Thursday, 8 May 2014

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Butter and Pine Nuts

Oh blimey. Has it really been that long? 10 months is pretty shocking, I do apologise. If anyone's still reading, I bet you thought I'd sneakily transitioned from blogger to ex-blogger. Lots has been going on though. I had one of the busiest work years in a long time from about last summer onwards (so, around the time I last blogged then) which stole much of my free time and weekends, and meant that I barely had time to cook, let alone cook, photograph and write up recipes. I became very familiar with my local Japanese delivery place.

And then I went and moved house, twice. I am no longer a North London girl, but have reverted to my West London roots and moved to Ealing. We've spent much of the last two months doing various things to the house ahead of moving in, but we're in now and gradually working our way through vast amounts of unpacking.  A life without boxes will be a pleasure indeed.

In the midst of all the chaos, I had a few quieter moments when living at my mum's. Quiet enough to have a go at making ravioli. I made a gorgeous crab ravioli with a lemongrass sauce for New Year's (but was far, far too drunk to consider photographing it) and then a month or so later, made this. Roasting the butternut adds a gorgeous earthy sweetness, and the parmesan really pulls it together. This makes a delicious, if not slightly decadent starter. If you want to eat it as a main, either halve the number of people around or double the recipe!

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo - I seem to be in an iPhone-only zone until I remember exactly where I put my cameras...

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter):
For the pasta:
4 eggs
500g flour

For the filling: 
1 small butternut squash (around 500g peeled weight)
2 tbsp grated parmesan
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sage butter:
Handful of fresh sage leaves
50g butter

To garnish:
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
Parmesan shavings

It really helps if you can  make the pasta and the pasta filling the day before, but it's not the end of the world if you can't. Just make sure you have plenty of time to chill down your pasta dough after you have made it, and make sure the filling is also cool before you add it to the ravioli.

Anyway, to make the pasta, pour the flour into a bowl and make a hole in the centre to allow the eggs to be dropped into it. Mix the eggs with a fork, taking a little flour from the sides gradually until the eggs and flour are blended. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly add a little lukewarm water. If it is too wet, add a little more flour. Remove the mixture from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured table or worktop. Knead it with your hands until it comes together like a ball of play-dough. Cut the ball into quarters (this gives you a more manageable amount of dough to work with), wrap tightly in cling film and chill down in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Next, make the butternut filling - peel the butternut, remove the seeds and chop into large chunks. Drizzle with olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes, until soft. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then chuck the squash into a food processor or run through a mouli to puree. Stir in the nutmeg and parmesan, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Next, roll out the pasta. Remove one ball at a time from the fridge (each ball makes about 6 ravioli) and set up your pasta machine. Starting on the widest setting, run the pasta through each size gauge several times, folding over the dough each time, until your pasta has been through the thinnest gauge. Next, set your long, thin pasta sheet down on a lightly floured surface, spoon a teaspoon of the butternut purée at 10cm intervals, and then using a pastry brush, seal around the filling with a little water. Place on top your next sheet of pasta and gently press around the edges of the ravioli to seal the filling in. Repeat these steps until you have 2-3 portions of ravioli per person. Dust with flour and cover with a dry tea towel until ready to cook.

When ready to eat, put a large pan of water on to boil, lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry drying pan, and as the water comes to the boil, melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add the sage leaves to the molten butter and fry until crisp (a couple of minutes at most) then set the saucepan aside. Boil the ravioli for a couple of minutes, before removing from the water and arranging on plates. Distribute the sage butter across the plates, scatter with pine nuts and then finish with a couple of shavings of parmesan on each plate. Fiddly, but delicious!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Arzu Salad

Continuing with the Turkish theme, this is a salad that reminds me so much of my childhood. My sister and I had a succession of Au Pairs when we were small - Spanish, French, Hungarian and Turkish. We invariably spent a lot of time with them, us helping them with their English, and they in turn looked after us, keeping us out of trouble, and cooking for us. We adored most of them, and they all left their mark on us in some way or another.

A Hungarian Au Pair taught us how to make wonderful paprika and sausage stews and some very rude Hungarian swearwords. And one of the Turkish Au Pairs taught my sister and I how to make this delicious summer salad. We used to come home from school and instead of pigging out on pizza and pasta, would frequently make and devour this salad, mopping up the juices with lots of fresh bread. It became known as Arzu Salad, after the Au Pair who made it.

It is this kind of recipe that I love - food that someone else adores, and makes for you in the hope that you will fall for it too. 

Ingredients (serves 4):
1 red onion
1 small cucumber
2 vine tomatoes
2 Turkish green peppers
1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Chop the onion and then leave it to soak in lightly salted, lukewarm water for 15 minutes (this draws out some of the bitterness from the onion). Try to chop the other vegetables around the same size as the onion. While it is soaking, peel and chop the cucumber, chop the tomato making sure you retain as much juice as possible, then de-seed and chop the peppers. Add the lemon juice and olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drain, rinse and then add the onion, roughly chop the parsley and then toss all the ingredients together. Serve as part of a selection of salads with plenty of fresh, crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Menemen - Turkish scrambled eggs

I've been having obsessions with certain foods recently. I suspect, a sign that I'm less run down and have some semblance of an interest in cooking again - something that has been distinctly dormant in recent months. This is one of my obsessions, and is a gorgeous Turkish breakfast. It is simple, but quite slow to make so definitely not a breakfast when you're in a hurry!

I've had this many times on holiday in Turkey over the years, but never thought to try and recreate it at home. One of those dishes that don't always translate to another country, I guess. This is partly down to the UK having distinctly rubbish tomatoes! I cheated a little and boosted the tomato flavour with some tomato purée, but it's a small compromise for a delicious dish. And with the beautiful summer sunshine that we are currently experiencing, my opinion changed - it is definitely the perfect weather for menemen.

A tip on tomatoes - buy them on the vine and never put them in the fridge. They won't be quite as good as Mediterranean ones, but leave them out for a few days and they will have a lot more flavour.

Ingredients (serves 4):
1 red onion
3 Turkish long green peppers
3 large vine tomatoes
1 tsp tomato purée (optional)
6 eggs
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp roughly chopped fresh parsley
20g butter

Slice the tomatoes in half, grate them into a bowl and then set aside for the time being. Finely chop the onion then deseed and chop the green pepper. Melt the butter in a large saucepan then gently cook the onions until softened. Add the green peppers and cook for about a further 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and if they're a bit anaemic, a teaspoon of tomato purée to give them a flavour boost then turn the heat right down and cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with a little salt and pepper - I found my tomatoes were quite sharp so needed tempering slightly.

While the liquid is reducing, crack the eggs into a large bowl, add the thyme and chilli flakes and season with salt and pepper. Gently whisk until all the ingredients are combined. Once there is very little liquid remaining in the tomato mixture, pour in the egg and gently stir as you would scrambled eggs. Don't overcook them - part of the joy of this dish is a smooth, very slightly liquid egg mixture. Just before it is ready, stir in about 3/4 of the parsley, reserving the rest for garnish.

Spoon the mixture over slices of lightly toasted bread, garnish with the remaining parsley and enjoy! Perfect for a weekend brunch.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Spinach and Feta Fritatta

Oh dear, it's been a while. Four months in fact. I can only blame work, which has been so ridiculously busy that I have lived off a diet of takeaways, oven pizza and whichever quick and easy pasta dishes I had to hand.

And then there was the heatwave, and I didn't feel like cooking at all, so ate nothing but salad and gazpacho. Anything to avoid turning on the oven. But, doing a big shop recently, I suddenly felt like cooking again. I've bought ingredients for all of my favourite summer recipes, more salad, more avocados and of course, more gazpacho.

Arriving home at a sensible time for the first night in ages, I rolled up my proverbial sleeves and found myself in the mood to cook. Nothing fancy - it's still too warm for that - but a lovely, summery frittata which is as good cold as it is warm, and is a fantastically quick evening meal. I can't think of anything I'd rather eat at the moment.

Ingredients (serves 8 as part of a salad):
6 eggs
250g spinach
1 medium red onion
100g Greek feta
1 tsp olive oil 

Preheat your grill and gently heat the frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until just starting to turn golden, then add the spinach and toss for a minute or two until wilted, then remove from the heat and allow the vegetables to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and season with a little salt and pepper. Crumble the feta over the spinach and red onion, and then gently pour in the egg. Stir a little to distribute the egg, spinach and feta evenly, then turn the heat back on and cook over a low heat for 3-4 minutes.

Next, carefully place your frying pan under the grill for a further 2 to 3 minutes, or until the frittata is golden and cooked through (check the centre with a fork - it should be firm and without runny bits). Put a plate over the pan and turn over quickly but carefully – the frittata should come right out. Serve hot or cold - I love it with a green salad with lots of avocado and a basil dressing.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Paprika and Honey Marinaded Chicken

I've been sitting on this recipe for months. I first made this back in December, but was in the middle of a blogging slump so it just sat on my camera, waiting for me to write it up. If you make it in advance, it's a reasonably quick and very delicious weekend meal. The lovely smokey warmth of the paprika infuses the chicken while the honey adds a subtle sweetness.

It is basically comfort food. Smokey warmth and tender chicken that falls off the bone. Perfect for cold, rainy, so-called "spring" days when all you want to do is curl under a duvet, watch the rain fall against the window panes, and huddle up under a blanket while watching old films.

 Ingredients (Serves 2):
1 spatchcock chicken or two half chicken pieces
125 ml olive oil
125 ml lemon juice
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons honey
1 dsp smoked paprika
1 dsp mixed herbs

In a mixing bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, smoked paprika and mixed herbs and crush in the garlic. Mix together until well combined, then place the chicken skin side down in a roasting tray and pour the marinade over the chicken.

Marinade the chicken for at least an hour at room temperature, or alternatively, cover and place in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 180°C, flip the chicken so the skin faces upwards, baste, cover the roasting tray with foil and then roast for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, remove the foil, baste the chicken and cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Recover and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then serve. I served this with a cous cous, butternut squash and tarragon salad, which was delicious. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Duck with Red Wine and Cranberry Jus

I must admit, normally I hate the word "jus" - it is pretentious and really, little more than a fancy word for gravy. So I apologise for using it here. In my defence, this isn't really gravy, as gravy to me has some of the juices from the bird or animal roasted and sauce just doesn't seem to quite cut it in this instance. So, pretentious "jus" it is.

This was the main course for the husband's birthday meal. I had asked my uncle for inspiration, and he came back to me with a wonderful salmon and cauliflower recipe, but sadly R hates cauliflower so it wasn't to be. I resorted to an old French bistro classic - duck with savoy cabbage and mash (I later learned that R doesn't much like cabbage either. Fusspot).

The beauty of this recipe though, is that it is surprisingly quick to prepare if you've done your prep. I made the sauce in advance and just heated it up when ready to eat, and had the cabbage sliced and potatoes peeled and boiled ready for mashing. If you prepare properly, the dish can be put together in 20 minutes, so it is worth investing a little extra time.

Ingredients (serves 2):
For the duck:
2 Gressingham Duck breasts

For the mashed potato:
2 medium baking potatoes
50ml whole milk
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
25g butter

For the cabbage:
1 Savoy cabbage
50ml of tap water
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp butter

For the red wine and cranberry jus:
300ml chicken stock
300ml of beef stock
200ml red wine
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tsp redcurrant jelly
Salt and pepper

Begin by making the red wine and cranberry jus.  Add the chicken and beef stock, red wine, thyme, bay leaf and redcurrant jelly to a pan and simmer until reduced by two thirds. season with a little salt and pepper, then strain out the thyme and bay leaf. Set aside until ready to use.

Next, make the mash: peel the potatoes and boil for about 20 minutes or so, until tender. While the potatoes are boiling, preheat the oven to 180°C, ready for the duck. Push the potatoes through a potato ricer or mouli - I pushed it through twice, once on a larger setting and then a second time through a fine mesh for a silky smooth mash. Beat in the milk, mustard and butter, then cover and keep warm.

Finely slice the cabbage ready for cooking, then score the skin of the duck with a sharp knife and  heat a frying pan with a little oil. Fry the duck skin side down for 6-8 minutes dependent on the size of the breast, then flip over and seal the other side for 30 seconds. Place the duck breasts skin side up on a baking tray then roast for a further 6-8 minutes.

Once the duck is roasted, remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes. While the duck is resting, warm through the jus and the mash, place a couple of plates in the still-warm oven to warm up, then melt the oil and butter together in a sauté pan, then add the cabbage and 50ml water and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just tender.

To plate up, remove the plates from the oven, place a scoop of mash on the plate, then add the cabbage and then arrange the duck, sliced, neatly on top of the cabbage and carefully pour the jus round the edges of the plate.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Scallops with Butternut Purée and Sage

My husband doesn't really do birthdays, which for a long time has caused a little bit of a struggle between us. My family sees birthdays as an excuse to spoil and pamper the birthday boy or girl, which R is somewhat unused to. I think we've finally managed to strike the right balance, with me cooking him a nice meal and giving him not too many presents.

On previous years, I've taken him out to various restaurants to celebrate, but having finally realised that he would actually rather not go out, I thought I'd bring the restaurant experience in-home and have a go at a much more refined style of cooking.

For a starter, I made the recipe below. I absolutely adore the combination of sweet, roasted butternut squash and crispy, fragrant sage. Scallops too are a little mouthful of heaven when briefly seared on either side so they melt in your mouth. As a combination, all three go deliciously together, and it looks delightful too. For me, perfectly cooked scallops will always have that "wow" factor.

Ingredients (serves 2):
300g squash
olive oil
50ml chicken stock
6 scallops
a few sage leaves
25g butter
1 tsp pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 160°C, then peel and dice the squash into approximately 1" cubes. Coat with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper then roast for 30-40 minutes until tender. Push the squash through a potato ricer or whizz it up in a blender with a little chicken stock then sieve it and keep warm.

Dry fry the pine nuts until golden and set aside, then pat dry the scallops and season with a little pepper. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a frying pan and when sizzling hot, sear the scallops for about 90 seconds on each side. While the scallops are cooking, melt the butter in a pan and fry the sage leaves until crisp.

Arrange the scallops on a dollop of butternut puree, then drizzle with the sage butter and sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top. Serve with a delicious glass of crisp Viognier.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Spinach, Prawn and Salmon Curry

A deliciously quick and easy curry for a week night, and it's healthy too! I have been craving curry for ages, but had been holding off due to my bank balance still reeling slightly from the Christmas season. In the end I decided to make my own using what I had available in the fridge, and this was the result. 

The yogurt adds a lovely tang, but if you want something a little richer, try using coconut milk instead. I like my curries pretty hot, though with two chillis this was mild (I suspect supermarket chillis have the heat bred out of them), however if you're worried or simply not a fan of heat, just add one. You can always add a pinch of dried chillis mid-way through cooking if it tastes too mild. 

Ingredients (serves 4):
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onions, finely sliced
2cm piece of fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves
2 red chillies
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
400g chopped tomatoes
200ml fat free yogurt
150g baby spinach leaves
200g raw king prawns
200g salmon 

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low heat then add the onion, turmeric, cumin and coriander and cook for 10 minutes until softened. Peel the ginger and then finely chop this and the garlic. Deseed and finely chop the chilli. Add to the onion and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. 

While the sauce is simmering, skin the salmon fillets and cut into chunks. Next, add the spinach to the sauce and let it wilt down. Add the salmon and prawns and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the prawns turn pink. Finally, stir through the yogurt and then serve with basmati rice or my personal favourite, niramish (recipe to follow soon).

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Asparagus with Quail's Eggs and Parma Ham

Wow, nearly four months since I last posted. That's not good. It's been a strange few months: a bad case of blogger's block and inspiration inertia, and an exceptionally frantic period at work meant that blogging has taken something of a back seat. I've also been eating terribly badly over the last few months, and you really don't need to see the pictures of empty Dominos boxes to prove it.

But I haven't completely given up on this little blog. I have still been cooking and photographing recipes - some good, some less good. I might even put some of them up here. For now though, here is a little treat. I can't claim any originality for it I'm afraid: my sister made this as a starter when I went over to see her recently for dinner. A girl's night in turned into a more social affair last week, and I hadn't planned on cooking much but thought I ought to make an effort. This was both easy and extremely delicious. It also looks pretty impressive.

Ingredients (serves 4):
16 asparagus spears
12 quail's eggs
6 slices Parma ham
Shaved parmesan
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Snap the tough stems off the asparagus then steam for four minutes. Arrange four spears to a plate, neatly arranged in a row. Drizzle with a little olive oil and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Next, put some water on to boil for the quail's eggs. While you are waiting for the water to boil, tear the Parma ham in half lengthways and set aside for the moment.

To soft boil the quail's eggs, place in gently boiling water for a minute then leave to stand for a further minute (boil for three minutes if you prefer a hard boiled egg). Run under cold water to cool, then peel off the shells and wrap each egg in half a strip of Parma ham.

Place three Parma ham wrapped eggs on each plate, and devour immediately - it is as its best when the eggs and asparagus are still slightly warm.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Vegetarian Lasagne with Gruffalo Mozzarella

Yes, you did read that correctly - Gruffalo mozzarella. In truth, it is just buffalo mozzarella, but I saw the sign when I was browsing and couldn't resist but pick up a couple of packs. Whether it was a genuine mistake or the shop thought mozzarella came from Gruffalos, I'll never know.

What I do know is that it seems a perfect way to get small children to eat something packed full of delicious vegetables - "but it's GRUFFALO lasagne for dinner tonight!". I certainly can't wait to try it out if I ever have children.

Vegetarian lasagne is one of my favourite winter treat foods, and I like mine packed full of vegetables. Mine is almost a very overblown parmigiana di melanzane with courgettes, spinach, mushrooms and of course lasagne sheets added in. I like the lasagne sheets to cook as it bakes and soak up some of the liquid generated by the spinach and mushrooms - it also gives a wonderfully crispy, more-ish top layer. However you can pre-cook your lasagne sheets if you'd prefer. It looks quite ingredient-heavy, but once you've made the tomato and bechamel sauces, it really is very simple - little more than an assembly job really!

Ingredients (serves at least 6 greedy people):
For the layers:
1 aubergine
2 courgettes
200g chestnut mushrooms (about 5 mid-sized mushrooms)
200g spinach
250g Gruffalo mozzaralla (though normal will work too!)
100g grated Parmesan
About 300g dried lasagne sheets

For the tomato sauce:
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 dsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

For the Béchamel sauce:
50g butter
50g plain flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
200ml milk
100ml crème fraîche
70ml dry white wine
a grind of pepper

Start by making the tomato sauce: sauté the onion in a little olive oil for 2-3 minutes until they start to go translucent, then crush in the garlic and cook for a further minute or two. Don't let the garlic burn or your sauce will develop a bitter flavour. Add the chopped tomatoes, oregano and balsamic then simmer for about 15 minutes to allow the flavour to develop. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Next, make the Béchamel: melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, then stir in the flour. Stop stirring but let it cook for a further 30 seconds or so before adding the milk, slowly and steadily. I like to use a whisk to keep my bechamel lump-free as I add the milk. Once you've added all the milk, stir in the crème fraîche and mustard, then add the wine. As with the tomato sauce, you might want to add a little salt and pepper, or even a grind of nutmeg.

Finally, begin assembling your lasagne. I used an oven-proof dish 25-35cm large. I also cut my aubergine and courgettes into about 6mm slices and then griddled them to add a gentle char-grilled flavour to the lasagne.

Arrange the grilled aubergine over the bottom of your oven-proof dish, then spoon over 2-3 generous ladles of tomato sauce. Cover this layer with lasagne sheets, then ladle enough Béchamel sauce over the lasagne sheets to lightly cover them. Slice and then scatter the mozzarella over the bechamel, then slice the mushrooms and scatter these over too. Next, cover this layer with spinach. Cover the spinach with the grilled courgettes, then spoon the rest of the tomato sauce over it. Finally, add the top layer of lasagne sheets, cover with the rest of the Béchamel and then evenly scatter the grated parmesan over the Béchamel. 

Cover with foil and bake in the oven at 180°c for 45 minutes. 10 minutes before cooking time is up,  carefully remove the foil from the top of the lasagne and let the top layer crisp up and the cheese turn golden.