Saturday, 28 July 2012

Brussels Sprouts with Lardons

We borrowed this recipe from Nigella Lawson's Christmas book and since then, it's been the only way we've eaten Brussels sprouts! It's just fantastic and really transforms these mini-cabbages. If you're feeling festive you can chuck in a couple of peeled, cooked, halved chestnuts.

  • Several handfuls of Brussels sprouts
  • 2-4 rashers of bacon, or 100g lardons

Pick over the Brussels sprouts, cutting off the toughest part of the base, discarding any discoloured leaves and finally halving. Steam for 5-6 minutes, until bright green but not soft. Meanwhile, heat a barest smidgen of oil in a wok and snip in the bacon, or drop in the lardons. Toss about and fry for a minute until no longer transparent. Add the Brussels sprouts, toss once and leave for a further minute; toss again and leave for another minute. You want the Brussels to be well-singed and cooked through, and the bacon to be crispy.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sweet Potato, Carrot and Chick Pea Soup

A super-simple meal for Cambridge telecon night, cribbed from this recipe, but with a whole tsp of chilli flakes extra at the start, and leaving the chick peas until right at the end, because cooking them from the tin is totally unnecessary. Topped with  a splob of natural yoghurt, some coriander leaves, and served with a beautiful hearty fresh sourdough from our breadmaker.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Butter Chicken

When I visited India, we had one particularly amazing meal out at a rather fancy restaurant, where the meals cost a whole $10! A friend of mine ordered this and I remembered that it's often cited as the measure of an Indian restaurant; if the butter chicken is good, then everything else is probably good too. His was excellent. We've had a couple of chicken breasts in the freezer for a while and I've been intending to do 'something Indian' to them. Then at the Good Food and Wine show I picked up a really nice 'butter chicken' spice mix and all the pieces fell into place. I don't normally use spice mixes but I tried a bit with some bread and olive oil and it tasted so much like the real thing from India that I couldn't resist :)

I used this recipe for a starting point, although we dropped the amount of yoghurt since I was worried cooking it would make it separate, and we found the overall result bit too tomatoey, so this recipe has a reduced amount of puree. We couldn't bring ourselves to pour in the amount of cream they said to use, but feel free if you weren't using those arteries anyway! We served it with some plain rice and spicy & sour green beans: perfect counterpoint.


  • two large chicken breasts
  • 2 tsbp yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp turmeric, 2 tsp garam masala, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp of paprika (or 4 tbsp of butter chicken spice mix!)
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 125g cashews, roasted
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Indian bay leaf or normal bay leaf
  • 200g can tomato puree
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 125ml double cream (double the quantity for extra richness)
  • fresh coriander, to garnish

Slice the chicken breasts into bite-size pieces. Put in a bowl and toss with the yoghurt, lemon juice, spices, ginger and garlic; marinade overnight, or for a couple of hours if possible.

Blitz half of the cashews in a blender until well-ground. Gently fry the onion in a little oil, then add the chicken and toss about until the spices are fragrant. Tip in the ground cashews, tomato puree, bay leaf and stock, and simmer for fifteen minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Stir in the cream and warm through; serve over rice, topped with a handful of coriander leaves and the remaining toasted cashews.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Pear and Almond Tart

We bought a huge bucket of pears last weekend and they have been sitting sullenly in a bowl, failing to ripen. So today I decided to use them in the best way possible - baking a beautiful French pear and almond tart. The recipe, according to my dad, is not French at all, but if you google it you'll find hundreds of examples of how to make it. I used this nice blog entry as it talked about all the different subtleties and, crucially, explained how to poach the pears. I won't rehash every single point since the post is worth a read in its own right, but I'll post how I made this wonderful tart... with metric weighted quantities!
My pastry isn't quite even but I'm working on it :)

For the pears:

  • two large or three small pears
  • water
  • sugar
  • a couple of cloves
  • a wedge of lemon

Halve, core and peel the pears then place them flat-side up in a saucepan. Cover with water, drop in the cloves and lemon, and add about a third as much sugar as you have pears. Bring to a simmer; while you do so, use the lid of the pan to trace and cut out a circle of greaseproof paper; cut a hole in the middle and place on top of the pears. Simmer for 6-10 minutes, until the pears are perfectly tender.

You can either chill and marinade the pears at this point, or use them as soon as they're cool enough to handle. The poaching liquid can be reduced down to a drizzling sauce, or frozen in an ice cube tray for another recipe. To slice the pears ready for the pie, place flat-side down on a board and, using a very sharp knife, slice diagonally through so that the pears will be able to fan out in that classic shape. Leave them on the board or a plate until the rest of the pie is ready. (If you chop savoury foods, especially onions, on the same board, make sure to line it first with cling film.)

For the pastry:

  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 80g granulated sugar (halve if your pastry-handling skills are not strong)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 225g plain flour

Line a 9" pie or tart pan with butter and greaseproof paper. Briefly cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the egg yolk and the vanilla. Add the flours and mix until well combined—the dough will form clumps and all the flour will have been absorbed. Form the dough into a thick disk. On a lightly floured board gently roll dough out to a thickness of 3-5mm. Brush off the excess flour and transfer the dough to a greased tart pan. Ease the dough into the pan, being careful not to stretch it or break it (the more sugar you use, the more fragile it will be); press it against the sides of the tart pan. Use a pair of scissors to gently cut the dough a 5mm taller than the edge of the tart pan.

For the almond filling:

  • 85g slivered or ground almonds
  • 85g sugar
  • 85g unsalted butter
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 20g flour

Blitz the almonds, sugar and butter together in a blender, then crack in the egg, egg white and almond extract. Whizz for a minute or so, then gently fold in the flour. Using a spatula, spread evenly over the pastry shell. Drop any excess from the spatula scraprings right into the middle of the tart. Using a metal or sharp-edged spatula, lift the sliced pears and gently slide into the pie in the classic pattern: into four, six or eight 'fans' depending on the size of the pears.

Bake in a preheated 175 C oven for 30-40 minutes, until the frangipangi is risen and golden-brown.

Baked Stuffed Cabbage Parcels

When I was in Cambridge last week, a friend gave me this copy of Delia's 'Frugal Food'. It's interesting enough, especially if you're short on 70s style things to do with lentils and cabbage. Since we'd bought an enormous Savoy for just a dollar, and I had the glorious freedom of an entire day with nothing to do but go for a long walk and cook, it seemed like a good time to figure out something fun and frugal to do. I settled on the 'baked stuffed cabbage parcels'. They really were rather good! Although I did bulk out and spice up the recipe a bit. The photo is taken before I pour over the requisite 400g tin of chopped tomatoes; personally I think it'd be nicer with the topping I describe below.


  • a large head of Savoy or green cabbage
  • 75g white rice
  • a large white onion
  • 400g beef or lamb mince
  • three cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • a large handful of parsley, well-washed and finely chopped
  • a generous handful of sultanas
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • a 400g tin of white (haricot or borlotti) beans (chick peas might work too)
  • a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chillis
  • a slice or two of bread, or a handful of sunflower seeds
Get a really huge saucepan that you can put the whole cabbage head inside completely. Practice taking it out again with a couple of big spoons or some good strong tongs. When you're happy that you have a good saucepan and a way of getting a hot cabbage head back out again, fill it up with boiling water and submerge the cabbage, preferably stalk-side-up. (I don't know how Delia stops it flipping; mine always went straight over no matter what I did!) Bring back to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes, then remove and drain. (I used the water from this to cook the pasta for another meal, but maybe you could put your feet in it if you're having a particularly cold winter and don't want to let it go to waste? I've no idea.)

Once the cabbage is cool enough to handle, get a nice sharp knife and a big bowl, and work your way around the cabbage, cutting off the leaves as you go. Once the leaves go yellow, you can maybe get three or four, before they become too small to be useful for this recipe. At that stage the texture should be quite crisply blanched, so it would work well cooled and used later in a salad, or served warm straight away with some butter. But it's not useful for the rest of this recipe so find somewhere to put it.

Set the rice cooking in a 2:1 water:rice ratio over a gentle heat. Finely chop and fry the onion for a few minutes, then add the mince and crush in the garlic. Fry for a couple more minutes, then add the cinnamon, thyme, parsley, sultanas, beans, tomato puree, salt and cooked rice. Stir well to combine and turn off the heat.

Put a cabbage leaf on a board or plate so that it curves upward, and slice about three inches of the thick stem away; eat or discard. If you want to make finger-food-sized parcels, slice the entire stem away, and use half-leaves to wrap 3/4--1 1/2 tbsp of mixture; otherwise wrap up 1 1/2--3 tbsp mixture depending on the size of the leaf. You should overlap the leaves enough that the mixture isn't bursting out. Place in a large roasting dish with the foldy bits at the bottom.

Meanwhile, (perhaps your sous-chef can help), heat the tin of chopped tomatoes with the oregano and chilli. Puree with a hand-blender into a fine sauce. (A good passatta will do equally well here.) Pour the tomato sauce over the tray of parcels, making sure to coat all of the leaves (they will go black wherever not covered by tomatoes). Bake for an hour, until the leaves are very tender and the sauce has reduced to a fine covering. Blend the bread into fine breadcrumbs, toss with a little olive oil; cover the tomato sauce and bake for a further ten minutes until crisp. Alternatively, serve with some toasted sunflower seeds.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Beetroot and Feta on Cabbage & Pesto Pasta

This isn't going to inspire anyone to new heights of cooking, but it did come out rather prettily. I simmered a couple of peeled, cubed beetroot, toasted some feta and rosemary, and served over some al dente pasta stirred through with blanched, shredded Savoy and a very good tub of pesto from the deli. A nubbly conglomerate of odds and ends from the fridge.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Mushroom Risotto

I made a fantastic lemon and green bean risotto which I seem not to have written down and will definitely need to do again. The method and base of that, and this, is the same as most of my risottos: gently sauteed carrots, celery and onion, stir-cooked risotto rice, and the main flavours stirred in at the end. In this case, a very large pile of well-fried mushrooms, a good handful of parsley and a handful of reconstituted dried mushrooms.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Toad in the Hole

I got back from my travels pretty exhausted so Saturday was a bit of a blur - we went to the Good Food and Wine show which didn't quite live up to the name, although I did get some nice dukkah. Sunday we had some friends from the UK over at the weekend on their way from a wedding elsewhere in Perth, and put on a big barbie for them - of course! Along with kangaroo steaks and prawns, we barbequed a mighty pile of sausages both as a back-up plan and to be useful for the rest of the week. Monday swung round and I left a very clear recipe for the man to follow: he did everything to the letter except randomly decided to barbeque the dish instead of baking it. Unfortunately Toad is essentially a soufflĂ©, and the poor thing turned into a total biscuit. Later in the week I simply had to make it again, properly! The eggs rose magnificently, the outside was crisp and the inside was squishy. Yum!