Saturday, 25 April 2009

Food and Friends

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I haven't really got a new recipe to share, as I've been cooking and baking a lot of old favourites lately, like Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake (the link it takes you to my older post about the cake and the recipe).

If you've been following this blog you will by now have realised that there isn't much gourmet cooking or haute cuisine going on in my kitchen. The reason for that is that to me food and cooking is all about love, enjoyment, flavours and above all sharing with friends. I'm not saying that gourmet meals can't be all of those things too, but I generally like things a little more rustic and unpretencious. At least at home.

I've been really lucky these last few weeks and months, as there's been a lot of eating, drinking, talking and laughing with friends. That's what makes me tick and that's what makes me happy.

So this is a big THANK YOU to all of the lovely people in my life. Friends and family, who let me share with them, who come to my house and invite me into theirs. You know who you are. You make me happy!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Spicy Roast Aubergine with Chickpea Stew and Jeweled Couscous

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This has to be one of the best new recipes I have tried in quite a while.

My friends Lucy and H came round for a relaxed, girls only, midweek dinner last night. I started looking for things to cook the day before, as I wanted to use the opportunity and try out something new. I know that can be slightly risky business when you have guests, but I knew the girls would be forgiving and anyways when I saw the recipe on the Vegetarian Society Website, I was pretty sure that it was going to be good.

Well, good it was. I think I even heard the words 'better than sex' uttered by somebody. I made the chickpea stew the night before, so I just had to marinate and roast the aubergine and quickly make the couscous. The list of ingredients and the instructions look long but it all came together simply enough and the dish has loads of different flavours that work together really well. Every mouthful adds a new level.

I nearly slipped up, I forgot to add the toasted almonds. After we had finished our first serving I realised and quickly added them. They took the dish to a whole different level again, so make sure you don't forget them!

We rounded off the meal with fresh raspberries that Lucy had brought and Easy Peasy All in One Lemon Drizzle Cake. I made the cake using some home made Lemon Curd that Lucy had given to me last week. Delicious!

As with most recipes, I adjusted it ever so slightly and here's my version:

Spicy Roast Aubergines with Chickpea Stew and Jeweled Couscous (serves 4)

For the aubergines:
2 aubergines cut into bite sized cubes
1 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped
2 lemons, juice of
4 cloves garlic, minced
2tsp ground coriander
2tsp paprika
2tsp ground cumin
2tsp ground black pepper
1tsp cayenne pepper
1tsp harissa paste
1/2-1 tsp salt
4tbsp olive oil

For the chickpea stew:
2 onions, sliced
2tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1tsp paprika
pinch cayenne
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
150ml vegetable stock
1tbsp caster sugar
3tbsp tomato puree
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained
1 bay leaf
salt, to taste
2tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped

For the couscous:
700ml vegetable stock
350g couscous
1 lemon, grated rind only
4tbsp olive oil
50g flaked almonds, lightly toasted
75g dried apricots, chopped
3tbsp golden raisins
3tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
to taste salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the roast aubergines, place the chopped aubergines in one layer in an oven proof dish.

In a seperate bowl mix all the other ingredients together to make a marinade.

Pour over the aubergines and toss well until they are evenly coated.

Cover and allow to marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 190C/Gas 5.

Place the aubergines into the hot oven, uncovered and roast them for 30 minutes or until soft.

While they are cooking you can make the chickpea stew, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and fry the onions until soft and beginning to slightly brown. (Or like me you can make this the previous night.)

Add the minced garlic and the spices and continue to cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the vegetable stock, chopped tomatoes and sugar and simmer gently until it has reduced a bit and starts to thicken.

Add the tomato puree, drained chickpeas and the bay leaf.

Bring back to a simmer and cook for five more minutes.

Season to taste and stir in the chopped coriander, remove the bay leaf.

To make the couscous, put the couscous in a pan and pour the hot vegetable stock over.

Bring to a boil, cover and remove from the heat.

Allow to stand for five minutes before fluffing it up with a fork.

Add the apricots, golden raisins, toasted almond slivers and chopped coriander and fold them in.

Layer all three components in a large serving bowl, starting with the couscous, followed by the chickpea stew and finally topping it with the roast aubergines.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Sausage and Potato Goulash

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The girls visit is slowly drawing to a close. I have to put them on a plane back to Germany on Thursday, where I'm sure their parents will be more than happy to see them after their ten day stay with me in England.

Tomorrow evening we're all invited over for dinner at my friend J's house, so I only had to come up with one more kid-friendly recipe to keep them happy. We already had the usual spaghetti bolognese, chicken and chips, pizza and tacos, so I tried to get some inspiration by looking through some of my cookbooks. When flicking through Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros, one of my favourite cookbooks, I came across this recipe for Sausage and Potato Goulash. I read it out to N and L and they both thought it sounded good, so off to the supermarket we went to buy the ingredients.

I halved the recipe when I made it, but below you find it as it's printed in the book. I also added some carrots and used vegetable stock instead of water for extra flavour. The result was a hearty, rustic meal that was enjoyed by all three of us. In fact the kids asked if we could have it again tomorrow. That's what I call a result.

Sausage and Potato Goulash (serves 8)

750gr good quality sausage, sliced into 1cm chunks
2 tbsp olive oil
30gr butter
1 large red onion, chopped finely
1-2 tsp sweet paprika
1kg potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
250gr chopped tomatoes from a tin
a piece of cassia bark or 1/2 cinamon stick (I used the cinnamon stick)
1 bay leaf
500ml water
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a large heavy based pan and fry the onion for a few minutes.

Add the paprika, stir and fry for another minute, before adding the sausage.

Fry the sausage until it begins to brown in places.

Add the rest of the ingredients, apart from the parsley, stir, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it from sticking.

If the potatoes are not quite done after that time turn the heat off and continue to steam them by just leaving the lid on the pan until they are done.

Add the parsley just before serving.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Easter Nests

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My visitors are still in bed, so I thought I'd quickly share one of the treats we made on Saturday, before I start getting the requested full English Breakfast on the go. I know N likes a full English, but I'm not to sure how it'll go down with L. We'll see, if everything fails L will have to just have fried egg on toast with baked beans.

Okay, back to the Easter treats. The girls made them on Saturday together with my friend's daughter V. Easter Nests are really easy to make and I'm sure most people have had them before or at least seen them around. They are very similar to rice crispie treats, the only difference being that they use cornflakes instead of the crispies and that they get topped with chocolate eggs for Easter.

Easter Nests (makes 16)

125gr milk chocolate
100gr dark chocolate
50gr butter
2 tbsp golden syrup (or corn syrup)
100gr cornflakes
16 paper muffin cases

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large pan over medium heat.

When it has melted, stir in the golden syrup and mix well.

Add the cornflakes and carefully stir them in. Make sure they get coated evenly with the chocolate mix and try not to crush them.

Place the paper liners in a muffin tin and divide the cornflake mixture between them.

Using the back of a teaspoon, shape them into a nest by making a little dent in the middle of each of them.

Place into the fridge for 30 minutes to chill and set.

When set and cool, place coloured chocolate eggs into each nest to finish.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Mexican Rice

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I finally got to cook something new that's worth writing about. I have two twelve-year-olds staying with me for the Easter holidays, my nice N. and her friend L. We've been out and about a lot over the last week (Wales, Chester Zoo, Tatton Park and London) and today we decided that we needed a little rest day, just playing games and going for a little walk in the sunshine. That means I get some time to blog.

After making Easter nests and an egg colouring session yesterday afternoon, I decided to make tacos and Mexican rice for dinner for which my friends E. and JM. joined us. I had never really tried making my own Mexican rice, but have always liked it in restaurants. Looking at the recipe, it seemed a bit long, but it was actually quite easy and since it is mainly cooked in the oven, once it was all put together it was very little work.

Happy Easter to all of you!

Mexican Rice (serves 8 as a side)

400gr tinned chopped tomatoes
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 medium jalapeno peppers or canned jalapenos
2 cups long grain white rice
Sunflower oil oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped
1 lime , juice of

Preheat your oven to 170C/350F.

Process tomato and onion in processor or blender until pureed and thoroughly smooth. This should make two cups.

De-seed and finely chop the jalapeno peppers. If you're using canned/pickled jalapenos, just chope them.

Put your rice in a fine sieve or colander and rinse thoroughly for about 2 minutes. The water should run clear after that time which means that the excess starch is removed. Cover the sieve/colander and shake well to remove any rest starch still in the rice. This is really important so that the rice is fluffy in the end and not sticky.

Heat some oil in heavy bottomed ovenproof pan with tight fitting lid over medium high heat about 2 minutes. The oil should sizzle when you drop in a few rice grains. Add the rice and stir fry until the rice is light golden and translucent. This takes about 6-8 minutes.

Reduce heat and add garlic together with 2/3 of the chopped jalapenos and cook, stirring constantly for about 1 1/2 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, the pureed tomato/onion mixture and salt. Increase heat to and bring to a boil.

Cover the pan and place it in the middle of your oven to bake until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. That should take about 30-35 minutes. Stir once after 15 minutes. (I forgot and it still worked fine.)

Add the rest of the jalapeno, the chopped fresh coriander and the lime juice.