Thursday, 29 July 2010

Custard and couscous


Cooking is fun. It can be many things, though ultimately aside from being an essential life skill, it’s a way of relaxing and exploring our taste buds. Combine it with great company and you’ll be in a heavenly place, sprinkle some fun and you’ll find it difficult to get off the clouds. Though as the wonderful Lynn Redgrave said, “God always has another custard pie up his sleeve.”

So alas,
                            
              
          down we fall,
                                                                  
                                         and how we land, depends on a few things. Good friends, optimism, faith and strength all help ease the impact, combined with a good diet we may even grow wings! The recipe I’d like to share involves custard and couscous, though possibly not as you know them. Couscous is pasta's healthier cousin, containing twice as much riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and folate, and four times as much thiamine and pantothenic acid, so on the B vitamin front, couscous is buzzing.



Jelly and custard? Yes. Rhubarb and custard? Yes. Couscous and custard? Most definitely, yes! And that’s the crux of this dish, silky custard binds lightweight and nutritious wholewheat balls with delicious herbed chicken, for those who’d prefer a vegetarian twist, simply add more halloumi. Upon giving some moments of your time to cooking, you’ll be rewarded by a jewelled mini mountain with golden nuggets and a mellow yellow custard, that’s incredibly moreish, the food of dreams. Stay on that cloud.

“Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.”

Gautama Buddha

GRILLED CHICKEN SKEWERS ON A GIANT COUSCOUS MINI MOUNTAIN WITH SAFFRON CUSTARD

SERVES 4

Chicken breasts 4 cut into chunks
Olive oil 2 tbsp
Mint 1 tbsp
Coriander 1 tbsp finely chopped
Seasoning

SAFFRON CUSTARD

Butter 25g
Garlic cloves 7
Saffron strands ½ tsp
Double cream 400ml
Egg yolks 1
Lemon 1 juice and zest
Seasoning

GIANT WHOLEWHEAT COUSCOUS

Wholewheat giant couscous 200g Merchant gourmet brand, available in Waitrose
Spring onions 3 chopped finely
Halloumi 70g cut into cubes
Coriander 1 tbsp freshly chopped
Parsley 1 tbsp freshly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil 1 tbsp
Pomegranate seeds 2 tbsp

MARINATE chicken in olive oil, mint, coriander and seasoning for 20 minutes though overnight is best, after which -
THREAD the chicken cubes onto metal skewers and set aside on a baking tray.
GENTLY heat butter, garlic and saffron strands for a couple of minutes.
POUR in half the cream and egg yolk, stirring well, until mixture thickens, reduce heat.
PRE-HEAT grill.
COOK couscous according to packet instructions.
DRAIN couscous and stir in remaining couscous ingredients, season to taste.
GRILL chicken skewers for 3 minutes on either side.
STIR in remaining cream and lemon juice to custard.
SPOON mini mountains of couscous onto plates, place chicken skewer on top and serve with a ramekin of custard. I like to pour the custard on top, though I’ve found it's best to let your lovely guests decide for themselves.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Coconuts and Kerala


On travels far into the night, past oceans shimmering and waves spilling, we landed in Cochin, a glorious place. I was blown away by her bustling roads, racing rickshaws, constant humming crowds, intense smells and total brightness. Welcome India, on the other side of the world, it felt like another world. London a distant past. The musty odours whispering were a quiet reminder of the rainy season, just passed. I love Kerala, located on the South Western coast of India, AKA Gods own Country, it's a spice dreamers dream come true, and I was totally spellbound.

We all have special moments when our thirst is quenched, in a truly ambrosia way, when thirst is deep and more than thirst. My moment came after what seemed like an endless drive through smokiness, to a place up in the hilltops, Leela Leela! Lovely Leela, a hotel where you’re greeted with a fluffy, wet white facecloth, and a freshly cut coconut, that upon sipping, my mouth felt like it was Christmas time, what a gift. 

The Keralan Fish curry recipe I’d like to share is an adaption from several recipes I’ve tried and tested. I’ve come up with a beautiful rendition, that will keep you feeling fresh and light, its delightful. The sunshine colour comes from the turmeric, which has a peppery and bitter taste, its musky sweet ginger fragrance filters through the air in Kerala, all places have a scent, and when I smell turmeric I'm back in Kerela. Almost magical for its potent goodness, for centuries the Chinese and Indians have been using turmeric for medicinal purposes, it's an anti-inflammatory and helps with menstrual problems, so great news for ladies. Toothache, wind, bruises, chest pain all are helped by this wonder spice. Anyone who suffers from stiff joints, must tuck into turmeric, it will bring relief and improves liver function. Don't be put off by the number of ingredients, spices are the jewels in the crown and once you discover flavours you like you'll be sprinkling them on top of scrambled eggs and other delights. So bring on the Keralan curry, I like to eat it with wholewheat noodles, they mop up the coconut sauce nicely, though brown rice is lovely too. Wash it down with some chilled coconut water to boot. The booty’s in the curry, a true turmeric treasure.

KERALAN FISH CURRY


Monk fish 250g, cut into four chunks
Talapia or Line caught cod, 250g, cut into four pieces
Turmeric 2 tsp
Cinnamon 1 tsp
Cumin 1 tsp
Ground coriander 1 tsp
Rice wine vinegar 1tbsp
Olive oil 2 tbsp
Onion 1 chopped
Chilli 1 green finely chopped
Garlic 3 cloves bashed
Ginger root 2 tsp finely chopped
Coconut milk 1 tin
Greek yogurt 1 tbsp
Limes 2 juiced
Sweet freedom 2 tsp
Coriander 1 bunch roughly chopped

·      Alternatively for the garlic, ginger and chilli try the Gourmet Herb brand.

MIX spices, rice wine vinegar, half the oil in a bowl.
HEAT remaining oil and fry onions, chilli, garlic and ginger for five minutes.
STIR in spice mix.
POUR in coconut milk, Greek yogurt and lime juice.
SIMMER for ten minutes.
TASTE and season to you liking.
ADD fish, place on lid and cook for a further 10 minutes until fish is cooked through.
SCATTER over the coriander leaves and enjoy, served with noodles or rice, whatever you prefer.




Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Blooming Banana’s



Wouldn’t it be bliss if our feelings always led us towards true happiness? Well I'm sure they do, when we're on the right track. Yesterday, I was reminded of this, as I listened to an award winning speech, on the meaning of life, from the perspective of a fourteen year old boy. The confidence he spoke with, as he playfully enthused at the meaningless meanderings of adults, was a wee wake up call and very inspiring. It got me thinking, you know those thoughts that keep tick tocking? The ones that seem to pop along like the summer rain, well, these are little reminders that something important needs our full attention. So before the full rays of sunshine may shine, its best to acknowledge the mizzle.


Very rarely are problems resolved overnight, though guess what, somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the tastes that you dream of do really come true, AND guess who creates them? You, beautiful, you. However much mayhem is in our day, the kitchen is a place to make sense of it all, it's known as the heart of the home for good reason. With a little bit of prep and practice, the experience of cooking with flow may knock at your door daily, that lovely feeling of ease will embrace you as smoothly as silk, and in turn wrap your days in the finest lace. That is the joy of cooking good food simply and it’s well within all of our reach. It’s every day that counts, and what we do today makes tomorrow a better one.


On friday I promised a delicious prepare-ahead dessert to craft on a summer’s day, and here it is, surely the tootiest, fruitiest refreshing sweet, I’ve eaten all year. I’m sure you’ll love it too. It has the makings of a classic, with Italian and Irish influences, it is an Alcapone of desserts, with a very happy after taste and not a grimace in sight, to be sure. This ice cream recipe yields enough for two delightful evenings, for four hungry guests. I've added the possibility of a hot - cold combination, where the ice cream meets a melt in the mouth banana and raspberry delight, it's a match I love, I'm sure you will too.



EARL GREY ICE CREAM WITH BANANA RASPBERRY SPICE

MAKES 1 LITRE

Double cream 600 ml
Milk 200 ml
Earl Grey tea 200 ml
Cinnamon stick 1
Fruit sugar 50g
Vanilla pod, 1 slit and seeds scraped
Egg yolks 7
Raspberries 100g


BASIL BANANAS AND RASPBERRIES
Bananas 4
Raspberries 150g
Basil 1 tbsp shredded
Butter 25g
Sweet freedom 1 tbsp

HEAT cream, milk, cinnamon stick and vanilla pod in a large saucepan.
BEAT egg yolks and fruit sugar for 5 minutes.
POUR egg mix into saucepan and whisk everything together for a few minutes.
REMOVE from heat just before mixture begins to bubble and allow to cool.
STIR in raspberries and Earl Grey tea.
POUR into a suitable container and place in the freezer.
STIR gently every thirty minutes to prevent crystallisation, or churn in an ice-cream machine. It will be ready in 2 1/2 hours.


FOR THE BASIL BANANAS & RASPBERRIES 

HEAT butter in a pan and fry bananas with basil and sweet freedom for 2 minutes.
ADD raspberries and fry for a further one minute.
SERVE a scoop of ice cream alongside the warm basil banana and raspberries, for a truly lush pudding.



Friday, 16 July 2010

Friday I'm in Love

Here's a happy Friday, full of promise, possibility and fish. I love to eat fish on fridays, it's light, fresh and so healthy. For tired eyes, Friday brings rest, for the bushy tailed, exciting plans unfold. The Cure cooed, Friday I’m in love, and when I hear that song it's difficult for me not to smile. The word Friday comes from the Latin dies Veneris, “day of Venus”, which after the Moon is the brightest light in the night sky. Friday is indeed like a lighthouse on a misty night, a happy warming feeling comes on fridays. Woohoo its Friday!


The Venus joy doesn't end there, an Italian goddess of much mystery shares the name, her charm and beauty apparently helped  her keep a watchful eye over vegetable gardens, female gardeners are an ancient wonder then? Wonderful. Another man ahead of his time, the great Oscar Wilde was never short of words of wisdom, I love this quote,
"After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relatives."
There is a pinch of fun and an ounce or two of great truth here, happy tummies do make for good company. Cooking is an expression of love, sure we need to eat, though how we eat and who we eat with says so much. I'd like to share some thoughts;
 
Friends sometimes ask me, what's the perfect meal to cook for the one you love? What are the secret ingredients to tempt the taste buds, without a singe or burn in sight. It's difficult, nigh impossible to give an exact recipe. Instead, I offer some food for thought, a good place to begin, consider who you're cooking for, what are their favourite foods? What don't they like? Also what time of year is it? Then like a good soup, let these thoughts simmer for a while. After which choose simple, seasonal and wholesome foods, the fresher the better. And be prepared to handle the unexpected, the kitchen is a magical place, sometimes what we set out to cook changes along the way, and this is all part of the fun. If something doesn't turn out the way you'd hoped, worry not, instead have a back up plan, a platter of cold meats, pickles, grapes and cheeses are happy rescuers, its nice to have choices. However, above all, numero uno point in fact, is that you enjoy cooking, this is so important. Whoever you're cooking for, would rather a happy host than a haggard and stressed out wreck. So relax and think prep, prep, prep. Takeaway the stress by breaking things up into manageable tasks, it makes much more sense and will mean you can spend more time getting ready, the whole experience will feel effortless. 
As its friday, and summertime, everything's in bloom, mackerel are dizzying in shimmering glory, so here's a lovely fish starter to do the day before! It serves 6 as a starter, though keeps for three days. This tangy and refreshing wonder needs chilling time, so the good news is you can too! Enjoy this starter, they'll be a lovely prepare ahead dessert swimming your way soon! And then a lovely wow wow main to do just before you eat. Happy weekend. 


SMOKED MACKEREL PATE WITH A GOOSEBERRY TOP

SERVES 6


FOR THE PATE

smoked mackerel fillets 250g, skinned and flaked
garlic and chive philidelphia, 250g
lemon, 1 juiced
dill, small bunch roughly chopped
spring onions, 2 finely chopped
Italian seasoning 1 tsp

FOR THE GOOSEBERRY TOP

gooseberries, 200g topped and tailed
sweet freedom, 1 tbsp
gelatine leaves, 2 soaked for five mins
apple juice 75ml

MIX the pate ingredients in a large bowl.
HEAT gooseberries, apple juice and sweet freedom in a medium pan for five minutes.
STIR in gelatine leaves into warmed gooseberries.
SPOON pate into ramekins and smooth with the back of a spoon.
POUR over the gooseberries and juice evenly.
COVER with cling film.
CHILL in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.
ENJOY, have a lovely friday!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Curiouser and curiouser



Curiousity killed the cat, though it didn't kill Alice, and it wont hurt you either. Being curiouser and curiouser, is in fact essential in the kitchen, it is the golden key to creating wonderful and memorable dishes. Curiousity cannot be bought, it has no fixed price, it isn't weather dependant, phew! However hard you try, you simply won’t be able to find it, for it's already within you. You're the key!


Forget pots and pans, curiosity, is without doubt one of our greatest gifts, and helps in the kitchen endlessly. A good way to exercise our curiosity muscles involves food shopping, in doing so you'll avoid the robotic supermarket trance, the buy one get one free bonanza. We've all experienced it, one such time, I was gently plodding along and found myself milling around the Oriental section of my local supermarket, I took a double take, as I'd simply popped in for some eggs and now I had a basket full of soy, ginger, noodles, bean sprouts and several other aromatic condiments. In the background, so subtle, it was barely audible, a gentle ring a ting ting of Chinese music played. I laughed inside, popped things back on the shelf, grabbed my eggs and whistled my way home. So instead of throwing things into your basket, smell them, squeeze them, check that they are the freshest on offer, note the sell by date, check how far the food has travelled? Most importantly is it in season? Be a conscious shopper, embrace curiosity. It will encourage you to try new recipes, taste new foods, develop your understanding and appreciation of what you like most.


My Great Uncle Eddie often quoted Confucius,


"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." 

I think this ties in particularly well with cookery. It's after reading the recipe and preparing it that we may truly understand, not before. A recipe is like a map, for me the simpler the better, that way you have space to personalise dishes and play.

Today our British summer is having a turn, so it's time to bring the sunshine back into our kitchens. This is a beautiful pasta dish, inspired by Spanish flavours, a winning dish and very simple to prepare. 

A WINNING SPANISH DELIGHT 

SERVES 4 GENEROUSLY
Ah, the chorizo smells good!

whole wheat penne pasta, 500g
olive oil, a drizzle
chorizo, 150g thinly sliced
cherry tomatoes 20
green pepper, 1 cut into strips
garlic, 2 bashed
aged balsamic 1 tbsp
baby spinach, 100g
tapenade 4 tbsp
tabasco, a few drops
seasoning

COOK pasta according to packet instructions.
HEAT oil and fry chorizo on a medium heat for a few minutes.
ADD tomatoes, green pepper, garlic and aged balsamic, stir well, and cook for a further five minutes.
DRAIN pasta, and stir in tapenade and spinach.
TOSS remaining ingredients and season well.
SERVE in bowls and scatter with parmesan if you so wish.








Thursday, 8 July 2010

Going Ga Ga for Gooseberries

To crumble, or not to crumble? That’s todays question. One, perhaps Shakespeare may have pondered? Whether'tis nobler to eat a smooth golden pastry, that softly breaks in the mouth, with an oozing centre of fruitiness, or perchance to taste an imperfect wonder of crumbly textures, that silkily sink into a warm centre of berry beauty? For me its got to be a crumble every time. Yesterday I made a blackberry and gooseberry version. A crumble offers a true taste bud experience, each mouthful a new petal of flavour adventure. Gooseberries and blackberries make for an exceptional crumble, the tang will bring music to your taste buds, like Lady Ga Ga for your ears, at first you might not be sure, then there is no doubt that you're onto a good thing.

Let me explain, consider the seasons as a musical score, summer brings a cacophany of dulcet notes in the form of fruit. Sweet jewels are literally dancing to acarnival style fandango, rhythmic raspberries rumba, glorious gooseberries glide, and beautiful blueberries bop away to Mother natures beat. Her ruby redcurrants tempt us with their deep pink hue, though for me, the Venus of fruits, her sweetest gem will always be the strawberry. While the dear gooseberry, nemesis of sweetness, so bitter, once bitten you'll never forget its sharpness, however cooked in the right way, they are undisputedly delicious. 

"My brother Nicholai, sitting in his office, would dream of eating his own schi, with its savoury smell floating across the farmyard; and of eating out in the open air, and of sleeping in the sun, and of sitting for hours together on a seat by the gate and gazing at the fields and the forest. Books on agriculture and the hints in almanacs were his joy, his favourite spiritual food; and he liked reading newspapers, but only the advertisements of land to be sold, so many acres of arable and grass land, with a farmhouse, river, garden, mill, and mill-pond. And he would dream of garden-walls, flowers, fruits, nests, carp in the pond, don't you know, and all the rest of it. These fantasies of his used to vary according to the advertisements he found, but somehow there was always a gooseberry-bush in every one. Not a house, not a romantic spot could he imagine without its gooseberry-bush.
"'Country life has its advantages,' he used to say. 'You sit on the veranda drinking tea and your ducklings swim on the pond, and everything smells good. . . and there are gooseberries.'


Nicholai would surely appreciate this recipe, I hope you do too. I love to dollop a generous spoon of Greek yogurt on the side. Loving the imperfection of a crumble is easy.



GOOSEBERRY AND BLACKBERRY CRUMBLE

SERVES 6 GENEROUSLY

FOR THE CRUMBLE
Light brown self-raising flour 180g - 200g
Sweet Freedom 120ml, available from Waitrose, Tescos and Health food shops
Butter 120g
Hazlenuts, chopped 70g

FOR THE FRUIT

Gooseberries, topped and tailed 400g
Blackberries 300g
Sweet freedom 100ml
Apple juice 50ml

HEAT oven to 180’, gas 4.
HEAT gooseberries, sweet freedom and apple juice.
SIMMER for 10 minutes and then add blackberries.
RUB crumble ingredients between your fingers until you’ve got a bead crumb texture.
POUR gooseberry and blackberry mix in an oven proof dish.
SPREAD crumble mix on top evenly.
BAKE for 30 minutes until lovely and golden.
SERVE with a dollop of Greek yogurt, yum yum.

Monday, 5 July 2010

The realm of the Kebab

Here’s a question, what’s the best way to enjoy a summers day? For me it’s spending time with loved ones in the great outdoors, the greener the better, these are places of sanctuary and stillness. Eating al fresco is one of the loveliest parts of summer mealtimes, picnics and barbeque's embrace the joy of summer in a unique way, just as candlelit dinners brighten cold winters evenings. If you’re lucky enough to live near the sea, well the tastiest barbecued mackerel is soon to land in your net, right now these healthy rainbow striped wonders are abundant and will only cost you a bob or two.

On the subject of barbeque's, the Kebab remains King of the charcoal realm. Many moons ago horseman rode west from the plains of central Asia and when the sunset they would set up camp for the night, light large fires and skewer meat onto the end of their swords and cook. The tastiest kebab I've tried is "Pinchitos muronos". In Seville last year we enjoyed this Andalusian tapas on more than one occasion, "mi casa es su casa," hums warmly from welcoming restaurateurs, a gentle clue to the roots of Southern Spanish cuisine, their Muslim ancestors said, “Al-bayt baytak” (this home is your home). Today, all over the world, the heart of any home is the Kitchen, I’d like to share with you this lovely Lamb kebabs recipe, I'm sure you'll be transported to an Aladdin's cave of mouthwatering gastronomy, these treasures may be grilled, oven baked, or best of all, cooked outside on the BBQ. You'll need metal skewers for this recipe, I've tried wooden ones and they're not as good. Remember, if lamb isn't for you, chicken breasts work really well too.
Here’s the twist, and it works surprisingly well, they're best served with freshly cooked wholewheat spaghetti, with a spoon of harissa stirred in and a few roasted peppers and courgettes. Belazu make a scrumptious rose scented version, that's delicious. Maybe, had the Moors got as far as Italy, Harissa pasta, would be a classic by now.  Buon appetito!
PINCHITO MURONOS - MOORISH KEBABS

MAKES 6 - 8 KEBABS
Lamb, Loin or rib chops 500g (most succulent meat) cut into mouth sized pieces
sea salt and pepper, a generous scratch
MARINADE
onion 1 chopped
garlic cloves 3 bashed and finely chopped
smoked paprika 2 tsp
ground cumin 1 tsp
ground coriander 1 tsp
ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp
thyme dried 1 tsp
bay leaf 1 crumbled
saffron strands 1 tsp, infused in 1 tbsp of water
red wine vinegar 1 tbsp
olive oil 2 tbsp
FOR THE ROASTED VEGETABLES
red onion 1 quartered
red peppers 2 cut into large cubes
courgettes 2 cut into chunks
garlic oil 1 tbsp
FOR THE PASTA
wholewheat spaghetti 400g
rose harissa (Belazu brand) 1 tbsp


COMBINE all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl.
ADD the meat and stir well, until all the meat is coated in marinade.
COVER and leave in the fridge to marinate for two hours, or time permitting, overnight. 
FIRE up BBQ, or grill until hot.
HEAT oven to gas 6, 200', and cook vegetables on a roasting tray, toss them with garlic oil.
SLIDE meat onto skewers and cook for 5 minutes, turning regularly. 
POUR 1 litre of boiling water into a pot and cook pasta according to instructions.
DRAIN when ready and spoon in the harissa, give it a good stir.
SERVE the spaghetti in large bowls, scatter with vegetables and place the meat on top. 
DELIGHT in beautiful tradition, not a sword in sight, you'll all be too busy enjoying the deliciousness.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Some of my favourite summer smells

The smell of flowers after heavy rain, freshly cut grass on a sunny day and the smell of chicken roasting. Summer is a beautiful time for berries and many things. Our summer evenings stretch into boundless fields of possibility, its as though we are more awake this time of year, our senses heighten and the outdoors is inviting, tugging us towards open spaces. Lightness lingers and our appetites ask for freshness, please.

I have a lovely recipe that captures my three favourite summer smells, 'Sumptuous seared chicken with Salsa Verde and summer vegetables'.It's seriously delicious in a confident and clean way. Salsa Verde is like a spring clean for the taste buds, pleasingly peppery, fragrantly fresh and you'll also be giving your skin and hair a luxuriant treat too, for good extra virgin olive oil is one of mother natures finest gifts, a true tonic on the moisturising front. Italians lace it on char-grilled vegetables, grilled Italian sausages and pan fried tuna. See what else it goes with, its simple to make and totally wonderful.

SUMPTUOUS SEARED CHICKEN WITH SALSA VERDE AND SUMMER VEGETABLES

SERVES 4
chicken breasts, skin on 4
olive oil, 1 tbsp
sea salt
long stemmed broccoli, 12
baby new potatoes, 16
red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp
capers, rinsed 1 tbsp
butter, a knob
red onion, 1/2 thinly sliced
sea salt, a pinch

SALSA VERDE
flat leaf parsley, 1 small bunch
coriander, 1 small bunch
mint, 1 small bunch
red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp
capers, 1 tbsp rinsed
anchovies, 2
garlic, 1 clove bashed
extra virgin olive oil 5 tbsp
black pepper, a generous scratch

BOIL potatoes for 10-12 minutes, depending on size.
WASH the herbs and place all the salsa verde ingredients in a blender and whiz.
BRUSH chicken with some olive oil and rub a little salt into the skin.
HEAT a griddle pan on a medium heat and fry the chicken breasts skin side down for five minutes, turn and fry for a further five minutes.
BAKE in the oven for five minutes, then take out, cover with foil and allow to rest for a five minutes in a warm place.
DRAIN potatoes and stir in red wine vinegar, capers, butter and red onion. Leave in pot to keep warm.
COOK the broccoli in boiling salted water for four minutes then drain.
SPOON on potatoes, arrange broccoli and top off with the lovely chicken breast.
DRIZZLE the salsa verde over the chicken, spoon some around the plates and serve.


MOP UP ALL THAT VERDE VERDE!



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