Saturday, 4 October 2014

Roast Mushroom and Cobnut Soup with Tarragon and Nut Butter

My favourite season has definitely arrived. I know that Autumn is here as each of my windows are covered in condensation. I also know that it is here when my washing remains damp and cold on the drying line.

Something about this time of the year gets me a bit excited and brings out the food obsessive in me. I start to plan ahead with great enthusiasm. Already I have chutneys made with marrows and damsons. I've lots of jams made with various summer berries. Herbs have been dried and crumbled. Litres of sloe gin and sticky plum vodka are marinating away ready for a winter treat by the fire. I've done battle with the grey squirrels and hoarded a few bags of cob nuts.

The cob nuts excite me the most. Bags of hazelnuts, fresh ones at that, are not cheap. So a few squeaky fresh creamy textured fresh nuts make me more than happy. It is hard to resist just cracking them as I find them and eating them as they are. But if you can resist, you can make all kinds of lovely produce.

Soup is going to be pretty much a daily food in my house now that the roots and mushrooms are here in abundance. This soup combines a magnificent pairing in tarragon and mushroom, the aniseed of the dried tarragon perfectly matching the meatiness of the field mushrooms I use.  A few of my lovely cob nuts, pan roasted and distributed throughout, gives a nice crunchy surprise. There are reasons for seasons.

Roast Mushroom and Cobnut Soup with Tarragon and Nut Butter

Serves 4

1 leek, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
500g wild mushrooms, sliced (I used field mushrooms)
2 tbsp dried or fresh tarragon
2 handfuls of cob nuts or hazelnuts
750ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

For the butter

25g butter
1 tbsp fresh or dried tarragon
1 tbsp cob nuts or hazelnuts

1 - Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the leek, mushrooms and tarragon and cook gently for 10-15 minutes, until golden and well reduced.
2 - Add the stock, bring to the boil and then simmer for 10 minutes.
3 - Blitz in a blender until smooth then return to the pan. Pan roast the cob nuts in a dry pan until golden, then roughly chop and stir into the soup.
4 - For the butter, pan roast the cobnuts then finely chop. Mash the butter with the herbs and nuts.
5 - Taste the soup for seasoning, then serve in bowls with a spoon of the butter.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Lemon Curd Cake

If you are going to have some form of lemon cake, make it taste like lemon! This one pulls no punched with a triple hit of lemon.

Lemon Curd Cake

200g caster sugar
200g butter or margarine
3 large eggs
Zest and juice of one lemon
2 large tablespoons curd
200g self raising flour (I used Dove's gluten free flour)
For the drizzle:
3 tbsp caster sugar
Juice of one lemon

Icing sugar to decorate

1 - Preheat the oven to 180C/GM4. Grease a large loaf tin.
2 - In a large bowl, cream the sugar and butter with a whisk, electric whisk or wooden spoon until light and fluffy.
3 - Beat in the eggs one by one followed by the zest and juice of the lemon and the lemon curd.
4 - Sieve in the flour and gently fold until well combined.
5 - Pour into the loaf tin then place on the middle shelf and bake for 35-40 minutes.
6 - Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin.
7 - Heat up the lemon juice and sugar in a pan until combined. Whilst the cake is cooling, prick the cake with a knitting needle or something similar and gently drizzle on the lemon and sugar.
8 - Once cooled, remove from the tin and drizzle over icing sugar for decoration.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Breakfast Rhubarb Cranachan

Scottish cranachan is one of those quick fix creamy desserts that are a doddle to knock up when time is short.

Traditionally made with whipped cream, honey, toasted oats and fresh raspberries, it is a car crash of a recipe, a bit like an Eton Mess which is neither here nor there but utterly delicious.

This is a healthier version which uses seasonal rhubarb stewed in a little honey and omits the whisky, meaning it can be eaten for breakfast. If you want to use it as a dessert, add a drop of decent single malt whisky if desired.

Toast the oats in advance, combine a pro-biotic yoghurt with Greek yoghurt, flavour with a little vanilla extract or if you are feeling posh, a whole vanilla pod and sweeten with honey. It's a great way to start the day even if you are going to upset the traditionalists.

Breakfast Rhubarb Cranachan
Feeds 2-3 people

150g rolled Scottish oats
6 sticks of rhubarb, cut into pieces and stewed in a little honey until soft, cooled
250g pro-biotic yoghurt
250g Greek yoghurt
50g honey
1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds of 1 vanilla pod

1 - Put the oats into a dry frying pan. Heat up and cook until beginning to toast. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
2 - In a mixing bowl, combine the yoghurts, honey and vanilla. Mix in a couple of handfuls of rolled oats and stewed rhubarb.
3 - Place a tablespoon of stewed rhubarb into each of your serving glasses. Top with the yoghurt mixture then top with a little more rhubarb, toasted oats and honey.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Ratatouille with Mussels and Lemon Balm


In a little twist to the usual ratatouille - vegetables in a tomato sauce - this has a few handfuls of fresh and plump Northumbrian mussels and a good dose of lemon balm rather than basil. Lemon balm is a herb that is rarely used in modern day cookery but grows so well in any domestic garden. But with its surprising citrus fragrance and earthy taste, it is a natural herb to accompany shellfish. It is also brilliant in a lemon ice cream. Enjoy.

Ratatouille with Mussels and Lemon Balm
Feeds 4

1 aubergine, cut into small chunks
2 courgettes, halved and sliced into chunks
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced into chunks
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tins of plum tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
6 handfuls of live mussels, cleaned
A handful of lemon balm or basil leaves, finely sliced

1 - Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the aubergine and cook, tossing regularly, until beginning to turn golden. Remove and set aside.
2 - Heat up the remaining tbsp olive oil and add the peppers and courgette. Cook, tossing regularly until beginning to soften and turn golden. Remove and set aside.
3 - Heat up the olive oil in a separate pan and add the onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes then tip in the tomatoes. Bring to the boil, stir in the vinegar and cook for 10 minutes until beginning to reduce and deepen in colour.
4 - Tap any open mussels onto a hard surface. If they do not close, throw away. Put the mussels into the tomato sauce, put on the lid and cook for 5 minutes. If the mussels have not opened properly, throw away.
5 - Stir in the vegetables and heat through. Taste for seasoning. Sprinkle on the lemon balm and serve with rice or crusty bread.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Roast Pumpkin, Chick Pea and Garlic Soup with Golden Salt and Pepper Pumpkin Seeds


This soup entails sticking everything onto a baking tray, roasting it for half an hour in a hot oven, tipping it into a blender with a little stock or water then puréeing it into a soup. Can anybody tell me that this is difficult? If you think so, please give it a go. Easy Peasy Pumpkin and Pie.

Roast Pumpkin, Chick Pea and Garlic Soup with Golden Salt and Pepper Pumpkin Seeds

Feeds 4

1 small to medium pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into large chunks with seeds removed and kept aside
1 whole onion, peeled
1 bulb of garlic, broken and cloves left whole
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tin of chick peas
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
750ml vegetable stock

1 - Pre-heat your oven to GM6/200 degrees C.
2 - Place all of the vegetables on a baking tray. Scatter with the mixed spice, a little salt and pepper and olive oil and mix thoroughly. Roast on a high shelf for 30-40 minutes until golden.
3 - In the meantime, scatter the seeds onto another baking tray with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss together then place on the middle shelf of the oven. Cook until golden.
4 - When the vegetables have cooked, cut the pumpkin skin off and place the flesh into a blender along with the onion and the garlic cloves, squeezed straight out of their skins. Pour in the stock and chick peas then blitz to a fine purée. Taste for seasoning.
5 - Pour into bowls and serve with a scattering of delicious nutty golden pumpkin seeds.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Wild Nettle Pakora

I've grown to respect the nettle recently. Touch one and it has the power to numb a finger or two for several hours. But that isn't the reason for new-found respect; it is simply because I like eating them.

Nettles are packed full of iron and minerals and treat carefully, they are a welcome replacement for spinach in a curry or to be made into a soup.

My favourite way with nettles is to make Indian pakoras, all spicy, crispy, mysterious and green. They are a doddle to make and amazing to eat, even my 6 year old loves them. So next time you are tutting at the nettles in your garden, just don the gloves and pick off all of the tops of the nettles and use them in your recipes. Delicious.

Wild Nettle Pakora
Makes lots

1 large colander full of young nettle leaves
300g chickpea flour (I sometimes used rice flour, it's a little more dense)
1 tsp garam masala
Half tsp ground tumeric
Half tsp ground chilli powder
Salt and pepper
Vegetable or sunflower oil

1 - With gloves on, carefully pick through the nettles discarding any tough or bruised leaves. Wash thoroughly in a sink full of water.
2 - Pick the leaves up and put them straight into a deep pan. Turn up the heat and cook until wilted. Allow to cool, squeeze out excess water then roughly chop.
3 - In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, spices and seasoning. Add the wilted chopped nettles. Stir in enough water to make a thick batter.
4 - Heat up the oil in a deep pan. Test by dropping in a little batter. Add teaspoons of the batter mixture and cook in batches until golden and crisp. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
5 - Serve either as a snack with mango chutney or as an accompaniment to a curry.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Griddled Pineapple with Coconut, Lime and Rum Syllabub

It's perfect weather at the moment for wheeling out the BBQ and believe it or not, a griddled or barbecued pineapple is amazing as a dessert after you've packed back a week's supply of meat.

The ridges of the BBQ give it a caramelised edge and the heat makes this beautiful fruit even more fresh and juicy. I've served mine with a syllabub, an ancient English dessert of cream and alcohol, with rum, coconut and lime added to give it that Caribbean twist.

Make it in advance, put it in little glasses in the fridge, whack the slices of pineapple on the BBQ and it makes for a very impressive and stress-free dessert. Equally, the pineapple can be cooked on a non-stick griddle pan.

Griddled Pineapple with Coconut, Lime and Rum Syllabub
Feeds 4

1 whole pineapple, skinned
2 tbsp sugar
1 sprig of fresh mint

For the syllabub
300ml double cream
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp rum
2 tbsp grated coconut and the milk (if you are using fresh)

1 - To make the syllabub, mix the sugar, lime and rum in a bowl and set aside.
2 - In a large bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. Pour in the sugar, lime, rum, coconut and milk and quickly whisk in. Tip into small glasses and put into the fridge.
3 - Heat up a griddle pan or BBQ. Slice the flesh from the pineapple away from the core and then cut these into small segments. Place onto the griddle or BBQ and cook on each side for 2-3 minutes until slightly charred.
4 - Whilst the pineapple is cooking, grind the mint up with the sugar in a pestle and mortar.
5 - To serve, place the glasses onto plates and grate on dark chocolate. Stack the pineapple up alongside, sprinkle on some mint sugar and serve.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Hot and Sour Sirloin Steak, Pink Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

Hot, sour and sweet; the Thai nation seem to marry these three amazing tastes to perfection and it is such incredible food. Thai food appears simple and complex at the same time, combining a myriad of flavours that play tricks with your taste buds. I've been cooking from David Thompson's comprehensive Thai Food book for some years now, and although Thai food isn't on our menu half as much as I would like it to be, it is always a real treat when it is.

This recipe ticks all of the Thai food boxes that make their food so appealing to me; fresh and sour from the grapefruit, salty from the Nam Pla, hot from the chilli and English Mustard. Thai/English fusion food - maybe I've started something?

Hot and Sour Sirloin Steak, Pink Grapefruit and Avocado Salad
Feeds 2

2 inch thick quality aged sirloin steaks
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 red birds eye chilli, finely sliced
1 tbsp English mustard
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil

For the salad

1 pink grapefruit, skinned and segmented
2 avocados, peeled and sliced
2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 handfuls of fresh spinach
A handful of fresh coriander leaves
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
2 banana shallots, peeled, halved and sliced thinly

For the dressing
1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp Nam Pla, fish sauce
1 tbsp soya sauce
1 tbsp Mirin rice wine

1 - Mix together the garlic, chilli, mustard and a little salt and pepper. Rub onto the steaks.
2 - Heat a thick frying pan and add a little vegetable oil. Ensure it is searing hot. Add the steaks and cook to your liking; rare, 3 minutes each side; medium, 5 minutes each side; well done, 7 minutes each side. Leave to rest for 5 minutes and assemble the salad.
3 - Make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together in a bowl.
4 - Toss the salad ingredients together a dress with a little of the dressing.
5 - Pile onto plates. Slice your steaks into strips and arrange on top of the salad. Finally drizzle over some of the dressing and serve with more lime wedges.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Cod, Caper and Olive Potato Cakes


Fish cakes and tartare sauce have to be a favourite tea time food in our house. Tartare sauce, that sharp acidic mayonnaise 'with bits in' as my daughter says, is the perfect accompaniment to a delicious crispy fish cake. I've mentioned this in a previous post, but getting the little ones involved in something like a fish cake is an excellent way of experimenting with food and actually getting them to eat something different. It is also a great excuse to get out my favourite kitchen gadget, my £1 potato ricer.

Cod, Caper and Olive Potato Cakes
Makes 6 large cakes

Fillets of 1 large cod
Milk
Water
1 onion
1 lemon
2 bay leaves
4 large floury potatoes
1 handful of capers, rinsed and finely chopped
1 handful of black olives, preferably those salty Greek olives, stoned and finely chopped
4 small gherkins, finely chopped
50g butter
A handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Plain flour
Breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
Olive oil

1 - Place the potatoes in a large pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil then cook until they are cooked through. Leave to cool slightly, then peel and either mash into a bowl or use a potato ricer adding the butter.
2 - Place the cod fillets into a large shallow pan. Cover with roughly half milk, half water, a slice of lemon, a slice of onion, the bay leaves and some seasoning. Bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Gently break the cod fillets into the potato, ensuring all bones and skin are removed.
3 - Stir in the capers, olives, gherkins, fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Be gentle on the salt as the olives have plenty.
4 - Put the beaten eggs in a bowl, some seasoned plain flour on one plate and the breadcrumbs on another. Add enough olive oil to a non-stick pan to allow shallow frying and heat up.
5 - Shape the mixture into 'cakes' using floured hands. Dip them first into the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs and fry gently for approximately 7 minutes each side until golden and crisp. Place onto kitchen towel to absorb some oil, then serve with a simple green salad, tartare sauce or simply fresh lemon wedges.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Ricotta Dumplings

These little dumplings are so easy to make and a real treat on a hot summer's day as an alternative to pasta.

This is the kind of food that makes Italy great; simple ingredients combined to perfection, no frills and no pretention.

We served ours with a quick tomato sauce. Heat up a little olive oil in a pan, add a clove of sliced garlic and a pinch of dried chilli. Tip in a tin of tomatoes and a tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar. Cook for 5 minutes and taste for seasoning.

Serve with chives, chive flowers and with plenty of Parmesan cheese. Great to make with your children too, give them a go.

Ricotta Dumplings
Feeds 3 as a light lunch

200g Ricotta cheese
3 egg yolks
A grating of nutmeg
30g Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
200g plain flour

1 - In a bowl, mash together the Ricotta cheese and egg yolks then stir in the nutmeg, Parmesan and seasoning.
2 - Pour in the flour then form to a dough using your hands.
3 - On a floured bench, roll out into a sausage shape (you may need to do it in portions). Cut off 1 inch dumplings and set aside.
4 - Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the dumplings. Once they float to the surface, they are ready to drain and eat with the sauce.