Monday, 20 April 2009

leek & potato soup

Quite frequently i discover that i have a fridge full of vegetables that are almost past their best. This stems from over-zealous shopping trips to the supermarket when i want to be healthy and stock up on seasonal fruit and veg. I then find that life takes over and i'm not at home long enough to use it all up. Combined with an organic fruit and veg box delivery, i discovered that i had leek, potatoes, aubergine, sweet potato, celeriac, peppers, celery... oops. Poor neglected vegetables.

Anyway, back to those in a bit. An indulgent weekend started off with a chinese takeaway on friday with old school friends - a fab night as always.

On saturday, i had a great pub lunch here with old college friends and house-mates, Suze, Fi and Marianna. It's been 19 years since we were all together and this meet-up was long overdue. Great food accompanied a really good catch up on each others lives and we promised not to leave it so long until next time (which would take us to an age i don't even want to think about for a long while yet).

The girly chat continued into saturday evening and then the early hours of sunday morning, aided by champagne, wine and Suze's homemade sloe gin.

Needless to say by sunday, it was time to make amends with my liver and i made a vat-full of this delicious creamy soup from Tessa Kiros' Apples for Jam.

This book has been on my wishlist for quite some time but as i have a self-imposed ban on buying any new cookery books this month, i decided to order it from my local library instead. The theory here is that if i really love it (and i already do), i can reward myself after payday.

This is the first recipe i have tried from the book and it produced the most velvety smooth soup i have ever tasted, let alone made for myself.

leek & potato soup - serves 6
6 leeks
40g butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
2 tsp brandy
600g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
freshly grated nutmeg
100ml single cream
grated parmesan, to serve

here's how:
Trim and thoroughly clean the leeks - you'll need about 400g of trimmed leek. Slice the leeks quite finely and put them in a sink with cold water, then drain and wash them again if they are still sandy.
Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the leeks and garlic and saute over medium-low heat until all the water has evaporated and the leeks are soft and faintly golden. Add the brandyand carry on cooking until it has evaporated. Add the potatoes and season well with salt. Add 1.5 litres of hot water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down slightly, cover with a lid and simmer for abour 45 minutes, or until the leeks and potatoes are very soft. Grate in a little nutmeg.
Puree the soup until it is totally smooth. If it is too thick, add a little hot. If it is too thin, return it to the pan and cook uncovered until it is has thickened a bit. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Add the cream, heat through and serve immediately, with a good tablespoon of parmesan sprinkled over each serving. Top with freshly ground black pepper, and ideally, some very fine slices of truffle. I made do with a few drops of white truffle oil - heavenly!

recipe keeper part 2

It's here! My fantastic hand-made recipe keeper book arrived all the way from New Zealand last week! It took me completely by surprise as it only took about a week in the post - things take that long being sent from one side of London to the other using Royal Mail!!!
So a huge *thank you* to Rachel of Books by Rachel for making this especially for me! I will now be able to organise my random clippings and scribbled notes, and I won't need to borrow cookery books from friends and family anymore (which is always a nightmare as you don't actually want to risk cooking from them in case they get splattered!).

I also love the receipt book i ordered, which again will help me get organised (i so need to).

Rachel also sent a lovely letter and a gorgeous little gift of a "matchbook" book, perfect for keeping in your purse and for writing down reminders or possibly even phone numbers... well, you never know... ;)

Sunday, 19 April 2009

banana bread

Another useful recipe from Bill Granger's Feed Me Now... delicious for breakfast, but also nice with a cup of tea in the afternoon.

melt & mix banana bread - makes 2 loaves
45g soft light brown sugar
30g almonds, chopped
255ml sour cream
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g unsalted butter, melted
230g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
250g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
250g mashed ripe banana (2-3 bananas)

here's how:
Preheat oven to 180C/gas 4.
Grease and line two 10 x 18cm loaf tins (i used 1 large loaf tin) with baking paper.
In a bowl mix together the brown sugar and almonds and set aside (this will be sprinkled on the loaf before baking).
In a large bowl, mix together the sour cream and bicarb, leave to stand for 5 mins, then stir in the melted butter, caster sugar and beaten eggs.
Sift flower, baking powder and cinnamon into another bowl. Gradually fold in the sour cream mixture, followed by the mashed banana.
Divide the mixture equally between the prepared tins and sprinkle the brown sugar mixture on top. Bake for 1-1.5 hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre of each loaf comes out clean.
Cool in the tins for 20 mins then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Nice on its own and can also be toasted and spread with butter or honey (just make sure you don't slice too thinly or it may fall apart and your toaster will never be the same again...). I've put some individually wrapped slices in the freezer so i can have a quick fix before i make it again.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

easy chicken dish

Having not had a proper cooked meal for quite some time now, i was craving roast chicken... here's a simple one-pot chicken dish adapted from Feed Me Now that hit the spot last night.

baked chicken with lemon, potato & green olives - serves 2

500g roasting potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
handful of green olives
1/2 lemon, sliced
30g diced pancetta
1 x bay leaf
generous teaspoon of tomato puree
generous teaspoon balsamic vinegar
60ml chicken stock
4 x chicken pieces (with bone and skin)
extra virgin olive oil
4 x chicken thighs (or any chicken pieces)
1 small red onion
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
here's how:
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
Place potatoes in a roasting tin or ovenproof dish.
Scatter over the onion, olives, lemon, pancetta and bay leaves.
Stir the tomato paste and balsamic vinegar into the chicken stock and pour over the potatoes.
Lay the chicken pieces on top, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast for 45-50 minutes or until the chicken is golden and cooked through.
Transfer the chicken to a warm plate, cover with foil and set aside to rest in a warm place.
Increase the oven setting to 220C/Gas 7 and return the roasting pan to the oven for 10 minutes or until the potatoes etc are well coloured (you may wish to drain off some of the cooking juices).
Place the chicken pieces back on top of the potatoes, scatter over some fresh herbs if you havew some, and serve.

This was delicious on its own but could easily be served with extra veg, however you like it.


healthy brownies

I decided on Bill Granger's new book, Feed Me Now, for my recipe book of the week as it is the newest addition to my collection and there are quite a few recipes i want to try.
At the weekend i made "healthy" chocolate brownies to give as Easter gifts, and packaged them up in cellophane parcels with some Cadbury's mini eggs for a touch of colour. You'll have to trust me that they looked pretty cute, as i forgot to take any photos. Bad food blogger...
Anyway, here's the recipe when you need a virtuous chocolate fix.

healthier chocolate & date brownie - makes about 15-20
140g unsalted butter
140g pitted dried dates, finely chopped
60g good quality cocoa powder (i use Green & Black's)
90g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
95g soft light brown sugar
3 medium eggs
1 tsp natural vanilla extract

here's how:
Preheat oven to 160C/gas 3.
Lightly grease a 20cm square baking tin and line the base with baking paper.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the chopped dates, take off the heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
Sift the cocoa powder, flour and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla together, then stir in the dates and butter.
Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 20 minutes or until set.
Turn out and cool on a wire rack (i always wait for 10-15 mins to allow the mixture to set a little) and then cut into squares and enjoy without feeling too guilty.

Monday, 6 April 2009

mushroom monday

Before I move on from my recent recipe book of the week, i needed to mention another little recipe from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea which i tried last week.

I really love risotto but often think it's just too much faff for cooking midweek for one... but i tried not one, but two risotto recipes last week and this one was delicious:

mushroom and porcini risotto - serves 6

1 handful dried porcini, soaked in 400ml hot water for 30 mins
4 tbsp olive oil plus extra for frying
500g mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt and ground black pepper
60g unsalted butter
2 onions, finely diced
400g carnoroli rice
About 1.5 litres vegetable or chicken stock
150g grated parmesan cheese

Here's how:
Strain the porcini and reserve soaking liquid. Set both aside.
Heat a generous amount of oil in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms with the garlic, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Put 4 tbsp oil and the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook over a very low heat, stirring occasionally, till the onions are soft but have not yet started to brown.
Pour in the rice and cook over a medium heat, stirring, till it becomes translucent.
Add the porcini and some of their liquid and the sliced mushrooms.
Pour in the stock a ladleful at a time and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid before adding some more. Carry on adding the stock until you have a creamy consistency. The rice must be cooked but slightly 'al dente', and the mixture must hold together.
Remove from the heat and add the parmesan.
Stir well and check the seasoning.
Pour the risotto into bowls and serve immediately.

And after a weekend that involved a chinese takeaway with my friend Suzanne and then delicious chocolate cake in Tunbridge Wells (thank you Sister Claire!), it's back to mid-week healthy meals.

Having checked the fridge last night, it was a case of "shit-ake!' - i'd forgotten they were in there! So i picked up a delicious organic salmon fillet on my way home, and some baby pak choi with a Nigella Bites recipe in mind. And i think this can now be my new recipe book of the week...

salmon with greens and shitake mushrooms - serves 2

2 skinned salmon fillets, preferably organic
1 clove garlic, finely minced or chopped
2 tbsp vegetable or groundnut oil
125g shitake mushrooms, destalked and sliced
400g choi sum, roughly chopped
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
pepper to taste

Here's how:
Grill or fry the salmon fillets - preferably in a good non-stick pan or on the smooth side of a griddle - until just cooked through and remove them to warmed plates while you get on with or finish the vegetables. (I pre-heated the oven to 150C, pan-fried the salmon flesh side down until the surface was golden and the fillet looked almost cooked, then flipped it over and placed the pan in the oven, reducing the heat to 100C while I did the rest of the cooking. It was cooked to perfection, which is almost a miracle for me when it comes to cooking fish!)
In a heavy-based pan, fry the garlic in the oil until it is warm but not catching. Add the sliced mushrooms together with the choi sum stalks, stirring everything together for a minute or so. Cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, remove the lid and add the roughly chopped choi sum leaves, soy sauce and sesame oil, then let it cook for another 2-3 minutes until the leaves have wilted.
Pile the mushrooms and greens on the plates with the salmon and eat!
Nigella suggests making a little sauce to go with, by mixing Colman's mustard powder into a smooth paste with a little cold water, adding a few drops of soy sauce and a scant, pulpy puree of fresh ginger. I sprinkled mine with some black sesame seeds (and then, off-camera, a very generous dollop of sweet chilli dipping sauce...).

Thursday, 2 April 2009

books by rachel: recipe keeper

Books by Rachel: Recipe Keeper

I had to sneak in a little post during my lunchbreak as i have just spotted this beautiful "recipe keeper" book made by the lovely Rachel at Books by Rachel.

I am waiting to see if this is going to be available on Toggle, and if so will be ordering one asap! My recipe "drawer" is overflowing with print-outs, magazine/newspaper clippings and scribbled down notes, so it's time to get organised.

What a lovely way to record your favourite tried and tested recipes, and then perhaps one day pass them on to someone who will cherish them.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

rose bakery's quinoa and pepper salad

When i first started reading Breakfast Lunch Tea i was lusting after all the cakes and sweet things but as i'm trying to be healthy this week, the cakes will have to wait until the weekend!

So i made up a batch of this delicious salad instead to take into work for my lunches.

Rose Bakery's Quinoa and Pepper Salad - serves 6
170g (1 cup) quinoa
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 red, 1 green and 1 yellow pepper (bell pepper), finely diced
2 medium onions, finely diced
1 courgette (zucchini), finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 dried red pepper (bell pepper), crushed
pinch of cumin (optional)
dash of lemon juice (optional)
chopped fresh parsley or coriander (cilantro) to garnish

Put the quinoa in a saucepan with 500ml (2 cups) water and a pinch of salt.

Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 15 mins, until the quinoa is soft and the water has been absorbed. Set aside.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan and cook the peppers, onions and courgette over a medium heat with a pinch each of salt and pepper, add the garlic and dried red pepper.

Keep stirring unitl the mixture just begins to turn soft - the vegetables must not soften too much - and the colours blend into the oil.

Check the seasoning (adding a little cumin or lemon juice if you wish).

Pour the sauce into the quinoa and mix well.

Garnish with parsley or coriander and serve warm or allow to cool to room temperature.

I've been enjoying it with some salad leaves, avocado and feta cheese - who says healthy needs to be boring?