Meat-free Mondays: Beetroot rosti with feta and tahini-lemon dressing

Beetroot doesn’t have to take ages to cook, these rostis are done in mere minutes, and pairing them with the salty feta really shows off their earthy sweetness

sketch1381096584613Beetroot rosti with feta and tahini-lemon dressing
Serves 2

2 medium beetroot
1 medium floury potato
1 small white onion
1½ tbsp plain flour
1 tsp ground cumin
2½ tbsp olive oil
50g tahini
1 small garlic clove
2 small lemons
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
100g feta cheese

1. Peel the beetroot and potato and coarsely grate. Place in a colander in the sink and squeeze out any excess moisture, then transfer to a bowl.

2. Peel, halve, and finely slice the onion, and crumble the feta cheese. Add the sliced onion to the grated beetroot and potato along with the flour, ground cumin, and half the feta. Season with salt and pepper and stir until well mixed.

3. Place a large frying pan on a medium heat and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Divide the beetroot mixture into four balls. Squeeze each ball tightly in your hands to bind it together and place evenly spaced apart in the frying pan.

4. Use the back of a spatula to flatten the balls gently into rostis approximately 1cm thick. Fry for 3-4 mins on each side, until tender and well browned, turning just once (be gentle, you don’t want them to break up!).

5. Meanwhile, finely grate the zest from the lemons, then juice them (keep zest and juice
separate). Crush the garlic clove and, in a small bowl or jug, whisk together with the tahini, lemon juice, 1½ tbsp olive oil and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

6. Arrange the spinach leaves on plates, and toss with the lemon zest and remaining feta. Transfer the cooked rosti to the plates and drizzle over the tahini dressing.
Continue reading “Meat-free Mondays: Beetroot rosti with feta and tahini-lemon dressing”

Tomato essence

Tomato EssenceI was fair consumed with jealousy at the weekend when I visited my friend Abby and saw her homegrown vines heaving with luscious red fruit, which I couldn’t help comparing infavourably with the massed cordons of shiny green balls dangling from my plants right now. Alas, such is the lot of the exotic tomato grower – these rare or old varieties really do seem to take so much longer to ripen. So much so in fact, that the last two years my crop has been almost a total failure, as by the time they’re due to redden the weather has turned suddenly wintery (what happened to Autumn as a season?!) and I’ve lost half to blight and the rest get too cold and stay stubbornly green. If that happens again this year I think I’ll give up, and go back to good ol’ Gardener’s Delight like normal non-masochistic growers do.

Tomato EssenceAnyhoo, if you’re delighting in plants groaning with ripe fruit, or you’re lucky enough to frequent a market (y’know – one of those places you can get ’10 mange tout’ ) that sells seasonal bounty cheap, and you’ve never tried making Tomato Essence (also known as tomato ‘tea’, or more erroneously ‘consomme’) then now is the time. It is, as the name suggests, the pure clear essence of tomatoness. The soul and heart flavour of Solanum lycopersicum, taste of the Med and balm to the soul. No, really. Stop snorting at the back. This stuff really is worth the hyperbole.

And it’s so simple! In fact, I make it not only when I have a heap of whole fruit, but any time some barmy chef tells me in a recipe to cut out and discard the seeds and pulp – you know, the bit where the flavour is!  The cores from a standard punnet of toms won’t give you heaps of essence, but even a shotglass-full is worth the minimal effort when you realise what a punch this stuff packs.

Taste. Of. Summer.

Tomato EssenceTomato Essence
Serves: Some
So simple in fact, there are no measurements. Take the skins, cores, pulp and seeds from as many tomatoes as you have. Use the tomato flesh for something else – a salad perhaps, or a fresh tomato sauce, or maybe even oven-dried tomato ‘petals’. Chop the cores and pulp roughly with a knife. Don’t be tempted to blitz them in a processor, even with a big batch, otherwise you’ll smash bitterness from the seeds into your lovely essence. Place in a muslin-lined sieve (or a jelly bag, if you have one), shake over a little fine salt and stir briefly.  Set the sieve or jelly bag over a jug into which you’ve placed a few bruised sprigs of basil or fresh oregano, and leave to drain overnight. If you can suspend your muslin from something (a fridge rack for instance) so much the better, to get maximum ‘essence’. At no point squeeze the muslin/bag or attempt to force juice through – that will make the end result cloudy. Taste the clear essence in the jug, and add salt if needed. Serve as it is, chilled or at room temperature, perhaps garnishing with a sprig of fresh herbs, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or even a few balsamic pearls.

Cheaty cheapy roasted tomato & pepper soup with basil oil

As much as I love tomato soup I’m often horrified by the cost of making it at home. It’s common for recipes to call for a minimum of 1.5kg tomatoes for a few portions, that’s pretty darn expensive to buy, and even when I have a glut in my garden I’ll be hard pressed to provide that more than once a season.

Tomato Pepper Soup

So to satisfy the penny pincher in me (and to acknowledge that for yet another year in a row there’ll be little to no sunshine and my tomato harvest is likely to be nil) I’ve created a tomato soup that delivers all the flavour for a fraction of the cost, the tomatoes being bulked out a little with peppers and carrots, and a shot of concentrated tomato puree gives an extra boost of tomatoeyness. The basil oil isn’t strictly necessary, but I do think a homemade soup deserves that little extra dressing up, and it means you can make this in the winter (or our ‘summer’ equivalent), with hothouse-grown tomatoes, and still feel like you’re in the Provençal sunshine.

Roasted tomato & pepper soup with basil oil
Serves 4

500g cherry tomatoes
2 red peppers, quartered and deseeded
Half a red chilli (in the piece, not chopped)
3 small carrots, peeled
a small knob of butter
1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, bruised and peeled
pinch of celery salt
3 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
500ml vegetable stock

For the basil oil
15g basil leaves
olive oil

Toss the tomatoes, peppers and chilli in a tiny drop of oil (just enough to stop them sticking), then roast at 200˚C/Gas 6 for 40-45 minutes. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool before skinning. If you can be bothered, pinch the skins from the tomatoes too, but don’t be too fastidious about it.

Finely grate the carrots (use the finest side on a box grater, or a microplane), then sweat in the butter with the onion, bruised garlic, celery salt and tomato puree until meltingly tender. Add the roasted tomatoes, skinned peppers and the chilli, plus the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, simmer for just a minute or two, then blitz and season to taste.

For the basil puree, whizz the basil leaves with a pinch of salt and just enough olive oil to form a smooth paste (using a stick blender or mini processor). Serve the soup drizzled with the oil.

Storecupboard smokey chilli sauce

Storecupboard smokey chilli sauce

Admittedly the storecupboard in question is one of a serious chilli fanatic, but the point here was to make a chilli sauce that was totally different from the ones using fresh chillies which abound in my kitchen during the long-distant summer months. All the chillies used are whole and dried, which means you can keep them in your cupboard for a long time and they’ll still be flavour-packed; and are available from loads of retailers online (see below). This sauce has an almost barbecue-y flavour, but without the cloying sweetness of so many purpose-made barbecue chilli sauces, and it goes as wonderfully on fried eggs or chips as it does on a lamb kofte.

Storecupboard smokey chilli sauce
Makes 2-4 smallish bottles 

8g facing heaven chillies
18g pasilla chillies
22g ancho chillies
36g peperoncino chillies
16g mesilla chillies
(or a similar proportion to make up 100g total weight)
625ml distilled malt (white) vinegar
50g caster sugar
30g salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Remove the stalks from all the chillies, place in a bowl and cover with a kettle of boiling water. Weigh the chillies down with a small saucer, if necessary, to keep them submerged and leave for around half an hour until they are all tender. Drain the chillies (reserving the soaking liquid) and place in a saucepan with the remaining ingredients. Cover with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes, then puree until completely smooth, adding a little of the soaking liquid until you have a consistency you’re happy with. Decant into sterilised bottles, it should keep for at least a year.

*UK Stockists I particularly like:
Capsicana Chilli Co
South Devon Chilli Farm
Chilli Pepper Pete

Chocolate coffee cupcakes with orange cheesecake icing

Chocolate cupcake with orange cheesecake frostingThese incredibly easy cupcakes use the magical reaction of vinegar and baking powder to create a light and fluffy texture but you’d honestly never know the vinegar was in there I promise. Because of this kitchen alchemy they are completely dairy free, until you smother them in this delicious icing that is, in which the orange and vanilla balance beautifully against the coffee in the cake, but if you wanted to keep them vegan a simple icing of orange juice and icing sugar would still be lovely.

Super-simple chocolate coffee cupcakes with orange cheesecake icing
Makes 12 cupcakes or 20 fairy cakes

225g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
225g granulated sugar
½ tsp fine salt (if using flakes – Maldon for preference – powder them in a pestle & mortar first)
1½ tsp good-quality instant coffee (I like Kenco Millicano wholebean instant)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or Madagascan vanilla extract)
6 tbsp olive oil
For the icing:
50g white chocolate
100g full-fat cream cheese
50g soft unsalted butter
½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
Zest of 1 small orange
250g icing sugar
Edible glitter, to decorate (optional*)

Ready on for the rest of the recipe…

DIY butter – (and scones) – homemade kitchen alchemy

Homemade butterWhat’s that you say? You’ve never made your own butter? Oh daaaarlink, you simply must – it’s so easy!  I was amazed recently by how many people reacted with surprise when I said you could make your own butter in just 5 minutes, using nothing more than an electric mixer and some double cream. In fact, you don’t even need the electric mixer – if you cast your mind way back you might even recall making it in a jam jar at primary school. But unless you still have the boundless energy of a 7-year-old, or the arm muscles and equipment of a 19th century dairy maid, I strongly recommend using the electric mixer.

Homemade butter won’t necessarily taste substantially different or better than anything you can buy (although if you do it with delicious farm-fresh organic cream it will certainly knock the socks off anything Lurpak can produce), but it is just such fun – watching the transformation of a common kitchen substance (cream) changing state from liquid to solid, plus of course you get a delicious bi-product (buttermilk) which just cries out to be baked with, ideally into something you can slather your lovely new butter on.

Whilst we’re on the butter and milkmaid topic, if you fancy a cheap giggle Google ‘butter churner’ then look at the 3rd search result* (adults only!)
Read on for the recipe and more lovely illustrations!

Beetroot tartlets with chilled pea cream

Beetroot tartlets with chilled pea creamDespite the (hopefully sarcastic) pleas of my friends, I have no desire to ever enter Come Dine With Me – the dinner-party-show-cum-torture-device, as (quite apart from the inherent humiliation involved) dinner parties are really not ‘me’ – I simply cannot remember the last time I produced a formal, three-course meal. If I ever WERE to give in however, this is definitely the dish I’d make, being super-easy to make ahead, deliciously tasty and with lots of wow-factor. And if you’re not the dinner party type either, it makes a fabulous light lunch and surprisingly enough even travels well (chilled) for picnics or packed lunches!

Beetroot tartlets with chilled pea cream
Serves 6

350g raw beetroot
2 medium white onions, peeled & finely sliced
Butter, for frying
30g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
a few thyme sprigs
1 x 375g pack all-butter puff pastry
100g frozen peas
100ml double cream
1/2 lemon
75g hard goats cheese

You will also need 6 x 9cm diameter tartlet moulds/tins, lightly greased with butter or oil.

Continue reading for the recipe….

How to cook like Heston? – Ultimate cheese sauce for lasagne

Ahh, Heston Blumenthal, a name that divides opinion more sharply than probably almost any other in the food world. Love him or loathe him (I blame the snail porridge for 99% of the haters) you can’t escape him these days, between Waitrose adverts, the ongoing debate about the merits of Dinner, scandals in the press and his various TV projects. I’d planned to try some of the recipes from Heston’s latest series anyway, and with a chance to win a tour of his lab on offer at lovefood what did I have to lose? I threw caution to the wind and rolled up my sleeves to melt cheese according to his ‘groundbreaking’ method.

How to cook like Heston? - Ultimate cheese sauce for lasagneHeston does a couple of variations on his cheese sauce (one involves infusing parmesan rinds into the wine, which I wished I’d remembered as I have a freezer full of the things) , all of which make quite a small amount, so I used a double quantity of the recipe as done for cauliflower cheese. As with other recipes of Mr Blumenthal’s I’ve tried (spag bol, chilli con carne, chicken tikka masala, all from the In Search of Perfection series), I’ve found that the predominant problem for home cooks is not actually the techniques, or even the availability of the ingredients, but the cost, and once again I was blown away with how much money he assumes the average Joe (even the average foodie Joe) is willing to spend on dinner at home. Reducing nearly a whole bottle of good quality wine (there’s no point using a cheap bottle – it’ll taste like rancid vinegar by the time it’s reduced sufficiently) to make half a pint of cheese sauce feels like a painful extravagance to me, particularly given the current economic climate (which I must assume is not affecting Bray).

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Heston Blumenthal’s ultimate cheese sauce (adapted from the original)
This double quantity made enough sauce for a lasagne to feed 6.

1 litre quality chicken stock
600ml white wine
240g grated cheese (two-thirds hard cheese, one-third soft goat’s)
40g cornflour
40g sour cream (Heston uses soft cheese but I didn’t have any)
Knob of butter

First reduce your chicken stock to 400ml in a small pan (if you do it in a large pan you’ll be cleaning burnt stock off the sides for weeks). In a separate, even smaller pan, reduce the white wine to 60ml. This takes quite a while so get it started nice and early, but make sure it is still warm when you continue to the next step.

Add the reduced wine to the reduced stock. Mix the grated cheeses and cornflour then stir into the liquid on a low heat until melted (following Heston’s advice as given on the show I added the hard cheese first, then when that was melted I added the goat’s cheese, which just as he said doesn’t melt totally). Finally stir in the knob of butter and the sour cream/soft cheese.

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Is it worth it? Read on to find out if you should be cooking cheese like Heston….

Chinese accompaniments: Umami-rich Egg fried rice and easy carrot pickle

Egg fried rice and easy carrot pickleTo my mind no oriental meal is complete without some rice and some pickles, and one of my favourite parts of any Chinese takeaway is the egg fried rice – for something so apparently simple it is something that has consistently gotten the better of me in the kitchen, never managing to recreate that wonderful simply savoury depth of flavour, so much so that I’d all but given up trying.

When I was planning some accompaniments to go with my Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce which I posted last week, I turned for advice to Kylie Kwong’s Simple Chinese Cooking and although I can never resist making a few tweaks to any recipe I follow, it turned out perfectly.  The pickles are a variation on hers too, and go wonderfully both with rice and dumplings, plus they keep for several days in the fridge so you can nibble them with anything else you have lying around – cheese or ham for instance.

Keep reading for my versions of both recipes…

Presto Pasta Nights #248 – The roundup

No sooner had the announcement been made that I was hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Nights then I had received the first entry, this stunning offering from La Caffettiera Rosa, a delicious seafood pasta with cannellini beans and mussels:

lacaffettierarosaNext up was Clarion of Preventing Culinary Amnesia with her classic Arrabbiata, a word which incidentally is Italian for ‘angry’, perfect for a dish of such spicyness:

ArrabbiataRuth, Queen Bee of Presto Pasta Nights and blogger over at Once Upon A Feast, contributed this delicious woodland-inspired ‘taste of the forest’ pasta with mushrooms, pancetta & arugula (that’s ‘rocket’ to you and me!) 🙂

Taste of the Forest Pasta Thus far all the pasta dishes have been pretty darn speedy supper recipes, but then in swept Nupur of UK Rasoi with a lovely step-by-step guide to making one of my favourite weekend meal projects: Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni:

Spinach and Ricotta CannelloniThe meatiest offering of the week came from Jules of Pictures of a princess, a spicy yet creamy Chicken Paprikash served on spätzle – the Germanic equivalent of Italy’s noodle, the name of which means ‘little sparrows’ for goodness-only-knows reason why!

Chicken paprikashShellfish got a rather glamorous makeover with this impressive entry from Tandy of Lavender & Lime – it’s time to apply for your fishing permit and do battle with the invading red signals so you can make this:  Crayfish ravioli with a bisque sauce

CRAYFISH RAVIOLI WITH A BISQUE SAUCEI’m not normally a big fan of vegan food (I do so love my cheese!) but Deb of Kahakai Kitchen might just have converted me with this scrumptious Super quick tomato basil ‘cream’ bucatini in which blitzed cashews take the place of dairy to make the sauce rich and creamy:

Super Quick Vegan Tomato Basil "Cream" BucatiniShelby, aka ‘HoneyB’ over at The Life and Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybunch broke with the so-far distinctly European vibe to produce this fabulous east-meets-west fusion of Beef & Broccoli with Black Bean Mushroom Sauce on linguine:

Beef & Broccoli with Black Bean Mushroom Sauce More globe trotting on the pasta front was going on over at Cook.Craft.Enjoy where the order of the day was a Paprika chicken stew with Pierogies – the delicious Polish dumplings that are halfway between ravioli and potato gnocchi:

Chicken Stew with PierogiesJoanne of Eats Well With Others joined in with an inspired healthy-meets-comfort food offering of Broccoli-Basil Mac and Cheese:

Broccoli-Basil Mac and CheeseWith a twist on a classic in a similar vein to Joanne, Ruth of Once Upon A Feast deserves super-praise for contributing not just one, but TWO entries for this week’s round up – her second one being her Insanely Delicious Mac ‘n Cheese with Kale:

Insanely Delicious Mac 'n Cheese with Kale And lastly, but hopefully not least, is my own contribution – an Asian cousin of ravioli – Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce:

← Chili-con-Carne for even the most hardened chilli-phobe (and chilli-lover!) Presto Pasta Nights needs YOU! → Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauceThat’s it!  I’ve loved hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Nights and hope you’ve enjoyed my roundup.  Next week the roundup returns to Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast.

Presto pasta nights