Paris and I are back in the kitchen together. This can only mean two things. Beetroot and kale. So here you have it: handmade pasta tinged pink with beetroot juice, stuffed with kale pesto. Kale pesto – hipster, much? But we’re going to embrace it. This is one of the more time-consuming and intricate of mine and Paris’ culinary meanderings, but we’re more grown up now. We’ve been ‘collaborating’ for over a year now – all the way back to that Quinoa Porridge with, you guessed it, beetroot. Therefore, we thought it was high time we pushed the boat out and did something that could definitely be called a recipe, and not just a random selection of ingredients we cobbled together (which usually involved beetroot and/or kale…).
Having ‘worked’ together pretty often now, we have got better at anticipating what each other is thinking when we create the recipe, and seeing in a similar way when we style the shots. I was pretty sure we had an almost identical picture of what the finished shot would look like before I took a single picture. And having another pair of eyes when setting up the shots always helps, as they invariably see new ways of viewing the subject that you’d not considered.
So anyway, back to the pasta. I am not a handmade pasta virgin, in fact I have made it before in the early days of this blog, have a look at the recipe here (and please excuse the shockingly bad photography…). So this is fresh pasta mark II: a more complicated recipe, with better photography. When embarking on pasta making, I always start with the thought that it is going to be so much more hassle than it’s worth, and why didn’t I just go to Sainsbury’s like any normal person? But when I get lost in the hypnotic rhythm of rolling out the dough to a paper-like thinness, and carefully folding the dough around the filling, time passes effortlessly. The final result is a pretty special thing, and always tastes better than I remember – especially as I’m usually pretty hungry by this point. Fresh pasta is something that is greater than the sum of its parts: I find it hard to believe that flour, oil, a few eggs, and in this case a bit of beetroot and glorified cabbage, can make something so amazing. #foodblogwin
This salad is an unashamed plagiarism from a recently acquired cookbook, ‘Persiana’ by Sabrina Ghayour. Packed full of mouth-watering photos of exotic dishes, it’s a firm favourite. Many recipes feature ingredients that I already (somewhat smugly) own, such as sumac. The book is littered with recipes that I have already made more than once, which is rare – I consider a cookbook a success if I make one recipe from it.
I am normally somewhat underwhelmed by rice salads, and almost flicked straight past this one when browsing through the book. However, given that I have a nearly empty box of red rice lurking at the back of my cupboard, I decided to give it a go. It’s safe to say that I needed to seriously reevaluate my view on the matter after making this salad. The balance of sweet and salty is just right, and the colours and textures compliment each other beautifully. There is also a pleasing balance of warm and cold ingredients – chargrilled vegetables and toasted nuts with cold rice and onions – which works well.
Owning more than one type of rice may sound extravagant (at last count I have 3), but red rice is definitely worth tracking down for this recipe. It has a pleasant nutty taste, and retains its attractive maroon colour, even when cooked. It does take a rather long time to cook though, which I always forget, and am left tapping my fork impatiently against the side of the pan, willing it to cook faster. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it, as Sainsbury’s stocks it, proving once and for all that they’re paying attention to the latest hipster food trends. Red rice is staying firmly on my (somewhat hipster) shopping list from now on.
I have little restraint when it comes to food that I can convince myself is healthy. This includes dates, malt loaf and pistachio nuts. Oh and yoghurt-coated apricots. That’s just yoghurt and fruit, right? I recently realised I’ve been spending a small fortune on tiny jars of cashew nut butter, as I scoff down the calorie-dense paste by the spoonful, straight from the jar. I’ve toured round all the different nut butters, including the slightly bizarre apricot kernel butter, and decided that my top two are definitely almond and cashew. But the fact remains that to buy them is horrendously expensive. So I found a recipe and decided to have a bash at making some.
Making my own almond butter wouldn’t be financially viable without Scoop Away, which is an amazing wholefood shop where you literally scoop everything into bags, which is then priced by weight. When I first discovered the shop, I went a bit over the top, buying lots of random things that I had never seen before, such as yoghurt coated honeycomb, in industrial quantities. Even now I visit the shop weekly, and have to reign myself in when faced with the yoghurt- coated section. So I scooped what seemed like a reasonable amount of almonds into a bag, later realising that I had bought over double the quantity needed for the nut butter, having lost all sense of proportion when scooping.
Making almond butter is ludicrously simple. You need a powerful food processor to get the creamy consistency, and simply roast the nuts in the oven for a few minutes, then put them in the food processor and leave them to it. I was convinced that it wasn’t going to work at first, as I just had ground almonds whizzing round the processor bowl for the first ten minutes. But then, suddenly, the oil is released and the almond powder mushes together to form the butter. One of my favourite things to do with the butter (other than eat it straight from the jar) is to stuff pitted Medjool dates with a spoonful, then put them in the fridge to set. In my experience, it’s impossible to eat less than five of these in one sitting.
This is an embarrassingly unoriginal Ottolenghi knock off. I even shamelessly copied the style of the photographs. The recipe is an amalgamation of two different offerings from Yotam’s latest cookbook, ‘Plenty More’. Apart from the dressing, which we cobbled together from random ingredients lurking at the back of the kitchen cupboard, it’s pretty much a dead copy. Which is unusual, as I don’t find myself following recipes much these days. I get too frustrated with following exact measurements and prescriptive methods, and end up disregarding both and producing something that bares little resemblance to the intended dish. One of the hazards of being a food blogger, I guess.
Ottolenghi provides an unstoppable font of inspiration for me. He combines ingredients in ways that I had never even considered (leeks, goats cheese and sultanas, for example) opening up a whole range of new tastes. Also, the methods and techniques of cooking he uses are so varied and interesting that they have me running straight into the kitchen to start experimenting. There’s usually one element of each of his recipes that elevates them to another level – such the addition of a particular spice, usually an unpronounceable Middle Eastern variety that can only be ordered online. I have invested in several Ottolenghi ‘essentials’, such as pomegranate molasses, sumac and za’tar, but don’t ask me what any of them actually are. All I know is that they often provide an elusive final taste to make Middle Eastern specialities taste much more authentic.
The tumeric roasted walnuts in this recipe are an example of the above – a simple ingredient transformed by the addition of a few spices and a different way of cooking. I’ve always considered turmeric a bit of a non-spice, its chief use being the vibrant yellow colour that it imparts. However, roasting walnuts in the spice brings out their sweetness, adding a remarkable depth of flavour. I have since learnt that turmeric is commonly used in sweet dishes, and some folk swear by drinking turmeric tea first thing in the morning. This somewhat fusion recipe combines these walnuts with fresh green veg, sesame seeds and a punchy, vinegary dressing. Hopefully Yotam would approve.
At the moment, I’m loving the chill in the air that signals early Autumn. The leaves are starting to turn, the days are drawing in and there’s already a sense of anticipation about the ‘C’ word. I also want to eat nothing but orange vegetables. Carrots, sweet potato and butternut squash become a staple of my weekly trip to the greengrocers. Most often I roast them with spices such as cumin and cinnamon, but also enjoy them simply boiled and mashed with lots of butter and salt.
Sweet potato is so versatile, being equally at home in sweet and savoury recipes. The unassuming knobbly vegetable lends itself really well to being baked into cakes. Vegetables in cakes is nothing new – if you go beyond the undeniable cliché of carrot cake there’s a whole new world out there. I’ve got a whole cookbook dedicated to cakes which contain all manner of vegetables, from courgette and lemon cakes to aubergine in brownies (yes, really).
My friend Clare and I thought that some gentle Sunday afternoon baking was in order. So we decided to use the sweet potato to make some savoury muffins, utilising the natural sweetness of the vegetable to combine with the sour goats cheese. We used a combination of wholemeal, plain and polenta flour in this recipe, giving the muffins a slightly grainy texture and a more full flavour. But if you don’t want to faff around with this just use plain or wholemeal. The general muffin method is to mix together all the dry and all the wet ingredients and fold one into the other. The highlight for me of making these muffins was mashing the boiled sweet potato together with a frankly obscene amount of butter into a gooey puddle, then eating a sneaky spoonful (or three).
This time of year is my favourite. There is a slight chill in the air, making it the ideal time wear a ‘transition scarf’, yet there is still enough of a whisper of summer left to make the occasional evening unendingly balmy. At around this time every year I take this opportunity to gorge myself on fruit like it’s going out of fashion – so much so that I’m even cajoling it into savoury dishes.
According to the Waitrose catalogue (on which I base a lot of my culinary decisions) one of the best things about this period of time, referred to as late summer, is the abundance of apricots. Paris and I decided to turn to the apricot for our next source of culinary inspiration. Such a versatile little number deserves some attention – so we’re going to experiment with how they can be used in sweet and savoury dishes.
We have discovered the joys of chargrilling fruit, caramelising the natural sugars into blackened lines. This works particularly well with soft stone fruit such as peaches, nectarines and apricots. Brushing a bit of scarlet-red, fiery harissa paste onto the fruit before grilling is a good idea, although it’ll leave a burn in the back of your throat as it cooks. To add to the harissa apricots, we wilted some chard, and piled the whole lot on top of some cous-cous. Not just any cous-cous, mind. Giant cous-cous – also known as maftoul –is, as the name suggests, a bigger, plumper version of the regular variety, with a pleasant nutty taste. The whole thing was finished off with a dollop of yoghurt with some more harissa swirled into it.
I wanted to make something to stave off the inevitable hunger pangs that reliably hit around 4pm everyday. I have started eating fruit when this happens, which helps to a certain extent, but I inevitably also follow it with random handfuls of dried fruit, nuts and seeds. So I decided to combine these into a snack that would give me energy, whilst also being substantial enough to keep me going until dinner. It is also a desperate bid to get rid of a jar of ground mixed seeds that I have hanging around, which I am not particularly fond of – I end up finding small pieces of hemp seed painfully lodged in my gums after sprinkling them on my morning porridge.
I tipped pretty much the entire contents of my food cupboard into these – beginning with oats and mashed banana, then joyfully pouring in the ground seeds, tahini, peanut butter, cashew nuts, ground almonds, and anything else that needed finishing off. I also found some dried sour cherries hidden behind the pasta that I had bought on a whim several months ago, then completely forgotten about. I opened them and discovered, after chomping down on one rather hard, that they still contained their stones. So I spent a rather tedious hour soaking the cherries in boiling water, then popping out each stone individually.
This sort of thing is all the rage among the nutrition and exercise obsessed, who see them as the perfect ‘post-workout’ snack. There are numerous versions of homemade ‘energy bites’ and ‘high-protein snack bars’ out there, with increasingly ridiculous names – the best one I found was ‘healthy almond joy protein bars’. No joke. This version is raw, which gets a whole host of people on board. ‘Raw’ food is seen as superior by its advocates, as cooking is thought to ‘denature proteins’ amongst other evil things. I’m not prepared to jump on that bandwagon just yet (well, never), but I simply wanted to see if everything would stick together without the need to cook it, more out of laziness than health concern. Turns out it did, although they were much easier to shape into balls than press into bars, leading to the dubious name of ‘seed balls’.
Food, for me, is about so much more than something we need to consume to stay alive. It has the power to evoke memory: to immediately transport us back to a particular time or place. Nutella, for example, instantly takes me back to childhood summers spent in France. My friend and I would secretly stuff ourselves with as much fresh baguette smothered with far too much Nutella as we could before our parents caught us.
So Nutella was the inspiration for this mousse. As any Nutella addict will tell you, chocolate and hazelnuts make a good team. I have made many a chocolate mousse in my time, but never tried adding hazelnuts. It makes sense: the earthy sweetness of the roasted hazelnuts complements the dark bitterness of the chocolate. And the occasional crunch from the nuts alongside the velvety smoothness of the mousse is a winner.
I made this to serve at a dinner party for my birthday. It’s ideal for this, as it can be made the day before and left in the fridge to firm up – just remember to take it out of the fridge a little before serving, so that it’s not too cold. We had a mushroom and pesto lasagne, followed by rather ridiculously large helpings of the mousse. We had such a lovely time, so from now on the taste of chocolate mousse will instantly bring me back to that evening.
I have recently upped from the sticks and moved to Bristol. Having lived in a small, and I mean really tiny, village for the past year and a half, living in a city again is exciting. The fact that I can walk to one of many bars just around the corner, have a couple of pints, then walk home again, is a novelty that I’m still getting used to (i.e. doing at every opportunity).
One of my favourite things about exploring a new city is working out all the options when it comes to shopping for food. Luckily, I live near a fantastic road (Gloucester Road, for those in the know), with plenty of brilliant veg shops, butchers, delicatessens and wholefood shops. All you could ever need really. Living near shops is another novelty for a country bumpkin like me, as my nearest shop in Devon is a 15- minute drive away.
It was on one such trip to the veg shop that I found some of this lovely kale. I promptly bought a bag stuffed full of it, and set off home feeling a little smug. I love kale. My love for it preceded the Californian-superfood-make-a-breakfast- smoothie-out-of-it craze. My favourite way to cook it is like this – simply stir-fried with garlic and seasoned with soy sauce. The addition of walnuts is optional – you could use another nut or seed, such as almonds or sunflower seeds, or leave them out entirely. It was just my attempt at making this more of a ‘dish’.
The summer before last, I went to visit some friends in the South-West Peloponnese, a beautiful corner of Greece unspoilt by hoards of tourists. Greek food, whilst being delicious, is rather same-y. I lost count of the variations of chargrilled aubergine dip, tzatziki and moussaka we tried. They were all slightly different, some being much more palatable than others, partly due to how much garlic each chef thought was acceptable.
The dessert of choice, not being presented with many other options, was baklava, a Greek and Turkish concoction made by drenching filo pastry and nuts in an insanely sweet syrup. I became mildly addicted to it, and many balmy evenings were spent hunting down the best. It took me the entirety of the week-long holiday to pronounce ‘baklava’ correctly. The emphasis is on the final syllable ‘va’, rather than the more natural Anglicised stress on the middle ‘k’, so it is said ‘baklava’.
Pronunciation aside, here’s my take on baklava. Some of the best baklava we tried I think used honey in the syrup, rather than acres of sugar, so I’ve tried that here. I chose a mixture of pistachios, almonds and walnuts, but any nuts can be used. It is ridiculously sweet, so you only need small pieces.