Posts Tagged 'Cooking'

Aubergine & courgette bake with basil chermoula pesto

Aubergine & courgette lasagna with a twist

If there’s one thing that invariably causes a stir when it arrives to the table, it’s a bubbling casserole dish with a layer of crispy bits and melted cheese on top. You know the kind I’m talking about. Mouths start to water, deep nasal inhalations take place and there is a buzz in the air. Rest assure a good meal is about to come.

aubergine & courgette bake with basil chermoula pesto

I’ve made variations of this over the years but this is one is a little bit unusual. The rich bechamel sauce is replaced by a layer of my basil chermoula pesto folded through creamy ricotta cheese. There’s a suggestion of spice and a whole whack of of summer- basil, tomatoes, aubergines & courgettes. It will undoubtedly make you reflect on how fast summer has gone and how fast time seems to go as you get older. Sorry about that, it’s a nasty and rarely avoidable side effect- made good by the little jive your taste buds are doing on your tongue.

Anyway, don’t let that worry you- you have bubbling tomatoes and cheese to consume and that ought to leave you feeling rather smug. This is essentially a lasagna without the sheets of lasagna- slices of grilled aubergine & courgette take their place. It’s  layered up with homemade tomato sauce, ricotta mixed with basil chermoula pesto with a final topping of goats cheese, crispy breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.  Hungry? I’m really wishing I still had some leftovers in my fridge.

aubergine & courgette bake with basil chermoula pesto

Now, the nitty gritty. Firstly, this is not a quick dish to make. I know, I know, we all want dinner on the table in twenty minutes- trust me I want it in ten. That is why I have posted this on a Friday- you now have the whole weekend to fit it into your schedule. I’m not talking hours and hours and certainly it’s not difficult but it will take you the best part of two hours from start to finish. So grab a glass of wine, put on some crazy tunes and try not to think to much about the fact that this is the last weekend of summer.

Another note, I like to use cricket ball courgettes- the round ones people often stuff. Mostly, just because they are easier to slice and are more similar in size to the aubergine.  You can by all means use normal ones (in which case try and get ones thicker round the middle) and then slice both vegetable lenghtways rather than through the middle. When choosing a cricket ball squash for this you want to stay away from the large ones, which tend to have quite mealy middles- look for the young smaller ones. If you do find yourself with a mealy small one, then feel free to curse me, have a tantrum and then just carefully remove the mealy middles before getting on the task at hand.

Now that you’ve gone to the trouble of making this darn thing you’re going to be rather cross with me when I tell you that now you need to wait a whole ten minutes before diving in.  It’s going to be a real bore, let me tell you- but it really helps the vegetables to settle and reabsorb some of their lost juices. Don’t let it stop you from putting it on the table all bubbly- just start with a small salad and let your guests ooooh and aaaahhh in anticipation. You’ll ruin their joy if you cut into a watery mess. Patience, my friends- if you acquire some I’d love to know how.

And finally, no doubt you will find it oozing its savoury juices over the sides of the pan so make sure you place it on a baking tray in the oven. Melted bubbly cheese heading for an eager mouth is one thing- on the oven floor, is quite another. Continue reading ‘Aubergine & courgette bake with basil chermoula pesto’

A RECIPE: Fruity farro salad with lemon chicken

Fruity farro salad with chicken

I am about to head off to the Hamptons for a month! I’m thinking long white sandy beaches, warm sea water, sunshine and one of those coconut drinks I sipped in the Dominican last month. And somewhere in between the lounging and galavanting, I’ll fit in the work that is the reason why I’m going and realise that it’s still only April and yesterdays rise in temperature was only a teaser. April showers are not over yet. So there may not be any swimming but I will be near the beach, albeit a cold one- and that has me thinking of eating summer foods. The kind you eat on your back deck, looking out over the ocean as the sun goes down sipping on a glass of pinot grigio….and there I go again- must have been yesterdays injection of vitamin D that has me dreaming. Amazing what a little sun can do for one’s mood.

This is my kind of salad- a bit of protein, some crunch vegetables, some fruit and a few grains for fiber to keep you going until tea time.  Farro is a wonderfully wholesome, nutty grain that makes Don raise an eyebrow and ask if I’m feeding him squirrel food again. You can swap it for absolutely any grain but I think something with a bit of texture is nice- Israeli couscous would be great. All in all it’s just begging to be packed up with a bottle of bubbly in a cooler bag and taken to a picnic. Now if only the sun would come back again….

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A RECIPE: Strawberry banoffee mess

strawberry banoffee mess

I have a reputation amongst my family and friends for having a bit of a sweet tooth. It shouldn’t matter to me – but it does. It’s not that it should matter to me- except that it does. I associate sweet toothed people as those who sprinkle sugar on their Weetabix, spoon honey into their tea and who turn their nose up at the thought of cheese for dessert. I’m not in denial- I’m just not that person.

I know where it’s roots lie- the way my eyes light up when I’m presented with a pudding menu, the way I go soft and gushy at the offering of chocolates, my constant baking for therapy, the way I stop to gaze into the windows of bakeries oh and my habit for eating ice cream alone for dinner really throws people a loop. I get it. Most of Don’s friends and colleagues know my cakes before they know me. I had a proposal for marriage last night in a roomful of 1,000 people, by a woman whom I’d never met- all because I sent Don to school with some of my rocky road. Every time I go home my family moan that they’re going to get fat from all my treats.

With those kinds of credentials, this sweet tooth rep is a hard one to brush away (pun intended).  And I know that my recipe index alone has a bias for sweet endings but I assure you this is nothing to judge me by. I actually have a surprisingly sensitive sweet tooth- not only is it fussy in it’s selections and mostly disappointed in restaurants but it also hates things that are too sweet. The only things I crave are red meat and cheese. I prefer my chocolate bittersweet, my cream, yogurt and porridge unsweetened and most cookies and cakes I buy make my tongue feel like it’s burning. It’s true that I adore to bake- it’s like therapy with a tasty reward at the end of each session; but, if you’ve tried any of my sugar-laden recipes then you’ll know that most of them don’t taste all that sweet.

Banoffee pie (made correctly) checks all the criteria for my ideal pudding. The salty/sweet mix of digestive biscuits, a light creamy filling sweetened with fruit and a little caramel and topped with a dusting of chocolate. Most of us are familiar with Eton mess, broken meringues mixed with cream and strawberries and this is just a a take off of it and it couldn’t be simpler. It also happens to be perfect for any level of sweet tooth- sweeten the cream and add more caramel if you want, or go with less. Either way its a bowl full of happiness. And it’s perfect for someone like me with semi-sweet tooth (just for the record).

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A RECIPE: Tuna meatballs

tuna meatballs

When Don and I first started dating, his desire to cook was infectious, if not entirely appetizing. The first meal that he ever cooked for me consisted of green pea & mint soup, and Thai green curry- I’ll never forget it. He was obviously inspired by the colour green and it coated the kitchen splash back, floor and his right incisor as he worked his artistic kitchen magic. In the years to follow the amount of time Don has spent int the kitchen has decreased dramatically. These days it’s mostly for a bagel or to heat up leftover take-out, which he ordered because I was out the night before. I can’t really blame him, he has been spoiled rotten by my fit-for-a-King leftovers from work. In any case I can’t claim to have encouraged his kitchen exploits with much enthusiasm- my new kitchen is my baby, afterall and cooking with Don is similar to a  Jackson Pollack painting.

It’s not that Don is a bad cook- in fact he has quite a few gooduns up his sleeve- when he so chooses to bring them out. One of these such gooduns are his tuna meatballs, which have become a Sunday night favourite after I’ve been at work all day and he’s left by himself to the kitchen. In our four and a half years of dating it did not take him long to realise that cleaning up before I got home would ultimately determine my mood and stress levels. He’s quite clever, really.

The meatballs started with a Jamie Oliver recipe in the Jamie’s Italy book. After managing to follow the recipe successfully several times he started to get imaginative with the ingredients. The first time he went a little overboard and couldn’t even remember what had gone in them but overtime they have developed into something truly wonderful. It’s not that Jamie’s weren’t good enough- we just found them a touch rich and so we lightened them up- made them a little more waistline-friendly without them losing any depth of flavour. I know it seems ridiculous to take an expensive piece of fish, like Tuna, hack it up and squeeze it into balls but trust me it’s worth it. I like to use up scraps of tuna, and because it’s cooked through, it doesn’t need to be sushi grade- what’s more you don’t have to worry so much about the overcooking part. You can easily buy your own tomato sauce (or make your own recipe) and feel free to omit the fennel, anchovies and capers- they’re just Don’s gourmet touch and they add a certain je ne sais quoi to what are otherwise just plain old tuna meatballs.

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A RECIPE: Tabboulish chopped salad

tabboulish salad

I’ve just returned from a week in the Dominican Republic- poor me, I know.  If it’s any consolation I did manage to come home with a sun burnt scalp, which resulted in the embarrassment of dandruff-esque peeling but as with most trips I take I came back desperate for vegetables, and lots of them! Gluttony seems to take its toll on my system and a detox is always in the cards for the week following.  With a feeling of spring in the air in NYC I decided to stray from my typical cooked salads for this time of year and go out on a limb. Okay, so I skipped Spring and headed straight for summer with this salad based on tabbouleh. One can only dream, right?

Tabbouleh, because I love it and tabboulish because I didn’t have any bulghur wheat- plus I took some creative liscence. To stop it from becoming just a mouthful of herbs I added spinach into the mix, along with orange segments and pinenuts. Oh, okay so I got a bit carried away and tossed in some pancetta and celery too. It’s great on it’s own or with a grilled chicken breast but my favourite was stuffing it into a whole wheat pita with hummus. The orange segments and mint keep it tasting fresh, the pinenuts and feta add a creamy element whilst the onion and lemon keeps your mouth on high alert; preventing you from day dreaming off to warmer days. It’s a win win combination.


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A RECIPE: Molasses & ginger cupcakes

molasses & ginger cupcakes

Some weeks are harder than others. This week I was in a rush to get my wedding invitations completed before I head off to the Dominican Republic for a week of sun and general slothery. It also happened to be rather manic at work (so tedious) and then I was off for a girls weekend in Philadelphia at the weekend. There just aren’t enough days in the week sometimes.

This recipe isn’t just a throw-away it’s just that this week lacks an accompaning story highlighting my witty rapport. The cupcakes are bloody marvelous- deep and rich in flavour with a teeny tiny kick of ginger right at the end. They are also multi-functional because not often do you find a cupcake that’s so well suited for breakfast and tea? Rarely, me thinks. The recipe is adapted from one by Joyce White who knows a thing or two about the perfect cakes for tea. Enjoy.

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A RECIPE: Mum’s flapjacks

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My greatest pleasure when I receive compliments for my work in the kitchen is when people say that it’s better than their mothers. Usually said compliment is followed by a lengthy description about the effort and time that their mother had put into making the dish, the time of year it was made and a laborious list of ingredients that went into it. When somebody tells me that it’s not as good as their mothers, I have to be honest I find it difficult to look them in the eye, let alone listen to their tedious story about why their mothers rendition was so much better than mine even though it used boxed cake mix and margarine.

I find myself praising my mothers cooking little and often. Little because I (and I say this with the up most respect, mum) only remembe a handful of truly wonderful things and often because I speak of this handful of glorious dishes like a child mourning the loss of a pet guinea pig.  This goes to be said for most things I eat- if it’s fabulous I bank eternally in my taste memory. If it’s average I’ll forget it and if it’s poor it will on occasion come to haunt my dreams or worse yet a reminder will appear in the form of a bitter taste in my mouth.

Eternally banked in my good memory are the taste of my mothers flapjacks. I expect you want to know why these flapjacks are better than yours, your mothers and Nigellas? So, here comes my lengthy rant: My mum makes the best bloody flapjacks around- and those fortunate enough to try them fresh out of the over are forced into submission. I have school friends who still rave about ‘those squidgy oat things your mum made’. They are the only thing that I can consistently rely on seeing in my mothers depressingly sparse pantry. A reminder that there are no longer three hungry children in the house and yet the flapjacks live on.

What makes mum’s flapjacks so wonderfully special to me is they break all the rules. Firstly, most flapjacks set up hard but mum throws in an extra glug of golden syrup and spoonful of flour which leaves them crunchy on the edges, chewy in the middle and with a delicious sticky bottom. These are not tooth breakers but merely tooth rotters. Secondly, (and I’m sure you can imagine my shock and horror when I discovered this myself) mum uses margarine instead of butter. Yup, marg- that stuff we avoid like processed cheese for all its bad fats and oils. This is the second time in the past month that I’ve been confronted rather hostily by a recipe containing margarine, which I’ve been forced to admit tastes nicer than my own butter counterpart. But why, I hear you ask? In the flapjacks case, my mum just shrugged her shoulders, you can use butter if you like, she said but it makes them too rich. and my mum always used margarine because it’s cheaper. In these economic times who can complain about that? Of course, feel free to use butter- I won’t judge, not now that I have seen the virtues of margarine, but like I said they won’t be my mum’s amazing flapjacks made with butter. And if you’re still fretting about the bad fats popping out to haunt you just remind yourself that you’re much better off making something from scratch with margarine than buying something processed. I’m just saying.

I have pestered my mum for the recipe ever since I started this blog but being something that my mother could competently bake blindfolded it was difficult to get proper answers from her. A recipe that’s stored in somebody’s head is the hardest to get right. How much flour? Oh, one of my dessert spoonfuls, slightly mounded. How much golden syrup? Oh, about a third of the jar. This was no weigh your ingredients to match your eggs weight Victoria sponge. Last weekend, however, I made a trip home, and in a break from the never ending wedding planning to-do list I made it a priority for us to fit in a flapjack lesson- one on one; with a set of scales.

You can thank me later. In the meantime I suggest you buy yourself some margarine- it could be the best decision you’ve made all year.

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