Sunday, 22 May 2011

Elderflower Refresher

The elderflowers seem early this year - either it's the exceptionally hot spring, or I'm getting old and time is speeding up. Or both!

This is a nice refreshing drink as it is, but you can quadruple the sugar and leave the elderflowers soaking for up to 24 hours in order to produce cordial. Don't leave it any longer - unless you're aiming for elderflower champagne!

As insects absolutely love elderflower nectar, you're very likely to end up with some bugs in your glass. If this bothers you, then get ye to the Bottlegreen instead!


Look closely and you can see the
pollen at the bottom of the jug!
  • 15 fluffy elderflower heads
  • 2 (organic, unwaxed) lemons
  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 200 ml boiling water
  • cold water

Pick your elderflower heads using a pair of scissors and a bucket or plastic tub to catch them. Try not to strip a single bush; use a little from several if you can. They are good for cordial when touching them leaves a fine yellow dust on your hands: this is the pollen and it gives the drink a lot of its flavour. Don't use any with brown, shrivelled petals, as these will easily come off in the drink.

At home, juice your lemons into a large jug, then push in the elderflower heads. Dissolve the sugar in the boiling water, and pour all over the flowers - this will kill some of the insects and denature a slightly unpleasant alkaloid found in elderflowers. Top up with cold water; up to about 2 litres for these quantities. 

Leave to sit for at least an hour, then get a large spoon and give it a very good mixing, to get the pollen free-floating in the jug. Put the squeezed lemon halves on top - this will act as a natural filter to stop flower heads coming out when you pour. Pour through a sieve (or a sieve and muslin combo if you're set on excluding insects), into glasses with plenty of ice. Lovely.

Lotte a l'Americaine

Another of my dad's signature dishes, and often wildly overcomplicated in Internet versions, this recipe is an absolute delight in the summer. It's very much a treat - tonight because I will be departing for Croatia tomorrow for a conference. Monkfish are also sadly, not really in season; I should wait until late summer but the last tail at the fishmonger looked so tempting! I skip the traditional fried bread tonight, as the hot weather has dimmed my appetite, and instead knock back a few glasses of home-made elderflower cordial.


  • 400g tail of monkfish - or enough for two
  • plain flour
  • a large clove of garlic
  • 4 ripe, red tomatoes
  • a large shot of brandy

Remove the bone and any remaining skin and scales from the monkfish, wash and pat dry. Slice into bite-size pieces, erring on the side of large rather than small. Toss in a small dish with a few tbsp of plain flour and some salt and pepper. Heat a glug of olive oil in a frying pan to almost-smoking hot, and add the monkfish pieces. Fry (in batches if you have to) for a couple of minutes each side until golden, but not necessarily cooked through. Remove to a plate.

Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes into small pieces, and when the monkfish are done, scrape them from the board into the pan, and then crush in the garlic. Deglaze the pan using the tomato juices, and simmer for 7-8 minutes, until the tomatoes are softened but not totally dissolved, and the sauce has thickened. Return the monkfish to the pan, pour over the brandy, give it a few seconds to warm up and begin to evaporate, and then set fire to it. Enjoy the flames, then serve immediately :)

The Special Sandwich

This has been my favourite sandwich since I was a tiny child. I was very set in my ways and would always have tomato-and-cream-cheese or cucumber-and-cream-cheese at school, but at the weekend when I ate lunch with my parents, I would absolutely demand 'the special sandwich'. I now use cheddar instead of Monteray Jack; I'm sure if I could source the latter here in the UK, I'd be instantly transported back to the kitchen in Houston two decades ago.


  • 2 slices of granary or wholemeal bread, preferably home-made
  • 2 tbsp (approx) of Helmann's mayonnaise
  • 4-5 slices of pastrami
  • a handful of grated cheddar cheese
  • 3 fluffy leaves of lettuce, washed and spun

Spread the mayonnaise over one side each of the bread slices (not all on one side!). Fold the pastrami slices into attractive fluffy wiggles on one piece of bread, so they are well aerated - this gives the sandwich more air and I reckon it makes it taste even better. Add the grated cheese, and then the lettuce leaves, and then the other slice of bread. Slice diagonally (sorry, Doug!) and serve with cherry tomatoes.

The greatest sandwich of all time.

Pan-Fried Tofu

I really like tofu - it's best deep-fried at Japanese restaurants (mmmm, with salt and pepper) - but at home you can make a decent version with a shallow pan, a sharp-edged spatula, and some care. It's nice to marinade it beforehand but it's not absolutely essential. Tonight as a base, I quickly fry up some sesame seeds, thinly-sliced cauliflower and broccoli, and toss in some soaked rice noodles with some soy sauce. Nothing too complicated, so that the sweet and subtle tones of the tofu can come through.

  • 350g firm or extra-firm silken tofu block
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine or mirin
  • 2 spring onions, very finely chopped
  • 1 tsp sugar

Slice the tofu block in half along its longest axis, then again crossways twice so you have eight large-ish flat pieces. Combine the other ingredients in a bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Put the tofu in a small flat dish and cover with the marinade, then leave for 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how much time you have. Prepare anything else you want for the meal in the meantime - e.g. cook rice, slice vegetables.

When you're ready, heat a few tbsp of vegetable or sunflower oil in a heavy-based frying pan - non-stick if you have a very good plastic or wooden spatula, or metal-based if you have only a very sharp metal spatula. Once the oil is hot, gently shake or push off any marinade clinging to the tofu blocks, and add the tofu to the pan, in a single layer. Fry for 4-5 minutes on the top and bottom until golden brown. I emphasise using a good spatula because you want to make sure when you turn it that the fried skin does not separate from the milky body. When the tofu slices are done, remove them to a plate. Reduce the heat and pour the marinade ingredients into the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes until reduced, and the spring onions soften. Serve the tofu atop your chosen accompaniments, with the thickened marinade poured over.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Leek and Goat's Cheese Quiche

Very much borrowing from Delia's recipe here, except that I majorly cheat by using ready-bought pastry, and I omit the spring onions as I think I'm weirdly sensitive to them, and prefer not to use them when the dish is full of subtle flavours. I cooked this as soon as I got home, and it took me about an hour, with another ten minutes waiting for the quiche to cool down - utterly vital so that the quiche cuts and serves cleanly, but usually I find I am hungriest when I have nothing to do but wait. Luckily writing this blog means I can burn a few minutes taking photos :)

My pastry is not as neat as Delia's.
You'll need a 7-8" quiche tin, preferably with a removable base, and it helps to have a baking sheet to place it on so that you can move it in and out of the oven easily. This serves four, and is great with salad, steamed veg, or baked tomatoes. Have a few boiled, buttered new potatoes as well, if you're very hungry.


  • 350g ready-made shortcrust pastry, chilled
  • 2 leeks
  • 200g soft sharp goats cheese
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 200 ml crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly-floured surface until you can place your quiche tin inside, and have at least four inches of pastry all around the edge. Lift the pastry into the tin, and ease it down into the corners. Trim off some of the biggest excess, but leave a good two inches more than the edge of the tin, as it shrinks a lot in the oven. Brush the sides and base with a little beaten egg and fork the base, then bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden-brown all over.

Meanwhile, top, tail and slice the leeks lengthwise, and rinse under running water, fanning the leaves apart to remove any dirt. Finely slice and fry in a heavy frying pan in a little olive oil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very wilted and beginning to caramelise. Remove from the heat, and break up the goats cheese into large pieces. Briskly stir the eggs and cream together in a jug, until well-combined, and season well with black pepper.

Place the leeks and cheese into the pastry casing, and pour over the egg and cream mixture, scraping out any extra with a spatula. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until puffed and golden-brown. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing - you can do it!

Baked Tomatoes with Breadcrumbs

Voted one of the best 10 recipes ever published in the Observer Food Monthly, I have to admit it's quite a handy fallback - particularly when it's spring and the tomatoes are good, but it's still a bit chilly outside and you want something warming. Very easy, and goes with anything. This serves two.


  • Three large, ripe tomatoes
  • 1 slice of bread
  • one small clove of garlic
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Slice the tomatoes in half widthwise, and place each half face-up in a small baking dish. Blend up the bread to make medium-coarse breadcrumbs. Crush in a clove of garlic, and snip in the anchovy fillets. Add the thyme and a good glug (about 3 tbsp) of olive oil. Toss the breadcrumbs thoroughly so the oil and flavourings are well-distributed. Top the tomatoes with the breadcrumbs and bake for 40 minutes, until the topping is golden-brown.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Quick Roast Lamb and Cauliflower Quinoa

We had some lamb rumps to eat tonight; I arrived home late after a seminar and realised I hadn't done any preparation, but that the lamb would be better-tasting today than tomorrow. I browsed the internet looking for things I could make with ingredients I had, but couldn't find anything that I wanted. Eventually I went back to the fridge, looked through and picked out things that I wanted, and that I thought would go well.

In the garden we have a mint plant which grows enormously this time of year, and it has giant, coarse leaves that you can't eat raw. I thought that would go well with some lemon, and chanced some green olives and coriander in a quick herb rub. We had potatoes last night, and I didn't have time for brown rice, so I decided to break out the quinoa - I'm always pleased when I cook it, but often forget that I have it! With some fattened raisins and some quickly stir-fried vegetables, it made a pleasing accompaniment to constrast the lemony herb rub and deep savoury lamb. A delicious, entirely improvised meal that took just half an hour to prepare.


  • 400g lamb rump
  • a few green olives
  • a small handful of mint
  • a small handful of coriander
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 200g quinoa
  • a small handful of raisins or sultanas
  • 2 spring onions
  • 5-6 cauliflower florets

Preheat the oven to 220 C. Remove any large pieces of fat from the lamb rumps, and place in a small oven-safe dish. Blitz the olives, mint, coriander, lemon juice and cumin seeds very briefly in a blender, to make a coarse rub. Scrape this over the lamb and turn the pieces in it, pressing it in and making sure they are all covered. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, turning once, until cooked on the outside and pink on the inside. Rest for 5 minutes before slicing into bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, set the quinoa cooking according to its packet instructions (I use 2:1 water:quinoa, simmer for 10 minutes then switch off and allow to absorb the remaining water). Soak the raisins in a little boiling water for 5-10 minutes until plump, then drain. Finely slice the spring onions into strips, and the cauliflower into thin slices. Stir fry in a little olive oil for 6-7 minutes, keeping on the move the whole time so that the vegetables cook through, and remove from the heat once they pick up a little colour on the edges. Combine the quinoa, vegetables and raisins, and serve the lamb on top, with any juices from the pan drizzled over.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Trout in Parchment

I didn't feel like anything too heavy tonight, but I did want something nutritious to help me recover from the last traces of my cold. The lovely SO popped by the supermarket on the way home and the freshest fish on the counter were some rainbow trout. Eschewing my usual pan-fry, I decided to try roasting them in parchment, which gets you the high temperature of roasting combined with the moisture-retention of steaming. Simple flavours were enough tonight, with tomatoes and lemons providing a pleasing acidity to contrast the sweet pink flesh. We served the trout with Boulangère potatoes (another new dish for me) and some crisp steamed broccoli.


  • 2 fresh rainbow trout, gutted, scaled and cleaned
  • a small vine of cherry tomatoes (10-12)
  • half a lemon, sliced
  • a few tbsp of chopped rosemary leaves
  • white wine

Preheat the oven to 170 C. Line a roasting tin or tray with a big piece of baking parchment. Place the rainbow trout on it, and make a few deep incisions on the fattest parts of the flesh. Tuck the cherry tomatoes around the trout, and the lemon slices on top. Scatter over the rosemary leaves and splash in a half-glass of white wine - you can drink the other half...! Scrunch the paper closed over the fish, tucking it underneath if you need to. Don't worry if you pierce it, just wet the edges and stick it back together. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the eyes of the trout are opaque and the flesh is tender.

Boulangère potatoes

We popped this in the oven before going out for a short walk: it's quite flexible and can be prepared in advance, or just before you want to eat. It's basically Dauphinoise potatoes without the cream, so nice when you don't feel you've exerted yourself enough to deserve a brick of dairy fat! I just made these without the butter, and they didn't suffer much for it, but they did lack a certain punch, so if you're not vegan or dieting, I'd recommend leaving the butter in.

  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • about 200 ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • a few slices of butter

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Peel and halve the onion, and slice into very thin half-moons. Fry over a moderate heat in a little olive oil until translucent and softened, and just beginning to caramelise. Crush in the garlic and cook for a further minute, then remove from the heat and stir in the salt and thyme. Scrub or peel the potatoes, then very finely slice them using a sharp knife or mandolin. In a small baking dish, laayer the potatoes with the onions, then pour enough hot stock to nearly cover them. Top with the butter slices and bake for an hour, until the top is golden and the potatoes are tender all the way through.

Monday, 16 May 2011


Today I'm still a little poorly so I've been working from home. At lunch, that gave me the opportunity to make my own hummus, which I haven't done in ages! It's really simple, and the individual ingredients keep for a long time, so you can quickly whip up a batch whenever you need. You can vary the flavours, at the end stirring in toasted spices, chopped herbs, even small pieces of roasted pepper or sundried tomato; or you can vary the proportions somewhat for a runnier, or more lemony, or more garlicky basic recipe.


  • 210g of cooked chick peas (i.e. the contents of one 400g tin, after draining)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • half of a medium or one very small clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • olive oil
  • paprika (optional)

Drain and rinse the chick peas, removing the goobery liquid they're packed in. Add to a blender along with the lemon juice, garlic, tahini, salt and 1 tbsp of olive oil. (If you don't have any tahini, you can toast 4 tbsp of sesame seeds over a low heat until golden on all sides, and use them instead, but the hummus will not be as smooth.)

Blend, starting on a low speed and then turning it up to create a smooth paste. Scrape the hummus out of the blender (use a piece of bread to wipe out the last few tasty bits!) and put in a bowl, smoothing down to remove air pockets. Dash over a little paprika and a touch more olive oil. Brilliant with sharp cheddar or hot lamb and some salad leaves.

Ernie is perplexed: how can I still be hungry after
the mouse he brought me as a snack at 5AM?

Sticky Lemon Chicken

We ate this on Friday, but Blogspot was having some kind of outage so I wasn't able to update. We used up the rest of the chicken I bought on Wednesday: the thighs, legs and wings. I think these parts are best roasted, as they usually have fat that renders better at high temperature, and can be cooked in a sticky glaze for maximum finger-licking tastiness. This recipe is a few times removed from its source; I have been refining it for years: I like to keep the zest in large pieces for extra flavour, and add the honey near the end so it doesn't burn.

As I was still quite poorly, the SO had to do the cooking, and he did a brilliant job. (I saved my chicken leg for lunch the next day, which is why it's not in the picture!) He served the chicken with mustard mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus and peas, which were lovely and comforting accompaniments. You could also serve this with brown rice, or garlic bread, and other steamed veg or salad. The recipe would also work really well on the barbecue, over a moderate heat so the chicken has a chance to cook through.

  • one chicken: thighs, legs and wings only
  • one lemon
  • six fat cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp thyme or rosemary (optional)
  • 2 tbsp honey

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Put your chicken pieces in a baking tray or roasting tin; I like to use a very heavy-based one like a Le Creuset, just a bit larger than the chicken pieces laid out. Using a very sharp knife or peeler, peel large pieces of the lemon peel off in continuous fat strips. Tuck these and the cloves of garlic (unpeeled) in between the pieces of chicken. Squeeze over the juice of the lemon and scatter over the herbs if using, and put in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, pour over the honey, and turn the pieces in the honey and any juices at the bottom of the pan. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes, or until the chicken is sticky, brown and cooked through but still tender. Serve with paper napkins!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Chicken Soup

Bad news: I have a cold. Good news: just as I felt myself coming down with symptoms, I managed to buy a chicken, make some stock, and then fall into bed. Only to get up again to be part of the yearly lab photos. But then it was back under the duvet for me.

Luckily I had some manly help chopping the vegetables; I probably wouldn't have been able to do all this in my current state. After years of training, the SO can now make chicken soup just the way I love it. He even cuts the vegetables the same size! Light years beyond his first attempt, where he blended it in a food processor, then put chicken in, and well, NOT GOOD.

This soup is good though. And chicken soup may in fact make your cold symptoms less troubling. Or not. The recipe serves four with bread, or two with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. The thighs, wings and legs are not used, so if you want to avoid jointing a chicken, you can use a couple of chicken breasts and a tub of ready-made stock (but not stock powder). I'm also implementing a lesson from Molecular Gastronomy, which is that if you cook meat in a broth of roughly cell-plasma concentration, the flavours should be retained, and indeed extra flavour can be imparted by the stock.

For the stock:

  • 1 chicken
  • a small bunch of parlsey - stalks only
  • 1 carrot, topped and tailed
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • half a white onion, peeled
  • 3 medium bay leaves
  • 5 peppercorns

For the soup:
  • One and a half white onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 sticks of celery
  • 3 small potatoes
  • a small bunch of parsley - leaves only
  • a few handfuls of frozen peas
  • a tin of sweet corn

Joint the chicken, putting the thighs, wings and legs in the fridge for another day, and the breasts in the fridge for use later in the recipe. Put the feet and stripped carcass, and giblets if you have them, in a pot along with the rest of the stock ingredients, and cover with boiling water from the kettle. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for up to five hours.

The final stages take only half an hour, so when you're ready, drain the stock and discard the cooked vegetables. Put the chicken breasts in the pot and cover with the hot stock, and cook for 15 minutes until the chicken breasts are cooked through. Meanwhile, finely chop the onions, and cut the carrots, celery and potatoes into small (~1cm) cubes. Fry the onions in a little olive oil in a deep pan for five minutes, until translucent. Add the rest of the chopped vegetables and sweat for a few minutes in their own juices. Remove the chicken breasts from the stock and add the stock to the vegetables, which should simmer for 5-10 minutes until tender.

Finely chop the parsley and shred the chicken into small pieces, then add to the pan along with the peas and sweet corn. Season to taste - it may need up to 1 tbsp of salt depending on how you like it. After a couple of minutes, the peas should be hot through and it's ready to serve, with a little more chopped parsley on top, and preferably to an ill person huddling under a duvet :)

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Spiced Marinaded Lamb Chops

Something quick to throw together... with a little preparation the night before! Again borrowed from Nigel Slater, but toned down a bit for the benefit of my spice-allergic fiancée, and without the garlic for a change. I found it odd to cook the marinade beforehand, and to be honest I think you don't need the full 15 minutes simmering time that Nigel recommends. And even I didn't add as much salt as he was going to...! I was pleasantly surprised at how the acidity of the tomato made the meat quite tender, and the flavours all worked together. It was barely spicy at all, so if you like it hot, add a couple of dried chillies. We ate this tonight with apricot and cinnamon cous-cous, a simple cucumber and celery salad and a dollop of natural yoghurt, before dashing off to see 'Thor' in all its amusing silliness.


  • 4 lamb chops
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 thumb of ginger
  • half a red chilli (or more if you like a kick)
  • two tomatoes
  • juice of half a lime
  • a handful of fresh coriander

Put the lamb chops in a small, shallow dish. Crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle, and finely chop the spring onion and ginger. Fry all of these in vegetable oil for a few minutes, until fragrant. Dice the tomatoes and add them, then cover and simmer for five minutes, until the tomatoes are softened. Remove from the heat and squeeze in the lime juice and the coriander. Season, leave to cool, then pour over the chops, turning them so they are coated. Leave to marinade overnight, then when you are ready to eat, grill them at a high heat for 4-5 minutes each side, until golden brown on the outside and pink in the middle.

Perfect (Microwave) Cous-Cous

I really like the microwave. It's fast, energy-efficient, and if used properly results in very little, and easy washing-up. Since I started making white sauce with a microwave, I've never gone back to the pan. My sister swears by microwaved bacon. And I find it's the perfect way to kick start your cous-cous... admittedly the typical UK supermarket cous-cous, which I have been assured is not the real thing.

I pretty much follow the packet instructions - I know this sounds dumb, but seriously... Put it in a pyrex or other microwave-safe bowl. Add a knob of butter or a tbsp of olive oil - try each of them, they produce a different taste and you can think about what works best with your meal. Add a tiny bit of vegetable stock powder - less if you are using salted butter. Then add exactly 1.5 times the volume of dried cous-cous in boiling water from the kettle, and give it a little stir. Cover with a plate or a lid, and microwave for one minute, then leave to stand for another five minutes. Fork up the grains and serve! If you're running behind, just leave it covered, without forking it through, and it'll be fine for a good while. And I recommend any of these delicious adulterants, in small combinations or alone:

  • Before microwaving:
    • raisins
    • sultanas
    • chopped apricots
    • dried cranberries
  • After microwaving:
    • chopped toasted almonds
    • toasted pine nuts
    • chopped toasted cashews
  • Sprinkled on top or through:
    • a dash of cinnamon
    • a dash of paprika
    • very finely chopped parsley
    • very finely chopped coriander

My personal favourite and frequent fall-back being chopped apricots, a dash of cinnamon and chopped, toasted almonds. Yum!

Cucumber and Celery Salad

A bottom-of-the-fridge side dish affair, helpful as we are existing on storecupboard stocks as we were away and couldn't shop at the weekend. I like this sort of challenge! If you're feeling greedy, or if your feta hasn't mutated into a weird festering orange thing, you can use feta instead of celery.


  • Two stalks of celery
  • A quarter of a cucumber
  • a handful of mint leaves
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • splash of olive oil

Dice the celery and cucumber into bite-sized pieces, finely chop the mint leaves, and combine in a bowl with the other ingredients. Serve with something hot and spicy by way of contrast.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


We often make this midweek, putting the dough on in the breadmaker before walking to the shops to pick up some fresh topping. The asparagus season is still on and tonight we find a reasonable bunch at our local shop, combining them with fresh mozzarella and a few tomatoes to make a delicious spring topping. In winter I tend to make a 'proper' tomato sauce with onions, garlic and tinned tomatoes, and beef up the topping with a broken egg or some parma ham. We keep things simple tonight, making one square 30cm-side pizza for the two of us, with some salad.

For the dough:
  • 50 ml boiling water
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 100 ml cold water
  • 1/2 tbsp active dried yeast
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 250g strong white bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
For the topping:
  • a bunch of asparagus
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • olive oil
  • a big ball of mozzarella
  • fresh basil

In the breadmaker bucket, or a big bowl, dissolve the sugar in the boiling water, then dilute to body heat with the cold water and add the yeast. Leave for 5-10 minutes until active and frothy. Add the rest of the dough ingredients and set your breadmaker to dough cycle. Or, combine well, then knead for 10 minutes, rest for 20, knead again for 5 and rest again for 30 minutes.

While the dough is proving, slice the asparagus into bite-sized pieces, cutting any fat stalks in half if they are of uneven size. Steam for 3 minutes over a rolling boil until just al dente, and remove from the heat and uncover. Slice the tomatoes into thin circles.

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Roll the dough out on a lightly-floured surface until thin and flat; try to make it about 1cm larger than your baking tray to allow for some contraction and to leave a crust. If you want a thick-crust pizza, leave it in a warm place, covered with a damp tea towel for half an hour.

Place the rolled dough on a pizza pan, hot stone or baking tray, and spread over the tomato puree, sprinkle with oregano and then add the thin slices of tomato. Bake for 15 minutes, remove and add the asparagus pieces and tear over the mozzarella. Brush the crust with a little olive oil and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, until the mozzarella is done to your liking. Personally I like mine runny rather than golden :) Tear over the fresh basil and serve with a simple salad.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

Yesterday's meal still needs a bit of refinement before I post it. I got it from the Observer Food Monthly and it was ok... just a bit bland. I did everything I could to jazz it up but, meh. By contrast the meal I cooked for my fiancée was good, maybe a bit fiddly, but I think my execution of it was poor. So a couple to work on again another time.

In the meantime, here's a classic that simply works. The meatball recipe is foolproof and makes loads of lovely tasty meatballs that freeze well, and you can vary the flavourings with whatever you have to hand or feel like. My suggestions would be:

  • pork, ginger and chilli
  • lamb and mint
  • beef and mustard
  • lamb, beef and rosemary
  • chicken and lemongrass

The recipe below is a simple generic Italian style that works with any pasta sauce; I actually made a big batch a few days ago and just took 10 out of the freezer this morning. My family loves to layer them in a deep casserole dish with cooked pasta, tomato sauce, ricotta cheese and wilted spinach, then top with cheese and bake for half an hour. As a fast weekday meal after walking out to vote, tonight we served them simply with tomato sauce and pasta - and I felt like peas, so I made peas!

For the meatballs:
Meatballs and tomato sauce
  • 3-4 slices stale bread
  • a good chunk of parmesan
  • a small bunch of parsley
  • 500g beef mince
  • 500g pork mince
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • milk
For the tomato sauce:
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • a splash of red wine
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp mixed herbs
  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

Meatballs fresh from
the oven
Whiz the bread in a food processor in batches until it forms medium-coarse breadcrumbs, removing each batch to a very large mixing bowl as it is done. To one or two of the batches, add the leaves of the parsley and grate in the chunk of parmesan. Put the pork and beef mince directly into the mixing bowl - blending them would give you a very finely minced, bland meatball. Add the egg and season well with black pepper.

Using your hands, combine the ingredients; you're aiming for a texture where the mixture sticks well to itself but not to the sides of the bowl. If your bread is very stale, you may need to add a tablespoon or so of milk, but be careful not to make the mixture sloppy. When the mixture is well-combined, but not completely homogeneous, form meatballs of your desired size. I like them large, rather than bite-sized; if you like them small, make sure to reduce the cooking time later.

From here you can either fry the meatballs in batches, which can take awhile if you're making a large batch, or you can roast them in a 220 C oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on all sides. Allow them to cool if freezing, or use straight away with, for example, the tomato sauce:

Finely chop the red onion and gently fry it in a deep-sided frying pan until translucent and beginning to colour. Crush in the clove of garlic and cook for a further minute, stirring halfway to make sure it doesn't stick. Pour in a splash of red wine and deglaze the pan, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, checking that the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom. If it appears watery, remove the lid and allow the steam to escape; if it is very dry then add a splash of hot water. For the last two minutes, add the meatballs and allow them to heat through in the sauce (or five minutes if cooking from chilled). Serve with a long pasta like tagliatelle or spaghetti, torn basil, and plenty of parmesan cheese at the table.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

English Apple and Blackberry (Birthday) Cake

This started life as a Nigel Slater recipe which I employed to use up the large number of Newton Wonder apples which fell from a tree in our garden. Every day of October, one could pick up 10-15 fallen apples, most in good nick but a few with bruises or pecked by the birds or worms. These latter apples would be used up in delicious cakes and crumbles, or frozen for later. I ended up bringing extra cake to events at college and in to work!

I'm trying to run down the freezer at the moment and I remembered I still had a few frozen apples. I didn't have quite enough for this cake so I went halves with some frozen blackberries, and it worked perfectly. So my advice would be to experiment and try different kinds of fruit; you're bound to make something new and exciting every time. The occasion of the cake today was my lovely fiancee's birthday :)

  • 130g butter
  • 130g golden caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 130g plain flour
  • 1 large eating apple, cored and sliced
  • 100g blackberries
  • ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Line the base of a square 20-24cm cake tin with a piece of greaseproof paper large enough to come up past the sides. Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs and again beat well. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Scrape the mixture into the lined tin, and cut off any excess paper from above the sides. Drop the apples and blackberries on top and scatter with a dash of ground cinnamon and the demerara sugar. Bake for 45 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave for 10 minutes and then serve warm; eat within 2 days for best flavour.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Chicken, Orange and Watercress Salad

Another spring treat, with savoury chicken, sweet orange, toasted almonds, fresh watercress and a thick mustardy dressing. Works perfectly with sauteed potatoes, or a fresh white loaf. In summer, we eat this probably once a fortnight, as it's quick to prepare and surprisingly filling for a salad. It's also good if you have leftover roast chicken as you can skip the grilling stage.


  • one large chicken breast
  • one large or two medium oranges
  • a large handful of almonds
  • a bag or a bunch of watercress
  • a few generous handfuls of milder leaves
  • 3 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp grain mustard
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • one small clove of garlic
  • shavings of Parmesan

If you're serving the salad with sauteed potatoes, be sure to parboil them early so you have time to fry them. Grill or pan-fry the chicken breast until golden on both sides and cooked through -- about 15 minutes in total. If the oranges are easy to peel, peel them and tear into rough segments. If they have tough peel, segement them like grapefruits. Dry-fry the almonds on a low to moderate heat, so they become more crisp and toasted. Roughly chop the leaves and add them to the salad bowl with the orange pieces and almonds.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar, crush in the garlic and shake well to combine. Slice the chicken into bite-size pieces and add to the salad with the dressing. Toss well, top with Parmesan shavings and serve immediately.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Asapragus Salad

At lunch today we had the wedding breakfast tasting and discussion with the chef, which resulted in us filling up completely and actually having to take a doggy bag! Luckily I managed to go for a run this morning... So this evening, we wanted something very light and refreshing. The asparagus season is in full swing and it's possible to pick up huge bunches for £2-£3 in the market, so a purchase yesterday makes a full meal today. We round out the savoury, green flavour with lots of different kinds of tomatoes, and some mellow mozzarella cheese. And a hunk of stale bread is given new life as crunchy garlic croutons. Perfect spring fare!


  • 2 slices of bread
  • 1 small clove of garlic
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • One large or two small bunches of asparagus
  • 300g of tomatoes, preferably of several different varieties
  • a generous handful of spinach leaves
  • a generous handful of basil leaves
  • a ball of mozzarella
  • 4 rashers of cooked bacon, or pancetta
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp grain mustard
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Cut the slices of bread into rough cubes and place in a baking tray or dish. Crush in the garlic clove (a little goes a very long way here) and drizzle over 2 tbsp of the olive oil; it helps if one person drizzles as the other tosses the bread, or you may end up with unbalanced oil distribution. Place in the hot oven and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden and crunchy.

Snap the asparagus (or peel the lower half if you're sure your stems aren't bitter), and steam for five minutes, removing promptly and running under cold water to halt the cooking. Slice the tomatoes into different shapes, making sure that the seeds stay in. Tear the spinach leaves, basil leaves and mozzarella into a salad bowl, then add the tomatoes, bacon or pancetta, and cooked asparagus. Shake up the remaining olive oil, vinegars and mustard in a little jar, season well and pour over the salad. Toss and top with the crunchy croutons and serve immediately.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Lamb Chops and Beetroot Tzatziki

This is a dish we frequently eat in the spring, when British lamb is cheap and delicious, and beetroots can be dug young and sweet. Apparently 'Lambing Live' is actually reducing the sales of lamb this year, and people find them too cute to eat. Sales of chicken and beef are up... how hypocritical! Without  a demand for lamb as a meat, there wouldn't be much lambing going on in the UK at all...

I like to vary the filling for this dish depending on whatever I have to hand. A tin of chickpeas, some leftover roast potatoes, some blanched broad beans, etc. Just fry with a bit of garlic, yum! Likewise with the tzatziki, if you don't like beetroot, more chopped mint or fresh coriander works fine - although it won't be such an attractively bonkers magenta. Back in Cambridge now - so this serves two!


  • Four lamb chops
  • soy sauce
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 100g mushrooms
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a handful of pine nuts
  • 10 green olives
  • 1 cooked or raw beetroot (not pickled)
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 200 ml natural yoghurt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • a handful of mint leaves
  • 2-4 wholemeal pitta breads
  • a few handfuls of spinach leaves

Pound the coriander seeds gently in a mortar and pestle. Put the lamb chops in a dish and splash with some soy sauce, the lime juice and the seeds; leave for an hour or while you prepare everything else.

Slice the mushrooms thickly and fry them in a few tsp of vegetable oil until golden on all sides. Turn down the heat and crush in the garlic, and add the pine nuts. Stir through a few times until the garlic is softened and the pine nuts have toasted. Halve the olives and add them at the end (I like to use chilli olives from the market for a bit of heat!)

Meanwhile, grate the beetroot into a medium pyrex bowl. Toast the caraway seeds lightly and crush in a mortar and pestle. Add these to the beetroot along with the yoghurt and lemon juice. Stir through and season with salt and black pepper. Grill the lamb at a high temperature for a few minutes on each side, until golden on the outside but pink in the middle.

Serve the chops with a hot pitta bread (or two) filled with spinach leaves, the mushroom mixture, a generous spooning of tzatziki and a few shredded mint leaves. This is very very messy to eat, so serve with napkins and a bowl to throw in the lamb bones and extra fat!

Roast Mackerel with Beetroot Salad

This is a fuss-free way of preparing mackerel, with a nice accompaniment of fresh vegetables. We ate this with my home-made bread, which went down a treat! I've scaled this for four.


For the fish:
  • 4 fresh mackerel
  • plain flour
For the vegetables:
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 clove garlic
  • two bunches of green beans
  • chicken stock or white wine
  • 1 tsp thyme
For the salad:
  • 1 boiled or raw beetroot (not pickled)
  • 1 duck egg or a couple of hen eggs
  • 4 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
  • 4 tsp caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp grain mustard
  • 1 tsp horseradish sauce
  • rocket or watercress

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Gut, clean and scale the mackerel, and dip in plain flour to coat. Place on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the eyes are opaque, the juices are clear and the flesh is bouncy.

Finely chop the onion and carrot, and fry in a deep frying pan for 10 minutes, until the onions are caremlaised and the carrots are soft. Crush in the garlic, stir and cook for a further minute. Top and tail the green beans, add to the onions and carrot, and add a splash of chicken stock and the thyme. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for ten minutes or until the green beans are tender.

Put the egg in a pan of cold water and bring up to the boil. As soon as it reaches a hard boil, turn off the heat, cover the pan and remove from the heat. Leave it to cook through for 8 minutes, then run under cold water and leave to cool before peeling, and then quartering.

For the salad, roughly grate or chop the beetroot into small pieces and place in a pyrex or other non-staining bowl. In a separate bowl, dissolve the caster sugar into the vinegar (microwaving it for 10-20 seconds helps). Pour half of this syrup over the beetroot, toss it and leave to the side to marinade. Add the crème fraîchem, mustards and horseradish sauce to the remaining syrup and whisk until it forms a thick dressing. If it's too thick to pour, you can thin it with a few tsp of milk.

Arrange the leaves on a plate, top with the marinaded beetroot, quartered egg, and drizzle over the dressing. Serve the mackerel, beans and salad on the table with a big loaf of bread and plenty of butter for spreading.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

Here's another meal we ate over the Easter holiday with the whole family. I hesitated to add it as it's very straightforward and relies entirely on the availability of haggis. But I thought I should share my dad's secret ingredient for the neeps! This is enough for four, and scales easily. Serve it with some simple greens - steamed beans or blanched frozen peas will do - and chutney or brown sauce.

  • a nice plump haggis, or two small haggises
  • 8 medium potatoes
  • butter
  • 4 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 1 rutabaga
  • 2 tbsp horseradish sauce

Set your haggis to steam or boil, according to the packet instructions. Scrub or peel the potatoes, cut into large chunks and simmer, just covered with water, for twenty minutes or until tender. Drain and mash with a slice of butter and the crème fraîche, and season with salt if needed.

In a separate pan, cook the neeps in the same way. Drain and mash with the horseradish sauce, and another slice of butter, seasoning with black pepper and again a little salt if needed.

Pierce the haggis skin, reciting 'Address to a Haggis' if you like... But perhaps leave the neeps and tatties somewhere warm if you do - it's a long poem!