Cupboard Love: Chorizo and Pea Pilaf

It’s becoming a dangerously repetitive maxim on here, but honestly, its amazing what you can make by just scrabbling around in your fridge, freezer and store cupboard and applying a little knowhow.

I appreciate that this looks like an Eastern Mediterranean zig-zag; we begin in Spain and end up in Persia – this is not me purposely being globetrottingly eclectic in the kitchen, but merely hunting for a fast supper which creatively used some leftover chorizo sausage that was too little to do anything else with. It has some roots in a couple of Nigella’s recipes, but really, most of us will have these things in these days. I didn’t weigh the chorizo but it was the ends of two sausages that I’d bought and used for Nigella’s Chorizo and Chickpea stew and refused to waste.

It’s super easy and fast to make, one pot as well, so it’s perfect for anyone so harried in the middle of the miserable working week when the idea of cooking just makes you want to shriek. These measurements serve one, but you can of course double or quadruple. Just remember it’s one part rice to two parts stock.

I suppose you can also add chopped dried apricots (or indeed ANY dried fruit) to ramp up the Scheherezade exoticism of this dish but it’s perfectly good as is. Indeed you could also add saffron to the stock…..

Chorizo And Pea Pilaf

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approx 80g chorizo, cut into small chunks

80g frozen peas

100g basmati rice

200ml chicken stock

Splash (1tbsp) dry sherry

 

  1. In an oilless pan over medium heat, fry the chorizo pieces until the orange oil runs out.
  2. Remove from heat and add sherry, it will sizzle a bit.
  3. Add peas and cook until frozen look leaves them.
  4. Add rice and stir until slicked in the orange-tinted oil and sherry remnants.
  5. Pour over stock and bring to a bubble.
  6. Clamp on a lid and reduce heat to very low. Simmer for 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  7. Once the rice is cooked, stir briefly (with a fork) and don’t panic if there’s any crispy bits – in Persian cooking this is very desirable and known as the tahdig. Serve immediately into a waiting bowl.
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Vegan and sugar free : Chocolate Coconut Brownies

I have been meaning to publish this recipe for a while now, as the source I obtained it from back in 2012 (an American granola girl mom blogger whose name I’m sorry to say long forgotten) has seemed to have vanished into the ethers.

I felt with all the talks of sugar tax (please, for your own sanity do NOT start me off on why this is wrong) that publishing a recipe that contains zero of the evil white stuff was rather timely….actually….I’m doing so because these are FREAKING GOOD. They are deeply, darkly resonant with chocolate without children’s party sweetness, and are as squidgy, and fudgy as even the most butter-laden slabs of decadence.  And most importantly of all, they do not feel like a compromise. You can happily serve these to the most committed animal product eater and their mind will be blown. Their intense fudginess also means they can be served as a pudding too.

Plus, all the plant-derived ingredients and use of wholemeal flour makes you feel like these are SO healthy….it does use one whole bottle of agave syrup though, I am sorry.

You can use any dairy free milk you can find, though obviously please check whomever you’re serving it to isn’t allergic to nuts or soya first. With the coffee, I happily use instant as it’s added in liquid form and just make it strong, but you can use leftovers in your cafetiere; espresso…whatever you want. Don’t leave it out – , they don’t taste of coffee -it is crucial for enhancing the chocolate flavour as of course there is no melted chocolate in these.

You can use an 8×8 or small roasting tin to bake these in. Just keep an eye on the cooking time as you do not want these to dry out and they don’t take long to bake.

Due to the recipe’s Stateside origin, this is in US cup measures. But you can obtain all the ingredients from any large supermarket without needing to go to Holland and Barrett. I do apologise for the irregular changing of measures in my recipes – some are in imperial, others metric – I’m well aware of this!

I tend to only make these once a year – a close friend is a vegan, and these have become my annual birthday present to her as some kind of tradition. Their making signals the end of summer and the start of my autumn-Christmas baking calendar. But please don’t let that stop you from making them whenever you desire.

Chocolate Coconut Brownies

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1/3 cup coconut oil

1 cup agave syrup (about 1 bottle)

1/2 cup coconut milk (not the canned stuff but the carton e.g Koko or Alpro) or any dairy free milk alternative

1/3 cup strong coffee

1 cup cocoa powder (raw if you really want to be good but it’ll cost you)

1/2 cup desiccated coconut

3/4 cup wholemeal flour

1/2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/170C fan, and grease and line your chosen tin with parchment for easy lifting out later.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, cocoa, coconut and salt. Fork or whisk to mix and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, beat the coconut oil and agave syrup until combined – this is easy enough by hand and a wooden spoon. Beat in the coconut milk and the coffee. It may split and curdle but don’t freak out if it does.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined – don’t over mix it. It will make a fairly thin batter but that’s fine – it’s what makes the brownies so fudgy.
  5. Pour batter into the tin and bake for 16-18 minutes. Ovens do vary so it’s recommended you start with the shortest time as you don’t want to overcook them.
  6. Leave to cool completely in the tin before lifting out and cutting into. They’re surprisingly rich so small squares is fine….plus you get more brownies. And if I’m saying that……….

 

Ginger Loaf

Cold. Wet. Dark early. Are we really in August?

Seeing as the weather is much more reminiscent of late autumn/winter than summer, it’s only natural to gravitate towards unseasonable food to accompany said weather. In my world, at any rate.

You’ll know by now that gingerbread in its many forms has a huge hold on my heart. I’m too aware I have been in this territory before (the Yorkshire Parkin and the regular slab-style gingerbread I created in 2015) but if my cookbook collection is anything to go by, there’s infinite ways to bring sugar and spice together in pleasurably sticky harmony.

This is gingerbread as I like it – heady with black treacle, which has the bitter sweetness of burnt toffee, and packing a fierce hit of peppery ginger. Preferably left at least a day before eating as it only gets stickier.

I can’t take the credit for the recipe though – it comes from the Domestic Princess and is an adaptation of her fantastic (and pretty damn accurate reproduction) recipe for McVitie’s Golden Syrup Cake, itself a guilty pleasure of mine and one of the few mass-produced cakes I have no shame in buying, along with it’s Jamaican Ginger sister – which, I suppose you could say, I was aiming for with this.

This also has the added bonus of being easily veganised – just substitute the butter and milk for non-dairy versions, and it of course contains no eggs. If you wanted to be ambitious you could use gluten free plain flour too.

Ginger Loaf

 

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75g soft dark brown (or even better, dark muscovado) sugar

75g softened salted butter (or vegan margarine)

150g black treacle

75ml water

75ml milk (or dairy free equivalent)

200g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C, and grease and line a 1lb loaf tin.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour with the bicarb, baking powder, ginger and cinnamon and whisk or fork to mix.
  3. In either a free-standing mixer or in a bowl with a hand whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until you have a manila-toned cream- if using dark muscovado the sugar will always have a slight bit of grit to it.
  4. Place the milk and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
  5. Once boiled, and with the motor still running on the mixer, carefully pour the hot milk/water mixture into the creamed butter and sugar, followed by the treacle, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. This is very liquid, so don’t panic! Also be careful of splashes.
  6. Add in the dry ingredients and continue until combined, being careful not to over mix and once more scraping the sides of the bowl.
  7. Pour the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. Check after 40 though as ovens do vary – a tester should come out clean.
  8. Once the cake is cooked, leave to cool completely in its tin on a cooling rack.
  9. If you can bear to resist, leave for a day at least before cutting as the stickier the better.

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Real Men DO Eat Quiche: Four Cheese And Sherry-Caramelized Onion Quiche With Chutney

I really need to up my game of finding inspiration everywhere so I can produce more recipes. This one was borne out of financial hardship and the prospect of what to serve my visiting brother for lunch. Which going by the title doesn’t sound like pauper’s cooking but I already had four different cheeses in the fridge including two impulse buys from one of Waitrose’s perpetual 2 for £4 offers and were all open and needing use. You can of course use any 4 cheeses your heart desires, though cheddar is recommended for grating atop. Don;t feel confined by weights when it comes to the cheese….I go purely by eye here and don’t get hung up on proportions of each kind.  As long as you are precise for the pastry and custard, you’ll be fine.

Same with the chutney layer – I had some homemade ‘rag bag’ chutney – so-named for its ludicrous combination of fridge, cupboard and freezer-raid ingredients – that was sat in the fridge and felt was perfect to cut through all the cheeses. You can use any good bought chutney from a jar; anything you’d serve with a cheeseboard will do (though not mango – think Branston pickle or ploughman’s relish. Yes you can use Branston if you want…just don’t tell me about it).

Quiche is a fantastic thing to have in any savvy cook’s repetoire – its basis is simple with its easy pastry base and simple custard filling, and, like a frittata or omelette, you can throw in any leftover vegetables hanging round your fridge drawers though I recommend cooking them first. Caramelised onions are a fabulous addition, which is why I’ve gone for them, though obviously they take time to cook; this is weekend cooking at its finest…pottering about the kitchen unharried and serene. This is also much better made one day ahead to allow the filling to settle and makes for easier slicing.

Four Cheese And Sherry-Caramelised Onion Quiche With Chutney Layer

 

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For the onions:
2 regular onions, peeled and sliced lengthways

Oil or butter, or a mixture of the two

A good few splashes of medium dry sherry

For the pastry case:
280g plain flour

70g lard

70g butter

Water, to combine the dough

For the filling:
2 large eggs

284ml double cream

A mixture of:
Cheddar, grated
Blue Shropshire, crumbled
Double Gloucester With Onion And Chives, crumbled
Parmesan, grated
Or indeed whatever combo of cheeses your heart desires.

About 3-4 tbsp (enough to make an even but thin layer) good piquant chutney, either home made if you’re super domesticated or any bought one from a jar.

You will need 1 x 20cm sandwich tin, greased, as well as some baking parchment and beans.

  1.  Heat the oil (or butter, or both) in a thick bottomed pan over a medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion slices and stir to coat with oil. Spread them out in an even layer and allow to cook for 10 minutes. Turn heat down to medium if your hob is particularly fierce.
  2. After the 10 minutes, sprinkle some salt over the onions, and optionally, a pinch of sugar to help the caramelisation process. If they catch a bit as they cook, just splash in a bit of water and stir to loosen.
  3. Cook, stirring every few minutes for at least 30 minutes…as soon as they start sticking..let them stick a little and brown, but stir before they burn.
  4. Continue to cook and scrape until they are a rich brown. Taste for sweetness. Once you’re happy, deglaze the pan with the sherry and stir to loosen all those crucial brown bits off the bottom. Turn heat up to cook off and reduce the sherry right down – you don’t want any excess liquid but they will take on its’ spicy-sweet, bosky flavour.  Decant into a bowl and set aside.

  5. Now you can get on with the pastry (or indeed you can do this before you cook the onions if you’re super organised). First, preheat oven to 200C (180 fan). In a stand mixer or food processor; or indeed by hand if you’re not a lazy bum; rub/mix the fats into the flour until it resembles medium oatmeal or breadcrumbs, and then gently pour in the water. As soon as the dough looks like it’s about to cohere, turn the machine off and squidge together to form said dough.
  6. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a round about the thickness of a £1 coin. You want it strong enough to prevent leakage but not too thick. Use your rolling pin to lift it and drape over the sandwich tin so there’s an overhang, pushing into the edges. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly neat. You’re not a factory. Pull away scraps but you want it slightly above the height of the tin to allow for shrinkage. Chill in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
  7. Lightly prick the base of the tart with a fork; line with parchment and fill with ceramic beans or dried beans or rice if you’ve not got the ceramic ones. Bake blind for 20 minutes; remove the parchment and beans, and then continue to bake for 5-10 minutes until biscuity. Remember to not go overboard here; it’s going to be baked again once it’s filled!
  8. Whilst the base is cooking, beat the eggs in a jug or bowl with the cream and season. When the case is ready, spread it carefully with the chutney (or pickle), trying not to cut it, before sprinkling with the parmesan, Shropshire, double Gloucester – I layer the parmesan over the chutney and dot with the crumbled Shropshire and Gloucester. But do this your way; as long as the chutney is the first thing to go on.
  9. Arrange half the cooled, caramelised onions atop the cheeses, before pouring over the eggs-and-cream-mix and finally, scatter with the grated cheddar and the other half of the onions.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes until set and golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely in the tin.

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    Don’t be alarmed…once its completely cooled and ready to serve, you can trim away those ugly dark edges.
  11. When the quiche is cooled completely, trim away the ugly (and possibly darkened to inedible) edges of the pastry and carefully remove from the tin, before cutting into wedges and serving with whatever you like.

 

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The closest I got to taking a photo of the quiche served…

Courting Controversy: Sauce Béarnaise

I am going to get heat from purists and food snobs for this. But does my face look bothered?

Seeing as Nigella Lawson copped hate for publishing HER VERSION of that Italian classic , spaghetti carbonara, I thought I’d join in and publish my sacrilegious version of the ultimate accompaniment to steak (or indeed any flash fried red meat).

It’s not that I don’t respect the classics, it’s just a case of making something work for you depending on factors like budget or natural ability. I am extremely clumsy in the kitchen, for example, and sometimes cook off the cuff without planning ahead.

I don’t need to tell you what sauce béarnaise is…an emulsion of egg yolks, butter, flavoured with white wine vinegar and tarragon, a ‘child’ sauce of that liquid primrose river of dreams, sauce hollandaise, one of the five ‘mother sauces’. My way plays fast and loose with the traditional method as given by the greats such as Escoffier, and I realise I’d be committing high treason by calling this authentic sauce béarnaise, but it’s authentic to me and carries the key flavourings of tarragon, spiked with the sharp tang of vinegar.

If you were making this the proper French way, you would begin with a reduction of white wine, wine vinegar, shallots, chervil and fresh tarragon, and you would whisk your butter into the egg yolks in a bowl barely touching some simmering water. Me? I do away with the reduction bit, use dried tarragon and distilled malt vinegar (yes, the clear stuff you’d use to clean your house), and I cook the sauce directly into a saucepan. I served this to a guy on a sort of date with venison and kale (as the pictures show), and this guy was very into cooking himself and he described it as excellent. So, go figure.

The method is based upon Felicity Cloake’s How To Cook Perfect Hollandaise, and you can scale it up or down depending on how many you’re cooking for. Mine serves two generously (or even one greedy person) or up to four delicately.

Sauce Béarnaise

 

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2 large egg yolks

1 tbsp water

125g cold salted butter, cubed

Dried tarragon, to taste. At least 1tsp as you want its flavour pronounced

Generous splash distilled malt vinegar (or whatever vinegar you have)

  1. In a pan over a very low heat, place all ingredients except vinegar and begin whisking. DO NOT leave the pan, or be tempted to turn up the heat to speed things up. This sauce waits for nobody, not checking Twitter, replying to WhatsApp or making a brew. You have to whisk CONSTANTLY.
  2. As the butter melts, the sauce will begin to thicken. Do not stop whisking. Don’t be afraid to remove from the heat briefly as you whisk. If by any chance it does start to split, you can place over cold water and whisk like crazy, hopefully it should return to homogenous joy…but just take great care to not overheat.
  3. Keep whisking, be patient, and it should thicken up. Think of this as hot mayonnaise. When it is thickened to your liking, remove from heat and season to taste before splashing in vinegar, again to taste. You want some sharpness but not overwhelming acid.
  4. Béarnaise is fine at room temperature; in fact it’s preferred, unlike it’s more sensitive to heat mother, hollandaise, so make this up before you cook your steaks. Serve with your meal and bask in the smugness of making one of the greatest classic French sauces ever invented.

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Hot And Sour: Southeast Asian Chicken and Kale Salad

Firstly let me just own up: I have never been to any country in South East Asia. But I do know that their cuisine – huge on flavour yet low on calories/guilt – is often the first port of call to any foodie who has to exercise a modicum of dietary restraint. I am a bit of a greedy pig, which I know is not news (and certainly not fake news), but even I have to reel in my desires. My low-carb diet took a hiatus to accommodate Easter, and lately I’ve decided to relax it more at weekends (especially if copious alcohol consumption is planned).

I don’t know whether to call this a salad or not as the kale is steamed, but isn’t served hot. It was yet another result of a fridge raid today when I needed a low carb but filling lunch and some cooked chicken breast to use up. It is a mutation of Nigella Lawson’s gingery hot duck salad from Bites, which in turn was a spin off from Cambodian beef salad so, I guess you can call this recipe the next stage. This is the beauty of cooking – evolution.

I am not naturally a salad person so if I do make one, it has to deliver on taste and not feel like a punishment. My salads usually have heat in there somewhere, maybe fruit, herbs, and certainly something sharp and pickled. Vinegar or citrus juices tend to be my choice of dressing, I loathe those claggy bottled ones.

Kale I genuinely enjoy eating (don’t convince me a kale smoothie does not taste absolutely vile though. Just cook it and eat it as a veg, stop inflicting such horror on your soul) as it is beefy and meaty for a leafy green and still fairly cheap to buy and is always grown in the UK all year round, and I had half a bag to use up and no salad leaves in the fridge.

I nearly always have a bought roast chicken in the fridge (because sadly I don’t roast birds nearly as often as I would like to these days which is madness as it would work out SO much cheaper) but I tend to prefer the dark meat (think a drumstick torn off the bird like an island savage when post-work hunger pangs hit) whereas my ex partner/good friend favours the breast. But on those occasions when I do have cooked chicken breast laying about, I have to anoint it with some seriously spiky, punchy flavouring.  But I do tend to leave the skin on as it’s a small sacrifice of virtue in order to up the flavour stakes.

The dressing is hot, salty, sour and even a little sweet – if the idea of sugar appalls you, then just use granulated sweetener or agave syrup instead. You do need balance here. I have done it with half lime, half sweet orange before, but this time I wanted the full acerbic hit of the lime. The ginger is to taste, don’t get your ruler out. In truth, I find it easier to just grate the whole root and go by eye. And I don’t bother to peel because I’m lazy.

This is a fiercely hot salad, not for the faint hearted (and if, as I often do, you go for full geographical authenticity and use those fiendish Thai birds-eye chillies or go EVEN hotter up the Scoville scale, then it’s strictly professionals only time)  but if you do like the food that bites back, it’s an easy summer lunch or light supper. If you’re as much of a heat junkie as I am, you will love it.

Serves 1 but can be doubled.

Southeast Asian Chicken and Kale Salad

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125-150g (about half a 250g bag) curly kale, tough stems removed

1 cold cooked chicken breast, skin on  (either from a leftover roast, bought packet or rotisserie chicken)

2 tbsp fish sauce

Juice of 1 and a half limes

1 tsp sugar or any sweetener you desire

Few drops toasted sesame oil

1-2cm piece ginger, grated.

1 green chilli, chopped (de-seed if you’re of a more timorous bent, or use 1-2 birds-eyes if you think you’re hard enough)

 

  1. Place kale in a steamer, either electric or one set over boiling water, sprinkle with salt and steam until tender. Alternatively you can boil in salted water.
  2. Slice chicken breast on the diagonal, going for that 80s Chinese takeaway fan-style carving but if some of the meat crumbles, spoiling the perfect slices, don’t get het up. Please leave on the skin. You’ll thank me.
  3. In a bowl, mix together fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, chopped chilli and grated ginger before tumbling in the sliced chicken. Stir to coat thoroughly. Think of this as a quasi-marinade as well as a dressing.
  4. This can be served with the kale hot or at room temperature,  so don’t fret about timing – when kale is tender, (and drained if you boiled it), decant it onto a plate before topping with the chicken, making sure to scrape out any remnants of the dressing with a spatula and dive in.

 

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Herb-flecked and fragrant: Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Macerated Onions

I have a confession to make: As I write this I’m almost one week into a low-carbohydrate diet (but still on my smugly non-puritanical terms: If I fancy a bag of crisps or a slice of cake, I just won’t eat any bread, rice, potatoes or pasta that day. It’s all about balance and moderation – you didn’t think I’d become Calgary Avansino [she’ll sue me one day] did you??), so I’m looking for speedy suppers that are big on flavour, but don’t rely on the crutches of pasta or bread as the base. Even when in virtuous mode, I do not go in for rigid blandness or mimsy portions.

This colourful and herb-flecked quinoa and chickpea salad was born out of a store cupboard and fridge rummage as I found myself falling into the trap of buying new things for supper every day. Now I know what you’re thinking, it sounds hessian-weave and militant Wellness vegan time, but I assure you, if I didn’t like the taste of this, I wouldn’t make it, let alone publish the recipe. (I can’t stop channelling Queen Nigella can I? I’m too far gone.)

Indeed I have looked towards St Nigella for part of this – one of her frequent recipe components; the zingy macerated onions. It might sound inconvenient to steep finely-sliced red onions in vinegar (or lime juice which works just as well) for half an hour, but the acid takes out that acrid burn you get with raw onion, making them tangy and sweet, so you can eat this in the company of others without them recoiling in horror. Even with this step, this is still gratifyingly easy cooking and quick to make. Plus cold, it makes a great packed lunch for work.

This is packed with colour and zing; the vinegar or lime juice that the onions steep in, forms the dressing (no oil so I’m keeping company with the food fascism brigade here), there’s 2 chillies thrown in; some mouth-puckeringly, alligator-skin-hued capers, and the herbs, roughly chopped provide pungency – I want them more like a salad leaf instead of a garnish; whilst the grated carrot and chopped cucumber provide sweet, cool, familiarity.

You’ll notice I’ve flitted Stateside and back with the measurements, but I think it’s much easier to cook grains like quinoa (which like rice cooked by the absorption method, it’s 1 part grain to 2 parts liquid) if you go by volume. I generally don’t weigh ingredients for salads, rather going by eye, so feel free to add more or less of each of the components to your taste.

Serves 3-4 depending on appetite

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Macerated Onions

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Half red onion, finely sliced into half moons

About 60ml red wine vinegar or fresh lime juice (60ml = about 2-3 limes)

1 cup quinoa

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

400g can chickpeas, drained

Generous handful rocket leaves

A handful each of coriander, mint (de-stemmed), and parsley, roughly chopped or even left as whole leaves if you want

1-2 chillies, finely chopped

Approx 1 tbsp capers

1 medium carrot, grated

1/3 cucumber, cut into triangles

 

  1. In a bowl, place the sliced red onion and douse with vinegar or lime juice. Cover with cling film and leave to steep for 30 minutes.
  2. In a saucepan, bring the stock to the boil and add the quinoa grains. Bring back to the boil before lowering the heat and clamping on a lid. Cook for about 15 minutes until swollen and all the stock absorbed.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the chilli, roughly chopped herbs, rocket, cucumber pieces and grated carrot. Toss to mix.
  4. When the quinoa is cooked through, upend into the green garden of vegetables and stir with two forks to prevent the quinoa from clumping. The heat may wilt the rocket a little – if you want to, you can cook and cool the quinoa in advance.
  5. When the onions have had their steeping time, empty the pale puce strands, along with their steeping liquid into the salad and stir again to mix.
  6. Finally add the chickpeas and capers and give one final quick toss to ensure everything’s combined, decant onto a plate  (I also topped mine with a few of those bacon flavoured crispy bits) or into tubs for meal prep and dive in.

    NOTE: If you’re spreading this out for meal prep, store in a bowl covered with cling in the refrigerator and eat within 2 days, or in individual plastic airtight tubs.

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