Thursday, 25 February 2010

Tuna Gnocchi Bake

This came, I think, a long time ago from my aunt who lives in Italy. It is essentially peasant food in that it's very unfussy and simple. I like it with lots of red wine, but then for me it doubles up as an excuse to have a glass of vino while cooking. Oh, and it tastes damn fine too.

1 medium red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
400g chopped tomatoes
1 tsp mixed herbs
approx. 1 glass red wine
15og tinned tuna in spring water, drained
4 tbsp grated parmesan
 500g potato gnocchi
salt and pepper to taste

Fry the onions until tender and translucent in about a tablespoon of olive oil, then add the garlic and mixed herbs and fry for a further minute. Then add the chopped tomatoes, the wine, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes and then stir in the tuna. 

Put the water on to boil for the gnocchi and turn the grill on to warm. Once the water comes to the boil, add the gnocchi and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until all the dumplings swim to the surface. Drain the gnocchi and transfer to an oven-proof dish (mine's about 30cmx20cm). Pour the tomato sauce over the gnocchi and stir it in so it's evenly covered, and then sprinkle the parmesan on top.

Place under the grill until the parmesan starts to bubble and go golden and then bring to the table. Serve with a fresh green salad.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Thai Coconut Chicken

This is one of my favourites. It's an old Delia recipe and one of the first things I learned to cook. I didn't eat it for about 8 years in its true form due to being vegetarian, but it's still really good with quorn chicken pieces.


2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, diced
grated zest and juice 1 lime
400ml (1 tin) coconut milk
1 dessertspoon olive oil
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 dessertspoon Thai fish sauce
4 heaped tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander
4 spring onions, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) shreds, including the green part
Thai jasmine rice 

Marinade the diced chicken breast in the lime juice and zest for about an hour. While you're waiting, chop up the spring onions, coriander and chilli and set aside.

Lightly salt and boil the water for the rice. Once it comes to the boil, add the rice and cook for about 11 minutes.
Then, using a wok or large frying pan, add the dessertspoon of olive oil and cook over a medium heat. Add the chicken and fry until golden (about 5 minutes) and then add the chilli and fry for a further minute. Next, add the fish sauce, coconut milk (i usually use the low-fat version to make it a little healthier) and two thirds of the coriander and spring onions and cook for a further 6 or 7 minutes over a high heat so that the sauce reduces to about half.

Drain the rice, serve, and dish up the chicken - garnish with the remaining coriander and spring onions.

Sweet Chilli Salmon With Rice

This is not the prettiest dish in the world but it tastes lovely and is sort of comfort food for me - it's very quick to make, filling, and most importantly, healthy. The origins of the recipe come from an old healthy eating cookbook of my mum's. I've long since made it my own though. 

Ingredients (serves four):
4x salmon fillets
sweet chilli sauce
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 courgette, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
450ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 unwaxed lemon, cut into wedges
100g white rice, washed and drained
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Place the salmon fillets on a plate and pour 4 dessertspoons of sweet chilli sauce over them (recipe here; it's easy enough to make) and leave to marinade for an hour or so.

While the salmon is marinading, gently fry your red onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil. When the onions start to turn translucent, add the courgettes, cumin and coriander powder and fry for a further 5 minutes - until the courgettes also begin to turn translucent. Then add in the garlic and rice and fry for a further minute. Finally, add in about two thirds of the chicken stock, the lemon wedges and a good grind of pepper. As it cooks, slowly add the final third of the stock. Cook for about 15 minutes - until the rice is done, stirring occasionally.

For the next step I use a George Foreman grill, which doesn't require any extra oil and gives a lovely crust to the salmon, but you can also use a grill or a griddle, though this takes a little longer. For the Foreman, allow about 5 minutes once hot; for a grill, about 7 or 8. Place the salmon fillets in the Foreman and grill for up to 5 minutes. I like mine slightly pink still, so tend to cook them for a little less time (more like 3-4 minutes). You should end up with a chargrilled chilli crust on top.

Serve with the rice and a fresh drizzle of sweet chilli sauce.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Fiorelli alla Carbonara

A quick and easy Monday night supper, this is a slightly lighter version of a classic favourite – I often find “real” carbonara too rich. I used fiorelli instead of spaghetti – I find it the perfect vehicle as you don’t end up with a bowlful of sauce and bacon bits at the end. If you can’t find fiorelli, linguini or penne also work well.

125g bacon, diced and with the fat trimmed off
4 small shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
125ml dry white wine
125ml chicken stock
2  large eggs
120ml sour cream
120ml skimmed milk
30g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp salt or to taste
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
500g farfalle

First, make the base of the sauce – in a bowl or jug, mix together the eggs, sour cream, olive oil and skimmed milk, and whisk together with a fork. Then add the salt, pepper and pinch of nutmeg. Put the water on for the pasta.

Next, fry the bacon in a little olive oil until crisp and then set aside. Remove any excess fat from the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and fry the shallots over a medium heat until soft and translucent, then add the garlic, cooking for a further couple of minutes. Now add the white wine and stock mixture and simmer down until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Cook the pasta until slightly al-dente, drain and return to the pan, and then add all the  other elements – garlic and onion, bacon, creamy sauce and parmesan to your pan. Cook over a low heat for a couple of minutes, taking care not to let your sauce boil, and serve.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Carrot Cake

As I’ve said before, I’m not much of a baker. But for Valentine’s day, my other half said he wanted to cook me dinner so I decided to assume his role and bake instead.

This recipe is from Tara, who in turn got it from a colleague when we worked together – we had a charity bake-off and this is the cake that won the contest. Quite rightly too; it’s incredibly light with a delicious hint of cinnamon. Carrot cake as it should be.


For the cake:
250g wholemeal self-raising flour
175g light muscovado sugar
175g soft brown sugar
3 large eggs
175ml sunflower oil
100ml sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla essence
Approx. 1 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
2 level teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt
300g grated carrots
75g desiccated or sweetened coconut

For the topping:
110g full fat soft cream cheese
50g unsalted butter
50g sifted icing sugar
Juice of ½ lemon


Pre-heat oven to 150ÂșC. You will need one 25cm round cake tin, either greased or lined with greaseproof paper, and two mixing bowls. In the first mixing bowl place the eggs, oil,vanilla essence and sour cream, and mix them all together with a whisk. Then sieve the sugars into it as well, whisking in as you go to make an emulsion.

In the other bowl, sift the flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, soda, salt, then fold in the dry ingredients into your sugar emulsion, followed by the carrots and coconut. Mix well to distribute everything evenly, then spoon into the cake tin and bake on the centre shelf for 1½ to 2 hours. After 1½ hours, put a skewer into the middle of the cake and hold for five seconds. When you pull it out it should be clean, but hot. If any cake mix sticks to the skewer you’ll need to bake it for a little longer. Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

While the cake is cooling, mix together your topping; I melted the butter in a saucepan and then stirred it in to the rest of the ingredients and then allowed it to cool a little before spreading thickly on top of the cake. Allow it to cool further for a couple of hours, then serve.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Plum Tart

This was a bit of a last-minute idea to use up the lemon curd  from Sunday's meringue tartlets. I think it works pretty well! So here we have - plum and lemon tart.

There's no recipe as such as all the elements are reasonably straightforward. I cheated and used a bought pastry base (it was a last-minute idea so please forgive me!), the lemon curd was left over, and we had plums in the fruit bowl. But as a basic guide:

Sweet pastry, baked blind in an 8" tart tin
Lemon curd (basic recipe here)
4 ripe plums, finely sliced
Lemon juice and muscovado sugar to glaze

Pour your lemon curd into the freshly baked (cool) tart case, and spread evenly over the base. Careful not to overfill. Next, lay the plum slices around the tart. I started from the outside working in, going around in a circular motion and overlapping them slightly.
Finally, brush a little lemon juice onto the plum slices to prevent browning and then sprinkle with a couple of dessertspoons of muscovado sugar. Bake in the oven at 200° C for 15-20 mins and allow to cool before serving.

If I were to do it again, I'd probably use orange rather than lemon curd (same recipe, but subsitute the lemons for oranges), and I'd definitely make my own pastry. Not even Waitrose is a patch on the homemade variety.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Chicken Noodle Soup

Returning home from work one cold February evening to a flurry of snow and battling a nasty headcold, there seemed only one thing for dinner: noodle soup. This is my interpretation of Wagamama's (sadly no longer on the menu) Moyashi Soba. I forgot the mushrooms this time, but it's still yummy and very warming.


Recipe (serves 4):
1 courgette, finely sliced diagonally
100g mange tout
2 spring onions
about 10 chestnut mushrooms, sliced into 5mm slices (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 chicken breasts, sliced lengthways into 5mm ribbons
1 bunch ramen noodles
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
tablespoon light soy sauce
dessertspoon oyster sauce
400ml chicken stock
freshly ground black pepper to taste

It may look slightly ingredient-heavy, but it's really very simple. 

Slice the chicken, courgettes, spring onions (and the mushrooms) and mince the garlic. Heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil into a heavy-bottomed  frying pan or wok if you have one, and add the courgettes. Fry for a couple of minutes over a high heat, then add the mushrooms and mange tout. While this is happening, boil the kettle to make your chicken stock, and put the chicken ribbons in with the stock. 

Add the minced garlic and fry for about 15 seconds (be careful, you don't want to burn the garlic) and then add your soy and oyster sauce. Stir these in and then add your chicken/chicken stock mix. Turn down the heat slightly and cook the chicken and stock with the vegetables for about 5 minutes. add in the chilli flakes and most of the spring onions (reserve a handful for garnish) and simmer for another couple of minutes.

Finally, add the ramen noodles and bring back to the boil for 3-4 minutes (until the noodles are tender). Serve into bowls and garnish with the last of the spring onions. And enjoy!

I've served these with a couple of cauliflower fritters as we had some leftover cauliflower from the weekend, but the soup is perfectly good on its own.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Ottolenghi Lemon Meringue Tartlets

A bit of a cheat for a first post - I have to confess, I didn't make these myself.

My better half loves the Ottolenghi passion fruit tartlets, so it seemed a natural starting point to begin his (and my!) baking career with the lemon meringue tartlets as the passion fruit ones aren't in the cookbook. This will hopefully be no object, as we plan to try and recreate them somewhere along the line.

I admit, he did all the work. They were surprisingly time-consuming: the curd was made last night, and the pastry and meringue elements took the best part of the day to make; the meringues proved to be particularly hard work as we only had an old-fashioned hand whisk so we had to take it in turns to beat the meringue up to the "firm, cool and glossy" consistency required. I think I'll be buying an electric mixer...

But was it worth it? Totally! They were heaven on earth to bite into and tasted every bit as good as their genuine Ottolenghi cousins.

I'm not going to post the recipe as it's incredibly complicated and I'm a little uncertain about the copyright laws regarding posting recipes, but you can buy the Ottolenghi cookbook here.