Category Archives: Cooking

Beetroot risotto, feta, dill

Beetroot risotto

I’ve been having a real beetroot craving recently, which I indulged a few Saturdays ago on a morning mooch around Morison’s. I hadn’t really recognised it and was somewhat surprised when I left with some of the cheapest, most vinegary beetroot slices ever to have been created, but I have to admit that they were surprisingly good when devoured with fresh bread and coleslaw. It instantly took me back to a fond memory in which I’m eating a jar of sliced beetroot (it seems this is a guilty pleasure of mine) with hunks of French bread in a sunny Asda car park whilst on a cycling holiday a few years ago. It was as classy as it sounded.

Back in civilisation with a proper kitchen at my disposal, the sliced beetroot didn’t quite cut it and I was still craving that sweet, earthy, vegetable hit so I spent the next week thinking of recipes and flavour combinations, and eventually decided I’d make a risotto.

Raw fresh beetroot

I’ve been thinking about risotto recently and have realised that it’s a bit of a funny meal. Not funny in a ‘that sounds weird’ sort of way, but funny because everyone knows it’s dead easy to make, doesn’t require any fancy ingredients, and yet we’ve all cracked it out proudly when we’re having people round for dinner, and our guests don’t mind. If you were going to serve stir-fry at a dinner party you’d have to make it really special  (or is this just me being a massive food snob?) but risotto gets near universal approval for relatively minimal effort. Risotto has become one of my staple dishes; comfort food which is hard to dislike, versatile, and quick & easy to make. Or so I thought. A quick google of risotto reveals sites claiming that ‘easy risotto recipes aren’t as elusive as you think’, and even the Guardian declares that ‘it is very easy to get very wrong‘. I disagree. Yes there is a bit of stirring involved but this is one of the great joys of cooking; standing over a hob stirring a pan of steaming risotto is a total joy. And I can assure you that this was not hard to make.

I think the flavour combination was inspired by a gravadlax recipe I saw ages ago, and undoubtedly coriander seed would be a nice addition but wasn’t included here. The fantastic vibrant colour, the sweet earthy beetroot, the smooth rich crème fraîche, and fresh dill make for a fantastic pairing. I stole a bit of my housemates feta to crumble on top to add a bit of visual appeal and for a salty hit, but any a soft goats or blue cheese would work brilliantly too. Or a simple dollop of crème fraîche will bring this to life.

Is my penchant for stirring a risotto pan madness? Am I overly snobby about stir-fry? The answer to both is probably yes, but let me know…

Beetroot risotto cooking

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

20g butter

1 red onion, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

200g risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)

2 raw beetroots, peeled and grated

Small glass of Vermouth

750ml stock (I used a bit of both vegetable and chicken)

Juice of half a small lemon

Table spoon of Crème fraîche

Seasoning

To serve:

Fresh dill, chopped

Feta/Goats/Blue cheese, crumbled (optional)

Crème fraîche (optional)

 

Method

1.       Melt the butter in a heavy based pan on a medium heat, and when sizzling, add the onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes until soft.

2.       Add the rice and stir to coat it in the butter. After a minute, add the Vermouth and beetroot.

3.       Cook for a few minutes until the Vermouth has been absorbed and the mixture looks a little dry. Then start to add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring all the while.

4.       Continue to stir until the stock is nearly all absorbed and aim to keep the rice looking sloppy at all times, before repeating the process numerous times.

5.       After 20-25 minutes, the rice will be cooked but test it regularly. When it’s cooked to your taste and looks good, turn down the heat.

6.       Add the lemon juice and crème fraîche and stir vigorously until well combined and looking smooth. Check the seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

7.       Serve immediately, scattering the dill on top and dressing with any cheese/crème fraîche as appropriate.

beetroot risotto with feta and dillBeetroot risotto

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Tarte Tatin

I’m not sure if I’m writing this to share my tarte tatin or to show off that I have an apple tree in my garden… I think probably the latter. I’ve recently moved house and my new place has a big old apple tree which is fuiting apples of some unknown eating variety. This summers wet weather (classic British summertime) has been pretty disastrous for fruit harvests with many crops coming late in the season and often with big blemishes all over the skin. Fortunately for me, this means that my tree is covered in delicious apples waiting to be eaten. The only problem is that the tree is pretty big, I’m not 20 feet tall (shock horror) and I don’t have a ladder… Picture the scene: It’s a quiet Saturday morning and my housemate is awoken by me violently shaking said tree and attempting to bash apples off it with a big stick in one hand and my camera in the other, all the while cursing my lack of success. It was pretty ridiculous but twenty minutes later I was rewarded with a bowlful of apples and freezing cold hands. Sunday was shaping up nicely.

Before I started make this I did a bit of reading and it seems Tarte Tatin can be made with either shortcrust or puff pastry. I plumped for shortcrust (no real reason why – I think puff would work just as well if not better) and it being the weekend, made my own which was really easy. The thing with pastry though, and I’m about to expose myself as a massive fake, is that shop bought pastry is pretty much the same price and doesn’t taste any different. There are of course exceptions – my dad makes the most incredible pear tart with almond pastry – but for simple shortcrust I think I’d rather save myself the mess and more importantly the knowledge of just how much butter I’m consuming by buying it pre-made from the supermarket. Roll on the easy life – pastry pun intended.

My next confession (because Sunday is all about confession right?) is that when I made the caramel I made a rather large mistake… In my haste, when I glanced at the recipe I misread it and didn’t add the small amount of butter that I was meant to, but instead jumped in with the rather large amount that was destined for the pastry… Mmmmm buttery caramel! After I realised what I’d done I was pretty worried that it would taste awful but it was great. Fat, sugar, and a pinch of salt – everything bad for you combined it was going to always taste amazing. That said, I suggest a slightly reduced amount of butter below, mostly to save your arteries clogging up instantly…

I’ve never been more pleased with my garden. Fruit puddings have never been more unhealthy, nor more delicious. Enjoy.

Ingredients:

7 medium apples (something sharp but flavoursome – like the ones on my tree)
200g white sugar
80g butter

220g plain flour
2 heaped table spoons of caster sugar
120g cold butter
1 large egg, beaten

Method

1. Peel, halve and core the apples and put in the fridge, uncovered for a few hours.

2. Put the sugar into a 20cm heavy-based ovenproof frying pan (which will fit all of your apples arranged  face down in it) along with a small amount of water and stir until combined. Once you’ve got a thick gloopy liquid, cook this over a high heat until dark golden. Don’t stir the mixture as it heats up, but instead tilt the pan from side to side to mix it. You’ll need to keep an eye on this to make sure it doesn’t burn and you may need to turn the heat down.

3. Once you’re happy with the colour, take it off the heat, and stir in 80g of butter (NOT 120g as I went for!), and a generous few pinches of salt. Stir until it’s thoroughly mixed and then put the apples into the pan, round side down making sure that there aren’t any gaps if possible. Put it back on the hob and cook for a further 10 minutes, flipping the apples twice so that they are totally coated in the caramel with the round side facing down. Once cooked let the mixture cool down in the pan.

4. Make the pastry. Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the sugar, salt, and small chunks of the butter – grating it saves lots of time – and rub the mixture together with your finger tips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Beat the egg and add it to the mix, and keep mixing until you get a smooth non-sticky ball of dough, slowly adding tiny amounts of cold water as necessary.

5. Refrigerate the pastry in clingfilm for 20 minutes whilst preparing to roll it out, and then roll to half a centimetre thick. Cut a circle the same size as your pan (a tiny bit bigger is best), and then place this on top of the apples and caramel in the pan, pushing it around the edges of the pan.

6. Put the entire pan in a oven preheated to 200 C and cook for 30 minutes or so until the pastry is golden. Take it out, give it a few minutes to cool, and then very carefully turn the tart out onto a plate larger than the pan. Serve with ice cream for the most unhealthy way to get one of your 5 a day ever.

(informed by the Guardian’s word of mouth blog)

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Lamb Meatballs, Walnuts, Burnt Aubergine

You should know dear reader, that recently I’ve not had as had as much time as I would have liked in the kitchen. This should of course be met with exorbitant levels of sympathy. I can imagine the tears and hysteria now as you cry “poor fodderblogger – he must be so overworked” as you desperately search for my employers details to reprimand them for working me so hard. Not happening? Oh ok – fine, it’s probably for the best… Anyway. Not having a lot of time, I’ve found myself in a bit of food rut. I’ve been finding myself starving hungry and with little time to cook so I’ve been throwing things together pretty quickly. This has meant I’ve been relying upon my tried (or should that be tired?) and tested meals, the quick and easy staples upon which I can rely for a solid meal, but without the va-va-voom.

Time wasn’t about to present itself to me, so I was going to have to evolve like a Darwinian finch, and that’s exactly what this recipe is all about.  It’s a game changer. You can throw it together easily straight after work, and it doesn’t involve loads of waiting for things to cook. It’s one of those rare meals that when one part is done, it’s time to do the next and you won’t have to juggle five things at once. Minimal stress is required, it’s comforting like a big hug from a buxom madam, and most importantly it’s delicious. Put simply, it’s the perfect mid-week meal.

Now I’m not going to go all Jamie Oliver on you and claim you can make this in 15 minutes flat without setting the house on fire or losing a limb, but if you’re cooking tonight you could do much worse than this as a quick and easy meal. The zingy meatballs are guaranteed to hit the spot, and the sweet, smoky aubergine accompaniment, along with the rich crunch of the toasted walnuts means this dish doesn’t compromise on flavour and won’t tie you to the oven all evening.

Ingredients

500g lamb mince

Zest of half a large lemon

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

10 large mint leaves (small handful), finely shredded

100ml vegetable stock

 

2 good sized aubergines

Juice of half to two-thirds of a lemon (adjusted to taste)

2 Tablespoons of tahini

2 Tablespoon of pomegranate molasses.

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Loaded teaspoon of cumin seeds

Handful of walnuts, toasted

Seasoning

Method

1. Combine the lamb mince, lemon zest, garlic and mint leaves in a big bowl, mix thoroughly and season generously. Once well mixed, roll the mixture into small, ping-pong sized balls in your palms (it should make about 16) and brown these in a little oil in a pan.

2. Once nicely browned all over, place the meatballs in a small over proof dish with a lid, and add around the vegetable stock. Ideally most of the meatballs will be sat in the stock but don’t worry too much. Put the meatballs in an oven preheated to 190°C with the lid on and cook for 25 minutes.

3. While these are cooking, make the burnt aubergine. Take the aubergine and place it directly on a moderate flame. Keep turning it regularly until the flesh feels soft and the skin is all blackened. This should take 12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them as you’re doing this – you don’t want them to catch alight although it would certainly would add some excitement to meal time, helping you break out of that cooking rut…

4. Once done, chop lengthways through the aubergine and once it’s cooled a little, scoop the flesh out and put it in a sieve to drain for 15 minutes. Add a little salt as this helps draw out the liquid.

5. Meanwhile in a bowl, combine the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, tahini, and garlic and toasted cumin seeds. Once the aubergine has had it’s time, add it in and mix thoroughly. Taste and season as required.

Serve the meatballs and aubergine with couscous and scatter toasted walnut pieces over the top. Garnish with chopped herbs – I used a tiny bit of left over coriander but parsley would work too – or with pomegranate seeds for an opulent finish.

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Smashed Celeriac

It’s been too long since I last posted. I’ve got some weak excuses; I’ve been on
holiday, and moved house, and life (and my current lack of internet at home) has got in the way. However I feel obliged to briefly share my latest revelation. I’m absolutely, totally, completely head over heels in love with celeriac. I feel like singing from the rooftops in a high pitched voice. The sun hasn’t stopped shining and the world looks rosy. I can’t think of anything else. It must be true love.

My love affair started after having it at the fantastic Trullo restaurant about a month or so ago and now I just can’t get enough. Unfortunately for celeriac, it doesn’t have beauty on its side. I can confidently say that this is one of the ugliest vegetables around and as the greengrocers’ most grotesque gourd, it hardly endears people to cook it. However those brave enough to jump into bed with the parsnips ugly sister will be richly rewarded with a sweet, delicately peppery vegetable with a hint of celery that goes with pretty much any meat you can name. Partnered with garlic (because everything tastes better with garlic), and thyme, smashed celeriac is a side dish you need in your life.

Not exactly a looker…

Smashed Celeriac.
Serves 4.

1 celeriac, peeled.
3 good size cloves of garlic
Small bunch of thyme
Pinch of sugar
Olive oil
Seasoning
Water/stock

Chop the celeriac into chunks about a cm squared and heat up a splash of olive oil in a pan on the hob. Finely chop the garlic, pull the leaves off the sprigs of thyme, and put this along with the celeriac and a pinch of sugar in the pan. Keep everything moving and cook for 5-10 minutes on a high heat until the celeriac colours a little. Then add about 100 ml of water (stock if you’re feeling fancy), season well, and put a lid on the pan. Reduce the heat down and cook for around 25 minutes until it’s reasonably soft. When you’re ready to eat, use a wooden spoon to then bash up some of the celeriac so it’s part mashed, but don’t go overboard. What you’re aiming for is really soft looking chunks in a bit of mash, almost as though they’ve broken up from being stirred too much.

Eat with red wine and meat whilst you struggle to not tell your partner that you’re in love with a root vegetable. Good luck.

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My Big Fat Greek Dinner

I only know two Greek people and neither of them are big or fat which is hugely disappointing. This could soon change though; one of them (my friend’s girlfriend) is a relentless feeder and is determined to fatten everyone up she knows with copious amounts of delicious food swimming in olive oil. I’m totally cool with her feeding habits because Greek food is delicious. If I were Greek I would certainly be big and fat because I’d never stop eating.

Recently I found myself green with envy as the feeder invited her boyfriend to Greece to visit her family. Cue mass excitement amongst her many hundreds of aunts – immediately every single one of them was on a mission to feed her boyfriend their moussaka and all claimed to make the best one. Win an Olympic gold medal? Not fussed. Win the lottery? Meh. Be judged to be the Moussaka Queen? “YES YES YES THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN PUT ON THIS PLANET TO DO!” The quest for the ultimate moussaka is the holy grail to the feeder’s aunts and what a noble cause it is. What could possibly beat this wonderful dish served with a classic Greek salad? Soft rich lamb, subtle herbs and spices, a big tomato hit, aubergine which melts in the mouth all hiding under a soft creamy zingy coating.  Served with the salty freshness of a greek salad, frankly nothing can beat it. Sadly for the aunties slaving away in hot Athenian kitchens trying to perfect their recipe and win our admiration the recipe for the worlds best moussaka is no secret; in fact it’s right here….

My Big Fat Greek Moussaka

serves 4 big fat Greeks.

συστατικά (Ingredients)

600g minced lamb

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

3 chopped anchovies finely chopped

2 tins of peeled plum tomatoes

A big squeeze of tomato purée

2 medium sized aubergines sliced into 1/2 cm slices.

100ml red wine

Small handful of fresh mint finely chopped

1 generous tsp of dried oregano

1 tsp ground cinnamon

seasoning

350ml Greek/natural yogurt

1 egg, beaten

1/2 a nutmeg

zest of 1/2 a lemon

μέθοδος (Method)

1. Brown off the mince in a big pan and once done transfer to a big bowl.

2. Soften the onion and the garlic in the pan for a few minutes before the chopped anchovies adding the tomatoes and lamb. Crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon to break them up before adding the tomato purée. Reduce the liquid on a high heat.

3. Put the grill on high and after brushing the aubergine slices with olive oil grill them for a few minutes on each side until they change colour. It will probably be necessary to do this in batches. If you have the time and inclination you can cover them in salt to draw any excess water out before you cook them, and then wipe the salt and water off with kitchen paper – 3o minutes or so will be sufficient but it’s not essential.

4. Once the meat mixture is thickening up nicely, season generously and then add a good glug of wine, the fresh mint, oregano, cinnamon and continue reducing down. The cinnamon adds a lovely rich sweetness and enhances the lamb no end so don’t miss this out. While this continues reducing down, prepare the topping.

5. Mix the yoghurt, egg, lemon zest and nutmeg thoroughly before adding a good twist of black pepper. Once the sauce is thick and delicious, put the oven on to 190 and start assembling the moussaka.

6. In a large baking dish build up the moussaka by putting in alternating layers of lamb and aubergine, ensuring that you finish with a layer of aubergine. Spread the yoghurt mixture evenly over the top and bake uncovered in the oven for around 30 minutes until golden brown. Whilst your waiting throw together a simple but delicious Greek salad and you’ll be all set.

Classic Greek Salad

200g feta

3 large ripe tomatoes

1 cucumber

1 small/medium red onion

A handful of olives (mixed or black)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp of dried oregano

Black pepper

Quarter the tomatoes, and then cut each quarter into 4/5 bite sized chunks. Cut the cucumber into similar sized chunks and half the red onion before slicing it into thin ribbons. Combine all of these into a bowl, scatter on the olives, and break up the feta with your thumbs into irregular chunks before throwing this in too. It will have loads more character and the flavours will seem more balanced if you don’t chop the feta up evenly so get your hands in there. Dress the salad with a little extra virgin olive oil, mix gently, and then sprinkle on the oregano and add some freshly milled black pepper. Leave for 10 minutes to let the flavours combine.

Serve the moussaka with the salad and bread to mop up any juices. Serve big fat portions and then immediately take a bow and sit back to enjoy the show as Zeus rains down thunderbolts in recognition of the worlds best moussaka. The aunts are going to hate you, but your stomach certainly won’t.

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Proper White Farmhouse Bread

Sometimes things don’t go as planned in the kitchen and this was the case when I recently tried my hand at bread making. I’d been inspired after doing a bread making workshop ran by the fantastic Maitreya Social in Bristol who had themselves learnt from the bread master Richard Bertinet. The bake off was held at the Cock and Bull festival in the deepest darkest west country on a Sunday morning, a time when my brain was rather addled from copious amounts of cider the night before…In the workshop we’d made a white loaf, and I remembered how the dough was wonderfully wet and soft. Remembering as much as I could, for my first attempt I decided to make a malted wheatgrain loaf using just over 50% white flour and malted wheatgrain flour for the remainder. When it came out it wasn’t quite as expected. It’s possible that I’d been so hungover that I’d remembered the quantities wrong. It’s probable that using flour with a best before date in 2006, and yeast which went off in 2008 wasn’t the best idea. And it’s certain that weighing the ingredients out wrong didn’t help. Whatever it was, my dense dense loaf was far from worthy of critical acclaim and not the success that I’d hoped for.

However, the thing about making bread is that it’s super fun. Even if it goes badly as mine did, you’ll still want to do it again. Minimal ingredients are needed, no fancy kitchen equipment is required, and best of all you get to get your hands dirty playing with the dough. You get to beat it up a bit, slap it about, and make a big old mess in the kitchen. How could I not want to try again!? Fortunately my second attempt went a lot better and it turns out that it’s actually really simple and easy to do. The crust was crisp, the inside soft and spongy, and the smell was out of this world. This recipe works a treat so next time you’re sat at home bored, its raining and you want something delicious to eat, you simply can’t go wrong with some homemade bread.

White Farmhouse Bread

Makes 2 small loaves.

700g strong white bread flour

14g salt

7g dried yeast sachet

490ml tepid water.

Method

1. Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl.

2. Whisk the yeast into the tepid water and pour it into the flour.

3. Mix it all together by stirring around the edges. This will pull the wet and dry ingredients together. Once well mixed pour it out on to a clean worktop and knead it. I’ve recently started kneading the way that Bertinet does which you can watch here. Essentially you slide your hands under the dough with your palms up until your thumbs meet on the top. Lift the dough, and then flick your wrists to slap the bottom down on the worktop (palms now facing down) before turning your palms back toward the sky and in the process, stretching the top of the dough over the bottom bit which you’ve slapped down. It’s really satisfying as you slap it down, and after a few minutes the dough will change slightly, looking a little shiny and subtly different to when you started.

Sticky yet smooth and shiny looking. This is what it will look like when it’s ready.

Once you get to this stage put it in a big bowl, cover with clingfilm to stop it drying out, and leave to rise somewhere warm for 2-3 hours. Alternatively, you can let it rise overnight which should bring out a more yeasty flavour – simply put it in the fridge to cool it down and slow the yeast and then continue the next day.

4. Once it’s risen up, pour it onto a very lightly floured worktop and cut it in half if you’ve got small loaf tins like me or keep it whole if you want a beast. Flatten it out slightly by prodding it with your fingers but don’t make it too thin – we’re not after a pizza here. Then take the top and bottom and fold them over into the middle and squeeze together. Then repeat with the other ends. The aim is to stretch the underside to get it nice and smooth – this will be the crust – so keep folding corners in until it’s nice and smooth.

5. Put it in a pre greased (butter or olive oil) loaf tin smooth side up, dash it with flour, and let it rise up again until it’s nicely filled the tin (30mins – 1hour). If you want to slash the top, do so just before it goes in the oven and not while it’s proving.

6. Whack the oven up to maximum (around 250°C) and when it’s hot put in the loaf and throw  a handful of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven. This helps create steam which will help it to cook better and will give a better crust. Cook it for 5 minutes or so at 250° before turning it down to 220°C and baking for between 30-45 minutes. It’s worth taking it out of the tin with 5 or 10 minutes to go to help the crust develop nicely.  You’ll know it’s done when it sounds hollow when I tap that ass.

7.  Let it rest! With the smell of warm bread wafting around you’ll suddenly be everyone’s best friend, the opposite sex will be throwing themselves at you and you’ll find that it’s pretty much impossible to not start devouring it straight away. But you’ve got to wait!If you tuck in straight away it will be cakey as the moisture won’t have spread evenly throughout the loaf so wait it out. Assuming that you’re a stronger person than me, hang on for 45 minutes and it will be perfect.

8. Devour with unhealthy amounts of butter.

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The Ultimate Cheese Toastie

Everyone loves toasted cheese sandwiches. It’s impossible not to because they are totally delicious. However there are 2 problems with toasted sandwiches. The first is that not everyone has a toasted sandwich maker, and the second and more serious problem is that making a toasted sandwich always involves the arduous task of having to clean the burnt on cheese off of the sandwich maker once finished. Toasties always leak, and cleaning the sandwich maker is an arse. Back in the days of old when knights were off fighting dragons and jousting for fair maidens this was a deal breaker but fortunately those days are gone! I bring to you the ultimate cheese toastie and there’s not a toastie maker in sight!

This is a toastie that’s oozing with gooey molten cheese which is only just contained by a golden brown crust. This is the sort of toastie that won’t deliver anything but pure cholesterol and pleasure right to your beating heart. This is the ultimate cheese toastie.

Makes 2 sandwiches (1 unhealthy serving)

Start by cutting the crusts off 4 slices of cheap supermarket sliced loaf. Next chop up two-thirds of a ball of mozzarella into thin ribbons, and grate a small pile of cheddar cheese. Make sandwiches out of the cheese and the bread, giving it a good grind of black pepper and leaving just under 1 cm around the edges unfilled. Take this edge and squeeze it together – the great thing about cheap bread is that the slices will hopefully stick together. Then pour out a little milk into a shallow bowl, a small pile of flour onto a plate, and beat up an egg on a final plate and season it well. Then very quickly dip both sides of the sandwich into the milk, cover it with the flour, and then put it in the egg mixture and move it around to cover both sides generously.

In a frying pan heat up a knob of butter or a glug of olive oil, and get the pan hot. When it’s ready, carefully place the sandwiches into the pan and fry for a few minutes on both sides until golden brown.

Eat with ketchup, chilli sauce, or on its own. Toasties have never been better.

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