Category Archives: Comfort Food

Chicken, Bacon and Cannellini Bean Stew

Chicken Bacon and Cannellini Bean stew

I returned home from holiday last Thursday with a lot of good intentions. I would swim every day! Eat more vegetables! Buy more warm clothes! Stop worrying about work! Finally get around to uninstalling Kim Kardashian: Hollywood from my phone! (Seriously, that thing is a bloody time sink), blog more! While I’ve not exactly kicked these bold statements of intent to the kerb, I’ve certainly nudged a fair few of them out of sight. But my promise to myself to blog more keeps pinging back up like a stray piece of fringe and hitting me in the face. Which means I should probably try to do something about it.

While I’ve not exactly fallen out of love with food blogging, I’d be lying if I said that my relationship with it hasn’t cooled out slightly. I think back to the halcyon days of 2012 where I was writing here every week and dearly wish I could get that spark back. It’s not so much that I haven’t been inspired, more that I haven’t been arsed to put aside the minutes and hours required to take pictures of my dinner and write stories about it. Perhaps blogging and I need to go on a dirty weekend somewhere and rediscover each other. 

As it is, I’m back for now, and I’m going to do my damnedest to keep the spark alive. So, here’s a stew I threw together on a Monday evening in late Summer when I should have been doing something more worthwhile such as going out for a run, swimming 50 lengths or reading improving literature. Combining chicken thighs (a vastly underrated cut of meat), bacon and a whole heap of vegetables I found moldering away at the bottom of my fridge, this is a stew which comes together in an hour, makes enough to feed a small army and freezes beautifully. I used carrots and green beans as those were the ones I had to hand, but I know that this also works well with various root vegetables (such as turnips or butternut squash.) The cannellini beans add a nice bit of starch and help to thicken the sauce which is so delicious  you could happily lap it up with a spoon. 

I’m not sure if this is a stew fit to cure my blogger’s block. But I suppose it’s as good a place to start as any other.

CHICKEN, BACON AND CANNELLINI BEAN STEW (Serves Four)

You will need:

  • 4 chicken thighs (preferably with the skin still attached, as I think that the fat rendered from the skin gives the dish a real hit of flavour)
  • 4 rashers of good quality bacon, chopped into chunks
  • 1 medium sized onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 medium sized glass of white wine (roughly 200ml)
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
  • 2 – 3 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 large handful of green beans, topped, tailed and sliced in half
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Make It!

  • Preheat your oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Season the chicken thighs well with salt and pepper. 
  • Heat up a good glug of olive oil in a flameproof casserole dish. Place the chicken thighs skin side down, and fry until golden. Transfer to a plate and remove the skin if you wish. Add the bacon to the pot and fry until it is beginning to turn crisp. Add the sliced onion, and continue to cook for five minutes until the onions turn soft.
  • Stir in the flour, and cook out until the flour is fully incorporated into the fat. Add the wine, the stock and the herbs and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper if required. Return the chicken thighs to the pot, along with the sliced chunks of carrot. Cover, and place in the oven.
  • Pour yourself a glass of wine. Drink it. This should take you roughly half an hour or so, by which point it’s time to check your casserole. Add the drained cannellini beans and sliced green beans. Cover, and place back in the oven for another half an hour. Pour yourself another glass of wine. (Try not to kill time by calling your parents and getting distracted while your Dad tells you about his new Disabled Person’s railcard.)
  • The casserole is done when the chicken thighs are cooked through. The green beans and cannellini beans should still be firm to the bite. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. 

Eggs poached with n’duja, peppers and tomatoes

N'duja

A lovely lump of N’duja. Yes, I know my infills need doing.

Spreadable sausage. Like chocolate cheese, jeggings or Texas ft. Method Man, it’s not really a concept that your brain initially warms to. There feels something faintly 1980s and unhygienic about it, redolent of unwashed lunchboxes and bouts of salmonella poisoning. Then, I discovered N’duja. N’duja is the Calabrian form of salami; a spicy, spreadable treat made from various parts of the pig, roast peppers and a lot of bright red spices. I bought a gigantic lump of the stuff recently during a trip to Salvi’s Mozzarella Bar in Manchester (along with beautifully bright mini bottles of campari and soda, and a lump of smoked mozzarella which I covered in rock salt and ate guiltily in my pyjamas as a midnight snack) and since then have been adding it to everything from pasta to toast. I’ve even been known to cut off hunks of the stuff and eat it with my fingers, because a) that’s the kind of thing I do, and b) I really can’t be left alone with pork products.

So, on a night where the worst storm of the year is slicing through the North West, I decided to use it to create a warm, spicy, porcine spin on an old favourite, Shakshuka. Hunks of n’duja are fried in sizzling oil; along with onions, garlic, and sweet red pepper (after all, woman cannot live on pork alone.) I added a spinkle of cumin and smoked paprika to the mixture for a touch of warmth and spice – this is a dish which can handle it after all. Add some eggs and a large handful of chopped coriander, and you’ve got the perfect Winter’s meal; one which is healthy, tasty, quick and – most importantly – full of pork. What more could a person want?

Eggs poached with n'duja peppers and tomatoes

EGGS POACHED WITH N’DUJA, PEPPERS AND TOMATOES (Serves two)

You will need:

  • 1 thumb sized lump of n’duja
  • 1 medium sized onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 medium sized red pepper, sliced thinly
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 4 medium sized eggs
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A fistful of fresh coriander to garnish
  • A medium sized frying pan (with lid) or saucepan

Make It!

  1. Remove the n’duja from its casing, and fry in a tablespoon of oil until it has broken up, and the oil has turned a rich red colour.
  2. Add the sliced onions and red pepper, and fry for 2 – 3 minutes until soft. Throw in the garlic, and fry for another minute.
  3. Sprinkle the ground  cumin and smoked paprika over the mixture, and mix to combine. Pour in the tinned tomatoes and simmer for five minutes until the mixture has thickened. Season with the salt and pepper.
  4. Using a wooden spoon, make small wells in the tomatoes, and crack in the eggs. Cover the pan, and cook for five minutes until the whites have set.
  5. Sprinkle with the fresh coriander, and serve immediately. This goes really well with wholemeal pitta breads, or freshly baked soda bread.
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Chocolate Cobbler

Chocolate Cobbler mix

If you are anything like me, two thoughts will immediately occur to you when you first hear the phrase ‘chocolate cobbler’ – a) What’s a chocolate cobbler? and b) just how quickly can I get my hands on a chocolate cobbler? You may also find yourself repeating the phrase chocolate cobbler so many times that it begins to lose all meaning. That’s understandable, particularly when you discover that it is an oozing molten morass of chocolate goo with the consistency of a muddy bog and the taste of the best chocolate pudding you’ll ever find yourself guiltily eating the leftovers of for breakfast (not that I would know.)

Strictly speaking, this isn’t really a cobbler, as a cobbler traditionally tends to contain fruit or a pastry crust.  It’s more a self saucing pudding (a terminology which I always imagine being uttered by someone like Fanny Craddock in faux genteel tones) which means you crack through a layer of baked demerara sugar and butterscotch to reveal a steaming ocean of hot whisky-scented chocolate sauce. Why whisky you ask? Well, because when I was making this I discovered that I’d run of vanilla essence, so decided to put a shot of the hard stuff in there instead. And because I believe that most things work better when you stick a shot of spirits inside them. I imagine it would also work quite well with Tia Maria or Kahlua if your tastes run more towards the coffee side of things.

This is not a genteel pudding, or indeed a pudding which can be photographed beautifully and artistically (all of my attempts to take a picture of it in a bowl ended up making it look like a dirty protest.) However, it’s incredibly simple to make, infinitely adaptable (I used butterscotch chips here, but I imagine it would also work very well with sour cherries or bourbon soaked apricots) and – best of all – fantastic to eat. Happy cobblin’.

Chocolate cobbler

CHOCOLATE COBBLER (Serves 3)

Adapted from The Kitchn

You will need:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g white granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsps cocoa powder, divided
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 shot of freshly brewed espresso (or 1 tsp espresso powder)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 100ml full fat milk
  • 100g melted unsalted butter
  • 1 shot of whisky (Black Grouse or Jameson’s would work well here – if you prefer to keep it teetotal, substitute for 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 75g demerara sugar
  • 150g butterscotch chips
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Make it!

  1. Preheat oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. Lightly grease a medium-sized baking dish.
  2. Combine the flour, white sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl. In another bowl whisk together the milk, espresso, melted butter, and whisky. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine (the batter will be thick.) Pour into the prepared baking dish.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the demerara sugar and remaining tablespoon and a half of cocoa powder. Sprinkle the sugar-cocoa mixture evenly over the batter, followed by the butterscotch chips. Pour some boiling water over the top of the mixture until it is fully covered, but do not stir.
  4. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and cook for 40 minutes, until the center is jiggly and just barely set. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving warm with vanilla ice cream.
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‘And then I ate a big sandwich’ – A date with a Francesinha

A Francesinha

There are few things in life that cannot be improved by the addition of a big sandwich. Having a bad day? Eat a big sandwich. So drunk that you had a bit of a ‘disco nap’ on a big sofa in the pub while accidentally revealing your knickers to the world? (NOT THAT I HAVE EVER DONE THIS OF COURSE) Alleviate your crippling embarrassment by eating a big sandwich. So hungover that it feels as though a hungry hungry hippo is rampaging around your skull and you never want to see daylight again? Hell yeah, you need a big sandwich. So convinced am I by this theory I’ve decided that, if I ever write an autobiography, I’m going to name it: ‘And then I ate a big sandwich’. It just fits.

So, when Mr. McMc’s Portuguese colleague invited us out for a francesinha a few weeks ago, I responded to her email so quickly that I think I gave my wrist whiplash. For the uninitiated, a francesinha comprises two pieces of toasted sandwich bread filled with three different kinds of meat – ham, linguica (cured sausage seasoned with garlic and smoked paprika) and thinly cut steak. This is smothered in melted cheese and a tomato-beer sauce, served with fries and washed down with lots of Super Bock. (Apparently francesinha means ‘little Frenchy’ in Portuguese, as it is adapted from the French croque monsieur. This explains its etymology in a bit more detail.)  It is immense, it is intense, and in Portugal it is the kind of meal you eat before you go out dancing all night. How could I say no?

I admit, before I tried one for myself, I was slightly worried it was going to be the kind of gut bomb that lies heavily on your stomach and sinks you into a state of epic lethargy. I spent my day prepping for the event in the way that a prize fighter trains for a bout – no carbs, lots of water, a gigantic salad for lunch and no snacks (if you don’t count the revolting strawberry fondant chocolate I misguidedly ate for elevenses). I even refused the offer of bread and olives when I arrived at the restaurant. This was a decidedly GO HARD OR GO HOME situation.

Open face Francesinha

The Francesinha money shot

When my francesinha arrived, it didn’t look like much – just a cheese toastie swimming in sea of tomato sauce. Then I opened it for the money shot and saw the meat. SO MUCH MEAT. Put it this way – if one slice of bacon a day is enough to cause cancer, then eating this has probably shaved a good five years off my life. My favourite component was (perhaps unsurprisingly) the linguica sausage. Grilled to perfection, it snapped pleasingly to the bite, releasing huge bursts of smoky garlic flavour. I could happily have eaten a sandwich made with just that and nothing else. I wasn’t so keen on the steak – it was slightly overcooked (probably from being covered with the sauce) making it a bit tough for my liking. While this is a ‘sandwich’, it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can pick up with your hands. You end up sawing great hunks of the thing off with a knife and fork and eating them in delightfully messy, oozing bites – the rich fatty hit of the meat being offset by the sharpness of the tomato-beer sauce. And, in a fit of inspiration, I decided to be really dirty by sticking the accompanying fries in between the slices of bread for some full-on carb-on-meat-on-carb action.

Lovely lovely Super Bock

A few tasty Super Bock’s to wash it all down with

Despite all my fears, once I’d eaten my francesinha, I immediately wanted another one. I also understood why Portuguese people delight in eating one before they go dancing – after one of these, it feels as though you could take on anything (and I imagine they work brilliantly as a booze sponge). As it was, I had to alleviate my cravings with lots of Super Bock, a few glugs of Portuguese dessert wine, and many, many pasteis de natas (small Portuguese custard tarts). But I’ll be back to take it on again at some point in the (near) future. After all, it’s a big sandwich. And life is always better when you know where the next big sandwich is coming from.

I ate my francesinha at Café Porto on Rodney Street, Liverpool. However, if you want one, you do need to call and request it in advance.

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Lentil, Butternut Squash & Carrot Shepherd’s Pie

Green Lentils

God bless lentils, the small nubbly saviours of my student years. Back when I lived in halls (which is longer now than I care to admit), I used to live off gigantic bags of red and green lentils that I’d buy from the local health food store for £1. They went in pretty much everything I cooked – curries, stews, and – on one notable occasion – into a sauce made out of half a jar of sweet-and-sour-flavoured ‘Chicken Tonight.’ (Pro tip: don’t ever do this. It was possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever made.) By the time I graduated, I never ever wanted to see a lentil again, let alone contemplate the idea of actually making something edible out of them.

However, now I am an adult with a job which provides me with enough income to stop living off 20p instant noodles and Strongbow, I have come to reappreciate these lovely, protein-rich little flying saucers. I’m trying to eat less carbohydrates at the moment, and puy lentils go with practically everything you have in your cupboards – from chicken thighs to rich tomato sauces. They’re the kind of thing that it’s always good to have on hand, particularly in these dog days of Winter where it feels as though the sun will never shine again.

Lentil, Butternut Squash and Carrot Shepherds Pie (Lentil shot)

While at first glance this Lentil, Butternut Squash and Carrot Shepherd’s Pie looks like something that you might find in a vegetarian cookbook from the 1970s, it’s actually a joy to both make and eat. Puy lentils are simmered with winter vegetables, oats, herbs and a good glug of wine until their innards turn creamy and pop in your mouth with a delightful hit of umami. The mixture is topped with a creamy roasted butternut squash and carrot mash which is velvet smooth from being combined with creme fraiche and a good dollop of butter. This is healthy comfort food at its finest, a meal which sticks to your ribs and hugs your insides. Lentils may be cheap, but they’re definitely not just for skint students.

Lentil, Butternut Squash and Carrot Shepherds Pie

LENTIL, BUTTERNUT SQUASH & CARROT SHEPHERD’S PIE (Makes 4 portions)

Adapted from The Kitchn

You will need:

For the butternut squash & carrot mash

  • 1 large butternut squash, cut into chunks
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 4 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp dried sage
  • Salt & Pepper to season

For the filling

  • 150g puy (green) lentils
  • 50g porridge oats
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 punnet of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced into chunks
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 175ml vegetable stock
  • A good glug of red wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • A large handful of chopped fresh parsley

Make It!

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°C/Gas Mark 6. Drizzle the butternut squash chunks with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour until soft to the touch. (make sure you don’t get distracted by Pointless and forget about them like I did.) Leave to cool, then peel. Boil your carrots with a pinch of salt for 10-15 minutes until they are soft and slightly mushy. Drain, and mash with the peeled butternut squash chunks, creme fraiche and butter. Add the sage, season with salt & pepper and taste. Once everything is to your liking, put the mash to one side until ready to use.
  2. In a medium pot, combine the lentils, oats, bay leaf and a pinch of salt. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until lentils are soft (but not mushy!) Be sure to stir the mixture occasionally to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan. Discard the bay leaf and drain the mixture into a sieve.
  3. While the lentils and oats are cooking, warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook until soft. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything begins to turn soft. Add the lentil and oat mixture, followed by the vegetable stock, wine, tomato paste, soy sauce, smoked paprika, and parsley. Taste and season if needed. Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes until it has thickened.
  4. Evenly spread the lentil mixture into large baking dish. Spoon the butternut squash and carrot mash over the lentils, and smooth with a fork. Bake at 200°C/Gas Mark 4 for 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling at the edges. Serve with green vegetables and a glass of red wine.
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Butternut Squash Lasagne

Butternut Squash

Ah, January. The month where it seems everyone has succumbed to the siren calls of diets, detoxing and temperance in a futile bid to wash all of the bad habits out of their systems. Whenever I go online at the moment, I’m met with calls to give up alcohol for an entire month (I’m looking at you here Facebook – you’ll pry my beloved red wine from my cold dead hands) and embrace living on 500 calories a day while whipping up a delicious ‘Winter Salad’ (ingredients: leftover sprouts and crystallised misery). As you may have guessed, I have no truck with this mass display of puritanism. After all, January is the most miserable month of the year – 31 days of darkness, biting cold and abject skintness. Why shouldn’t we all indulge in a little bit of unbridled hedonism? It’s either that or go to the gym.

Butternut Squash Lasagne

I would like to think that this Butternut Squash Lasagne goes some way towards mollifying people’s urge for a healthy meal that is comforting and (most importantly) COVERED IN CHEESE. I’ve taken a fairly standard lasagne recipe and subbed the pasta sheets for huge hunks of butternut squash, which – when roasted – becomes wonderfully soft, earthy and sweet. If you’re baulking at the idea of sticking turkey in a bolognese sauce, well, it’s your loss, but it can easily be substituted with lean beef mince.

So, the next time you’re looking forlornly out of your office window wondering if there’s anything you can have for dinner that’s nutritious but doesn’t contain kale, why not treat yourself to a gigantic pile of butternut squash lasagne? It tastes much better than a Weight Watchers Ready Meal and serves as a reminder that healthy eating doesn’t mean depriving yourself of the occasional hunk of melted mozzarella.

Butternut Squash Lasagne Portion

Trust me, it tastes better than it looks.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH LASAGNE (Makes four portions)

You will need:

For the Turkey Bolognese

  • 200g turkey mince
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ tsp rosemary
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 1 bay leaf

For the bechamel sauce

  • 1 pint of milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g plain flour

For the lasagne

  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 250g ricotta
  • 150g mozzarella

Make It!

  1. Heat your oven to 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Make your turkey bolognese: Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sized saucepan and brown the turkey mince in batches. Set to one side. Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the pan, and cook your diced onion, celery, and carrot for around five minutes until they begin to turn soft. Add the tomato paste and diced garlic and gently cook for another 30 seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes, rosemary, oregano and bay leaves, season with salt and pepper, then simmer the sauce for half an hour until it has thickened. You don’t want it to be too thin, as then it will make everything horribly watery.
  3. While your bolognese is simmering, make the bechamel sauce: Place the milk in a large non-stick saucepan, add the bay leaves and nutmeg and bring to a gentle simmer. In a separate saucepan melt the butter and add the flour. Beat well and cook for two minutes. Remove the milk from the heat and add a little to the flour mixture. Combine well, and when all the milk has been absorbed, add a little more. Keep doing this until all the milk has been added, whisking continually. By the end, you should have a smooth, lump-free sauce.
  4. Assemble your masterp  iece: Spoon a third of the bechamel sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish. Add a layer of butternut squash chunks and a handful of crumbled ricotta. Follow this with a layer of the turkey bolognese sauce. Repeat until all of the ingredients have been used up, and top with chunks of torn mozzarella.
  5. Cover the casserole dish with a lid (or some foil) and bake at 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 4 for 30 minutes. Then, remove the lid/foil and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes. The lasagne is done when the cheese has turned brown and bubbly, and the butternut squash is soft.
  6. Serve with a green salad and a glass of wine.
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Herbed Parsnip Risotto

Parsnips

I’ve always had a bit of an antagonistic relationship with Christmas. Throughout December, the festive season and I eye each other with suspicion, circling each other like hawks as I desperately scour the internet attempting to figure out what to buy my loved ones (not for me the anguished Christmas-Eve dash around my local shopping centre. I’m still scarred from the time I did that the world’s worst post-office-Christmas-party-hangover back in 2006.) Then, I finally relent and give into the glow of bad jumpers, unsatisfying mince pies and an unending chorus of ‘Wonderful Christmastime.’ This year, I know the exact time and date I will be filling myself full of Christmas cheer – 12.00pm on Friday when I finish work for two whole glorious weeks. During this period, I intend to do nothing apart from lie on my sofa watching the Darts, pickling myself in good wine and stuffing myself full of the finest pork products. Andy Williams was right – Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.

Until then, I am frantically trying to use up all the leftover odds and ends in my fridge so I can stuff it full of cheese and cheap Prosecco. Last night, I found two shrivelled looking parsnips huddling together at the bottom of my vegetable box, so decided to use them as part of a tasty risotto. Parsnip risotto may sound a bit odd, but I’ve seen Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall make a dish similar to this, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. As it is, the parsnips are caramelised in a mixture of butter and olive oil until they turn brown, soft and sweet. Rice is toasted, wine is added, and chicken stock slowly ladled in until you’re left with a large bowl of soft melting comfort, flecked through with tiny green dashes of rosemary and thyme.

This risotto is the perfect thing to make if you’re looking to use up any leftover Christmas vegetables. Yes, it may look a bit pale and wan, but pale food can be interesting too. Besides, (wo)man can’t live on handfuls of Celebrations and turkey sandwiches alone this festive season. Merry Christmas. 

Herbed Parsnip Risotto

HERBED PARSNIP RISOTTO (Serves Two)

You will need:

  • Two medium sized parsnips, peeled and cut into rounds the thickness of a pound coin
  • Two shallots (the small round ones, not the banana ones), peeled and diced
  • Three cloves of garlic, diced
  • 200g Arborio rice
  • One glass of Italian white wine
  • 1.5 pints of good quality chicken stock, heated
  • 1 tsp Rosemary (preferably fresh, but don’t worry if you’ve only got the dried stuff)
  • 1/2 tsp Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper to season
  • A healthy amount of parmesan, to serve

Make It!

  1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter in a heavy bottomed pan. Sauté the parsnips over a gentle heat for three minutes until they are beginning to brown at the edges.
  2. Add the chopped shallots and garlic, and cook for another two minutes. Once everything is soft,  add the Arborio rice to the pan, and coat in the mixture. Allow the rice toast lightly for a minute until it begins to turn translucent.
  3. Pour in the glass of wine, and stir until fully incorporated. Then, add the hot stock, ladleful by ladleful, until it is all adsorbed and the rice is creamy and tender. Don’t be afraid to keep stirring the pan and tasting the mixture during this process, seasoning where appropriate.
  4. Stir in the rosemary, thyme and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately with the rest of the wine.
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Aubergine and Chickpea Stew

In times of stress, I crave comfort food.  When adrenalin courses through my veins and my heart beats a tattoo against my ribs, my stomach roars and swells at the thought of all those foods which have seen me through the most difficult periods of my life. The chicken soup with matzo balls my Bubbie made for me after I was stung by a jellyfish when I was five.  The ramen noodles with dashes of soy sauce I’d inhale when I was a student and living off 50p a day. The lamb hotpot my Dad would serve up when I was cold, lonely and depressed, and the world felt like a very cruel place indeed.  Right now, as I hurtle towards my wedding with the speed of Usain Bolt hurtling down an athletics track (only two weeks to go!)  I find myself craving the food equivalent of a bearhug – steamed puddings, pies, crumpets laden with melted cheese. Wedding diets be damned, I’d rather be curing my hen night hangover with a giant burger than a macrobiotic wholegrain salad.

And then there’s my old steadfast. Stew. I could go on at length about how much I love making stew – that relaxing art of chopping everything you can find, dumping it into a pot with some stock and tomatoes and letting it all bubble away for a few hours. Stew is the ultimate hug in a bowl, irrespective of what that chemically-laden-upstart Cup-a-Soup may tell you. And while it may not be the most seasonal of suppers considering the unexpected dose of Summer we’re experiencing at the moment,  it is one of the tastiest, simplest and most satisfying.

This Aubergine and Chickpea Stew sees silky, meaty aubergines paired with chickpeas, crunchy fried onions and the warming hit of cinnamon and cumin. I’d like to think that it’s influenced more by Morocco than ‘what I found at the back of my fridge’. It goes really well served over couscous, or just on its own with a healthy dollop of natural yoghurt on top. Best of all, it’s just the thing to chase the Summertime blues away – regardless of whether you’re getting married or not.

AUBERGINE AND CHICKPEA STEW (Makes three large portions)

You will need:

  • 1 large aubergine, diced into chunks
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds (you can use ground cumin if you like, but I prefer the flavour you get from toasted cumin seeds)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to season

To garnish

  • A handful of chopped mint leaves
  • A handful of chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 onion, sliced into rounds

Make It!

  1. Season your aubergines and fry them for five minutes or so. Feel free to add more olive oil if needed (the aubergines will soak it up like a sponge). Once the aubergines have turned soft, add a touch more oil, and sauté the garlic cloves until they turn brown at the edges.
  2. Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan for thirty seconds until you can just begin to smell them (take care not to burn them!) Grind them to a powder in a pestle and mortar, and add them to the pan along with the cinnamon and chilli flakes. Cook your spices for 30 seconds. Add the tinned tomatoes and chickpeas, cover the saucepan with a lid, and simmer for twenty – twenty five minutes.
  3. While the stew is simmering, fry the onions in a tablespoon of olive oil until they have turned brown, caramelised and slightly crunchy at the edges. Take the stew off the heat and serve garnished with the crispy onions, chopped mint and coriander. This goes really well with warm pitta bread, or couscous flavoured with saffron.
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Spiced Apple Crumble with Butterscotch Sauce

If you’ve ever listened to Tom Ravenscroft’s show on Radio 6 (a course of action which I highly recommend by the way), you’ll know that he occasionally plays a song about crumble. “Everybody’s good at cooking something/and I’m good at cooking crumble,” it cheerily proclaims. It is possibly the best – and only – crumble dedicated song that I’ve ever heard  (as well as a massive earworm) and one that I always find myself humming whenever I assemble flour and butter into a tasty crumbly topping. For, as you may have guessed if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m quite fond of a good crumble.

However, I have a bit of a confession to make. While I’m a bit of a pro at making crumbles which feature vegetables and meat, or cakes with are topped with crunchy cinnamon crumbly bits, prior to making this, I’d never actually made a fruit crumble. I know. Blame it on my deprived childhood. My parents packed me off to Girl’s Brigade instead of Brownies.  Every time I hear someone talk about Brownies, it always involves them reminiscing about cooking lessons which involves being taught how to lovingly pull piping hot batches of baked fruit treats out of an Aga. Whereas us Girls Brigade types weren’t really trusted to be around open flames, leading us to have to be content with making  industrial amounts of Coconut Ice.  While my peers were climbing trees to gain merit badges while wearing jaunty yellow sweatshirts, I was figure marching around a drafty church hall dressed in possibly the world’s most unflattering polyester blazer-and-skirt combo.

So, when I was gripped by the idea of making a Spiced Apple Crumble with Butterscotch sauce on the first Sunny day we’ve had all Summer, I rolled up my sleeves and finally decided to lose my fruit crumble virginity. And, while it was good, it wasn’t quite right. Yes, the crumble was crunchy and spicy in all the right places. And yes, the butterscotch sauce was so good, I had to restrain myself from drinking it out of the glass in one sugar-scented gulp. But it wasn’t great. It was too sweet, too gloopy, just too much. I sadly left the remnants of my dessert on the kitchen counter, contemplating all the various uses for  butterscotch which didn’t just end up with me bathing in it.

Then, the next day, as I was readying myself for work, I decided to take a spoonful of leftover crumble. And it was delicious. A bit of a rest had allowed all of the flavours to settle and do their thing. The topping was full of delicious, toffee-tasting burnt sugar with a nice bit of roughage from the oats. The spiced apples were soft, squidgy and punchy with cinnamon and nutmeg. And, perhaps best of all, the butterscotch sauce had thickened and turned into something that was so good, I had to physically restrain myself from pouring it into a hipflask and taking it to work with me.

Is this crumble good enough to write a song about? I’m not sure. But feel free to try it for yourself and let me know. In the interim, I’ll just be over here in this corner spooning the remnants into my mouth and licking all the crumbs off my fingers.

SPICED APPLE CRUMBLE WITH BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE (Serves Two)
Butterscotch sauce recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the Spiced Apple Crumble

  • 200g cooking apples (you can use either Bramleys or Grannie Smith’s)
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Zest of a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 100g cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 100g plain flour
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 50g porridge oats

Make It!

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and grease a medium-sized ovenproof dish.
  2. Core and chop the apples into even-sized chunks and place them into a large bowl. Sprinkle the vanilla, lemon juice, sugar, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon over the fruit. Stir well until all the liquids and spices form a tasty, sweet-smelling slurry.
  3. Place the flour and sugar in a large bowl and rub together to combine. Take a few cubes of butter, and rub them into the mixture. Keep doing this until all of the butter has been used up, and the mixture resembles sandy breadcrumbs. (You can do this with your food processor if you wish).
  4. Spoon the apple mixture into the bottom of your ovenproof dish and then sprinkle the crumble mixture on top. You want to chunk it up a bit, so it looks a bit rough and quite ‘crumbly’. Sprinkle the porridge oats evenly on top of the crumb mix.
  5. Bake the crumble in the oven for 40-45 minutes until the oats have turned brown and the fruit mixture is bubbling at the edges. Leave to cool until it is hot, but won’t give your mouth second-degree burns when you take a spoonful. I prefer this when it’s a bit cooler though, as this allows all of the flavours to coalesce.
  6. Dollop a large portion in a bowl, and serve with the Butterscotch sauce drizzled over the top.

For the Butterscotch Sauce

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 110g muscavado sugar
  • 200 ml double cream
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, plus more to taste
  • 1 shot of good quality whisky (I used Bowmore)
  1. Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan over a medium heat. Add the sugar, cream and salt and whisk until well blended. Bring to a very gentle boil and cook for about five minutes, whisking occasionally.
  2. Add the shot of whisky, and whisk to combine. Dip a spoon in the sauce and carefully taste the sauce (without burning your tongue!) to see if you want to add additional pinches or salt or splashes of whisky and vanilla. Tweak it to your taste, whisking well after each addition.
  3. Serve drizzled over the crumble. The sauce will thicken as it cools. The leftover sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container and reheated in a microwave or small saucepan.
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Duck Hash

So, how were your weekends readers? I spent mine doing the usual activities; such as eating, drinking, baking and writing. Oh, and I also ran the Race for Life (you can still sponsor me here if you’re feeling generous). After all of that strenuous activity I decided I needed some quality ‘me’ time. So, I decided to relax in the best way I knew how.  By shoving a beer can up a duck’s arse.

OK. So I know what you’re thinking; “what kind of sick woman gets her kicks by ramming pieces of tin up unsuspecting bird’s rear ends?” Well, I can confirm that no (live) poultry was harmed in this experiment (although I was tempted to wave my beer-can-compromised-duck at our next door neighbour’s chickens as a warning that this is what would happen to them if they didn’t shut up). Instead, I was conducting my usual Sunday afternoon trick of using every cooking implement in our house by making this Peking Duck recipe that I found over at Serious EatsI’ve long been a fan of their ‘Food Lab’ column (even if it can be totally and utterly bonkers at times) which shows you how to make brilliant restaurant style classics via the use of a few kitchen hacks, and I’ve yet to make a recipe from there which hasn’t resulted in the creation of something ridiculously delicious.

I would recommend that anyone and everyone makes their Peking Duck recipe. While the skin of the bird didn’t turn out quite as crispy as I would have liked, and I somehow managed to get honey everywhere (don’t drink and marinade kids!) it wasn’t a bad first attempt for someone who had never cooked duck before. Mr. Cay and I spent a very happy Sunday evening feasting like kings on poultry and pancakes while watching England limp out of the football on penalties.

On Monday night, grumpy and full of a cold/hayfever hybrid that just will not quit, I decided to use the leftovers to create some quality comfort food – a Duck Hash. I’m a huge fan of hashes, mainly because they’re simple, tasty and a great way to use up all of those Sunday dinner remnants. First, I cooked some waxy potatoes in a few pints of chicken stock, which imbued them with a nice savoury flavour. Then I fried those, a sliced onion and a handful of shrivelled cherry tomatoes which I found at the back of my fridge in some leftover duck fat until they turned brown and crispy. Topped with some shredded leftover duck and a fried egg and it was a Monday night tea fit for a Queen – as well as a fitting end for a fowl which had been roasted in a most ungracious manner.

DUCK HASH (Serves Two)

You will need:

  • 400g waxy potatoes
  • Two pints of chicken stock
  • One onion, sliced thinly
  • A large handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 250g shredded cooked duck breast, or the meat from two cooked duck legs
  • 3 tbsp duck fat (or olive oil if you don’t have any duck fat handy)
  • 2 duck eggs
  • A good dash of Tabasco sauce
  • Salt and Pepper to season

Make It!

  1. First, slice your potatoes in two, and boil them in the stock for around five minutes (they should still feel quite firm when you stick your knife in them to see if they’re cooked).
  2. Drain the potatoes and leave them to cool (you can do this the night before if you wish). When you’re ready to use them, chop them into even-sized chunks.
  3. Heat your duck fat in a large frying pan. Sauté the onions until they become translucent, then add the potatoes. Cooked for five-ten minutes until they begin to turn brown and crispy. Add the chopped tomatoes, shredded duck and salt and pepper and cook for another two minutes. Flatten the mixture down with your spatula while it’s cooking so it becomes one huge greasy, crispy mass.
  4. Once the hash has cooked, and turned brown and crispy around the edges, take it off the heat. Fry the duck eggs in another frying pan until they’re just the way you like them (I prefer them sunny side up with a nice runny yolk).
  5. Divide the hash evenly between two plates and top with the fried eggs. Sprinkle liberally with the Tabasco sauce and eat immediately (this goes well with a big mug of tea and lots of bread to mop up the excess grease and egg yolk).
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