rum, lime, and mint in a shaker in the fridge. Using a spoon, press the mint against the inside of the shaker to bruise and release its oils. (This mix will keep for a whole weekend, if you can keep from it.) Add the syrup, tasting, when you're ready to serve. Pour into ice - half-filling a cocktail glass (this is heady stuff) - and top up with lemonade, mint sprigs, and optional extra lime. You'll soon have it just the way you like it.

For a classic mojito, just leave out the apple syrup.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


It's our first year growing our own, and among the very earliest crops are the Broad Beans. They're getting tantalisingly close to readiness now; we've split and shared a few pods already. The beans cushioned inside are about quarter of the size of my thumbnail - teeny weeny little greens with an amazingly intense broad-bean flavour, and soft as if they'd been cooked. I wouldn't compare them with peas because it's a more savoury sweetness, a bit like parmesan somehow.

they're surprisingly high-yielding, too (at least I think they will be) - we've planted two rows of 12ft (30cm apart); each small, dry bean has produced two or three sturdy stems which flourished in the early spring and are preparing to provide us with two dozen pods each, I should think. And so, if you have a little space in your garden, this is one of the first crops I'd recommend. Broad beans, being one of the earliest producers, have all the excitement that surrounds our first summer veg (asparagus and new potatoes being similar). And - I'm ahead of myself - but they're already delicious.

So yes: please find a space for some next year. Sown in autumn, they are spectacularly low-maintenance - they'd grown big enough to keep the weeds from growing underfoot in spring - and promise much.

I'm flipping through books for recipes, now, and have bookmarked Broad Bean Pilaf from 'Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East'. Think that Nigel Slater has a bean puree with flatbreads in The Kitchen Diaries, too. And Moro East will surely have something exciting for me to try. But I think these wonderful beans are best scantily adorned: maybe mashed with olive oil and wet garlic to spread on focaccia. Or, for this first harvest, perhaps we'll have a salad of just-steamed-and-shelled beans with freshly-cut Oriental Saladini and rocket. And guess what? We could even pull up some miniature potatoes, if we were feeling naughty. We accidentally discovered that they're already forming - even if they are pea-sized - and I am soooo tempted to sample them.

Photos coming very soon, really. I'm borrowing a cable this weekend, so prepare to be swamped with photographs of very clever little peas and gooseberry plants. They are my baby substitutes, but better, because I can alternate between having favourites.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Food Shopping

Online food shopping seems, to me, a difficult area to investigate. I was searching for Hungarian Paprika the week before last (thanks for the obsession, Diana Henry) and I was quite surprised to find that the results were mainly for small, amateur-looking spice sites and there wasn't one of the big-bucks, well-designed, user-friendly ecommerce sites that you'd usually get for every other kind of shopping. Perhaps online food shopping isn't such big business yet?

Of course, just so's you don't think I am an eco monster, I buy into the whole farm-shop-local-economy-food-miles-carbon-footprint-yada-yada message. I get it. I buy in. I'm tired of all the trendies talking about it. I'm just saying.

But you can't get Hungarian paprika at my local barn shop. (You can get ostrich feather dusters, but that's a whole nother story.) And I can't get special schnapps or coffee syrups or gold dust for fairy cakes. Or jam jars, baking tins or retriever-shaped cookie cutters. (I live in a village with two shops, you know.) Hence the occasional online forays.

The Spice Shop
This is one of those sites that came up in my search for Paprika. I dismissed it at first: poor design, no pictures, no supporting copy, and (later) nonexistent customer communications. However. This website is the online presence for The Spice Shop in Notting Hill, where renowned spicy lady Birgit blends and dispenses hundreds of interesting spices and mixtures for posh foofdies like Nigella and Jamie. Once I heard this, I had to give it a go. 15 days later, I'm still waiting for my parcel, but I'll keep you updated.

The Drink Shop
This is a more slick site with lovely moreish Monin syrups and a frighteningly enormous range of whisky (close eyes amd point at screen, best method). Delivery charges are a bit hefty (because they charge you what it costs, instead of a nice friendly flat rate) but service is personal and I've had a good experience with these guys. And I'm back for more Monin soon - our Toffee Nut has run out!
Very poor navigability on this site and small pictures, but once you get past the user issues, it's got an overwhelming stock of sugarcraft supplies. Actually though, since I only wanted the gold lustre, I wound up researching at Jane Asher and then ordering from eBay - kinder delivery rates for just the one little tube.

Think I'll bookmark this post and add to it in the future. If anyone has used any other food sites, and can recommend them, I'd really love to hear from you.
A new kind of squash stew, and meatballs (the horror!)

Having roasted a whole shoulder of lamb for three people on the weekend, my dear better half left the remains in the kitchen for me to deal with*. I hate wasting food. So I searched online to find out what other people do with leftover cooked bits of meat. Husband won't eat the same thing twice and he turns up his nose at cold meat sandwiches. I found lots of ideas: moussaka, lamb crumble, shredded lamb with spices and flatbreads, and rissoles. I decided that rissoles seemed the easiest way to use up the lamb as an addition to a vegetable stew that I was planning. So this concoction was born.

The vegetable stew I'd planned was a variation on Deborah Madison's squash and spinach stew, which she flavours with a base of almonds (say 12 for two people), dried chillies (3), a tsp of cumin and a few sesame seeds. She toasts and grinds these to add to softened onions and form an aromatic base for the stew.

It doesn't sound like much but it's a deliciously original combination of flavours, and it really lifts an ordinary tomato-and-vegetable stew. So I have started using the almond-chilli-cumin base as the starting point for almost any combination of vegetables and lentils. Yesterday's had a few coriander seeds added (and rosewater would have been good, if I'd thought of it). Softened onions, ground spices, then chunks of squash and cooked (leftover) courgette slices, a couple of scoops of (no-soak) red lentils, a tin of tomatoes, and simmer for 20 minutes. Ta da! Simple, low fat, and highly flavoured. It's sort of like chilli, I suppose, but the almonds give it a more unique taste.

On top of his, husband had these delicious-smelling meatballs:

In mini chopper or food processor, mince:
2 packed cupfuls cooked lamb
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 fat clove garlic
Juice of 1/4 lemon
1tbsp finely chopped mint
1tbsp finely chopped coriander stalks

Season, then add a beaten egg. Chill for as long as poss. Flour your hands and squeeze firmly to make smallish meatballs, and fry in very little olive oil until brown and crusty on both sides. Top with yoghurt/lemon juice/mint if liked.

* I am a vegetarian, of course, but not one of the unbearably squeamish or preachy sort. No crying over bones for me.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I am reading such a great book at the moment: 'Vegetable Heaven' by Catherine Mason. There's plenty of inspiration - vegetables with new partners and flavours - without anything too complex or demanding. Probably one reason why the recipes all sound so great is that a lot of them revolve around cream and cheese - an important source of protein when your diet is mainly veg, but not exactly heart-healthy. She describes a tart made with feta, cream and squash, and when I was looking in the fridge last night for something fast, I decided that feta and squash probably was a happy partnering.

I just pared down the fat a little and served it with some steamed potatoes. This isn't low-fat all the same, but for a weekend indulgence that's quick and easy, it's perfect.

1/2 medium squash, roasted with 1tbsp chopped sage
2 slender leeks, sliced

5 eggs, beaten with 2tbsp low-fat creme fraiche
75g feta cheese, crumbled

Serves 2

Saute the leeks in a frying pan, just until they soften - not brown - maintaining the bright green colour. Throw in the squash and turn it for a moment to warm up. Now make sure the veg are evenly distributed, then tip in the egg and creme fraiche mixture. Preheat the grill to high. Swirl the pan to make sure there are no gaps and scatter the feta evenly over the top. Keep over a med-high heat for a couple of minutes, until browned underneath (peep using a spatula). Slide the pan under the grill until it's set on top and serve in wedges.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Red Dragon Pie
with sweet potato mash

2 cups just-cooked Aduki beans
1 onion, finely diced
1tsp olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
1tsp plain flour
1tbsp sundried tomato puree
1tbsp soy sauce
2 bay leaves
1 pint made-up Marigold vegetable bouillon
Good splash Tabasco

Potatoes - sweet and ordinary, half and half, peeled and chopped into chunks.
2oz cheddar, grated

Soften the onion in the olive oil over a very low heat; add the carrots and cover, then leave to soften for another 10 minutes. Scatter in the flour and stir for a minute. Dissolve the tomato puree and soy sauce in the stock, and pour over the vegetables; add the bay leaves and Tabasco, and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add the cooked beans and stir to incorporate; pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish, removing the bay leaves.

Boil the potatoes together until tender, then drain and mash with half the cheddar. Season to taste; then spread over the bean mixture. Start from the edges and work the potato into the centre, to avoid the filling escaping at the sides. Finish with the remaining cheddar, then put straight into a preheated oven at 160 dg C for 20-30 minutes (until golden on top and steaming right through).

Eat with mixed salad or crusty bread.

This isn't intended to become a blog about cookery books, but I have been reading some luscious ones lately.
Diana Henry's book, 'Roast Figs, Sugar Snow', does not seem to be widely available in the UK - I've only seen her earlier publications in bookshops and even Amazon does not sell it directly.
Which is a shame, because this is a truly wonderful book. It's a very personal collection of cold-weather food, gathered by the author during trips to Vermont, Russia, and Scandinavia. The recipes are grouped according to themes like "The Colour Purple" (figs and plums) or "Winter On Your Tongue" (sour cream and herbs), with additional chapters on pumpkin and beans.
I've borrowed it from the library and am now obsessing about a trip to Scandinavia - who cares where, as long as they have dumplings and plum vodka. (We very much enjoyed eating in Prague, where dumplings figure prominently on the menus and cocktail bars are staffed with waiters who will make you specials in a jiffy. (Sigh.))
What I particularly love about the book is the introductions to each chapter, which are a rich source of information about the various countries' cuisines. Scandinavian food makes up most of the book. This cuisine isn't big on vegetarianism, I have to say. But what it does do well is winter food. The very thought of steamed potatoes smothered in sour cream and dill... or peppers stewed in Hungarian paprika... cheese pies with feta and mozzarella... or shortbread squares topped with glossy plums... is making me extremely hungry.
As usual, I am on a diet, and as usual, I am reading books about cream and baking. But I am turning down pages for weekend experiments, and will definitely note my adaptations here. Many of the meat dishes could well be adapted for vegetarian cooking. I am going to start with Lecso - a cream-free dish using Hungarian paprika, which must be one of my favourite spices. And I'll keep you posted - if you haven't already bought the book in the meantime.

Monday, February 04, 2008

We have been having a hard time lately. In our idyllic cottage in Devon, we more often have reason to celebrate than to slump around like Eeyores. But that is what we have been doing for the past week - all four of us. One has a cut throat (literally), one has work overload, another of us has unreasonable overtime and the last one of us has toilet troubles.

Plus, it's grey and dreary and we can't go to the beach in the rain. There, I'm done grumbling now. Sometimes it feels good to talk. And there is plenty of the good stuff on its way to brighten things up. Like my birthday (which is very soon indeed, but I won't tell you when, because of ID fraud and things.) (Oh yes, and take this, everyone who mocked me when I left Facebook 'cause of fraud: SOMEONE IN LONDON IS USING A FAKED-UP VERSION OF OUR CAR! With a fake numberplate and all. I know because I have been receiving his parking penalties. Who's laughing now, doubters? Me! Okay, not so much.). My birthday, on which I am hoping to be ridiculously spoilt. Um, then there's Valentine's, and as an unashamed romantic this is just an excuse to festoon the house and pets in red ribbons and paint chocolate on every plate. And guess what else? A birthday trip to Harrods soon, too. Mmmm....

See, there's so much good stuff, when you pause and think on it. In the meantime, in case you are living in a house of Eeyores, here is my recipe for White Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies, oh so buttery and oh so smartly irresistibly i-can't-only-eat-one delicious. You can feed these to anyone you like, no matter how posh they are. Oh but please be careful to just-cook them: they are best pale and tender.

love, a not-so-grumpy-after-all-me.


3oz butter
2oz caster sugar
4oz self-raising flour
2oz white chocolate
1oz pistachios
Vanilla pod (optional)
Cream the butter and sugar as well as you can before your arm starts to hurt. Sift in (or just tip) the flour and stir it with a fork, gently amalgamating. The mixture will look fairly crumbly. Never mind: on a chopping board, set to the chocolate and pistachios, chopping to rough chunks. Add them to the bowl, with the vanilla seeds if you have any. Bring the mixture together gently with your hands: it will start to stick together as your warm hands melt the butter a little. Form into balls - about 12 - and flatten on baking parchment-lined sheets. Bake at 160 degrees for 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack. If you happened to have a tube of gold lustre in the drawer, it would look terribly graceful brushed over the tops when they come out of the oven. Or, just shovel and munch: it doesn't matter much.

Friday, February 01, 2008

In times of trouble I turn to wooden spoons and softened butter. It's not that I want to eat the goodies so much as that I simply want to be cocooned in a warm kitchen, spoon in hand, weighing and beating and cutting chocolate into pretty shards. I wonder why it's so therapeutic? Some days I can barely stir myself to rustle up dinner, but when I get really busy and panic-ridden, I just can't wait to get in the kitchen and make a buttery, floury, chocolately old mess. And leave the dishes.

Top of my list right now is Bill Granger's peanut butter cookies (soft in the middle, with less-than-overpowering peanuttiness). Mind you, everything looks great in his kitchen - the kind of sunny, open space that you could spend a whole lifetime.

Speaking of kitchens, I took some photographs of mine. We had it ripped out and replaced last year - goodbye 1960s electric oven that chooses its own temperature, hello brassy range oven and shiny tiles. Goodbye dirty white walls and red-painted concrete floor (huh?), hello swamp-monster green and flagstone tiles. And it is now officially the best place in the house, so I decided to photograph it. As soon as I get me a PC-camera lead, you can take a look.

One final thing before I go - and it's an English-style Sausage and Bean Hotpot. I know they make sophisticated versions of this in Tuscany, but our Heinz Bean and Frankfurter version is still my favourite. I made it more complicated for myself, by boiling Haricot beans from dry and adding treacle and mustard to get... a taste that is suspiciously like Heinz. Anyway, I don't care, because I know exactly what went into those babies.

The sausage and bean stew would be great on its own, with bread or mash, but I topped with a Lancashire Hotpot crust. This is not for guests. It is, though, perfect for weeknight scoffing with a fork and some ready-sliced bread.

2 cups Haricot Beans, soaked and boiled for about 30 minutes
1 cup Marigold Vegetable Bouillon (made up)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1tbsp treacle
1tsp wholegrain mustard
0.5tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Good pinch salt
2 small leeks, shredded
3-4 medium carrots, diced
4 Frankfurter Sausages (the vegetarian kind, which tastes smokey and authentic as well as being low fat!)
Handful peeled potatoes

Boil the frankfurters for 2 minutes and drain.

Smear a large casserole with olive oil and begin to saute the leeks and carrots, gently, without browning. In a blender, whiz the tomatoes, stock, treacle, mustard, vinegar and salt. When the vegetables are soft add the sauce and bring to a gentle simmer. Tip in the beans and cover, then simmer for another 20-30 minutes (until the beans are only JUST cooked). Meanwhile, slice the potatoes into £1-thick pieces, tip into boiling water, and set a timer for 9 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Chop roughly, then stir the sausages into the stew along with a good grinding of black pepper. Drain the potato slices and arrange them on the top. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, and shove into the oven. Leave for around 20-30 minutes for the potatoes to brown on top.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hurray hurray hurray! I have been asked to start adding to the content on - and help build it into a baking, eating, drinking resource all about chocolate. Can you think of anything better? Okay, I am often to be found writing for a website - one day about finding work in Newcastle, the next about selling scrap gold online - but rarely are they as close to my heart! I can think of no better way to spend a Friday.

And while I'm here, and we are talking about chocolate, would you like a recipe for the Starbucks winter special? Well, not the official recipe, but an extraordinarily close approximation. Here's what happened: I walked past a Starbucks. The "Toffee Hot Chocolate" advertisement called to me. I stopped. It carried on yelling, with all its creamy, toffee-coloured might. "I'll come right back," I promised. And I did.

And seriously, could I get addicted to those things. Fortunately, as I wrapped my hands around the warm brown cardboard and sipped, I remembered that I had recently bought some Caramel Sale (Toffee Nut) Syrup from an online drinks store. It was, in fact, sitting in a dusty corner of the kitchen (with its friends Green Apple and Gingerbread) as I drank. So the next day, I whipped up a couple of Toffee Nut Chocolates for us, at home. Whipped cream optional...

Per person, you'll need:
3tbsp real drinking chocolate (I used 'Liquid' by Hotel Chocolat)
1mug-full of milk (measure in the cup and then tip into saucepan or jug)
2tbsp Toffee Nut (Caramel Sale) Monin Syrup

Having measured and emptied your milk into a saucepan or jug (depending how you plan to heat it), put the drinking chocolate and syrup into the bottom of your mug, add a splash of the cold milk from the pan, and stir it to a paste. In a saucepan over the hob, or in a microwave (go slow), heat the milk to just below boiling. Pour it over the mixture in the mug, and stir well. Using a handheld frother or the steam spout on a coffee maker, froth up the top of the milk, and sprinkle with cocoa to serve.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Fannie Cradock (TV chef)

I've been spending a happy half-hour (of work time, naturally) with The Greens Cookbook. How come nobody told me about this before? It's practically the Vegetarian's Bible. I keep spotting recipes that I've seen other veggie books or restaurants plagiarise. Like Rose Eliot (who gave birth to the Nut Roast), Deborah Madison was a forerunner of today's vegetarian cookery. She really knows her flavours, combining surprising ingredients that I suspect would work every time. I'm a cookbook pro, and I've seen a million recipes for chestnut bourgignonne and mushroom stroganoff. So I am DEEPLY shocked to be surprised by a recipe. In a really good way. Buying this yet? If you aren't clicking through to the online shop right now, then maybe you WANT to only eat cauliflower korma and penne arrabiatta for the rest of your life? (Hm, should do another post on great veggie books - wouldn't that be fun? For me, at least.)

ANYway, this Vegetarian Bible contains probably hundreds of recipes, and each one manages to be innovative. I have already tried some of its ideas - stolen from other chefs who stole them from Madison - and so I can tell you that Rosemary Linguine with Caramelised Onions and Walnuts is an incredible combination of flavours. Or that Red Onion and Goat's Cheese Pizza really, really does work. (Thanks for tempting me, Pizza Express.)

Which leads me on to the recipe. It's hardly even a recipe: just a suggested combination of ingredients for a quick dinner. Deborah Madison includes snipped sundried tomatoes, green olives and shredded mozzarella on top of hers. But we ate it fast and simple, with a green salad. And I didn't even cook it. Anything that gets my husband in and out of the kitchen this quick is definitely worth a try! Here's our rustic version of Deborah Madison's 21st-century classic.

1 pizza base (buy, or make your own)
2-3 red onions
1-2tsp red wine vinegar

1 log mild goat's cheese
Olive oil, salt and pepper

Stretch out the pizza base as thinly as you can on a large baking sheet, and preheat the oven to about 180 C. Set the base aside, and slice the onions very thinly. Soften them on the lowest possible heat with a slug of oil and red vinegar, for at least 15 minutes. Taste to adjust the balance of flavours - adding salt, sugar, pepper and vinegar according to your liking. (The onions should be quite sharp and sticky to work with the mild cheese.) Spread them all over the pizza base, top with crumbled goat's cheese (and optional mozzarella), and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 20-25 minutes and serve with green salad.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Dreaming of spring...

Okay, much as I love mashed potato and celeriac, I have now officially Had Enough of winter. The worst part is, it's only getting started - soon we will be cowering beneath stormy January skies and skating on icy February paths.

I have retreated to my seed catalogues, to choose all the new produce for next year - including some climbing beans especially for drying and storing (such as the purple-flowered bean above), and plenty of green things. Although salad is scarce right now, salad is just exactly what we feel like after the heavy Christmas eating. So, I am trying to grow Arctic King (for early spring lettuce) and planning red chard and perpetual spinach for next year. (Both can be cut and eaten young, and will keep on producing.)

Here is one of my favourite ways to use up the leeks that arrive, every week, in our vegetable box. This is good with a green salad, or maybe with a fresh coleslaw - shredded carrot and cabbage dressed with vinaigrette - and some bread if you like; it's a good source of protein. It looks pretty boring, but it tastes fantastic.

2 cups dried butter beans
1 large leek
1 cup creme fraiche OR 1 cup double cream with a squeeze of lemon in it
2tsp grain mustard
1tsp sea salt

Soak the butter beans in boiling water, in a heavy casserole with a lid, for as long as you can (at least one hour). Drain the water and fill with fresh water, then bring to the boil and simmer the beans for about 30 minutes (but keep an eye on them - don't let them turn squidgy - aim for beans with bite). Drain the beans immediately into a colander and run some cold water over them. Now pull off the skins. It's a boring job but worthwhile. If the skins are soft and not hanging off you don't need to take them all off. Put the skinned beans into an ovenproof dish. Now finely shred the leek and mix it with the beans, adding the rest of the ingredients too. Cover with foil and bake at 160 degrees for twenty minutes, removing the foil for the final five.