Thursday, 24 April 2014

Haricot beans with pancetta

This is a hearty stew-come-soup-come-side-dish. Before we talk about this recipe though, I have a confession to make: it was supposed to be an accompaniment, not a dish in its own right. To what? Perfectly pan fried cod. It was going to be glorious, all crispy skin and perfectly cooked white flaking flesh. But unfortunately the cooking of it didn't go so well; the skin stuck to the pan! So, I need to invest in a new non-stick pan (and also take some fish cooking lessons from Adam). Ah well, hey ho and all that. The beans tasted fantastic though, I was really pleased with them. And the fish was good too, even if it was no longer in the form of a fillet, but in a pile, with definitely not crispy skin still stuck to the pan! Next time I cook fish - successfully - you shall no doubt see the results here. Anyone got any tips for frying fish? Adam says my pan wasn't hot enough...

I use dried beans, soaked overnight then cooked for nearly two hours. Not only is it cheaper to buy dried beans, but apparently the soaking releases more of the stuff that makes you trump after eating beans. I read this online, so it is a big fat FACT as far as I'm concerned. That is reason enough to choose dried over tinned I hear you cry, but the main reason I normally go for dried beans is because I prefer the results. Tinned beans tend to stay together more, which, if you're using them cold for, say, a tuna and white bean salad or something is great. In a warm dish like this they start to break down, and release some of the creamy goodness, which I love. As you can see I had a salad of simple watercress with mine - and of course the poorly fried fish too. But if you're eating like this, as a stew/soup, then a simple piece of toasted artisan type bread rubbed with garlic and given a lick of extra virgin would be wondrous. Of course, if you're adept at frying fish, a piece of crispy skinned cod on top would make for a classy dinner I think. 

I know I always say this - well, almost always (I do say when they don't like stuff though, honestly) - but the children blooming loved it. It's like posh beans with bacon. Who's not gonna love that?!

By the way, you could use tinned beans for this (it wouldn't be quite as nice, but it'd still be good) - it would be equivalent to about 3 cans. 

Serves: 4 adults
Prep time: 12 hours soaking plus 2 more hours cooking beans
Cook time: 45 minutes 
Total time: 45 minutes active (plus 14 hours preparing beans)

250g dried haricot beans, soaked overnight
200g pancetta, cut into lardons
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 onion, diced
Tablespoon of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil 
1 small glass of white wine
2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped roughly 
250ml light chicken or vegetable stock 
Large knob of butter 
Salt and pepper
Squeeze of lemon

  1. Drain the soaked beans. Cover again with twice as much cold water and bring to boil. Simmer until tender, which will take up to two hours. Mine took about 1 hour 50 minutes. 
  2. Fry off pancetta, starting with a hot, dry pan then turning down heat, for about 20 minutes, until nicely crisp. 
  3. Add olive oil to the same pan, along with onion and garlic, and sweat down for around 10 minutes. 
  4. Deglaze the pan with a glass of wine. Turn up the heat to burn the alcohol off. Stir around the pan to get all the crispy flavoursome bits. 
  5. Tip the cooked beans in, add the fresh tomatoes, a large knob of butter, and the hot stock. Bring to boil then turn down to medium heat - not a simmer - and leave to bubble with the lid off for about 10 minutes. 
  6. Season to taste, and add a squeeze of lemon. Serve as is, or with some perfectly pan fried cod on top! 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Roasted cauliflower and cous cous salad

Roasted cauliflower and cous cous salad

I'm completely in love with cauliflower. It's so versatile, but everybody thinks the opposite is true. OK, so I do make a lot of cauliflower soups (latest one here) and, of course, the obvious cauliflower cheese appears quite often on our dining table. But really, honestly, there are so many more things to do with a cauli'. Here, I've roasted it with a little turmeric and oil, then combined with cous cous, pine nuts, sultana and coriander for a Morrocan style lunch or side dish. It's dead easy, really rather posh, and extremely healthy. Absolutely delicious too, the crunch of the nuts and sweet sultanas are lovely with the burnished vegetables. 

My next idea with this versatile vegetable is to turn it into fritters. I'm thinking cooked, crushed cauli' mixed with some feta and some cumin... Mmm, watch this space, people. I'm sure you're all on tenterhooks. It's lovely in curries too. Not to mention with ice cream!!! OK, the last one was a hilarious joke. But you get my point; there's more to this veg than we give it credit for! What do you do most often with cauliflower?

I ate this filling salad for lunch, but it would make a great accompaniment to roast lamb. I served it warmish, but it's good cold too. Try adding a dollop of seasoned yoghurt on top to eat. 

Serves: 4 adults as a lunch or side dish 
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

1 medium cauliflower, broken into same-ish size florets
1 teaspoon of turmeric
2 tablespoons of olive oil or rape seed oil
1 teaspoon of salt
125g cous cous, cooked in 200ml of a light hot stock
100g pine nuts, toasted
50g sultanas
More salt and pepper, to taste
Squeeze of lemon juice

To serve: 
Sprinkling of paprika and ground coriander
Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 180C.
  2. Break the cauliflower into florets - the bigger ones may need chopping in two so they're all a similar size. Toss in a roasting pan with oil, turmeric and salt. Make sure they are covered equally in the seasoning. Roast for 30-35 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, make the cous cous by pouring hot stock over grains and leaving for 5 minutes. Fork through when all the liquid has soaked in. Season with a little oil, salt and pepper. Set aside. 
  4. Toast your pine nuts carefully in a pan, they should only take a few minutes - watch the pan closely and move the nuts around a lot, as they ben quickly. Set aside once toasted. 
  5. When the cauliflower is done, simply mix with cous cous, sprinkle in the toasted nuts and sultanas too, squeeze some lemon over and season again with salt and pepper. 
  6. Top with fresh coriander to serve and maybe a little seasoned yoghurt too. 
Roasted cauliflower and cous cous salad with yoghurt

Thursday, 17 April 2014

White chocolate and macadamia nut cookies

I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about telling you, right now, that this recipe is not my creation. No sirree Bob! I can create wonderful stews, vegetarian lasagnes, even muffin recipes from scratch now I have 2 years' blogging / recipe creation under my belt, but cookie recipes - proper, chewy, Americam cookies - I am OK with the fact that I'm still inexperienced in this area. I'm English, after all, and these are an acutely American thang. I believe, to be a proper Bree Van Der Kamp domestic goddess, you have to have these types of homemade treats in your repertoire! Therefore I bring you a recipe by Sally's Baking Addiction, a US blog that offers loads of these types of sugary goodies with gorgeous photography too. I haven't adapted her recipe, simply left out the molasses as I didn't have any in. I just think they are so worth sharing with an English audience. Boy are they good; I took a bite to take the shot, and it took ALL of my pretty nonexistent willpower not to scoff the lot (just about to eat dinner, and I am a good girl). Expect several adaptations of this recipe in the coming months...

Try them, you're gonna love 'em.

Serves: 18 cookies (thereabouts, if you make them the same size as here)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10-12 minutes (plus 30 minutes chilling time)
Total time: 1 hour

115g butter (I used salted, the salt beast that I am!)
150g dark brown sugar
115g granulated white sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
140g porridge oats
125g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
100g white chic chips or chunks
100g macadamia nuts

  1. Using a hand held whisk - or just gold old brute strength - cream your two sugars and softened butter together until smooth. 
  2. Add your egg and beat again. Now the vanilla extract. Mix again. 
  3. Tip in your flour, oats, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and mix again - I used the electric whisk but it's a stiff mixture so it's maybe a good idea to go quickly in with your hands. Add most of your chocolate and nuts (save some to top the cookies with, for aesthetic reasons purely!) and, gently, fold in to distribute evenly. 
  4. Chill the stiff dough mixture in the fridge for 30 mins or until ready to use. 
  5. Preheat oven to 170C. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment. 
  6. Using a dessert spoon, take out a large spoonful (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) and roll into a ball using your hands. Place them 2 inches apart (I did two batches of 9), and bake for 10-12 minutes. They do look soft when you take them out, but this is what you want - that chewy underdone texture. Enjoy with children and lots of chilled, full fat milk. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Slow cooker beef in beer with mushrooms

This is my ideal slow cooker dish. You do have a little bit of prepping in a pan to start with, but not much. I wouldn't dream of just putting everything into the slow cooker - raw meat and veg, cold beer etc - switching it on, and hoping for the best, but I know some people do use their slow cookers like this. For me, it goes against every principle of cookery that I know. Yes, OK, you do have to spend 15 more minutes in the kitchen this way, and you'll have an extra pan to wash up, but that old adage about 'if something is worth doing then it's worth doing properly' springs to mind. By doing it properly - browning off the meat for colour and flavour and sweating your vegetables to bring out the sweetness, then bringing the alcohol to the boil first - you will be greatly rewarded in the eating. Sorry if I'm ranting a little, but I speak to so many people (granted, busy mums mainly) who just want to sling everything into their slow cooker and return to it after a day's work expecting a delicious meal. I get it, I do... and I'm not saying you won't produce an edible dish doing it that way, just that I can guarantee you'll have much better results with a little TLC thrown into the mix... 

If you are looking for a recipe where it is perfectly OK to sling it all in, then check out my Slow cooker coconut rice pudding... : ) 

Braising a cheap cut of beef in beer like this creates a smoky, slightly bitter flavour. One that children - mine anyway - seem to really like. Using alcohol in cooking is a good way to introduce more complex flavours to kids. The booze is burned off anyway, so all you're left with are the flavours, and beer has a great bittersweet depth that goes perfectly with beef. Eat with silky, creamy mash. 

Serves: 4 adults
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 7 hours on low
Total time: 7 hours, 15 minutes

2 small onions, roughly diced
4 small carrots, roughly diced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, chopped
775kg braising steak (or shin of beef)
1l beer (I used Black Sheep Ale)
250g mushrooms, cut into quarters
2 teaspoons of cornflour, mixed with a little cold water, to thicken.
2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley, roughly chopped, to garnish

  1. Sweat the onions, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary and oil over a low heat for about 10 minutes. Tip it all into the slow cooker. 
  2. Turn up the heat in the pan, add a little more oil and fry off the beef. Don't overcrowd the pan or the meat will steam. Do it in two batches if required. 
  3. Once the meat is browned nicely all over, pour in the beer to deglaze and bring to the boil. 
  4. Now transfer the stew to the slow cooker, season with salt and pepper, and braise for 7 hours on low. 
  5. When you are 20 minutes away from wanting to eat, stir in cornflour and water, and add mushrooms. Let this cook for about 20 more minutes to allow the mushrooms to cook and the casserole to thicken. 
  6. Serve with mash (Adam makes the best mash: use a potato ricer for proper smoothness and heat your milk and butter in a pan first before adding to potatoes - it makes a HUGE difference, honestly) and some fresh parsley on top. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Cauliflower, broccoli and brie soup

I'm a little bit addicted to making soup with cauliflower, as you may have gathered from looking at my Recipe Index. It's so cheap, with all year round availability, and it's very healthy too - an excellent source of vitamin C. This time I added broccoli (way healthy too, obviously - check out the vitamin K and vitamin C in this baby!) and some brie that I had to use up. Arthur is still sporadically averse to vegetables. It really is an intermittent thing, sometimes he wolfs them down. The sporadicalness (that's a real word!) is a good thing, as it's more likely to be him asserting his opinion/taste rather than a genuine dislike for them.

It's super quick, creamy and satisfying, and my kids enjoyed it, which suggests other veg averse littlies will too. Give it a go, you might be pleasantly surprised. Oh, the pleasure we get from seeing fussy children eating vegetables... *gives self a little pat on back*.

If the cauli' leaves are in fairly good condition then include them; they taste amazing and it's such a shame to waste them, I only discard any damaged or discoloured ones. Plus don't chuck the stalks on either vegetable, they have loads of flavour too - and are very fashionable at the moment. Really! It's all about the cruciferous stalks in the restaurants! What a strange world we live in...

Serves: about 10 (freezes well)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes 
Total time: 25 minutes

2 small onions or 1 large onion, diced roughly
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 head of cauliflower (plus stalks and leaves), chopped roughly into similar sized pieces
1 head of broccoli, chopped roughly (stalk included)
1l whole milk (reduce to 500ml for a thicker soup, you can always add more after)
1l light veg stock (ditto) - by 'light' I mean, if it's if shop bought, only use half the recommended amount of stock to water, to avoid over saltiness
135g of brie, chopped roughly (I left rind on)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Splash of cream (I added about 5 tablespoons!)

  1. Sweat onions and garlic on a low heat in olive oil for 5-10 minutes. 
  2. Add chopped broccoli and cauliflower, leaves and stalks too. Throw in bay leaf. 
  3. Pour in hot stock and milk. Now simmer until the vegetables are nicely cooked, about 15-20 minutes. 
  4. Once they are cooked, add your chopped brie. Let it melt off the heat for a few minutes. 
  5. Whizz with a handheld soup blender or, as I do, in the jug part of a food processor. 
  6. Pour in a splash of cream, if using, and season to taste. Dig in. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Tortilla chip chicken salad

This should be called Happiness Salad, really, because it truly does make whoever eats it very happy. Especially children. What's that you say, 'my child doesn't eat salad'? A-HA! Try this one and then come back to me. I offer a no quibbles, 100% guarantee that they will eat all most of the things on the plate. If I'm wrong then you have my permission to knock on my door and slap my face when I appear. Or maybe just Tweet me

I saw a similar salad ages ago on The Pioneer Woman's website - I just love Ree - and I tried her recipe out. Everyone went wild for it. I knew I wanted to feature it on here, it's such a jolly, healthy family recipe that would brighten up the most depressing of days. This is my version. It's not so totally different, but I've made some changes. I loved the original so much that I wanted to remain true to the main components: juicy chicken (I use thigh as I prefer the meat), creamy avocado, crunchy fresh sweetcorn, piquant blue cheese dressing (I make my own), and then the piece de resistance - crushed tortilla chips on top. You heard me right, crisps on a salad. See, I told you your kids would love this!

It is very easy, but it is also a little bit time consuming, getting all the separate components together. So for that reason I think it's a weekend dish, or one for when you have some time to prepare something special. This would be just perfect for a kid's birthday party or a family BBQ. Ideally, serve on a large plate for people to help themselves to. Summer is coming people, I can feel it!

Serves: 4 adults
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

3 or 4 free-range or organic chicken thighs (I used 3 but they were quite big)
1 tablespoon of good quality Cajun spice mix (if you don't have this simply use a little cumin, paprika, and chilli powder mixed up - or even go naked!)
8 tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Handful fresh coriander, chopped roughly 
1/2 lime, juice to squeeze
2 cobs of fresh sweetcorn, shucked (you could use tinned but it won't be quite as nice)
2 baby gem lettuces, sliced quite thinly
1 ripe avocado, diced
Handful of salted tortilla chips
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Blue cheese dressing: (you could always buy this, either Ranch dressing or a blue cheese variety)
100g blue cheese, crumbled
150ml sour cream
100ml mayonaise
Tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Tablespoon of water 
Salt, pinch

  1. Dust the thighs with Cajun coating - I use bone-in ones and sliced around it afterwards, but feel free to spend more on boneless thighs, do however choose ones with skin on for flavour. Fry in a very hot pan with some oil, turning every ten minutes or so. They should take around 25-35 minutes, depending on the size. When you think they are done, slice up and set aside. If you are worried they are still a little pink (I always seems to fret about this!), don't worry, you can give them a final toss in the hot pan before serving.
  2. If you have room in the same pan, add your cobs to cook in the chicken-y Cajun juices for the last 10-15 minutes. If not, then either wait until after the chicken is done, or use a different pan. Keep turning them to cook all sides. When they're done, carefully shuck the corn: hold the cob vertically with a tea towel, and with a sharp knife, cut downwards to remove all the corns. 
  3. Meanwhile, make your blue cheese dressing. Whizz up in a processor (or mash with a fork) to get a smoothish consistency. I find that you always need to stir before serving as the cheese sinks to the bottom. Lumps are to be embraced, I say...
  4. When your chicken / sweetcorn is sliced / shucked, you are ready to arrange the salad. Scatter your sliced lettuce over a large serving platter. Add halved tomatoes, sliced onions, a scattering of coriander (hold some back) and avocado. Now the chicken and sweetcorn too too. Squeeze lime juice over it all. You may want to gently toss the salad with your fingers at this point, so all elements can be seen. Pour over some dressing (leave lots to serve in a jug alongside) and scatter lightly crushed tortilla chips. One last scattering of coriander and you... are... DONE!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Green lentil and spinach soup

I've been dreaming about a soup like this for ages. Sad, aren't I? I was thinking specifically of lentils, a cheap and oh so healthy store cupboard fave of mine, with some spice, some coconut creaminess, and a little zing of lime too. I am so smugly pleased with the outcome! Just wolfed down a bowl. Adam too. *Kids not yet. Will report back when they give their verdict - honestly I will! And it will be honest too, knowing them. 

If you fancy a bowl of comforting yet healthy goodness, then try this. I think you're going to like it. I cooked the soup with half a chopped green chilli, and served more on top for grownups. But go for it if your kids or whoever you're serving likes it hot. You must eat it will lots and lots of chopped fresh coriander, oodles of lime juice and a fresh sprinkling of salt - Maldon flakes ideally. Yet again, I have made enough for the large family I am obviously unconsciously craving; simply halve proportions if you want to make less. Saying that, I think it would freeze well (if freezing I would add spinach after). Talking of spinach, I strongly suggest tucking it in just before serving to retain the colour and fresh texture. 

*Bea (nearly 2) had a bit; Artie (nearly 4) notsomuch. Probably one for the adults, then, or older children. Told you I'd be honest!

Serves: 8/10 adults
Prep time: 15 minutes 
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes

2 tablespoons of a plain oil, vegetable, sunflower or rape seed would be ideal
2 tablespoons of coconut oil (don't worry if you don't have this in, but it's a nice addition)
2 thumbs worth of ginger, diced finely
4 cloves of garlic, diced finely
1 tablespoon coriander seed, toasted then crushed (you could use ground coriander, but it won't be as nice)
1/2 green chilli, sliced finely
1 onion, diced
500g green lentils
2l stock (a light chicken or veg ideally homemade, but if using shop bought then leave out salt)
1 can of coconut milk 
Juice of 1 lime, plus zest
225g spinach
2 teaspoons of salt

To serve:
Freshly chopped coriander 
A couple of limes, to squeeze
Natural or Greek yoghurt 

  1. Heat the plain oil, I used rape seed, in a pan over lowish heat. Add your ginger, garlic and chilli. Cook out for 5 minutes until softened. 
  2. Meanwhile, toast your coriander seeds in a pan, dry. This will only take about 3 minutes. Watch them as they burn quickly. Bash them in a pestle and mortar to grind. 
  3. Add your onion to the garlic and chilli and cook for 5 more minutes, until nice and sweet and soft. 
  4. Now add your turmeric and ground coriander to the mix. Cook for a few minutes. 
  5. Rinse the lentils. Add to the pan. 
  6. Pour in your stock, bring to boil. Add the coconut milk, season well, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Stir often to release the lentils' creaminess; I lovingly stirred mine the whole time, which was very meditative. 
  7. The result you want is soupy, with soft lentils and not too much excess water floating on top. When you are happy with the consistency, which in my case took about 40 minutes, add lime, zest and juice.
  8. At the very last minute, turn off the heat and tuck in the spinach. Serve with a final squeeze of lime, chopped fresh chillies (red would be lovely but I could only get green), loads of fresh coriander and a good dollop of Greek yoghurt. Sprinkle more salt on top. Marvel at healthy food tasting so good.