Tag Archives: Simple

Have a Cool, Cool Summer

Chilled Cucumber and Fennel Soup. A recipe for summer without the tyranny of measurements.
Chilled Out Soup Eaten Al Fresco

Things are hotting up globally. Most of the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves, and things weren’t much different for the Southern Hemisphere back in their summer. On days like these, no one wants to introduce more heat into the home by turning on the hob. On the hottest days, it’s even too hot to light the barbecue, or grill, if you prefer.

This recipe has been inspired by both the summer heat, and a recent trip to Madrid, where we had Gazpacho or Salmorejo with almost every meal. I also really like a good Ajo Blanco, but sadly this isn’t the Big Guy’s favourite, so we have this less often.

It’s also the height of the growing season, and my garden is straining with all of the cucumbers that one single vine is currently churning out. There is nothing better, or more tasty than a freshly picked cucumber that has been gently warmed by the sun. I need something to do with them that isn’t slicing them for sandwiches or chopping them into a salad. Of course, I’m romanticising this simple fruit. If the only cucumbers you can get hold of come straight from the chiller cabinet in the supermarket, that will also be perfectly acceptable.

Today, I’m bringing you a light and refreshing no-cook cold soup. This recipe is also a bit of a freecipe, since it will be delicious no matter how much of each ingredient you have. Hot days are not meant for the constraints of weights and measures.

I also want you to feel free to change up the ingredients to suit what you have, and what you like. I guess the main elements of cucumber, yoghurt and herbs are required, but use whatever yoghurt you like – dairy or plant-based. I suspect it will be rather good with a tangy yoghurt made from goat milk, if that’s your thing. If you don’t like fennel, leave it out. If you have mint and basil instead of the herbs listed here, also fine. The chilling time can be substituted by a 10-minute blast in the freezer, by adding ice cubes to the soup, or a combination of both. It’s hot; just do what you like.

Freecipe: Chilled Cucumber and Fennel Soup

Serves: The amount I use here serves 4 as a light lunch or 6 as a starter. If you use fewer ingredients, your servings may vary
Prep Time: 10 minutes, plus as much chilling time as you have

Ingredients

A couple of large (English) cucumbers
Half a bulb fennel, core removed
A small bunch of herbs. I used parsley, dill, and tarragon. Any herbs of your choice will be good here
A small shallot, or about a quarter of an onion, or some spring onions
A garlic clove
Citrus juice to taste. I used the juice of half a lemon. Limes or finger limes would also work well. I suspect yuzu might be interesting. Experiment with whatever citrus in whatever proportions you have
Sunflower seeds or soaked cashews (optional). I chose not to use them in the version photographed here
Natural yoghurt, quark or fromage frais of your choice. Plant-based or the dairy version is up to you. Whichever you use, use the thickest version available, such as Greek-style yoghurt.
A good glug of the tastiest extra virgin olive oil that you have. I used about 5 tbsp for this amount of vegetables.
Salt & pepper to taste.

Method

Slice each cucumber in half lengthways. Remove the seeds by pressing a teaspoon into the pulp and running it down the length of each cucumber half. I set the pulp aside, and ate it with a spoon, having first sprinkled over a little salt, whilst waiting for the soup to chill.

Chop the cucumber, fennel, herbs, shallot and garlic as roughly as your best blender will allow. I have a high-speed blender, but you can also use a stick blender. If using a stick, you’ll probably need to chop the veggies a bit finer to start with.

I personally loathe raw alliums in my food, so I took some of the sulphur compounds away by pouring hot water from a fairly recently boiled kettle over the chopped shallot and garlic. I find this is less important if I were to use spring onions, and honestly, shallots are also much less pungent than their oniony cousins. Skip this step altogether if the raw onion thing doesn’t bother you.

Pulse blend everything you’ve just chopped, the citrus juice and the olive oil to break it down a bit before you add the yoghurt. Once the chopped stuff is broken down, add as much yoghurt or alternative as you want and blend it until smooth. Obviously, the cucumber will provide a lot of water. If you want a thicker soup, add more yoghurt.

For extra protein, and a thicker consistency you can also add neutral-flavoured nuts or seeds, such as soaked cashews or sunflower seeds. If you decide to use these, add them at the same time as the veggies and pulse alongside the rest.

Once everything is smooth, season well with salt and pepper. If you want to be fancy, use white pepper, so you don’t have black specks in your finished soup. Otherwise freshly ground black pepper will be just fine. Remember that the colder the soup is upon serving, the more seasoning you will need.

Chill for as much time as you have. Overnight is best to allow the flavour to develop, but if you haven’t been that organised, as I wasn’t today when I made the soup, make it when you decide you want it; it will be fine. Today I gave it four hours in the fridge. If you only decide that all you want to eat for the meal that’s pending right now is this soup, then give it a quick blast in your freezer, and/or lob a few ice cubes in at either the blending stage or into the finished dish, depending on whether or not your blender can cruch ice. You will need to compensate for the additional liquid with more herbs, citrus and yoghurt.

Serving Suggestion

How you serve this soup depends entirely on your context. For me today, it was a quick and cooling lunch when I was too warm to do much. I had it with some lovely crusty bread, some extra finely chopped cucumber and fennel and a few fronds of dill.

I always recommend an extra drizzle of the extra virgin olive oil that you used before. You could top it with another dollop of yoghurt, croutons baked with the same herbs that you used in the soup, and many other things. If serving for a particularly posh occasion, some edible flowers will be a pretty addition. Maybe you want to add a little chopped boiled egg. The beauty of a freecipe is that you can also garnish with whatever you feel is appropriate.

The only compulsory serving suggestion is that this dish is best served on a sunny day, having had the freedom of not needing to turn on any equipment that will add to the heat of the moment.

Storage

This cucumber and fennel soup will store well in the fridge for 3-4 days, so you can make it in advance if you keep an eye on the weather forecast.

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We’re Going on a Bear Garlic Hunt

Allium ursinum or wild garlic, ransoms or bear garlic carpeting the forest floor
We’ll Have to Go Through It!

Allium ursinum goes by many names; Ramsons in North America, wild garlic, in some places, bear garlic in many others – which is derived from its Latin name. In the Netherlands, we call it daslook. It’s native to temperate parts of Europe and Asia and naturalised in many other temperate regions of the world. It grows in deciduous woodland, where it prefers damp conditions, so you can often find it along banks of rivers and streams.

Right now, it’s high season, and wild garlic is abundant and verdant. It’s also in flower, so there is no longer any risk of mistaking it for anything else.

I spent a very pleasant afternoon yesterday with a good friend in the forest where we were looking for a bunch of wild garlic. We didn’t have to look that far, to be honest. When searching for wild garlic, I can often smell it before I see it, but this time, I didn’t need to engage my nose at all. The forest was carpeted in green, with a cloud of white flowers gently bobbing in the breeze above it.

Of course, if you’re going foraging yourself please operate on a safety-first basis. As well as being guided by your senses, it’s best to follow these simple rules.

Allium ursinum, bear garlic, wild garlic with it's typical globes of white stellate flowers. Covered in spring debris.. All parts of this spring plant are edible.
Starry Lights!

Wild garlic is such a lovely treat. It’s far less pungent than its more bulbous cousin and is better on the breath. I love the stuff and make a lot of recipes using it, including this delightful recipe for a wild garlic tart which is great for a picnic or late spring party. You can also make herb butter or cream cheese with the leaves. The flowers are great as a pretty garnish in salads or other light dishes, and the flower stalks can be used anywhere you might find chives.

And knowing a spot means that I don’t have to let them take over my own garden, because they are absolutely prolific. They’re also a great entry point for beginner foragers – just remember if you don’t smell garlic, then don’t eat them.

Wild garlic loves to grow under trees. As such, at this time of year, it’s often covered in pollen and the scales that previously covered the buds of the newly-emerged leaves. This kind of debris is evident on the leaves. Don’t let that put you off. It’s completely normal and rinses off easily. If you pick from the centre of the patch, you won’t need to worry about dog urine that much, but do avoid leaves with bird poo on them.

Today, I’m sharing a pesto recipe that I’ve veganised.

I really recommend giving wild garlic a go. Subtlely flavoured, easy to find and to pick, and if nothing else you get a couple of hours of forest bathing in. What’s not to love?

Wild Garlic or bear garlic pasto, ready to use.
I’ve Got A Jam Jar Full of Pretty Green

Recipe: Vegan Wild Garlic Pesto

Makes a jar of pesto
Prep Time: 20 minutes, plus the time well spent wandering about in the woods

Ingredients

The amounts given below are for one jar of pesto. If you’ve picked more or less garlic, you can adjust the ratio of the other ingredients accordingly for a balanced pesto.

200g wild garlic leaves
Salt and pepper
100 g whole almonds
Zest of one lemon, reserving the juice for when you serve, where appropriate.
120 ml of extra virgin olive oil, plus more to cover

Method

Rinse the wild garlic thoroughly in cold water. You can leave it to soak for a while in the sink if you like.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to a boil.

When the wild garlic is clean, chop the leaves into three or four pieces across the width of the leaf. This is just to make it easier to blend them later. You can skip this step if you’re in a pinch.

Put the wild garlic into the boiling water and bring it back to a boil, along with any other herbs you’re going to use. You want to blanch the leaves for a few seconds. The leaves will brighten, and the midrib will become floppy. You may need to blanch the leaves in batches, depending on how much pesto you’re making.

Blanching helps the pesto to keep its verdant green colour. Unblanched leaves will tend to brown a little over time. They’re fine to eat, but look much less appealing.

Once you see the subtle colour change, remove the leaves from the water with a slotted spoon, and put them in a sieve. Rinse briefly with cold water to stop the leaves from cooking further. Set aside to cool.

In the same pan that you blanched the wild garlic in, lightly cook the almonds. Add the almonds to the water and return to the boil for 4-5 minutes. Drain them and set aside to cool slightly.

If the almonds that you’re using had their skins on, they are easily removed at this stage. The nuts will pop out of their skins readily if you apply a little pressure to the base once they’re cool enough to handle. If you’re using pre-skinned almonds, then just leave them to cool for 10 minutes or so.

Once cooled, add the nuts to your blender. I find the mini processor attachment that came with my stick blender to be the best size for this amount of pesto, but any blender will do. Blitz the nuts a little. At this stage, they need to be in smallish bits.

Squeeze the wild garlic leaves to remove as much of the water as possible. Too much water will dilute the subtle flavour of the garlic too much and will affect how well it will store.

Add the wild garlic to the blender and pulse a couple of times to combine with the nuts. Add the lemon zest and about half the oil and blitz until the pesto is an even green colour. Stir through the rest of the olive oil and taste for seasoning. You will definitely need freshly ground black pepper, and you’ll probably need to add a bit of salt at this stage.

Slowly add the remaining oil, whilst blitzing a bit more, until the pesto is about as thick as yoghurt. You may not need to use all of the oil I’ve recommended here, it depends on how oily your nuts are too.

Put the pesto into a sterilised jam jar. Cover the top with a little bit more olive oil to form a seal to the air, to help the pesto keep longer.

Serving Suggestions and Substitutions

Of course, you can make wild garlic pesto with parmesan or another finely grated cheese if you like, but I’m trying to be a lot more plant-based these days.

You could also choose to use different nuts. Lightly-toasted pine nuts would be fine, for a more traditional Genoese-style sauce. Hazelnuts could be an interesting addition. Use the whole nut, gently roasted in the oven until the aroma fills the air. Then rub the brown skins off as best you can with an old, dry, clean tea towel. I say use an old towel because the skins can stain the cloth a bit. You’ll also probably not get all the skins off entirely, so don’t bother striving for perfection. There is no need to blanch either type of nut in this case.

If you like, you can also add other herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, or basil. They’ll need blanching in a similar way to the wild garlic, and squeezing out before adding it to the blender.

This pesto is perfect over pasta. You can add it to soups and salad dressings, or even to brighten up a sandwich. If you eat meat, you can use it to coat a little fish or chicken breast before you grill or bake it, or you could use it as a marinade before frying your fish. It’s especially excellent with salmon or other oily fish.

Stir a little lemon juice through the pesto before serving. The amount of lemon juice that you’ll need will vary with the application – you’ll need a little to season it if you’re smearing it in a sandwich, perhaps 1/2 tsp or so. Over pasta, you’ll need the juice of at least half a lemon. Adjust it to your own taste.

I have another couple of recipes that I’ll be using it in over the next few days, which I’ll be sharing with you soon. I’d love to hear where you would use this pesto in the comments.

How to Store

The pesto keeps well in the fridge. If you don’t use all of the pesto at once, then make sure to add a little more olive oil to create an air seal over the pesto. This will help you to keep it for up to two weeks.

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Land of Milk and Ginger

Lacto-fermented Ginger Ale

Like Lemonade, but With Ginger

Well, I was intending to make three flavours of lacto-fermented lemonade and wittily call this post Lemonade, Three Wheys, but I’m afraid I’ve rather run out of steam and time. So, today you get the latest recipe in my cheesemaking adventures, but it is only one flavour of lemonade – ginger (perhaps confusingly).

If you Google milk and ginger the most common result is a ginger milk pudding, which is a rather soothing-sounding Chinese dish, apparently. Obviously, I did this, and had a look at some of the pictures. It reminded me a bit of junket, which I had to make for some historical food thing for brownies once. I am not a fan of junket. But then again, my junket did not have ginger in it. I am quite fond of ginger, so I may end up giving this a go.

I really wanted to have a go at lacto fermenting ginger beer, but that requires a starter or ginger beer plant, which I didn’t have time for. So, that is the reason that I am going to call this Gingerade. And let me tell you it is no worse for that!

This method is one of two ways to naturally carbonate drinks, without the need for a Soda Stream. The other way is to add yeast. It is also a really healthy drink – the whey has loads of probiotics, which you have to pay a good deal for if you buy those fancy yoghurts. Any bloating that you may, or may not relieve is entirely your own business.

I never really got fed the standard carbonated drinks when I was a child, so I never really developed the taste for them. I’d rather have water, or fruit juice than a fizzy drink (only if wine isn’t an option, obviously!), but I could definitely develop a taste for this. I tried it after three days, so it was lightly sparkling, which I liked a lot. You can get a fiercer bubble if you leave it in the warm for longer. I was happy, so put it in the fridge. It will continue to ferment in the fridge, but at a much lower rate.

I will definitely be trying to lacto-ferment ginger beer, and other lemonades, So I may be able to use my witty post title after all, and of course, I will be blogging the efforts. I’m also going to have a go at alcoholic ginger beers too, and why not – makes a change from Belgian beer for me, for sure!

I tried it today, in the my sunny spring garden, which is the perfect setting for this drink, in my opinion. Well, until I can have it with ice in the summer, of course!

Spice Trail Blog Badge

As well as this appearing as part of the Cheese, Please! Fresh Cheese Challenge (which really has been the gift that keeps on giving for me this month!) roundup, which I will be posting tomorrow, I’m going to have a second bite of the cherry at this month’s Spice Trail hosted by Vanesther of Bangers and Mash. Mostly because I really do love ginger, but also because I covet those beautiful little spice tins that are being offered as a prize this month. I can only hope, but this month there is a lot of stiff competition, with a lot of entries, many of which I have bookmarked for later.

Recipe: Lacto-Fermented Gingerade

Ingredients
30 g ginger
Juice of 2 lemons
150 g runny honey
1 tsp rock salt
4 tbsp fresh whey
2 l water

Method

Sterilise enough bottles to hold 2 l of gingerade. I used the sterilisers from my home-brew, which I find the easiest method for the types of bottles that I used. If you use wider necked bottles, then you can run them through  a hot dishwasher cycle, or wash them and put them in a low oven, as you might for making jam or lacto-fermented vegetables. At the same time, sterilise a funnel that fits into the top of the bottles that you are using.

Finely grate the ginger. I used a microplane, but if you don’t have one, use the finest side of a box grater. Mix the grated ginger with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, making sure that the honey and salt are really dissolved in the lemon juice before you add the water and the whey.

Before bottling, stir the gingerade well, so that you can be as sure as you can that there are bits of ginger and lemon pulp in each bottle. Fill each bottle with the gingerade. You will need to leave about 5 cm at the top.

Leave to start to ferment in your living room or kitchen. You may need to get it started by tipping the bottes over once to stir things up once or twice a day. Be careful, because once it starts to ferment, the pressure will build. After three days, test to see if the carbonation is to your liking. If it is, then store in the fridge. Remember that it will continue to ferment in the fridge, but at a much lower rate.

Serve on a sunny day. Maybe at a picnic (serving suggestion).

This recipe makes slightly more than 2 l of liquid. I used up the rest in a rather fantastic raspberry coulis, but you might just as well drink it, or add it to stewed apple or even rhubarb. Very good indeed.

 

 

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Under the Milky Whey

Fresh Whey and Vegetables

Chop A-Whey!

A quick look on Pinterest reveals that you can lacto-ferment pretty much anything – from garlic to hummus. I saw fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, beers, mayonnaise, BBQ sauces and even mustard on there. Apparently it is amazing what won’t be improved by bunging in some whey.

As you know, I happen to have quite a lot of whey taking up all the space stored very carefully in my fridge.It is the yellowish liquid in the photo above, and it is the by-product of making your own cheese, or straining yoghurt.

Apart from the miracle of being the new superfood, due to all the probiotics; you can feed whey to animals, use it as a fertiliser, make various toiletries for skin benefits, and body builders dry it then consume it by the bucket load.

You can also soak beans, or grains in it before cooking, use it instead of the liquid in pancakes, cakes, and bread (or pizza dough). soups, and stock. You can even add it to shakes and use it as a cheese starter in some kind of lactose Inception.

Whatever you do with it, you should not pour it down the sink. Apparently, it can de-oxygenate water systems. So, for this reason, and the fact that I hate waste, I’m going to use mine. Don’t worry, it also freezes really well, so if you can’t get through it all, you can keep it for later.

You may have noticed that I enjoy a nice pickle, go crazy for chutney, and take pleasure in preserves. It is only natural, then,  that I should have a go at lacto-fermenting as a novel way of preserving food, and as a way to use up leftovers. I’ve had a good dig round the internet, including over at the lovely host of Cheese, Please!, who lacto-fermented cucumber and carrots to come up with the following recipes.

For the first, I wanted to be able to make a direct comparison with a pickle that I already know. I make pickled fennel a lot, based on the River Cottage Preserves book, so I used the same aromats and dill here.

The second lot are inspired by a friend of mine who makes amazing pickled cucumber from a mysterious Asian salt. I have no idea what this stuff is, but it is hot, sour and sweet at the same time. I have tried to recreate this with the whey – we’ll see where we get to.

Apparently, lacto-fermenting is pretty long-lasting, but depends on how strong the cell wall of the thing you are preserving is. You can expect the fennel to last between 4-6 months in cold storage, and the cucumber to last up to 3. The fermentation will continue, even in cold storage, so it is something to be aware of, and date the jars well before you store them in a cool, dry place.

 

Lacto fermented fennel and cucumber

Perfectly Preserved

Recipe: Lacto-Fermented Vegetables

Ingredients

For the Fennel:
1 tsp mixed peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 bulb of fennel, cored and thinly sliced
Fronds of dill
100 ml whey
300 ml boiled water, allowed to cool
1 tbsp rock salt

For the Cucumber:
1 tsp mixed peppercorns per jar
1 tsp juniper berries per jar
1 large cucumber, in 3 cm slices on the diagonal
1 red chillies, sliced on the diagonal but seeds left in
Fronds of dill
200 ml whey
600 ml boiled water, allowed to cool
1 tbsp table salt
1 tbsp sugar

3 jam jars

Method

Sterilise your jars on a hot cycle in the dishwasher, or by washing in hot soapy water, drying and placing in a low oven for an hour.

Prepare the vegetables, and boil the water for your fermenting liquid.

To the sterile , still warm jars, add the relevant spices, then layer up the vegetables, making sure to get a layer of dill fronds in between them as you go. Pack them as tightly as you can.

Mix together the whey, water and salt, as well as the sugar for the lacto-fermented cucumber. Fill the now packed jars with the fermenting liquid, up to 3 mm from the top of the jar. Screw on the lids tightly and store in a cool dark place for between 3 days and the maximum time for the vegetables.

I intend to leave these for about a month, before I try them. When I do, I will be sure to let you know what I thought.

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A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pizza Party

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pizza

 

Do you remember those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books you had as a child? The ones where if you wanted your hero to fight the dragon, you should turn to page eight, but if you preferred her to choose the better part of valour and retreat to come up with a cunning plan, then you should head straight for page thirty-four. All of the building blocks were there; you just had to decide how to put them all together to come up with what you hoped would be a sensible plot. I have stumbled upon the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure pizza as the perfect way to cater a party.

Of course, I cannot lay claim to the invention of choosing toppings for pizza any more than I can, or would, the adventure books. Children’s cafés have been doing this for years. What I didn’t foresee was what a low stress way it would be to feed adults too, nor how much fun they would have doing it either.

Picking out the perfect pizza - fun for kids and adults

Relaxed dining

Normally, I am rushing about at dinner parties, because I make a lot of food, often that has to be prepared at once. I am not one of these people who comes up with dishes that can be prepared in advance. If you are like me, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure pizza party is a great way to allow you to relax. Everything was made in good time for the guests to arrive, or sliced, as appropriate, and laid out on the dining room table so people could choose what to put on it.

Of course, because it was me, I had made most of the components, including the mozzarella, and the smoked mozzarella, as well as the dough, and the pizza sauce. I didn’t make the charcuterie, though, maybe that is for another pizza party another time. But in general, it was pretty relaxed, with no fancy elements to put on, or to be pureeing as the guests arrived. I also split the dough into individual portions, and placed them ready and waiting for the final proving inside a ziploc bag. All in all, it was a success, low stress, meant I got time with my guests to have fun, and they got time to make the pizza of their choice.

Breakfast Pizza - Bacon, sausage, mushrooms, spinach and egg

Breakfast Pizza

We even had two servings of dough and just enough pizza sauce leftover the next day to make the perfect hangover breakfast, with bacon, sausage, mushroom, spinach and the egg. The dough kept well in the fridge, and should freeze well too.

Made with Love Mondays

And, because I made all of the elements of the pizzas, and my friends loved to make their own, I’ve decided to enter them into this week’s Made with Love Monday hosted by Mark of Javelin Warrior. Of course, it will also appear in the round-up post for this month’s Cheese, Please! because I used the fresh cheeses that I made, and the dough had the whey from the cheese in it.

Also,

Recipe: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pizza

Ingredients

Home-made mozzarella

Home-smoked mozzarella

Pizza dough – I made 2 double batches of this recipe,which is really great, but I used whey from the cheese making in place of the water, which worked out really well

For the Pizza Sauce:
The amounts given below is enough for 4 individual pizzas. I made enough for 20, but I’ve scaled it down here.
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic
Splash red wine
200  g tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano (flowers and all), or 1 tsp dried

For the Toppings:
Whatever you feel appropriate, really. I used
Red onion, sliced
Raw mushrooms, sliced,
Raw pepper, deseeded and sliced
Artichoke hearts
Blue cheese
Ham
Chorizo
Fennel sausage
Speck
Cooked spinach
Eggs
Olives
Method

On the morning of your party, make the mozzarella, and bodge up a smoker to smoke about half (or buy both, I won’t judge).

Make up the dough, according to the recipe I’ve linked to – or use another favourite of yours. Allow to prove for 90 minutes. You can totally relax or eat lunch, or do whatever you like for a bit at this point – most unusual for getting ready to host a crowd.

At some point chop up and lay out your toppings, in a very leisurely fashion. You even have time to decide you should offer pineapple after all, and run out to get some. It’s up to you.

Fold over the dough, as Dan shows you in the recipe I linked to. Leave it to sit for another half an hour. Treat yourself to a cup of tea – or something stronger if you prefer.

Divide the dough into your ziploc bags, and place them on the table with the rest of your toppings.

Then you need to make up your sauce. In a frying pan, so that you can get a lot of evaporation, soften the red onion. Add the garlic and cook off until the scent hits you.

Splash a good helping of red wine into the pan and cook until it has almost evaporated. Finally, add the tomatoes and oregano. Cover the pan with a lid for about five minutes, until the tomatoes breakdown a little. Remove the lid and cook on a medium heat, until the sauce is really thick. Put this in a large bowl on the centre of the table.

Serve up the mozzarella, and open the smoker, hoping you still have resplendent balls, and not smoky little discs, unlike mine. Even if they are, use them anyway.

Stand back and watch the children show the adults how to get stuck into the shaping and topping of their pizzas, closely followed by the adults trying to top one another’s efforts.

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Simple, Cleansing Pork Pho

Pork Pho

A Fantasticaly Fresh TV Dinner

I have eaten rather well lately: at new lunch spots with my ladies; a rich lamb tagine, cooked for me by my friend from the Morning Claret; and a veritable feast of dim sum that I cooked up last Sunday, for the lunar new year. I had great fun doing it, but I did learn that it is probably OK to make some things in advance and heat them through on the day. There are so many intricate little dishes to make for a proper dim sum feast. I made char sui pork, with which I then made sticky rice and char sui bao (as well as chicken and mushroom hom bao). I made crispy seaweed (with curly kale), pak choi in garlic, and braised aubergine. I also made these excellent vegetarian shumai that Petra from Food Eat Love posted the other day. They were delicious, and gave me the courage to try other dumplings too. I’ve never quite understood how to tuck up the dumplings, but Petra’s clear instructions just clicked with me, and so I gave them a go. Unfortunately, I need a bit more practice before they look lovely, so there are no photos.

Encouraged by the success of the shumai, I decided to go all out, and have a go at xiao long bao, or the special pork dumplings, that are filled with mince and pork. Mine were loosely based on the Serious Eats Soup Dumplings. Nothing like a good bit of over-reaching to really show your skill. Or the limitations of it, in any case. More practice needed there, too, I think.

Don’t get me wrong, they were delicious, but not that soupy, as I managed to put slightly too much meat in the filling, and so the thin and delicate pastry broke. I’m not going to be put off, however. I was very pleased with them, and I will get better, I’m sure.

I made the Serious Eats stock for the bao, but I deviated a bit from the filling. For one thing, I don’t eat prawns, because I can’t really find any that could be said to be produced sustainably. Instead, I grated in ginger and garlic, and I put coriander through the pork mince.

After all that eating, today I was in search of something cleaner, and simpler. The Big Guy was out for dinner tonight with work, so as well as clean flavours, I wanted something simple, but that was comforting enough to settle in on the sofa with to catch up on some TV.

Having feasted so well at the weekend, I was not without leftovers, particularly the very good stock, and some of the xiao long bao filling. Despite needing the practice, I wasn’t in the mood for more dumplings, so I ventured further south for tonight’s dinner. Just like I deviated a bit from the Serious Eats filling, I have deviated a bit from a traditional Vietnamese Pho, but the resulting soup was just as fresh and comforting as I’d imagined it would be.

Cooking-with-Herbs-300x252

Since this dish contains herbs (and if I’d have had Vietnamese mint, I’d have added that too), and is Chinese/Vietnamese inspired, I have also decided that it is perfect for this month’s Cooking with Herbs, run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage. She is also hoping for recipes inspired by romance for this month, in light of it being Valentine’s day soon. I’m not so sure about all the romance, but I do know this soup is a great way to show yourself some love if you have over-indulged, or if you have a night to yourself.

Recipe: Pork Pho

The amounts given here are enough for one person.

Ingredients

For the Meatballs:

100 g minced pork

½ tsp soy sauce

1½ tsp rice wine

A pinch of sugar

A small clove of garlic, finely grated

A 1 cm piece of ginger, finely grated

Small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

For the Pho

400 ml good stock – I used chicken and pork from Serious Eats. Just chicken stock is also fine, but please don’t use stock cubes

½ tbsp fish sauce

½ carrot, cut into thin batons

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 cm ginger, cut into thin batons

40 g rice noodles

2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal

20 g mange tout, sliced on the diagonal

1 chilli, seeds in or out, whichever you prefer, sliced thinly on the diagonal

3-4 sprigs of coriander, leaves whole and the stalks finely chopped

Pinch of salt

Juice of about a quarter of a lime

Method

First, mix all of the meatball ingredients together, then roll them into small balls. You want them to be about marble size. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to help them to keep their shape.

Cook the stock with the fish sauce, garlic, ginger and carrots. Add the pork balls, cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles. When cooked, drain, and add them and the vegetables to a deep bowl. Sprinkle  the herbs on the top.

Season the soup with salt, as required. Pour the soup over the noodles and the vegetables in the bowl, and squeeze in lime juice to taste.

Serve immediately, in front of the TV, and enjoy in peace.

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A Summer Soup for Winter, Mostly From a Cupboard

Winter Vegetable Soupe au Pistou

A Staples Stand-By

The Big Guy has been worrying about our plants. More specifically, he has been fretting over a rather leggy basil plant, that really was on its last legs. After the third day of him agonising, I decided that we should use up the whole plant. Whilst mulling over winter uses of basil, I kept coming back to the thought of soupe au pistou; the Provençal summer soup.

Try as I might, I kept returning to the pistou, which is like pesto, but without the pine nuts. In fact, I couldn’t really think of anything else, so I gave in. Instead of courgettes and peas, it had to be about what I had knocking about. Between the fridge and the garden, I knew that I could come up with the goods.

Despite the name, the original recipe is more like a summer vegetable stew;  thick with beans, squash, tomatoes and alliums, as well as vermicelli. I could easily substitute most of these for suitable winter vegetables, so I went on a domestic forage.  As well as the basil, I grew thyme, garlic, carrots and cavalo nero (amongst other things), so these were definitely going in. The fridge yielded half a butternut squash, some aging tomatoes and a leek. If I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, I would have substituted these for half a tin of chopped tomatoes. That’s the brilliant thing about store cupboard soups – you use what you have.

I was also excited to experiment with cooking dried beans in my new pressure cooker. I’m dying to test the assertion that you can cook dried beans without a pre-soak, which will be amazing for someone who can forget to do the little things, like me. However, when I went to look, the cupboard was bare of dried beans, apart from some kidney beans I have, which wouldn’t have tasted right in this soup. I am still reluctant to forego the pre-soak for these beans, due to the toxins they contain. With a sigh, I added dried beans to my shopping list and went for tinned instead. I generally prefer dried beans for taste and texture, but I always have a tin or two on stand-by, because I am also a realist about my lack of foresight. Since this was a root-around, use-up, make-d0 type of soup, I wasn’t going to go shopping for beans, so I made use of what I had.

The classic soupe au pistou always contains starch. I used vermicelli, because I had some. Other pasta shapes (especially the small ones, such as ditolini, risoni, or stellini) are fine – or you could break up spaghetti into small bits and use those. You could add rice to this soup, in case you don’t have any pasta, or you can’t eat wheat. If you use rice you’ll need to add it much earlier than I suggest adding the pasta, or use pre-cooked rice.

This soup may be a winter version of a summer classic, but the intense smell as you mash the pistou is like a shot of glorious summer in a winter kitchen.

Since this is a winter warmer, and definitely comforting, I’m entering it into this month’s Cheese Please, over at Fromage Homage. There are some really great recipes there this month, so do come over and have a look.

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Recipe: Soupe au Pistou du Placard

Ingredients

For the Pistou:

1 fat garlic clove

A good pinch of salt

30 g basil leaves

About 60 ml extra virgin olive oil

About 40 g parmesan cheese, finely grated (or mature vegetarian cheddar, since parmesan is not vegetarian)

1 tomato, peeled and de-seeded (optional)

For the soup:

1 leek, washed and sliced

2 carrots, diced

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or ½ tsp dried thyme

1.5 l vegetable stock

400 g butternut squash, or pumpkin, diced

100 g cavalo nero

400 g can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 medium tomatoes, diced; or half a tin of chopped tomatoes

100 g vermicelli noodles, rice or any other small pasta shape

Method

Make the pistou. I like to use a pestle and mortar, but you can also use a small food processor. If you are using the food processor, either mince the garlic first with a chef’s knife and the salt, or grate it on a microplaner before adding it to the processor.

Whichever method you are using to make the pistou, add and blend the ingredients in this order: garlic and salt, basil, some of the oil and cheese. Be sparing with the both the oil and the cheese. You must taste as you add these, because all basil will vary. You want  fairly thick pesto, but it still needs to be flavoursome. Once the pistou is to your liking, stop adding things.

Make a concasse of the tomato and stir it through the pistou. Traditionally soupe au pistou has tomato flesh gently crushed into the pistou with a pestle and mortar, which you can also do if you prefer. If you are using tinned tomatoes, omit the tomato from the pistou, or you risk diluting it too much.

Prepare all of the vegetables for the soup. I decided to cook the cavalo nero stalks separate to the leafy greens. So, I stripped the greens from the stalks, and sliced both. Slice the stalks into 1cm chunks, like the rest of the vegetables. Slice the greens thinly, and keep them separate.

Sweat  the leek, carrot and the bay leaf in the olive oil in a deep pan, until the leek turns a vibrant green. Add the garlic and thyme and sweat off for another minute or so.

Add the stock, and simmer for a few minutes, or none at all, if you prefer your carrots crunchy. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Add the pumpkin and cook until you can just pierce it with the point of your knife. The time required will depend on the size of your dice. It took me about 5 minutes, based on 1cm dice.

Chuck in the beans, chopped tomatoes, and cavalo nero stalks, and allow them to simmer for five minutes, before adding the vermicelli and the greens.

Allow the soupe to cook until the pasta is al dente. Check for seasoning, and serve in deep bowls, topped with a large dollop of the pistou.

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Pytt i Panna – Swedish Ways With Leftovers

Pytt I Panna

Leftover? Not Any More

Happy New Year to you all, I wish that you’ll get what you need this year.

I rang in the New Year with friends old and new, and some fantastic food made for me by my friend who writes the Morning Claret. As you might expect, this was accompanied by some excellent wines.

I usually start the year with a few resolutions. As the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I didn’t have the best year in terms of regular blogging last year, I decided that this year, I would settle for simply committing to at least one blog post a week for the next 52 weeks. I already have a few that I want to share with you, and I have some great ideas for recipes that I am going to be testing for you in the near future.

If I get this done this year (with some much improved photography this year, thanks to my new camera the Big Guy bought me), then I will consider this a resolution well met. However, if you made any resolutions, I’d love to hear about some of yours.

Regular readers will know how much I love leftovers. To me they are ingredients to make delicious new dishes from. Pretty much everything can go to making new edible things. I use scraps in my stock, make trifle when life hands me leftover panetone, and even make ice cream from leftover mincemeat (which I think is an idea I got from Nigel Slater, so I won’t be blogging about that). If all other inspiration fails, there is always soup, which is often the best when you tinker about to use up the contents of your fridge.

There is always one dish that you can rely on to use up all the bits and bobs left over from a large meal. For Brits, it is Bubble and Squeak. The Chinese might fall back on a fried rice dish. If you are Swedish, you make Pytt i Panna – literally translated as “pieces in the pan”.

Since many of their meals rely on meat, vegetables and potatoes, this staple is as versatile as bubble and squeak. If you can fry it, it will go in. You can use up leftover cooked veg, or you can use up those sad old specimens that you’d intended to make something with, or the knobbly ones from the veg box that you have run out of inspiration for. You can also use a mix of both, if that is what you have. I would personally not recommend that you use tomatoes in this dish, but they would be rather good, well-grilled and served on the side.You should always have the onion for real pytt i panna, sweating it until it starts to colour, the caramelised bits are what makes this dish so good.

This time, I used up the last of the Christmas ham, made from a wild boar, again because that is what I had. I’ve also made this with beef, pork, leftover sausages, chicken, and a pretty excellent vegetarian version with a nut roast I’d made. I’m sure it would be equally good with turkey, and especially with goose, if that was your Christmas dinner of choice – especially cooked up with the rest of the bits and pieces in some of the lovely goose fat.

As you can probably tell from the description above, the following recipe does not need to be adhered to strictly, it is more of a guideline, based on what I had available on the day. The only two essential ingredients are the potato (sweet potato also works here, as would Jerusalem artichoke and celariac), and the onion, and you must allow both of them to colour, but apart from that just put pieces in a pan, as the name suggests.

This dish is lovely with a fried or poached egg on top. I had it with a side of slow-cooked red cabbage, which was also great.

I hope you made the most of your Christmas leftovers, let me know what you did in the comments.

Recipe: Pytt i Panna

Ingredients

5 medium potatoes or leftover boiled potatoes
About a quarter of a cauliflower that was past its best
2 onions, roughly chopped Leftover Christmas ham – I had about 150 g
1 tbsp cooking oil
Knob of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
A small bunch of dill that needed using up

Method

Dice everything into roughly 1 cm sized pieces. Break the cauliflower into small florets and dice the stalks.

If you are using raw potatoes, parboil them until they just allow a knife tip. Blanche the cauliflower in a separate bowl, and drain after 3-4 minutes.

In a large frying pan, cook the onions in the oil until they are starting to colour. Add the potatoes, again, cooking until they have some colour all over.

Add the knob of butter, ham and the cauliflower to the pan, then cook through. If the cauliflower also takes on a little colour,  so much the better.

Season well, and sprinkle with dill before serving.

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Asian Flavoured Beans: Not Just For The French

 

Asian Flavoured Beans

Beans and Buns – Getting Out Of A Glut Rut

Defrosting the freezer is often a boring, and much put-off task (although you should do it fairly regularly, to keep it running efficiently). I was forced into doing mine today. It was getting difficult to open the top drawer, and it had been jamming accusingly every time I went in there. There was definitely a sulky kind of Huh! noise when I tried to shove it back in. So I finally gave in to the nagging.

You may be wondering why I am boring you with all of this domestic drudgery (you never see Nigel Slater having to give that fridge with the camera in the back a good clean do you?).  Well, I found some hom bao lurking in there, and knew I had found lunch. These little buns freeze so well, and they really keep. Well worth making a batch when next the baking bug hits you, and freezing those that you can’t manage on the day.

As I wanted lunch to contain at least one of my five a day, I also wanted a suitable vegetable side dish. A quick ferret around in the fridge revealed a lot of unsuitable veg, and many of my home-grown runner beans, which are still coming thick and fast at the moment. I didn’t really fancy a stir fry of carrots, tomatoes and lettuce, so beans it was.

It’s funny how you can get a bit stuck into one or two ways to cook a particular vegetable. For me, runner beans are always about my ever-popular green bean chutney, or gently steamed and served with butter and black pepper. If I have to combine them with something, I go down the Lebanese route, and stew them in a garlicky tomato sauce (also very highly recommended). Something that I have never previously done with them is combine them with Asian flavours.

There are many Asian dishes that have beans in them, although they more commonly use french or yard-long beans. There is no reason that runners cannot shine just as well, especially if they are garden fresh. I wanted to stick with a vaguely Chinese style for these, since they were to accompany the Hom Bao.

This dish would also be great with a tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds sprinkled over the top at the end. As it was a cleaning-out-the-cupboards kind of meal, and I didn’t have any sesame seeds, I just left them out. You can choose which one you prefer.

I was very happy with these beans, which took on the salt and spice brilliantly. It just goes to show that a lot of new possibilities can open up for you if you go a very small way outside your usual recipes. I’m very happy to have another way to use a seasonal glut of runner beans (although it really is never a problem, I love them).

Do you have a favourite runner bean recipe? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Recipe: Chinese-Style Runner Beans

Ingredients

About 400 g runner beans

1 tbsp sunflower oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste

½ cm fresh ginger, finely grated

2 tbsp soy sauce

½ tsp sesame oil

Method:

String the beans (or grow a stringless variety, and save yourself a bit of time). Slice them diagonally into 1 cm thick slices. Add to boiling water on the stove, and cook over a medium heat until the water comes back to the boil again. Do not salt the water,  it will make the beans grey and there will be plenty of salt from the soy in the finished dish.

Once the beans have come back up to the boil, drain them and set aside.

Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan or wok. Add the garlic and the ginger and cook until the fragrance of the ginger hits you. Add the beans and the soy sauce, and cook until the soy has thickened slightly.

Remove from the heat, and stir through the sesame oil and the seeds, if you are using them. Serve immediately.

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A Picnic on Public Transport

Asparagus and Potato Tart

Tarted Up Leftovers

The Big Guy and I are seasoned travellers. If you live in a different country from either of your families, you have to get used to the rhythm of packing, transport, and departure times. Where we can, we take the train; it has a much better rhythm – with a continuity of movement, both in terms of the motion of the carriages, and because there is no hanging about in a departure lounge, or being forced through an array of harshly lit shops. The train gets you where you need to be without fuss; you have space to sit comfortably and to move around.

One of the things that we haven’t got the rhythm of is taking our own food. Although, I do know exactly where all the best places to buy food along the journey are. We have recently returned from one such trip abroad, although this time, we had a leg of the journey on a coach. It was OK, but I will be glad if they ever sort out the troubles on trains run by a certain rail company, which has been unable to run for far too long now.

We decided that we should be better prepared for this journey. Since our usual rhythm was interrupted, I could not guarantee getting to my favourite pit stops. I also had a few ingredients in the fridge that wouldn’t last until we returned. So, the obvious choice was to make something to take with us. A picnic, of sorts.

I had a little of the salad, some cream and some eggs that needed using up from the dinner I made for friends, and a few last sprigs of chervil. As so often happens, the day before I was leaving I woke up and knew that these would be perfect in a tart, with some goat’s cheese. We could have some for dinner that evening, and then we could take the rest as a picnic for the coach the next day.

Like many of the best laid plans, the idea for a nice goat cheese went a bit awry. It was a bank holiday, and none of the usual shops were open, so I had to dispatch the Big Guy to the supermarket. Unfortunately, all they had in the way of goat cheese was some presliced stuff, that could have been any generic cheese. It certainly never has the tang of goat that I was looking for in this dish. Fortunately, he returned with some sharp, crumbly feta instead. This was a much better option, it needed to match the asparagus.

The tart was tasty, filling and survived the journey. So did the salad we had with it, because we dressed it en route from a small jar. This is my top tip for picnic salads – if you dress it before you travel, the salad will cook in the acid, and you will be left with a container full of flaccid disappointment.

Cheese Please blog badgeFour Seasons Food Challenge Chez Foti & Delicieux

I know I have entered my dishes into a lot of blog hops lately, but I couldn’t resist entering this recipe into the inaugural Cheese Please Challenge, hosted by Fromage Homage. Then I heard about the inaugural Four Seasons Food, dreamed up by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Chez Foti. This dish is so apt for both.

This was my perfect public transport picnic, and I didn’t waste anything in my fridge. I’d love to hear what appears on your picnic blanket, or even coach seat when you make food for on the go.

Recipe: Asparagus and Potato Tart

Ingredients

For the Pastry: 

100 g plain flour

50 g cold salted butter

Really good grinding of black pepper

1 egg yolk

For the Filling:

100 ml cream

4 eggs

small bunch chervil, very finely chopped

100 g of leftover asparagus salad, or 3-4 small salad potatoes and 5 asparagus spears cooked until just tender, and cut into 5 cm chunks

2 spring onions, sliced finely

90 g feta cheese

Method

Season the flour. I wanted this pastry to taste peppery, the rest of the tart can hold its own. Don’t be afraid of adding  more pepper than you think.

Rub the cold butter (it needs to be fridge temperature) into the seasoned flour until you have a breadcrumb consistency. Add the egg yolk and bring together into a dough. If you need to, you can add a little bit of cold milk to make it all come together. Add a splash at a time.

Form a disc with the dough, and cover it with cling film or foil, and leave it to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes to an hour.

Heat the oven to 200°C. Roll the pastry out thinly on a floured surface. Carefully line a greased flan case with the pastry, and press into the sides or fluting with a small offcut of pastry in a ball, to avoid any tears or holes, you don’t want the filling to leak and burn on the bottom.

Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper, and add a good layer of blind bake – this can be ceramic beans, dried beans or rice – to give some weight help keep it flat and thin. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry looks dry and is beginning to brown on the sides. Remove the blind bake, and put back in the oven to allow the pastry to cook all over to a light golden colour.

While the pastry is browning, whisk together the cream, eggs, and chervil.

Once the tart case is cooked, remove and turn the oven down to 180°C.

Pick the salad over to remove any leftover capers and cornichons. Scatter the rest over the tart case, so that you get pretty even cover. Then scatter over the spring onions and crumble the feta around, again, so that the coverage is quite even.

Pour the eggs and cream over the rest of the filling, shaking the case a little, to ensure even distribution. Return it to the oven and bake for a further 30-40 minutes, or until the centre is just set, but still has a little wobble if you shake it.

As with all quiches, this is great served hot or cold, but if you want to serve it warm, let it rest for about 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven, so that the filling does not ooze all over the plate.

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