Tag Archives: comfort food

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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Turkey Meatball Curry

A blender full of meatballs (web)

When do you do when you feel as though your life has descended into chaos? OK, so chaos might not be the best term for it, but in the past few weeks I’ve managed to bag myself an exciting new job, quit my old job, become very very very nervous, then very very very excited. While the stress levels are nowhere near those I experienced before my wedding (where I infamously was forced to run laps around the outside of my office a few days before the ceremony in a futile effort to calm the eff down) I do feel a bit like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster at the moment – I turn the corner and my mood dips into trepidation with a side order of anxiety about being up to the task and then rises again into total euphoria about what the future holds. I must say, it’s all getting a bit exhausting.

So, I do what I always do in times of stress. I make meatballs. I’ve spoken before about how meatballs make the perfect comfort food, and (with the possible exception of cake), I’ve yet to find any other bite-sized food stuff which makes me feel so zen. Perhaps that’s why this blog is full of the things. After all, they’re easy to make, even easier to eat and they’re (usually) a better form of stress relief than drinking a large bottle of red booze and kicking a lamppost.

Turkey Meatball mixture

This Turkey Meatball Curry isn’t exactly the kind of thing that you can just whip up after a hard day at work. It involves blending, rolling, resting and rather a lot of simmering. But the end results are totally worth it – warm from the whole cinnamon stick and cardamom pods used in the sauce, slightly spicy and utterly delicious. I made a gigantic pot of this and feasted on it for days – from wrapping up huge messy scoops of it inside hunks of flaky naan bread, or dished over a bowl of steaming white basmati rice with a pile of carrot salad on the side. While you can eat it right away, it tastes even better the day after when all the flavours have settled and mingled together.

Turkey Meatball Curry

TURKEY MEATBALL CURRY (Serves Four)

Curry recipe adapted from BBC Food.

For the meatballs

  • 500g turkey mince
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsps ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
  • A small handful coriander leaves, chopped finely

For the curry 

  • 1 large onion
  • 6 garlic cloves , roughly chopped
  • 50g ginger , roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 2 green cardamom pods
  • 5cm cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 pint chicken stock
  • A handful of fresh coriander, chopped finely, to garnish

Make It!

Make the turkey meatballs:

  • Put the breadcrumbs in the bowl of a food processor, add two tablespoons of water and combine until the mixture turns sandy.  Add the rest of the meatball ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and pulse the food processor until the mixture looks chunky.
  • Wet your hands, and fashion your meatballs. This mixture should easily make around 26 teaspoon-sized balls (hurr). If these are too many for you, freeze half to save for later. Allow the meatballs to rest for at least an hour, although the longer you leave them to rest, the better they’ll taste.

Make the curry sauce:

  • Roughly chop the onion, transfer to your food processor, and add 3 tablespoons of water. Pulse the onions a few times until they form a chunky paste. (If you don’t own a food processor, coarsely grate the onion with a box grater into a bowl – there’s no need to add any water if you are doing this.) Tip the onions into a small bowl and place to one side.
  • Put the chopped garlic and ginger into the same food processor and add 4 tablespoons of water. Blitz until smooth and spoon into another small bowl. (Alternatively, crush the garlic to a paste with the flat end of a knife and finely grate the ginger.)
  • Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat. Combine the cumin and fennel seeds with the cinnamon and chilli flakes and add to the pan in one go. Swirl everything around for about 30 secs until the spices release a fragrant aroma.
  • Add the onion paste.  It will splutter in the beginning, but fry until the water evaporates and the onions turn a lovely dark golden colour – this should take about 7-8 mins. Add the garlic and ginger paste and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring all the time.
  • Stir in the garam masala, turmeric, and sugar and continue cooking for 20 seconds before tipping in the chopped tomatoes and the black and green cardamom pods. Continue cooking on a medium heat for about 10 minutes without a lid until the tomatoes reduce and darken.
  • Reduce the heat to a low simmer and gently add the meatballs. Cover, and let simmer for 40-45 minutes, turning the meatballs every ten minutes or so. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve.
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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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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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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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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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Cumin rubbed Pork steaks with Butter Bean and Olive stew

As anyone who has the pleasure of living with me will tell you, I do not cope well with Winter. As soon as the temperature drops, you will find me wrapped up in a slanket, hugging a radiator and looking decidedly pissed off. I’d blame it on the fact that I spent some of my childhood in Florida, and so became acclimatised to a more temperate climate, but that would be bollocks. The true fact of the matter is that – whilst I am a fan of knitwear, big boots and warm mulled alcoholic drinks –  I am not a fan of the cold. Especially when I have to go the gym, and it’s windy out, and the icy gusts which come ripping off the Mersey make me feel as though the skin is being sandblasted off my face.

The only reason I can see people liking Winter is that it legitimately allows you to eat stews on a nightly basis. I bloody love stews. So much so in fact that I have decided  that if this whole ‘working-in-digital-and-social-media’ lark that I do for a day job doesn’t work out, I’ll set up my own door-to-door stew delivery company. After all, who wouldn’t want a piping hot bowl of Scouse or Hot Pot delivered to them on a chilly night?

Yesterday, the skies in Liverpool were heavy and grey with the threat of snow. So, after trudging home in the cold, I decided to rummage around in my cupboards and throw together a quick bean stew. Full of toothsome butter beans, a kick of chilli and a spike of smoked paprika, this Butter Bean and Olive stew really hit the spot. I accompanied it with a grilled pork steak which I’d rubbed with some cumin, salt and pepper, and some caramelised onions. It was perfect comfort food – full of warm flavours and (relatively) healthy to boot. It was so good in fact, that it almost helped me to forget that Manchester City were beaten by Everton at the football last night.  Oh well. You win some, you lost some eh?

CUMIN RUBBED PORK STEAKS WITH BUTTER BEAN AND OLIVE STEW (Serves Two)

You will need:

  • 2 medium sized, (relatively) lean pork steaks
  • 1 tin of butter beans
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • A handful of pitted black olives, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and Pepper
  • A handful of roughly chopped parsley for garnish

Make It!

  1. Sweat your chopped garlic and chilli flakes  in a teaspoon of olive oil until the oil turns slightly red and the garlic is starting to brown.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes, smoked paprika and olives to the pot, and cook for ten minutes or so. Then, add the drained butterbeans and simmer for another twenty minutes, until the stew has begun to thicken.
  3. Whilst the stew is cooking, season the pork steaks with the salt, pepper and cumin. Cook on a screamingly hot grill until just cooked, and the insides are no longer pink.
  4. Once grilled, place the  pork steaks on top of the stew, and sprinkle with roughly chopped parsley. You can add caramelised onions on top if you feel like it – they add a nice sweetness to dish. Serve with a large glass of red wine.
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Leek and Potato Soup with Soda Bread

London, I love you, but Christ you’re bad for my liver. And my wallet. And, judging from the way I felt when I woke up on Sunday morning after raucously celebrating my best friend’s 30th birthday, stomach lining. I paid London a flying visit this weekend, and left it with possibly one of the worst hangovers I’ve had this year. A hangover which was not helped by having to sit on a freezing cold Rail Replacement Bus on the way back to Liverpool. I spent four hours last Sunday cursing Virgin Trains, the person who invented red booze, the person who invented air conditioning and everyone inbetween.

When I finally managed to wake up from my golden slumbers on Bank Holiday Monday, my body was craving only one thing. And it sure as hell wasn’t a trip to the gym. It required comfort and warmth with a side of pork products. This was a situation which called for soup and soda bread.

Leek and Potato soup is one of those economical recipes that I’m very fond of making when it’s a week before payday, I’m skint and there’s nothing in my fridge apart from half a bottle of (flat) diet coke and a few rotting vegetables. Simple and comforting with a wonderfully velvet texture, it also has the added bonus of making you feel all virtuous when you’ve spent an entire weekend pickling yourself in gin. And it tastes even better if you’ve decide to fry up some bacon and crumble that over the top of it. The crisp shards of pork shatter pleasingly underneath your teeth and add a nice contrast to the sleekness of the soup.

Because no soup is complete without something to dunk into it, I decided to make my own soda bread to mop up the excess. I’d never made soda bread before, and was slightly worried that it wouldn’t live up to the various versions I’d tossed down my gullet during numerous St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.  Whilst I make no claims to this version being 100% authentically Irish – I can confirm that it was damn tasty. So tasty in fact that I found myself almost eating an entire loaf in one sitting. But then again, I never have been one for moderation.

Soup, bread, bacon. A holy Trinity of delights. This is the kind of meal your soul thanks you for. And your belly probably won’t complain about it either.

LEEK AND POTATO SOUP WITH SODA BREAD

Soda Bread recipe adapted from BBC Good Food

For the soup:

  •     3 large leeks, white and light green parts only
  •     1 onion, diced
  •     2 tablespoons olive oil
  •     2 tablespoons butter
  •     4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  •     6 medium potatoes, cubed
  •     2 pints chicken stock
  •     Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  •     Sour cream, for serving (optional)

For the soda bread

  •  250g plain white flour
  •  250g plain wholemeal flour
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 25g butter, cut in pieces
  • 500ml buttermilk

Make It!

  1. First, make your bread.  Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6 and dust a baking sheet with flour. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then rub in the butter. Pour in the buttermilk and mix it in quickly with a table knife, then bring the dough together very lightly with your fingertips (handle it very, very gently). Now shape it into a flat, round loaf. This dough is incredibly sticky, so be careful when you’re handling it. And be sure to have a wet cloth handy, as it also manages to get everywhere.
  2. Put the loaf on the baking sheet and score a deep cross in the top. (Traditionally, this lets the fairies out, but it also helps the bread to cook through.) Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bread is brown and crusty, and bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If it isn’t ready after this time, turn it upside down on the baking sheet and bake until cooked. Transfer to a wire rack, cover with a clean tea towel (this keeps the crust nice and soft) and leave to cool.
  3. Now you’ve made your bread, it’s time for the soup. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan and add the onions, garlic, potatoes and leeks. Cook for 3-4 minutes until they begin to soften and turn brown.
  4.  Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Season well and simmer for around half an hour or so, until vegetables are tender.
  5.  Whizz the soup with a hand blender or in a blender until it turns smooth – don’t overdo this, otherwise the starch in the potatoes will turn your soup into glue. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sour cream. If you’re feeling fancy, you can also cook up some bacon and crumble this over the top of the soup. Serve with big fresh hunks of the soda bread which have been smothered in butter.
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A Simple Tomato Sauce

I am notoriously terrible with money. Always have been, and (probably) always will be. Back when I was a student, I practically had a hotline to my bank manager who would often tut at me when I asked to extend my overdraft.  Somehow there was always too much month left at the end of my money – and who wants to spending their last tenner on sensible things like food when it could be used to go out dancing ?

In my younger days, I’d regularly go shopping with the loose change that I found down the back of my sofa. Indeed, back in 2003, I spent most of the Summer surviving on a diet of 15p ramen noodles which were pimped up with a bit of soy sauce, the bagels my housemate would bring home from the café she worked in at the time, packs of dried spaghetti and tins of tomatoes. As a result, I still can’t look at a pack of instant noodles without shuddering. However, there is a lot to be said for being thrifty. Mainly because it makes you inventive. And hey, what is cooking without a bit of invention?

I remember my Bubbie telling me about Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce back when I was eighteen and preparing to leave home and move to big bad London. Although she’s not so well known in this country, Marcella Hazan is a bit of a phenomenon in the USA, and is deemed to be largely responsible for introducing the American public with many of the cooking methods that so many of us take for granted nowadays. She’s also been credited with starting the craze for balsamic vinegar – rather a poisoned chalice when you think of all the times you’ve been to an Italian restaurant and found your food smothered in the stuff. (If you’d like to find out more about this very inspiring woman, be sure to check out Steamy Kitchen’s excellent post detailing her meeting with Marcella, and her very suave wine writer husband, Victor).

Hazan’s methods emphasise the benefits of simplicity. All of her recipes are a celebration of how you only need a few store cupboard ingredients to create something satisfying. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you should always use the best ingredients that you can afford. And hey – is anyone really going to notice if you make one of her recipes out of some wilted basil you find at the back of your fridge, or some overripe tomatoes you find being sold for 5p in Sainsbury’s  at the end of the day?

This recipe is so easy to make, it feels almost shameful to write it down – it being more a combination of common sense and knowing what works together rather than any mastery of tastes and textures. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, you’ll need to skin them first by popping them into a bowl of very hot water for ten seconds before leaving them to cool off in a bowl of iced water for another five seconds. Then, the skins should easily slip off the flesh. Once you’ve done this, chop your tomatoes finely, making sure to remove any seeds which you feel might get stuck between your teeth at an inopportune moment. (Of course, if you’re using tinned tomatoes you can skip this bit altogether). Next, place your tomatoes in a medium sized saucepan with a whole onion and five tablespoons of butter (I used Lurpak Sea Salt Butter which is officially my new favourite ingredient. No, I’m not being paid to say that, Yes, I am open to all offers), and simmer the whole lot together for about 45 minutes, until the drops of fat from the butter start to float on the surface. Then, you can take the onion out (I like eating it with a knob of butter and some salt and pepper, because I’m strange like that) and stir the sauce through some cooked pasta.

I like to adulterate the sauce slightly with some fresh basil and a teaspoon of oregano, but, to tell you the truth, it’s just perfect as it is. Comforting, delicious and ever so slightly creamy (that’ll be the butter), you can feast like a king, safe in the knowledge that no one need ever know that you only spent a quid on ingredients. If my student self was reading this, I know she’d approve.

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