Tag Archives: vegetarian

Chicory, Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart

Chicory

Because I have pretensions towards being middle class, I get a vegetable box from Abel & Cole delivered each fortnight. And, because I am horrendously forgetful – particularly when it comes to vegetable deliveries – I often neglect to take a look at their website to see what’s going to be in it each week. While this often leads to me opening my box to find delicious surprises inside, it also means that I’m frequently presented with vegetables which I have no idea what to do with (Kohlrabi, anyone?) This is how I found myself frantically googling ‘chicory recipes’ recently. I had a vague memory of eating it in a (frankly disgusting) gratin once –  the sprinkling of anemic looking breadcrumbs doing nothing to disguise its hideous slimy bitterness – so I wasn’t feeling too confident. And I certainly didn’t want to find myself spending an hour of my life slaving over a hot stove only to make something which looked vile, smelt like a foot and ended up being swiftly dispatched to the bin.

Then inspiration kindly decided to roll out of my kitchen cupboards in the form of my tart tin. I’m very fond of baking up leftover vegetables into various creations, and I’m even fonder of finding an excuse to wrap them up in pastry. I had a vague inkling that chicory and blue cheese went well together, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was eating gigantic slabs of this Chicory, Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart for my lunch.

Chicory Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart

Comprising of caramelised onions and chicory, and a larger-than-really-needed handful of blue cheese,  this is quite a robust little number. It’s helped in no small part by the delicious olive oil tart crust I used as a base. Taken from the delightful French food blog Chocolate & Zucchini, it’s a doddle to make, comes together in minutes and rolls out like a dream (although it can be a bit springy when chilled.)  I found this crust to be perfect for this recipe, although I’m sure that no one will complain if you use ready made shortcrust instead (and if they do, I suggest you throw them some serious side-eye.) This makes a fine lunch, a divine dinner and a seriously superb snack.  It goes very well with a crisp green salad and an even crisper glass of white wine. Alternatively, it also works well being eaten in the light of your fridge while listening to the World at One.

A slice of chicory tart

CHICORY, BLUE CHEESE AND CARAMELISED ONION TART

You will need:

  • One tart crust (either make your own, or use your preferred brand of shortcrust pastry)
  • 2 bulbs of chicory
  • 1 large red onion
  • 30g butter
  • 1tbsp light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 50ml creme fraiche
  • 100g blue cheese (I used Cashel Blue), crumbled into lumps
  • Salt & Pepper

Make It!

  1. First, prepare your tart crust. Roll the pastry out to 3mm thickness, and gently lay it over a tart tin. Blind bake it for 15-20  minutes at 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool while you’re preparing the filling.
  2. Slice the onion and the chicory into rounds (making sure to discard the hard core of the chicory.) Heat the sugar and butter together until they are browned and bubbling slightly. Fry the onion and chicory for roughly 5 – 7 minutes until they are soft and golden. Remove from the pan, and set to one side.
  3. Beat the eggs and creme fraiche together, add the lumps of blue cheese and season well with salt and pepper. Layer the chicory and onions inside your baked tart case, and pour the wet mixture over the top, ensuring that the blue cheese crumbs are spread evenly.
  4. Bake at 200°C/Gas Mark 6 for 30 – 35 minutes until set. Leave to cool for fifteen minutes before serving.  This should be good for around a week, meaning it’s great if you want to cook it the day before taking it to a picnic or brunch. 

 

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Potato, Onion and Goat’s Cheese Frittata

Potato Onion and Goats Cheese fritatta

I asked Father Christmas for a skillet this Christmas. Not because I am the kind of woman who values pots and pans over things like books and records, but more because I was fed up with burning the living crap out of my cookware when I stuck it in the oven only to discover that it wasn’t actually ovenproof. Take it from me, there is no smell on earth quite like that of plastic which is melting onto the floor of your (already decrepit) oven due to your own incompetence. As it was, Santa did me a solid, and on Christmas Day I woke up to discover a pleasingly skillet-shaped object underneath my Christmas tree. “Oh, the things I’ll make with you!” I thought to myself, right after I spent a good five minutes pretending to whack Mr. McMc over the head with it in a Reeves and Mortimer-esque manner.

And, indeed, I’ve made quite a few things with my new favourite piece of kitchen equipment, from pilafs and fritters to pancakes and frittatas. I’ve also managed to give myself a few cracking kitchen injuries with it too, the best one involving me scalding my right boob with it while tipping out an omelette. You’d have thought that I’d have realised by now that skillets are both a) very heavy and b) get hot exceedingly quickly, but judging from the resplendent red stripe on my tit, obviously not.

However, minor cleavage injuries are totally worth it when you’re whipping out some of the best frittatas you’ve ever made in your life, such as this Potato, Onion and Goats Cheese Frittata. Ok, so it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel in terms of egg-based meals, but it’s simple, it’s quick and it combines crispy potatoes, tangy goats cheese  and caramelised onions, making it pretty damn tasty. Best of all, you can get it from idea to plate in the space of twenty minutes – fantastic for those evenings where you wish to do little more than eat, drink booze and watch marathons of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. And seeing as it’s January, you could probably get away with calling it healthy too. Although lets not get ahead of ourselves here.

POTATO, ONION AND GOAT’S CHEESE FRITTATA (Serves two, or one greedy person)

You will need:

  • 4-5 medium sized, waxy potatoes
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 medium sized eggs
  • 50g goats cheese
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • Salt and pepper to season

Make It!

  1. Switch your oven on to Gas Mark 5/200 degrees c. Locate a ovenproof frying pan (after all, we’re making a frittata here, not trying to set our oven on fire.)
  2. Slice your potatoes with a mandolin, or the slicing side of a box grater (watch your fingers!). Season, and set to one side.
  3. Fry the onions in a tablespoon of olive oil until they begin to turn soft, and slightly brown. Remove from the pan and set to one side.
  4. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Layer the potatoes thinly on the bottom and cook for 2 – 3 minutes.
  5. Beat the eggs with the goats cheese, rosemary and thyme (the goats cheese should easily crumble into the eggs.) Season with salt and pepper, and pour over the potatoes. Cook over a medium heat for 1 – 2 minutes, until the mixture has set. Put the pan into the oven and cook for five minutes until the top has turned bronze, and the eggs have set.
  6. Leave to cool slightly before serving. This goes well with a leafy green salad or – if you’ve spent your day grappling with spreadsheets like I had when I made this – a large glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.
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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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Mushroom & (Smoked) Garlic Quiche

Mushrooms

I’ve been taking packed lunches to work with me recently. Ostensibly, this is because I am trying to save money (and the amount of money I’ve been spending on disappointing sandwiches recently is frankly ludicrous). However, it’s also because I am a giant glutton. If I had my way, I’d be gorging myself on huge slabs of brownies and bowls of pork-laden ramen noodles each day. While these are always wonderful, woman cannot live on bowls of soup which contain deep fried eggs alone. Especially when said woman is attempting to train for a 10k. Ever tried to do a five mile run after eating your own bodyweight in Mexican food? I really don’t recommend it. Turns out that gyms aren’t fond of you threatening to do sneaky voms behind the rowing machine.

However, as anyone who has ever worked in an office will know, microwave space is at a premium at lunchtimes. By the time you’ve waited for a giant queue of your colleagues to heat up their Super Noodles at 12.30 each day, you’ve only got ten minutes to gulp your food down before you have to head back to your desk. So, I’ve taken to bringing my own pre-made lunches to work, much like the ones my Mum used to lovingly pack for me when I was a kid. However, instead of ham sandwiches and mini rolls, I’m feasting on giant tubs of salads and baked products like this Mushroom and (Smoked) Garlic Quiche.

Mushroom & Smoked Garlic Quiche

Making quiche always fills me with a sense of pride, like I’m Bootle’s answer to Delia Smith.  It’s the kind of baking endeavour that you do on a rainy Sunday afternoon while listening to a crap play on Radio 4, just losing yourself in an orgy of chopping, and sweating and pre-baking. I used smoked garlic for my quiche, mainly because I’d recently bought a bulb of it from the Manchester Food and Drink festival and was looking for a use for it which didn’t just involve sticking it up a chicken’s rear end. However, if you can’t find smoked garlic, ordinary garlic will do just as well. As always when you’re making anything involving pastry, the key is to keep everything REALLY REALLY cold. Use cold butter and ice water, and if it starts getting a bit messy, just bung it back in the fridge. Yes, it means the whole process takes that little bit longer, but at least you’ll be left with a pastry case that actually looks and tastes good, rather than one made out of tears and fail.

To make this into a lunch to remember, serve with a bowl of hot soup, or a nice salad. Do pair it with something substantial though. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself scoffing a giant slab of it for elevenses at work and be left wondering what you’re going to have for lunch now. Much like me. Oh well, at least my intentions were good anyway.

P.S. I’m off to the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards tonight to represent ‘Little Red Courgette’. I have nails the colour of a Disney villain and I’m wearing a dress which makes me look like a sexy witch with a fox on her crotch. Wish me luck!

P.P.S. I’ve also been nominated for a Blog North award which is doubly exciting. I find out the results on the 17th October, and will keep you posted. Wish me double luck!

Mushroom and Smoked Garlic Quiche (S)

MUSHROOM AND (SMOKED) GARLIC QUICHE   (Serves Four)

You will need:

For the pastry

  • 50g cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 120g plain flour
  • 25g parmesan cheese, grated
  • A pinch of salt

For the filling

  • 1 punnet of mushrooms, chopped into slices
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 100g crème fraiche (the full fat stuff please – go hard or go home)
  • 1 tsp of thyme
  • 25g cheddar, grated
  • 25g parmesan, grated

Make It!

  1. Rub the butter into the flour, then add the parmesan and salt. Add a tablespoon of ice cold water and combine until it forms a dough. (Alternatively, if you have a food processor, pulse all of the ingredients together with some water until it forms a slightly sticky dough). Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
  2. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, and then line a tart tin with it. Make sure that you press the dough firmly into the tin – you can use a small ball of spare dough to press it into all the nooks and crannies. If the dough starts getting a bit sweaty and floppy, just pop it back in the fridge for a few minutes to set. Line the dough with some baking parchment and baking beads, and then pre-bake in the oven at Gas Mark 4/200 degrees C for 20 minutes. To get a nice golden crust, paint the inside with a little beaten egg (you can use this from the filling ingredients) and bake for another five minutes.
  3. While the pastry case is baking, sweat the mushrooms in some butter until they turn brown. Remove from the pan and place to one side. Then, sweat the onion in some more butter and oil for 15-20 minutes until it has caramelised (it should have taken on a golden brown colour). Add the garlic, and cook for another five minutes or so.
  4. Mix the beaten eggs and crème fraiche together until fully combined. Add the grated cheddar to the tart case, then the mushrooms, then the onions and garlic. Pour the egg-crème-fraiche mixture over the vegetables, then top with the grated parmesan. Bake the tart at 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 4 for 30-40 minutes until the golden and fluffy, and the centre feels firm.
  5. Serve with a crisp salad, and a large glass of something equally crisp and alcoholic.
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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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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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Baked Aubergine Ziti

I am always happy when I find an aubergine in my fortnightly veg box. I love this fat purple hand grenade of a fruit and its versatility – it seems to go with every type of cuisine imaginable.  Whereas I usually bung it in a curry, or braise it with some tofu, this time I wanted to do something a bit different. The (frankly awful) weather we’re experiencing at the moment makes me want to wrap myself up in a blanket of carbs and cheese, so I decided to turn to that most homely of comfort foods – the humble pasta bake.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t a pasta bake. It’s a ziti, an American/Italian mashup which is a bit like a lasagne but made with short pasta. But, the way I see it, a pasta bake by any other name is still a pasta bake – even if people get a bit snotty when those two words are thrown around. Best of all, it’s the perfect thing to make if you’re cooking for a crowd. The most ‘cooking’ you have to do is creating a decent tomato sauce and browning some aubergine slices. Then you just layer the lot together, smother it in some mozzarella and ricotta cheese and throw it in the oven for 25 minutes.  If you’re not particularly keen on huge chunks of aubergine, you could just chop it into cubes and add those to the tomato sauce. Or, if you’re feeling really dirty, you could coat them in panko breadcrumbs and fry them first to add a nice bit of crunch (thinking back, I kind of wish I’d done this now myself).

This is easy, delicious food, and just the thing to keep the Summertime blues at bay. Add a simple green salad, some good crusty bread and a glass of wine, and you have the perfect weeknight dinner.

BAKED AUBERGINE ZITI (Serves Three)

You will need:

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 3 leaves of basil, chopped
  • 1 tsp of white sugar
  • 200g penne pasta
  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 150g mozzarella
  • 150g ricotta
  • Salt and Pepper to season

Make It:

  1. First, fry your garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil until it begins to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes and tomato purée and cook for five minutes until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the oregano, rosemary, basil, chilli flakes and white sugar and simmer while you are cooking your pasta.
  2. Boil your penne until it becomes al dente. Drain, and toss in a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent it sticking.
  3. Cut your aubergine into thick rounds (they should be roughly the same width as a 2p coin). Sauté in some olive oil until they are just beginning to turn brown.
  4. Mix the penne with the tomato sauce and layer at the bottom of a large casserole dish. Add the ricotta, then the sliced aubergines and top with torn mozarella. Season well, and bake at 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 5 for around 20-25 minutes.
  5. Once the baked ziti has cooked, leave to cool for around five minutes. Serve with a green salad and fresh crusty bread.
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General Tso’s Tofu

Tofu – somewhat unfairly – gets a bit of a bad press. Whenever I’ve posted on Twitter that I’ve just scoffed an alarmingly huge portion of the stuff, I’ve had reactions ranging from “Ewwww! Tofu!” to “If you want me to ever read your blog again, you’ll stop posting recipes which contain this vile product.” My answer to this is simple. a) You’re wrong and b) don’t ever tell me what I can and can’t cook in my own kitchen kthxbye.

Where people slip up with tofu is by treating it as a meat substitute rather than an ingredient in its own right. I may be a fully paid up member of the meat-eating classes, but sometimes there’s nothing better than sinking your teeth in a delicious piece of deep fried tofu- that delicious crust yielding to reveal warm, custardy innards. And Mapo Tofu is the ultimate comfort food for both the ill and the ridiculously hungover.

Which leads us to this recipe for General Tso’s Tofu. I’m not entirely sure who General Tso is, but I know that his chicken is a staple in pretty much every Chinese restaurant across the USA. This is a recipe I’ve made more times than I care to remember, mainly because it’s ridiculously tasty and also because I will crawl over broken glass to get to anything which has been deep fried in chilli oil. The cubes of tofu soak up all of the deliciously savoury-sweet sauce, until they practically burst with a fragrant ginger and garlic flavour. If you’re totally averse to the idea of cooking with tofu, it can easily be subbed for chicken thighs. But, take it from me – you won’t know what you’re missing.

GENERALTSO’S TOFU (Serves Two)

Recipe adapted from “Mastering the art of Chinese cooking” via Serious Eats

You will need:

  • 1 large egg
  • 280g (or one pack) tofu
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • A good grind of black pepper
  • 5 to 6 tbsp cornflour divided
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp hoisin
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine (you can use dry sherry if you can’t find this)
  • 1 tsp red chilli oil
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (I used garlic paste)
  • 1 tbsp peeled and minced ginger
  •  2 tsp sugar
  •  3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 small dried red chillies
  • 3 spring onions, white parts only, sliced 1/2-inch thick

Make It!

  1. Crack the egg into a medium-sized bowl, and lightly beat it with a fork. Add the salt, black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the cornflour, and stir until combined. Add the tofu, and toss well. Set mixture aside for 15 minutes. (If you have a rice cooker, you can cook the rice whilst your tofu is doing its business).
  2. Meanwhile, in a second bowl, combine the soy sauce, hoisin, rice vinegar, Shaoxing rice wine, red chilli oil, garlic, ginger, and sugar. Whisk until smooth.
  3. After the 15 minutes, pour the oil into a large wok set over high heat. Heat the oil up until it begins to spit slightly. While the oil warms up, place a sheet of baking paper on your countertop and add 3 tablespoons of the cornflour. Add the pieces of tofu on top, and toss until they are completely coated. Add an additional tablespoon of cornflour if needed.
  4. When the oil is ready, shake off any excess cornflour on the tofu, and carefully add them to the wok. Cook, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, for two-three minutes until the outside of the tofu becomes brown and crispy. Turn off the heat,  remove tofu pieces with the slotted spoon, and drain on some paper towels.
  5. Remove all but 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. Turn the heat to high, and when the oil is just starting to smoke, add the dried chillies, and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the spring onions, and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tofu pieces back to the wok, and toss constantly for a minute until the pieces are coated in the chilli and spring onion oil. Pour in the sauce, and stir-fry for a minute and a half until all of  the pieces are evenly coated. Turn off the heat.
  6. Serve immediately with rice.
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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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Red Lentil & Lemon soup with Harissa croutons

And so, December rolls around again like a tinsel-bedecked juggernaut. The big kid in me always loves this month, with the promise of Christmas (and the prospect of a week devoted to immense gluttony) just around the corner.  The part of me that appreciates not working to walk in the middle of a howling hailstone storm, however, isn’t as keen.

I always think that Bootle looks especially bleak in the Winter months, when not even the sight of the Seaforth docks, with its grain silos wrapped in fairy lights and cheap tinsel, can alleviate some of the gloom. I walked home last night in the rain; the slick wet pavements lit up by the sodium glare of streetlights the same dirty colour as the snood I’d bundled into, and decided that I needed three things to get me through a cold Monday night:

1) Tea

2) A hug from Mr. Cay

3) Soup. And plenty of it

One of my favourite soups to make when the weather take a turn for the worse is this Red Lentil & Lemon soup. I first read it about it on Orangette, who describes it (quite aptly in my opinion) as being ‘a quiet soup’. Indeed, there is something reassuringly simple and comforting about this combination of lentils, cumin and lemon juice – although it doesn’t smack you in the face with spice, there is a certain ‘something’ about it which makes it so much more than just another lentil soup. The dab of tomato paste also lends it a certain umami zing, which is just the thing to put some life back into cold bones.

Because I like a bit of crunch with my soup, I also whipped up some Harissa Croutons from the leftovers of a sourdough loaf I’d baked on Sunday. Whilst I am a firm believer in the benefits of making your own Harissa (Eat Like a Girl has an excellent recipe on her blog if you feel like whipping up a batch sometime soon), I am also terribly lazy. So, I just used the stuff from a jar which I’d recently bought from Steenberg’s Organics.

Warm soup, spicy croutons, hot tea and Masterchef on the telly. Winter may have hit Bootle with a vengeance, but so long as I have all of these things at my disposal, life will always be good.

RED LENTIL & LEMON SOUP WITH HARISSA CROUTONS (Serves four)

Soup recipe adapted slightly from ‘In the kitchen with a good appetite’ by Melissa Clark. Harissa Croutons recipe originally by Eat Like a Girl

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onions, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin (I like to use whole cumin seeds, which are toasted in a pan and then ground in a pestle and mortar)
  • 100g  red lentils
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • ½ tsp  salt, or more to taste
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • Pinch of red chilli flakes
  • 2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken)
  • Juice of a lemon  to taste
  • A good handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

For the croutons

  • 1 tbsp harissa
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g sourdough bread, cubed

Make It!

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2. Combine the harissa and olive oil and season. Toss with the bread to coat. Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp, shaking occasionally.
  2. In a large pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and sweat for around 4 minutes  until golden.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook for another two minutes. Add the stock,  the lentils, and the carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook for around half an hour  until the lentils and carrots are soft. Taste, and add more salt if necessary.
  4. Once cooked, puree around half of the soup using a hand blender (or a food processor if you’re lucky enough to own one) . It should still be slightly chunky. Reheat if necessary, then stir in the lemon juice and fresh coriander. Serve the soup drizzled with good olive oil and topped with the harissa croutons.
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