What I'm cooking and eating

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas Chocolates

I like making these - they don't have to be just for Christmas, of course.  They do very-nicely-thank-you for Easter, and I made truffles for my father's birthday.

I allow my chocolates to harden off on a silicone baking tray, which is beautifully non-stick.  I expect you could use baking parchment, or those re-usable non-stick liners they sell for cake tins.

You don't absolutely need moulds for the truffles - you can pour them into a shallow plastic dish and allow them to set, and then roll teaspoonsful of the mixture into little balls, perhaps dusting them with cocoa powder or chocolate sprinkles.

So. Makes 72 chocolates and 3 trays-ful of truffles

About 600 grammes really good quality dark cooking chocolate
About 100 grammes less-good quality dark cooking chocolate for the truffles (you can, of course, use the best quality, but it is less necessary)
36 stoned prunes
36 dried apricots
150 ml double cream
30-60 ml spirits of your choice (brandy, Calvados, rum... I used some cranberry-orange gin someone gave me last year)

Break 300 grammes of the fine chocolate into a bowl that you have placed over a panful of simmering water.  Allow these to melt, and stir to ensure they melt smoothly.  Now drop in the prunes, about 9 at a time, fish them out with a long-handled teaspoon, and place them on your baking tray.  Please buy a new packet of both prunes and apricots for this, and don't use the ones you've had drying out in the cupboard since forever!  You can always use them up in stews and couscouses if you're not fond of them as a compote.

When you have done all the prunes, add a further 600 grammes of chocolate, melt it, and repeat with the apricots, which are easier because they are rather more regular in shape, which is why I do them second.

Leave them on the baking tray to harden off. Meanwhile you have some chocolate left over, so dip a couple of prunes and apricots for yourself.  Then add the cream to what's left, and the booze, and stir thoroughly.  It will want more chocolate, so break in another 100 grammes or so (you can use the cheaper chocolate for this, if you prefer).  Once this is all melted and incorporated into itself, spoon into moulds (Lidl occasionally has them, but they are fairly easily obtainable from places like Hobbycraft) or into a shallow plastic box.  Harden off in the fridge. 

Then place each chocolate in a paper case (ubiquitous), and if you want to be grand, make up boxes of a mixture of the chocolates (you can get boxes in Hobbycraft and also on-line, but the postage was eye-watering so I went to Hobbycraft!), seal them and present them to your adoring friends and family!

Of course, if your family like milk chocolate or even white "chocolate" better than plain, no reason you can't use that instead - just make sure it is the best quality you can get.  I've seen all three cooking chocolates in the home baking section of the supermarket.  And you don't have to stick to prunes and apricots - I tried with spoonfuls of sultanas or cranberries, which were lovely although they did tend to come apart a bit.  You could also dip shelled whole nuts - almonds, walnuts, brazils, pecans....  And I expect, although I've not tried, you could dip other home-made sweets - fudge, caramels, even truffles (if you can be bothered to melt yet more chocolate!).

You need to let the chocolates harden about 24 hours, and they're probably best kept very cool, even in the fridge, until you give them away, but they do make a very easy last-minute Christmas present.

You can also dip fresh fruit - sliced bananas, grapes, mandarin orange slices, etc - but these won't keep so you have to eat them pretty much the same day (what a pity!!!).

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Orange hash

A friend posted her recipe for sausage and leek hash. I remember loving corned beef hash as a child but, alas, the Swan Whisperer dislikes corned beef, so it doesn't feature on our menus.

However, when I came to make the hash, I found that I had only a few small new potatoes left.  I did have another bag, but it never "does" to mix two batches of potatoes, they always cook unevenly, and these were maincrop anyway.  But I also had some sweet potatoes, and then there was the end of a butternut squash that wanted used.  So.....

4-5 small new potatoes (of course you can use whatever potatoes you have, but about the amount that one person would eat), cut in half (or into bite-size chunks if you are using ordinary potatoes)
1/2 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1-2 leeks, depending on size, washed and chopped
1/2 packed Nuremburg bratwurst (the small herby jobs from Lidl) or other sausages of your choice, cut into chunks.
1 tbs olive or other cooking oil
Seasoning, as liked  (I used some pork seasoning I have from Tesco)
60-100 grammes grated cheese

Put the oil into a large, lidded frying pan, then add the potatoes and leeks, stir and let cook on a lowish heat for 10-15 minutes, then add the sausages, stir again, and leave for another 10-15 minutes.   Season, and stir the grated cheese through before serving.

This could be made vegetarian quite simply by omitting the sausages, or vegan by using cooked chickpeas instead of sausages and stirring through a tahini dressing, some peanut butter or some hummus (or even baba ganoush).  If you don't like cheese, leave that out but perhaps fry an egg and serve that on top.... all sorts of variations, just as I varied my friend's original recipe!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Cheese Scones

I had forgotten how good these were! My mother's recipe, so Imperial measurements, but have made an approximate translation.

8 oz (250 g) self-raising flour
1 1/2 oz butter (45 g)
4 oz strong Cheddar or other cheese (124 g)
3/4 tsp baking powder.
1/2 tsp each cayenne pepper and dry mustard powder
Pinch salt
Scant 1/4 pint milk (c 125 ml)

Grate cheese. Rub butter into flour and seasonings, mix in cheese and add sufficient milk to make dough. Roll out to about 1 cm thick, put on greased baking sheet, brush with milk and score into 6-8 pieces. Bake in hot oven (Mark 7) for 15-20 minutes. Let cool, split, butter and eat, preferably while still warm.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Butternut squash spread/dip

I first came across this as a meze when lunching at Whole Paycheck Foods Market in Kensington High Street, and thought it delicious.  It belongs to the same "family" of spread/dips as hummus, particularly the kind made with vegetables instead of chickpeas (see, for instance, this delicious courgette "hummus" recipe here and many similar ones, and one of these days I plan to try it with a large tomato instead of courgette), but uses peanut butter instead of tahini.  Of course, you can substitute tahini if you like, or any other nut butter, come to that!

I was cooking butternut squashs, so just cooked extra while I was at it.

1/4 butternut squash (approximately - you want 200-250 gr or so)
1/2 tbs olive oil, salt and pepper

If the bit of butternut you are using  has seeds in it, scoop them out and discard.  Brush the cut surface with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, before roasting, skin side up, in a hot oven for about an hour.  Alternatively, peel and cut into chunks, spray with olive oil, and microwave for a few minutes until cooked, which is a lot quicker if you are cooking it specially.

When cold, peel and roughly cube the flesh, then place in a food processor and add:
1 tablespoonful of smooth peanut butter - ideally whole nut, with no added sugar.  Or tahini, if you prefer.
1 tablespoonful olive oil
1 tablespoonful lemon juice
(Optional) 1 clove garlic, crushed, or a sprinkle of garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
I also added 1 tsp fish sauce, but that does make it non-vegetarian, which might matter to some people; if it matters to you, or if you don't have fish sauce, leave it out or substitute a small amount of soya sauce or Marmite (you don't want a lot, just enough to lift the flavour,  not enough to make it taste!).

Blitz until smooth, and use as you would hummus or a vegetable dip.  Very nice, and an unusual flavour, I find.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Baked Eggs

When I was a little girl, my brother and I would be sent to stay with my paternal grandmother who seemed to like to have us overnight. Quite why, I don't know, because she only lived down the road, and could easily have given us back, but she seemed to enjoy our company without our parents on occasion! 

Unlike my mother, my grandmother had a gas cooker - town gas, in those long-ago days before North Sea Gas was discovered - and therefore felt freer to run her oven more than my mother did, and baked eggs frequently featured on her breakfast menu.  My mother never cooked them, so it was a treat for when we stayed with my grandmother.  Except when we were packed off to spend the night the night before we went on holiday. When she learnt that we were concerned about the quasi-inevitable car-sickness that would probably ensue on the journey, she gave us a breakfast she said was served at the Lord Warden in Dover before a Channel crossing, and nobody could possibly feel sick if they ate that.  It was only plain bread-and-butter and ham, but I seem to remember it did the trick!  (And I rather suspect that at the Lord Warden champagne was served, rather than the weak tea or milk we had!).

Anyway, baked eggs:

Per person:
1 egg
½ slice ham
½ a tomato or 3 cherry tomatoes, sliced or halved as appropriate (optional)
1 tbs milk
Seasoning, as liked

Put the ham and tomatoes into the bottom of a greased ramekin.  Top with the egg, left whole, and add the milk and seasoning. Bake in a moderate oven (gas 4, 180 C) for 15-20 minutes.  Eat out of the ramekin with a teaspoon, accompanied by bread, or toast, and butter.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Chilli Sherry and sauce recommendations

My grandmother used to make this, and use a teaspoonful or so to season soups, stews, etc.  If you have an empty glass bottle with a screw-top lid, do make some!

Fill the bottle about ¼ full with dried chilli peppers, and top up with cheap cream sherry.  Leave to infuse for about 3 weeks before using.  Top up with additional sherry when necessary.

Meanwhile, I should like to recommend Clothilde's magic sauce, which I made yesterday (the version with peanut butter) and found surprisingly good.  And I should also like to recommend this courgette hummus, recommended by Clothilde, which as far as I am concerned could replace mayonnaise very, very easily!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Summer Pudding

An English classic!

1 packet (750 gr) frozen summer fruit or fruits of the forest (or use fresh strawberries/raspberries/redcurrants/cherries in the proportions you prefer)
About 2-3 tablespoonsful of sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour stirred into 1 tablespoonful water
6 slices bread, crusts removed

Put the fruit into a microwaveable container with the sugar and cook, stirring every 2-3 minutes, until the fruit is thawed and the juices have run.   Stir in the cornflour/water.  Taste and adjust the sugar if necessary - remember you can always add some, but you can't take it away, and this pudding is not meant to be too sweet.

Line a 2-pint pudding basin with the bread, saving a slice for the top.  Pour the fruit into the centre, top with the remaining bread.  Place a saucer on top and weigh it down (use a couple of 400-g tins if you haven't any old-fashioned weights); refrigerate for at least 8 hours if you can.  Turn the pudding out on to a plate and serve with cream.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Frozen green orange tea

I ordered this in a coffee shop in Hamburg the other day when I was very hot. Not at all sure what to expect, but it was very good and refreshing, so I tried to recreate it at home:

1 peppermint tea bag
2 large sprigs mint
Several slices of lemon (I freeze 1/4 slices of lemon to go in tea, so just grabbed a handful of those) or lime
As many ice cubes as you can muster
Orange, apple or multi-vitamin juice

Make 1 cup of peppermint tea and add the mint sprigs, too - crush them for a bit of flavour.  Cool it down with the ice-cubes and lemon.  Add fruit juice to taste - and it might, I suspect, be very nice with some sparkling water, too.

Most refreshing.  Please note this is still a work in progress.....

Friday, 31 May 2013

Kate and Sidney

I know this is another two-posts-in-one-day, but there you are - my posts are like buses.  None for ages, and then two come along at once!  This one is specially for DBNY, who wanted a recipe.

1 tbs olive oil
1 large onion
1-2 cloves garlic (optional)
1-2 large carrots
1/2 punnet mushrooms
1 400 g tin tomatoes
1 beef stock cube or Stock Pot
The tomato tin full of water (or red wine)*
400 g stewing steak (or thereabouts)
200 g kidneys (ideally ox, but whatever you can get)
1 tbs flour (I used besan, or gram flour, which added a lovely flavour but didn't do much in the way of thickening)
Salt, pepper, mixed herbs, Worcestershire sauce

Peel and chop the onion, garlic, carrots and mushrooms, and fry in a little oil for several minutes, ideally until the onions are softened.  Meanwhile, mix the seasoning with the flour (not the Worcestershire sauce, of course, but....), and toss the cubed meat in it.  Transfer the vegetables to a slow cooker*, and then fry up the meat, stirring constantly, until it has browned.  Transfer this to the slow cooker, and add the tomatoes and water (and Worcestershire sauce, if using).  Leave cooking on high or auto for the rest of the day, and in any case at least 5-6 hours. Serve with potatoes or a hearty pasta and a green vegetable or two.  Left-overs even better re-heated next day!

* If you don't have a slow cooker, use an ordinary casserole dish and cook it in a slow oven for 2-3 hours.  You may well need more water than I used, though.

Unrepeatable soup!

This was so delicious, but it's very hard to find wild garlic in London which is why it's unrepeatable.  I did buy a bunch at my local farmers' market, but it was eye-wateringly expensive.  I am actually wondering whether spring onions (scallions) would work instead - after all, the French cook their peas with lettuce and baby onions....

1 bunch ramsons (wild garlic, bears' garlic)
Outside leaves from a Little Gem lettuce (or any floppy lettuce, really)
1 litre vegetable stock
About 100g frozen peas
2 tbs creme fraiche
A plank of Chinese noodles (or a large packet of instant noodles and discard the flavour sachet)

Boil the ramsons and lettuce in the stock for about 10-15 minutes.  Blend until smooth.  Add the peas and noodles and cook for a further 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the creme fraiche.

If you try this with spring onions, let me know how it works!  And if I do, I will update.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Carrot salad

AKA carottes rapées.

3-4 medium-to-large carrots, peeled and grated
2 snack pack boxes of raisins (the kind you give children who are low blood-sugar or bored)

The traditional dressing is lemon juice and olive oil, and when I made it this way earlier in the week I also added some honey as it was a little too sharp.  However, my preferred dressing is toasted sesame oil and balsamic vinegar, which doesn't really need anything else.

Put everything in a bowl and mix.  Keep in fridge.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Giant couscous salad

About 1/2 cupful giant couscous.  I got mine in Morrison's but if you can't find it, ordinary couscous is fine.
About 2 tbs cooked chickpeas (tinned is fine, but dried are nicer)
About 2 tbs sunflower seeds
About 1-2 tbs sultanas or dried cranberries
1 tomato, chopped
Chunk of red pepper, chopped
Handful of parsley, chopped.
You could also add a chunk of chopped cucumber, but I've gone off cucumber, so I didn't.
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs olive oil
I also had some tahini dressing that wasn't doing anything, so that went in, too.

Cook the couscous - if you're using the giant stuff, you boil it for 6-7 minutes like ordinary pasta; the regular stuff you just soak for 10 minutes in twice as much boiling water.  Drain and transfer to a bowl and mix in the rest of the ingredients.  Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours for the flavours to develop.  Serve with lettuce, flatbreads, hummus, olives, other salads..... 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


Have I ever posted my pesto recipe?  I am not sure that I have.  For me, pesto has to contain basil; I know there is such a thing as red pesto, made with sun-dried tomatoes, and people make pesto with all sorts of different green leaves, but for me, it's basil or nothing!  I will happily substitute walnuts or even peanuts for the pine nuts, and use a strong cheddar instead of parmesan, but it has to be basil!

A large quantity of basil - if you have a growing tub, give it a haircut.  A good handful.
1-2 tbs pine nuts, walnuts, or even peanuts
1 clove garlic
Large chunk - about 60 grammes or so - Parmesan, or maybe strong cheddar
1-2 tbs olive oil

Place it all in a food processor and blitz until it gets to the texture you like.  If it's too dry, add a little more olive oil.

Serve with pasta, and we like to save a little to have on bread next day!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Neither Kedgeree nor Kitchari

I had been toying with the idea of a vegetarian kedgeree - I adore kedgeree, but it's expensive and I don't make it often.  Anyway, a bit of research brought me to this recipe, only me being me, I wanted vegetables in and with it, plus we had loads of veg in the bottom of the fridge that wanted using!  Serves 4.  This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.

½ cup mung beans
1 tbsp cooking oil (I used sesame oil)
1 chunk frozen grated ginger (or grate your own!)
1 tsp turmeric
 ½ each asafoetida, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, as liked
1 leek, chopped
1 large courgette, chopped
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ cup basmati or other long-grain rice
500 ml boiling water
1 vegetable "stock pot" (or use 500 ml vegetable stock)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mango chutney to serve

Soak the beans for several hours.   Fry the spices and ginger in the oil for a minute or two, then add the vegetables.  Stir, and allow to cook for a minute or two.  Add the soaked beans and rice, and then stir again.  Finally, add the stock and adjust the seasoning.  Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat to very low and simmer, covered, for about 20-25 minutes until the water is mostly absorbed.  Serve with chutney.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Leeks and ham au gratin

This is an old favourite.  It is traditionally made with chicory (endives) rather than leeks, but for St David's Day, which it is, one wants something in which leeks are a central feature, rather than an "also-ran". 

4 small or 2 large leeks, trimmed. If large, cut in half widthways.
4 slices ham - the nice kind, without added water
250 ml milk
1 heaped tsp plain flour
A very little salt (only a pinch - the ham will add a great deal)
Black pepper
Dry mustard powder
Knob of butter
c 75g grated cheese (cheddar, emmenthal, Parmesan, one of those bought mixes....)

Boil, or (preferably) steam the leeks until tender. When cool enough to handle, wrap each leek or 1/2 leek in a slice of ham.  Place side-by-side in an oven-proof dish.

Meanwhile, whisk the flour, milk and seasoning together and melt the butter in a saucepan.  Pour the milk mixture on to this and bring to the boil, stirring all the time.  Stir in half the grated cheese, then pour this over the ham and leeks.  Top with the rest of the grated cheese.  Bake in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes.

This is traditionally served with mashed potato.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Chicken and mushroom curry

Yet another day when two posts come along at once!  I hadn't made a curry quite like this before, but it was very good!

4 chicken breast fillets
1/2 large or 1 small onion
1/2 punnet mushrooms
1 tbs olive oil
1 large tsp curry powder (or more, to taste)
Around 200 ml boiling water
1 Knorr chicken stock-pot
1 tbs coconut milk powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry the curry powder in the olive oil for a few minutes; add onions and chicken fillets, allow to cook for a couple of minutes and then turn the fillets over.  Add the sliced mushrooms, reduce the heat, cover and cook gently for about 15 minutes, until the mushrooms are all juicy.  Now add the water, stock and coconut milk powder, stir, bring back to the boil and simmer uncovered for a further 15 minutes.  Adjust seasoning. Serve with rice, and perhaps a vegetable side dish (see previous post).

Broccoli Bhaji

Our Chinese take-away has been closed for a couple of weeks, which meant the weekly take-away came from the local Indian place, which is slightly further away.   We ordered a vegetable thali, which was heaven, and which introduced me to the delicious dish called bhindi bhaji,which is made with okra.  I was going to make that this evening, but my daughter and grandson came to stay unexpectedly while their boiler was being replaced, and my daughter said she didn't care for okra, so I made it with broccoli instead. I thought it just a tad dry, but it tasted good!

1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp each asafoetida, tumeric (I didn't have any and so perforce left this out), garam marsala  and chilli powder (to taste, but that sort of thing)
1/2 large or 1 small onion, chopped
2-3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 large head of broccoli, reduced into florets and the stem chopped small.
1 tbs olive oil
Salt to taste 

Crush the coriander and cumin together in a pestle and mortar, and put them, with the other spices, into the olive oil which you have placed into a frying pan or wok that has a lid.  Allow to cook gently for a few moments, then add the rest of the ingredients.  Stir well, cover, and allow to cook gently for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.  Use as a side dish with curry and rice.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Cheese Pudding

I love this once in awhile; it's the savoury version of bread-and-butter pudding. 

3 slices wholemeal or granary bread
Large lump strong Cheddar cheese (75-100 g)
250 mls milk
2 eggs

Whizz the bread and cheese together in a food processor, as you would for a topping for a savoury dish.  Place in a greased ovenproof dish.  Whisk the eggs and milk together until smooth, seasoning with salt, black pepper and mustard powder.  Pour this mixture over the breadcrumbs and stir.  Leave to sit for a few minutes - 10 or 15 - and then bake in a moderate oven (Gas 4) for about 45 minutes.  I topped this with a sliced tomato, which was lovely, and it would probably have been even nicer if I'd saved some of the cheese to sprinkle on the top. 

Perfect opportunity for roasted veg, which can go in the oven on the shelf above!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Cauliflower cheese bake

½ large or 1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1 small tin sweetcorn (optional)
250 ml milk
1 heaped teaspoon flour
2 tsp olive oil or similar amount of butter
Salt, pepper, 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
A little more butter and milk for the potatoes
c 60-100 g cheese, grated (should be 60 g but I'm greedy!)
If liked, a tomato or several cherry tomatoes, sliced or halved

Steam cauliflower florets and potatoes. Make a whisked or roux sauce, as preferred, with milk, flour, seasonings, oil/butter.  Add the tin of sweetcorn, if using, and half the cheese.

Place the cooked cauliflower florets into an oven-proof dish, and tuck the hard-boiled eggs in beside the handles (so you know where they are!). Top with the sauce, then with the potatoes you have mashed with the extra butter and milk (and seasoned), with the rest of the grated cheese and, if liked, the sliced or halved tomatoes.  Bake in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes.

Cauliflower recipes

No posts for ages, then two come along at once. Mostly because we have, for the first time for ages, bought a cauliflower, and I have been thinking of my two favourite ways to eat it.  The first is very quick to make:

1 small, or ½ large cauliflower, cut into florets
Large chunk of butternut squash, peeled and diced
Small slab Feta cheese
1/2 cup (125 ml) by volume dry couscous
Olive oil
Rosemary or thyme
1 tin tomatoes      )
1 heaped tsp flour )


1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes
2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Steam the cauliflower florets; spray the squash with olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary or thyme.  Microwave it for 4 minutes (you can roast it if you have time, which is nicer, but this is a quick meal).  Soak the couscous in 250 ml boiling water for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile make a tomato sauce by whisking the tin of tomatoes with the flour (seasoning it to taste) and then adding this to a saucepan with c 2 tsp olive oil; bring to the boil, stirring all the time, and ideally simmer for a few minutes.  If you prefer, you can make a fresh tomato sauce with 1/2 punnet of cherry tomatoes, pierced, cooked for a few minutes in olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar and then mashed!

Mix the squash, couscous and feta and served topped with the cauliflower and the tomato sauce.