Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Spinach, chick pea and tamarind stew

I'm never keen on following recipes.

Granted, I have more than my fair share of cookbooks, but the thought of rigidly sticking to a recipe curls my toes. I hate rules, I hate routine...well showering daily is a pretty good one, but when it comes to cooking, I love to use these books as inspiration to invent my own creations.

Following one epic fail too many, I have decided that sometimes, the chef knows best (gracious I know...!)

In this instance, it is a chef whose work I hold in ultimately high esteem, and who I respect for shunning the gratuitous trawling of the 'celebrity' chef.

Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli who came to the UK in 1998 to study at the Cordon Bleu, produces some of the most visually stunning and vivaciously flavoursome dishes I've seen. And to top it off, it's all vegetarian.

I first became aware of his work whilst living in Clapham with a friend who worked for Yotam's publisher. On the coffee table was a copy of The Cookbook. Drawn by the bold and inviting imagery, I was blown away by the content, and spent the next few days waxing lyrical to anyone that would listen.

And now I own Plenty, equally brilliant and the source of my first recipe cover.

OK, now is the time to admit that I'm not exactly following this recipe to the letter. The reason, I couldn't source swiss chard in my primitive surroundings, so have therefore substituted the chard for spinach.

To serve four, you will need:

4 tsp of tamarind paste
400g of spinach
1 and a half tsp of coriander seeds
1 medium red onion - thinly sliced
2 tsp of caraway seeds
1 and a half tsp of olive oil
1 tsp of tomato puree
400g of chopped tomatoes
250ml of water
1 and a half tsp of soft brown sugar
400g of canned chickpeas (drained)
juice of 1 lemon
200g of greek yoghurt
handful of chopped fresh coriander and mint
salt and black pepper

400g brown rice
20g butter

Now, don't bulk at this list and think, jeez, how much will all that cost. OK, if you're starting from scratch then yes, it will add up. But once you've got caraway and coriander seeds, tomato puree, olive oil in store, they can be used in so many other dishes. Plus your water's on tap - just not in your garden hose...


  1. Dry roast the coriander seeds - remove and grind in a pestle and mortar (or in a bowl with the end of a rolling pin)
  2. In the same pan, add your oil, onion and carraway seeds and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes
  3. Add the tomato puree and cook through for 30 seconds
  4. Add the chickpeas, sugar, your now ground coriander seed and chopped tomatoes.
  5. Stir through the tamarind paste and season to taste
  6. Leave on a low heat for 30 minutes uncovered to allow the stew to thicken
  7. Now for your rice - cook as per the packs instructions, but should take in the region of 25 mins
  8. 15 minutes in, add the spinach to the stew to gentley wilt, check the seasoning and adjust if needed
  9. When the rice is cooked, spread evenly into four preheated bowls, and spoon the stem evenly on top
  10. Squeeze over the lemon, add a blob of yoghurt and sprinkle with the fresh herbs, then you're ready to go!

The aniseed from the carraway compliments the spice from the coriander seeds, the richness of the sauce and the sharpness of the lemon. Not the prettiest of dishes, but a flavour combination that needs to be tasted.

If you're a vegetarian looking for new recipes to shake up the mundane, then this book is all you need...if only I had the swiss chard...

Thank you Yotam, a true master of your art.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sundried tomato and olive pizza

I am awash with facts this weekend, so much so that unless Miss C bakes me a cake shaped ark, I just might get swept away.

It all stems from a night at the dogs to celebrate a birthday. Standing trackside by the traps, there was a cacophony of sharp intakes of breath, squeals and gasps (as well as copious amounts of grit in the face) at the speed at which these incredible animals take off. This led to a Google session that told us that greyhounds can reach 45 mph, and only the cheetah accelerates faster - which can reach 60 mph in three seconds.

And now it is to my main passion that I discover some facts about the origins of pizza, a dish so common and yet with very mixed application.

The pizza base is essentially a flat bread, which our ancestors have been serving up since neolithic times (I wonder what else they served at dinner parties in 10,000 BC...).
Initially covered in a plain red sauce, it wasn't until 1889 when Neapolitan chef, Raffaele Esposito prepared the inaugural margherita in honour of Margherita of Savoy, featuring tomato, mozzarella and basil (Italian flag...clever). The first pizza ever to include cheese - pretty much a given in pizzas today.
You can practically put anything on a pizza, which I'm sure is frowned upon in some circles but...get over it, if I want a fry up pizza, then a fry up pizza I shall have!

For this recipe, I'm making my almost favourite pizza - sundried tomato and olive. To be my true favourite, I would include a layer of pesto, but as my girlfriend and best friend forever #GFBFF hates it, I've left it out.

My generosity is extended purely as she was the one that bought me my pizza stone. If you don't have a pizza oven in your garden (I'm hoping this is the majority), get the pizza stone, it makes such a difference to make ultimately crispy bases.
To make two pizzas, you'll need:
375 grams of strong white flour
half a sachet of dried yeast
120ml of warm water
2 pinches of sugar
1 glug of olive oil

Add the yeast and sugar to a jug. Yeast is living and feeds on sugar, which is why I add a tiny bit to aid the process - never add salt at this stage as it will kill the yeast (sad times, bad pizza). Pour in the water and stir. Mean while, weigh out your flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Your yeast mix is ready to add when bubbles appear. Add a little at a time, mixing it in gradually then flour the work surface and get your kneed on for five minutes, until the dough is light and springy. Place it in a warm place and let it rise for half an hour - patience is a virtue as otherwise you'll end up with horrible dry bases...I know, I have the patience of a two year old.

Nb. Now is the time to turn your oven on to 225c and add your pizza stones (sorry, you'll need two for this recipe but on the plus, they are very reasonably priced.)
For the sauce:
1 tin chopped tomatoes
tea spoon of tomato puree
half a large red onion - diced into small cubes
1 glug of red wine
half a tea spoon of balsamic vinegar

Heat your flat bottomed pan to a medium heat with some oil and add your onions. Cook for a few mins until translucent. Add the red wine and cook for a minute to burn off the alcohol. Then chuck in your tomatoes, puree, and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and reduce the mixture by a third.
Retrieve your dough and divide into two, rolling out to fit your stone - mine's 12 inches ... ;-)
Evenly prick the base's centre as you don't want this to rise and blind bake them for five minutes, just to give them a head start and to avoid a soggy bottom.
After five minutes, take your bases from the oven, spread your tomato sauce evenly, and if you fancy my recipe, add mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, olives and a scattering of fresh or dried (more if the latter) oregano, basil and marjoram.
The dough beat me - point blank refused to be spherical!

Place your pizzas back in the oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until you have golden crusts.
Serve with a mixed herby salad and your favourite condiment - Miss C chose brown sauce...yeah.

The race track served us up an emaciated veggie burger and a cold jacket potato for an exorbitant fee, so next time, I will definitely be smuggling in a few slices of homemade pizza, whilst wowing the crowd with more greyhound related facts...

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Sausage rolls sans meat

Vegetarian sausage rolls.

Up until two years ago, I would have said that that was an oxymoron. Anything other than pork masquerading as a sausage roll would have been sacrilegious.

Removing as many porky sausage rolls as I dared from the party buffet was a challenge I relished, and a flavour I cherished.

However, since Miss Crumpet, the non-red meat eating vege-pescatarian entered my life, and a willingness to broaden my culinary horizons has seen me try a number of new flavours, including the vegetarian sausage.

Our preference is for Linda McCartney's, a brand which is very hit and miss - the pies are pretty terrible, but the mozzarella burgers are fab. Often discounted to £1 for six (pretty bargainous), these sausages offer great value for money.

To make your vegetarian sausage rolls, you'll need:

4 vegetarian sausages
1/2 a pack of ready to roll puff pastry (all the chefs use this so no shame in not making your own)
2 large dollops of English mustard
2 large pinches of oregano
1 egg

To start, heat your oven to 180c and cook the sausages for 20 minutes. Whilst these are cooking, divide your pastry into four and roll all out to be about 3mm thick, and 100mm square in size.

Remove the sausages from the oven and place each an inch from the top end of their pastry sheets. On two, spread the mustard underneath the sausage, all over the pastry. On the other, sprinkle the oregano evenly - vegetarian sausage roll roulette.

From the top, roll your sausage rolls and trim off any excess pasty from the ends - you want a little over lap to make sure they seal properly. Brush over the egg wash and then back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden.

Golden vegetarian sausage rolls, surrounded by spinach and cheese muffins

We took these as a gift for our friends on our recent Easter trip to Brittany (which incidentally was absolutely stunning, I'd recommend a visit) and they all went within 10 minutes of opening the tin.

These friends are devout carnivores, all partial to a juicy steak. And yet none batted an eyelid to the vegetarian sausage roll - testament to the delicious alternative it provides...I might even go as far as saying my preferred choice (please don't smite me 25 year old Gastro...)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Simple supper health kick

Of late, I have been abusing my temple.
A weekend of socialising, involving drink (despite our masculinity, a penchant for Lambrini is disturbing to all but my inner circle) and late night fast food, has had a negative impact on my well-being, and like so many do, I'm now craving healthy things.

After a hard day's work, the simplest solution is what I'm about to enjoy, a roasted vegetable salad.

To feed two you'll need:
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 large flat mushrooms
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 x small floret of broccoli
  • half an onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • half a bag of watercress
  • one third of a pack of feta
  • A sprinkling of Cajun spices
  1. Turn the oven on to 200c and place a large splosh of oil into a large baking tray, and boil a large saucepan of salted water
  2. Chop your sweet potato into large chunks and submerge in the water. Par boiling will soften them and mean they won't take hours in the oven
  3. Roughly chop your other veg, with the exception of the mushrooms, which you'll want to keep hole
  4. After 12 minutes, take the sweet potatoes out, dry on some kitchen towel, and add to the baking tray, along with all of the other vegetables. Sprinkle over the Cajun spices and place in the oven for 20 minutes
Large pasta bowls are perfect for this - pop them in the oven to warm them through.

Arrange your supper with the watercress first, followed by the sweet potatoes. Spoon over the other vegetables and crumble the feta over the top.

The peppery watercress and salty feta means you can get away without seasoning (think healthy). Matched with the sweet vegetables, and the Cajun spice and you have yourself a really simple, well-balanced, healthy...generally gosh darn scrumptious supper.

So many other veg would work in this dish. I hate them (bad experience) but you could substitute aubergines, cherry tomatoes...be as creative as you like. And if you're craving that sour note, a squeeze of lemon or if you live dangerously, a splash of tequila...let your imagination run wild...just be healthy.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Chicken provencal

I must be growing up.

For this Easter sparks the dawn of a new phenomena that I understand is a right of passage to individuals of a similar age to us - the couples' holiday.

Not only will this be our first couples' holiday, but also my one true love's and my first holiday abroad together, almost a year to the day after our first ever 'minibreak' to Norwich - a city and surrounding area I would highly recommend, not just as being the home of TV chef royalty, Delia.

Excitement levels are boiling over (in a more restrained way than in Fatal Attraction I hasten to add), in anticipation of a trip to a quaint hamlet in the north west of France. We have been briefed not to expect much from our friend's family's gite, but provided it's warm, clean and has a roof without leaks, I'm confident it will be delightful.

In honour of this trip, I bring you my take on a French classic, Chicken Provencal.

Whilst researching this dish, it becomes apparent that like spaghetti bolognese, there isn't one definitive recipe and method. I like this fact as for me, cooking is a voyage of discovery and a the perfect opportunity for flavour-exploration. Invoking Provence's location, nestled in the south east region of France, with the Mediterranean gently lapping against its southern boarder is sufficient inspiration for the rich herbs, bold tomato and olive, and acidic wine needed to make this dish.

So to feed two, you will need:
  • 4 chicken legs
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 large white onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A couple dozen mixed olives (try and get ready pitted to save you the job) coarsely chopped
  • A handful of fresh parsley, rosemary and thyme coarsely chopped
  • Quarter of a lemon 
  • 100ml of a nice white wine (if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it!)
  • Usual oil, salt and pepper for seasoning
Heat a splash of oil in a large flat bottomed pan. Add the chicken legs skin side down first, then brown all over. Add the onion, have two sips of wine (not the 100ml!), then add the garlic, and cook for a few minutes.

Add the wine, allow the alcohol to cook off, then squeeze in the lemon juice (toptip - squeeze through the fingers of your other hand to catch the pips), then add the tomatoes, three quarters of the herbs and olives. Turn down the heat, season and leave to cook through for 20 minutes.

At this point, depending on how peckish you are, you may want to prepare some mash, sauteed potatoes or rice to accompany the dish - I'll leave that choice with you...I chose rice.

By now your sauce should have reduced nicely, so assemble the plate with the your chosen carb first, followed by the chicken, then pour the glorious sauce over the top, sprinkle over the remaining herbs, kiss your thumb and finger tips and proclaim, voila!

Enjoy with the rest of the bottle of wine, whilst brushing up on your GCSE/O levelFrench - je m'appele le chocolat chaud...