Category Archives: tomatoes

Avocado, Bacon and Tomato Scramble

Eggs

Like many people, I have a bit of a Sunday ritual. Wake up, immediately curse myself for drinking too much wine the night before (and for passing out on the sofa in front of Match of the Day), and then spend a good hour or so working myself to have the ‘energy’ (by which I mean ‘compulsion’) to go for a run. I’m training for my first half marathon at the moment, and I see every creaky Sunday morning five miler as yet another milestone on my way to becoming Bootle’s answer to Paula Radcliffe.

However, as anyone who has ever visited Bootle knows, it’s not the most scenic of places. I run down a stretch of tarmac known as the Dock Road, a rather grim looking dual carriageway lined with petrol stations, crumbling warehouses and perilous potholes. It also stinks. On good days, the air will be redolent with the smell of rotting grain (which smells curiously like dog food) with underlying notes of tyre fires. On bad days, it’s just tyre fires. When faced with such unfragrant conditions, a girl needs the thought of a good breakfast at the end of her exertions to keep her going.

Avocados and Tomatoes

This Avocado, Bacon and Tomato Scramble is the kind of  meal I would happily run marathons for. Made out a bunch of ingredients shoved away at the back of my fridge that were just on the verge of transforming from delicious ripeness to fetid mush, it’s full of brightness, salt and spice. Avocados and eggs work wonderfully together – the buttery soft sweetness of the avocado working wonderfully with the silken custardy wobble of barely set scrambled eggs. Add a handful of chopped tomatoes, a few crumbles of crispy bacon and a gigantic dash of hot sauce, and you’re done.

I’d advise you to make much more of this than you think you’ll need, or – at the very least – to stock up on the ingredients, as this is the kind of thing you’ll want to make again and again once you see how good (and how easy to make) it is. When served up with some granary toast and a mug of tea in front of the football, this is a weekend breakfast delight to savour.

Avocado Bacon and Tomato Scramble

AVOCADO, BACON AND TOMATO SCRAMBLE (Serves Two)

You will need:

  • 4 medium sized eggs
  • 4 rashers of good quality bacon
  • The innards of a ripe, medium sized avocado, diced
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, diced
  • A dash of hot sauce (I used Frank’s)
  • Salt and Pepper to season

Make It!

  1. First, grill your bacon. If you don’t know how to grill bacon, then I’m afraid we’re through. I can’t really help you there. (Although one of these helps.) Once it’s crispy, chop it into fine pieces. Set to one side.
  2. While your bacon is cooking, scramble some eggs. Crack them into a bowl, and add a dash of milk and plenty of salt and pepper. Heat a teaspoon of butter in a saucepan, and pour in the egg mixture. Once it has started to set at the sides of the saucepan, scramble the mixture with a fork. Keep scrambling until it has barely set, and has a custardy texture.
  3. Add the avocado chunks, diced tomatoes and bits of bacon. Smother with Frank’s hot sauce and eat immediately (preferably accompanied by a buttered roll and a giant mug of tea.)
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Tomato and Red Lentil Curry

Red lentils

So, the honeymoon is definitely over. I walked out of the house on Monday and into a cold grey abyss of doom, bills, narky emails and never ending rain. I tell you, it’s enough to make a woman want to go into hibernation for the next few months.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore September. Autumn has always been my favourite season, a fact I put down to being a city dweller. As anyone who lives in a major British city knows, they always feel a bit quiet and jaded during Summer. It’s as though the urban landscape is holding its breath, waiting for people to return and for the business of living to start all over again. But when it’s continually pissing it down, and the third umbrella you’ve bought in the space of six months decides to break when you’re trying to walk home during the middle of a thunderstorm, and your feet feel as though they’ll never be warm again, and you’re wondering if it would just be easier and cheaper to laminate yourself…well, then desperate measures are called for.

I have a few recipes in my armoury that I always call upon when I need to fill my belly with something which is inexpensive to make, while also managing to be hot and tasty. One of these is this Tomato and Red Lentil curry, a dal-esque concoction which consists of red lentils stewed with some tumeric, and flavoured with tomatoes and an array of sizzling spices. I’ve adapted this from a recipe which I originally saw in Delicious magazine, and which over time has become a Monday night favourite. I tend to whip up a giant batch of this at the beginning of the week and dip into it for numerous breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Scooped up with flatbreads, spooned over brown rice or even shovelled down with an egg or top, it makes for a delicious, warming, easy meal – the perfect antidote to the squally September storms.

Tomato and Red Lentil Curry

TOMATO AND RED LENTIL CURRY (Serves Four)

Adapted from this recipe in Delicious magazine

You will need:

  • 200g red lentils
  • 500ml cold water
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 2 shallots
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • A large fistful of fresh coriander, chopped roughly
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Make It!

  1. Rinse the lentils, and pop them in a saucepan. Cover them with the water, and add the tumeric and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum which rises to the top. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, and leave to cook for 20 minutes or so while you prepare the tomato sauce. Top the lentils up with some more water if the pan begins to boil dry.
  2. Put the shallots, garlic and ginger into a food processor and blitz into a paste. Fry this off in a tablespoon of olive oil for a minute. Then add the mustards seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds and cook for another 30 seconds until the seeds become aromatic and the mustard seeds begin to pop.
  3. Add the chilli flakes and garam masala to the paste and fry for another 30 seconds. Then, throw in the chopped tomatoes and simmer on the hob for fifteen minutes. When the sauce has thickened, add it to the lentils.
  4. Stir the tomatoes and lentils together thoroughly and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (if you have a rice cooker, this is exactly the amount of time it will take you to prepare a batch of rice). Once cooked, stir in the fresh coriander leaves and lemon juice. Garnish with a sprig of fresh coriander and serve either over pilau rice or scooped up with naan breads.
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Spaghetti with Morcilla and Tomato Sauce

I’m a huge lover of black pudding – be it deep fried and slapped on a bap, bathed tenderly in a tomato sauce or served up with the ubiquitous pea purée and scallops. Whilst some people may turn their nose up at the idea of eating blood-based-offally-treats, I have no time for their naysaying ways. After all, what’s there to dislike? It’s  just a bit of blood. And ridiculously tasty blood at that.

Whilst my Northern heart will always be allied to a nice juicy Bury specimen, I have a very soft spot for morcilla, a Spanish interpretation which uses rice as a binding agent instead of the usual suet, and is spiced with paprika. This makes it slightly moister, and gives it a wonderful rich, punchy flavour.  Whilst I’m not averse to simply frying it and eating it straight out of the pan with my fingers, it’s even better when it’s cooked with love, care, tomatoes and smoked paprika.

I first saw this recipe at Eat Like a Girl, and  immediately bookmarked it, intending to make it as soon as I had a chance and some spare black pudding at my disposal. Me being me, I’ve tweaked a few of the elements – added a few more chillies, a bit more smoked paprika, and simmer the sauce rather than roast it, as my morcilla melted into my sauce pretty quickly, and I was scared that cooking it in an oven may lead to Mr. Cay moaning at me because he has to scrub the carbon stains off yet another casserole dish.

What you’re left with is a saucepan full of something which (I’ll be honest) isn’t the most attractive looking sauce in the world, but which yields a plate of comfort – full of warmth and flavour, comfort and spice. The best thing about it is that it takes no time at all to pull together – an hour tops if you count the time it takes to open a bottle of wine and glug a glass whilst you’re waiting for your pasta to boil.

So, here’s to blood, to offal, to everything dark and cheap and delicious. You may not be pretty, but boy, you sure are tasty.

SPAGHETTI WITH MORCILLA AND TOMATO SAUCE (Serves two hungry people)

Adapted (slightly) from Eat Like a Girl 

You will need:

  • 200g morcilla
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp red chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 200g (good) white spaghetti
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Make It!

  1. Sauté the shallots and garlic in a good glug of olive oil for around five minutes. They should turn soft, but not brown.
  2. Chop your morcilla into large chunks, and add it to the pot. Cook for around five minutes until it begins to soften and fall apart.
  3. Add the tomatoes, chilli flakes, smoked paprika and red wine vinegar to the mixture. The morcilla will melt into the sauce, so keep tasting it to ensure it’s all to your liking. Needs more chilli? Or perhaps a touch more red wine vinegar? Throw it in there!
  4. Simmer the sauce for twenty minutes. After ten minutes, boil your pasta until it is cooked al dente. Drain and add to the sauce.
  5. Serve immediately with a smattering of parsley.
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Meatballs in a fresh herb and tomato sauce

This post is kindly sponsored by Le Creuset Cookware

I’ve been joking on Twitter recently that I should rename this blog ‘Cake, Meatballs and Ranting.com’ as that’s all I ever appear to talk about on here of late. And today is no different because – oh look! – here’s a recipe for some meatballs. But hey, as my Bubbie says, it’s good for a person to have a shtick. And I’m sure there are worse ones to have than a love of cakes and small round meat products.

You see, here’s the thing. Meatballs make perfect comfort food. And I’ve found myself to be in need of a bit of comfort of late. Take yesterday for example. I spent my day wandering around my house waiting for some news which – if it had been good – could have changed my life for the foreseeable future. Now, I’m not good with waiting, especially if I’m on my own. I have one of those one-track minds which locks into an idea and will not let go. Nothing could distract me – not a bike ride to the shops, not a walk around Liverpool City Centre, not even my beloved America’s Next Top Model could do the trick (although, lets be honest, this most recent cycle is bloody awful). I needed salvation and the ultimate displacement method. Something which would require me to be up to my elbows in something so I couldn’t check my phone every 30 seconds. The answer was plain. I needed meatballs.

I’ve mentioned before that I find the whole process of making meatballs utterly soothing. It’s the kind of thing you can just lose yourself in – the mashing together of ingredients with your fingers, the process of rolling each little ball into a perfect sphere, that whole lovely ritual of stirring and chopping to create something wonderful. The trick to these meatballs is to use the best beef mince you can afford (if you can get to a butcher to buy some decent steak mince, do. A pound of mince cost me a mere £2.20 from my favourite meat counter – both cheaper and better than the stuff you find in my local supermarket) and to let them rest. If you cook them too soon after making them, you’ll be left with a giant pan of meat paste. I have inadvertently done this more times than I’d like to admit, so LEARN FROM MY FAIL.

Eventually, the news I’d been waiting a day for came, and it turned out to be bad. But hey, these things happen I suppose. So, I did what any sensible person would have done in my situation – I turned the darts on, made myself a large gin and tonic and stuffed my face full of meatballs and cheesy polenta. And immediately felt better.

MEATBALLS IN A FRESH HERB AND TOMATO SAUCE (Serves four)

You will need:

Meatballs

  • 300g beef steak mince
  • 1 egg
  • 40g fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 small red onion finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • Small fistful of  fresh parsley, finely chopped

To Sear

  • 10ml vegetable oil

Tomato Sauce

  • 10ml olive oil
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic – chopped
  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
  • 100ml strong beef stock (such as Bovril) or 1 stock cube dissolved in 100ml water

To finish

  • 20g butter
  • Basil leaves

Make It!

  1. Mix together all the meatball ingredients and form into small balls (Makes 20). Leave to rest in the fridge for an hour or so before use.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and in batches sear the meatballs well on all sides.
  3. To make the sauce heat the olive oil in the saucepan and fry the onion and garlic till softened but not brown.
  4. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for about 10 minutes until the consistency has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  5. Stir in the meatballs and cook with the lid on over a low heat for 20 minutes. (If you like, you can do this part in the oven. I put the meatballs and sauce into the Le Creuset Cookware pot that I got for Christmas. Thanks Mum Cay!)
  6. Stir in the butter and serve with the fresh basil leaves.
  7. Serve with either spaghetti, rice or cheesy polenta.
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Shakshuka

Some people have normal phobias, like spiders and the dark. Me? I have them of that pre-grated cheese which comes in giant plastic sacks and blood pressure monitors. The blood pressure monitor one meant that I had to spend my Wednesday strapped up to an automatic blood pressure doohickey which took a reading every fifteen minutes. Ever been stood next to someone in the supermarket when your arm suddenly decides to expand & vibrate? I DON’T RECOMMEND IT.

There’s not a lot you can do when you’re spending your day dressed in wires. Even cleaning the cooker becomes fraught with danger, as one especially hard scrub when you’re scouring your hobs could lead to your reading going off the scale. And if that wasn’t enough, it also had the indecency to go off when I was on the toilet. By lunchtime, I was feeling decidedly pissed off. There was only one thing for it. It was time for Shakshuka.

Shakshuka may sound like the name of a burly Israeli superhero, but in reality it’s an absolutely delicious dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s incredibly easy to make, uses ingredients which you’ll usually find festering away at the back of your fridge and (best of all) it’s ridiculously healthy. It’s the perfect comfort food to tackle those January blues, and makes an amazing lunch.  Due to my insatiable greed for all things egg-and-cheese based, I ate an entire pan of this stuff. However, if you’re more inclined to share your lunch (and believe in portion control), this will easily feed two.

OK, so there are better ways to spend a day off work than strapped up to a blood pressure monitor. But after a huge plate of this, and an America’s Next Top Model marathon on Living, it was just about bearable. Well, until it went off again when I was trying to put my coat on…

SHAKSHUKA (Feeds one greedy person, or two people with normal appetites)

Recipe adapted (very slightly) from Smitten Kitchen 

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 green chilli, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed then sliced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp  paprika (I used smoked paprika to give it a bit more oomph)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 50g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and Pepper to season
  • Warm pita breads, for serving

Make It!

  1. Cook the chilli and the diced onion, stirring occasionally, until the mixture turns soft and golden brown. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan along with 60ml water.  Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover the pan and cook for around 5 minutes until the yolks are just set. Baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.
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Squid stewed with Tomatoes

There’s been an unopened bottle of Sambucca in our drinks cabinet at home for over a year now – a long ago gift from a PR for some aniseed-liqueur-based promotion they were having.  If I had my way, I’d stick the stuff on Freecycle, after all, it’s only taking up valuable room which could be used to shelve more wine. Mr. Cay thinks differently though – in his opinion, every drinks cabinet should contain at least one spirit that someone rarely drinks. Personally, I’d rather it was Cointreau (mainly because it’s really good in desserts), but we don’t have any Cointreau, so Sambucca it is.

My family has a bit of a history with Sambucca. My Dad (infamously) once set a bar on fire after tripping over a handbag and dropping an entire tray of flaming shots onto a wooden floor – burning off his eyebrows and all of the hairs on his arms in the process. On my brother’s 21st birthday, we all necked hit after hit of Sambucca until our eyes watered and he slowly slumped under the table of a restaurant. As for me, I’ve never been particularly fond of the stuff, although I do have a faint recollection of drinking half a bottle of it when I was 17 and spending the rest of the evening telling my best friend how much I loved her inbetween bouts of copious vomitting.

Whilst my penchant for drinking 80% proof spirits may have dimmed with age, my love of cooking with them hasn’t. So, when I stumbled upon this recipe from Simply Recipes when I was wondering what to do with some squid last weekend, I decided that it was finally time to dust off the Sambucca and do something useful with it.

Whilst I love squid, I’ve always been a bit cautious of cooking it – mainly because I’ve eaten more plates of car-tyre-consistency calimari than I care to remember.  The best thing to remember when using it in a dish is the 60/60 rule – you either cook it for 60 seconds (such as when you’re making calimari or salt and pepper squid) or 60 minutes. Here, it’s braised with tomatoes, fennel, sambucca and a glass of red wine until it turns soft and tender to the bite. This is the kind of dish you can bung in a pot and leave to simmer on the stove whilst you go and do more important things – like catching up on last week’s Doctor Who for example. (Was I the only one who thought that it looked like one huge Aphex Twin video?)

I served this stew with some homemade rosemary and oregano bread, but it would go just as well over a short pasta (such as Penne or Orecchiette) or a bowl of steaming Polenta. However, you decide to serve it, do be sure to down a shot of Sambucca beforehand – the aniseed hit really brings out all the complex flavours of the dish. Just be sure to blow out the flames first. We don’t want you singeing your tongue after all. Saluté!

SQUID STEWED WITH TOMATOES  (Serves 3-4 people)

Adapted from Simply Recipes

You will need:

  •    350g cleaned squid, with the tubes sliced into rings and the tentacles roughly chopped
  •    2 tbsp olive oil
  •    1 sliced onion
  •    1 fennel bulb, chopped
  •    3 garlic cloves, chopped
  •    2 tbsp tomato paste
  •    2 shots of  Sambuca or other anise-flavored liquor (i.e. Pernod – the favourite cloudy drink of angry Frenchman everywhere).
  •   1 medium glass of  red wine
  •   1 can of chopped tomatoes (alternatively, you could use four large plum tomatoes which have been skinned and roughly chopped)
  •    Salt and pepper
  •    A good handful of parsley, roughly chopped

Make It!

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and fennel. Stir thoroughly to coat with the oil and allow them to sweat for around 5-6 minutes until they turn translucent. Season with salt, and add the garlic cloves and tomato paste and stir well to combine. Cook this for another 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice.
  2. Add the red wine, stir well, and increase the heat. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half. (Feel free to drink some of the wine whilst you’re doing this).
  3. Add the Sambuca and the chopped tomatoes. Stir in the squid and bring the pot to a gentle rolling boil. Simmer for at least 1 hour. After an hour, taste a piece of the squid; It should be tender. If it’s not, keep simmering. Check for tenderness every 15 minutes afterwards.
  4. Once the squid is tender, season with salt & pepper and add the chopped parsley and fennel fronds. Serve over pasta or polenta with good bread and even better wine.
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Leek, Tomato and Feta pie

If the weather lady on North West Tonight is to be believed, Summer has finally decided to grace Liverpool with its presence. Well, you could have bloody fooled me. When I sat outside munching on my pastrami sandwich at lunchtime, there was a very pronounced ‘nip’ in the air – and my Floridian upbringing means I stubbonly refuse to stop wearing a jacket to work until there’s been 30 degree heat for three days straight. If Summer won’t come to me, I’ll just have to come to it. That’ll teach the bastard to hide its light under a bushell.

I’ve always had a bit of a strange relationship with Summer. Part of me loves it; all of those long sunshine drenched days, barbeques, and lazy afternoons spent in beer gardens putting the world to rights with my friends. But Summer has also seen me work in some of the worst temp jobs of my life (I still shudder whenever I’m in London and go past Camden Council’s headquarters on the bus), be ridiculously skint, uncerimoniously dumped and – worst of all – work in overheated stuffy offices whilst the world frolics outside my window. It’s a bit difficult to drown your sorrows in a big bowl of stodgy dumpling-filled comfort food when you’re stuck in the middle of a heatwave. Instead, you have to look to other, simpler, fresher delights.

This Leek and Feta Cheese pie has long been one of my favourite dishes to make during the warmer months. Being a strict traditionalist, I’m not sure if I’d strictly call it a pie though – it’s more like a quiche with ideas above its station. Packed with dill, indecently large hunks of feta cheese and delicious ribbons of thick greek yoghurt, it’s easy to make, and delightful to eat in huge hunks with a green salad and an icy cold glass of wine. It’s also very adaptable – in the past, I’ve made it with chard, spinach and even a glut of courgettes I’d found hiding at the back of my fridge which were threatening to form their own autonomous collective.

For this version, I’ve used tomatoes, leeks and a nice handful of wild garlic that I was lucky enough to nab off Mr. North last month (although I’d imagine that it would work just as well with ‘wet’ garlic which is in season at the moment, or any leafy green herb you find lying around at the bottom of your garden). The finished result manages to be light, filling and – best of all – remarkably tasty. I’ve also found that it goes quite well with Tracklement’s delightful Beetroot and Horseradish relish. Its earthy peppery flavour cuts through the richness of the egg and yoghurt like a sharp sweet knife, and I imagine that it’s the kind of condiment that my gefilte-fish loving Zadie would have consumed a whole jar of in record time.

So, until Summer decides to show its face in Bootle, I’ll just to find solace in seasonal foods. Or I could just turn the gas fire on and pretend I’m somewhere warm and sunny. It’s cheaper than a flight to Miami anyway.

LEEK, TOMATO AND FETA PIE

Adapted from Serious Eats

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • A large handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced and washed
  • salt and pepper
  • 140g plain flour, sifted
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 300g greek yogurt
  • 150g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4-5 leaves of wild garlic, chopped finely (you can substitute this for ordinary garlic)

Make It!

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees/gas mark 5. Pour the oil into a saucepan set over medium heat. Add the leeks and tomatoes, and cook for five minutes until the leeks turn soft, and the tomatoes start to lose their shape. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, turn off the heat, and set aside to cool.
  2. Add the sifted flour and baking powder to a large bowl.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and yogurt in another large bowl. Add the feta and the chopped wild garlic and fold in. Then whisk in the flour and baking powder. Finally, fold in the leek and tomato mixture, and season well with salt and pepper.
  4. Grease a medium sized tin well (I like using my trusty sillicone baking dish). Pour the mix into the dish, and set in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes, until the top has turned brown. Remove the pan and let cool for 10 minutes. Then dig in. Serve with a fresh green salad, and a nice chutney.
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