Saturday, January 31, 2009

Smoked trout and leek fritatta

Another busy week over. I've barely set foot in my kitchen and when I have, I've been pretty exhausted and cooked virtually nothing of note. Pasta. Sausages. Jacket potatoes. I've been away travelling with work again this week (Liverpool, Harrogate and Dorchester) and am hugely relived to find that I finally have a weekend at home in London with very few plans. No plans might sound dull but, at the moment, to me it sounds like heaven.

At lunchtime I finally got into the kitchen to make something a little more interesting than the convenient comfort food I've been indulging in all week. A while back I saw a recipe for a smoked trout and leek frittata in a magazine which stuck in my mind. I can't quite remember what else went into the recipe, but my version today seemed to work pretty well. I ate it hot with a peppery salad but think it would pack well to take to work for a cold lunch during the week too. Great for picnics too once the weather warms up!

Smoked trout and leek frittata
Serves 2-3


3 large eggs (preferably free-range, organic)
2 heaped tbsp half-fat creme fraiche
1 teaspoon horseradish cream/sauce
125g hot smoked trout
2 medium leeks
small handful baby potatoes
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
Knob of butter

1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender (around 15 minutes). Cut into halves or quarters depending on size.

2. While the potatoes are boiling, finely slice the leeks and steam for around 5 minutes. Rinse under cold water and squeeze to get rid of excess water.

3. Crack eggs into a bowl and lightly beat or whisk together with the creme fraiche, horseradish and chives. Flake in the smoked trout, add the leeks and season with a little salt and plenty of pepper.

4. Pre-heat the grill to high. Take a smallish-medium non-stick saucepan and melt a knob of butter. Add the potatoes and then pour oven the eggy mixture. Cook on a medium heat for around ten minutes, until the frittata is starting to firm up nicely.

5. Place pan under the hot grill and cook for another ten minutes, until the top is evenly brown and the frittata is just set. Remove from oven and turn out onto a serving dish. Alternatively, wait until cold and wrap in foil.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Moroccan rack of lamb

Another busy week sweeps by. Exeter, Cheltenham, London. Back to living out of a suitcase and having too little time in my little kitchen. When I'm on the road I look forward to trying out restaurants around the country but part of me would almost always rather be cooking for myself, pottering gently in the kitchen.

Last week I had friends for dinner and discovered to my delight that my freezer was hiding a couple of racks of lamb. I think that rack of lamb is one of my favourite things to eat - a little pink (not too much so) and wonderfully succulent and juicy, each little cutlet of sweet meat is deeply satisfying to me.

Until recently, I always cooked lamb fairly traditionally - with herbs such as rosemary and thyme, sliver of garlic, perhaps the odd anchovy. I've been experimenting more though and love the way lamb works so brilliantly with spices - particularly north African spices.
Harissa is a staple in my fridge. For me, this slightly smoky, aromatic chilli-based paste is just made to go with lamb. Occasionally I smear it over lamb chops and pop them under the grill for a speedy yet flavour-packed weeknight supper, but this dish is an altogether more special affair. I served it for friends when they came over last week and heaped the orange and carrot flecked couscous into the centre of a huge serving platter and then arranged the cutlets all around the edge. It was a lovely centrepiece to bring to the table (...though I forgot to take any photos, of course). Best of all perhaps is that whilst this looks impressive, it is actually very easy to make. You simply mix the marinade ingredients together, smear them over the lamb and throw it all in the oven. The accompanying couscous can be thrown together whilst the lamb is resting.

Moroccan-spiced rack of lamb with couscous
Adapted from
a BBC Good Food recipe
Serves 2 (easily doubled or halved)


1 rack of lamb with 6-8 cutlets depending on size
5 tbsp olive oil
1 heaped tablespoon of harissa paste
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp tumeric
big bunch fresh coriander, chopped
juice of half a lemon
2 carrots
4 small shallots
100g couscous
150ml hot vegetable stock
1 small orange
handful flat-leaf parsley
50g flaked almonds

1. Pre-heat oven to 200C. Score the fat on the back of the lamb racks, season and place fat-down in a baking tray. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tbsp of the oil, the harissa, cumin, tumeric, paprika and a small handful of the fresh coriander (reserve another large handful for later). Add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt and stir well to combine. Rub and pour this mixture all over the lamb racks.

2. Chop the carrots and shallots into rough chunks, drizzle with oil, season with salt and pepper and shake to coat. Put both the lamb and the veggies in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Timing will depend on size of racks and also how well you like your meat done. To give you an idea, those in the photographs were in for 25 minutes. Keep an eye on the veg - you want them nicely roasted.

3. Remove lamb and veg from oven and leave lamb to rest on a warm plate while you assemble the couscous. Boil the kettle to make you stock, or heat up stock you already have. Pour over the couscous, place a clean tea-towel on top and leave for five minutes. Fluff the couscous up with a fork and add remaining 3 tbsp of olive oil, the orange juice, carrots and shallots. Chop a large handful of flat-lea parsley and coriander and throw in - season and stir the lot together.

4. Cut the lamb into individual cutlets. Divide couscous between each plate and top with the cutlets. Scatter over the flaked almonds and then dig in!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Banana flapjacks

Just spent the most heavenly weekend in Edinburgh. Having studied and lived there for five years, it is very much 'home from home' for me. Highlights of the utterly relaxing weekend were walking in the last of the afternoon light on the beach at Yellowcraigs, an outstandingly good burger at the farm shop at Fenton Barns, a wet and wild walk round Arthur's Seat and red wine and newspapers on Sunday afternoon. It was great to catch up with good friends - the distance makes it all too rare.

Just before I went, I spotted that the bananas that I received as part of the great organic fruit and veg box I received last week from Abel and Cole were in need of using up. Usually I opt for banana cake or banana muffins, but I thought I'd try something new this time around. When life give you rapidly browning bananas.... Make banana flapjacks!

These seemed to go down extremely well at work. I wasn't 100% convinced at first - they aren't quite as sticky as the usual flapjacks that I make. One colleague commented that they tasted 'quite healthy' (which is perhaps why I wasn't totally convinced!). I decided not to ruin her good intentions by sharing with her the amount of butter, sugar and syrup that goes into a decent flapjack. In any case, these really grew on me and would be an excellent addition to a packed lunch. For those who like the combination of chocolate and banana, I dare say these wouldn't be bad with a few chocolate drops stirred into the mixture.

The recipe comes from a little book from BBC Good Food called
'101 Cakes and Bakes'. It is rather a good book filled with all kinds of scrumptious treats.

Banana Flapjacks
Makes approx 18

5oz butter
4oz light soft brown sugar
2 heaped tbsp golden syrup
12oz porridge oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
2 medium very ripe bananas

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a brownie tin/swiss roll tin (9 x 13 inch).

2. Melt the butter, syrup and sugar in a large saucepan, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and stir in the oats, spices and baking powder, plus a pinch of salt. Stir everything together until all the oats are nicely coated in the sticky, buttery mixture.

3. Peel and mash bananas and add to mixture. Stir to combine.

4. Scrape mixture into the prepared tin and spread out. I use a potato masher to flatten the top.

5. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the edges are just starting to shrink away from edge of tin and turn a little brown. The mixture should feel a little firm.

6. Transfer tin to wire rack and cut into bars whilst still hot (it will be almost impossible once they are cold). Leave to cool in the tin before easing each slice out with a palette knife.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Beef and parsnip casserole

Last year I subscribed to an organic veg box scheme and really enjoyed the weekly seasonal produce delivered to my door by the friendly Abel and Cole driver. I enjoyed the challenge of creating new dishes each week to make use of the lovely produce. I loved the fact that I could tell them that I didn't like fennel and to be sure to leave it out of my box always. I liked the fact that if I had lots of leftover oranges, I could say 'don't bring me any oranges this week'. I liked the fact that I could top my box up with 'favourite' items and more unusual vegetables.

Towards the end of the year I stopped my weekly deliveries. It was a sad day but there were good reasons for it. I live on my own and my movements are unpredictable. One week I'll be here all week, the next I'll be travelling for work and the next I'll think that I'm going to be in but then I'll end up meeting friends for dinner/going out/having people round. The problem was that I simply couldn't get through all the fruit and veg, especially when I was away. Even with the smallest box, there was too much waste and I didn't always have the time to do something productive with the waste. So, reluctantly, I gave up on the box scheme.

Imagine my delight when I was contacted to ask if I'd like to receive a fruit and veg box from Abel and Cole. I scheduled it for a week when I knew I'd be in most nights and was excited when I opened it last Friday to see what was within. I got a good mix of great looking produce: white onions, carrots, parsnips, white cabbage, apples, oranges, bananas, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms. A good and useful haul of staples.

I've used most of the contents in general cooking over the week but on Monday, I realised that the parsnips needed using up. Usually, I roast parsnips and serve them alongside a Sunday roast but on this occasion I decided to incorporate them into a casserole to take to work for lunches this week. It is so good to have hot food for lunch at work at this time of year and we all know that casserole improves with time. The parsnips added much to this very simple casserole - the flavour seeped agreeably through the stew and was deeply comforting. It really was very delicious and used three of my veg box ingredients: onions, carrots and parsnips!

It was also a great excuse to use the gorgeous heart-shaped Le Creuset baking dish that I received for Christmas from my work colleagues. Thank you!!

I've been quite vague about quantities - I didn't weigh the veg and just used what I had to hand. I've said the recipe serves four - it could probably go a little further if you had lots of sides. I was having it for lunch at work on its own so probably ate more than I would with potatoes and veg alongside.

Coming next: banana flapjacks!

Beef and parsnip casserole
Serves four


700g cubed beef steak, suitable for stewing
3 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tablespoon soft dark sugar
3 large parsnips (or 5 small ones!)
3 carrots
4 shallots or 2 medium onions
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 large glass good red wine (not week-old dregs)
300ml beef stock
a few glugs of dark soy sauce
bay leaf
bouquet garni

1. Pre-heat oven to 160C. Sprinkle the flour, sugar and ginger over the meat and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat in batches in a olive oil. After each batch, remove with slotted spoon and set to one side.

2. Peel carrots and parsnips and chop into rough chunks. Chop shallots or onions into rough chunks too. Heat a little more olive oil in the casserole and add the onions - soften for 3-4 minutes and then add garlic, carrots and parsnips. Continue to sauté until the parsnips and carrots have started to colour.

3. Return meat to the casserole. Turn up heat and pour in the wine - sizzle and bubble for a couple of minutes, then add soy sauce, bay leaf and herbs. Pour stock over the top until meat is just covered (you may not need it all or you may need a touch more). Pop in the oven for around two hours - check every now and again and give a little stir. Add more stock if it is drying out.

4. Serve with jacket potatoes or mash and a green vegetable. Alternatively, pack into plastic containers and take to work for lunch with a crusty roll.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Baked rhubarb sponge

I'm continuing full steam ahead on the 'comforting' theme. All those on New Year detox diets should look away now.

There is nothing like a good British pudding (by which,
to save confusion, I mean simply 'dessert' and not necessarily a creamy one or indeed one steamed in a pudding basin). I adore all the classics - bread and butter pudding, jam roly-poly, Queen of puddings, apple crumble, sticky toffee pudding. All are simply divine. Faced with a dessert menu in the fanciest of restaurants I'm predictable - I'll usually go for the classic British treat over the fanciful creamy concoction. And then I'll usually be disappointed because the chefs in these fancy restaurants have come over all clever and rather than give me a simple apple crumble and custard, they've given me some apple sorbet with a crunchy granola topping. Or something equally offensive. In my favourite restaurants, the chefs know better than to mess with a good thing.

This isn't exactly a classic British pud, but many Brits may have come across in their youth. A version of this was a highlight when it appeared on the menu in the school canteen. What we have here is a light, moist sponge with a crispy, sugary top, hiding a layer of soft fruit. Most usually, this was apple. And it was called
Eve's pudding. This version uses the first of the brightly pink forced rhubarb and begs for lashings of custard.

I spotted the recipe for the dish in one of my favourite cook books: Annie Bell's Gorgeous Desserts. I followed her basic recipe but made a few tweaks. I love the combination of ginger with rhubarb, so rather than flavour the sponge with lemon, I added a little ground ginger and cinnamon. I also grated a little orange zest over the rhubarb and cut down on the sugar added to the rhubarb.

This is best served hot, straight from the oven but I found myself quite happy picking at it the next day once it has cooled.

Baked rhubarb sponge
Serves 6 (8 at a push)


600g forced rhubarb
325g golden caster sugar
1 orange - finely grated zest only
225g unsalted butter
225g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 eggs
100ml milk
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Chop rhubarb into 2cm lengths and toss with 100g of the sugar. Arrange over the base of a large ovenproof dish (2 litre capacity). Finely grate the orange over the rhubarb.

2. Take 2 tablespoons of the remaining sugar and set to one side.

3. Dice the butter and cream together with the sugar until light and fluffy - use a food processor if you have one. Add the eggs gradually and mix in - don't worry if it curdles - just add a tablespoon of the flour.

4. Mix the flour with the baking powder and spices and mix slowly into the the wet mixture. Gradually add the milk and mix to a smooth cake batter. N.B. Annie Bell suggests you pop all the sponge ingredients in at once and blitz in the processor. I only read this after I'd made it the traditional way.

5. Pour and scrape the cake mixture on top of the rhubarb and smooth over the top. Sprinkle over the reserved 2 tablespoons of sugar and bake for 40 minutes.

6. When it is ready, it should be crispy and browned on top. Dish up and serve with lashings of custard!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Game casserole with cider and sage

Finally reached the end of the first week back at work post-Christmas. The week seems to have crawled by at a snail's pace and I'm so relieved that the weekend is here. It is snowing again and far from craving the light, salady dishes that seem to be plastered across the pages of every New Year cookery magazine or recipe supplement, I'm after hearty and wholesome dishes. The New Year detox is something I've never understood - it is just too miserable to contemplate at this chilly time of year. At least that's my excuse.

Comfort is what I crave. And what could provide more comfort than flavourful casserole? Meat cooked slowly with onions, vegetables, stock and herbs - simplicity itself both to cook and eat.

Whilst many have been distressed by the
disappearance of Woolworths from our high streets. I'm afraid to report that I've secretly been rather delighted. Not that I had anything against Woolies. Just that my local branch has been replaced by a shiny new Waitrose. I can't tell you how happy this up-market supermarket makes me. Everything is just so... nice. Even me. I feel like a nicer person when I'm shopping in Waitrose. Isn't it shameful? The bad news is that my shopping bills have rocketed. Not very credit crunch friendly.

Anyway, amongst the lovely things on sale at Waitrose I found some packs of mixed game ready for casseroling. They contain a mix of pheasant, partridge, mallard and pigeon. I remembered that my mother had mentioned
a Waitrose recipe she'd tried last year for a casserole with cider and sage and so decided that a game casserole would be the perfect winter warmer to cook for a friend that came over for supper last night.

I looked the recipe up online and thought it seemed a bit strange as it had no onion/vegetable base. I decided that shallots and a little celery would be good additions and then decided that a few smoked bacon lardons would also add more depth to the dish. The result? A very tasty, hearty dish which really hit the spot on a wintery night. Served simply with jacket potatoes, carrots and peas it was unfussy and easy to prepare - it would be ideal for feeding a crowd of friends, particularly as it can be made in advance and re-heated when required. As with most casseroles, the flavour will improve on keeping!

If you aren't blessed by being within walking distance of a Waitrose (!), most butchers will sell mixed game for casseroles. Alternatively, this would work just as well with diced pheasant.

Game casserole with cider and sage
Based on
this recipe from Waitrose
Serves 4-6


700g mixed game, diced into 1 inch cubes (pheasant/pigeon/partridge/mallard or similar)
3 tbsp plain flour
5 shallots
1 stick celery
100g smoked bacon lardons or pancetta
good handful of fresh sage
250ml good quality chicken stock
250ml good quality cider
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
fresh parsley (optional)

1. Boil the kettle. Place unpeeled shallots in a jug. Pour water over the shallots and leave for a minute. Drain and peel. Chop each shallot in half, along the natural divide. Finely chop the celery.

2. Heat olive oil in a large casserole and add the shallots. Fry for a minute or so on a fairly high heat until starting to colour then add the celery and bacon and turn the heat down a little so that the shallots continue to sweat without colouring further. After 4-5 minutes when the shallots are softening, remove with a slotted spoon and set to one side.

3. Sprinkle flour over the meat and season with pepper and a little salt (go easy on the salt as both stock and bacon will be salty). Brown the meat in batches in the casserole over a high heat. Remove and set to one side with the onions. Once all the meat is browned, return the lot to the pan with the shallots/bacon and celery.

4. Chop the sage and add to pan. Stir and cook for a minute or so.

5. Pour over the cider and stock and bring to the boil. Turn heat down to a simmer, add a lid and cook for around 45 minutes. Alternatively, you could pop this in the oven at 180C for the same time or at a lower heat for longer if you have time.

6. Once cooked, remove casserole from heat and stir in the creme fraiche. Sprinkle with chopped parsley if you have it and serve!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Pea and lettuce soup with bacon crumbs

I felt faintly ridiculous this morning as my train pulled into Stevenage station and jolted me awake. It was snowing. Heavily.

As others trampled through the fluffy white stuff in their 'sensible' boots and shoes, shielded by large umbrellas, I teetered along umbrella-less in foolish shoes. One of the perils of a two hour commute is that I'm invariably dressed for the wrong sort of day. Upon leaving London at 7am it was dark and ever-so-slightly icy. At 9am in Stevenage there was a blizzard. You'd think that by now I would have learnt the lesson and ensure I was permanently equipped with umbrella/wellies/sunglasses/layers so that I'd be prepared for every eventuality. Some people never learn.

What with the wind whipping round my ankles, I was pleased when it got to lunchtime and I had something hot to eat rather than the usual sandwich. These cold days call out for steaming bowls of soup or plates of comforting stew. I plan to be making many more soups this month to take with me to work. Which brings me neatly onto this very tasty offering which was introduced to me last week by my mother.

My passion for peas verges on the fanatical. To be honest it is faintly embarrassing. Sadly though, a good pea soup recipe has been for some time lacking in my life. You see almost all pea soup recipes contain mint. And I loathe mint. Almost as much as I love peas. What's the problem? I hear you ask. Just leave the mint out. I've tried that but I've always felt that the finished product was somehow... lacking. That it needed a little something extra.

Fortunately my mother came to the rescue (...or rather one of the magazines that comes with the Sunday papers did - not sure which one...). I'm not sure if it is the lettuce or the bacon crumbs that lifts this soup from the ordinary but whatever it is, it works for me.

As with most soups, it is a cinch to make. We made this with cream but, to be honest, I thought it was completely delicious before the addition of the cream. I'm not convinced that it is necessary. And at this time of year when most of us could do without the extra calories, that can only be good news! You'll also see that the recipe uses water rather than stock. It was perfectly delicious with plain water but it you wanted to inject more flavour then you could use stock.

Pea and lettuce soup
(courtesy of one of the Sunday colour supplements!)
Serves 6

8 spring onions
1 garlic clove
2 little gem lettuces
50g butter
600g frozen peas (or spanking fresh ones, shelled)
1 litre water (or stock)
breadcrumbs made from 3-4 slices of bread
100g pancetta or smoky bacon
200ml double cream (optional)

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add finely chopped spring onions and garlic and sweat gently for around 3 minutes.

2. Slice the lettuces into small pieces and add to the pan along with the peas. Pour over 1 litre of water. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

3. Whilst the soup is simmering fry the pancetta until crisp along with the breadcrumbs - use a little extra fat if necessary. Chop very finely so you have crispy crumbs of bacon and breadcrumbs.

4. When the soup is ready, whizz with a stick blender or in a liquidizer. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the cream (if using) and stir to combine. Taste again and adjust seasoning as necessary.

5. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle a generous pinch of bacon crumbs in the centre.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

2008 seems to have whizzed by faster than a fast whizzy thing and I am finding it a little hard to believe that here we are again, toasting in another New Year. Although I nipped back to London to celebrate with friends, I'm now back on the Isle of Wight enjoying the final night of my hibernation. I'm trying not to think about the fact that tomorrow I'll be heading back to town to the grit and grime of the daily commute. Quite a contrast with the quiet, peaceful beauty that can be found here...

The passing of the year is a time to reflect, but also to look forward. Food-wise, 2008 was an exciting year in the kitchen for me. I cooked many things for the first time and been more experimental than ever before in the kitchen (bearing in mind that I'm essentially a fairly traditional cook). In 2009 I hope the trend will continue and I have a few culinary resolutions which I'm going to share with you alongside the highlights of last year.

I'm starting with ice-cream. Though I received my ice-cream maker in 2007, it was in 2008 that I really started to get to grips with it and discover just how good (and easy) homemade ice-cream can be. The texture is completely different to store-bought and I'm not sure I'll ever be satisfied with the latter again (...unless it is Ben and Jerry's cookie dough flavour). My favourite of 2008 has to be this rhubarb and ginger version. Just divine.

Resolution for 2009: make more homemade ice-cream.

My next highlight involves a moveable feast. I just love the way the British are so very... British about the weather. Cold winds and torrential rain couldn't dampen the spirits at either of the outdoor events I attended this summer. It is without question that food always tastes better outdoors and in good company. I was particularly pleased to present my favourite summer pudding as the dessert when I went to Glyndebourne for the first time. The picnic situation at this spectacular opera event is quite hilarious - some even bring their own butlers, candelabras and table centres to their picnics. But everyone look on with envy as I turned out the perfect summer pudding (transported in the pudding basin) and then dusted the top with icing sugar (having also packed a small sieve). There is nothing like a little dramatic flourish to lift the rain-soaked spirits!

Resolution for 2009: never mind the weather, more al fresco dining.

The next highlight for me has to be the epiphany I had as regards the broad bean. I'm not planning to go on about it (you can read it all here), but let's just say that I'm glad I gave them another chance.

Resolution for 2009: learn to love lentils (...or at least try)

The final item which gets special mention is my lovely lemony birthday cake. Not only was this the first item I mixed in my new Kenwood mixer (love at first sight), but it stands here for the huge enjoyment I get from baking. I've always enjoyed baking but it has become a real passion this year. Only problem is that I've as yet been totally unable to master bread baking. Which leads me neatly onto...

Resolution for 2009: learn to bake good bread

I could continue with highlights (lunch at
Fifteen in Cornwall, my mother's chilled avocado soup, running the British Food Fortnight Challenge,rhubarb pavlova and new weeknight favourite smoked mackerel fishcakes), but I won't. There are just too many.

I do have one more resolution though which is to be better at making my own lunch to take to work. It might sound like an easy one but for me it is quite a challenge - I can never be bothered to do it yet I always regret it. I am however planning to start afresh in 2009 and declare it the year of the packed lunch. I'd welcome any ideas so that I can keep them varied!

'Normal' service will resume on Monday once I'm back in my own kitchen. Until then, a huge thank you to everyone who stops by my blog to read and comment. It is hugely appreciated. I wish everyone a very Happy New Year and much deliciousness in 2009!