Sunday, 31 July 2011

Roast Carrot and Parsnip Soup

This was originally "leftovers soup" which was so good that I made it again to be enjoyed as a soup in its own right. Certainly, it went down a storm as far as my other half was concerned - the first batch yielded 8 servings and I only got to eat one of them.

I know parsnips take a lot of flack from people,  but for me if you roast them there's few things more delicious. And in this soup they lend a wonderful sweetness. I roasted both the parsnips and carrots before simmering gently to bring out the flavours before blitzing into a wonderfully smooth and comforting soup.

Ingredients (serves 8):
750g carrots
500g parsnips
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5 litres vegetable stock
200ml sour cream
20g fresh coriander
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat an oven to 150°C, then while it's warming up cut the carrots and parsnips into chunks and toss in a large bowl with the olive oil, cumin and coriander powder. Transfer to a roasting dish and roast for up to an hour. Transfer the carrots and parsnips to a large bowl and simmer in 1.5 litres of vegetable stock for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Then, in batches, blitz in a blender until you have a smooth soup.

Transfer back to the saucepan, then add the nutmeg and sour cream. Roughly chop the coriander and add to the soup. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste and cook gently until hot through - don't let it boil or the soup will curdle.

Enjoy with fresh bread - sometimes the simplest things are the best.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Seeded Spelt Loaf

I am mildly intolerant to wheat so I try to avoid eating it on a regular basis - annoying as I absolutely adore freshly made bread (especially sourdough) and pasta so it seems like a particularly cruel joke. It makes my stomach bloat horribly, it makes me really lethargic, and if I'm really unlucky and have been enjoying one too many wheat-y treats, it makes my joints cease up and become incredibly painful. In sort, I love it, it doesn't love me. 

However, a fairly recent discovery arrived in the form of spelt, a distant relation to wheat which unlike the grain we currently consume and cultivate, remains much the same as when it was first introduced here from the Middle East. And fortunately for me, it doesn't wreak havoc with my digestive system, leaving me free to enjoy my bread!

I was sent a selection of goodies from Sharpham Park (a Somerset-based organic flour mill who make a wide range of spelt products) to review, including a bag of absolutely delicious seeded spelt flour so I thought I'd better put my baking skills to the test and make my own spelt loaf. 

The first attempt wasn't great - I made the dough slightly too wet so it didn't quite rise as it should. The resulting loaf was a little flat with closer resemblance to soda bread than a more traditional boule. However, the taste was fantastic. Despite the flatness, it still tasted light: not heavy or stodgy in the least, and the seeds were lovely.

My second attempt was rather better - I reduced the amount of water used and kept a close eye on it as it rose, which it did, beautifully. The resultant loaf was divine. Soft, slightly tangy bread filled with a delicious assortment of seeds. It was so good, in fact, that I only got to eat one slice - my other half and sister demolished the rest.

500g seeded spelt flour
100ml warm water
150ml milk
1 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp olive oil

I must admit, I'm a cheat and use a KitchenAid to knead my bread, but the basics are always the same. Mix together the flour, salt and yeast, then create a well in the flour. Add the olive oil, milk and warm water and then mix together using your hands until it forms a dough. Once the mixture is doughy, transfer to a floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes until silky and elastic, then put in a lightly oiled bowl to rise. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place like an airing cupboard for an hour.

After an hour, knock back and shape the dough into a ball before placing on a sheet of baking paper. Re-cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further hour. Shortly before the hour is up, preheat the oven to 200°C. Finally, when risen and ready to bake, dust the surface of the loaf with a little flour and then slash the top with a knife. Bake for 20-25 minutes, testing to see if it is done by tapping the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, then it's ready. Set onto a cooling rack, then when cool enough to eat, slather in butter and enjoy!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Baked Sea Bass

I had one of those rare impromptu weekends that ended up being really lovely. My mother gatecrashed on Friday night and we ploughed our way through several bottles of wine, then the next day a seemingly innocent stop off at a lighting shop turned into a full-blown girly shopping day.

A detour into food shops around lunchtime left us with some gorgeous whole sea bass. While lunch itself was a delicious salad affair, dinner was altogether more special. I briefly headed out to Primrose Hill for a friend's birthday, and left my mother in charge of the kitchen. Returning home to the dish below was really quite a treat.

Make sure your sea bass is descaled and gutted when you buy it - I had to fillet my own fish fairly recently and it was not a pleasant task. I realise this makes me sound very princess-y, but as far as experiences go, it's one I'm glad I've done but one I equally have little desire to repeat. Some things are best left to the experts!

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 whole seabass, about 25cm in length
2 fresh red chillis
4 cloves garlic
10g fresh thyme
75ml white wine
50ml olive oil
1 lemon
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C, then lay out on a flat surface about 40cm tin foil. Line the tin foil with baking paper, then place a sea bass in the middle of the sheet. Put a few sprigs of thyme in the belly cavity, then peel and roughly chop the garlic and chillis. Add a little of the garlic and chillis to the belly cavity, then arrange the rest on and around the fish. Sprinkle with a little sea salt, lift the foil at the edges to prevent any lliquid draining out and add a quarter of the white wine, olive oil and lemon juice. 

Encase the fish in the foil so it is sealed tightly but not clinging to the fish so it can steam. Place on a baking tray and repeat for the remaining three fishes. Bake for 30 minutes, then carefully undo the foil bag and transfer the fish to a warmed plate. Serve with a wedge of lemon, some new potatoes and something green - we went for delicious buttery spring greens. Heavenly!

Thanks to my mum for doing all the cooking too - things always taste better when someone else does all the hard work.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Homemade Apricot Jam

I love apricot jam. For me, there is little better than fresh croissants with butter and apricot jam. I'm not a huge breakfast fan, but croissants and jam make the perfect occasional treat. Apricot jam isn't just a breakfast treat though - it is frequently used in baking, so you'd be wise to keep a jar handy. 

I have always been a fan of the Bonne Maman apricot jams - no other shop-bought ones will do. However, since I learned how to make my own I fear they may well be out of a customer. Next step is clearly making my own raspberry jam!

Making jam is not complicated in the slightest. All you need is a little time on your hands and some patience.

Ingredients (makes two jars):
1kg fresh apricots
700g granulated sugar

Slice the apricots in half or into quarters, depending on their size, and discard the stones. Place in a large bowl and stir in the sugar. Cover with a teatowel and leave in a cool dry place for up to 18 hours. I stirred it a couple of times to make sure everything was evenly coated. Place two saucers in the fridge the night before - you will need these to test the jam when you make it.

When you're ready to make the jam, sterilise two Bonne Maman-sized jam jars (370g approx) by placing in a cool oven and bringing it up to 140°C. When the oven reaches temperature, leave the jam jars there, but transfer the apricot and sugar mixture to a large saucepan and bring to the boil. 

Once it reaches the boil, let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. The bubbles should be large by this point. Remove one of the saucers from the fridge and place just under a teaspoon of jam on it and leave to cool for a couple of minutes. If the jam is still runny, cook it for a further five minutes or so. If it looks like it sets, turn off the heat, remove your jam jars from the oven and transfer the jam from the pan into the two jars. Screw the lids on tightly and leave to cool. Store your jam in the fridge - it will keep for up to 6 months. 

With thanks to Red Apple Delivery for the inspiration!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Giveaway: We have a winner!

A little break in the usual posting route to announce a winner for our giveaway:

Tasha, you have won a copy of The Flavour Thesaurus! Congratulations! I'll be in touch to get your address so I can put in the post to you. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of it as I have.

Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Eggs

My sister is a brunch fiend. So, when she showed up early one Sunday morning and offered to make me brunch, I could hardly say no. She duly trotted off to the shops, returning with eggs, smoked salmon, chives and some delicious bread then set to work. I was relegated to smoked salmon chopping duties.

The result was wonderful: creamy, soft eggs dotted with little pieces of chive and stirred through with smoked salmon. A feast for a king or queen, though it's probably a good thing she doesn't show up every Sunday morning!

Ingredients (serves 2):
4 large eggs
100g smoked salmon
50ml milk
10g butter
1 tsp chopped chives
4 slices fresh bread
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the smoked salmon into 1cm ribbons, then crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat in the milk, chives, salt and pepper. Toast and butter the bread, then set on plates awaiting the egg. Melt the remaining butter over a low heat until liquid, then pour in the egg mixture. Stir constantly but gently with a wooden spoon for 3-5 minutes, until the egg is cooked but still slightly wet. Finally, stir in the smoked salmon ribbons and divide the scrambled eggs between the two plates and get stuck in.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Fattoush is one of my favourite Middle-Eastern dishes and is an absolutely delicious summer salad. Unlike one of my other favourite salads, Tabbouleh, the ingredients are kept roughly chopped. 

This was another recipe inspired by the veg box - I had radishes, which I've never really known what to do with. This is the only dish I have knowingly eaten them in, and was perfect considering the summer weather. 

As I rushed out to get the last of the ingredients (namely, cauliflower) my other half asked if it was strictly necessary to include cauliflower. I was insistent - it was - and he sulked. However, when it came to eating it, he declared it the best cauliflower he's ever eaten. Little victories!

Ingredients (serves 4):
For the salad
1/2 a small cauliflower
2 spring onions
1 Turkish cucumber
12 radishes
12 cherry tomatoes
10g mint
10g coriander
10g parsley

For the dressing
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp lemon juice
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp za'tar
salt and pepper

For the pitta
2 wholemeal pitta breads
25g butter

Preheat the oven to 180°C, then lightly toast the pitta - enough to make the pockets expand slightly. This makes them easier to slice in half. Once you've split the pitta into two halves, allow to cool. While you're waiting, make the dressing - in a bowl, crush the garlic, then add the lemon juice, olive oil, sumac, za'tar and a little salt and pepper. Whisk until all the ingredients are combined, then set aside.

Your pitta should now be cool. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then using a pastry brush, brush it onto the rougher, inside part of each pitta. Place buttered side up on a baking tray then put in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until crisp and golden.

Now make up the salad. Quarter the cherry tomatoes and radishes, peel the cucumber and chop into dice, and thinly slice the spring onions. Break up the cauliflower into small individual florets. Discard the thick base stem, but chop the smaller stems into chunks. Add all the ingredients to a large salad bowl then pour over the dressing and toss to distribute evenly. 

Roughly chop the mint, coriander and parsley, once the bread is done, add to the salad bowl and stir well. Break the bread into pieces the same size as the cauliflower and finally toss everything together before serving - eat immediately or the pitta will go soggy!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Fish Pie

Not the most summery of recipes I must admit, but then it hasn't been the most summery of summers. Fish pie is perfect cold weather comfort food. For me, a major plus is that it's a meal that is easily prepared in advance so you can just pop it in the oven when you're ready. I made this as my other half's dad came to stay and I didn't want to be knee-deep in the kitchen on a friday evening after work. 

I like to keep my fish pie simple with nothing more than fish, a white sauce and potatoes, however if you wanted to make a really decadent fish pie, you could add slices of hard boiled egg and some delicious asparagus to the mix before you top it with mashed potato. My sister once made a version topped with sweet potato which was divine, so there's many variations you can try.

Ingredients (serves 6):
450g sustainably sourced cod fillets (or other white fish)
250g salmon fillet
50g mussels
50g squid
50g prawns
2 large baking potatoes
50g butter
200ml milk
1 tsp mustard
200ml white wine
10g plain flour
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop the potatoes into chunks, then boil for 20 minutes or until cooked. While the potato is boiling, place the salmon and cod fillets in a large, deep frying pan, add 100ml milk, 100ml white wine and then enough water to make sure half the fish is covered. Add the bay leaves and grind in a little pepper. Simmer with a lid on for 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked. Remove the fish from the pan and place on a plate to cool. Do not discard the liquid - you'll be needing it shortly!

Drain and mash the potatoes, remembering to add the remaining milk and half the butter, and season with pepper. Cover and set aside for the moment. Next, make the white sauce for the fish: over a low heat melt the butter and once melted, stir in the flour and cook for a further 30 seconds. Add the liquid reserved from the fish a tablespoonful at a time, stirring constantly to avoid any lumps, until you have about 300ml of liquid and stir in a teaspoon of mustard.

Break up and arrange the fish in a 20x30cm or similarly sized dish and scatter the prawns, mussels and squid on top. Pour over the white sauce so the fish is covered, then spoon on the mash - I use a fork to spread it out, which also creates a lovely ridged pattern which in turn crisps up beautifully in the oven. Bake at 180°C for 45 minutes to an hour, then serve with something green on the side.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Books: Living and Eating

This book looks deceptively pristine - it is a new copy. The much-thumbed original resides in the parential home, where I first discovered it. That copy is tatty,  the beautiful waxed paper torn and many times repaired. Its pages are covered in food splats and rings of red wine. All signs of frequent use. It was one of many cookbooks that my dad, always passionate about food, bought.

It is not simply a cookbook - John Pawson is an architect, and it is his wife, Annie Bell who writes the recipes. So this book contains not just recipes, but a design for living, so to speak. They appear to live an incredibly minimal life, with no clutter anywhere to be seen. I think my other half would be greatly appreciative if I were to take a leaf out of this book, but it's never going to happen. I'd love to live a pristine, zen-like existence, but unfortunately a trail of mess, dirty utensils, washing up and flour tends to follow me wherever I go.

The recipes are gorgeous though, and this mustn't be overlooked. It is arranged by the stages of a meal: starters, soups and pasta, then by fish and meat type, salads and finally desserts. The final section is devoted to explaining the Pawson/Bell lifestyle manifesto.

But back to the recipes. My personal favourites are the buckwheat noodles with gorgonzola and rocket, the roasted garlic with goats cheese and parma ham, the chicken baked in sea salt and lapsang souchong and the gorgeous butternut squash soup. Not being a sweet tooth, it shames me to admit I have not tried any of the desserts.

I also love the photography in the book. It is not heavily illustrated - there's a picture about every third page - but the photos are gorgeous with beautiful clean lines. They don't just focus on the food, but serve to illustrate the lifestyle embraced by the book's authors.

Sadly it appears to be out of print these days, but there are plenty of copies to be found on Amazon and eBay.


Don't forget, there's still time to enter our competition to win a copy of The Flavour Thesaurus. Click here and leave a comment - I'll draw the winner on the 17th July.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Eton Mess

 A lighter take on a traditional Eton Mess, this isn't a dessert for those that like their food looking pristine and picture-book-perfect. How can you, when one of the main ingredients is smashed meringue? An authentic Eton Mess is meant to be served with strawberries, cream, meringue and a little additional sugar. I like a bit more variety in mine, so the recipe has morphed into something a little different. And personally, I prefer it to the much richer and sweeter original as it pays more attention to the fruits used.

For the meringue, you can make your own so long as you cook them very, very slowly - you want as little chewy stickiness to the meringue as possible and for them to break easily. I prefer to cheat and use a packet of pre-made meringue nests - the M&S ones are the best I've used.


Ingredients (serves 6):
100g meringue
400g strawberries
250g raspberries
150g blueberries
250ml unsweetened natural yogurt

Wash the strawberries, remove the hull and then chop into bitesize pieces a little larger than the raspberries then place in a large serving bowl. Wash the raspberries and blueberries too and add to the bowl. Next, break up the meringues so they are in large chunks, then add the yogurt. Fold all the ingredients together, and then if you're feeling posh, transfer to a clean bowl to serve. Eat immediately - you don't want the meringue going soggy!