Sunday, 27 February 2011

Potted Shrimp

The Little Idiot bought me a present of potted shrimp. A lovely present... If you don't know them you should get to know them as soon as possible. They are buttery, spicy, sweet and delicious.

You can warm them through in a pan, so the butter melts, with a slice of brown bread, or you can just have them straight out of the pot with a piece of toast. A squeeze of lemon over the top brings out the shrimps sweetness. I have read recipes for grilled fish where you make a sauce from the tub of shrimps and butter and add garlic and shallots, or adding them at the end of a simple risotto. I'll have to try both. And yes I did share them with TLI.

Green herb couscous

I'm recovering from a slightly excessive night in Barn Asia. It's a South East Asian restaurant in Newcastle city centre, and the food was very good. We had huge tempura prawns, shaking beef, a delicious pork and rice dish and tiny cinnamon doughnuts with a strawberry compote. Alongside this was a bit too much red wine so I feel the need for vitamins today. I need something green and this Ottolenghi couscous is about as green as you get...

Slice the onion in half and then into thin slices. Cook it in a tablespoon of olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Cook it slowly for about 10 minutes or more until it is really soft and turning golden brown. Add half a teaspoon of ground cumin and cook for another few minutes.

While the onion is cooking you can get on with all the other stuff. Put 150g couscous in a bowl and cover with the same volume of water or stock, I used chicken stock, I think it gives it more flavour. Cover with cling film and leave it to sit for about 10 minutes, until you've done everything else really.

You really need a food processor for the herbs, I only got one in the last year and it's brilliant. If you don't have one, you are going to need quite a lot of patience and good fine chopping skills... Or you could make something different... You need to wizz up 20 grams of parsley and 20 grams of coriander, it's about the size of the little bags you get in most supermarkets. Then add about half that amount of dill and mint. I've made it with various combinations of herbs and its still good even you're missing some of them. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil so its like a loose paste that is very green...

Fork through the couscous and stir through the herb paste. Chop up 3 or 4 spring onions and add them. Chop up one green chilli into fine slivers and add also. Stir through the salty cumin onions.

Roughly chop up a few big handfuls of rockets and stir through, and finally toast off some pumpkin seeds in a dry pan and scatter them into the couscous.

I think this is so tasty, the sweet salty cumin onions really add something special, along with the crunchy pumpkin seeds. It is so green and herby, I don't think I've ever added quite so many to a dish before. I've served it as one of a few salads at a bbq before, on this occasion just with some grilled chicken...

Saturday, 26 February 2011


We tended to the allotment a little last weekend. I ambushed the brambles that ruled the back of the plot and The Little Idiot dug over most of the new beds, he is better at digging than me. I found a hidden honeysuckle under the bramble tangle, also some raspberries and a rose, and a hibernating ladybird. The allotment inspection committee are out in force at this end of the month and I do not want any more warning letters. Trying to look at it through objective eyes I think it looks ok, we have done quite a bit, I would say we are mid table tidiness on a scale of all the other allotment people.

The leeks are still alive, they haven’t grown much, and look more like spring onions, but I presume as soon as it warms up a bit they will grow up enough to eat. There is no sign of the onions and shallots I put in in October, I hope they don't go the way of the no show carrots... I will need to actually start planting things in March, so would like to be as organised as possible before then...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Roast butternut squash, goats cheese and pumpkin seed salad

Gaga came over for a catch up and something to eat tonight. Not the real one, you understand, just a friend with a few similarities. She can often be found wearing clip-in bows of fake hair, but not outfits made entirely of meat, she is vegetarian, so I made a roasted butternut squash salad and we watched University Challenge and Glee.

I don't like things that take very long to make if someone is coming over during the week, just something easy, or that sits in the oven while you chat. Peel the butternut squash, or you can use any other type of squash or pumpkin, and cut it into bite size pieces. In a pestle and mortar crush up a clove of garlic with pepper and rock salt, then 4 or 5 sage leaves, then some olive oil. The idea is to make a kind of paste, when you're done rub it all over the squash and put them in the oven at about 180°C until they are soft and a bit browned, about half an hour.

Scatter some leaves in your bowls, rocket, spinach, watercress, or whatever you fancy. I made a dressing from some olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a little bit of lemon juice and half a teaspoon of honey. You don't need loads as you still want to taste the roasted sage and garlic, just a bit to coat the leaves. Crumble over some goats cheese, I used a mixture of some soft and some hard, and add the sage and garlic squash, still warm. Finally toast some pumpkin seeds in a dry pan and scatter these over the top...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Caramelised garlic tart

I'd like it to be summer already, drinking wine on the Jesmond terrace, warm outdoor bbq's, salads and sunshine. I've been looking through Ottolenghi's book Plenty. It has so many interesting and tasty salad's, but it's still quite cold and wintery here, so I decided on the Caramelised garlic tart. They also describe it as 'the most delicious recipe in the world' so I guess you have to try it...

I haven't made nearly enough from the book yet, but plan on trying loads of the salads as soon as it gets a bit nicer. Looking out the window now Jesmond just looks cold, grey and a bit misty. I think puff pastry, cheese and lots of garlic are in order.

You have to use three whole heads of garlic, over 30 cloves, so it might not be for everyone! But I thought it smelt and tasted amazing.

375g all butter puff pastry
3 heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
1tsp balsamic vinegar
220ml water
¾ tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme
120g soft creamy goat's cheese
120g hard mature goat's cheese
2 free range eggs
100ml double cream
100ml crème fraiche
salt and black pepper

You need a tart tin. I didn't have one, so my pastry went a bit crazy, but still tasted good. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line the tin with it, allow a bit extra as it will move around and shrink. Place a piece of greaseproof paper over the pastry and fill up with baking beans. I used dried chickpeas, anything like that will do, it's to stop the pastry rising up as it cooks. Put it in the fridge to settle for 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180°C for 20 minutes. This is where my pastry went a bit like a giant Yorkshire pudding, I don't think it was what was meant to happen but I carried on anyway. Remove the beans and paper and bake for another 5 or 10 minutes until the central pastry is golden. Take it out, but leave the oven on.

While you are baking the pastry you can start to make the caramalised garlic. Separate and peel three whole heads of garlic and put them in a small saucepan with plenty of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain the garlic and return to the dried pan with the oil and fry on a high ish heat for 2 minutes. Add the water and the balsamic vinegar and bring to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes. It smells pretty amazing at this point, like a mellow sweet garlic, not overpowering, just delicious.

Then add the sugar, rosemary, thyme and ¼ teaspoon of salt and simmer for another 10 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the garlic is in a caramelly syrup. It now smells even better...

Break both cheeses into little pieces and scatter in the baked pastry case. Spoon the garlic over the top of the cheese, spreading things out evenly. Then whisk together the eggs, cream, crème fraiche, ½ teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Pour this custard mixture over the top of the garlic and cheese.
Turn the oven down to 160°C and put the tart in the oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden. Serve it warm, you can reheat it as needed and it is just as good. I think the claim of the most delicious recipe ever is not actually that far off, I'd definitely put in my top ten... Serve with a green salad, or try a bit straight away...

The 'Plenty' book is all vegetable recipes, but doesn’t lack anything by not having any meat in it. I'm just watching the news telling me to eat less of it anyway. If you don't know the Ottolenghi books and eateries you should definitely have a look. They have a few shops and cafés in London with towers of colourful salads and huge piles of meringues, cakes and tarts filling up their windows.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Lamb tagine with caramalised baby onions and apricots

My favourite and most used cook book is probably Claudia Roden's Arabesque. It is a taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon, and I am particularly partial to the flavours of the Middle East... North African tagines and big piles of steamy couscous feature heavily, and are something that I make quite often. The recipes are quite adaptable using different meats with nuts or fruits; all based around a delicately spiced stock with ginger, cinnamon and saffron, combining spices with sweet and savoury tastes.

This is a lamb tagine with baby onions. I also made a caramelised apricot jam type thing that gets spooned on the top at the end, which was really amazing. A 1kg shoulder of lamb will feed four people. The recipe asks for a boned shoulder but ours still had the bone in, it still worked just as well though.

1kg shoulder of lamb
3 tablespoons of sunflower or vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
Salt and pepper
Half a teaspoon of ground ginger
Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Half a teaspoon of saffron threads
300g of baby onions or shallots
40g butter

Brown the lamb in half of the oil in a large pan, until it has a bit of colour all over. Add the chopped onion and half cover with water. The amount will depend on the size of your lamb. You can use other cuts of lamb, on or off the bone. Add some salt and pepper, the ginger, cinnamon and saffron. Simmer for about an hour and a half on a low heat, turn the lamb over now and again so it is cooking all over evenly.

Put the onions or shallots in a bowl of boiling water for five minutes to get the skins off. Trim the roots. Now brown them all over in the other half of the oil for 10 minutes. Add them to the lamb and cook for another half an hour. The sauce should have begun to reduce and the lamb should be softening and coming off the bone. Cook for another half an hour if needs be.

You can add a tablespoon of honey at the end to sweeten it up, but if you're making the apricots I don't think you need to. I added a handful of blanched almonds with the onions, they soften up as the lamb cooks. Serve the lamb with some couscous and a ladle of stock and almonds over the top.

For the apricots soak 250g of dried apricots in water for an hour, drain them and then cook them on a low heat for an hour just covered with water, you will have to keep topping it up. After the hour they will be very soft, let the water evaporate totally. Add a tablespoon of clear honey and 25g of unsalted butter. Stir them until they start to brown and caramelise.

Then spoon them over the top of your lamb. This might seem like a long time for just a few little apricots, but I think it's one of the best things I have ever made from Claudia's book and really worth the effort...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Mackerel and horseradish salad

The smoked mackerel fillet ticks lots of boxes; healthy, cheap, sustainable fishing – I watched all of Hugh's fish fight and got a bit emotional when the North sea fishermen got so angry and upset about having to throw back all those poor wasted dead fish. Whereas the mackerel are often fished by line and are fast growing plentiful little guys.

This is a really easy lunch or light supper. One packet of smoked mackerel fillets usually has three or four fillets in it, depending on size and will feed a couple of people, maybe three small portions. Remove the skin from the fillets and tear them up into bite size pieces.

Put some leaves in the bottom of your bowls; rocket, spinach, watercress... whatever you choose, but these peppery ones work really well. I once found some wild watercress growing along the sides of a river in the Lake District that was ridiculously peppery, like mustard or wasabi, that kind of strength. I might try growing some as it was so much better than the packet stuff, in small doses...

Hard boil an egg per person, they take about 6/7 minutes after you have brought them to a simmer from cold water. Then run them under a cold tap to cool and stop cooking before you shell them. Mix a small pot of yoghurt with some horseradish, a few teaspoons, depending on how hot you like it, you can also use crème fraiche, and if the yoghurt is a a bit tart add half a teaspoon of sugar.

Then you just need to assemble; scatter the fish over the leaves, quarter the egg and place on top, scatter a few capers around, then drip a few teaspoons of the horseradish yoghurt around and about...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Grow your own

My allotment is at the top of my street, which is lucky when a bit lazy. There are not huge amounts to say about it yet this year. It is mainly mud and some tiny leeks that have just about survived the winter; and piles of things waiting to go on a bonfire.

I got the allotment last year, in spring, just when everyone else was planting things in their tidy soil and neat flowers beds. Mine was handed over as a jungle of weeds and vines, but I chose it because it had two little apple trees and I spotted some raspberries at the back under the brambles. I was offered other choices that were much more cleared, but they lacked character...?!

So because of the jungle aspect I didn't really get to grips with it as much as the allotment association would have liked. One warning letter duly received. I was of the opinion it was more important to just dig up a few bits of it and get some things growing and worry about the tidiness aspect later. They didn't...

But in the end I managed to produce runner beans, french beans, salad, spinach and courgettes. You don't need many courgette plants I discovered, they just keep on growing for months, I planted about ten plants and had so many I couldn't give them away... The apple trees produced one apple each and we found raspberries, brambles, strawberries and real grapes under the tangle of weeds.

This year I'm vowing to be organised and tidy. I have bought lots of adventurous looking seeds, including some 'turks turbans', parsnips, peas, red corn, cherry tomatoes, yellow courgettes, cabbages, and a range of flowers; sweet peas, lupins, sunflowers, poppies, nasturtiums... Maybe I'm being ambitious! We'll see...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Smokey spinach, chickpea and pancetta stew

I make this quite often as it's pretty easy and makes a good mid week supper. It's a Thomasina Miers recipe originally and is Spanish in origin.

I grew my own spinach last year, but it is currently a slimy frozen mess at the bottom of the allotment, so this lot is out of a bag... I got the allotment last year and actually managed to grow quite a few things, including about a million courgettes. It was still a bit of a mess though and this year I plan to be really organised, grow loads, and turn half of it into a little garden for BBQs and outdoor summer wine drinking.

4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 stick of celery diced
2 bay leaves – fresh if possible
2 sprigs of thyme
2 cloves garlic chopped
½ - 1 tsp Spanish hot smoked paprika – depending on how hot it is
400g chickpeas drained
150ml tap water
180g pancetta/ lardons
150g spinach

Cook the onion in the olive oil with a pinch of salt until soft and sweet, about 8 minutes. Add the diced carrot and celery, bay leaves and thyme, stir and cook until softened, about 10 mins, season with salt and pepper. Brown the bacon in a separate pan, until turning crispy and brown around the edges. Add the bacon, paprika and garlic to the carrot mix after the 10 minutes.

This is the paprika I use... It is really smoky and hot and delicious. I don't know where I got it from which isn't much help, sorry...

Now leave to cook until really golden and soft and sticky, another 10/15 minutes. When the mix has turned caramelly and sweet add the drained chickpeas and water, leave to heat through for 5 minutes. Then add the spinach and stir through until wilted...

Serve with a warmed pitta, or a homemade flour tortilla, perhaps a dollop of plain yoghurt or sweet cumin yoghurt. You can add 200g of diced chestnuts at the same time as the bacon and paprika if you want, this turns the dish into a sweeter and thicker stew. Both are really good...

Perhaps later this year I will have grown my own carrots, onions, celery, spinach and garlic... I don't know how chickpeas grow, so will have to look into that one, it is perhaps a little cold in Newcastle I suspect. I planted some carrot seeds last year, quite a few of them, but not one ever appeared, so I may need to work on my skills somewhat...

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Dark chocolate, chestnut and almond torte

I found this recipe on The Salad Club blog when I was looking for a way to use up chestnuts and produce a pudding at the same time. I made some tiny changes and it turned out really lovely and is still good a week later... It is rich and chocolatey, yet light and lemony, with velvety chestnut chunks.

Pre heat the oven to 150 celcius and butter your cake tin. Ideally you would roast your own chestnuts and shell them... but those vacuum packed ones are really good and easy.

Put a packet of chestnuts in a pan of milk and simmer for 10-15 minutes. The milk that is left after this process smells and tastes amazing, but the recipe doesn't use it, so I definitely need to think of something good to do with it...

While the chestnuts are simmering chop up a large bar of 70% dark chocolate, I used Green and Blacks, and a 100g packet of blanched almonds. They are actually better if chunky, so you don't need to put too much effort in...

Cream 125g of unsalted butter and 200g of caster sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy. Then seperate five eggs and beat the yolks into the butter and sugar one at a time. Keep the whites as they need to go in later.

Next chop up the drained soft milky chestnuts, keep them chunky, like the chocolate and almonds. Add them all to the mixture. Grate in the zest of a whole lemon too.

Whisk the egg whites until they stand up in gentle peaks, I did it by hand and it wasn't as awful as I thought, but obviously an electric whisk makes it easier. When done fold about a quarter of them into the mix, to get it going, then mix in the rest. Be gentle to keep the air in...

Pour the mix into your cake tin and put it in the oven for 40-45 minutes. Take it out when it's done and allow it to totally cool. Break up another bar of dark chocolate and melt it in a pan with a tablespoon of butter. When it's all melted spread it over the torte and it will dry into a rich chocolatey shell. It is maybe more cake than torte, although I did serve it as a pudding after dinner. I don't think you should have cake as pudding generally, but I think this was borderline and no one complained that much...

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Salt and pepper squid

For a tasty little starter this is really lovely. Ideally pop to North Shields fish quay to pick up the squid, but today it was Byker Morrison's... as time just didn't allow, and we'd already been to the Cumberland Arms for a drink...

The squid need to be cleaned and the insides and cartilage removed... Hold the head and tenticles in one hand and the body in the other, pull in different directions until separate. Cut the tenticles off at the beak, just below the eyes, and throw away the head and everything else attached. Pull the cartilage, a little tranparent quill, out of the body and throw it away. Turn the body inside out and rinse it to clean off anything left. Cut it cross ways into a series of rings and dry them off with some kitchen roll.

Sprinkle a pile of plain flour into a bowl and add a chopped chilli, and a good pinch of salt flakes and pepper. I used a whole red chilli for two quite big squid.

Toss the tenticles and rings of squid in the flour and chilli mixture, until coated all over and ready to go. You'll need to use a vegetable or corn oil to fry them, olive oil doesn't get hot enough. Heat up the oil in a shallow pan or frying pan until really hot and then throw in the squid a few at a time, until lovely and crispy.

Scoop them into a bowl, sprinkle some chopped coriander over the top and dive in with fingers or forks.