Tag Archives: cooking

Aubergine boats…

As I mentioned in my previous post, I love aubergines cooked whole, whether over fire on a barbecue, under a grill, in an oven or over a gas burner. The flesh becomes meltingly soft, it is truly the best way to cook aubergines.

Sometimes I remove the skin to use the flesh in a salad or dip, but I don’t like the waste, so I usually eat the whole thing.

However you choose to cook your aubergines whole, do remember to prick the skin otherwise they will explode!

If I don’t chop the aubergines up for various uses, I like to use them whole and fill them with whatever I have to hand..

This one was filled with quinoa and a sauce made of fresh spinach, garlic, almond butter, buttermilk, lemon juice and courgette, and topped with cumin seeds, Aleppo chilli flakes and sesame seeds. On the side is a grilled red pepper dip.

This one is filled with more quinoa mixed with chopped herbs, garlic, spring onions, spices, olive oil, lemon juice, and drizzled with tahini.

Whatever you fill your whole aubergine with, ensure that it is packed full of flavour and not too dry, this will then seep into the soft flesh and create a whole edible wonder 🙂

Hot or cold, whole aubergines work as the perfect carrier for my foods…happy weekend…I think it’s long overdue that I visit Fiesta Friday and say hello to my fellow bloggers….do pop over and see what great food other bloggers are sharing…

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The colours of my food…

Laura’s recent post about eating a rainbow made me realise it’s been far too long since I shared some of my food; colour fills my world, my kitchen cupboards (the spices, the crockery, the vegetables..) my wardrobe, and definitely my plate…

I can’t imagine not eating a variety of colourful flavourful dishes throughout the week. Not only is it good for your health, it’s HAPPY food! Happiness on a plate!!

This summer I decided to follow in the steps of many of my US food blogger family members and invest in a gas grill/BBQ to be able to cook outside when the temperatures rise and not turn on the ovens in my kitchen unless really necessary. Every time we use the BBQ I therefore also ask my husband to grill stocks of vegetables for me to use through the week…

A sea of goodness and possibility on our new grill/BBQ

I love these vegetables freshly cooked, cold, reheated, marinated, turned into dips, in endless ways. Having them already cooked means that they are full of that great chargrilled flavour and immediately ready to use…I like that too!

I think my favourite, which isn’t shown here, are whole grilled aubergines, the flesh becomes meltingly soft and so good for some many salads or dips, or used here as a perfect boat to fill with all sorts of my concoctions – including this one which was made from spinach, fresh coriander and hazelnuts, then drizzled with a nut butter dressing and sprinkled with Aleppo chilli flakes

The red peppers are great for salads, dips, harissa, sauces, like this red pepper homous…

I like nothing more than making up some sort of salsa verde, (which is what the two first pics are below), whether it’s based on chimichurri, chermoula, an Indian coriander chutney, or any mix of fresh herbs, garlic, spring onions, spices, olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, maybe add some pomegranate molasses, and marinate chopped roasted vegetables with it, and leaving them to develop great flavours together…

Salsa verde always goes well with sweet potato, the sourness from the lemon juice/vinegar/pomegranate molasses is a work of art against the sweetness of the potato

This concoction, as shown at the top of the post, is an example of everything in one bowl: lots of the chargrilled vegetables with a salsa verde of some sort. It got better day after day as the flavours developed.

My Instagram account shows even more of these dishes, and more details of what’s in them, but for now, enjoy the colours of my world…

Enjoy!

What does ‘spicy’ mean to you…?

This weekend I spent Saturday at the BBC Good Food Show manning the stand of my lovely friend Sanjay (Sanjay and I bottom right, above) and his even lovelier business Spice Kitchen UK, along with Sanjay himself and his lovely Mum, aka Mamma Spice…

Above: Sanjay and his Mum, and examples of their beautiful spice tins covered with beautiful wraps made from saris, handmade by Mamma Spice.

What a great way to spend a day, surrounded by such beautiful products, supporting lovely people and talking about spices. It made me realise just how much I know about spices, and food history, and ways to use spices, and the various spice mixes, it was a revelation to myself if no one else!

It also made me realise that the people I was talking to seemed to fall into 3 groups:

Those who love spices, and are comfortable and confident using them, and loved finding spices available of such great quality;

Those who are venturing into the world of spice and would like to learn how to use spices more in their cooking*;

And those who totally disregard spices and tell you that ‘they don’t like spicy food’.

And it’s this word ‘spicy’ that made me want to write this post.

When I talked more to this group of people, if they stopped long enough to chat, what I discovered is that most of them viewed ‘spicy’ food as hot, as in chilli hot. They’re experience has often only been hot curry and they haven’t been impressed and have therefore written off ‘spicy’ food as a result.

To me, food cooked with spices is full of flavour and aroma and warmth and layers. The decision to add chilli remains with the cook, although using spices is not a prerequisite for including chilli. I often use collections of slices in dishes where no chilli is included.

One lady told me specifically, and quite disdainfully, that she didn’t like spicy food and didn’t use spices, but her son did and she bought him a spice tin as a gift. Before she walked away, I couldn’t help myself and asked her if she makes Christmas cake; she answered that she does. So I asked if she puts spices in it; and she answered that she does, listing cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. And so, I said….you DO cook with spices 🙂

So, what does spicy food mean to you? Is it a description that has become synonymous with chilli hot food? Is a better description for food full of flavour developed from spices, but not chilli, ‘spiced’ food? What do you think?

*By the way, to those people who want to know more about cooking with spices, I highly suggest that you take time to read recipes and see how cooks and chefs put spices together. I would cook exactly to recipes for a while whilst building your confidence, then start ditching the measuring spoon and going with your gut. And remember that there is no right or wrong here, just degrees of flavour.

Wild garlic flower oat cakes…

I fancied some oat cakes recently, I have no idea why, I haven’t had an oat cake for years, but sometimes something just takes your fancy doesn’t it?

So I decided to look up some recipes and see how to make them myself. There’s many recipes if you search for them, all with their slight variations; I read a few, got the basic idea, and devised my own plan.

I have continued foraging for wild garlic this week, in particular for the flowers; the plants are now flowering like mad and I think they’re so very pretty, as well as being tasty. I’ve collected them to use raw in and over dishes, and I’ve dried some in the oven for other experiments, so when I was pondering oat cakes, wild garlic was still very much on my mind.

For the first batch I made, above and below, I added crumbled, dried wild garlic flowers to the oat dough, as well as pressing dried flowers into some of them.

In the second batch, below, I added some dried and crumbled wild garlic leaves and added some non dried flowers instead to see how they would fare..

I also made a version with added sesame and pumpkins seeds, which worked well too, just not as pretty 😉

So whether you fancy some plain or pimped, here’s the recipe I used:

Ingredients

200g oats (I’ve used thick Scottish oats)

1/2 – 1 tsp salt to taste

50ml olive/rapeseed oil

A few tablespoons of boiling water

Method

Preheat your oven to 160C fan, 180C.

Line 1 large or 2 medium baking trays with baking parchment.

Put 100g of the oats into a mixing bowl, and the other 100g into a blender and run it to make a fine oat flour.

Add the oat flour & salt to the whole oats and add any extra ingredients that you want to add: a handful of seeds, some herbs, spices, chopped nuts…the possibilities are endless.

Drizzle over the oil.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of hot water and start to mix it all into a dough, add extra water as necessary to bring it into a usable dough.

Generously flour your work surface and roll the dough out to about 3mm thick.

*This is the point at which I pressed the flowers into the oat cakes.

Cut out the oat cakes with cookie cutters, I used 6cm and 8cm diameter ones.

Use a palette knife or fish slice to lift the cut rounds onto the parchment paper.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

*The time required to bake them may change depending on how much water you’ve added and what additional ingredients you’ve included.

Assess the oat cakes yourself to ensure they are as cooked and crunchy as you want them to be.

Allow them to cool to harden further.

Enjoy them on their own or adorned with whatever topping you like.

Store them in an airtight container. Mine softened after a couple of days but they were still good and the wild garlic flavour worked well.

My weekend brunch.

I hope you have fun with some oats cakes!

A week of wild garlic…

Every year, around this time, I see so many posts on blogs and Instagram of people sharing their wild garlic creations. And each year I’m so envious!!! I’ve tried wild garlic once, having paid a fortune for it at a local ‘posh’ greengrocers, and I know it’s lovely, but I’ve never found any locally to be able to forage for myself…until this week!

I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for weeks around where I walk Bob every morning; I know that wild garlic tends to grow in wooded areas, and where we walk isn’t wooded at all. Except for one small area, and this week, there it was! I finally found my own local supply of wild garlic…

In this small wooded area, running along a path we walk up and down regularly, is an area of bountiful, gorgeous wild garlic.

Oh the joy! I cannot tell you how excited I was!!! And by the look of it, no one knows it’s there, or maybe just doesn’t know what it is, which is even better 🙂

I immediately sent the photo above to Kellie, who is a wild garlic guru, to double check my find, but I was pretty sure I was right. I collected some there and then, using one of the nappy sacks I can for cleaning up after Bob, and returned the next couple of days with bigger bags and some gloves and foraged to my hearts content.

So, there’s been lots of careful washing and drying of leaves and stalks and flowers in my kitchen all week, the smell has been amazing, it’s got such a lovely smell, not as strong as bulb garlic, but you can tell what it is; and there’s been lots of concoctions, which I am sharing below. It honestly feels like such a gift from nature, and has made me smile all week; the pure simplicity of collecting, cooking and eating gorgeous fresh food direct form the earth is wonderful – I totally get those of your who grow your own food!

The leaves, stalks and flowers are all edible, and all have different strengths; the stalks have a stronger flavour than the leaves, and the flowers are stronger again, but none as strong as bulb garlic. You can eat them all raw or cooked. You can sauté the leaves like spinach, you chop it and add it to salad, the possibilities are endless. So here’s a few rough ideas to tempt you, apologies for the lack of quantities, I’ve just provided lists of ingredients and suggestions…

Chargrilled red pepper & WG harissa

Long red peppers, chargrilled, peeled and deseeded

Wild garlic leaves and stalks, washed and dried

Tabil spice mix (toasted cumin, coriander & caraway seeds, ground)

Pul biber flakes

Olive oil

Lemon juice

All in a blender and whizzed tougher.

WG & preserved lemon harissa

Wild garlic leaves and stalks, washed and dried

Spring onions, whites and greens roughly chopped

Half a preserved lemon, roughly chopped

Ground cumin & coriande

Pul biber flakes

Olive oil

Lemon juice

All in a blender and whizzed together, but not for too long, it’s nice rustic.

WG flower homous

Make your standard homous recipe but leave out the garlic, and add some carefully picked wild garlic flowers at the end, stirring them in by hand. Leave it a day before eating it for the flavour to develop.

WG cream cheese

Whizz up WG leaves and stalks, or just the stalks, or just the leaves, with your choice of cream cheese.

WG & pumpkin seed dairy free pesto

WG leaves and stalks chopped up with toasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil and lemon juice. Add your choice of cheese at will 🙂

WG & spring onion salsa verde

Wild garlic leaves and stems, washed and dried

Spring onions, whites and greens, roughly chopped

Homemade apple cider vinegar

Pomegranate molasses

Ground cumin & coriander

Pul biber chilli flakes

Olive oil

Chop all together in a blender to the consistency of your choice.

WG, tahini & yoghurt sauce

Blend WG leaves and stalks with tahini, yoghurt and lemon juice, and use at will like this, or add to other ingredients to create a dip, like below

Spiced carrot & WG, tahini & yoghurt dip

Carrots cooked in olive oil with red onion and garlic and my Moroccan spice mix, whizzed up with some of the tahini and yogurt sauce from above.

And to finish…

This was a mixture of some of the WG cream cheese mixed with the WG pesto, plus some boiled chunks of sweet potato and topped with wild garlic flowers.

I’ve also sautéd leaves with added spinach and quinoa, and eaten a fair amount of raw leaves in the process too!

I hope I didn’t lose you halfway down the page with all of my WG creations?! If you find some, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have 🙂

Buttermilk sourdough loaf…

This loaf came about from pure experiment because I had some lovely lively starter and wanted to do something different with it, plus I have always got various cartons of buttermilk to hand nowadays, and so this idea was born.

This recipe produced a lovely silky dough which baked into a crusty loaf with a wonderfully soft interior and a great flavour, and the smell was amazing! Due to the inclusion of plain all purpose flour the crumb is pillow soft rather than the usual chewy sourdough crumb, and the buttermilk only adds to that.

I made this loaf with a ‘sponge’ method…

The evening before you want to bake the loaf mix:

100g of very bubbly lively starter

284ml carton of buttermilk

150g of all purpose flour

Mix it all together really well, get it as smooth as you can, then cover it and leave it out on your kitchen counter overnight. (Top 2 photos below)

Next morning it should have grown and be spongelike. (Bottom 2 photos above – you can see how much it’s grown between the two sets of photos)

Now add:

300g strong white flour

1tsp salt

A splash or two of warm water

Mix it all together roughly, cover again and leave for an hour. (Top 2 photos below)After that hour, bring it into a dough, not too tight, not too sticky, performing some pulls and folds in the bowl to pull it into a smooth dough. (Bottom 2 photos show before and after pulls and folds)

Cover and leave on the counter again.

After a couple of hours you should already see this dough growing happily, the dough may even be starting to grow out of the bowl already; perform just enough pulls and folds to pull it into a ball with a smooth finish, don’t handle it too much.

Place the dough, smooth side down, into a well floured banneton.

Cover with a plastic bag or shower cap and place in the fridge to slow down the proving process and to increase the flavour. You should find that it keeps growing nicely over the next few hours, even in the fridge, as below. This was how the dough looked after only a few hours in the fridge. It grows very fast!

When you’re ready to bake, take the banneton from the fridge and leave the dough to warm up to room temperature whilst your oven warms up.

Heat the oven to 200C fan/230c non fan.

When the oven is ready, place a piece of baking parchment over the top of the banneton, then place the pan you are baking it in over the top and invert it all together to turn the dough out into the pan. You should have a lovely pale dough that holds a good shape.

Slash as you like, then put the lid on the pan and put it in the oven to bake for 50 minutes.

After 50 minutes carefully turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool. Allow the loaf to cool for at least an hour before slicing.

As you will see, the crumb is closer than a standard sourdough, which is perfect for making my son’s school sandwiches. In fact, the interior of the loaf was softer than any bread of any type I’ve ever baked. I’ll definitely be baking loaves like this again and again.

And I have now made 3 loaves the same way, this was the third one, and again, the interior is beautifully soft…

I’ve also made a loaf with whole milk this week, but I’ll share that next time…in the meantime, I’ll take my loaves to this week’s Fiesta Friday and wish you a happy weekend!

NOTE: please always keep in mind that flours differ around the world, yours may need more or less liquid than mine, just as your oven may behave differently from mine.

Love your oven…more from our food history…

Something that I hadn’t really considered before reading about our food history, is the fact that in terms of our entire millennia of civilisation, ovens are really very recent. Ovens have only really become commonplace in homes in the last 100 years, prior to that everything was cooked over, or in, fires. We take our ovens for absolute granted these days, but imagine cooking everything, every part of a meal, over a fire?

Of course, open fires don’t come with heat control, you really need to know your fire to get it right. So, when you read about the huge, elaborate feasts that were being produced in medieval times, and in every century following that prior to the birth of ovens, and you consider that it was all produced over fires….that is truly amazing!!!! everything from huge roast meats to breads and cakes and sauces and vegetables, every part of the meal was cooked on a fire.

A cook of the era knew exactly which part of the fire to use for which part of the meal. And at what time the heat was optimal for whatever they were cooking. The main heat of the fire was used for roasting and boiling, and the embers were used for long slow baking and simmering.

In less grand homes, amazing home cooks perfected cooking entire meals in big cooking pots or cauldrons over fires. They wrapped different parts of the meal in cloths, or vegetables were placed in nets, and packed them into the cooking pot to cook as they needed, including meats, vegetables, dumplings and puddings. Now that’s clever.

A wooden lid was often placed over the cauldron to stop any soot falling into the pot from the chimney. Sometimes casseroles were created by using a sealed earthenware or metal pot filled with meats, herbs and vegetables, placed inside the cauldron. It was during this time, in 1660, that the first version of a pressure cooking was invented by Denys Papin, a French physicist living in London, after discovering how well food cooked in a completely sealed pot. The ‘digester’, or pressure cooker, however, didn’t become commonplace or widely used until Victorian times

The management of the fires was an art form in itself. It took energy to get a fire going so the ideal was to keep the fire going constantly, letting it reduce to embers overnight so that could be fanned into a fire again in the morning. To do this, a metal hood or ‘curfew’ was put over the embers during the night to keep them warm, and no doubt stop them spitting out embers. I guess that’s where curfew comes from?

Roast joints of meat were cooked on spits over open fires, the challenge being to keep the spit turning. In large houses, they could employ spit men to turn the spit, and for a period in the mid 1500’s there were even dogs bred to turn the spit. These small turnspit dogs had short legs and long backs, and worked in pairs taking, it in turns to walk round and round and turn a wooden dog wheel for hours on end to keep the spit turning via a pulley system. However, they didn’t last long, especially as they hid as soon as they saw the spit being loaded!

As a bread baker myself, and above is my most recent loaf, I find the cooks of the periods abilities to successfully cook breads quite amazing. The understanding of the fire was so complete that cooks knew when and how to use the fire to bake loaves, oat cakes and cakes, pastries, cheesecakes, puddings and pies. Baking is an art form in modern day, with easily controlled ovens and thermostats, imagine having none of that and producing a perfect sponge, pie, cheesecake or baked custard?

Fast forward to the second half of the 1800’s and kitchen ranges had been invented and were the newest monsters to be tamed in the kitchen. They were still based on fires and still didn’t included any temperature controls; I love these instructions from Mrs Blacks ‘Household Cookery and Laundry Work’ of 1882:

1. If a sheet of paper burns when thrown in, the oven is too hot.

2. When the paper becomes dark brown, it is suitable for pastry.

3. When light brown, it does pies.

4. When dark yellow, for cakes.

5. When light yellow, for puddings, biscuits and small pastry.

Well, what can I say?? I’m still not sure I’d feel completely confident based on those guidelines!!!!

So when you’re cooking your Sunday lunch tomorrow, give thanks for your easily managed oven, and give a nod to the cooks and chefs of our past and their amazing skills. (And thank goodness that no one need rely on a little dog to perfect their roast meats any more….!)

I hope that our fabulous co host extraordinaire, Jhuls, and everyone at this week’s Fiesta Friday enjoy more of my ramblings from the last 🙂