Saturday, 26 January 2013


I combined a couple of tabbouleh recipes to generate this delicious accompaniment to some freshly-grilled lamb chops from the butcher's. It's really important to have some good fresh herbs to hand; you can't substitute or reduce them without reducing this from tabbouleh to a mere cous-cous-with-bits-in. On the other hand - you can totally substitute cous-cous, if you don't have time to cook bulghur wheat or just don't fancy the flavour.


  • 75g cous-cous
  • a slice of butter
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable stock powder
  • two ripe red tomatoes
  • a couple of hot radishes
  • a spring onion
  • a good handful of flat-leaf parsley
  • a good handful of fresh mint leaves
  • juice of half a lemon
  • olive oil

Pour boiling water over the cous-cous in a 2:1 water:cous-cous ratio and stir through the butter and stock powder; microwave for a minute or two then leave to stand to cook through. Cool if you have time. Dice the tomato and radishes; finely chop the spring onion and herbs. Combine the cooked cous-cous, herbs, tomatoes, radishes and lemon juice, then drizzle with olive oil just before serving.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Aubergine and Caramelised Onion Pasta

I tried another recipe from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries II, and overall I'd say it wasn't bad. After  agonising over the right pasta shape for a few paragraphs, before settling on one I've not seen for sale down under, he suggests basking the aubergine whole, then scraping out the cooked flesh, whipping it with olive oil to make a pasta sauce.

I found that compared to my usual method, this takes a very long time, and the insides get steamed instead of grilled, so are missing all of the lovely charcoal-y edgy bits that make cooked aubergine so extra delicious, on top of the meltingly soft, subtle flesh. Plus you have to throw away the skin, which is another flavour & texture combo I relish. I think his recipe would be much faster and tastier if you simply sliced the aubergines, brushed them lightly with olive oil, bbq'd them over a hot grill; meanwhile caramelise some onions, then tear the aubergines into pieces and toss everything together with basil, freshly cooked pasta, and a good squeeze of lemon. Punchier, faster, less greasy, and preserving all the best flavours of the aubergine. I'll report when I've had a go with my modifications.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savoury Pancake)

Another inspiration from my amazing Flavour Thesaurus, with guidance from one of my favourite food blogs and a helpful Japanese cooking info page. This time I was reading the underwhelming-sounding 'cabbage and egg' section. Turns out the Japanese have a long tradition of making these gorgeous savoury pancakes with a range of different ingredients, but almost-always including shredded cabbage as the base. And since cabbage was on my list of 'cheap veg at the market this week', I have a whole head to use up. I made up the money saved buying the cabbage by buying beautiful katsuobushi, the dried bonito flakes that 'dance' in the convection currents generated by the hot pancake. I also made my own okonomiyaki sauce, which meant I had to buy ketchup for the first time in my life. Oh well - maybe when winter rolls around I'll deep-fry some potato chips. Or, more likely, I'll just make these again, because they were AMAZING! Even easier to flip than Korean pancakes, less fiddly than fried veggie fritters, and absolutely divine in flavour. I think it's worth putting in the extra effort to make the sauce, and track down the katsuobushi and wakame (dried seaweed).

What is so exciting about this seaweed??
For the pancake: 
  • 1/4 white/green cabbage
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup room-temperature dashi stock (substitute seafood stock, or vegetable stock, or even water)
  • 1 cup plain flour

For the toppings:

  • 2tbsp ketchup (tomato sauce)
  • 2tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 50g katsuobushi (fine bonito flakes)
  • a small handful of wakame (dried seaweed)
Japanese pancake on the barbie.
Now that's what I call fusion food :)
Shred the cabbage, grate the carrot and finely slice the spring onions. Combine with the egg, stock and flour in a large mixing bowl. Get a bbq hot plate nice and hot and brush generously with oil. When you can see it start to shimmer, plop the mixture onto the hotplate and push down and smooth out to make a pancake or two (how many depends on your confidence in your ability to flip them!). Close the lid and bbq for 5-10 minutes, until crisp and golden on the bottom, and cooked through enough not to fall apart when you lift the edges with a spatula. Flip onto the other side and cook for a further 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl, to make the okonomiyaki sauce. Put the mayonnaise in a small plastic bag with the corner cut off, or piping bag, if it's not in a squeezy bottle already. When the pancake is nearly done, turn off the heat and brush the top surface with the okonomiyaki sauce. Pipe on the mayonnaise in long lines, or whatever pattern you like. Tip on the katsuobushi and scatter with a handful of wakame. Serve hot off the grill, with the bonito flakes dancing to their tasty song :)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Roast Green Peppers with Giant Cous-Cous

Green peppers have a hard time competing with their red, orange and yellow brethren. Chefs are full of admonitions to 'never ever' substitute green peppers for red, and it's understandable: the flavour is noticeably different, being less sweet and grassier. However they're indispensable for the gorgeous lamb abruzzio and a staple of my Mexican cooking. Tonight I wanted to try stuffing and roasting them, but using flavours which would complement their green taste. I used a Nigel recipe for inspiration, but like the risotto I made earlier in the week, substituted most of the ingredients. To figure out the flavours, I started with the 'abruzzio' flavours, then subtracted the lamb (I try to eat veggie on days when I'm not exercising) and replaced its umameness with a little anchovy.

If you can't get giant cous-cous (and I have to say, I was amazed to find it in my local market), I'm sure normal cous-cous would work just fine. You would, however, miss out on the joy of the escapee giant cous-cous, which leap from the peppers onto the hot roasting tray, and bake through to produce joyous bonus crunchy popcorn-like additions. This recipe makes enough for two hungry people, or in our case, enough for dinner and then lunch the next day.


  • 200g giant cous-cous (also called pearl cous-cous, or mograbiah)
  • six spring onions
  • a large handful of mint
  • six large salted anchovy fillets
  • 10-12 olives
  • four medium to large green peppers
  • half a lemon
  • 100ml sour cream
  • 1 tsp paprika

Cook the cous-cous according to its packet instructions; mine didn't have any but took about 20 minutes to become tender. Finely chop the spring onions and fry in a little olive oil until softened. Zest the lemon, chop the mint, halve the olives, and crumble the anchovies; turn off the heat and add them all to the spring onions, then season with black pepper. (You probably won't need salt because of the olives and anchovies.) Drain and tip in the cooked cous-cous and squeeze over the lemon, then gently combine.

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and pith, but leave the stalks on. Lay out in a large baking tray and fill with the cous-cous combination. Cover loosely with foil and roast in a 200C oven or on a hot bbq for 35-40 minutes, until the peppers are cooked through and beginning to caramelise at the edges. Stir the paprika through the sour cream and serve with the cooked peppers.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Pumpkin Pangrattato

Pumpkin was cheap at the market. Turns out that's because it has almost zero flavour at this time of year (midsummer). I have written down the basic recipe, which comes from Nigel's Tender, a book I have struggled to use well since it's aimed at someone growing vegetables in a much more temperate climate. I certainly remember the pumpkins in Cambridge being sweeter than the sad specimen I cooked tonight. Anyway, I include in italics the ingredients to include if you suspect your pumpkin is lacking a certain joie de vivre. And I'm toning down the amount of chilli: we had to have a yoghurt afterwards to cool down!


  • 750g pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 1/2 tbsp rosemary leaves
  • zest of an orange
  • a handful of parsley leaves
  • four handfuls of breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 40g butter
  • segments of an orange
Peel and deseed the squash, then cut into ~2cm pieces. Steam for 15-20 minutes until just tender. Crush the garlic into a frying pan with some olive oil and fry gently until just beginning to colour. Meanwhile, finely chop the rosemary and parsley leaves, and zest the orange. Add the herbs, chilli and orange zest to the garlic, then tip in the breadcrumbs and mix well; fry for a further 3-4 minutes until fragrant and just beginning to crisp.

Tip the pumpkin into a large roasting tray and taste; if it's lacking in flavour then season with the sugar, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Tip over the breadcrumbs and dot with butter. Roast at 180C or on a moderate bbq for 35-40 minutes until the crumbs are deep gold and the pumpkin is tender. If you like, stir through the orange segments before serving.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Mung Bean Sprout Risotto

A strange-sounding combination, to be sure. It started out as an entirely different recipe - 'A risotto of spelt and pea shoots'. Then I attempted to obtain the ingredients from my local market:

Nigel: Now easily available from supermarkets and grocer's, this ancient grain has an extraordinary comforting quality.
Me: Do you have pearled spelt?
Shelf-stacker: *blank look*
Me: It's like spelt - but before it's been ground into spelt flour...
Shelf-stacker: We have pearl barley...
Me: Thanks...

I didn't even try for pea shoots. Pea shoots? Really? And Nigel grows them himself in a tray? How much time does this man have to wash things? I picked up a pack of mung bean sprouts and hoped for the best.

The remaining ingredients were an onion - substituted with a shallot - and vegetable stock - replaced with an amazing chicken stock we'd made with the chicken carcass at the weekend. OK - I didn't substitute the Parmesan or butter... cheddar and lard just didn't sound right!

Anyway, it turned out surprisingly well. Strangely nobbly complementary textures. It was very easy - just make the simplest onion and rice risotto base and then stir through mung bean sprouts at the end... I suspect the recipe might have been lost in substitution!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Bacon and Chilli Yoghurt Muffins

I'm in a muffin mood! Specifically I seem to be hooked on bacon muffins. SO GOOD. This recipe comes from an awesome Christmas present, The Flavour Thesaurus. It's an incredible book in which the author set out to describe every possible flavour combination, scaling back from an insane number that could only be represented in scientific notation to a 'more feasible' 4,591 combinations - of which, to be fair, only the edible ones are described. It's brilliant to flick through as the prose is amusing and filled with interesting historical and cultural tidbits- it was in the 'everything goes with bacon' chapter that I came across this lovely recipe. I didn't have any cornmeal, so in place of the plain flour and cornmeal, I used a 'corn bread' baking mix, which is half-and-half white flour and coarse corn meal flour. Don't be scared by the quantity of chilli flakes: their heat is well-tempered by the yoghurt and butter. I also took the advice in the recipe and served with cream cheese: a wonderful combination.


  • four rashers of bacon
  • two eggs
  • 450g plain yoghurt
  • 50g butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 65g plain flour 
  • 275g fine cornmeal
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
Fry or grill the bacon until crispy and easy to snip or crumble. Whisk the eggs together with the yoghurt in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter and drizzle it in, whisking all the while. Combine the salt, soda, flour, cornmeal and chilli flakes in a bowl and then fold into the yoghurt mixture, stopping as soon as you no longer see any dry flour. Pop into 12-18 muffin cases or trays and bake at 200 C for 20 minutes, until golden and risen.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Sticky BBQ Chicken Wings

Another one from Nigel; I popped the jointed chicken wings and legs into a bowl and immediately covered with the marinade. Refrigerated, they were happy for four days, after which the marinade had completely permeated the chicken.

  • two chicken wings and two chicken legs, or roughly the same quantity of whatever chicken pieces you have to hand
For the marinade:
  • 1 tsbp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • half a stalk of lemongrass
  • 1 tsp sugar
For the dipping sauce:
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp white sugar
  • half a thumb of ginger
  • 1 chilli (optional)
  • juice of a lime
Crush the garlic and finely slice the lemongrass, then mix together with the other marinade ingredients; cover the chicken pieces and refrigerate for 1-100 hours. For the dipping sauce, finely dice the chilli and grate the ginger into a very small saucepan, and add the other ingredients. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then take off the heat.

BBQ the chicken pieces for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through and crispy at the edges. Serve with the dipping sauce, over plain steamed rice with some stir-fried vegetables.

Monday, 14 January 2013

BBQ Aubergine with Garlic Mayonnaise

I'm still recovering from the flu, so I gave this 40-minute recipe to the SO to do... so of course it took a good two and a half hours, and I had to take over at the end... good job he doesn't read this blog ;) I ended up making the mayonnaise because he didn't check whether we had mayonnaise before we began, which in the end turned out well: I'd been looking forward to making my own mayonnaise for some time, just never expected to do it while exhausted with the flu! Turns out the key is patience. The SO's method of putting-all-the-ingredients-in-one-bowl-and-using-a-blender just results in a broken blender. Stay calm and keep dripping oil.

  • a large aubergine
  • a head of garlic
  • an egg
  • 65-75ml of olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2-1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 tbsp capers
  • a few leaves of basil

Wrap the garlic in foil and drip in some olive oil; roast in a hot oven or on the bbq for 40 minutes, until cooked through and soft. Slice the aubergine lengthwise into long fat slices and grill (preferably on the hot bbq :) for 10-15 minutes, until meltingly soft in the middle and beginning to crisp on the edges.

Meanwhile, separate the egg and discard or save the white for something else, plopping the egg yolk into a large bowl. Drip no more than three drops of olive oil into the yolk and whisk until it is completely combined and lightened. Drip in a couple more drops and repeat. Continue this process, increasing the number of drops very gently as you proceed. It will slowly turn into mayonnaise! Whisk in the salt and lemon juice at the end, adding the lemon juice again in small quantities. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of the head and whisk into the mayonnaise. Serve with the hot grilled aubergine slices, and garnish with capers and torn basil.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Baked Chicken with Tomatoes and Olives

We bought a whole chicken this week, which contributes to over half of the meals in the week: a hearty chicken stock for a perfect risotto, the bony wings and legs for some finger-licking marinaded bbq goodness, and the thighs and breasts for a big bbq'd tray of goodies which easily serves us for two nights. I went for a very calm carb to contrast the strong, acidic flavours: a handful of breadcrumbs fried in olive oil stirred through some tiny pasta, for a nice contrast in textures.


  • Two chicken breasts and thighs, or 500g of chicken pieces
  • five large tomatoes
  • a small lemon
  • a generous handful of olives
  • half a head of garlic

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and pit and halve the olives. Peel the garlic and crush lightly; halve if large. Pop the chicken, tomatoes, garlic and olives in a large roasting tray, squeeze over the juice of the lemon, and season with salt and pepper. Roast (~200C) or bbq (moderate) for 30-35 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the tomatoes are blackened at the edges.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Bacon, Cheese and Apple Muffins (oh my!)

I received some lovely presents from my husband's brother and his wife: the sequel to one of my favourite cookbooks, The Kitchen Diaries, aptly titled The Kitchen Diaries II (: the Search for More Food?!), and some delightful silicone muffin cups and a matching tray. I put them both to the test with this simple recipe, about all I could manage while coming out the other side of the Great British Flu, a gift the entire Northern Hemisphere contributed to. They turned out really well, despite having to substitute plain old free-range bacon and Australian cheddar for the ridiculously artisanal ingredients used by Nige.

  • four rashers of back bacon
  • a small apple
  • 3 eggs
  • 175ml yoghurt
  • 100g cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsbp sugar
  • 275g plain flour

Pop the bacon on the barbie or under the grill until cooked but not too crispy, then snip into small pieces. Beat the eggs into the yoghurt, then grate 3/4 of the cheese into the mixture. Combine the baking powder, sugar and flour in a separate bowl. Peel and grate the apple last, so it has no time to go brown. Stir it, along with the bacon, into the yoghurt mixture. Fold the yoghurt mixture gently into the flour, stopping as soon as there is no more dry flour visible. Spoon into muffin cups (I used 12), and bake at 200 C for 20-25 minutes, until risen and golden. Nigel says to eat them on the same day, but I found the taste improved overnight, although the texture suffered a little.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Pasta with Meatballs

My last meal of Being Twenty-Nine Years Old: a big classic in our family, but we all have slightly different ways of making it. My mum drops pure-mince meatballs into the tomato sauce, letting them cook through as the sauce thickens on the stove; I use fried or baked meatballs containing bread (I love the crispy crust!). My sister likes to stir the spinach into the sauce and scatter feta over the top; I prefer it to combine cooked, wilted spinach with ricotta and leave little quinelles throughout the bake. However, I think we can all agree that penne is exactly the right pasta for this dish, and that it tastes even better the next day. Although maybe not in my case, what with my taste buds suddenly going over the hill...

Here's my version.


  • 1kg of meatballs
  • 500g tomato sauce (or double, if you like it very tomato-y)
  • two large bunches of fresh spinach, wilted and chopped or 250g frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
  • 250g of ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 500g dried penne, cooked according to the packet instructions
  • 100g Cheddar or Parmesan, grated

Combine the spinach, cheese, nutmeg and salt together in a bowl. Stir the pasta with the tomato sauce and meatballs and pour into a large baking dish. Using two large tablespoons, take scoops of the ricotta/spinach mixture and push little quinelles into the dish. Scatter over the grated cheese and bake for 25 minutes at 180 C, until golden brown on top and piping hot throughout.

Steamed Asparagus

A great opportunity to test out my new lens: the simple starter of steamed asparagus, drizzled with olive oil and scattered with shavings of Parmesan. There was only enough for two sticks each, plus one for the birthday girl :)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Huevos Rancheros

After an awesome holiday filled with concerts, food, LEGO, and looooooads of games (Seven Wonders being a particular hit this year), the time came to depart, and with it the opportunity for a farewell lunch together. Briefly tempted by something light, we eventually opted for our favourite huevos rancheros, which meant we were pretty much full until about 10pm. It's great preparing this recipe for loads of people, because you can cut the tortillas into wedges first and overlap them out on massive trays, without worrying (too much) about the toppings sticking to the trays. We also split the toppings between two kinds: tomato and egg, and refried beans. Both topped with plenty of cheese, of course!