Saturday, 31 December 2011

Gravad Lax

When I was a child, we used to have gravad lax as the starter every Christmas. Gradually, the tradition died out and was replaced with smoked salmon, which became the go-to each Christmas. I never complained - as a child, I was never quite convinced by gravad lax's strange, herby green crust and peculiar accompanying sauce. 

As this is my last Christmas as an unmarried woman and my fiancé is heading home to Ireland to see his family, my mother and I decided to go out with a bang. We brought back a morel-stuffed guinea fowl from France and many delicious canapés. We agreed that I would buy the smoked salmon, but rather than buy it, I thought I'd try making its Scandinavian cousin - gravad lax. 

Gravad lax literally means "buried salmon", and rather than being smoked, it is cured in a mixture of salt, sugar, pepper, coriander and of course, dill. I did a trial run before attempting this one, and it is both very easy and well worth the effort. 

When you buy the salmon, make sure you get two similarly shaped pieces, ideally from the same fish. If you can, take your pieces from the middle of the fish, where they are as square as possible. Freeze the salmon for 24 hours and defrost before making this to kill off any parasites that may be in the fish.

about 900g salmon fillet
150g smoked sea salt
150g caster sugar
50g whole black pepper
30g coriander seeds
150g dill

For the dill sauce:
50ml cider vinegar
50g muscovado sugar
50g honey
50g dijon mustard
30ml olive oil
30g dill

Begin by making the salt cure. Put the salt, sugar, black pepper and coriander seeds in a blender and blitz until you have a reasonably even powder. I tried doing it by hand using a pestle and mortar the first time round, and trying to break up the peppercorns was remarkably ineffective.

 Next, finely chop about half the dill and set to one side for the moment. Cover a chopping board with cling film (keeping it attached to the roll) and lay the two salmon fillets side by side. Make sure you lay them thin to thick edge next to each other so when you flip one of them on top at the end, they slot together neatly.

 Divide the chopped dill between the two fillets, distributing evenly across both of them and pressing in firmly with your hands, then cover with the salt cure, again distributing evenly and pressing it in firmly. When you have used up all the cure, cover the side you intend to flip with a thick coating of dill sprigs from the remaining unchopped dill.

 Flip the dill-covered salmon on top of the other piece - I used the cling film roll as a winch to flip the salmon over, which made it easier and less messy - then wrap tightly in several layers of cling film. I went around three times in one direction, then wrapped it three times again to seal in the first layer's ends. 

Place in the fridge for 2-3 days, then when it's ready to eat, brush off the cure and most of the dill and slice thinly on the diagonal using a salmon or ham knife. Serve with rye bread and the accompanying dill sauce.

While the fish is curing, you can make the sauce - place the muscovado sugar, cider vinegar, honey, mustard and dill in a blender and blitz together. It will keep in the fridge for a week or so once made.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Simple Sponge Cake with Cream & Strawberry Filling

Having a day off work ahead of the weekend makes for all kinds of productivity. I made gravad lax, black olive truffles and a vat of soup all in the space of an afternoon. Sadly, the same couldn't be said for my other half who was glued to the sofa, playing Skyrim all day. I am definitely a PS3 widow. 

Midway through the afternoon, he asked me if it would be very bad if he opened the pannettone he had bought to take over to Ireland for Christmas, and I replied that it was, but I would make him a cake if he so desired. It seemed he did, so I set to work and made a very quick and easy sponge cake. 

This is perfect if you're in a bit of a hurry - you can have it on the table and being gobbled up within 45 minutes. Ideal for greedy gamers then!

Ingredients (fills two 20cm cake tins):
175g plain flour
175g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 large eggs

75ml double cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
5 large strawberries

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and line the bottoms of both cake tins with baking paper. Then sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, eggs and vanilla essence. Melt the butter and as you beat the ingredients together, slowly pour it in. This is easier if you use a Kitchenaid!

Pour the cake batter into the two cake tins and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until baked and golden. To test that it is cooked, plunge a skewer into the middle of the cake and hold it there for 5 seconds. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Set the freshly baked cakes onto a cooling rack and leave to cool. While you're waiting, mix up the filling: pour the cream, icing sugar and vanilla essence into a bowl and beat until thick and creamy. This takes about 5 minutes when beating by hand. Then chop up the strawberries and stir into the creamy filling. 

Spread the creamy filling thickly on the bottom layer of the cake, place the other layer on top and then dust with icing sugar. Attempt to eat it all on your own without your gamer other half noticing (sadly, impossible)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Eating out in Budapest

I first visited Budapest about three and a half years ago when my fiancé whisked me away there on a minibreak to celebrate getting back together. On that first visit I discovered quite how beautiful the city was, and thought it the perfect destination for a family get together to celebrate a milestone birthday (we don't mention numbers here).

Budapest is a wonderful city with plenty to do at different times of year. In the early summer, we walked for miles soaking up the architecture and visited a very rickety Eastern European theme park with a wooden rollercoaster. In the winter, we wrapped up very warm, and also walked for miles. This time, however, there was the Christmas market to explore, and for those arriving a week later than we did, the largest frozen lake in Europe to skate on. I was gutted to miss that as I love ice skating.

As a city, Budapest isn't particularly famous for its food, aside from its two main exports - paprika and goulash. But that's not to say there aren't some gems there. We visited four restaurants in our time there. One incredible, one good and homely, one bad and one where words fail me. I'll start with the bad.

Vendeglo a Zsakbamacskahoz
Lovag utca 3, Budapest

We were recommended this by the hotel we were staying in, and contrary to several highly complementary reviews on Tripadvisor, it wasn't an entirely positive experience.

The ambiance was pleasant, with a couple of other large parties present in this cavernous cellar restaurant, and both the wines we ordered were excellent. However, things went downhill from this point. The menu was classic Hungarian, which was what we had set out to eat that night, and at first glance looked promising, if not a little dated.

We eventually managed to order after trying to catch the waiter's eye for a good 40 minutes (2 bottles of wine down at this point) - not normally a problem, except that it wasn't busy and they weren't doing anything. As it was already late, we decided to forfeit getting a starter. I ordered a spinach and ricotta stuffed chicken with garlic pasta, as did my sister. My uncle and aunt ordered duck with mushrooms, and my mother and other aunt ordered the pike perch.

A further 45 minutes after ordering (and a further bottle of wine sunk), our food finally arrived. My mother said her pike perch was virtually inedible, and my uncle and aunt commented that the duck was rather dry and flavourless. My chicken was similarly dry, and the "garlic pasta" was in fact, spagetti in tomato sauce with very little garlic to speak of. Edible, but very disappointing. It took us a further 40 minutes after asking for the bill for it to arrive. 

Vendeglo a Zsakbamacskahoz is not a restaurant I'd go back to however good the wine was, as both the food and service was lacking. Luckily, our party were full of celebratory spirit so it failed to dampen the mood.

Meal - 6/10 - dated menu and poor service. Nice wine though
Cost - around £20 a head for a main course with (lots of) wine


Vörös Ördög Étterem
Orszaghaz utca 20, Budapest

This was a pleasant surprise, and proof that you shouldn't always go into the first restaurant you see. I'm not normally one to eat in the "tourist-y" parts of town, but we were hungry and having eyed up the restaurant across the street, we decided to try our luck with this place. The name literally means "red devil restaurant", and when you see the cellar (which is only open in winter as it has a lovely courtyard) you can see why. There are red devils everywhere!

Our party had split in two, and my uncle and aunt had gone off to see an old friend, so my mother, sister and I were left to our own devices. We took a taxi up to Buda, the old town, and wandered around. Not quite hungry, but slightly peckish and aware that it was lunchtime, we wandered into here. The waiter was charming and the restaurant itself, warm and cosy. 

 As we were still full from the previous night's meal, we opted for their lunch special: a vegetarian mushroom stew served with little dumplings, which we rounded off with a local beer. The stew didn't look like much, but tasted wonderful. Hearty, warming and intensely mushroom-y. Perfect winter comfort food. Rounded off with a delicious (and very rich!) chocolate crepe, it was exactly what was needed for a winter lunch.

Meal - 8/10 - simple, homely and delicious

Cost - around £10 for a main course, dessert and a beer


Onyx Étterem
Vorosmarty square 7-8

The jewel in the crown of the holiday. I'm not sure I know where to begin with this one. "Oh wow" doesn't even begin to cover it. My sister and I wanted something special for my mother's birthday and she came across this restaurant. We booked it back in April, and it was already nearly full, so clearly we were onto a good thing. How good, we had no idea. Of the seven of us that ate there that night, all of us declared it "the best meal of my life". Onyx has recently been awarded its first Michelin star. If I had my way, I'd give it three.

We went for the seven-course tasting menu with wine pairings. Extravagant, but, you know... needs must.  

 The amuse bouche: crayfish with a bacon reduction

Marinated, roasted and tartar tuna with yuzu and pineapple

Marinated saibling with caviar and orange-pumpkin cream soup

Sautéed scallops served with cauliflower textures

 Breast of quail with “Carbonara” risotto and mushroom jus; Monkfish with curd dumpling, sour cream foam and cucumber

Palate cleanser: creme brulée with coriander sorbet


Taϊnori chocolate, violet

Petit fours

The meal was paired with the following Hungarian wines:

Szürkebarát 2008 (demi sec) Zala - Dr. Bussay László
Darscho (Chardonnay) 2008 Burgenland - Velich
Pinot Noir 2009 Etyek - Hernyák László Birtok
Solus Merlot 2006 Villány - Gere Attila winery
Nyúlászó Aszú 6 puttonyos 2000 Tokaj - Royal Tokaji winery

I couldn't honestly pick a favourite dish. Everything was exquisitely prepared, the service was flawless - seemingly invisible and perfectly choreographed. The quality of each and every course was wonderful and nothing jarred or seemed out of place. Getting the wine pairing was an inspired choice and made an already perfect meal, moreso. 

Perfection doesn't come cheap though - a seven course tasting menu plus wine pairing set us back around £100 a head. This actually seems very reasonable when you compare it to the cost of, say, Les Trois Garçons in Shoreditch, where a five course tasting menu with wine pairing comes to just over £100.

If you were visiting Budapest and wanted to eat somewhere truly special, I honestly couldn't recommend Onyx highly enough. The menus are well thought out and innovative, the quality of the food in excellent, service is flawless and it truly is a very special place to eat at.

Meal - 11/10 (best meal of my life)
Cost - around £100 for the tasting men with wine pairing 


I've covered off the bad, the good and homely and the incredible. The final meal of the holiday was Fortuna. And... the experience was indescribable. Both painful and painfully funny. 

Fortuna Étterem
Hess Andras ter 4, Budapest

For our final meal, we had the choice of either eating here, or at Menza. Trust me on this one - we didn't go there, but go to Menza. Fortuna came highly recommended via several sources. A Budapest local friend of my aunt's, and several Twitter recommendations.  

We checked it out earlier on in the day, and although the restaurant itself was closed as it operates in the evenings only, the menu looked promising and it looked chintzy, but welcoming. When we arrived at 8, we discovered we were the only people in the restaurant. More worrying however was that this was the way it would stay for the rest of the evening. 

Our waiter was over-attentive to the point of prescriptiveness and didn't so much recommend us food choices, but "advised" us that we should order certain dishes. Unperturbed, I went against recommendations and ordered what I felt like. 

Creamed pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, Honey marinated duck breast with mulberry ragout and dumplings

Both dishes I chose sounded like safe bets. The pumpkin soup was delicate to the point of being watery, though the seeds were a nice touch and added some much-needed texture. My first thoguhts when the duck arrived, however, was being slightly overwhelmed by the size of the portion. The duck, although rare, was tough, chewy and lacked flavour, while the potato dumplings were overwhelmingly stodgy. I was unable to finish it, and couldn't face the thought of dessert at this point.

The rest of our party didn't fare much better. My fiancé said the goulash was similarly light on flavour, and my sister's "Fortuna salad" was mildly disappointing. My mum had a special vegetarian strudel made for her as a main course,  which sounded enviably lovely and turned out to be sodden pastry, a couple of courgettes and an awful lot of celery. My aunt's milk-fed lamb was also disappointing - chewy and touch, which it really shouldn't have been.

And that was just the food. The additional "entertainment" for the night was a traditional Hungarian gypsy band, who expected payment for their services at the end of the night. I know this is convention in a great many Eastern European restaurants, but when there's only seven diners, it's bound to be embarrassing for both parties when we don't want to tip for something that was painful to listen to.

An evening so terrible that even three weeks on, we're still laughing about it. Entirely memorable, though possibly for the wrong reasons...

Meal - 4/10 (1 point for food, 3 for comedy value) 

Cost - £30 a head with wine

Have any of you readers been to Budapest? What did you think of the food? Do you have any horror stories or favourite restaurants? I've love to hear about them!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Spanish Chicken Thighs with Sherry & Olives

Ever since he launched his T for Tapas challenge on Twitter, where he and a friend travelled the length of the UK in a giant T shape, cooking up tapas at seemingly random locations, I have been a fan of Omar Allibhoy. While I'm none too fond of shopping excursions in Westfield, I do rather like the Tapas Revolution bar there.

So when I was asked if I would blog some recipes he wrote in conjuction with Olives from Spain, I jumped at the chance. I think Omar is great and I absolutely adore olives, so as far as I was concerned, I was onto a winner.

I must admit, I've tweaked the recipe slightly to make it my own, but it is essentially a Spanish version of a French Coq au Vin, and I think it is in many ways, nicer. The sherry and olives add a wonderful, rounded flavour to the dish and complement the tender chicken thighs perfectly. If you can, make sure you use Spanish queen olives. Mine came stuffed with almonds, which went beautifully with the chicken. I also used miniature Couchillo olives, which are my absolute favourite black olives at the moment, for extra flavour and contrast.

8 chicken thighs
70g diced pancetta
1 large white onion
3 cloves garlic
1 dsp flour
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
175ml dry Fino sherry
300ml chicken stock
125g Spanish queen olives
75g Couchillo olives

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan, then dry fry the pancetta (some of its fat will melt) until golden. Remove from the pan, leaving a little of the molten fat behind then place the chicken thighs skin-side down in the pan to brown the skins. Turn them over and fry on the other side to seal the meat, then set aside. 

Thinly slice the onion & garlic and fry these too in the pan until soft and translucent. At this point, pre-heat the oven to 200°C, and while it is heating up, stir the flour into the onions and slowly add the chicken stock, stirring continually until you have a sauce. Add the Fino sherry and season with a little salt and pepper.

Arrange the chicken thighs skin side up in an oven-proof dish, then scatter over the pancetta and assorted olives. Pull the rosemary leaves off the stem and distribute evenly, then pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover with foil and roast in the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes. Remove the foil and roast for a further 10 minutes. Before serving, pierce the chicken to make sure it is cooked and the juices run clear. Ideally the chicken itself should be so tender that it falls off the bone. I served mine with French beans and basmati rice while sipping on a beautiful white Rioja.

If you're also a fan of olives and Omar Allibhoy, you should have a look at some of the other recipes he's come up with here, or check out the YouTube channel to see the man in action. Here's another chicken recipe that I'll certainly be trying during the week:

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Seafood Risotto

In France, my mother and I took turns to cook. By "took turns", I mean I made one meal, and helped her prepare all the other meals. I would have cooked again, except we had eyes bigger than stomachs and what was meant to just be either lunch or dinner ended up doing two meals. I'm surprised we managed to get the fridge as empty as we did when we came back to London.

While Cordes is beautiful, it is inland which makes the cost of fish near prohibitively expensive. However, I was hell bent on making this for her as I'd made it a couple of nights earlier and had surprised myself by how nice it was. So, frozen fish it was. I'd obviously recommend using fresh fish if you make this yourself, but frozen will certainly do! If you do use frozen fish, thaw the salmon before cooking, but keep the remaining seafood frozen.

Ingredients (serves 4):
125g carnaroli risotto rice
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
75g broad beans
100g king prawns
250g salmon fillet
450ml chicken stock
125ml white wine
1 tbsp fresh tarragon
50g parmesan

Finely chop the onion and thinly slice the garlic. Fry the onion in a little olive oil until translucent then add the garlic and rice and cook for a further minute. Add a third of the chicken stock and reduce over a low heat. Try to stir as little as possible, but whenever the rice is on the verge of sticking, add a little more stock. If your salmon has skin on it, remove the skin then cut into 1cm slices. When you've used about 2/3rd of the stock, add the wine and reduce this down too. 

Finally, add the last of the stock with the broad beans, salmon, prawns and mussels and cover over for 5-10 minutes while they cook and the last of the liquid is absorbed. Don't let it dry out entirely though - risotto should be faintly soup-y. Taste the risotto rice to check that it is cooked. If it is, roughly chop the tarragon and stir into the risotto with 3/4 of the parmesan and serve onto plates. If not, add a little extra water to keep the risotto moist and cook for a further 5 minutes or so until cooked. Once served up, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle over the remaining parmesan.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Roasted Round Courgettes with Cous Cous & Goats Cheese Stuffing

I apologise in advance if this inadvertently proves to be a more difficult recipe than I originally intended - the basic premise is simple, but I have no idea how easy it is to obtain rounded courgettes. I'll explain - I went to the south of France with my mother a couple of weeks back, and we bought these while we were out there. Sadly, we didn't get around to eating them in France (so much food; so little time) so they got packed into my hand luggage and came home with me. 

The cous cous filling is a variation on an Ottolenghi recipe, and I think it makes the perfect stuffing. I made a similar version of this recipe a few weeks earlier still, where I used roasted harlequin squashes and stuffed those. Whatever squash you use, this is absolutely delicious and a wonderful way of using up such gorgeous autumnal vegetables. Couchillo olives are wonderful - smaller than normal olives, they have a gorgeous, delicate flavour. If you can't find couchillo olives, use kalamata or any other mild varieties instead. For the goat's cheese, use Chavroux or any of the ones that come in a soft log form. 

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 round courgettes or small squashes
50g cous cous
25g mograbiah/israeli cous cous
1 small onion
25g sundried tomatoes
Small pinch saffron
1 tbsp couchillo olives
25g crumbly goats cheese
1 tbsp fresh tarragon
1/2 tsp nigella seeds

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C, then slice the courgettes in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeded area, place on a baking tray and season with a little salt & pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, cover and roast for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the foil and roast for a further 10 minutes.

While the courgettes are roasting, pour the cous cous into a bowl, add the saffron, a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover with boiling water and then cover the bowl with a lid or plate and leave for 10 minutes. Next, cook the Israeli cous cous as per the instructions on the bag, drain and leave to cool. While the Israeli cous cous is cooking, peel and thinly slice the onion, then fry slowly in a little olive oil until golden. 

Slice the sundried tomatoes and arbequina olives, then fluff up the cous cous. Stir in the Israeli cous cous, golden onions, sundried tomatoes and arbequina olives. Finally, crumble up the goats cheese into the cous cous mix, add the nigella seeds and roughly chop the tarragon, Stir all of these ingredients in, and your stuffing is ready.

The courgettes should be just about ready at this point - test them with a sharp knife to make sure they are cooked - they should be soft and golden, but keeping their shape. Place two courgette halves on each plate and then spoon over the cous cous. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Quick & Easy Apple Tart

I went down to Somerset at the weekend with my mother and fiancé (I still can't get used to calling him that) to visit family and check out both the church where we'll be getting married and the reception venue. They are both everything I could have wanted and more.

I may have missed mushrooming season, but visiting Somerset at the tail end of October still has its advantages - my uncle had a surplus of apples which unlike cooking apples, won't last the winter. So my mother and I returned to London with bags of beautiful pommes. While hers were earmarked for apple crumble, I decided to try making a tart with mine. 

I am spectacularly lazy when it comes to all things baking related, so I used bought puff pastry - I don't think I could make it as good myself as I don't have the patience and will never make a pastry chef. Having had a second slice for breakfast, I can reassure you that it is as good cold from the fridge as it is hot out the oven!

Ingredients (makes about 6 slices):
For the purée
2 large cooking apples
25g unsalted butter
1 tbsp brandy
1/2 tsp cinnamon
50g caster sugar

For the tart
1 sheet of rolled puff pastry
2 large cooking apples
1 egg
1 tbsp icing sugar

If you're using frozen puff pastry, leave it out to thaw. Meanwhile, make the apple purée - peel, core and roughly dice two of the cooking apples (place the peeled and diced chunks in a bowl of lemony water so they don't brown while you peel the rest). Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the apples, brandy and cinnamon. As the apples can be quite tart, once the apples have softened to a paste, taste and add as much or as little sugar as you deem is necessary. I used about 50g as my apples were really quite sharp. Transfer to a fridge-friendly dish and leave to cool.

Once the apple purée is cool, preheat the oven to 200°C then place a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray and lay the puff pastry sheet flat on it. Spread the puree on the pastry, leaving 1/2 an inch clear around the edge. Cover and place in the fridge while you prepare the top layer of apples. Peel, core and thinly slice the remaining two apples (again place the peeled and diced chunks in a bowl of lemony water so they don't brown while you slice the rest), then remove the pastry from the fridge. Place the apple slices on top of the purée, beat the egg & brush onto the exposed pastry around the edge, then dust the icing sugar over the apples. 

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden. Leave to cool for 5 minutes then cut into slices and serve. Delicious with a scoop of ice cream or spoon of crème fraîche. Perfect!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Baked Sea Bass with Shiitake Mushrooms, Garlic and Chilli

Hello everyone! Apologies for the non-existent updates of late - I've been completely swallowed up into wedding planning and all that it entails. Having set a date for much earlier than we both had originally intended, there has been so much to do in a comparatively short space of time. However, much has been done so hopefully I'll be able to resume some semblance of normal posting in due course. Though beware, there may well be a return to many soup posts as the wedding diet commences!

My mother and sister came over for an evening to discuss all things wedding-related and as I'd had a delivery of shiitake mushrooms from Abel and Cole, this was the result. It is fantastically light and tastes delicious as the combination of garlic, soy and chilli works so well together. I served this with rice and tenderstem broccoli, which worked beautifully with it.

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 sea bass fillets
150g shiitake mushrooms
2 red chillis
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
50g unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. Cover a baking tray with enough foil that it can be folded back on itself to create a parcel, then place the sea bass fillets on the foil. Finely slice the chilli and garlic and slice some of the larger shiitake mushrooms. Mix together the soy sauce and mirin and chop the butter into small cubes. Scatter the garlic, chilli, shiitake mushrooms and butter on the sea bass then drizzle over the soy and mirin sauce. Seal the foil parcel and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

If you’re serving your sea bass with rice, put the rice on to cook while the fish bakes in the oven – they should all be ready at the same time. Enjoy!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Chocolate Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Basil

I recently had my first birthday at work in many years. Previously, I have taken the day off but this year the realisation finally sunk in that when you're at home and everyone else is at work, it's a bit boring spending the day on your own. So I made a gigantic chocolate cake and went into work to celebrate the final year of my twenties. And it seems, my workmates know me very well. I was surprised with a lovely gift of weird and wonderful chocolate-y treats - sea salt chocolate, honey, mustard and cocoa salad dressing, and the most intriguing of them all: cocoa flavoured penne pasta.

So last night, my lovely friend Tara came round for dinner. Over a couple of bottles of red wine and much chatter, I prepared us a very interesting meal. I must admit, I followed the recipe example on the back of the pack as I was unsure as to how it would taste,  but having eaten it, I can't wait to try it again with different flavours. Tara and I are planning to experiment with chilli, scallops, chorizo and tarragon, though possibly not all at the same time. 

If you want to try something a bit different and rather wonderful, I'd highly recommend the cocoa penne. It's made by Hotel Chocolat and can be found here

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter or two as a main):
200g cocoa penne
2 tbsp mascarpone
50g grated parmesan
140g smoked salmon
10g fresh basil

Put the penne on to boil and cook for 9 minutes. While you're waiting for it to cook, shred the salmon into strips, grate the parmesan and also shred the basil leaves. Once cooked, drain the pasta and stir in the mascarpone. 

Once the mascarpone has fully melted, stir in the parmesan, smoked salmon and basil. Don't forget to hold back a little of the basil to garnish! Serve immediately - it is nicest hot. I added a little chilli oil to mine as I know that chilli and chocolate makes a fantastic pairing, though it is also delicious as is. Enjoy!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Parmesan and Herb Breaded Chicken

Not my usual style, I must admit, but I had some leftover breadcrumbs from making stuffed peppers and some chicken that needed eating, so I decided that breaded chicken was the way to go. I always forget that when homemade, breaded chicken is miles away from its KFC or supermarket freezer section counterparts, and makes for an impressive yet simple weeknight supper. Great too, as it can be made in advance and quickly grilled when you're ready to eat.

I served mine with Turkish-style rice pilaf and homemade garlic and paprika aioli, which worked beautifully. I'll definitely be making this again.

Ingredients (serves 4):
For the chicken
3 chicken breasts (about 450g)
1 Tbsp plain flour
50g Breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan
½ Tsp dried mint
½ Tsp dried oregano
½ Tsp paprika
2 eggs

For the Turkish-style rice pilaf
100g basmati rice
50g orzo 
1 litre diluted chicken or vegetable stock 

Start by preparing the chicken: slice the breast acrossways so you have 3-4 pieces of chicken per breast. Dip each slice into the flour and coat evenly then set aside. Mix together the breadcrumbs, mint, oregano, paprika and parmesan and season with a little salt and pepper. In a shallow bowl, beat together the eggs. Make sure you have a clean plate ready to transfer your breaded chicken onto, then dunk each piece of chicken in the egg, making sure it is fully coated, then dip into the breadcrumb mixture, so that both sides are covered. Place each piece of breaded chicken on the clean plate, ready for grilling. 

At this stage, you can either keep them in the fridge for up to a day or freeze for another day - I would suggest individually wrapping each piece in cling film so you can take out the number you need without them sticking together. If you're going to cook them immediately, transfer the chicken onto a very lightly greased baking tray, making sure the chicken is laid flat and doesn't overlap. I had to cook mine in two batches as there wasn't room for all the chicken on one tray. 

Now for the rice - put the stock on to boil, and heat up a dry frying pan ready to toast the orzo. Once the pan is hot, add the orzo and toast for up to a minute. The pasta should change colour only very lightly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. When the stock is boiling, add the rice and toasted orzo and boil for 11 minutes. When cooked, drain and serve.

While the rice is cooking, heat up the grill. Once hot, spray a little olive oil on the chicken so the breadcrumbs go nice and golden, and grill for 5 minutes each side, turning once. You might need to begin this stage a little earlier if, like me, your oven isn't big enough for all the chicken on one baking tray! Once your chicken and rice is cooked, transfer onto plates and serve with some delicious, garlicky aioli. Wonderful!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Stuffed Peppers

This is a bit of a summer classic and as such this version takes its cues from many versions made across the Mediterannean - Italian Parmesan, Turkish-style rice, French anchovies... you get the idea. While they take a little time to prepare, they keep well, are delicious hot or cold and can easily be made in advance - perfect for entertaining or picnics!

Ingredients (Serves 4):
3 red peppers
1 courgette
1 leek
30g chestnut mushrooms
4 anchovy fillets
25g orzo
100g basmati rice
10g breadcrumbs
1 tbsp parmesan
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried mint

Preheat the oven to 180°C, then while it comes to temperature, prepare the filling for the peppers. Thinly slice the leek and then chop one of the peppers and the courgette into approx 1cm pieces. Stir in the cumin and mint and sauté over a medium heat until soft, then thinly slice the mushrooms and add to the pan alongside the roughly chopped anchovy fillets. Cook until the mushrooms are done then set aside until ready for the next step.

Meanwhile, put a pan of lightly salted water on to boil, lightly toast the orzo in a dry pan and cook the rice and orzo together until done - about 11 minutes. Drain the rice and add to the pan with the vegetables. Mix together, then re-cover while you prepare the remaining peppers.

Slice the peppers in half lengthways and take care to remove all the seeds and pith. Place each half pepper face-up on a baking tray and brush the insides with a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper then spoon in the rice and vegetable mix, pressing it in so it is tightly packed.

Finally, mix together the parmesan and breadcrumbs and stir in a little more mint if you like, then sprinkle on top of the peppers to give a delicious, crispy crust.  Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. You will have some of the rice and vegetables left over after stuffing, so once the peppers are cooked, give it a quick blast of heat and serve alongside the peppers.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Turkish Red Lentil Soup (Kirmizi Mercimek Corbasi)

Hello! I'm back and fully refreshed after a wonderful trip to Turkey. The holiday itself was wonderful, filled with much amazing Turkish food, lots of relaxation and some very wonderful days out. I also return a newly engaged woman, as the other half rather foolishly asked if he could become Mr Crumbs For Dinner.

Inspiration often strikes in the place you most recently visited. In my case this trip to Turkey yielded many ideas to try, but this was the recipe I wanted to make the most. While I have eaten this soup before on many an occasion, being in Turkey for the end of Ramadan meant that it was more prevalent than usual as it is often one of the soups used to break the fast at the end of the day.

I roughly blended all my ingredients before finally adding the lentils to slowly cook for a slightly more rustic texture, but it's up to you how chunky or smooth you make it. I used chicken stock for this, but if you want to make the recipe vegetarian, subsitute for a good quality vegetable stock. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice when you're ready to eat makes the soup even more delicious.

Ingredients (serves 4):
125g red lentils
1 medium onion
2 small carrots
2 garlic cloves
1 small baking potato
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried mint
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock

Finely dice the carrot and onion, and, in a deep saucepan, slowly fry in a little olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent. Peel and roughly slice the garlic, then add to the pan with the cumin and mint and fry for a further couple of minutes. Peel and dice the potato into small chunks, then cook for a minute or so. Add the stock and simmer for 25 minutes to half an hour - until the carrot and potato is soft.

While the base of the soup is simmering, weigh out and rinse the lentils then set aside. When the base of the soup is cooked, allow to cool a little then, in batches, roughly blend and transfer back to the saucepan. Add the lentils and if it is very thick, a little extra water and simmer for up to an hour. 

When you're ready to eat, transfer the soup into bowls and serve with a wedge of lemon on the side. It is delicious with some fresh bread to mop up any remainders.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Recipes revisited: Baba Ghanoush

As I'm currently on holiday in Turkey, it feels fitting to end the Recipes Revisited series on one of my all-time favourite mezzes, Baba Ghanoush, or Moutabal as it is sometimes known.

I like hummous, but the moment I see Baba Ganoush any desire to eat the hummous goes out the window. It is absolutely delicious - filled with warm, earthy flavours from both the chargrilled aubergine and paprika. I like it served with nothing more than fresh rustic bread; be it ciabatta, Lebanese flatbreads or a really good sourdough.

2 medium aubergines
1 tbsp tahini paste
70ml boiling water
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil and a drizzle at the end
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
salt and pepper

If you have a gas hob, place the aubergines over an open flame and grill until charred, turning occasionally. This lends a wonderful smokey flavour to the aubergines. If you don't have a gas hob, you can also place the aubergines under a hot grill (pierce them first so they don't explode!) though this doesn't lend quite such a smokey flavour. 

Set the aubergines aside to cool, then slice in half and scoop out the flesh. Take care to avoid the charred skin. Roughly chop the aubergine then set aside to drain for about half an hour. 

In the meantime, prepare the rest of the dip: pour the boiling water into a bowl with a tablespoon of tahini paste and mix until the two ingredients form a paste. Crush in the garlic cloves and add the lemon juice, paprika and pomegranate molasses. 

Once the aubergine has drained, stir it into the tahini paste mix, finely chop the coriander and add that too, season with salt and pepper then taste. You might find it needs a little more lemon, salt or even pomegranate molasses. The Baba Ganoush should taste smokey, but not too dense.

Serve in a bowl and garnish with a drizzle of oil, a sprinkle of paprika and a sprig of coriander.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Recipes revisited: Mozzarella Stuffed Romano Peppers

Romano peppers confuse me. Some people call them ramiro, some romano, some romero. I don't know which version is correct, or even if they are the same thing, but I digress. This is one of my most googled for recipes, and it was originally one of my mum's creations. It is incredibly simple, and incredibly delicious. But aren't the simplest things usually the best? 

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 Romano Peppers 
60g fresh Mozzarella
Approx. 4 basil leaves per pepper
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the peppers under a hot grill for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally. You want the skin to blacken in places, but not all over. Once sufficiently blackened, remove from the grill and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, turn the oven on to about 180°C. Once the peppers are cooled enough to handle, carefully make a slit from top to bottom, taking care not to slice through both sides. Open them out a little and, taking care not to tear the pepper, remove the seeds. 

Slice the Mozzarella into 5mm half moons - this will make it easier to fill the pepper than with full slices - and place inside the pepper. I found 4 half-moons filled my peppers. Then, tear the basil and scatter over the Mozzarella. Season with a little salt and pepper then drizzle with olive oil.

Bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes and then serve. I think these are lovely on their own as a starter, or served with various salads as a main.