I love grains and pulses like quinoa, bulgur wheat and lentils. I’ve always had an appreciation for good food and using interesting ingredients, solidified even more so after painfully watching 3 years-worth of university flatmates religiously eating and buying couscous, pasta and pesto for most meals. So, I thought I’d draw attention to other grains that can offer a little more interest than couscous. Don’t get me wrong, I know couscous is cheap and goes a long way…but its not particularly nutritious. Just by mixing grains like quinoa, bulgur wheat, rice or lentils with a few tasty additions like herbs and lemon with some protein packed nuts and some greasy cheese is a healthy and hearty lunch!
Serves about 2
- About 120g quinoa/bulgur wheat or a mix (or as pack instructs)
- Bunch basil leaves, chopped
- Bunch of mint leaves, chopped
- Bunch coriander, chopped
- 1/2 red onion, diced finely
- 1 large tomato, de-seeded and diced
- Handful of pistachios
- 1 lemon, juice
- Olive oil
- Prepare you quinoa/bulgur wheat (or even couscous?) as instructed on your pack. Usually about 10 minutes in boiling water.
- While still a little warm, mix with the tomato, onion, lemon juice, a small drizzle of olive oil and mix well and season to taste
- Add the herbs and the pistachios and mix.
- If serving with halloumi, fry chunky slices in a splash of oil until golden and serve alongside.
Ok so it’s a tomato-less pizza…don’t shoot me. This was also pointed out by my (notably) satisfied and well fed but rather unjustifiably disappointed dad? A night of using up all ingredients littering the fridge, clinging on for dear life before labouring into town for a weekly food shop. One of my favourite challenges….make something from what you have left. Its a great way to be creative, prevent waste and come up with new ideas! Challenge accepted, I created this. Spinach forced its way into the base while the topping was a mix of mushrooms, lemony ricotta and some lovely fragrant thyme. Give me ready steady cook anyday?
Serves 4 lightly
- 1 mug self raising flour
- 1/2 water
- 100g spinach
- Pinch cumin seeds
- 200g mushrooms, chopped
- Small bunch thyme leaves
- Knob of butter
- 250g ricotta
- 150g mozzarella, sliced
- Handful pine nuts
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Olive oil
- Start on the base. Wilt the spinach in a hot pan with a splash of water. Once wilted, drain and squeeze out as much of the moisture as possible. Chop finely.
- In a food processor, add the flour, cumin seeds, plenty of seasoning and the spinach. Blend together and slowly add the water, stopping when the mixture forms a soft dough. You will need to use your instinct with the amount of water being used.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and knead to form a smooth dough. Put aside to rest.
- Melt the butter and a splash of oil in a hot frying pan and add the mushrooms. Fry over a medium high heat until they have released their juices. Add the thyme leaves and continue to fry until golden. Set aside.
- Loosen the ricotta in a bowl with the juice from 1/2 a lemon and the zest.
- Heat the grill to high. Next, heat a large frying pan over a high heat and add a splash of oil. Roll out the dough thinly and add to the pan pushing into the oil. While the bottom begins to cook and crisp,spoon over the ricotta and spread out evenly. Grate over the lemon zest. Top with the mozzarela and finally the mushrooms. Scatter with the pine nuts and continue to cook the base on the hob until the bottom is beginning to crisp and turn golden (you will need to lift it up now and again to check).
- Once you’re happy with a crispy base, pop under the grill and cook for 8-10 minutes until the top is melted and the rest of the dough and crust has cooked.
- Remove from the grill and devour drizzle with some good quality grassy green extra virgin olive oil.
Another little experiment with some free and slyly foraged chestnuts got underway last week. ‘Bonne Mamma’ currently do a chestnut spread but I’m never one to buy when I can make it at home with a little TLC. I’m keen on making nut butters, particularly my pumpkin seed butter which is now a delicious staple in my fridge.
The fresh vanilla seeds make this and are delicious so don’t scrimp on buying a few willing pods for your pantry.
NOTE: For tips on cooking chestnuts, see here
Makes 1 jar
- About 250g cooked, peeled chestnuts.
- 90ml honey
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds removed
- Pinch salt
- Water to loosen
- Place all in a food processor and blend until smooth, adding water towards the end to thin to your liking.
- Store in sterilised, sealed jars and keep in the fridge.
Delicious slathered by the trowel-full on toasted sourdough or soda bread or inside the warm arms of a buttery croissant!
I decided to re-name this recipe (courtesy of Gordon Ramsay and the local paper) ‘Boy Beer Bread’ because I think it will satisfy some certain requirements. Beer (check), quick to make (check), carb-laden (check) and great with bacon (check). It is not however filled with naked ladies….. sorry (I think?) It is only bread. So, now I’ve crudely stereotyped the male population, here’s the recipe…
Firstly, I will add that its very much like a soda bread in texture and taste. Soda bread usually rises based on the bicarbonate and buttermilk creating some lovely air bubbles but here the beer was enough to make a risen loaf. I was a little worried so added a pinch of bicarb too but Ramsey doesn’t feel the need so feel free to leave it out.
- 175g self raising flour
- 75g wholemeal raising flour
- 250ml beer/lager
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of bicarbonate of soda
- Milk to brush the top
- Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease and line a loaf tin.
- Place the flour, bicarb and salt into a bowl. Add the beer, mixing while you pour until combined with few lumps (it will be runny though don’t panic)
- Fill the loaf tin with the mixture and bake for 30 minutes. After this, brush with milk and scatter with a little flour. remove from the tin and place directly on the wire rack in the oven and cook for a future 10 minutes or so until cooked through, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
- Leave to cool.
I suggest serving slathered with salted butter, ketchup and greasy smoked bacon or cheese…oh and with beer, no?
I am really not a pasta fan. I rarely eat the stuff. However, I’ve been intrigued to try these little rice-like orzo for a while now. So tonight was the night. Fried with some potted crab, mixed with some fresh lemon which was delicious and as welcome as a priest at a wedding here, scattered with fresh herbs like confetti on a bride. Please excuse the wedding metaphors. The Great British Bake Off final has just finished and the ultimate challenge was wedding cakes….
I served mine with some crispy fried seabass fillets, one of my favourites of the fish world, and some wilted spinach and peas for freshness. See what you think.
- 160g orzo pasta
- Up to 60g potted crab in spices (I used the 57g pot of ‘Seafood & Eat It’ potted crab) Or use fresh crab- even better!
- Large handful parsley, chopped finely
- Large handful chives, chopped finely
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 2 seabass fillets
- Boil the pasta in salted water for about 7 minutes until cooked.
- While cooking, fry the crab in a little hot oil for a few minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving a splash of the cooking water, and while still loose and warm, add to the frying crab and stir to combine.
- Add a splash of the cooking water if dry.
- Add the herbs, the lemon zest, seasoning and the juice of the lemon.
5. Keep warm while you fry the fish. Season the fillets and score the skin to stop it from curling in the pan.
6. Fry in a little hot oil for about 3 minutes, skin side down until mostly cooked. Finish on the other side for a final few minutes. Add a knob of butter to the pan and let brown while basting the fish. Serve on top of the orzo with some wilted spinach and peas.
People often ask me where I get inspiration from for the recipes I blog. This one was unusually the Costa Coffee queue. Whilst waiting for my coffee at the counter I saw a giant bourbon and custard cream for sale. It seems these are the latest fad- giant confectionery which had me pondering that surely they are just the same as 5 normal biccies…? Anyway, its Autumn…chestnuts are littering my parents Wiltshire lawn like an unkept golf course so I thought I’d tackle not only the challenge of making something with them but with the challenge of making something sweet that wouldn’t get my mum rolling her eyes…
FYI. If I’d had a willing bottle of bourbon to hand I definitely would have added a splash to the filling instead of milk!
Makes about 15
- 75g raw chestnuts (of precooked vac-packed)
- 85g dark soft brown sugar
- 75g softened unsalted butter
- 110g plain flour
- 1/8 tsp baking powder
- Cocoa to dust
- 100g butter, softened
- 85g icing sugar
- 20g cocoa powder
- 1 tsp milk
- Start by cooking the chestnuts. Score a large cross on the base of each with a knife. Place in a saucepan of water and bring to the boil and boil fast for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Drain and you should find the skin is easy to peel off.
- Place in a food processor and blend to a paste with the sugar. Add the butter and puree. Add the flour and baking powder and blend to form a smooth ball of dough.
- Form into a disc shape, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 150°C . Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut into whatever shape you like, just short of 1cm thick. Place on a lined baking tray and sieve over a sprinkling of cocoa powder.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until cooked and golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
- Next, place the butter, icing sugar and cocoa in a food processor and blend. Add the milk and blend until you have a thick buttercream adding more milk for a thinner consistency.
- When the biscuits are cooled, spoon a teaspoon of the chocolate filling onto one biscuit half and sandwich with another.
I absolutely love halloumi and seem to eat it for the majority of my lunches. Served on salad, in couscous, with lentils or stuffed between the warm toasted arms of a fluffy pitta and some punchy herbs its always welcome. The weather today was shockingly poor but I fancied salad regardless. This is a fresh and satisfying one if your stuck for inspiration…
- 1 little gem
- A few large handfuls of mixed leaves -rocket, watercress, spinach
- Small bunch of coriander, chopped
- 2 slicks celery, sliced thinly on diagonal
- Handful pistachios
- 1/2 red onion, sliced in half moons
- 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 slice stale bread, cubed (sourdough works best)
- 1 tsp spice mix (see note), optional
- 200g approx halloumi cheese, sliced
- Place the red onion slices in a shallow bowl and cover with the red wine vinegar and 1 tsp of salt.
- Pick the outer leaves from the little gems and cut the heart into quarters. Mix together in a large serving bowl with the salad leaves, coriander, celery, pistachios and seasoning.
- Heat a frying pan until hot. Add a small splash of oil and fry the halloumi slices for a few minutes each side until golden brown. Remove and drain on kitchen roll and set aside
- Add the cubed bread to the hot pan with a little more oil if needed. Season and scatter with the spice mix (alternatively, use a tsp of cumin seed, fennel seed or like etc). Toast until golden and crisp.
- Dress the salad with the lemon juice and a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil. Drain the red onions and scatter on top.
- Serve scattered with your warm toasted croutons and fried halloumi!
NOTE: My spice mix contains the following spices, toasted in a hot frying pan until fragrant and ground in a pestle and mortar.
- 1 tbsp fennel seed
- 1 tbsp cumin seed
- 1 tbsp coriander seed
- 1 tbsp fenugreek seed
- 1 tbsp mustard seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
- 3 cardamon pods
- 1 star anise
This is another gem of a recipe that I’d hungrily bookmarked too long ago from a fairly vintage and thumbed copy of Vogue’s ‘Entertaining and Travel’. Being unavailable in the UK, I’ve only a prized handful of these gorgeous and teasing magazines from a friends visits to Dubai. However, the recipes are a pleasing port of call for inspiration and I shall attribute the belated testing of this recipe to ‘savouring’ of my limited supply.
With a punnet of figs putting on a brave face in the face of an over-ripe death sitting safely in the fridge it seemed like an Autumn pleaser. With the added bonus that I ADORE anything with coconut it certainly was pleasing…
Makes 1 large tart (or use smaller ones if preferred)
- 225g plain flour
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- 125g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
- 1 egg
- 200g desiccated coconut
- 300ml weak, cooled tea
- 5 eggs
- 220g caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Grated zest 1 lemon
- 100g dark chocolate, chopped (Min 70%)
- 6 figs
- Honey to glaze
- Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease and line a 26cm, deepish tart tin.
- For the pastry, place the butter, flour and icing sugar in food processor and blend until you get a breadcrumb-like texture (or rub together by hand). Add the beaten egg and combine until you form a smooth dough, being gentle when handling. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Roll the chilled pastry onto a floured surface and line the greased tart tin. Place on a baking tray and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Line with baking paper and fill generously with baking beans and bake blind for 15-20 minutes until the edges are a light golden. Remove the beans and return to the oven to allow the base to cook and turn pale gold. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
- Reduce the oven to 170°C.
- Place the coconut in a large bowl and cover with the tea. Whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla and lemon together in another bowl before adding the soaked coconut.
- Scatter the chopped chocolate over the base of the pastry case and top with the coconut-egg filling.
- Bake for about 30-35 minutes until set and golden. Leave to cool in the tin.
- Slice the figs into circles and place on top of the cooled tart in concentric circles. Warm a few tbsps of runny honey in a sauce pan and use a pastry brush to glaze the figs. Scatter with more coconut and serve with a large spoonful of lime/lemon scented mascarpone if you like!
So I’m not going to lie, this was an experiment that I’ve been meaning to try since I wrote it down on my ‘to cook’ dissertation-style list/essay. It was successful but only after much cursing, trial and error and some kitchen instinct. So…tackle as you may but be prepared to get cross. I essentially used an orange polenta cookie recipe (see here) that I have previously made which is crumbly and delicious, as the ‘tart case’ instead of pastry. Sounds simple, you’re right. then fill with chocolate orange ganache….! I lined some mini greased tart tins with the mixture and baked. However, there was a tendency for it to melt into a big pool….I used the bottom of a ramekin to push the mixture down but baking beans and parchment may have been a good shout. The mixture type does have the tendency to crisp up and harden when it cools so keep hope.
Makes 9 mini tarts.
- 85g unsalted butter, cubed
- 85g caster sugar
- 130g polenta
- 50g plain flour
- Zest 1 orange
- 1 egg
- 150ml cream
- 150g Green & Blacks orange chocolate
- Firstly, read above for technical details before starting. Preheat the oven to 190°C and grease about 9 small tart cases.
- Rub the butter into the polenta, flour and sugar until combined. Add the orange zest.
- Mix in the egg thoroughly and chill for 1 hour, covered, in the fridge.
- Now, use handfuls or the mixture to press and line the well-greased tart tins to form a nice case up the sides and over the base. The mixture is fairly greasy too so it shouldn’t stick on baking. I didn’t, but line with parchment and baking beans and bake from anywhere between 20-30 minutes (helpful, sorry)- the mixture may melt down the sides but press it up to create a case. Remove the beans once the edges have begun to turn light gold and crisp and bake for a few more minutes until the cases are set.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack until really cold.
- While cooling, make the ganache. Simply bring the cream to near boil in a pan and then stir in the chopped chocolate and mix until melted.
- Leave to cool a little before spooning generously into the tart cases. Cover and chill for about 4 hours until set.
- Enjoy with a large dollop of cleansing creme fraiche and a grimace if this was a pain to make. Like I said it was an experiment!
NOTE: If the polenta casing was not for you, feel free to use a normal shortcrust pastry, spiked with orange zest or add a little polenta for crispness. You can also add marmalade or an orange curd to the base before pouring over the ganache which would be interesting…!?