Archive for the ‘Savoury’ Category

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Kitchen Crush

November 14, 2011

As may be apparent from the previous post my current, primary kitchen crush is with Dan Lepard. An extra helping of his recipes courtesy of last week’s Saturday Guardian provided these spicy Bonfire Night Biscuits.

A quick and easy recipe to knock up even if you’re not lucky enough to have a bonfire in your back garden to provide the autumnal smell of wood smoke, the aroma of these baking in your kitchen will make the dullest November day sparkle. The recipe asks for glace ginger but I used stem ginger and the comments section suggest that crystalised would do just as well if you wanted. I also cut out into rounds and adjusted the baking time down a bit to compensate. The base biscuit recipe I imagine is adaptable by swapping the spices and additions – I’m planning a Christmas version. Watch this space.

My other current crush is on Mr Hugh Fearnly-Wittingstal. My summer holiday this year was spent in Dorset taking part in the Four Day  Cookery Course at Park Farm, the headquarters of River Cottage. They run day courses that cover everything from bread and baking to curing meat, even seashore foraging.

I’ve long wanted to do the four day course; which dedicates a day each to meat, fish, veg and bread and baking; and I’m so glad that I did. It’s not cheap, but I turned it into my summer holiday – with a few days spent exploring and walking the surrounding area – and I can honestly say that having done the course it was the best value for money of any holiday I have ever taken.

I’ve tried to blog about it, but I can’t find the words to do the week justice. I could write a list of the dishes cooked, decipher my notes into recipes to share with you, but this would not convey what I learnt or the fun that I had. The team at Park Farm go out of their way to ensure you have good fun and the hours whip by as their share their passion and knowledge and you share, with the others on the course, the fruits of your labour.

I made and ate things that I would not normally try and it has given me more confidence in the kitchen and with my palate and skills. Should I try to more accurately describe all that I learned, made and ate I would run out of adjectives by the first lunchtime. There are photo’s on my Flickr page which chronicle the dishes cooked and eaten over the four days and I hope they give an indication of the fun that was had.

On the course I bought a copy of  ‘River Cottage Veg Everyday!’ book – the latest from Hugh. It accompanies his current TV Programme where he extolls the virtues of a veg based diet by giving up meat and fish for the summer. The book accompanies his current TV show on C4 which follows the usual River Cottage format of HFW taking something he’s passionate about and making an entertaining and informative programme to share his passion. Whilst Hugh isn’t going to be a life long vegetarian he wants us to eat more veg and realise that veg-centric meals needn’t be dull.

The book is broken down into sections on salads and soups, raw things and bready things and mezze and tapas to name a few.

First off for me was the veggie biryani made for 12 – want to feed a crowd? Who could ask for more than succulent spicy veg with curried rice garnished with crunchy almonds? A breeze to prepare and cook, and if you can lift the casserole dish containing enough for 12 people and carry it to the table to reveal and serve, all the better (I needed help just getting it out of the oven – damn you Le Cruset with your sturdy based pans, wrist splints should be sold alongside them IMO).

For dips and salads, please make the roasted carrot hummous – this has replaced Peamole (it is what it sounds like) as the dip-tastic choice of the season and the raw beetroot and walnut and cumin salad add a fab crunchy side – try it with a smoked fish platter.

Above is a warming Sunday night dinner for friends, a puy lentil and spinach soup (made with the veg stock recipe from the same book) filling and warming, perfect  after a long walk in the crisp autumnal sunshine. Should you want a little meat in there, I added some pancetta as there were some in the fridge that needed using. I don’t think Hugh would mind.

What I enjoy about veggie cooking, and all the things I’ve made from this book so far, is the ease with which each dish is adaptable in terms of using up what’s in the fridge or buying what’s currently in season. I feel more able to play around without the meat – perhaps because the total cost of the dish is cheaper so the risk is less. Perhaps also just because I’m more comfortable with cooking veg and less fearful of over or under cooking and more confident of how the dish will fare as leftovers. I’ve made more than I’ve covered here, and yet more are flagged. This book is one that I will return to over and over again.

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Short & Sweet

November 4, 2011

I have been baking almost exclusively from Dan Lepard’s ‘Short & Sweet’ since it arrived a few weeks ago. A comprehensive compilation of recipes from choux to pita; muffins to meringues and tarts to tapenade dinner rolls. The ‘tips & techniques’ at the start of each  chapter – whilst present in any decent baking book – I’ve found more enlightening than usual. For example pointing out that ripe bananas are alkaline and may need the addition of more baking powder to stop the finished cakes turning out on the heavy side (noted Mr Lepard).

Dan writes a weekly column ‘How to Bake’ for the Saturday Guardian magazine. A regular cut-out-and-keep for me, my collection of his recipes are tucked between the pages of other baking books, and now they will have a place of their own. What I’m particularly pleased about is that the book isn’t just a collection of the recipes already available online and, as was recently pointed out in another review – the book stays open at the page required making life just a little easier.

 

 

 

I have now twice made the savoury choux pastry recipe and Black Olive Gourgeres (mini choux bites with thyme, garlic, parmesan and kalamata olives – divine). A chance to revisit the choux first attempted at River Cottage and to hone those skills. The gourgeres are a fantastic pre dinner party nibble as they can be made ahead and reheated easily before serving. They’re messy buggers to spoon onto a baking tray (line that tray with parchment) but they don’t need to be too uniform in shape as the their rough edges crisp up and add wonderful crunch.

 

 

 

The savoury choux paste with added parmesan and a hint of mace along with the cayenne (top spice tip from River Cottage – try it) was easier to work with although my quenelle-ing skills need a fair amount of work. I was able to try out my theory that a filling of horseradish creme fraiche would go well with the spicy buns. I can confirm it does make a lovely pairing; the light and crispy pastry, warm with gentle heat from the spices and parmesan compliments the smooth zingy and firey mixture of creme fraiche (I used low fat)  and horseradish (the English Provender Co makes a great substitute for the fresh stuff) lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Make your mixture and chill in the fridge before piping into the cooled buns. A great mixture that goes wonderfully well with beef or smoked fish too. Top tip of my own – remember to warn guests that the buns are filled. Chances are they will be eaten with glass in one hand and the eater’s focus on conversation – the spilling potential would seem to be moderately high.

 

 

 

From the sweeter end of the recipe selection I made the Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake for a neighbours birthday. A fine crumbed cake containing condensed milk it’s better for a day left well wrapped but pretty damn tasty straight away if it calls to you from the kitchen.

 

 

 

Another day found me looking at the collection of dried fruits in my baking cupboard. First off was a Cinnamon Honey Fruit Cake which I baked in a tray, all the better for portioning to share out (a suggestion made by Dan that I can confirm works well). This too benefits from sitting for a day or two and I really would leave it if you can, a far moister cake awaits you if you can resist. I used a mixture of prunes, figs and apricots as well as adding 100g of whole blanched almonds, which in the tray form didn’t have the opportunity to sink – mind you the batter is thick enough with chopped fruit that they should stay suspended even in a deep tin. The discovery of a nut adds delightful texture and interest to the bites of cake.

 

 

 

For me though the star of the show so far has been the Marrakesh Express Loaf Cake. Containing coffee, lots of walnuts and sesame seeds, rich sticky dates and pomegranate I felt sure I would enjoy it, but the layers of taste are amazing. Like a complex perfume it has a deep earthiness from the coffee and walnuts surrounded by the sweet dates and then the syrupy top notes of the pomegranate syrup float around your mouth. Dan says that treacle could substitute for the pomegranate syrup but I can’t believe the flavours would then dance around your palate in quite the same way. The syrup is worth getting if you can, a little goes a long way and if you enjoy middle easter food or follow the Ottolenghi column adjacent to Dan’s in the Guardian then you will find plenty of uses for it.

 

 

 

The recipe states half wholemeal or spelt flour and half hemp flour – I just used all wholemeal and it turned out fine, although I might just have to get me some spelt and hemp and see if the flavours can be any better.

 

 

 

There is still so much to try in the book and I know from last year that the Caramel Christmas Cake is a winner and sure to make another outing, or four, this year.

 

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Investment

August 11, 2011

More is needed. In this blog obviously, my neglect is shameful. I have been baking but not with the same regularity, or joy, as previously. The reasons are many and varied but my old foe apathy has set in. However, recently I’ve been in the kitchen a little more and the more I do, the more I enjoy being there. It might feel wrong to force myself to bake when the mojo is missing, but it seems a little more discipline will allow me to rediscover that joy and the rewards it brings.

That bit of effort invested into my kitchen should then provide rewards; both in terms of my enjoyment and the lift to the spirits an hour or so spent zesting oranges, chopping nuts or standing perplexed over an ice-cream maker can bring; but also for those that I share those proceeds with.

My family, my friends, my neighbours, my community.

Recent events have shown that more investment is desperately needed in the relationships with those around us. I’m not talking about financial investment, or here to debate the budgetary cuts – there are those far more knowledgeable than I who are able to provide arguments on that subject. But the investment of time and care. Last weekend a group of neighbours and friends hosted a BBQ for the rest of the Avenue, a truly collaborative event attended by every house, and more, from those who had lived here for decades to those who had yet to move into their new home.

It was a great evening, there was good food, great company, and plenty of laughter. Most importantly connections, relationships and friendships with those around us have been initiated or strengthened. A couple of hours of planning, a few more of preparation and several more enjoying ourselves can only serve to reward us all. Sadly, at the same time as we were extending these friendships and sharing food the riots and looting were starting in north London and we could never have imagined that in just 48 hours it would extend to our city centre a few miles away.

I have no idea how I/we go about extending this feeling of connection to the wider community in order to prevent the chaos of recent days recurring, I’m not naive enough to believe that an offering of dips, muffins or bowls of salad is going to make much difference, but we must try, even if it starts in a small way with those next to us – a little investment in these relationships would be a wise and beneficial one for us all.

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Sharing the Love: Part II

November 12, 2010

As a continuation of a theme, what could be better to share than dips? As one with a savoury rather than sweet tooth, I would rather sit around a dish like the one above than a platter of sweet things, and by their very nature they are to be shared in the true sense – communal snacking. A friendship with a neighbour, cultivated in part through the aforementioned cake sharing, led to an invitation to a bonfire night party last week. The horrid, wet weather prevented any actual firework display but good company and wine made for a lovely evening and this trio of dips were a tasty accompaniment.

I recently spotted a recipe for a black bean dip  courtesy of the LA Times that I wanted to try, and added to this two other dips to use up some of the stocks of chick peas and tahini in the cupboard, the pumpkin and beetroot were a colourful nod to autumn, although the pumpkin was from a tin and the beetroot pre-cooked rather than freshly roasted. All three took no time at all to blitz in a food processor, the most time-consuming part was washing the bowl and blades in between making each dip.

I think my favourite has to be the beetroot and walnut, although I adapted the quantity/ratio as I only had a small pack of beetroot in the fridge. With all of them feel free to add more citrus if needed and if the consistency isn’t quite right for you add more olive oil or water until you’re happy. Serve with something crunchy and ‘scoopy’ (you know what I mean) my preference is for some wholemeal pitta tossed in olive oil and sea salt then toasted.

Spicy Pumpkin Dip

Food Network

1 tin of pumpkin puree (Waitrose stock Libby’s brand)

1 tin chickpeas – drained and rinsed

3 tbsp tahini

1 garlic clove

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp cumin

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

Blend the chickpeas and pumpkin in a food processor until smooth, add the remaining ingredients and process. Season with salt and pepper to taste

 

Beetroot and Walnut Dip

Good Food Channel

250g cooked beetroot (not the kind in vinegar!)

100g toasted walnuts

50ml olive oil

25ml water

1 tbsp tahini

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt to taste

Pulse the walnuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped and the beetroot until a paste forms.

Add oil, water and tahini, lemon juice and pulse again.

 

 

Black Bean Hummus

LA Times

1 tin chickpeas – drained and rinsed

1 tin black beans – drained and rinsed (on closer inspection the original recipe said 2 tins, but I used 1 and it was fine although I didn’t use as much water as was suggested)

4 cloves garlic

2 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp tahini

juice of a lemon

1 cup of water (240ml) plus more if needed

1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (I would start with one – it was fiery with 1 1/2 but maybe that’s where the other tin of black beans would’ve been useful!)

2 1/2 tsp cumin

2 1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp pepper

Blend the beans, oil, garlic, tahini and lemon juice to a paste. With the motor still running on low speed, add the water.

Add the spices and blend, taste and adjust seasoning.

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Still Loving the Soup

December 3, 2009

As I mentioned previously, my trip to Scotland reignited my love for soup and I’ve made plenty since, adapting the original recipe from the River Cafe quite a bit over the weeks. Then I saw the invitation on What’s for Lunch Honey to take part in the 38th Monthly Mingle – Warming Soups for the Happy Soul. Well, I don’t really believe in the concept of the soul as such, however if there’s something that lifts and warms my heart it’s chopping and stirring, creating over a low simmer and then enjoying the fruits of my labour, and this soup has warmed me, both literally and figuratively quite a bit over the past few weeks.


Firstly, the tinned cannelini beans were a bit hit or miss, too often dry and grainy. Textures are always important in food, whether complimentary or contrasting, and I make this soup with plenty of very chunky vegetables in order to provide some bite, the greens added at different times to give variation. The beans are by no means the main ingredient, but there’s nothing worse than glancing at the next mouthful on the spoon, spying a bean and feeling a sense of trepidation. I bought some Cerrato ‘Organic Minestrone with Kamut’ bean mix containing various beans and lentils from Waitrose on a whim, the pre-soaking is a bit of a pain, but worth it as they’re just delicious.

I’ve added a decent amount of tomato puree for some extra depth and a sprinkling of chilli flakes too. I’ve also, thanks to an excess in a colleagues veg box and their generosity, discovered calvo nero and can’t seem to get enough at the moment. I don’t know how many the following recipe would feed as it keeps me going for nearly a week, the flavours developing all the time. The great thing is it’s infinately adaptable – take out or add as your taste or the seasons dictate.

200g beans pre-soaked for 12 hours
Olive oil
1 large leek
1 large carrot
1 head of celery
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Bunch of parsley
Tomato puree
1/4 tsp chili flakes
large bunch of Calvo Nero or cabbage/greens of your choice, roughly chopped

  • Cover the beans with water, cover, bring to the boil and then simmer for 40 minutes.
  • Chop the carrots, leeks and celery roughly, I like my veg to still have a bite at the end so keep the pieces quite big.
  • Put a dash of olive oil in a large pan, when hot add the chopped veg and cook slowly over a medium heat for 20 mins, stirrring all the time to prevent them browning or sticking.
  • Add tomato puree, chopped parsley, chili flakes to your taste and coat the vegetables before adding the tin of tomatoes, simmer for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are reduced.
  • Add the greens – if using a more delicate green reserve half for adding at a later point
  • Add the drained beans and pour boiling water over to cover the contents of the pan and simmer for 20 – 30 mins.
  • If you’ve reserved some greens add them 5 mins before the end.
  • Serve with some parmesan and fresh bread should you wish.

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A Win and a Fail

November 10, 2009

Another gathering for a night of ladyboy poker provided another baking opportunity. In a search for inspiration a brief email poll of participants returned the single word ‘chocolate’.
I had recently bookmarked a recipe for Chocolate, Coffee and Cardamon Cake with a view to a dinner party/poker dessert (rather than a bake and take to work kind of cake). I had fresh pods in the cupboard from the gingerbread earlier in the week and the pictures on Spice and More’s blog screamed dense richness, just what you need with a good bottle of red to induce a lucky hand. I followed the recipe on the site, using the reduced amount of sugar suggested, with 70% chocolate (I had Green and Blacks in the cupboard). I have a Gaggia coffee machine (possibly my most prized possession) so brewed a double espresso then strained the crushed cardamon pods and seeds which I’d simmered in water into the coffee before adding all the liquid at the point stated. The type of tin wasn’t specified but you’ll need a deep springform for this one. I didn’t bother with a ganache (and this wasn’t because of previous disasters, I believe I now have a foolproof recipe) I just didn’t think it looked like it needed it, the top of the cake looked so moist and was slightly cracked and I worried about masking the cardamon with more chocolate. When it came to serving, additional chocolate definitely wasn’t needed, it was so tasty on it’s own.

Along with the cake I also offered to cook the main. I have the Leon book and love it so much that I gave it to several people as Christmas presents last year, my sister is currently spreading the Leon love by giving copies as gifts. I needed a one pot veggie dish and the Egyptian Tamarind stew looked appealing, filled as it is with roasted aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and chickpeas (or fava beans if you can find them). I Googled it for additional hints and tips and discovered that it had been part of the Guardian’s cookalong series with the added bonus of a pilaf recipe to accompany it. You can get the transcript and recipes here. I used agave nectar rather than honey, partly to just use it and partly because I’m not a fan of honey and wasn’t sure how strong the taste of it would be. I think the agave worked, I added a little more tamarind than suggested and I think that I would split the chillies to get a little bit more of a kick. The smell of the pilaf was amazing as the heat hit the spices and everyone enjoyed it.

So, two wins on the food front were joined by two poker wins – yes I won both games! Unheard of. Only that day I’d been moaning that I was feeling a little despondent as I rarely won a hand never mind games or cold hard cash and was pretty much only going along for the company and baking opportunity. But win I did, and it felt good.
There was a baking fail though, perhaps fail is too strong a word as colleagues at work seemed to enjoy it, but I can’t say I was taken with the Cardamon Vanilla Bundt featured on the Food Librarian’s ‘I Like Big Bundts’ series (in the lead up to National Bundt day on November 15th). It was heavier than I expected and whilst it smelt divine whilst baking, the end result didn’t have enough vanilla or cardamom for me. Do check out the series though, there are some fantastic looking cakes on there.
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Bring on the Soups

October 23, 2009
So, the clocks go back this weekend, the evenings are drawing in and if the Today programme are debating us Brits (or perhaps just the English and Welsh, depending on where in the argument you fall) joining European time once again, then it must be time for soup.
I’ve had a nasty bout of gastric flu which is lingering as I’m unable to stop eating and stick to clear fluids (gin doesn’t count, I checked). Today I was a bit better and also bored, so following a bowl of the most amazing minestrone soup at the Glebe Cairn Cafe at the Kilmartin House Museum on my recent trip to Scotland I felt now was the time to try and move into soup season. A search through my recipes and a brief Google led me to this version from the River Cafe. I substituted the onion with a leek, left out the garlic (not a fan) added runner beans and used up a pointed cabbage (in two stages) instead of the chard and cavolo nero. Whatever recipe I found I would leave out any pasta, but this had none. Next time I make it (and there will be a next time) I will add more beans, and maybe some tomato puree to add a little more depth. It also needed more stock than was called for, but I liked it stew-like. I can’t wait until tomorrow to see if the comments are right about it being better on the second day.