The glorious weather of last week has given way to rain. It seems endless but has only been three days, I think we had been spoilt with a surprisingly hot April. As often is the case with dreary grey skies I feel the need for a blast of sunny, vibrant flavour and a chermoula paste is an obvious contender. Full of fresh herbs, zesty citrus, spices and a little heat this is a wonderful and quick way to add massive flavour.
Due to a slightly erratic lockdown larder I have made some comprises to my usual recipe but this version was deemed so good it had to be shared. In the normal run of things I would use a fresh chilli but have used cayenne pepper instead for heat. I used a 1/4 teaspoon but feel free to reduce this to a pinch. Ideally I would also have had more prawns for the four of us but the freezer only yielded 250g. You can of course use fish or chicken in place of the prawns if that is what you have. We had this with my go-to pilaff but I would be just as happy to serve the prawns and their punchy sauce on a slice of toasted sourdough. As ever these days its all about using what you’ve got.
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Small bunch mint, roughly chopped
Small bunch coriander, roughly chopped plus a bit extra to serve
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Juice of 2 lemons (use limes if that is what you have)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Half a tin of chopped tomatoes or 2 fresh tomatoes chopped or a handful of cherry tomatoes
250g raw prawns, defrosted if frozen
Heat the first tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion gently until soft but not coloured. Whizz the remaining ingredients apart from the tomatoes and prawns in a small food processor, with a hand held blender or chop by hand. Mix a tablespoon of the paste with the prawns and add the remaining paste to the onions along with the tomatoes and a splash of water. Cook for a few minutes before adding the prawns and cook until they turn from grey to pink. Serve sprinkled with the extra coriander. This would be masses for 2 with rice and was actually enough for the 4 of us with some other things for lunch.
I make masses of pancakes – regular sugar and lemon Shrove Tuesday ones, Scotch pancakes which for some reason we used to call Cold Feet, fat fluffy American pancakes and veggie ones. Lots and lots of veggie pancakes. Not only are they delicious but a great way of slipping extra veg into reluctant customers (my children) and to use up a glut – I must have made a 1000 courgette and feta type pancakes when we had a courgette glut a couple of years ago.
You can customise these according to what you have – I tend to use something a little starchy like the peas/broad beans or some cooked/canned pulses plus fresh veg such as broccoli or spinach along with any soft herbs I have. At the moment wild garlic is going into lots of things as we have some growing here but otherwise a clove of garlic adds a gentle hum. If you use courgette (and it is delicious) then grate it and squeeze out as much water as you can so the batter isn’t too wet. Same with carrots and parsnips which benefit from grating and any excess water being removed.
I used a couple of spring onions that needed their last hurrah but you could use chives if that’s what you have. Chunks of feta or cheddar work well and make these even more substantial. You can add finely chopped chilli or a pinch of cayenne if everyone you are cooking for is receptive – I like to add my heat via a generous squirt of sriracha.
Incidentally these make a wonderful breakfast topped with a fried or poached egg and some Greek yogurt to which you’ve added a swirl of sriracha, just saying….
Below are the quantities I used for the pancakes you see in the pictures. As long as the amounts are roughly in line you can pretty much freestyle as you please. A tin of sweetcorn also works if you don’t have any peas or pulses. Add or subtract herbs depending on what you have and what you like – these pancakes are very flexible. If you don’t have any self raising you can use plain flour plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.
300g peas, blanched for 1 minute if frozen
1/2 head of broccoli, approximately 200g, chopped fairly small, core included
3 spring onions, finely chopped
Small handful of parsley
Small handful of wild garlic, entirely optional
200g self raising flour (see intro)
50g Greek yogurt, or regular plain yogurt
A little olive oil
Put everything except the oil into a food processor, season well and blend. Leave a bit of texture, you don’t want it baby food smooth. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and add tablespoons of the batter, leave for a few minutes until turning golden on the bottom when you peek and then turn. Cook for a few minutes on the other side and then keep warm while you cook the rest. The above was enough for 4 for lunch with a salad.
I always feel terrible about throwing any food away that I have let slip the net and these days, more than ever. If there was a time for using every last scrap then its now. For instance, beetroot leaves that I always try and use but inevitably sometimes find their way to the chickens were chopped the minute I got back from the farm shop last week and sautéed with garlic and chilli. Extra delicious because we ate them rather than our feathery friends.
We can no longer pick a recipe and then go and buy exactly what’s required, rather we have to look at what we have and cook accordingly. I quite like this challenge so do let me know if you need any ideas.
This was lunch yesterday rustled up from mainly store cupboard ingredients, without using too much of our fresh supplies, very easy, cheap and was properly delicious. Making the herby oil was just a way of using some of the wild garlic that is around at the moment. I realise not everyone has access to this so if you have some soft herbs or rocket in the fridge that need using up these will make a wonderful, deep green oil full of flavour which is fabulous with the tomato soup.
Don’t worry if you don’t have any of the red lentils I use to thicken the soup – a handful of rice or a large peeled and chopped potato added instead of the lentils will break down and once blended do a fine job of thickening your soup. I suspect we will be having this more than once, next time I might add some dried chillies instead of the oregano. Just use what you have.
Easy tomato soup with herby garlic oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
A good pinch of dried oregano (if you have some)
3 tablespoons dried red lentils (see intro)
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
Splash of white wine (if you have some and can spare it)
500ml vegetable stock
A handful of wild garlic or soft herbs/rocket that need using up
A clove of garlic if you aren’t using wild garlic
100ml olive oil
Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onion gently until soft. Add the garlic and the oregano if you are using it and stir. Add the lentils followed by the wine if you are using it and the stock. Let it simmer, covered, for about 20-30 minutes until the lentils have broken down. Remove from the heat, add the milk and whizz with a hand held blender until smooth, taste (cautiously, it will be hot) and season. Either serve immediately or reheat when required. Blend the oil with the wild garlic or the herbs/rocket and garlic with a pinch of salt and swirl into the soup. Serves 4.
Whilst I am all for slow cooked braises, blipping away in the oven for hassle free hours to become deeply savoury and yielding, there are times when we need supper in a hurry. There are many such recipes on these pages* and here is another to add to your repertoire. Combining those magical sweet, salty spiced flavours from the East, this is lip smacking, satisfying and speedy to boot.
I use pork fillet here which, being lean, lends itself perfectly to a quick stir fry but you could use chicken if you prefer. I would favour (as ever) skinless thighs over breast though. For a veggie option I would use big mushrooms sliced and add the cabbage mentioned below to the pan with the mushrooms and sauce. Apart from the meat or vegetables, this is but a quick rifle around the cupboard plus some ginger and garlic.
For greens I have taken to stir frying some chopped hispi/sweetheart cabbage with either a few bashed sichuan peppercorns or garlic, ginger and chilli. It cooks in no time and works well with the hoi sin pork, alternatively try the greens with garlic and soy (October 2017).
My children like this served with noodles which I stir into the wok at the end to combine them with the pork and sauce. I prefer it with rice but, as ever, its up to you.
Thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped
500g pork loin, cut into pieces the size of your little finger
1 tablespoon oil
100ml hoi sin sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha, or similar chilli sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Chopped coriander (optional, use it if you have some)
Noodles or rice to serve
Put the ginger, garlic, hoi sin, sriracha, water and soy into a bowl and give it a good stir. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and over a high heat add the pork, leave for a minute to seal then stir fry until coloured on all sides. Add the sauce and stir for a couple of minutes until the pork is cooked and well coated by sauce. Don’t cook it for too long or the sauce will reduce too much and become salty. If you want a little more sauce add a further splash of water. Serve with noodles or rice and sprinkle with some chopped coriander if you have some. Enough for two adults and two children.
*Some other top speedy suppers are Claypot chicken (May 2013), Teriyaki chilli salmon (April 2019), Salmon with pickled cucumber (May 2015), Kale, mushrooms and chilli on toast (January 2013), Orzo with bacon, tomato and cream sauce (June 2015), Savoy cabbage with bacon and creme fraiche (February 2015) and those Greens with garlic and soy (October 2017) which I happily have with a pile of rice for a meat free supper – to name but a few.
Depending on which way you look at it there is either a ridiculous number of cook books spread over many shelves in our house or a fabulous, varied and absorbing collection. I know which camp I am in. Curated in colour order, there is the blue and green set of shelves, the white, black, brown and gold…. you see how it is. They take it in turns to go from shelf to bedside or sofa side table and ultimately stove side. If a particular book hasn’t been read in a while then what a treat, it can almost feel like new. Others, old familiar books are like carrying on a conversation with a friend with memories shared. Rarely do I flick through one without a recipe or two being added to my list.
The list is an ongoing, ever evolving collection of things I want to try, additions are made almost daily and crossed out when tried, changes and ideas annotated where necessary. Partly out of greed but also in order to justify this vast canon of work – as long as I’ve cooked a recipe or two from each book over the years it has earned its place. Our weekly menu combines a couple of new ideas alongside old favourites that deserve a re run and guarantee happy faces which a new kid on the block may not. Some weeks this means a pile of books being juggled other times I chose one book to cook several things from in one week.
What I’m getting at is its good to get new dishes into your repertoire. We are all pushed for time these days. Work, children, pets, houses, gardens all demanding more time than is available and as such falling back on the same old same old is often the easy answer. One new supper idea a week shouldn’t take too much effort and helps shake off the ennui that can arise from cooking supper night after night after night……
So why not grab one of those books you haven’t cooked from in ages. You never know, you might discover a new favourite, a real keeper. Failing that I offer three of my super easy and quick, weeknight favourites here which I would love you to try.
Claypot Chicken (May 2013) one of the easiest and most delicious suppers and no you don’t need a claypot, any old pan will do. Teriyaki Salmon (April 2019) unbelievably quick and hugely satisfying. Pasta with Bacon, Garlic, Chilli and Parsley (September 2017) just a fabulous combination. So do give these a go and there will be a new easy, family friendly recipe along soon. If you have a bit more time, why not try a new pud……
Here is a blast of colour to brighten your January day. Not only is this salad glorious to look at it also tastes fabulous. Crunchy raw veg always feels like it is doing us good but can, on occasion, be hard work to chomp through. This however is an absolute joy to eat with its tangy, sweet and sour dressing and handfuls of herbs alongside the crunch of the radishes and cabbage.
I have mentioned before my aversion to stringent diets, casting aside any of the food groups or making January a form of penitence to salve our conscience following the season of plenty. Food should be a pleasure, a treat to look forward to everyday and even if you are hoping to shake off a couple of pounds there is no reason why breakfast, lunch and supper shouldn’t be a feast. You will find plenty of salads amongst my posts, not just leafy green ones although I won’t have a word said against my Favourite Green Salad (January 2014) but ones jammed with other ingredients full of crunch and flavour, freshness and colour. Try the Thai-ish salad (November 2015), Roast Aubergine, Feta and Mint (July 2015), the Blood Orange, Beetroot and Feta (January 2014) or maybe the Celeriac Remoulade (January 2016) to which I quite like to add some sharp, crunchy apple if the mood takes me.
In short raw veggies are a great way to get yourself back on track. You are eating healthily whilst tucking into something delicious – win, win. I can’t recommend this one enough, I got the idea for the reduced dressing from an Ottolenghi salad and then tinkered around until I had this. Easy and quick it always goes down a treat and that belt of pink, green and magenta goes a long way to lifting spirits on a dreary, grey day.
Red cabbage, radish and herb salad
1/4 red cabbage, finely chopped
10 radishes sliced
20g (a big handful) rocket
50ml lime juice (roughly 2 limes)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons light olive or sunflower oil
Toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, a handful (optional)
Heat the lime juice, maple syrup, chilli flakes and soy in a small pan until syrupy then add the oil, mix well and leave to cool. When you are ready to serve roughly chop the rocket, mint and coriander then mix together with the cabbage and radishes in a bowl along with the dressing. Sprinkle with the seeds if you are using them. Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a side.
We are nearing the end of that hazy week between Christmas and New Year. The week when you are unsure which day it is and on occasion which year. I dither between hanging on to the festive season and continuing to think a mince pie for breakfast a good idea and diving headlong into the good intentions of the New Year.
I rather look forward to January. Like opening a brand new exercise book at school I relish that clean fresh page. Although I don’t believe in weighing yourself down with stringent resolutions there is no harm in a shift towards anything that makes you feel good about life. Whether that is a bracing walk in the fresh air, a crazily invigorating dip in the sea or simply giving the Prosecco a break is up to you.
For us the easy going, day sliding from one to another vibe continues until term starts. Until then we are lying on the sofa watching telly, finishing those chocolates, going for walks and reading our Christmas books.
Whatever you are doing for New Years Eve have fun, treat yourself and look forward to that crisp white page of your 2020 exercise book. Happy New Year.
There is a fizzle of excitement in the air. The boxes of decorations in the attic are waking from their hibernation, the lists are itching to be made and the dodgy old seasonal playlist is at the ready. We are in the countdown. Christmas is on its way.
I say on its way but I’ve already held two of my Christmas cooking demo’s, the last one is a week away. These are always such fun with a valuable exchange of Christmas top tips and ideas from the assembled along with all my suggestions of things to cook, presents to give, goods for your hampers and general festive chit chat.
I make no secret of my love for this build up. Dare I say it, the anticipation and weeks before the big Ho Ho Ho are often the most fun. Don’t get me wrong, I am no bah humbug and love Christmas Day itself, the excuse for a cocktail early in the day, the possibility of a new cook book, paper hats at a rakish tilt and all the bonhomie that comes from being with loved ones (and possibly from that 11am cocktail).
So back to the anticipation which goes hand in hand with the list making and wrapping. First on the list are the spiced cherries in bacon which need to be soaked. Possibly the craziest canapé recipe you will ever come across but surely one of the easiest and most delicious. You will find it along with other get ahead tips in my November 2013 post. The longer the cherries languish in their Worcester sauce bath the better.
Secondly get those roast potatoes for the big day by getting them in the freezer now. You’ll find details in the 2013 post mentioned above but essentially parboil them, give ’em a good shake and flat freeze before tumbling into a bag or tub for storage in the freezer. On the day put them into a pan with hot oil and roast as usual. This saves peeling a mountain of potatoes on Christmas Eve and then finding somewhere to put them, followed by boiling a vat of water the next day so your mascara clumps as you lean into the steam to check them. Win win.
Christmas Biscotti, which I made a ton of last year for Christmas hampers (54 since you ask) is another treat to get under your belt (literally as well as figuratively). It lasts for ages, tastes delicious and is an absolute winner to give as a present, tied with a little red and white bow.
I would also recommend whipping up some Gougeres (November 2016) – little light and airy balls of cheesy fabulousness that I couldn’t countenance Christmas Eve evening without. Easy to make, just a little heating and mixing and no reason to get out your piping bag unless you enjoy that sort of thing, two teaspoons will suffice. These are another perfect canapé which freeze and reheat like a dream.
I won’t repeat all my other get ahead tips here as they are easily found on these pages but what I will reiterate is the calm, happiness and relief I feel knowing I have done as much as possible before Christmas really starts (ie a freezer and larder full of goodies to tuck into). A couple of times when we have been a smaller gathering I haven’t thought it necessary to do so much ahead of time. Believe me, it was and I won’t slip up again. Never underestimate how many other things you would rather do on Christmas day than roll out pastry for some sausage rolls…..
This is a proper little treat that couldn’t be more Christmassy. As a child the only candy canes I saw were those in the book Eloise at Christmas, I thought they were glorious and envied all our American cousins whom I imagined nibbling candy canes throughout the holidays. Easily available here, they always shout Christmas loud and clear and this is my favourite way to eat them. Although if this bark appeals you could always try my Chocolate Peppermint tart (December 2014), just saying….
Chocolate and candy cane bark
Ok so you can make as much or as little as you like. The amounts below make a bar roughly 12x18cm which is just right for giving as a present or bringing out after dinner. Children obviously love making, and giving (and eating) this. You can even leave the layer of chocolate to set unadorned then top it with a layer of white chocolate before adding the candy canes.
100g dark (but not too dark or bitter) chocolate
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
Pinch of salt
2-3 candy canes broken into small pieces but not total dust
Melt the chocolate along with the oil and salt in a bowl over a pan of hot water. When melted pour onto a piece of baking parchment (I find it easiest if this is on a small board) and spread to about half a centimetre then sprinkle over the candy canes. Leave in the fridge to set then tuck in.
The picture you see above was some bark I made for guests at one of my demos – I barely had time to take the photograph before it disappeared.
I can’t remember where this recipe first came from. I remember my Mother would make it, a classic for Saturday lunches but then I remember a friend of hers, Antoinette, also making it. Hardly a surprise they were both fans, utterly simply to make and from ingredients you may well have to hand. I like recipes with a smattering of nostalgia. Food has moved on so far from what I grew up with and these days we eat a range of cuisines that that child of the ’70’s would barely recognise. So, amidst the larbs and green curries, the free from cakes and oat milk flat whites I relish coming across those old friends from the past. Chilli and Spag Bol, Rhubarb crumble and toad in the hole. All these are classics for a reason and welcome at my table anytime.
So it is with this tart. Four ingredients, yes just four ingredients and you have a top lunch with a surprisingly satisfying flavour combination. Sweet tomatoes with savoury cheese atop the tang of mustard and crispy pastry – come on, you know its going to taste good.
Warm with a salad for lunch, perhaps along side some other bits and pieces, soup, good bread, olive etc – that sort of picnic arrangement that always looks such a feast on the table. It is also good cold and has even made it into the odd packed lunch. A winner.
Tomato, cheese and mustard tart
As is my way I have tried various additions, slow cooked onions and peppers with the tomatoes, different cheeses etc but whilst delicious, those things are for another day, another tart. This one shines with the simplicity and harmony of the three toppings.
1/2 a 500g puff pastry
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
3 good size tomatoes, core removed and sliced
100g strong cheddar, grated
Preheat the oven to 200 and put a baking sheet in to heat. Roll out the pastry on a piece of parchment to a rectangle about the thickness of a pound coin. Spread with the mustard not quite to the edge and then layer the tomatoes on top. Season well and then sprinkle over the cheese avoiding the edges. Transfer the pastry on the parchment onto the hot baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes at 200 and then lower the oven to 180 for a further 10-15 minutes. After this time the pastry underneath should be bronzed and super crisp. Allow to sit for five minutes before serving, enough for 2 as it is or 4 alongside other things.
If pushed I think an apple would my choice if only able to eat one fruit ever again. I love summer berries and would find it particularly difficult to cast aside juicy raspberries or fragrant, almost scented, wild strawberries but an apple would pip them all to the post. Not only is it hard to beat the juicy, tangy crunch of a perfectly ripe apple but they work so well in all manner of recipes, both savoury but particularly sweet that one might never become bored. Lacking the glamour of blowsy, vividly coloured summer fruits they are more the sensible prefect of fruits – jolly reliable and a proper all rounder.
Lucky enough to inherit a collection of apple trees when we moved here and having subsequently added to our small orchard, now is the time of year when we are spoilt. Various eaters and a hugely prolific Bramley mean apples feature on our menu several times a week. The turnovers in the photograph were an after school treat at the end of last week and a simple form of apple strudel hit the table for pud on Sunday. A bowl of stewed apples alternate with plums to accompany granola and Greek yogurt for breakfast and an apple crisp is on the cards for supper tonight.
There are apple pies of course and crumbles (try my Apple and Raspberry Crumble, October 2015), elegant apple tarte fines, apple cobblers, crisps and Betty’s. Grated apple works a treat in a treacle tart to soften that super sweet hit and I like it mixed with mincemeat for a slightly less rich and more tangy pie at Christmas. My super easy Tarte Tatin (January 2019) enjoys regular outings here as does the Crunchy Apple Pudding (January 2015). The sharp apple makes a perfect foil to sweet pastry and oaty crumbly toppings; it melds perfectly with cream whether straight or in the form of ice cream or custard which is why it makes so many appearances as a pudding. Apples and cinnamon? A life long love affair and a little tangy apple works amazingly well in cinnamon buns.
So make the most of wonderful apples. We grow them here and right now you can enjoy them super fresh without having travelled a thousand miles or languished for months in cold storage. Check out farm stalls and farmers markets for locally grown and unusual varieties – above all make a delicious apple pudding – with all that fruit under the crumble, well its almost health food.
These are a little different to the filo wrapped turnovers I wrote about in Turnovers and leftovers (October 2016). Not only do these use puff pastry (as that is what I had to hand) but they also combine cooking and eating apples. This means you get the fluffy Bramley which breaks down to a fluff along with small pieces of the eaters which retain a little bite. The strudel I mention in the introduction was essentially a large, long turnover using the other half of the pack of puff pastry. It was eaten before I could take a photograph.
1 large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and cut into small dice
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into small dice
4-5 tablespoons caster sugar plus some extra for sprinkling onto the turnovers
A couple of tablespoons of water
1/2 pack of puff pastry
Milk or a little beaten egg
A little flour
Icing sugar to dust (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200. Put apples, sugar and water into a large pan and cook gently until the Bramley has broken down and the eaters have lost their crispness. Taste, you may need a little more sugar and when you are happy with it leave to cool. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle and cut into six squares. Put a tablespoon of the apple onto one square of pastry, sort of in the right angle, brush the edges with milk or egg wash and fold over to make a triangle pressing the pastry well to seal, use a fork if you like. Repeat with the other 5 and put onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush a little more milk or egg over the triangles, sprinkle with caster sugar, cut a couple of slits in the pastry and bake for 12-15 minutes until puffed, bronzed and crispy. Allow to cool a little before dusting with icing sugar if you like. Makes 6 and depending on the size of the apples used you may have some apple left which would be delicious for breakfast…