Monday, 28 July 2008

Mussels, Samphire, Sage and Chilli Oil with Tagliatelle

The mussels from Northumberland at this time of the year are outstanding. Plump, juicy and lightly fragranced from the sea that they are grown in, they are one of my favourite cheap and fast eats.

When I buy mussels, all I want to do with them is cook them quickly in nothing more than a glass of cider or wine, perhaps a handful of fresh herbs throw in, then eat with bread and butter. This is my personal treat, one that I can indulge myself with for no reason at all. Their taste is unique, quite hard to describe but one to savour, a true taste of the sea. Their texture is light, fluffy and melting. Unless you cook them for too long of course.

Sage is not a herb I would associate with shellfish too much but with a large sage bush in the garden not being used too much, I guessed an intense sage oil, injected with a bit of chilli heat, might be a flavour that the mussels could benefit from. With some tomatoes from the weekly organic bag, simply roasted whole and squashed with a fork, it all came together with fresh local samphire and tagliatelle to make for a very clean tasting, fresh and memorable tea. Flex your mussels.

Mussels, Samphire, Sage and Chilli Oil with Tagliatelle

Feeds 2

6 tomatoes
4 handfuls of mussels, de-bearded and cleaned
1 small glass of cider, white wine or water
2 handfuls of samphire
25g butter
8 rounds of dried tagliatelle

For the oil
A handful of sage
1 dried or fresh birds eye chilli, seeds removed
2 tbsp olive oil
A squeeze of lemon
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C, GM4. Cut a cross into the base of the tomatoes. Place into a baking tray and drizzle on a little oil. Bake for 20-30 minutes until softened and starting to colour. Pinch off the skins then mash the flesh roughly in a bowl.
2 - Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the tagliatelle and cook for 7-8 minutes.
3 - Whilst the pasta is cooking, make the sage oil. In a pestle and mortar, grind together the sage and chilli with a pinch of salt and pepper to form a green paste. Add the olive oil and lemon juice. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Heat up another pan with a lid. Add the mussels then pour in your liquid of choice. Put on the lid and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the shells have opened. Discard any that remain shut. Throw in the samphire and butter and leave to sit with the lid on for 1 minute.
5 - When the pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pan. Tip in the roasted tomato flesh, mussels and samphire. Combine then serve into bowls.
6 - Drizzle with the sage oil and serve with some sage leaves crisped in a little olive oil.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Courgette Quesadillas

"If you must write prose and poems,
The words you use should be your own,
Don’t plagiarise or take on loans"

The Smiths - Cemetery Gates

As much as I wholeheartedly agree with my favourite band in the whole wide world, I'm afraid it has been a week of plagiarism in the Hall household this week. Not in the writing sense but in the cooking sense. I've been copying and adapting like a crazy man.

Not that doing that is a bad thing; as long as you aren't claiming it to be your own and offering praise where it should be offered then it becomes a positive thing. And that is where I come in. Fresh from tweaking one of Helen Grave's recipes and turning it into my New Potatoes with Green Sauce, it is now my turn to get into probably my favourite Blogger of the past year - The Great Big Vegetable Challenge.

I think you all probably know what amazing things have been going on in the GBVC house of late. Not only has Charlotte turned her once vegetable bating superstar of a boy, Freddie, into a vegetable loving superstar. But they have now released their book detailing the miraculous recipes that made Freddie into the boy he is today. I can't state how great it is. All I ask is get your hands on a copy and see what all of the fuss is about.

So at the weekend, we did just that and turned the pages eagerly to find that Freddie has marked the recipes out of 10, with '10 out of 10' recipes getting a special mention. As I currently have a glut of courgettes sprouting at an alarming pace from my backyard buckets, I thought the highly rated Courgette Quesadillas would be a good place to start. I tweaked slightly. And the tweak wasn't weak. They were delicious. Thanks Freddie, it has been a true pleasure to be involved in your adventure.

Courgette Quesadillas

Feeds 3

3 courgettes, grated
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic
1 pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp olive oil
A squeeze of lime juice
Freshly ground pepper
4 flour tortilla wraps
250g grated Cheddar cheese (I used a combo of Cheddar and mozzarella)

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees, GM6.
2 - Heat up the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the courgettes, spring onions, garlic and chilli and cook until it becomes slightly dry but not too coloured. Squeeze in the lime juice, grate in some pepper, stir and set aside.
3 - Put two of the tortilla wraps onto a lightly oiled baking tray. Sprinkle with some cheese until they are covered.
4 - Spread out the courgette mixture onto both tortillas. Top with more cheese. Finally, press on the two remaining tortilla wraps, brush with oil then place into the middle shelf of the oven.
5 - Bake for 10-15 until golden and crispy. Cut into wedges and serve with a simple salad.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

New Potatoes, Rocket Green Sauce and Field Mushrooms

I've been getting a bit of grief of late from some of my vegetarian readers. Not enough vegetarian recipes apparently. In my experience, vegetarians aren't ones to argue with; the lack of protein in their diet makes them a feisty lot.

Before anybody thinks I'm now turning into a vegetarian bating carnivorous fool, please relax. I've worked it out that approximately 60% of my weekly diet is made up of vegetarian meals and snacks. And looking at my recipes in the drop down column, there are loads of recipes there to appease my veggie friends. So I won't feel guilty.

My philosophy on food is that no matter what it comprises of, it should be tasty and simple to achieve. Vegetarian options on the high street can often be predictable and bland, almost an insult. So using one of the brilliant and innovative Helen Grave's recipes as inspiration, here is a winner of a meal for all my 'anything with a face won't be consumed' readers. Lip smacking green sauce smothered hot new potatoes and that meat of the vegetarian world, the field mushroom to give some variation to an incredibly simple but satisfying dish.

New Potatoes, Rocket Green Sauce and Field Mushrooms
Feeds 2

4 handfuls of new potatoes
4 large field mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

For the green sauce
4 handfuls of rocket
A handful of basil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp English mustard
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
Salt and pepper

1 - Boil the potatoes, drain and keep aside.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Season the mushrooms then cook on each side until golden brown, approximately 5 minutes each side. Set aside on kitchen paper.
3 - Blitz the green sauce ingredients in a food processor or roughly chop the whole ingredients then stir in with the wet ingredients in a bowl. Taste - it should be balanced, not too much lemon or capers. As a classic green sauce has anchovies, ensure it is seasoned with a little salt.
4 - Coat the hot potatoes in the green sauce. To serve, pile some potatoes onto a late, tuck in a few mushrooms then scatter over some rocket. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Rocky Road

Today brings the end of another milestone for the nipper. No more walks up to the local church where she has been going to a little nursery school for the past 18 months. In September, it is official 'Big Girl's School' when she starts the 'proper' state nursery. I get pretty sad and nostalgic about these types of milestones as time just seems to fly by, but Cerys just laughs and buzzes on looking forward to the next challenge. What a girl.

To celebrate the beginning of 'Big Girl' time, we got our hands dirty in the kitchen to make a cracking sweet of all sweets for kid's parties and the like - Rocky Road. This thing is the creation from hell if you are on a diet: chocolate, butter, honey, syrup, sweets, anything really. I've no idea where the idea came from but it is a winner with the kids and adults alike.

It is one of those recipes where there really is no recipe, if that makes any sense at all. As long as you have chocolate and butter to make a large slab to paste all kinds of lovely things into, it will work. But the idea is to make it as 'rocky' as possible. So into mine went a little home made honeycomb, that thing that belongs in the chemistry lab as it explodes out of the pan. A few handfuls of jelly tots, dried fruit and marshmallows, and a load of crushed ginger biscuits clags it all together quite nicely, thank you very much. This is DIY food. Fun food that gets your kids involved, food that gets you all happy in the kitchen.

It now sits in the fridge awaiting the arrival of big girl. And if it goes as fast as the past 18 months seem to have, we may have to reach for the diet book after all. Enjoy it while it lasts and keep having fun, the very key of the rocky road of life.

Rocky Road
Makes one large slab

100g milk chocolate
100g plain chocolate
100g butter
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp honey
20 ginger biscuits, crushed
A few handfuls of marshmallows
A bag of jelly tots
A couple of handfuls of dried fruit such as cherries and apricots, roughly chopped
A couple of handfuls of honeycomb or Maltesers, broken up

1 - To make some honeycomb, put a couple of tablespoons each of caster sugar and honey into a pan. Bring to the boil then simmer until beginning to caramelise. Quickly stir in a tablespoon of Bicarbonate of Soda and as it fizzes up, pour onto a plate or tray lined with greaseproof paper. Leave to dry.
2 - To make the Rocky Road, melt the chocolate and butter in a pan then stir in the cocoa powder and honey. Leave to cool a little before stirring in the remaining ingredients, leaving a few of the tots, mallows and dried fruit to decorate the top.
3 - Pour into a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Decorate the top in any order you wish then leave in the fridge to set.
4 - Cut into cubes and dig into that Rocky Road.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Kohlrabi Remoulade

Do you remember the first time? And by that oh poisoned minded readers, I mean the first time you ate a particular foodstuff. Yesterday, the alien-like kohlrabi appeared in our weekly veg box. And it brought back good memories.

My first experience with the kohlrabi was only a few years back. In a farmer's market in Leeds, there sat a full tray of the deliciously mild green tentacle covered kohlrabi. This vegetable could be the thing of nightmares to previously vegetable fearing people such as Freddie over at GBVC. It certainly looked odd, like nothing I had seen before. And I couldn't believe I had access to a vegetable I had never tasted before.

If you have never had kohlrabi, please seek them out. They taste incredibly earthy, like a mild turnip with a slight bitterness. It quickly became our weaning baby's favourite food as we steamed it and turned it into a puree. For the adults, I stirred in a few herbs, a little butter and perhaps some mustard for an alternative side vegetable for the Sunday roast. Hard to believe that historically it used to be cattle fodder.

I turned yesterday's welcome addition into a remoulade, which is basically the French word for a condiment. We ate it with left over roast chicken, cheese and salad leaves. And it remains ever so fondly as one of my favourite vegetables. Do you remember the first time?

Kohlrabi Remoulade

1 kohlrabi, peeled and sliced into lengths
Juice of one lemon
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard
1 tbsp onion seeds (optional)
A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Fresh yoghurt
Salt and pepper

1 - Using a fine grater, grate the kohlrabi into a tea towel. It contains a lot of water, so roll up the tea towel and squeeze out as much water as possible. Tip into a mixing bowl.
2 - Stir in half of the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, onion seeds and parsley. Stir thoroughly then gradually stir in the yoghurt until you have a thick but not swamped kohlrabi condiment.
3 - Taste for seasoning and squeeze in more lemon juice depending on how sharp you like it.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Almost There

It has been suspiciously warm up here recently. I say suspiciously because I'm British and we are those types of people. I can remember this time last year being a total washout. So what is going on? It's scorching!

I do love the hot weather mind. And it is also an excuse to make plenty of our favourite hot weather treat, ice cream. I've currently got 4 different types in my freezer. I don't have an ice cream churner; I just use the old trusty and patient method of a plastic bowl and a fork to stir it with every hour to get those ice crystals broken down.

Sometimes though, that method is just too long. Especially when a certain little person in my life is requiring an icy fix. The easiest option then is to make some little individual pots and half freeze them. The Italians call this Semifreddo. I call mine Almost Ice. Dead easy to make and ready in an hour, this is the kind of thing we seem to be buying ready made and spending a fortune on. With only 4 ingredients I have to ask, why? So ditch the forks, stop clock watching and make some lovely little refreshing ices for the family using pretty much any fruit you can get your hands on. Your kids will adore you for it.

Raspberry Swirl 'Almost Ice'
Makes 4 glasses

250g raspberries
250g Greek yoghurt
250g Low fat crème fraiche
100g honey (or sweeten to taste)

1 - In a large bowl, crush the raspberries with a fork. Drizzle a little into the bottom of 4 glasses.
2 - In a separate bowl, beat the crème fraiche and yoghurt together until it stiffens slightly.
3 - Fold in the raspberries and honey then tip into the individual glasses. Stick into the freezer and leave for 1-2 hours until slightly frozen.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Henry Winkler

Winkles, or periwinkles (sounds much more glamorous) are a shellfish which may have just fallen foul of the times when it comes to using them as food. Clinging to our rocks by the millions at this time of the year, they are a free food that anybody with a pair of wellies and a few eager children can collect. And they are utterly delicious.

When I was a boy, my mam used to buy us bags of boiled winkles, or 'willicks' as we Geordies call them, to eat as a 'treat'. If you have never eaten one before, they can be a tricky thing to remove from their shells. The weapon of choice when I was young was a pin. Yes, a sharp pin. After 5 minutes of tackling a tiny shell with a pin, we usually gave up and moved onto the next winkle. I reckon out of a bag of 50, we were lucky to extract 10. But when we did, we savoured each mouthful. As massive fans of The Fonz, we knew exactly why he was called Henry Winkler.

Let’s get something straight; winkles don't look in the least good. If you have ever eaten a snail, think of a smaller glossier version with a long thin curly tail (if you are lucky enough to get them out that is). But the taste, in my opinion, is delicious. Some would say they are for an acquired taste, but I leave that statement to fusspots. If you like the taste of pure sea blessed shellfish such as mussels, crabs or the winkle's bigger cousin, the whelk, you will love the winkle.

I want to try to encourage people to perhaps try and grow to love our little shore hugging friend. To bring them up to date and give them a good old makeover, I recommend patiently shelling a load of cooked winkles and tossing them into a hot pan with chilli, shallots, lemon and coriander. Served on toasts as a canapé or even as a light lunch, I think you will quickly develop that 'acquired taste' and promote the humble and unfashionable winkle to a higher level. Just replace that tongue lancing pin with a cocktail stick please...

Hot Chilli and Lemon Winkles

Feeds 2 as a lunch

1 small bag of live winkles, or if you trust your fishmonger, cooked
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 dried chilli, crumbled
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

1 - To prepare live winkles, simply tip into a pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and allow to cool. Remove the winkles gently from their shells and keep aside.
2 - Heat up the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the shallot, garlic and chilli and cook for 1 minute.
3 - Turn up the heat. Tip in the shelled winkles and squeeze in the lemon. Cook, stirring for a further minute.
4 - Taste for seasoning and serve on toasts with a sprinkling of fresh coriander.

Meatball Marinara

An unnamed high street food provider has a version of this on their menu. Meatball marinara: hot meatballs, tomato sauce and cheese stuffed ...