Happy 1st of July everyone! This is one of my favourite months: the days are longer, school is nearly over and it’s my birthday soon!
I find that recently we’ve been lossening up on our (already pretty loose) bedtime routine. The evenings are so light and it’s so close to the end of term and I’d much rather be having fun than ushering Stink off to bed at 8pm sharp. Im pretty sure that all they do in the last few weeks of school is colouring in and watching videos anyway…
Having had a few weeks of really nice weather here in Somerset we’ve found ourselves edging away from our normal evening routine of chores, dinner, telly and bed in favour of impromptu mid-week dinner picnics and leisurely strolls along the canal to our local pub for a cheeky pint. I also find it so much easier to entertain guests at this time of year. We live in a tiny house which makes it difficult to have more than a couple of people at a time round for dinner. We are however lucky to have a good sized garden, and if you follow me on instagram you’ll have seen we’ve been making good use of it.
So I’m hoping for a sunny month with more balmy evenings in the garden, and with this in mind I thought I’d share with you three Simple Salads. All of them can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. They work just as well for barbecues and garden parties as they do for packed lunches and picnics.
- 200g dried couscous
- 350g boiling water
- 75g raisins
- 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, paprika, ginger and coriander
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- A handful of walnuts or almonds (or both)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- Place the couscous, raisins and spices in a large bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir and cover the bowl with a plate to keep the steam in. After ten minutes the couscous will have absorbed all the water.
- Pour over the olive oil and vinegar, fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
- Once the couscous has cooled completely add the rest of the ingredients.
- Mix well and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Store in a covered container until you need it.
Tomato, Basil and Butterbean Salad with Feta
- 150g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 large tomatoes, diced
- 1 can of butter beans, drained
- 1 small red onion, finely sliced
- 100g feta, crumbled
- A large handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
- 3 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tsp of good quality balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Rocket to serve
- Place all of the ingredients except the rocket and balsamic in a large bowl. Mix well and season to taste. Be careful with the salt as feta is brined and therefore very salty already.
- Store in a covered container until, ready to serve.
- To serve, gently toss the rocket and salad together, then drizzle with the balsamic vinegar.
Beetroot, Cucumber and Zaatar Salad
- 1 pack of pre-cooked beetroot, diced
- 1 large cucumber, cut into semicircles
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp of zaatar (a spice blend available in most good supermarkets)
- 150g thick natural yoghurt
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to serve.
Peanut Butter and Jam is a flavour combination you really have to convince people to try. It’s a bit like telling a non-Brit that cheese and pineapple sticks are the best canapé ever. They scrunch their face up a bit and look at you like you’re potty until they try it and see the light. It sounds too weird to work.
There is just something about sweet and savoury combinations that really get me salivating. Peanut butter is salty, savoury and thick on the palate; pair that with a sweet, zingy jam to cut through the gacky peanut butter and you’re winning.
Now I know you’re probably thinking that if PB& J is so good why screw with it by putting it in a brownie? Because my friends, I like to think of brownie as a blank canvas, waiting to be adulterated with naughty, new friends. A chocolate brownie in itself is a fine thing. Chewy at the edges and gooey in the middle, but I look at that gnarly top and think “what can I dress this with?” And because of this I’ve found out that you can put pretty much anything in a brownie and it will be amazing.
- 300g dark chocolate
- 200g butter
- 100g self raising flour
- 200g sugar
- 3 eggs
- 100g raspberry jam
- 100g peanut butter
For the topping:
- 200g double cream
- 200g peanut butter
- 200g White Chocolat
- Salted peanuts, chocolate chips and a little extra jam to decorate
- Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C or gas Mark 3. Line a square cake tin with non-stick parchment.
- Using a Bain Marie, melt the butter and chocolate in a large bowl. Then add the sugar and stir until all the sugar has been incorporated.
- Next add the eggs one at a time, combining fully between each one.
- Lastly stir in the flour and make sure there are no lumps.
- Pour the brownie batter in to your prepared tin.
- Use a tea spoon to dot the brownie batter with blobs of peanut butter and jam.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes. The brownie should be risen and a little crusty on top, but still feel relatively wobbly.
- Leave the brownie to cool for at least an hour.
- When the brownie as reached room temperature you can prepare the topping.
- First heat the cream in a pan until just before it starts to simmer.
- Stir in the peanut butter so that melts completely.
- Place the white chocolate in a bowl and pour the peanutty cream over. Stir until all the chocolate has melted.
- Pour this mixture over your brownie.
- Scatter the topping with peanuts and chocolate chips and a few swirls of jam.
- Allow to set in the fridge for at least 6 hours, so that the topping is completely firm.
- Use a sharp knife to cut into neat squares. Store in the fridge in an airtight container and consume within 3 days. It won’t be hard.
I lovelovelove Indian food with all of my food obsessed heart. I cook curry probably once a week at home because it is delicious, wholesome, nutritious and budget-friendly. I don’t love rice though, which is why I sway towards bread as my carb of choice when eating curry.
Naan bread is a soft and fluffy leavened flat bread (made with yeast) which is eaten all over south and Central Asia. They are thought to have been influenced by middle eastern flatbreads such as Pitta, as the Persian word nān being a generic word for bread seems to suggest. What makes Indian naan bread different from other Indian breads is that they are cooked in a tandoor oven, which is a traditional wood or coal fired oven made of clay. These ovens are heated to extreme temperatures and the dough is slapped to the side of the oven to cook.
Obviously I don’t have a tandoori oven at home (I wish I did!), so I turn to my trusty cast iron skillet to make my naan. The beauty of this being that in the winter I can bake my naan in the kitchen and when the weather is on my side, I take my skillet outdoors and use it over my fire pit. This makes sure the naan absorb all the delicious smoky flavours from the fire and gives it a more authentic flavour. If you don’t own a cast iron pan, use the heaviest frying pan or skillet that you own, just don’t put it on an open fire!
- 500g strong white flour
- 20g sugar
- 10g salt
- 14g dried yeast (2 sachets)
- 150g coconut cream
- 200g water
- 1 tsp nigella seeds
- Place your flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix together with your hand. Make a well in the centre.
- Dissolve the yeast in to the water and pour in to the well. Use your hands to begin mixing the flour and water together. Then add the coconut cream and nigella seeds and mix in the bowl until it starts to form a sticky dough.
- Turn the mixture out on to a floured work surface and knead for about ten minutes, until you have a soft dough.
- Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl and cover with a clean towel. Leave to rise for 2 hours in a warm place.
- Once the dough has risen, turn out on to your work surface and divide in to 8 equal portions. Roll each portion in to a ball, place on a floured tray and cover. Leave to rest for 20 minutes to allow the gluten to relax. This will make it easier to shape the dough.
- When the dough has rested, start heating your pan. It needs to be really hot, so set the burner to its highest flame.
- Roll out your first ball of dough in to a flat, tear drop or oval shape, approximately 1cm thick. I find it easier to roll the dough flat with a rolling pin and then use my hands to shape it in to an oval by gently pulling the dough.
- Then place your shaped dough on to the hot pan. You will notice immediately that bubbles start to form under the surface of the dough.
- After a minute, flip the dough over and cook the other side. Don’t worry it the dough catches a little where it has formed bubble, this darkness adds flavour to the bread.
- Whilst the first flatbread is cooking, you can shape the next one so that it is ready to go.
- When the bread is cooked, wrap in a clean towel and cook the next one.
- Serve immediately with your favourite curry.
Choux pastry is my favourite kind of pastry because it is the perfect vessel for whipped cream or custard. It is a socially acceptable method for shovelling custard into my pie hole. I like to eat Chantilly cream straight from the bowl with a spoon, but people tend to frown upon that. Put that shit in an eclair though, and we’re all good.
Choux pastry is a delightful, crispy shelled mode of transport for delicious things to make their way in to my mouth.
It’s also a very versatile pastry. By which I mean you can pipe it into different shapes. With this one basic recipe you can make choux buns, chouqettes, eclairs, profiteroles, Paris Brest… And once the shells are baked and filled, the outside can be decorated with boundless imagination. All one needs to do is type eclair in to pintrest to see the hundreds of wonderful creations to inspire you. And to terrify you.
I know a lot of home cooks are put off by the seemingly daunting task of making choux. It’s so mysterious. What even is it? It’s called a pastry but it’s made in a saucepan and the paste looks like a gloopy mess waiting to happen! It looks difficult and faffy. Do I even have all the right equipment in my kitchen?
First things first; pull yourself together. It’s not anywhere near as difficult as you think. The most technical piece of kit you need for this is accurate scales. Being precise with your weighing up is very important when it comes to patisserie. It may look like an art but trust me, it’s a mysterious fucking science.
So here goes: here’s a recipe for choux pastry and a recipe for creme patissier. I’ve made little chocolate chouqettes (like profiteroles but less 70s sounding) as an easy introduction to choux pastry.
N.B you will need to strong arm for this, there is a lot of beating involved.
- 125g whole milk
- 125g water
- 100g butter, cubed
- 5g salt
- 10g sugar
- 150g plain flour
- 4 eggs
- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees/Gas mark 5. Line 2 large baking sheets with non stick parchment.
- Weigh and prepare all of your ingredients.
- Heat the milk and water in a large pan on a medium heat. Stir in the butter until it has melted completely. Add the salt and sugar.
- When the melted butter/milk is almost at a boil, turn the heat to low and quickly throw the flour in and start mixing with a wooden spoon. Once the flour has been fully incorporated, turn the heat back to medium and continue to beat the mixture. At this point you should be mixing quite vigorously, in order to dry out the paste. Keep going for 1 minute. You should have a ball of paste.
- Turn the paste out in to a large mixing bowl. Continue to beat for about 30 seconds to let some of the steam out and to help it cool.
- Next add the eggs, one at a time. You need to completely combine one egg before you add the next. Make sure you work quickly though as at this point the paste will be hot enough to start cooking the egg, so keep beating.
- Once you’ve addd all of the eggs, so should be left with a not-quite-liquid paste which plops off of your spoon.
- Transfer the paste to a piping bag. Snip the end off the bag to leave a hole of about 1.5cm.
- Pipe the choux pastry into rounds about the size of a tea light candle. Make sure you leave plenty of space around them as they do expand a lot. If you have any spiky tips sticking up, use a wet finger to dab them flat.
- Bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on how feisty your oven is.
- When the chouqettes are done they should be round, hollow and crispy with a rich golden colour. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Chocolate Creme Patissier
- 250g milk
- 100g sugar
- 1 egg
- 25g cornflour
- 100g dark chocolate
- Heat the milk in a pan until it begins to simmer.
- Mix the egg, sugar and cornflour in a bowl until smooth.
- Pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.
- Once well combined, pour the whole mixture back in to the pan and heat on low.
- Stir constantly until the cream is thickened.
- If you heat too vigorously and lumps start to appear, remove from the heat and whisk until smooth.
- Break the chocolate and stir into the cream until completely melted.
- Lay cling film over the surface of the cream and allow to cool.
- Once the shells and the chocolate creme patissier have both cooled to room temperature you are ready to pipe.
- Use a small, sharp knife to make a little hole in each shell.
- Fit a piping bag with a small, metal piping tip and fill with the chocolate cream.
- Pipe the filling in to each shell. Not too much though, or it will spurt out.
- Once each shell is full, arrange artfully on a plate and dust with icing sugar.
- Eat with reckless abandon and enjoy!
I honestly don’t remember ever eating sweet potato as a child. I don’t know if this is because 15 years ago it wasn’t a very popular vegetable here in the U.K. or if it was because my parents just overlooked it. Now I’m a grown up I pick up a massive sweet potato every time I do the grocery shopping. There’s a lot you can do with this lovely, gnarly looking tuber. This soup is fast to make and very cost effective. It’s also delicious and vegan. I use a lot of different spices in this recipe but don’t let the epic ingredients list put you off. The Pitta croutons are a great way of using up stale leftovers. You can use any bread for this but I seem to always end up with spare pittas lurking in my bread bin. This recipe makes enough for two hungry adults with a bit left over for tomorrow’s lunch. It will store in the fridge for up to five days in an airtight container or in the freezer for a month.
- 3 sticks of celery, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- Approximately 750g diced sweet potato
- 1/2 tsp celery salt
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Pinch of thyme
- Pinch of oregano
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- Pinch of dried chipotle chilli flakes
- 2 stale Pitta breads, cut into shards
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat your oven to its highest setting.
- Sweat the onion and celery in a large saucepan with a little oil.
- When they are translucent, add the garlic, sweet potato, spices and herbs. Sautee on a low heat for 5 minutes.
- Cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer with the lid on until the sweet potato is soft.
- Whilst the soup is simmering, place the shards of Pitta on a baking sheet and drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 3 minutes. Remove from the oven, flip them over and bake for another 3 minutes, or until the croutons are brown and crunchy.
- When the sweet potato is soft, use an immersion blender and wazz until the soup is smooth and silky. At this point you may need to add a bit more liquid to your soup, unless you like it like wall paper paste. I just add water but if you’re feeling decadent you could add milk or even cream. Let the soup down as much as you feel necessary, little by little. Season to taste.
- Serve the soup with the croutons piled on top and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and black pepper.
- If you don’t have all of the spices I’ve listed here, don’t worry! Use what you have in your spice rack. The essential ones are thyme, oregano, nutmeg and paprika and I’ll bet you already have those.
- Add as much chilli as you like. I like a lot of chilli in this but my small child does not. I prefer to add hot sauce or chopped fresh chilli to my own bowl.
- If you don’t have any Pitta bread to use up, just use whatever other bread you have in the house. This will work with anything from tortilla to hot dog buns. Simply cut them to whatever shape you like and keep an eye on the baking time.
- This crouton recipe will also work for gluten free bread, but I’d recommend using a medium setting on your oven as gluten free bread often has a high sugar content which burns faster.
In case you haven’t heard, spring has officially sprung. Daffodils and tulips are flowering, trees are covered in blossom and Easter is just around the corner. I love this time of year. I feel so refreshed when the sun starts to show its face again; everything is green and new and I want to be outside as much as possible.
Something that is synonymous with spring, especially in the food world is Wild Garlic. If you go in to any forest or wooded area you are highly likely to stumble across a bountiful crop of wild garlic. It grows rampantly in shady places from March until May, flowering around mid April. As far as foraging goes it’s a fairly easy one to spot and you will certainly smell it before you see it. The leaves are broad and richly coloured with dainty white, star shaped flowers. I am no expert in foraging and I’d never given wild food a second thought until a couple of years ago except for the obligatory late-summer blackberry picking. If you are interested in going out to pick some wild garlic for yourself, it’s important to make sure you know exactly what you are looking for. Wild Garlic is easy to identify because it is so pungent but I still recommend looking at various different sources online and checking out your local library for a book on foraging. Wild Garlic is sometimes mistaken for Lily of the Valley which is extremely toxic, so again, be certain of what you are picking. Another few things to remember when foraging for wild food is to be respectful of the environment. Never, ever pull the plant up by its root. Only take the leaves and flowers. Don’t take too much from one spot and remember that this is natures larder. It doesn’t belong to you or anyone else, so don’t take advantage of it or be selfish.
Wild Garlic can be used in so many thing in the kitchen in exactly the same way you would use regular bulb garlic. If you are stirring it into a dish in lieu of normal garlic, I recommend treating it as you would any other fresh herb. Finely chop and stir in at the very end of cooking so that the beautiful flavour is not lost. Wild Garlic can also be used to make a butter, by chopping and mixing in to salted butter. Some people use it in a salad and you can also make a lovely soup with it.
I like to make wild garlic pesto firstly because we are big pesto fans in this house and secondly because it’s damn good. Making Pesto with wild garlic turns it from a “what the hell do I do with this” ingredient to a “what can I not do with this” ingredient. A couple of things I like to do with it are simply stir it into cooked spaghetti and use a basic white dough to make cheese and pesto swirls.
Wild Garlic Pesto
- 300g Wild Garlic
- 100g grated Parmesan
- 150g olive oil
- 100g pine nuts
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Juice of half a lemon
- Thoroughly wash the wild garlic and inspect it to make sure you haven’t picked up any non-edible greens or stowaways (bugs). Use a clean tea towel to dry the leaves gently. Then roughly chop the garlic.
- Firstly put the pine nuts in your food processor with the oil and salt and blend.
- Then add the wild garlic, a handful at a time. Finish with the the lemon juice.
- Keep blending until it reaches your desired smoothness. I prefer mine a little chunky.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 5 days. You can also freeze this for up to one month.
Originating in Egypt, this delicious blend of nuts and spices is my new favourite thing to put on pretty much everything. Traditionally it is eaten as a condiment with bread or vegetables being first dipped into olive oil, and then in to Duqqa.
The name Duqqa (or Dukkah as it is sometimes spelt) derives from the Arabic word for “to pound” as it is made by dry roasting and then smashing together sesame seeds, hazelnuts and a mx of whole spices. It isn’t fine like a spice, but it’s ground into an almost mealy texture halfway between couscous and Polenta. There are many versions of Duqqa sold in street markets in Egypt, and of course every family has their own recipe handed down through generations. I like mine earthy and strongly nutty with good heat from black peppercorns, but I also like a sweeter Duqqa with cinnamon for sprinkling over porridge.
- 200g hazelnuts, shelled, skinned and roughly chopped.
- 100g of flaked almonds
- 200g sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp black pepper corns
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
- Firstly toast the nuts and the seeds in a heav bottomed frying pan, over a low heat. Keep them moving so they don’t burn. Watch out for flying sesame seeds and remove from the heat when the nuts and seeds are nicely golden all over.
- Toast the whole spices and grind. I used an electric spice grinder for this and pulsed it until the spices were ground but not too finely. Place the spices in a mixing bowl.
- Next grind the nuts and seeds. I grind a third of the mixture to a similar texture to the spices, the next third to a slightly coarser texture and the final portion I pound by hand in the pestle and mortar to give a less uniform consistency.
- Mix all of the ingredients together with a little salt, tasting as you go.
This is just the way I like to make Duqqa. If you prefer yours spicier or less spicy, more fragrant or more sweet, experiment with different whole spices and dried herbs. Lots of variations include dried mint, dried marjoram and thyme as well as cinnamon and cardamom.
I like to use Duqqa as a garnish on soups such as Carrot and Lentil. It goes very well on hoummous and you can sprinkle it over salads for a different flavour dimension. To make a sweet Duqqa, I reduce the amount of cumin, leave out the coriander and black pepper, reduce the chilli by a little and add lots of cinnamon, a little nutmeg and all spice. It’s really good on porridge and yoghurt.