Sunday, 13 September 2009

Stuffed Mushrooms

If you're serving this as a side with meat, 1 mushroom per person should be sufficient. As a vegetarian main course, serve 1-2 mushrooms per person baked on a bed of rice.

Portabello mushrooms, stalks removed and diced
cooked rice
1 small onion, diced
4 spring onions, sliced
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pointed red pepper, diced
1 courgette, diced
1 tin beans (kidney, black-eye, black - no added salt or sugar), drained and rinsed
a couple of handfuls of spinach, coarsely shredded
optional: a small handful of black olives, quartered
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
dried oregano

1. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the onion, spring onion, garlic and herbs. Sauté for a couple of minutes before adding the pepper, mushroom stalks and courgette. Sauté for a few more minutes, then add the beans. Season with pepper and salt and heat through before adding the spinach. Add the rice last.

2. Brush the outside of the onions with olive oil. Season the underside with pepper and salt. Fill with the rice mix.

3. Brush and oven-proof dish with a little olive oil and either place the mushrooms straight into the dish or set them into a bed of rice.

4. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake at 200-220°C for 30 minutes or until piping hot.

Serve with a green salad or a garlicky tomato salad.

Asparagus and Mozzarella Bruschetta

This was a spontaneous starter I made tonight. We didn't get an organic box this week - they didn't get our email order - so I decided to throw the whole 'buy seasonal' to the wind and bought some lovely veggies for my favourite style of cuisine: Mediterranean!

I just love green asparagus and in spring we eat it by the truck load so it was a pleasant surprise to find it half-price at the supermarket yesterday. I bought two bunches and despite the fact we've been eating rice the last couple of days I think the second bunch will be turned into an asparagus risotto tomorrow.

But tonight, it made a lovely, luxurious bruschetta.

250g green asparagus
rocket leaves
garlic clove
1 mozzarella, sliced
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
ciabatta or baguette slices
1 fresh fig per person (optional), cut into segments

1. Prepare the asparagus by getting rid of the woody bits. Bend each asparagus spear, it'll snap leaving the tender part of the spear. Discard the rest.

2. Brush the asparagus with oil and place under a hot grill (or on the BBQ) about 10cm away from the grill elements. Turn after about 5 minutes. This'll give you a good idea of how long it'll take till it's cooked. Season with pepper and salt before placing it on the bruschetta.

3. When the asparagus is almost done, place the bread slices under the grill also.

4. Once the bread is toasted, rub with garlic and transfer to a hot plate. Top with rocket leaves, asparagus, mozzarella and drizzle with olive oil. Add the fig if used and serve immediately.

Tomatoes filled with pesto rice and grilled fillet of plaice

Another FastFeast to start the week with. If you have some left-over rice - great. If not, it can still be quick using any variety of white as it'll only take 10 minutes to cook. Preparation for this takes minutes, the cooking time takes a little longer but for the most part this can happen on its own.

plaice fillets
boiled rice
2 vine tomatoes per person
pesto, shop-bought or home-made
freshly ground pepper
sea salt

1. If necessary, boil some rice. Mix the rice with pesto.

2. Cut the top off the tomatoes and set aside to use as a lid. Core the tomatoes and discard the seeds. Optionally season the inside of the tomatoes with pepper and salt. Stuff with pesto rice and put the 'lids' back on. Drizzle with a little oil.

3. Lightly oil an oven-proof dish and spoon some rice into it. Place the tomatoes onto the rice base, pressing them in so they don't fall over. Cover with tin foil and cook in a pre-heated oven (200°C/gas mark 5) for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, turn up the heat a notch and bake for another 5 minutes to brown.

4. Meanwhile season the fish with pepper and salt and drizzle with olive oil.

5. Cover the rack of the grill pan with tin foil and lightly oil. Place the plaice skin side down onto the tin foil.

6. Preheat the grill and grill the plaice at a medium heat for 5-8 minutes until done. You'll know the fish is cooked when it comes away easily from the skin.

7. Either serve each portion with a lemon wedge or squeeze some lemon juice over the fish. Serve on warm plates with the stuffed tomatoes and some additional rice and a crispy salad.

Home-made ciabatta

When I was a student and shared a flat I baked bread quite often because I'd just started getting into whole foods and of course, there were enough people who'd eat it before it went stale. Decent bread was the one thing I never stopped missing after moving to the UK so a few years ago I bought a breadmaker and have never looked back. Nowadays, for quickness, I mostly use bread mixes but I still have that first bread making book (Anneliese Eckert: Mehr Freude und Erfolg beim Brotbacken)from over 20 years ago and one of these days I will start a sourdough instead of using yeast.

While fresh yeast is easily available in German supermarkets, it is not sold in the UK. One way to get it is to ask at the baker's in large supermarkets - they usually give it out for free but while that's great as a one off it's a bit tedious to do once a week or even more frequently. So I eventually gave in and tried my luck with dried yeast which is available in either 7g sachets or 100g tins.

One of the recipes in the book is for baguette and I often make this at the weekend - using the bread maker for the dough, of course ;). I've played around with it a bit replacing some of the white bread flour (up to half) with stone ground wholemeal flour and adding oil to get a ciabatta-style bread.

750g strong white bread flour (or for a wholemeal bread replacing up to half with stone ground wholemeal flour)
10g dried yeast
2-3tsp salt (I've opted for the smaller quantity)
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
500ml of tepid water
milk or egg yolk for brushing

1. In the breadmaker:
1. Add water, salt and oil first, then the flour and yeast. Select the dough-making programme, which on my breadmaker takes 90 minutes.

2. After the programme is finished, prepare a work area for shaping the bread. I just sprinkle some flour on a clean kitchen worktop. Remove the dough from the tin. Fish out the kneading hook(s) and place on the worktop. Split in half and shape both halves into ciabattas.

3. Oil an oven tray and place the ciabattas on it. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven. Meanwhile brush the two loaves with milk or egg yolk. Bake at 220°C/gas mark 5/160°C in fan-assisted oven for 35 minutes. My gas oven does not seem to be that hot so when I want the bread to brown I actually bake it at the highest setting.

5. Transfer onto a rack to cool.

To find out whether the bread is done, remove from the baking tray, turn upside down and lightly tap it with your fingers. If it sounds hollow, it's ready.

Making the bread by hand:
These instructions are based on my trusty German breadmaking book.

1. Place flour into a large bowl, sprinkle salt and yeast over the top and mix all the ingredients together.

2. Stir in the lukewarm water and keep stirring until the dough is coming away from the bowl. Shape into a ball and knead vigorously on a floured board or kitchen worktop for 10-15 minutes until the dough is no longer sticky and starts to form bubbles.

2. Dust the base of the bowl with flour and place the dough ball back into it. Place the bowl into a large plastic bag, cover the whole thing with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes until doubled in size.

3. Split into 2 halves and knead through thoroughly. Shape into two ciabattas.

4. Oil an oven tray and place the ciabattas on it. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven. Meanwhile brush the two loaves with milk or egg yolk. Bake at 220°C/gas mark 5/160°C in fan-assisted oven for 35 minutes. My gas oven does not seem to be that hot so when I want the bread to brown I actually bake it at the highest setting.

6. Transfer onto a rack to cool.

Fig and Mozzarella Salad

One of my friends was keen to try this salad with the first ever figs from her fig tree after I mentioned it to her and has since made and enjoyed it using lambs lettuce. Here in the picture, there's the last few leaves of lettuce from the garden mixed with some rocket. I probably won't be able to try it with lambs lettuce as there won't be any figs when I get the first crop later in the autumn.

2 figs per person
1/2 mozzarella per person, cut into segments or just roughly torn
baby lettuce leaves
freshly ground pepper
sea salt
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
2-3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2tsp maple syrup, to taste

1. Make the dressing. This should be enough for 4 servings.

2. Scatter the lettuce leaves on a large plate or on individual plates.

3. Cut the figs into segments but don't cut right through so they're still attached to the base and fall open like a flower. Arrange the figs and mozzarella on top of the lettuce.

4. Drizzle with the dressing.

Serve on its own or with warm ciabatta.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Speckled Broadbeans with Cumin

I'm 'borrowing' this idea from a friend as I was intrigued by his use of cumin with green beans. No idea how he prepares the beans but this is how I did it.

These beautiful broad beans already had some nicely sized beans inside which gave the dish a lovely, comfort food texture. Sadly, the speckles were all gone after cooking.

250g broad beans, sliced diagonally into 2 - 4 cm long pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2tsp whole cumin seeds
1 sweet red chilli, halved lengthwise and sliced
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
sea salt

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat, add onion, garlic and chilli and sauté for a couple of minutes until the onion turns translucent.

2. Add the cumin seeds and wait for them to pop, then add the beans. Stir to ensure the beans are well coated with the mixture. Season with pepper and salt.

3. Pour in a little water, just enough to cover the base of the saucepan. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Check half way through that there is enough water left to prevent them from catching at the bottom of the saucepan.

4. Once the beans are tender, turn out into a serving dish. With a little luck you won't have to drain away any liquid but enjoy the remainder as a sauce.

I noticed that the cumin was much more noticeable after covering the cooked beans and leaving them for half an hour. Though, by that point they were only just warm.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Béchamel Sauce

The following recipe makes a relatively small amount of a thick sauce that can be served with a side dish of kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, leafy vegetables such as savoy cabbage, cavolo nero, spring greens or spinach etc.

It's also an essential ingredient when making lasagne or moussaka.

2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp wholemeal flour
150-200ml semi-skimmed or whole milk
50g parmesan, coarsely grated
1(free-range organic) egg yolk
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

1. Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a non-stick pan.

2. When the oil is hot, sprinkle in 1 tbsp of wholemeal flour. Stir the flour into the oil and wait till it bubbles.

3. Slowly start pouring in the milk while constantly stirring to avoid lumps.

4. Keep stirring, bring to the boil, then turn off the heat.

5. Stir in the egg yolk and the parmesan. Season with black pepper and keep stirring until you have a thick smooth sauce. Taste to check the seasoning, you may not need to add any salt.

Multi-layer vegetable bake

In our last organic box, we received four small, purple turnips, a veg I wouldn't normally buy because not having grown up with it I wouldn't know what to do with. But I couldn't let it go to waste. After doing some internet research and not finding an appealing recipe I raked around in the fridge some more and unearthed courgettes, pointed red peppers, boiled potatoes, tomatoes, red oak leaf lettuce and beautiful red speckled broad beans, the latter also from the organic box, the rest just ordinary shop bought veg. Still unsure what to do with all this, I started washing and peeling, chopping onions and garlic, letting my mind wander, thinking about a vegetarian courgette moussaka I made in the past...ending up with this hearty, warming, not to forget tasty vegetable bake topped with a wholemeal béchamel just for the fun of it.

It's a bit time consuming but can be prepared in advance so you have more time for your dinner party guests.

Vegetables for the bake:
3 small courgettes, cut diagonally into slices (about 5mm thick)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
5 tomatoes, cut into 4 slices each
4 small turnips, peeled and sliced
500g boiled potatoes, sliced, skin on or removed
2 pointed red peppers, cut into strips
extra virgin olive oil
dried basil or oregano
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

Béchamel Sauce:
extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp wholemeal flour
200ml semi-skimmed or whole milk
50g parmesan, coarsely grated
1(free-range organic) egg yolk
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

Optional topping:
50g parmesan, coarsely grated

Preparing the veg:
1. Peel and slice the turnips while boiling some water. Place the turnip slices into a saucepan and boil for about 3 minutes. Drain into a colander and leave to cool. They'll just still be parboiled.

2. Slice the courgettes, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.

3. Chop the garlic and onion.

4. Heat some oil in a non-stick pan and start frying the courgette and turnip slices in batches until golden adding oil as needed. Transfer onto layers of kitchen paper to drain off any excess oil. Lastly, quickly fry the pepper strips over a high heat until they start to brown. Not all of them have to brown and the pepper should still be crisp. Drain them on kitchen paper as well.

5. Assemble the bake by layering the vegetables in an oven-proof dish starting with the turnip. Season with pepper and salt.

6. Next, add the tomatoes. Season with pepper and sprinkle with dried basil or oregano, the chopped onion, most of the garlic and chilli.

7. Follow with the courgette slices seasoning them with pepper.

8. Then add the pepper strips seasoning them with pepper.

9. Lastly, top with potato slices. I didn't add any seasoning to the potatoes as I'd boiled them in salted water to which I'd also added black pepper.

Set aside while you're making the béchamel.

Preparing the béchamel sauce:

1. Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a non-stick pan.

2. When the oil is hot, sprinkle in 1 tbsp of wholemeal flour. Stir the flour into the oil and wait till it bubbles.

3. Slowly start pouring in the milk while constantly stirring to avoid lumps.

4. Keep stirring, bring to the boil, then turn off the heat.

5. Stir in the egg yolk and the parmesan. Season with black pepper and keep stirring until you have a thick smooth sauce. Taste to check the seasoning, you may not need to add any salt.

Putting it all together:

1. Pour the béchamel over the potatoes. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes at gas mark 5-6/200-220°C.

2. Remove the tin foil and bake for a further 10 minutes.

3. Then optionally sprinkle with the remaining cheese and place either under a hot grill or back into the oven until the cheese has melted and is starting to brown.

Serve with a crisp salad as a main course for four or as a side dish with meat or fish for six to eight people.

Tomato Salsa

I love the freshness of the tomatoes, the slight heat and the versatility of this tomato salsa. It goes so well with a tray of roasted root vegetables, fish, chops and is great as a dip with tortilla chips.

5 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped and optionally deseeded
1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

1. Place the tomatoes in a bowl, boil some water and pour the water over the tomatoes. After a minute, remove the tomatoes and take their skins off.

2. Cut the skinned tomatoes into quarters, remove the seeds and place the tomato quarters into a colander to let them drain.

3. Chop the tomatoes and place in a bowl.

4. Chop the onion and chilli and add to the tomatoes.

5. Season with pepper and salt and leave to marinate at room temperature for at least half an hour before serving.

Any leftovers can be used in a sauce the next day.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Braised Cavolo Nero with Chickpeas

Cavolo nero with its curly, dark green, almost black leaves is used in many Italian dishes and now more widely available in the UK. Even the suppliers of our organic box grow it. If you can't get hold of it Savoy cabbage is a good alternative. If you don't like the taste of white cabbage (like myself) you may be pleasantly surprised as neither cavolo nero nor Savoy cabbage taste very cabbagy at all.

olive oil
cavolo nero, roughly chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
1 440ml tin of organic chickpeas (no salt or sugar added), drained and rinsed
dry white wine (or water, if preferred)
juice of one lemon

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the cavolo nero. Place the garlic and chickpeas on top and and sauté for just a minute.

2. Then add a couple of tablespoons of wine, pepper and salt and cover.

3. Turn regularly to ensure the cavolo nero cooks evenly adding more wine or water if it threatens to stick.

4. When the cabbage is tender, transfer to a serving dish and optionally drizzle with a little more olive oil before adding the lemon juice. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


I love this Greek dip with roasting trays, fish, potatoes as it's fresh and light and so very tasty.

300ml Greek or ordinary natural yoghurt
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed

freshly ground pepper
sea salt
cucumber, skinned, deseeded and coarsely grated

1. Place the grated cucumber in a sieve to drain of as much of the liquid as possible. Leave for about 15-20 minutes. After that, transfer onto a clean tea towel and squeeze out any remaining liquid.

2. Meanwhile, mix the yoghurt, garlic, pepper and salt and stick in the fridge.

3. Stir the cucumber into the yoghurt and either chill until ready to serve or serve immediately.

Bean Pot

I can't remember when I came up with this but it's a firm favourite at any time of the year as it can be serve hot or cold. There are actually 2 versions of this dish: one with kidney beans and one with butter beans. I admit that we make the butter bean version a lot more frequently though with the rain lashing against the windows I opted for kidney beans - this variation feels kind of more warming and autumnal today.

version 1:
1 440ml tin of organic butter beans (no added sugar or salt), drained and rinsed
a good gug of dry white wine

version 2:
1 440ml tin of organic kidney beans (no added sugar or salt), drained and rinsed
a good glug of red wine

2-3 medium onions, halved and sliced - you may use ordinary or red onions or a mixture of both
2-3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
a few sprigs of fresh thyme

1. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan - I prefer my Le Creuset for this. Add the onions and garlic and fry over a high heat until the onions start to brown. Keep stirring to brown all the onions and to prevent them burning. The Le Creuset's sides also start getting that caramellised look, which will dissolve when adding the wine.

2. Add the wine, the beans,the fresh thyme and bring briefly to the boil. Season with pepper and salt and turn down the heat and cover. At this point, I usually move the saucepan to the smallest gas ring and turn the heat right down.

3. Gently simmer with the lid on for about 45 minutes stirring occasionally.

4. To finish, remove the thyme, check the seasoning and serve hot or cold.

Things you may want to add:
1. A couple of handfuls of coarsely chopped fresh spinach. Just add the spinach when the dish is ready and the heat turned off, it will wilt when mixing it in. This works well for both varieties.

2. With the butter bean pot, I sometimes add the following:
- black olives
- chopped sun dried tomatoes
- anchovies
- halved cherry tomatoes (approx. 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time)

Use fresh broad beans, boiled or parboiled if they are quite large, instead of butter beans.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Peppers Stuffed with Pesto Rice

After spending two afternoons cooking, it seemed like a good idea to pull some of the creations together into a main course. With the right preparation, this can be a FastFeast - at least when it comes to throwing it together.

2 red peppers, halved and deseeded
2 yellow peppers, halved and deseeded
2 green peppers, halved and deseeded
whole grain rice
rocket pesto
12 small mushrooms, chopped quite small
2 sweet red chillis, halved, deseeded and sliced
sea salt

1. Season the inside of the peppers with a little salt.

2. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick pan and sauté the chillis for a minute or two, then push to the side and add the mushrooms. Fry the mushrooms at a high heat till they're brown taking care the chillis don't get burned. Mix both chillis and mushrooms and season with a touch of salt.

3. Meanwhile, mix the rice with some rocket pesto.

4. When the mushrooms are done, take of the heat, add the rice and mix well.

5. Spoon the mixture into the pepper halves, cover with tin foil and bake at gas mark 6-7/200°C for 45-60 minutes (our gas oven is kind of slow).

Serve as a vegetarian main course or as a side to fish/meat with a salad. I had a bit of that raw beetroot salad left from yesterday which made a colourful addition to the peppers.

Sterilising Jars

There are all sorts of ways to sterilise jars. The easiest one, I find, is to wash them in very hot soapy water, rinse the soap off, dry them and put them into the oven at a low setting, e. g. gas mark 2/100°C for 10 minutes.

My dishwasher has a sterilising programme. If I'm making larger quantities I run my jars through this programme.

Leave to cool if you're filling them with something cold such as pesto or marinated olives. Hot contents such as jams can be poured in straight away.

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

I never normally eat grapefruit. I mean who would voluntarily eat such a bitter fruit for breakfast?! But don't judge this citrus fruit too soon. Prepared in the right manner, it's actually not as bitter nor as acidic as you would think. The secret is to take the skin and the pith (that's the white stuff) off the segments, because that's what makes the fruit bitter. It's a bit time consuming but when you taste this salad, you'll know it's well worth the effort. As you can see from this photo, I inadvertently bought a pink grapefruit today.

I came up with this recipe ca. 1991 and was rather proud of it. Imagine my surprise when months later I walked past an Edinburgh vegetarian restaurant and browsing the menu for that week/month saw an avocado and grapefruit salad listed among the starters...

The following recipe serves 4.

2 ripe avocados
2 small or 1 large grapefruit
lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
1tsp dried mixed herbs
1-2tbsp sherry vinegar
1tsp mustard
1tbsp extra virgin or cold pressed sunflower oil

a few lettuce leaves, if available

1. Prepare the vinaigrette first by mixing pepper, salt, herbs, mustard with vinegar adding the oil last.

2, Peel grapefruit and divide into segments. Carefully remove the skin and pith from the segments and tear into bite-sized chunks.

3. Scatter lettuce leaves, if used, onto plates. Cut the avocados in halves, remove the stone and sprinkle with a little lemon juice. Arrange the grapefruit chunks and using a tea spoon remove the avocado from its skin in chunks adding it to the grapefruit.

4. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Rocket Pesto

There is some truly wild rocket growing in our garden. I planted it from seed using a packet of 'wild rocket' for the first time about 4 years ago and got a really good crop the first year. After it flowered, it self-seeded in a well-behaved manner in the first year, i. e. it just sprung up again in the same area. From then on, there was no containing it, which is partly my fault as I couldn't bear tearing it out from between the flagstones of the seating area. The last couple of years that wasn't so much of a problem as I harvested it continually and some of it got trampled by us and friends we had over for BBQs. But this year it's rained so much, we've hardly used the garden so it's been left to grow where it wants. I keep harvesting it but, to be honest, it's gone rampant. This afternoon, however, I felt a cull was really unavoidable. I gave my heart a push and started pulling the rocket plants out, roots and all. After cleaning it, I had 135 grams - some of which you'll see in the Grapefruit & Avocado Salad we had as a starter tonight. But approx. 100 grams went into a rocket pesto. This recipe is based on/inspired by the rocket pesto recipe from Sophie Grigson's 'Sunshine Food', one of my all time favourite cookbooks.

Alright, my blurb says that there'd be dishes I invented and here, for the second time in as many days I'm posting a recipe from a cookbook. Why? Because creating some recipes from scratch would be like reinventing the wheel. So why not take advantage of what's already out there and tweak if necessary? That's what I've done here. And, pardon the pun, I think this rocket pesto simply rocks ;)

100g wild rocket, roughly torn
60g toasted almonds, roughly chopped (I didn't blanch them but just left the skin on)
60g parmesan or pecorino, broken into chunks
2-3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
freshly ground black pepper
125-150ml extra virgin olive oil

Whiz all the ingredients in a food processor until you get a smooth pesto. Use what you need and transfer the remainder into a sterilised jar and top with olive oil to seal.

I only own an upright blender, which I use for my breakfast smoothies, and a hand-held blender and they're both really hard work, if not useless, as there is not much liquid to work with here. So I'm finally going to invest in food processor!

1. Use hazelnuts - as per Sophie Grigson's recipe.
2. A few weeks ago, I used toasted pine nuts but I have to admit that I prefer the pesto with almonds.
3. Use basil and toasted pine nuts to make a classic pesto.

Tips & Tricks: Rice for the week to come

Yesterday, I cooked a huge amount of rice, about 2 mugs of uncooked whole grain rice, so I can speed up cooking during the week. The trick is to cook the rice without salt. After it's cooled completely, it keeps in the fridge for a week. Neat, or what?

Incidentally, I use 1 part whole grain rice to 3.5 parts of COLD water. Turns out beautiful every time (though I'm useless at cooking basmati rice).

Raw Beetroot Salad

While I would normally publish only recipes I've invented myself, I'd like to share this find from Jamie Oliver's book 'jamie's dinners'. I'd never have thought of making a salad out of raw beetroot myself - and this is such a quick recipe. And it's amazing how this is a real salad despite the lack of oil or vinegar!

fresh beetroot
sea salt
freshly grated horseradish or hot horseradish out of a jar
freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

Wash the beetroot and peel using a speed peeler - I think that's the swivel style peeler - I used a knife, though, because I nearly chopped of my fingers trying to hold the slightly slippery beetroot.

Then, using the speed peeler cut the beetroot into very thin slices. Season with salt, add the horseradish and parsley and leave to marinate to soften the beetroot.

The picture above shows what the salad looked like after about an hour. I used up all the parsley yesterday and only had a jar of hot horseradish, which if you look closely has now taken on the colour of the beetroot.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Warm Salad of Beetroot Leaves and Caramelised Onions

I've made this recipe in the past with baby spinach but this week's organic box contained half a dozen small beetroots with all their leaves on. Amazing. And according to Jamie Oliver, my favourite chef, they are nicer than spinach or chard. :)

1 bunch of beetroot leaves, washed and roughly chopped, with some water still clinging to the leaves
stalks, chopped into 5mm long pieces
glug of red wine (white for spinach), if more liquid is required
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

1 large red or ordinary onion, halved and sliced
1 whole Chinese garlic bulb, cut into slivers
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

balsamic vinegar

1. Sauté the onion slices and garlic until they're nicely caramelised. Season to taste.

2. In another pan, heat some more olive oil and sauté the chopped stalks over a medium heat for about 5-10 minutes until almost tender. Add the the beetroot leaves and wilt using just the water that's clinging to the leaves. Season with pepper and salt to taste. Check if they're tender. If not add a dash of red wine (white if using spinach) and cover. You may want to squeeze out any excess liquid but since I've added wine this time that would be a bit of a waste.

3. Place the beetroot leaves and onions in a bowl and mix using a fork. Add a little balsamic vinegar and serve warm or at room temperature.

Same as above but add some fennel seeds when the onions are almost caramalised. Add some veggie stock instead of wine. After removing from frying pan drizzle with fresh lemon juice.

Warm spinach salad with caramalised red onion, shallot and garlic.
I think some toasted pine nuts would be lovely with this.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Roasting Tray with Purple Cauliflower, Potato and Carrot Wedges

What I really could do with today are green tomatoes but they don't sell them here, not even in tins. Come to think of it, I've never seen green tinned tomatoes...Anyway, I digress. Why do I need green tomatoes? Well, today's organic box contained a purple cauliflower and I love roasting it in the oven with tomatoes or a tomato sauce but can't bear the colour clash.

If it was purple when it was raw, it was an even deeper blueish purple after I blanched it and almost aubergine coloured after roasting. So, I decided that in this autumnal weather a roasting tray wouldn't actually feel too wintry.

purple (or ordinary) cauliflower, cut into large florettes
carrots, cut into wedges
potatoes, cut into wedges
fresh thyme sprigs
garlic oil
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

1. Place the carrots and potato wedges into a roasting tray, season with pepper and salt and drizzle with garlic oil. Add the thyme sprigs and with your hands, mix everything until the veg are well coated with oil. Tuck in the thyme sprigs so they can develop their full flavour and don't burn. Place the tray into a preheated oven at gas mark 6-7/200-220°C for about 1 hour.

2. In the meantime, blanch the cauliflower for 2-3 minutes, drain and leave to sit until all the water has dried off.

3. When the carrots and potatoes are almost done, either add the cauliflower to the same tray or place it in a separate tray. Season with pepper and salt, drizzle with olive oil. Depending on the size of the florettes, the cauliflower probably only needs to be roasted for about 15 minutes.

Serve with crème fraîche, yoghurt, tsatsiki or any other salsa you fancy. We had this one with garlicky parsley yoghurt.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Stir-fried Pak Choi

This organic pak choi is so different from the puny stuff available in the supermarkets. This one probably weighed about half a kilo!

500g pak choi
a good thumb's length of fresh ginger, grated
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
soya sauce, optional
2tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1. Cut the pak choi into 1-2cm wide strips, wash and drain in a colander for a few minutes. Some of the water still clinging to the pak choi will help with the cooking process.

2. Heat the olive oil and add the pak choi, garlic and ginger. Stir-fry over a medium until the pak choi is starting to wilt. Season with pepper and salt and cover with a lid. Simmer for a few minutes until the pak choi is almost tender.

3. Remove the lid and increase the heat to dry off the liquid and lightly brown the the pak choi.

4. Add the sesame seeds and transfer into a serving dish.

Rocket Salad with Balsamic & Maple Syrup Dressing

freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
3tbsp balsamic vinegar
9tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2-3tsp maple syrup

wild rocket

This amount of dressing is probably enough for about 250 - 300g of rocket leaves.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Stuffed Beetroot

If you want to speed up this dish, use the pre-cooked beetroot available in the supermarkets. Just make sure there is no vinegar added. That way it probably classifies as a FastFeast ;)

2 large or several small beetroot, cooked in their skins
pepper, salt

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 pointed red peppers, diced (ordinary red peppers will do as well)
3-4 handfuls fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
1 red onion, chopped
2tbsp toasted pine nuts
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 handfuls of fresh herbs (parsley, basil, coriander, etc.)

optionally cheese to top, e. g. mozzarella, grated parmesan, etc.

1. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add salt and pepper and cook the beetroot until it's tender. This can take 60-90 minutes. Remove from the water and leave to cool before removing their skins. Then, cut them in half and with a teaspoon scoop out the flesh to make room for the filling. Set the flesh aside and use in a salad or eat as is.

2. For the filling, heat some olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic at a low to medium heat. Add the chopped pepper and sauté for another 5 minutes. Season with pepper and salt.

3. Add the spinach and mix it in to let it wilt.

4. Lastly, add the pine nuts and fresh herbs.

5. Spoon the mixture into the beetroot halves and top with cheese if used. This dish is also lovely cold, if no cheese is used. Perfect for picnics and BBQs.

6. Cover with tin foil and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes at gas mark 7.

Serve with potato wedges. Without cheese, it's not only perfect for vegans but also a lovely side dish for fish or meat.

1. Use dried Herbes de Provence if no fresh herbs are at hand. In this case, add them to the pan while sautéing the onion and garlic.
2. Instead of red peppers you may also use roasted peppers out of a jar. Just chop them up and add them with the herbs and pine nuts.
3. Try it with Feta. Just crumble up the Feta and mix into the filling at the same time as the herbs and pine nuts.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Salad with Seeds and Quail Eggs

12 quail eggs, hard boiled
2-3tbsp of toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds
cherry plum tomatoes
2 little gem lettuces/ 1 Romaine or Cos lettuce
1 avocado, chunks scooped out
vinaigrette to taste

Boil the quail eggs as per packet instructions, i.e. place into boiling water, place the lid on the saucepan and simmer for 4 minutes. Drain and add cold water.

Arrange the salad ingredients on a deep platter or in a shallow bowl. Drizzle with vinaigrette.

Little gem is quite a sturdy lettuce (but, to be honest, rather bland) as are Romaine and Cos lettuce, and can be dressed a little in advance. If using more delicate leaves, don't dress them until you're ready to serve the salad. Or place the bowl on the table and serve the dressing in a separate jug so everyone can help themselves. That way if there is any left over salad, it won't get wasted but can be put in the fridge for later.

Leafy Salad with Balsamic Dressing

This week's organic box contained a huge bag of the most amazing baby lettuce leaves with a couple of nasturtium blossoms and calendula petals for added colour. So I decided, not to use the usual vinaigrette dressing but something a little more delicate.

sea salt
freshly ground pepper
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
6tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Mix and pour over the lettuce. Toss gently and serve immediately.

Cucumber and Radish Salad

1 cucumber, optionally peeled, deseeded and sliced
200g radishes (that's probably about 20-25 pieces), sliced
about a thumb's length of fresh ginger, grated
2tbsp sherry vinegar
1-2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
1/2tsp Dijon mustard

1. For the dressing, combine all the ingredients.
2. Place the cucumber and radish slices in a bowl and pour over the dressing. Mix well and leave to marinate at room temperature for 1/2-1 hour.

I've started to scoop out the seeds of shop bought cucumbers as they contain so much water but leave them in if using an organic one.

Baba Ghanoush

This makes about 400-450ml of Babaganoush, depending on the size of the aubergines.

2 aubergines
1tsp freshly ground cumin
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp tahini
juice of 1/2 lemon
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
freshly chopped coriander, optional

1. Pierce the aubergines all over with a fork (to prevent them from exploding) and place in a very hot oven (top setting) for 90 minutes.

2. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. You may split them in half to speed up the cooling process but be very careful as the aubergines are extremely hot.

3. Once cold, split the aubergines in half, scoop out the flesh and transfer into a food processor or the beaker of a hand-held blender.

4. Add all the other ingredients, except the fresh coriander, and purée. Mix in the coriander if used.

Use freshly ground coriander seeds instead of cumin. I think that's what is normally used but I prefer it with cumin.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Pan Panache #2: Rice in the Pan

I actually made twice the amount of the rice from this recipe so had enough left over for a quick meal for two a couple of days later. Sorry, there is no picture, we were too hungry ;)

rice for two
garlic flavoured extra virgin olive oil
350g mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch spring onions sliced - these were from the organic box and tasted fantastic!
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
fresh chopped herbs (basil, rocket, coriander)

Heat the oil a large frying pan and sauté the mushrooms in one half and the spring onions in the other. The spring onions were ready a little quicker than the mushrooms, so I pushed them away from the heat until the mushrooms had browned.

Stir mushrooms and spring onions together, season, add the rice and heat through.

At the end stir in the herbs and serve immediately.

Monday, 17 August 2009

What to do with left over tomato salad

Left over tomato salad usually goes soggy by the next day. It would be such a shame to throw it out, though. So just add it to a tomato sauce, for example the slow cooked tomato sauce - it's got the same ingredients already: tomatoes, oil, balsamic, garlic, pepper, salt. What can go wrong? ;)

Cucumber Salad

1 cucumber, optionally peeled and very finely sliced
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
2tbsp sherry vinegar
1-2tbsp extra virgin olive oil (2tsp with yoghurt)
100-150ml cream, soured cream or yoghurt
fresh or dried dill
1/2tsp Dijon mustard

Combine all the seasoning into a dressing, pour over the cucumber slices and marinate for at least one hour in the fridge. Check the seasoning and serve.

Garlicky Tomato Salad

I didn't make this with red tomatoes, for a change, but with the amazing yellow tomatoes from the organic box - this salad tastes of summer.

500g tomatoes, roughly cut into chunks
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped or crushed
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

Combine all the ingredients into a dressing and pour over the tomatoes. Gently mix and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, longer if possible.

Slow cooked tomato sauce

This sauce can be made in advance, for example over the weekend, and also freezes well. So preparing dinner on a Monday or any other weekday night won't take any time at all. Just cook some pasta or gnocchi, throw together a quick salad and you have a tasty meal. The sauce also goes well with grilled fish. Or use it to top grilled pork chops, add a slice of mozzarella and grill for a minute or two until the cheese is melting.

3x 440ml tins of chopped tomatoes in thick sauce - you can also use tinned tomatoes in tomato juice
2 onions, finely chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 fresh or dry bay leaves, rolled up and held together with a cocktail stick
120ml extra virgin olive oil
50ml red wine or 1tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 lightly heaped tsp brown sugar
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

1. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan, e.g. Le Creuset, and gently fry the onions and garlic for approx. 5 minutes until tender but not browned.

2. Pour in the tomatoes and stir through.

3. Season with pepper and salt. Add the bay leaf, sugar and wine. Stir, cover and bring to the boil.

4. Turn the heat low and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours stirring occasionally.

5. About 15 minutes, before the end of the cooking time, take the lid off to let some of the liquid evaporate and thicken the sauce. Remove the bay leaves and check the seasoning before serving.

1. Use dried basil instead of bay leaves.
2. Add some sun dried tomatoes and/or black olives.
3. Add some fresh chilli to give the sauce a bit (or a lot of) heat.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Mushroom Pâté

500g mushrooms, ideally large flat Portobello mushrooms, chopped roughly
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
a little freshly squeezed lemon juice
a few drops of Tabasco (optional)
100ml crème fraîche/Philadelphia or natural yoghurt

1. Sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil until brown but still fry. Transfer onto a plate lined with paper towel and leave to cool.

2. Blend all the ingredients incl. seasoning in a food processor or hand held blender. Transfer into a bowl and chill.

Serve with crusty bread, crackers/oat cakes or crudités.

Note: If using yoghurt, the pâté will remain more runny.

Stuffed Summer Squash

Another lovely find in the organic box: yellow summer squash. The following main course, being vegan, is incredibly tasty but not very filling, so you need quite a lot of it - one reason why eating vegan/vegetarian food is not exactly cheap. What you see on the photos was just about enough for two of us. Adding grated cheese to the rice and/or topping the dish with cheese, such as parmesan or pecorino, would help alleviate that :)

2-3 smallish summer squash, halved and flesh scooped out

Herby rice:

1/2 large mug of brown rice
1 1/1 large mugs of cold water
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 red chilli, finely chopped
2tbsp shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
2-3tbsp fresh herbs, roughly chopped - here, I used equal amounts of basil, rocket and coriander
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

Tomato salsa
250g cherry plum tomatoes, quartered
1 shallot, very finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
tabasco or chopped chilli, optional

1. Heat some olive oil in saucepan. Add the chilli, 2/3 of the garlic and onions and soften over a medium-low heat. Add the rice and stir until the rice is well coated with the mix. Pour in the water and add some coarse sea salt. Put the lid on and simmer until the rice is cooked.

2. Meanwhile, split the sqash in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Set aside.

3. Chop into small chunks. Heat some oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the squash with the remaining garlic over quite a high heat until browned all over. Season with black pepper (I didn't use any salt) and transfer into a bowl, if necessary lined with paper towel to drain of excessive oil.

4. Mix the cherry tomatoes, season with pepper (again I don't add salt) and tabasco/chilli if used. Leave to marinate.

5. Once the rice is cooked, drain off any remaining liquid. Season with pepper and add the pistachios, browned squash flesh and chopped herbs. Mix and check the seasoning.

6. Season the squash shells with pepper and salt and spoon to rice mixture into them.

7. Set on a lightly oiled oven proof dish, cover with tin foil and place in the middle of the oven at gas mark 6/200-220°C for about 40 minutes or until the squash are tender.

Serve with the tomato salsa and, optionally, a zesty salad.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Carrot Salad with Sesame Seeds

500g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
herb salt
freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp sherry or white wine vinegar
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed sunflower oil
2tbsp sesame seeds, toasted in the oven at a very high heat until golden
1tsp toasted sesame oil (optional)

Mix pepper, herb salt and vinegar, then add the oil. Pour over the carrots, mix well and leave to marinate for a couple of hours before serving. Add the toasted sesame seeds just before serving.

preparation time: 15 mins
marinating time: at least 1 hour

Spring Greens with Mozzarella

Another veg in the organic box was a lovely bundle of dark green spring greens. These, too, were given the sauté pan treatment.

500g spring greens, tough stems removed, washed and roughly chopped
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
sea salt
100-150ml dry white wine or vegetable stock
1 mozzarella ball, cut into cubes

Heat the olive oil and add the spring greens. Turn the heat down and move the veg around until completely covered with the oil and starting to brown. Pour in about 100ml of wine. Season with pepper and salt. Place a lid on the pan and gently simmer until the spring greens are tender adding more liquid if necessary. This can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Transfer into a warmed bowl and scatter with the mozzarella cubes.

Spinach with Soured Cream

Normally, I feel that it's a bit of a shame to steam baby spinach and prepare it raw as a salad. But this week, we ordered our first organic box and the spinach was a much larger leaved variety that was much more suitable to be turned into a vegetable side dish.

500g spinach, washed with some water still clinging to it to aid the cooking process and roughly chopped
1 small onion, very finely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2 generous tbsp soured cream
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
freshly ground nutmeg

Heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until soft but not browned. Add the spinach and mix the ingredients. Cook over a medium heat until the spinach is tender. Season with pepper and salt. Add the soured cream and mix. Transfer into a warmed serving bowl and grate a little nutmeg over the top.

Smoked Mackerel Pâté

200g smoked mackerel, skin removed and roughly broken up
2-3tbsp/75 ml natural yoghurt
freshly ground black pepper
a few drops of Tabasco
1 garlic clove, crushed
juice of 1/2 lemon

Put all the ingredient into a food processor or whizz up with a hand-held blender. Chill for 1-2 hours to set. Serve with crudités, hot toast/toasted baguette slices, oatcakes, fresh bread/baguette - whatever takes your fancy.

A great starter or amuse-gueule to get dinner party guests' mouths watering. I also have it for lunch on some chunky home baked bread.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Storing Mushrooms

Wrap them in newspaper!

Unfortunately, most supermarkets nowadays not only chill produce to death but also sell so many items pre-packaged in plastic baskets. Mushrooms really should not be stored in plastic at all, let alone be sealed with cling film. At least that's what I was tought when we went mushroom hunting when I was little...

The other day, I spotted a wee note on a packet that suggested to remove the cling film and to cover the mushrooms with kitchen paper. That sort of worked but I've found that wrapping the mushrooms incl. the basket in 2-3 sheets of newspaper (from a broadsheet) works even better.

If the mushrooms are super fresh, they last for days in the fridge. In fact, we finished some last night (Thursday) that we'd bought last Friday without chopping bits off, pealing them or throwing any away.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Easy BBQ and Oven Cleaning

Get yourself a packet of these little guys to clean the your barbecue and oven racks as well as the inside of the oven. Just add hot soapy water and you'll never again need elbow grease or nasty spray cleaners.