Festive Couscous Salad to Ease You into Your New Year’s Resolutions….

IMG_0568Well here we are on the eve of New Year’s Eve and any minute now those New Year’s Resolutions to eat less, drink less, shop less etc etc will kick in. I am always a fan of easy does it in this regard as going cold turkey usually ends in failure even before the hangover has actually cleared.

We had this a few days ago as a bit of a palate clearer after the Christmas meatathon, enjoyable as always, but as we don’t eat a lot of meat in the normal course of a week, a little bit of something fishy, spicy and herby was fancied.

I am quite into the hot and cold salad together approach and this is just one of several I like to make. The warm prawn component rarely changes but the cold salad underneath is designed out of whatever is lurking in the cupboards and fridge. This one has a distinct Yotam Ottolenghi feel to it. Hardly surprising really…..

You will need (for 2) for the couscous salad:  120g Giant Couscous (or the regular stuff) cooked according to the packet instructions, so boiled in water for 10 minutes for the giant and steeped in boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes for the regular stuff, then we are into a pinch of this and that territory, so some Pumpkin Seeds, some Poppy Seeds and some Pine Nuts, all toasted, some Cucumber, cubed, some Cherry Tomatoes, halved, some Olives, some Sultanas or Dried Blueberries, 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a squeeze of Lemon Juice from ½ a Lemon, 2 tbsp each of chopped fresh Mint and Flat Leaf Parsley, a pinch of Salt and some Black Pepper

Combine everything once the couscous and seeds are cool. Stir around and drizzle the oil and lemon juice over. Add the seasoning to taste. Of course other things like avocados, red pepper, dried apricots could be added too. Leave to sit and infuse whilst you cook the prawns.

For the warm Prawn Salad (serves 2): a 250g packet of Frozen Raw King Prawns, defrosted, 2 cloves of Garlic, peeled and chopped, a pinch of Dried Chilli Flakes, juice of ½ a Lemon, a splash of White Wine (optional), 2 tbsp of Fresh Coriander, chopped, a tbsp of Olive Oil, Salt and Black Pepper.

Into a medium-sized frying pan over a moderate heat add the oil, garlic and chilli, stir round for a minute or two and then add the prawns, wine, lemon juice and season a little, stir fry for 5 minutes or so until the prawns have thoroughly turned pink and the liquid has reduced a little, add half the fresh coriander, stir round and then, having plated out the couscous salad, divide the prawns and their juices between the two plates. Garnish with the remainder of the coriander.

This is fantastic after all the rich food that is knocking around at this time. One feels extremely virtuous.

A very happy and peaceful New Year to all, thanks to all who follow, comment and read and see you in 2013 I hope! x

Tagine Inspired Shepherd’s Pie and Word about a Christmas Workshop

Just before we get into the nuts and bolts of a Moroccan style Shepherd’s Pie, I am going to make a little announcement:

For those who are resident in Wiltshire (realistically,) although anyone is welcome I am running my second ‘Decorate your own Christmas Cake Workshop‘ on the 14th December 2012. We won’t be tackling anything quite like this ‘Night before Christmas’ Cake just yet, but you will have something to wow your family.

It will begin at 9.45am and run through until around 3pm. Bring your own cake, un-iced, and your lunch. It will cost £25 plus the cost of the decorating ingredients, contact me via the messaging service in Facebook (see the side bar and click through).

Last year we managed this↓ (not sure why the background is so dark, perhaps it was about to snow!)

Anyway, on with the latest recipe. This is something concocted some years ago for Bonfire Night, the sweet heat seemed appropriate for such an event. I have always been a fan of Tagine, but find the soupy, stew-y nature of it a little unsatisfying in the depths of winter, so I came up with the following (serves 4):

You will need for the meat sauce:

800g Lamb Mince, 1 large Onion, 2 cloves of Garlic, crushed, Olive Oil, 2cm piece of fresh Ginger, grated, a pinch of Chilli Flakes, 2 tsp Paprika, 2 tsp Cumin, ½ Cinnamon stick or ½ tsp Ground Cinnamon, ½ Red Pepper, ½ Yellow Pepper (or a whole Pepper of one colour instead), 100g Ready to eat Apricots, roughly chopped, 1 tbsp Runny Honey, 2 tbsp Fresh Coriander or Flat Leaf Parsley Chopped, 2 tsp Tomato Puree, a slug of Red Wine (optional), Salt, Pepper.

For the Mashed Potato topping:

800g to 1kg of potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed with butter, a tiny slug of milk, salt and pepper in the usual way.

Quite an ingredients list for this! But it is well worth it. Peel the potatoes and set them on the hob to boil and then simmer in salted water as usual. Keep and eye on them as you start the meat sauce, once tender, drain, add the butter, milk and seasoning and mash. You want quite a dry mixture, not too sloppy here as the meat sauce is quite saucy!

Meanwhile, fry off the lamb in a frying pan to remove the excess fat and heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the onion until transparent and soft, then add the garlic and stir round for a minute or two along with the ginger and chilli flakes. Transfer the lamb with a draining spoon to the onion mixture and then add all the other sauce ingredients apart from the fresh coriander or parsley. Add around 300ml boiling water until you have a sauce type consistency. Allow the whole lot to come to the boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes whilst the potatoes are cooking. Stir the meat sauce from time to time and add a little more water as necessary so that the mixture does not dry out and towards the end of the cooking time add the fresh herbs, you want to maintain some liquid at all times.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C, decant the meat sauce into an ovenproof dish and top with the potato, spread the topping around with the back of a fork to completely cover the sauce. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping has crispy tinges and you can hear or see the sauce bubbling underneath…..

This one in the picture was made with part regular, part sweet potato as the topping which is very good too.

Tempted by a Tomatillo? Only if they are Curried.

Tomatillo? What’s that I here you cry… Well the official answer is the Mexican relative of a cape gooseberry and here are some examples:

Now I know they look under ripe and not very tempting, but after a couple of weeks of experimenting due to their arrival in our veg box, I think I might have the measure of them.

We started off trying them raw in a salad, always a good place to start I think. They are fairly hard and quite sour so whilst that was fine, we moved on to incorporating them in a guacamole style salsa to go with a chilli.

Now that worked really well: into a bowl combine some chopped avocado and equal quantities of chopped tomato and tomatillo. Mash together a little and add some chopped coriander and a little salt and pepper. The sourness of the tomatillos removes the need for lime juice.

Then last night I thought they might work well in a curry and so made my version of Cornish Chicken Curry. Cornish Chicken Curry!! What can be Cornish about Mexican fruits or Indian Curry. Ah well, Cornish Chicken Curry is by definition a dish of ‘using up stuff’ and what do we all have half a jar of in the fridge? A jar of curry paste, along with a few bits and pieces of veg which are looking long past their sell by date and the omnipresent store cupboard staple, a tin of tomatoes.

So this version of the curry went something like this (for 4): fry off a couple of smallish thinly sliced onions in a slug of oil for 5 minutes or so until soft and then add 2 cloves of chopped garlic, a sliced green chilli and 1 cm or 2 of grated fresh ginger. Stir all that around for 2 or 3 minutes, add some diced chicken (around 400-500g) and stir frequently until the chicken has coloured on all sides and then add a couple of tablespoons of curry paste, the tomato based ones work best like Balti or Rogan Josh. Add a diced pepper, 5 or 6 chopped tomatillos and any other veg you fancy, a tin of tomatoes and a cup of water, allow to come to the boil and simmer until the chicken and veg are cooked through. Season if required and serve with rice. The tomatillos again give a lovely sharp tang to the dish and do retain their form like peppers, a real winner.

Chicken curry essentially all looks the same so I haven’t taken a picture of that, but here’s the salad we tried: baby beetroot, potato, smoked salmon, samphire, dill and goat’s cheese. The tomatillos were superfluous frankly but the rest was nice enough. Top with a sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds.

More from the Unloved Vegetables: Stir Fried Kale with Leeks and Garlic

I feel I should start with an apology; I promised pumpkin cupcakes last week for this weeks blog post, however we are moving into fruit cake baking season and my oven could do with deep clean. I have decided to try the bicarbonate of soda route which is in fact a longish process taking a few days. I am uncertain as yet whether it will truly work but am hopeful as ‘Mr Muscle’ seems to be loosing his mojo and you have to put up with that dreadful smell. So baking is currently on hold which is fine but this process has pushed any cupcakes off the agenda for now.

So I am returning to a favourite topic, the unloved vegetables.

Kale really is a bit of a nightmare: bitter, tough, always seems to come in large quantities, the cooking possibilities seem few and far between. I don’t believe there is much point in pretending is possible to convert it into a undiscovered gem of a vegetable, but in terms of bulking dishes out and using it up over throwing it out I do have a few ideas up my sleeves.

Stir Fry Kale with Leeks and Garlic

This is an accompaniment type dish, good with things like pies or roasts. Take a washed trimmed leek and slice quite thinly, heat a slug of olive oil and a similar slug of garlic oil in a medium-sized frying pan and add the leek, stir around for 5 minutes or so, until soft and then add the washed and chopped kale having removed the thick central stems. Stir around for 5 to 10 minutes until the kale has wilted and softened. It takes on a ‘wet’ appearance. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and season with a little salt. The leek adds a sweetness to the proceedings which frankly is much needed.

Kale New Potato and Blue Cheese Pizza topping

I am assuming that you are making pizza here  so rustle up a Margherita and then add sliced, cooked new potatoes, chopped, wilted, drained and dried kale and diced blue cheese (Dolcelatte, Stilton, Danish Blue whatever you like) and bake for 10 minutes or so. Now this really is delicious.

I will come back to making pizza a some other point.

Sweetcorn and Chilli Oil

Finally, a cute little food marriage with the corn on the cob season upon us, boil or BBQ your corn on the cob and then instead of adding butter, drizzle chilli oil instead. It’s fantastic!

Mediterranean Chicken Stew

Quite honestly this could be called Mediterranean Hunter’s Stew as rabbit would work just as well, almost better perhaps, in terms of authentic-ness. These hearty tomato based dishes are fabulous and with the very average weather we are having here, just the job.

This one is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe which features in his book: Jamie’s Italy. But the basis of it can be found in any substantial book on Italian food or French for that matter. On the subject of Jamie Oliver, I am a fan of his recipes, preferring the earlier stuff (The Naked Chef) and the travel writing. He feels as bit overexposed to me at the moment, but I love his energy and the endless stream of ideas that he acts upon.

Serves 6

2 kg of Chicken pieces, preferably on the bone and skin on, Salt and Pepper, 8 Bay Leaves, 2 Sprigs of Rosemary, 2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled, ½ bottle of Italian, French or Spanish Red Wine, Flour, Olive Oil, 6 Anchovy Fillets, a tin of Fragata Lemon Stuffed Olives, 2 tins of Tomatoes ultimately chopped, zest of a Lemon, 2 small or 1 large Fennel Bulb, sliced, 5-10g dried Porcini Mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes in boiling water.

OK, so a least an hour before you plan to start cooking this marinate the meat in a large bowl with the wine, seasoning, bay leaves, rosemary and garlic. Cover and pop in the fridge.

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160-165°C. Drain the chicken, retain the marinade, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place on a plate and sprinkle with flour to absorb any residual liquid.
  • In a large casserole (Le Crueset) add 2-3 tbsp of Oil and fry off the meat pieces, a few at a time, over a moderate heat until lightly browned on the surface all over, transfer to a new plate before adding the next batch to the pan.
  • Once all the pieces are browned add a little more oil to the casserole and gently fry the fennel slices for a minute or two and then once they are tinged brown at the edges, return the meat pieces  to the casserole along with the marinade, anchovy fillets, olives, tomatoes, and the soaked but drained porcini mushrooms.
  • Bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours for the chicken, but if you are adventurous enough to try rabbit it may take up to 2 hours.
  • When you think you are nearly done, remove from the oven, skim off any fat and remove the bay leaves and rosemary sprigs. Then check the seasoning and add the lemon zest. Return to the oven for 5 more minutes.

Serve with bread and salad, beans or Jacket potatoes. Yummy.

Fragata Olives are the tins of olives from Spain which are readily available in supermarkets, but any olives will do, a good handful.

Lemon Scented Butter Bean Dip

Anyone who has been following this blog for longer than a couple of posts will probably be aware that I am a sucker for all things Italian. This apparently now extends to the persuasive powers of Italian men.

What can she mean? I hear you cry.

Well it took a good friend of mine to point this out but the evidence appears to speak for itself. A few months ago Federico, the Italian Ski Instructor, persuaded me down half a dozen red runs which, until that point, I refused point-blank to attempt. Then last month Luciano, the Italian Dentist, cut through all the prevarication of the last 15 years and convinced me to have a front tooth bleached. This piece of dental work was scheduled for last week and I have been coping with a temporary filling ever since whilst he finesses his bleaching skills and attempts to brighten the offending tooth to skimmed milk colour like the tooth next door. (I think we are currently at whole milk colour).

The upshot of all this: mush to eat. Well not entirely but certainly not too much of a chewy quality to my food. So pea puree last week and a delicious dip today. It’s a good one though and refreshing in more ways than one if you are a little houmous-ed out.

You will need (serves 6-8): 1 Garlic clove, 1 420g can Butter Beans, drained, 3 tbsp smooth Peanut Butter (25% less fat varieties work here), juice and rind of a small Lemon, 5 tbsp Olive Oil plus a teaspoon more for drizzling, salt and pepper, a pinch of Paprika.

  • Place the peeled garlic clove in a saucepan and cover with 1-2 cms of recently boiled water and return to and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain.
  • Place the garlic, butter beans, peanut butter, lemon juice and rind and seasoning in a blender or food processor and blend until almost smooth.
  • Gradually add the 5 tbsp of olive oil with the motor running, and continue blending until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill.
  • Serve drizzled with Olive Oil, a few strands of lemon rind and a pinch of Paprika.

Good with breadsticks, vegetable crudities, pitta bread, all the usual suspects.

Grazie ragazzi!

N.B. Names changed to protect the innocent.

Dillicious Pea Puree with Roasted Salmon


Along with babies heads and bacon sandwiches, the smell of dill really does it for me. It seems to be impossible to grow it outdoors in the UK so when I open those packets of supermarket fresh dill, the pungent, aniseedy, aroma transports me back to Greek holidays: dry heat radiating from hot stone, Retsina and decaying vegetation. The Greeks in particular cook with dill a lot; it finds its way into stews, stuffings and salads rather like the way the Italians rely on basil.

This recipe has it’s roots in some Nigella recipe, and she called the following ‘mushy’ peas. I love mushy peas but this term seems a little harsh for such as delicious dish. Puree seems more onomatopoeic. It’s also a quick one. As usual serves 2.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C and prepare the required number of salmon fillets, for preference, skin on. Once up to temperature, place the salmon on an oiled baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and a little lemon juice and put in the center of the oven for around 15 minutes.

Meanwhile peel a clove of garlic and place in a saucepan. Cover with 2 cm of just boiled water, return to and allow to boil for 2 – 3 minutes. Remove the clove from the water and pop ½ of it in a mini chopper or blender. (This gives flavour without all the bitterness of raw garlic). Pour away the water and then top up with fresh and cook around 200g of petit pois in the usual way. Drain and add the peas to the mini chopper along with plenty of dill sprigs. It’s hard to quantify exactly but keep going until you think you have enough for your own taste. You do need more to impart the flavour than you think. 4 tbsp minimum I would say. Also add about a tablespoon of lemon juice and a good dessertspoon of anything from 0% fat Greek yoghurt through to full fat soured cream. Blend to give a fairly smooth puree and then check the seasoning. Remove the fish from the oven and serve up on plates with a good dollop of the pureed peas. Scale up of course if required.

Great as a dip for new potatoes either with the salmon or without and genuinely helps use up a bag of dill. It seems to be sold in rather generous quantities. Other ‘using up’ ideas would be stuffed into sandwiches with smoked salmon, lemon juice and black pepper and Fabulously Fine Filo Fish Pie.

There will be more dillights to come…

Peto Garden Risotto

The Gardens at Iford Manor were designed by Harold Peto. Harold Peto was strongly influenced by Italian gardens he had visited. I adore anything Italian. Therefore, I love the gardens at Iford Manor. Luckily for me Iford Manor is literally down the road.

I took some pictures on Easter Sunday, so around a month ago. Here are some of the best, it’s the easiest place to photograph, picturesque barely covers it but the light was as flat as a mill-pond so I’ve done what I can in Photoshop.

First off the architectural ones:

I like the strange leaded lights and the shadow the branch produces

Gorgeous embellishments

Loving the Loggia

The overriding smell was that of wild garlic that grew in such abundance that it flowed like a river in places and so that got me thinking about risotto as a perfect use for it.

Both wild garlic leaves or wet garlic which is like a giant spring onion can be used in following recipe and the flavour is subtle here not punchy, sharp and leaving you reaching for the mints.

Butternut Squash and Garlic Risotto (serves 2)

As is usual with these things begin by bringing 600ml of vegetable stock (use a stock cube) to simmering point in a saucepan on the back of the hob and then fry off a small to medium finely chopped onion in a large heavy bottomed saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Once transparent, add a sliced wet garlic bulb (prepare as you would a spring onion) if using and a finely chopped stick of celery. Stir that around for a minute or two and then add 200g of Arborio or Carnaroli risotto rice and stir again to coat the rice with the oil. Add a slug of white wine if you wish and then begin adding a ladle full or two of stock and stir regularly as the liquid is absorbed. Add half a chopped medium-sized butternut squash and some more stock and keep stirring regularly again until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock and stir repeatedly for 10 – 15 minutes until the rice is almost tender. If using wild garlic leaves, you will need a good handful, washed and roughly chopped, add these now and allow to wilt. Grate in a little parmesan cheese and a knob of unsalted butter and continue to stir until everything is combined and melted. Check the seasoning and serve in bowls with additional parmesan grated over and a little black pepper.

If you feel you need to make this a little more substantial: chopped bacon can be added with the celery, shredded, cooked chicken towards the end of the stock absorption process (check it is piping hot before serving) or steamed purple sprouting broccoli can be laid on the rice once cooked. A multitude of options to suit.

Back to a few more pictures:

They hold Opera and Jazz concerts here on barmy summer evenings. Idyllic… Check Iford Arts link for details.

Freshly Milled Black Pepper (or Garlicky Breadcrumbs with Spaghetti)

So if you are reading this over the posting weekend, this comes to you by the power of cutestcakeseveryday IT support, otherwise known as my better half, who has kindly stepped into the blogging breach and has published on my behalf as I am Laptop and iPad-less at my current location. But more of that next week.

I am trying to post twice a week and according to IT support a higher frequency would be an unsustainable blogging rate. This is actually hard to do currently. Despite having many other activities I ought to be engaged in, frantically tapping away to create a new post has started to become quite absorbing. I went past 600 hits last weekend for which I am very thankful and pleased about and the ‘biggest hitting’ posts are always cake related. Apart from the Chicken Noodle Soup. This analysis of the analysis, which wordpress offers to all those with a blogging account, is a fairly additive past-time too. I fully appreciate that no-one is really interested in beetroot and what one might do with it, but another high performing post has been the first Unloved Vegetables one about celeriac, curious….

So, do I start to pander to the audience. I have a ‘poll’ widget winking at me from mission control and I think I might just be tempted to give it a press. I’m supposed to be blogging about the general output from my kitchen but the hits would suggest I should do more chicken and cake related posts.

Decisions, Decisions….

Anyway, whilst I ponder on that, I’ll talk about Black Pepper.

I think for the first time in my culinary existence I ran out of black pepper a few days ago. Since then I have been frustratingly forgetful about replacing it. It just never occurs to me at the appropriate moment. Now I can’t say as a rule I’m deeply impressed by coincidence or subliminal messages and that sort of thing but when I was making a note of the recipe which follows below I was a little amused.

Black Pepper along with salt is one of those culinary must haves. If you were raised on a diet of Delia Smith’s cook books you will be aware that every savoury recipe ingredients list ends with – salt and ‘freshly milled black pepper’. I consequently have a pepper mill by the hob. Mine looks like this  →

My Brother very kindly bought it for me for Christmas. I pretty much put pepper in everything and not having it available has put me out of sorts with a deep seated achy pang.

Why do we put pepper in everything? Can someone enlighten me?

I expect Wikipedia could tell me but I want to try and coax someone into a bit of audience participation. If I post a poll, audience participation will be key. For anyone who is a little virginal when it comes to blog following, polls are widely used by some sites to whip up some chat. They are very straight forward and look like a multiple choice question. They are neatly arranged and usually look very tempting. You merely click on the preferred answer. The results are fed to me and at some future point I let you know the outcome or act upon it. I really love all the comments I receive and as the commenting is becoming more frequent I’m sure we could try something new?

I’m just warming everyone up to the idea for now.

So back to the recipe and the subliminal channeling. This works really well for kids I have discovered and can be adapted to cope with individual food preferences to some degree. It’s also another barely got your hat off moment, but not quite as quick.

Garlic Breadcrumbs and Spaghetti (Serves 2)

Boil kettle full of water, empty boiled water into a saucepan, add a pinch of salt and a drop of oil and return to the boil. Add the required amount of spaghetti  (200g-250g for adults). Return to the boil and simmer for 9 minutes. You want ‘al dente’, so still retains a bit of bite. (I’ll talk about this soon)

Meanwhile in a frying pan add 2 tbsp of Olive Oil and 1 tbsp of Garlic Oil and once warm throw in 50g of breadcrumbs (one standard slice of bread, chuck it all in the mini chopper, crusts and all). Stir to coat in the oil over a moderate heat and continue to stir frequently until the breadcrumbs take on a toasted look and appear to have crisped up. Remove to a plate.

Now the Italians would stop there really as they have pasta as a starter but for a midweek meal for anyone else, add a drop more oil to the frying pan, if needed, and you can add a half a chopped red pepper and a couple of chopped up rashers of bacon or ham! Once all this is cooked through return the garlicky breadcrumbs to the pan to warm through too. Drain the spaghetti once cooked and just before the very last drops of water are gone return it all to the saucepan. Add a good handful of rocket (peppery or what) and toss in the spaghetti until it starts to wilt. Add about ¾’s of the breadcrumb mixture and toss through too and then heap out into the bowls/plates. Garnish with the rest of the breadcrumbs, grated parmesan and, if you have it, freshly milled black pepper!

Note: I am loving all the comments I have received so far, so many thanks. Discussion is the next goal and I think a poll is a good place to start. Usually once one has decided on an answer there is always a natural urge to justify and expand.

And this is what it would look like, you can ‘select’ and ‘vote’ if you wish.

The Cutest Cakes: Classic Cakes

Lilies and Pearls

The Cutest Cakes: Cupcakes

Rosebud Vanilla Cupcake

The Cutest Cakes: Individual Iced Cakes

Miniature Fruit Cake

Details for The Cutest Cakes can be found at www.cutestcakes.co.uk or if you click the image on the side bar you will be transported there.