Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Sweet and Sour Pork

Epic thunderstorm today as the front finally broke. At last it was cool enough to make something warm. Since I'm still using up the storecupboard, it was a modification of the sweet-and-sour chicken I made a few weeks ago. This time I sliced up some excellent pork tenderloin and lightly coated it in flour and chinese five-spice, then batch-fried it in a wok before returning it at the end with sauce and slightly different stir-fried vegetables. Yummy!

Cold Noodle and Tomato Salad

Yesterday was almost unbearably hot and muggy. The forecast promised a thunderstorm to break the tension, but it failed to materialise. My planned meal of sweet and sour pork seemed far too heavy and I decided to make another of Nigel Slater's salads from last Sunday's Observer Food Monthly. I'm not usually a fan of noodle or pasta salads but this one converted me. I was also a little nervous about not using any oil at all in the dressing; I usually use extra-virgin rapeseed oil for Asian salads but I followed instructions and left it out. This might have improved things by ensuring that the noodles were not at all slimy, instead absorbing the tangy dressing and providing a nice soft contrast against the juicy vegetables.

Once again we correctly guessed that Nigel's estimate of four servings would only work for tiny people with no appetite, so we made and ate the full recipe between two of us, and picked up a couple of spicy pakoras from the local Asian store for good measure. It's also impossible to buy sprouted seeds at the moment, thanks to the German E Coli scare. So we used sugar snap peas and it was just as good. And we substituted baby broad beans for peas as I love them, and the season will end be over soon.

  • 60g rice vermicelli
  • 100 g small broad beans, shelled weight
  • 125g cherry tomatoes
  • a large handful of sprouted seeds or sugar snap peas
  • 1 red pepper
  • half a cucumber
  • 100g salted, roasted cashews or peanuts
  • a small bunch of coriander
  • 4 sprigs of mint
  • juice of a lime
  • 3 tbsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
  • 1 tsp caster sugar

Cover the vermicelli in boiling water and soak for 2 minutes, or as according to the packet instructions. Drain and run under cold water, then leave to drain again. Pod the broad beans and simmer for 4-5 minutes, until tender, then drain. Finely slice the sugar-snap peas and halve the cherry tomatoes. Peel and deseed the cumber, then dice. Deseed the pepper and finely slice. Finely chop the herbs, then combine all of the ingredients in a big salad bowl and toss very thoroughly. Chill for half an hour before serving.

Bulghur Wheat and Mango Salad

The weather has gone a bit crazy, with highs of 33 C here in Cambridge, which is pretty unusual. As a result it's impossible to contemplate cooking for any length of time, or eating anything at all hot. Tonight we use a delicate and fragrant Alphonso mango from the market in a salad adapted from one of Nigel Slater's recipes in the Observer Food Monthly. Lovely and refreshing, with a cob of hot buttered corn to munch as contrast.

  • 200g bulghur wheat
  • 2-3 spring onions
  • 1 large very ripe mango
  • 8 bushy sprigs mint 
  • small bunch parsley
  •  ½ a small  cucumber
  • 8-10 radishes
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • olive oil

Simmer the bulghur wheat for 15 minutes until tender, or cook according to the packet instructions, then drain and leave to cool. Finely slice the spring onions, dice the mango, and roughly chop the herbs. Peel and deseed the cucumber, then cube. Finely slice the radishes. Toss all the ingredients together with the lemon juice and olive oil; chill for half an hour if desired.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Vegetarian Fajitas

We're running down the storecupboard and freezer, and that includes using up lots of tins of beans. I also had a frozen pack of flour tortillas (and about 100 other things...) in the freezer. I was planning to make veggie enchiladas but the afternoon was unexpectedly warm and I wanted something a bit lighter. So I adapted my usual meat fajita recipe to make some nice veggie ones - in fact they're vegan if you skip the guacamole. Although that would be such a shame, it's lovely :) Especially with sweet potato wedges to dip!


  • 1 400g tin of kidney beans
  • 2 small white onions or 1 large
  • 1 green & 1 red pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 inch pieces of ginger
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 4 flour tortillas

Pop the bean tin and leave it draining in the sink. Peel the onion, top and tail it, and cut it in half down the longitudinal axis. Slice from the skin in toward the same axis, as if you were making thin wedges, although they will naturally fall apart if you have removed the tail. (This gives a nice mix of sizes while keeping them flat enough to fry easily.) Fry over a moderate heat in some vegetable oil until beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, deseed and de-pith the peppers and slice lengthwise into thin strips. Add to the onions and fry for a further 3-4 minutes. Crush in the garlic cloves and grate in the ginger. Crush the cumin in a mortar and pestle and add it as well. If using, finely chop the chilli and add. Squeeze in the tomato paste and add the tin of beans. If your beans came in simple water with no added salt or sugar, add 1 tbsp of sugar and 1tsp of salt. Stir well, cook gently for a few minutes and taste for seasoning. The beans should be sweet and spicy, to contrast with the acid salsa and creamy guacamole.

Heat the tortillas in the microwave, wrapped in a damp teatowel. Serve on hot plates, with all your toppings out on the table. To eat, scoop some of the bean and pepper mix into an open tortilla, and top with salsa and guacamole. Pull two sides in, then fold the bottom edge up to make a wrap. Have napkins handy for when the juices start running down your arms :)

Sweet Potato Wedges

I love these crispy spiced wedges with Mexican and Southern American food. They're fast to make and very forgiving if you leave them in the oven (switched off!) a little longer before serving; sweet potatoes seem to have moister flesh than that of 'normal' potatoes. Brilliant with sour cream or guacamole dips.


  • One sweet potato
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Cut the sweet potato into wedges using a large, heavy knife or cleaver. I usually top and tail it, cut it once crossways, then with the fattest flat side on the counter, cut it into wedges. A particularly large sweet potato may need to be cut into three pieces crossways - or you could just have very long wedges! Just don't make them too thick, or they will take a long time to cook.

Sprinkle over the spices, season with black pepper and drizzle over the oil, then toss until well coated. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until soft and golden, with the edges just beginning to brown and curl.


Again a mainstay of our family Tex-Mex meals, this is quick to prepare and keeps, tightly covered, for a day or two in the fridge - if there's any left!


  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 4-6 tbsp of crème fraîche (thick and sweet) or sour cream (more runny and sour)
  • juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon
  • salt

Peel the avocado and scoop the flesh into a blender, along with the crème fraîche or sour cream. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt, and more lemon if desired. Cover with cling film and refrigerate if not serving immediately, to prevent browning.

Tomato Salsa

I love a fresh tomato salsa! It goes so well with spicy Mexican dishes or even just with nachos and cheese. Not that I'm allowed such things at the moment, or it would put my wedding dress fit in danger. Today it made a lovely accompaniment to some vegetarian fajitas.


  • 2 large tomatoes or a bag of cherry tomatoes
  • small bunch of coriander
  • juice of a lime
  • 1/2 tsp large-flaked sea salt or chunky rock salt

If the tomatoes have thick skin, blanch them in boiling water and quickly peel the skins off. Otherwise or afterward, roughly chop and put in a bowl. Finely chop the coriander, squeeze in the lime juice and combine with the tomatoes. Just before serving, add the salt and stir briefly; the tang of unexpected salt is a lovely contrast to the tomatoes.

Chinese Broth and Dumplings

Still running down the freezer - including a lovely pack of mixed dumplings I picked up from the Chinese supermarket an unspeakably long time ago. Luckily they steam right back to life, and go very well with a quick vegetable broth that simmers as we go for a walk. With a batch of quickly stir-fried vegetables it makes a light yet nourishing weekday meal. The trick is to have everything ready before you begin to stir-fry the vegetables, and to make sure they do not overcook; they should still have some bite and taste green, never soggy.

For the vegetable stock:

  • 1 carrot, topped, tailed and scrubbed
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 stick of lemongrass
  • a thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • a dried chilli
  • a handful of coriander stems

For the stir-fried vegetables:
  • half a head of broccoli
  • two handfuls of sugar-snap peas
  • 2-3 spring onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic

To finish:
  • 8-12 dumplings, steamed according to the packet instructions
  • coriander leaves
  • lemon wedges
  • soy sauce

Put all of the stock ingredients in a saucepan and cover with boiling water; bring to a boil and then simmer for at least an hour. Meanwhile, finely slice the broccoli and cut the sugar-snap peas and spring onions into long strips. Five minutes before the dumplings are done, heat some vegetable oil in a wok and throw in the broccoli, tossing it about for a few minutes. Add the sugar snap peas and spring onions, toss for a further minute, then crush in the garlic and stir-fry for a further two minutes.

Drain the stock into the wok (or into another bowl first, if you dislike enormous clouds of steam), and slosh over a good few tsbp of soy sauce (depending on its strength). Serve the broth and vegetables into bowls and top with the dumplings and coriander leaves. Bring to the table with lemon wedges and soy sauce on the side so that people can lighten and salt the broth to their taste.

Smoked Mackerel Salad

This was a quick meal thrown together after a nice walk in the sunshine. Tasty and easy to leave until the end of the week, as the vacuum-packed smoked mackerel fillets keep very well in the refrigerator.


  • One pack of mackerel fillets (usually 2-4 large pieces)
  • 8-10 baby new potatoes
  • lettuce or other salad leaves
  • handful of parsley
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 2 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Scrub and simmer the potatoes until just tender, about 15 minutes. Skin and tear the mackerel fillets into smaller pieces. Finely chop the parsley, quarter the cherry tomatoes, wash and roughly chop the lettuce leaves, and add to a salad bowl with the mackerel and cooked potatoes. Shake the rest of the ingredients in a jam jar and pour over, then toss to combine.

Ginger Beer

We're sorting out and backing up all our data before we move to Australia, and here's something I found in the archives! This is a great recipe and I made it several summers in a row. I adapted it from one on h2g2; mostly grammatical and logistical changes if I recall correctly. I don't have time to make more at the moment but I'm looking forward to getting some going for Christmas! From the archive:

Producing your own ginger beer is very easy. It is produced in a biological process in much the same way as yoghurt. Ginger Beer is best enjoyed chilled and despite the cliché is also highly enjoyable on picnics. I am giving you a ginger beer plant which will produce four litres of ginger beer. It's ready to brew!

  1. Dissolve 18oz (500g) of caster sugar and 1½pt (900ml) of water, bring this mix to the boil and let it cool slightly. Add the strained juice of two lemons to the water.
  2. Strain your ginger plant through fine muslin (or a pair of tights or stockings!) and add the strained liquid to the sugar and lemon juice mixture, along with 6pt (3.4l)water.
  3. Stir the mixture well and bottle it straight away in strong screw-topped bottles, like those in which you would store cider or beer. Make sure you store the bottles in a cool place for about two weeks before you drink it. This is essential! I use two 2L plastic fizzy drinks bottles, or a selection of smaller ones.

Doubling the Plant
  1. Halve the sediment left on the muslin and divide it into two separate jars. Add ½pt (300ml) water, 2tsp (10ml) of ground ginger and 2tsp (10ml) caster sugar to each jar. Stir it well.
  2. The next day, and each day thereafter, add 1 level tsp (5ml) of ground ginger or cut root ginger and the same amount of caster sugar to your jar(s) and stir the mixture thoroughly.

Storing and Opening

You may find stress fractures develop in your plastic bottles from the carbonation pressure; you can degass them by opening the cap gently and letting air hiss out until a fine froth forms on the surface. Then re-cap and allow to brew for the full two weeks. It is a good idea to put your bottles of ginger beer in the fridge after two weeks, to halt the yeast and reduce the chance of explosion when opening. Also, unless you halt the yeast, it will continue to digest the sugar and the result will be extremely dry, even a little bitter. And it's very hard to dissolve more sugar into a cold fizzy drink. So make sure you have enough refrigerator space at the end of the two weeks' brewing.

To Make More Ginger Beer

Every two weeks, you can repeat the brewing process, then double your plant!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Stuffed Marrow

Sorry about the lack of updates for the last week; I was busy with work and my parents drove down to help with the wedding planning. We had a trip to the florists, where I learned there are worse things than buying shoes, and on a more fun note we had the wine-tasting for the wedding! Nine bottles between nine people, and we picked out a champagne, a white and a red. Oddly enough, the cheapest of each, but we really were tasting for quality!

Also I had my hen party at the weekend, which was brilliant - thank you to all the lovely ladies who made it possible! This also involved some amazing food - lovely picnics, oysters on ice, a seared beef fillet with foie gras, the choclatiest-thing-on-the-menu, a brilliant Mexican-inspired veggie breakfast and afternoon tea with champagne! A lot to fit into one weekend and certainly more than I can properly describe in one blog post. Especially when I need to catch up with lots of food I cooked myself...

As I was away all weekend, the SO did all the shopping and food planning. So this week is a little... interesting. Ok, ok, I bought this marrow, so to be fair he did plan around using it up. But as my dad predicted, it's tough coming up with something when you're faced with a big green tasteless vegetable. They just look so lovely on the market stall! Fair play to the SO, he found a good flavourful recipe, and after a couple adjustments by yours truly, I think it turned out very well. This would be brilliant with a generous dollop of split pea dahl on the side, but at the time I didn't realise so just had some fruit afterwards. The ingredients bear a startling resemblance to one of my favourite pasta fallbacks, so I guess some flavour combinations are simply classic.

  • 125g bulgur wheat
  • one red onion
  • three cloves of garlic
  • 100g spicy chorizo
  • a large marrow
  • two red peppers, roasted and skins removed
  • two ripe red tomatoes
  • a large handful of coriander
  • a large handful of mint
  • a large handful of parsley
  • juice of one lemon

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Set the bulgur wheat cooking according to its cooking instructions - mine takes 15 minutes in simmering water at a 3:1 water:wheat ratio. Finely slice the red onion and gently fry it for 4-5 minutes until softened. Finely dice the chorizo and add it to the pan, then crush in the garlic and  cook for a further minute.

Marrows: not completely useless.
Slice the marrow lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, erring on the side of scooping out more marrow rather than less. Discard these scoopings - or let me know if you have any ideas what do to with them! Roughly chop the peppers, tomatoes and herbs, then add to the onion mixture in the pan. Drain the bulgur wheat and add to the pan, along with the lemon juice. Stir everything around, then pack into the  marrow halves, which should be placed in a sturdy roasting tray in a way that they can't be tipped over. Roast for 25 minutes, until the marrow is just tender and the topping is golden. We dolloped over some natural yoghurt, and I definitely think a dahl would make a great side dish.

Asparagus and Parmesan Cheese

Sophie counts in Base 6.
This is a yummy starter that we have all the time in my family - despite the asparagus season being rather short! We have supermarkets to guiltily thank for the year-round possibility. Anyway, this is of course best with local, fresh asparagus, and is one of the best ways of enjoying it.


  • 4-6 spears of asparagus per person
  • a block of Parmesan
  • very good olive oil
  • black pepper

Steam the asparagus for 6-7 minutes, or until cooked as you like it (I prefer mine just shading from bright green to pine green), then place on individual plates. Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, shave over a few pieces of Parmesan on each plate. Drizzle with olive oil and grate over some fresh black pepper, then serve immediately, preferably with a crisp white wine. (We didn't, as we were about to start the wine-tasting for the wedding wine, and it would have been a bad idea!)

Ham and Pea Soup

One delighted and surprised parent!
My parents dropped by after a long drive down, during which they hadn't been able to find a good restaurant to stop in. So they were hungry from the drive, but didn't want anything too heavy. Luckily I just happened to have a big vat of chicken stock boiling on the stove and in the fridge, the last few slices of a lovely ham I cooked earlier in the week.

I drained the stock, thickly diced a few slices of ham and dropped a cup of frozen peas into each bowl, then poured the stock and ham over. Popped each bowl into the microwave for a minute each, and stirred in a handful of finely chopped parsley - and made instant delicious soup!

Refried Beans

This is a classic recipe we use in my family all the time. Tonight it makes up the protein component of a vegetarian meal I put together. I really felt like some grilled aubergines, so I sliced one thickly and marinaded the slices in some lemon juice and mild curry powder, then grilled them under a medium heat until they were crisp on the outside and falling-apart tender on the inside. The beans offered a sweet and filling contrast - I added chorizo but I skip this for the vegan recipe below.


  • a small white onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
  • 1 400g tin of kidney beans
  • half a red chilli (optional)

Finely chop the white onion and fry it gently in some vegetable oil until golden. Crush in the garlic, add the cumin seeds and chilli, and fry for a further minute. Drain the kidney beans and tip them in, then crush into the fried onions with a potato masher. Cook gently for 10 minutes, then crush again and serve. If using as a topping (e.g. on huevos rancheros), you can use a hand blender to achieve a finer texture.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

"Thai" Beef Salad on Deep-Fried Rice Noodles

I already covered my "Thai" Beef Salad in another post; tonight was very similar but with a whole bunch of fresh long radishes instead of tomatoes, and sweet chilli sauce instead of a real chilli as the SO has a painful mouth ulcer. One thing I finally got right was deep-frying the rice vermicelli. Often I just soak this in some hot water and then toss around in a stir fry, but I've had some success frying it and getting it to puff up. However as I don't usually have many litres of oil lying around the kitchen, I'm always tended to use less oil than I should, and usually in a wok since that's what a lot of recipes recommend.

Tonight I thought that the main thing that's made it difficult in the past is the shallow level of oil, as some parts puff up and push other parts out of the oil, so you end up frying them longer than you should, the oil burns, and some parts fry shut before puffing up. So... why am I using a giant bowl of a pan with a flat gradient? That's crazy!

So I heated up my smallest, heavy-based saucepan, and added about 200ml of vegetable oil. I flattened out a handful of loops of vermicelli and the SO dropped them into the pan. The first nest fried so quickly, that the entire pan was suddenly full of puffed rice noodles, all in a big nest that could easily be removed. Success! They were absolutely perfect, very light and crackly, and the oil was completely clean afterwards so we'll happily use it again. One day maybe I'll own a proper deep-fryer, but until then, I'll use a deep layer in a hot pan, set well back on the stove :)

Monday, 13 June 2011

Sweet and Sour Chicken

When I did the shopping, it was bright and sunny, another glorious day in a long spring of unexpectedly warm and dry weather. Today, it is absolutely pouring down. So instead of using a classic Nigel June recipe of 'a little roast chicken and leaves' or 'oh it's so hot, let's have a glass of wine and some fruit' or 'oh another one of those dessert-only days', I get out the wok and make the rib-sticking tasty Chinese-British classic. Served with egg-fried rice and an episode of Day Break, it's a great antidote to the miserable weather and a nice treat after a day spent spring-cleaning. I used to make it with brown sugar but I find this method results in a more brightly-coloured sauce, with little detriment to flavour; you can get the umame from the soy sauce in the rice.

  • 1 large or 2 small chicken breasts
  • 1 carrot, and/or 1 red pepper or some baby sweet corn or sugar snap peas, depending on what you have to hand
  • 3 spring onions (you might want to omit them from the rice)
  • 1 tin of pineapple rings
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Drain some of the pineapple juice into a pyrex bowl or jug, and stir in the plain flour. When it is fully suspended with no lumps, add the rest of the pineapple juice, the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, tomato puree and salt. Stir well, then microwave for 2-3 minutes, stirring halfway through; it should thicken slightly and become glossy.

Meanwhile, peel and finely slice the carrot into diagonal flat pieces, and do the same for the spring onion. Slice the fillet of the chicken into four diagonal pieces, then cut the rest of the breast in half across the fattest part, then slice all of it into further diagonal pieces.

Heat a little sunflower or vegetable oil in a wok until shimmering, then quickly stir fry the chicken, vegetables and spring onions together for a few minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and just beginning to colour. (If you are using a very large quantity of vegetables, you might want to do this in batches, with the chicken separate.) Add in the pineapple chunks and pour over the sauce, allowing it to bubble for one minute, so it slightly reduces. Serve over the rice with the oh-so-traditional fork :)


Yesterday we did our weekly shop in the Cambridge market, and I was tempted by a big fat loin of bacon. I know they can be roasted directly, but I usually find the results too salty. So over the years I've improved and iterated on my recipe for boiled ham - something far, far nicer than it sounds. The aim is to retrieve tender, meltingly-soft and not-too-dry flesh, with a sweet glazed outside and crispy pieces of fat on top. I think at last I've perfected the method.


  • 1kg rolled bacon loin
  • 1 carrot
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 2 sticks celery
  • handful of parsley stems
  • 1 litre of cider, apple juice, cola (or any other sweet, acidic drink)
  • water

If your butcher uses a lot of salt, soak the ham in cold water for an hour or two, then drain and rinse. Scrub the carrot, celery and parsley stems, and peel off the onion skin. Put the ham in a close-fitting pot and tuck in the vegetables around it. Pour over the litre of drink and top up with water until the ham is just covered. Bring to a boil, then simmer for two hours.

Preheat the oven to 230 C. Cut diagonal stripes into the pork fat, then place in a baking dish and roast for 20 minutes. The object of this stage is to render the layer of fat between the bacon and its skin, crisp up the latter, and give the outside parts of the meat a nice golden brown temper. If your bacon has very little fat, you should reduce the cooking time so as not to dry the meat. Remove from the oven, and gently rub into the fat any of the following:
  • marmalade
  • thick honey
  • brown sugar
  • mustard powder
  • ground cloves
Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before slicing, or the flesh will slice raggedly and fall apart. It should be possible to cut it wafer-thin for sandwiches after being chilled in the fridge overnight. Of course today we didn't have time and just ate it warm, in sandwiches spread with margerine and marmalade :)

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Garlic Toast, and Peaches and Mozzarella Salad

Last night we went out to a concert in London: Jonathan Coulton, supported by Paul and Storm, at Union Chapel. Everything in that sentence was awesome; great gig with an audience I could only describe as exactly my demographic. Having previously only heard Code Monkey and Still Alive, and not yet having finished Portal 2, I felt a little like an imposter fan, surrounded as I was by people wearing shirts from their previous tour in 2008 and a fair amount from Penny Arcade merch. But the acoustics were pretty good, so I could hear all the words, and it was a pleasure following the wordplay and discovering the artists live. I only regretted I hadn't brought my camera, as it was an early gig at a time of year when light streams through the windows well into the evening. It looked rather like this.

Anyway, we needed to prepare something quick before heading out, so I made my scallops with chorizo. I served it with a little bread brushed with garlic oil: soak a couple of crushed cloves of garlic in olive oil for 10 minutes, toast the bread lightly in a toaster, then brush with the oil, discarding the cloves, and grill for 2-3 minutes until golden. I also sauteed some leeks; splashed with balsamic vinegar they made a side somewhere between a hot vegetable and a salad. Sumptuous and fast!

The evening before, we were relaxing from a long week, and we also had very little food left in the fridge. I'd rescued a couple of peaches from the fruit bowl just before they started to mould, and kept them in the fridge. Torn up with a ball of mozzarella and a few leaves of lettuce, and dressed gently with a light vinaigrette, it made a delicious starter before a simple baked potato topped with that eternal fallback, tuna, sweetcorn and mayonnaise. I saved some grated paški sir for topping the hollowed-out salty potato shells, grated cheese being my favourite topping for finishing a baked potato.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Stuffed Courgettes

This was inspired by a dinner we prepared at Stickybeaks supper club a few months ago. Instead of bomb courgettes, I used normal long courgettes, and instead of exciting fennel-flavoured Italian sausage diluted with breadcrumbs, I used a pack of Taste the Difference Lemon and Herb sausages from Sainsbury's. It was a little faster and not quite as wonderful, but still lovely. We served it with some leftover BBQ rice from Wednesday's dinner of grilled butcher's beefsticks and corn on the cob, and some simply boiled broad beans, which are just coming into season.


  • 2 large courgettes
  • pack of 4 or 6 plump, high-quality sausages
  • a small slice of bread
  • a thick slice of Parmesan or smoked cheese
  • a small sprig of rosemary

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Wash the courgettes and slice them lengthwise, then scoop out the inside seedy wet flesh with a small spoon. (You can eat it raw for a kind of cook's bonus snack, but it's not very interesting so I tend to send it straight to compost.) Lie the courgettes skin-side up in a shallow baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 20 minutes, until slightly softened, then remove from the oven and turn skin-side down, preferably wedged against each other in the tray so they can't fall over.

Whiz the bread, cheese and rosemary together in a hand blender. Squeeze out the contents of the sausages into the courgette shells, discarding the sausage skins. Season with black pepper and top with the flavoured breadcrumbs, then drizzle with a little olive oil. Roast for a further 20-25 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are crisp and golden, the courgettes are soft and the sausage-meat is cooked through.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Asparagus

I've been helping the BBC film a short documentary about our observatory for the last couple of days, which has involved quite a lot of walking and running about outside, getting the right shots in rather variable weather. So every day when I've come home, I've just been hungry for something simple. Yesterday the lovely SO cooked one of our classic staples and today I threw together this pasta dish as it was exactly what I wanted: light and creamy, yet smoky and nourishing; best of all, fast and delicious. We topped this with paški sir from our recent trip to Croatia, but any hard, smoky cheese will do.


  • 300g dried pasta (we used farfalle)
  • a large smoked fillet of salmon
  • a large bunch of asparagus
  • juice of a small lemon (or half a large)
  • 4 tbsp crème fraîche
  • hard smoked cheese, or Parmesan

Set the pasta boiling in a large pan of water at a rolling boil, for the duration of its packet cooking time. Flake the salmon into bite-sized pieces. Snap the asparagus and slice into bite-sized lengths. Blanch for 2-3 minutes, until bright green and just tender, then drain.

When it's done, drain the pasta, and add in the flaked salmon, asparagus pieces, lemon juice and crème fraîche, and season well with black pepper (but not salt, as the salmon will likely be quite salty). Toss well, then serve in deep bowls with the cheese grated over the top, and more for people to add later.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Lamb with Tiny Parsnips and Peppers

This is a quick variant on my 'lamb and tiny tatoes'; instead of potatoes, I chopped one parsnip and one yellow pepper per person, a whole spring of rosemary leaves and a couple of garlic cloves, roasted in duck fat for 35 minutes at 180 C before popping the lamb chops on top for the last 15 minutes of cooking time, at 200 C. Served it with some blanched beetroot leaves, tossed with a dollop of creme fraiche, a squeeze of lemon juice and a tsp of toasted, crushed caraway seeds. It was the perfect post-run dinner, something you can pop into the oven, go have a shower, and then finish off when you're clean and bathrobed :)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Asparagus and Tomato Pasta

This is a frequent weekday staple for us during the May-June asparagus season. It's simple, requires little preparation and is totally nutritious and delicious. Nom nom nom nom...


  • enough pasta for two
  • a fat bunch of asparagus
  • 4-5 ripe tomatoes or 20 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a small bunch of basil
  • a generous handful of pine nuts
  • a few tbsp of crème fraîche
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • Parmesan cheese

Set the pasta boiling in plenty of water for the packet time. (We're addicted to tricolore trottole but you can use whatever you like!) Snap the asparagus and slice into bite-sized pieces, and roughly chop the tomatoes. Peel the garlic and put it in a crusher.

Heat a few tbsp of olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan until it begins to shimmer. Add the asparagus pieces and toss around for one minute. Add the chopped tomotoes and crush in the garlic; stir well and simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus pieces are just tender. Meanwhile, dry-fry the pine nuts until golden. Drain the pasta and toss in the crème fraîche and lemon juice, then serve topped with the asparagus and tomoatoes, torn basil, the pine nuts, and some grated Parmesan cheese.

Artichoke and Soft-boiled Egg Salad

Apologies for the lack of updates but I have been in Croatia, first at a conference and then for a short holiday! I was hoping to write a long post about Croatian food, but while it was all very fresh and delicious, the Northern Dalmatian cuisine was not particularly innovative or exciting. Mostly it was grilled fish or squid served with a simple salad, and potatoes or fries, or pizza with any sort of random topping - we even had one with kidney beans!

So when we returned we'd had that typical holiday experience where the only vegetables you've managed to eat for a week are the side salads, and you start to feel just a teensy bit scurvy. So we had a big salad of all sorts of tasty things, with a strong storecupboard emphasis as we're preparing to move house!


  • a 400g tin of artichoke hearts
  • 10-12 baby plum tomatoes
  • 200g fine green beans
  • a large handful of basil
  • 5-6 baby new potatoes
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar

Set the tin draining in the sink. Scrub the potatoes and simmer gently for 15 minutes until tender. Get a pan of water simmering and then lower the eggs into it, and cover. Count out one minute on a timer, and then remove the pan from the heat and leave for a further seven minutes, after which you should drain the eggs and cool them, then peel and slice into quarters. (If I could cook the eggs at exactly 57 C as per Molecular Gastronomy, I would!) 

Cut the beans into bite-size pieces and blanch in boiling water for a few minutes, until bright green and sweet, but not soggy. Slice the tomatoes into halves and the artichoke hearts into quarters, and put in a large salad bowl. Tear in the basil. Add the potatoes and cooked beans, and season with salt and pepper. Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar, then pour almost all of it over the salad, then toss well. Lay the soft-boiled egg quarters on top and add the rest of the dressing.