Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sausage rolls with sage and apricots

The beach between Embleton and Newton was windy and cold but beautiful this weekend, especially with all my close friends... I went on a hen do, but not an awful one, a lovely one in a pretty little Hall, in the wilds of Northumberland near Newton by the Sea. We went for long walks by the sea, a tour of Bamburgh Castle and pub lunches. There was also dancing round the hall in bad bridesmaid dresses till the early hours of the morning, lots of wine, lovely food and general all round hilarity.

I had planned a picnic for lunch at the exact time that a cold wind started, a bit of rain and black menacing clouds rolled in. So we had to improvise by picnicking indoors... Everyone had made different delicious things, my contribution were these sausage rolls...

Finely chop a small red onion and start to cook it gently in a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt until it is really soft. Finely dice a handful of dried apricots and add these to the onion and cook for a few more minutes.

While these are cooking finely chop six or so sage leaves and the leaves of a few sprigs of thyme. All these amounts are pretty rough as you are just adding as little or as much flavour to the sausage meat as you choose. Add the herbs, onion and apricots to about 450g of sausage meat with some salt and pepper and mix it all together with your hands.

Roll out some puff pastry, I used one sheet of the shop bought frozen stuff as time was of the essence... I had a drive North to get on with. Cut the sheet into two long strips and put sausage meat all down the centre of each. Finally roll the pastry over the sausage and squidge the edges down with a fork. Cut into whatever size you would like them to be.

I brushed the top of each of them with a beaten egg and put them in the oven for 25 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius. Keep checking them as you would be devastated if they burnt...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Warm lentil, cherry tomato and halloumi salad

The weather has been lovely in Newcastle this week, a tiny bit warmer and lovely sunny days with bright blue skies. I had a little photo shoot in the allotment on Monday for an article about the blog, I'm not sure how the photos will turn out but at least it was a beautiful day! I have planted some broad beans and built a little wigwam for them to grow up, and the sweet peas have appeared as tiny little delicate green shoots on my window sill... My first successful plants of the year.

It definitely feels springy and time to move on from stews. I'm going up to Northumberland this weekend and am hoping it might stay sunny enough for a picnic. With coats on I imagine... I think this dish would be lovely as part of a summer picnic. It is a recipe from the BBC Good Food website and very tasty.

Rinse about 75g of puy or green lentils until they are clean, put them in a pan of cold water and onto the heat. I used green as I couldn't find any puy in Byker Morrisons. Follow the cooking instructions on the lentils, mine had to boil for 10 minutes then simmer for 30 minutes with a pinch of salt. I had to top the water up now and again as well.

Chop up a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes into halves, and finely slice a quarter of a red onion. These amounts are for one bowl of salad so just multiply them up depending on how many people you are serving.

Crush half a small clove of garlic and chop it up finely, add this to the tomatoes with the juice of quarter of a lemon and a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Thinly slice about 90g of halloumi and brush it with a little olive oil, put it under the grill until it browns, keep an eye on it as it only takes about 5 minutes. Turn it over about half way through to lightly brown each side but keeping the cheese soft in the middle.

When the lentils are done drain them, and add them to the tomato mixture. Stir through a handful of coriander and top with the grilled halloumi. Drizzle a little olive oil over the warm cheese. It is really tasty with the still warm lentils and cheese, and sharp fresh tomatoes, herbs and dressing.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Slow venison stew

There was some nice dark red tasty looking venison for sale in Stewart and Co. on Saturday afternoon which we took home and looked for something interesting to make with it. The idea of a daube came from 'Elizabeth David Classic's', one of my favourite cookery books...

This recipe is a type of daube with venison. A daube is a classic French stew made with beef, that is slow cooked with wine and vegetables and is often flavoured with duck fat, vinegar, brandy, lavender, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, juniper berries, or orange peel. They used to be left cooking on the hearth for the whole day and are often better made the day before. This is my venison version.

The venison should be in stew sized type pieces, about 500g for 2 people. Toss the venison in some flour seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper. Then brown it off in a hot pan with some olive oil, you might have to do it a few bits at a time. If you add too many it will start to stew in the juices of the meat rather than brown nicely. When it is browned all over put it into a large casserole dish.

Chop about 100g of smoked bacon, about 4 slices into small pieces and fry these off in the venison pan until brown. Add them to your venison in the casserole dish. Finally slice an onion into thin rounds, or a couple of tiny onions, which is what I used. Fry these in the same pan again, you might have to add a bit more oil, until it is soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer it to the casserole also when it is done.

Keep the pan on high that you have been cooking everything in and add about a glass of red white to de glaze it. You want to scrape up all of the flavour and bits that have stuck to the pan and mix them up into the wine as it bubbles away furiously. Pour this into the casserole after a few minutes.

Put the casserole dish onto a low heat and mix up the venison, bacon, onions and wine, and add more wine again, I think I ended up putting over half a bottle in, you can use anything you have left over. I collect anything that doesn’t get drank, or has been left a little bit too long to enjoy...

Add to this a sliced carrot, some thyme, a bay leaf, some juniper berries, a sliced clove of garlic and a large piece of orange peel. Leave it to simmer, with a lid on, for a couple of hours, longer if you can. Keep it on low and give it a stir every now and again.

When it is done the flavours are really lovely, the carrots tasted so much of orange, with rich red wine gravy that still tastes of delicate herbs, the venison was soft and falling apart with smoky bacon and soft onions. I served some creamy mashed potato on the side to mix into the rich sauce. It's not very photogenic but tastes delicious...

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Lamb, mint and pinenut meatballs

Middle Eastern type meals are the ones I really love. All their spices and flavours, long stews, fresh salads, tangy yoghurt, toasted flat breads, saffron, almonds, pomegranate salads, dried fruit and meat combinations, grilled fish, mint teas, honey soaked pastry... The list goes on...

We took a trip to Istanbul last Autumn and just ate and drank and tasted and smelt interesting and lovely things the entire time. Highlights were grilled mackerel fillets in a piece of fresh bread from a man fishing and grilling by the river, sitting on the harbour on the Asian side eating sticky baklava watching huge cruise ships, hot sweet milk flavoured with orchid root after a complicated ferry trip up the Bosphorus, amazing sesame flat-breads, grilled lamb, smoky aubergines and dips in a very smart kebab house of sorts, grilled chicken and yoghurt drinks on plastic stools in the Spice Market... I loved every second of it and the list of places to visit in that part of the world is steadily growing... Damascus, Syria, the Bekaa Valley...

This recipe brings a few of those flavours and spices together. Starting with the spicy tomato sauce so it can simmer away while you do everything else. Chop half an onion finely and a clove of garlic, then cook them in a tablespoon of olive oil on a low heat until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Then add a tin of tomatoes, a pinch of chilli flakes and some salt and pepper and allow it to simmer gently until you need it. Keep stirring it now and again to make sure it doesn’t stick.

Chop the other half of the onion finely, along with a few sprigs of mint and another clove of garlic. Add this to 500g of lamb mince. This makes enough for 2 to 3 people. Add half a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of allspice and another pinch of salt and pepper, and mix everything up thoroughly. Roll the mince into little balls about the size of a ping pong ball and roll them around on a plate you have covered in olive oil.

Add all the meatballs to a roasting tray and put them in the oven at 180°C for about 15 minutes. Give them a shake half way through. They should just be browned a little but not too much, you don't want them to dry out.

While the meatballs are cooking measure out 200g of couscous, put it in a pan that can go in the oven and add the same volume of boiling salted water, so 200ml. A teaspoon of salt will be sufficient. Leave it to rest with the lid on, to absorb the water for 10 minutes.

When the meatballs are at the correct stage of brown add the tomato sauce and mix them all together, put them back in the oven for another 15 minutes. At the same time you can take a fork to your couscous and break it all up, it will have become solid as it has absorbed all the water, you need it to be loose in little grains and full of air. Add a large glug of olive oil and mix it through. Put the pan in the oven with the lid on and leave it in for the same amount of time as the meatballs.

I made a sweet cumin yoghurt to go with the meatballs, which is really delicious. It came from The Salad Club originally, but I can't find it on their website, and I kind of make it up a bit differently each time now until it tastes right. Add 4 tablespoons of yoghurt to a small bowl, to this add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a heaped teaspoon of ground cumin and a heaped teaspoon of caster sugar. Then whisk this all together. Add a pinch of salt and pepper too.

It is really good on a BBQ-ed lamb kofta, or a lamb skewer, with some spicy tomato sauce, smoky charred aubergines, pitta bread and chopped salad. I'm longing for summer BBQ's on my little bucket BBQ in the yarden...

Take the meatballs and the couscous out after about 15 minutes. Chop a couple of knobs of butter into the couscous and allow it to melt through. It will be soft and steamy underneath and crunchy around the edges, mix it all up evenly.

Serve a big mound of steamy couscous topped with meatballs and tomato sauce, some fresh chopped mint scattered about and a big spoon of sweet cumin yoghurt. Buttery couscous, spicy tomato sauce, rich minty lamb and sweet spiced yoghurt...

Monday, 14 March 2011

Life at the allotment

There is life at the allotment... I have counted six onion shoots, I know I put in a lot more than that but at least they are appearing slowly. The leeks have also grown a bit, they come out at the end of this month and I think they will be smaller than the average leek, but I feel very proud of them... I need to think of something special to make with them. A fitting end!

We burnt rubbish and dug new beds, so are getting organised slowly. I planted two different varieties of sweetpea at the weekend which we are going to grow up a frame at the front of the allotment. It will look beautiful, and hide the disorganisation behind...

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Anchovial alchemy

Do you know this little fella? If not you should.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Sweet potato, pecan and herb salad

I thought by loading up on this on Sunday I could keep away an incoming cold, it's full of orange juice and lemon juice and ginger and herbs and nuts and vegetables... But no it didn't work and I'm fully struck down by the cold. It still tasted nice though...

It is a bit of a flavour explosion salad, in a good way though. The dressing is the key component, it is sweet but spicy with ginger, sharp lemon, silky honey and sweet sherry vinegar. It's an Ottolenghi recipe, a lot of their recipes are very full on flavours so you have to be careful what you serve them with, as it can all become a bit too much sometimes if you put a few of their salads together.

Chop the sweet potato into 2cm cubes, with the skin still on. Drizzle over a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper and mix it all up so that they are covered evenly with oil.

Put them in the oven at 190 C for 30-40 minutes to roast. Check them once about half way through, turning them over gently. At the same time put 35g of pecan nuts onto a roasting tray and toast them in the oven for 4-5 minutes, be careful to watch them as they burn quite quickly. Leave them to cool when they are done.

While the roasting is going on you can make the dressing. Use a medium sized bowl, there is quite a lot of dressing. Pour in 4 tbsps of olive oil, about 60ml. Add 2 tbsps of clear honey, the recipe actually asks for maple syrup, but I have preferred it when I've used honey in the past. Add 1 tbsp of squeezed lemon juice, 1 tbsp of sherry vinegar and 2 tbsp of squeezed orange juice.

Whisk these all together. Finally add 2 tsps of grated ginger and a quarter of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. It seems like quite a lot of dressing, but the roasted potatoes will soak it up while they are still warm.

Chop up 4 spring onions and the toasted pecans, not too fine for either of them, the crunchy bits of nuts with the soft potato is really good.

Now chop 4 tbsp of flat leaf parsley and 2 tbsp of coriander. I just ordered my herb seeds today, so hopefully will be able to grow enough to keep me supplied over the summer. I think it might be a hard job though as things like this would wipe out an entire plant...

Add everything into a big bowl. The herbs, spring onions, chopped pecans, a good pinch of chilli flakes, 35g of sultanas and the still warm sweet potatoes. Mix it all together.

Finally pour over the dressing and stir it though all of the ingredients. The potatoes will soak it up as they are still warm. Serve it at room temperature.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Chicken, bacon and caper pie

I went out for martinis last night, to Popolos in Newcastle. We were celebrating the American's engagement; The Little Idiot, the Blonde, Boozer and Greggles were all in attendance and it was a very good night. We started with violet martinis, which taste of parma violets and are pretty much just vodka. They are dangerous, but delicious... We then moved on to apple martinis, which may explain feeling a bit fuzzy this morning. It's a good job we'd had a lovely big bowl of seafood pasta and warm bread at Greggles and the Blonde's before we started on the cocktails.

I am finding sustenance in left over chicken pie after having already had a walk to town, a look at the Sunday market on the Quayside and a wedding fayre at The Baltic this morning. I'm exhausted already but at least there was free cake...

The Little Idiot and I spent Friday evening making chicken pie. The recipe was from Beyond Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly. Their restaurant St. John is one of my favourite place to go when I'm down in London. The recipe is actually for Chicken and Ox Tongue pie, but ox tongue proved hard to get hold of after work on a Friday, so we adapted it to suit. I'll tell you the version we made.

Poach a whole chicken in a large pot with a chopped leek, a few cloves of garlic, a chopped onion and some peppercorns. Let it simmer for 45 minutes. Keep the stock for other things it's delicious. They often poach meat in this book and it makes for a delicious pie, the meat is really juicy and tasty compared to roasting it.

While the chicken is poaching slice 2 onions into chunky rounds and cook them in a knob of butter 'until totally submissive'. About half an hour we found. Then fry off 5 or so slices of streaky bacon after the onions in the same pan.

Remove the chicken from the bone and cut it all into pie-size chunks. Mingle the chicken, onions and bacon all together in your pie dish.

Now make the white sauce. Melt a knob of butter in a pan and add a handful of plain flour, stir for a few minutes. Don't let it colour but let it cook a little until it smells biscuity. Start to whisk in the whole milk. The recipe asks for 1.2 litres of whole milk but we didn't actually use that much. I'd say about 800/ 900ml. Whisk it in a little at a time as it thickens and add a little of the chicken stock towards the end. You're aiming for a silky creamy sauce.

Add a big handful of capers to the sauce, extra fine ones if you have them. Season the sauce and then pour it over the chicken, bacon and onions.

The recipe is for puff pastry, but I accidentally bought shortcrust, it didn't make any difference, it was still delicious. You can make your own if you want, but the shop bought ready rolled sheets are very good. Place it over the pie and brush it with a beaten egg for a lovely golden pastry crust. Cut a cross in the centre of the pastry for the pie bird to poke through. This is Peter, our pie bird, I've been wanting to introduce him for a while... If you don't have a pie bird just leave a cross in the middle to let the steam out.

Bake it in a hot oven, about 190°C for 30 to 40 minutes. It really feels like you've achieved something with your own pie. A labour of love. This one was delicious.

1 whole free range chicken
1 leek
3 onions
4 cloves of garlic
a few peppercorns
2 knobs of butter
a handful of plain flour
800/900ml whole milk
a big handful of capers
1 sheet of puff or shortcrust pastry
1 egg beaten
salt and pepper