Tuesday, 8 November 2011


My summer holiday this year saw me on the Amalfi coast, in the midst of copious amounts of pizza, pasta, ice-cream and limoncello. Not the right season to be writing this, is it? But it’s not until now that I finally pulled out some dried pasta which I bought while there – candele. Beautiful no?

250 g candele pasta
200g chicken breast
1 carrot
1 onion
200ml red wine
1 tablespoon sugar

Finely slice half the carrot and onion into matchsticks, toss in olive oil and bake at 120 degrees C until crispy.
Finely chop the rest of the vegetables and brown them with the chicken breast and some mixed herbs. Add 50ml of the red wine and water to cover the chicken breast. Continue to cook until the meat is cooked. Finely slice the chicken and puree the vegetables to make a sauce.
While cooking the candele pasta, make a red wine reduction with the rest of the red wine and the sugar.
Stir the vegetable purée and chicken into the pasta and turn it onto the serving plates. Sprinkle with the red wine reduction, olive oil, dried vegetables and a tiny amount of grated parmeggiano.

Firstly I have to say, the texture of this pasta was unlike any other store-bought dried pasta I’ve ever cooked or tasted. Dried, the pasta was very thick, so it took a long time to cook. (I was heartbroken to have to halve them to get the whole length to cook.) And once it was cooked the pasta was perfectly al dente – a quasi-impossible feat with supermarket pasta.

As for the sauce – such an elaborate recipe considering it’s just some pasta, but it’s really good and unusual!

Chocolate cake… with a strawberry compromise

So my guy pointed out that I never made a “proper” chocolate cake.  (Hmph!) So I set out to make one - a dark chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. The reason I never made frosting is quite simply that I’m not really into sugary things. What I do really like, is strawberries with chocolate. So a very serious argument ensued about whether the cake would or would not have strawberries. (I’m sure regular, sane couples argue about these sort of things all the time. After all such a calorie costly endeavor means serious business.) Anyway we finally agreed that strawberries would contaminate only my half of the cake.

Even after tasting the result we still differed. I loved the strawberries in the cake. My notes from the day:
  1. I won’t be making the Devil’s Food Cake from The Joy of Cooking again. Uneven texture and not that great.
  2. Frosting is too sweet, won’t be making that again either. Ganache or cream is better.
  3. And mash some fresh strawberries in your chocolate cake - yum!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Meaty Guinness Risotto

I really like Guinness. I also really like risottos. I obviously had try a Guinness risotto. There are loads of recipes out there, but I thought I ought to use my head and create something of my own... and it worked surprisingly well!
Guinness is Irish. The Irish eat lamb. Ireland is associated with greenery. Peas are green. Therefore:
  • 150 g risotto rice
  • Half a can of Guinness
  • 1 lamb leg steak
  • 600ml chicken or beef stock
  • 1 onion
  • A pinch of thyme
  • Butter
  • A cup of thawed peas
  • Cheese
I first wrapped the lamb in a piece of foil with a couple of tablespoons of Guinness and baked it until it was just cooked. Then proceeded as for a normal risotto. Fried the onion in some butter. Added thyme and rice, stirred, and then added the liquid (first the Guinness then the stock) a little at a time, simmering slowly and stirring occasionally. Added the peas and chopped up lamb steak midway. When all was done I seasoned with salt and pepper and stirred in a good few tablespoons of butter. I also stirred in some grated parmggiano, but next time I think I'll use cheddar instead.

I stopped to taste really often because it's very difficult to get the seasoning right. The Guinness seems to suck all the flavour out of the rice and replaces it with a metallic taste. At the same time you can't salt it too much because the lamb and Guinnes have very strong flavours. This is why I think that the butter (and I’m sure the cheddar would too) works to bring it together. I think it would taste very good with chicken instead of lamb too.  It's very hearty and strong - a comfort dinner for the big and strong! ...not that I'm either :-P

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Green, Red, Yellow, Orange, Purple

After two weekends spent cooped up inside, in an attempt to put an end to my (very persistent) cough, finally a weekend to make up for it. A friend took us out for a drive through the Buckinghamshire countryside, interrupted only by  a stop for a pub lunch at The Nag’s Head. Such a perfect day to be in Britain! Bright and sunny all day, gorgeous autumn colours, and a spot-on lunch. I always order steak and kidney pie whenever I happen upon it at a good pub or pie shop. It’s probably my favourite pie, yet something that I almost certainly will never cook at home because I think that the kidneys would be quite yuck, and I also cannot stand supermarket pies.

Back home, I roasted some potatoes which I’ve been abnormally excited about! They’re purple majesty potatoes which taste just like regular taters, but have more antioxidants, and more importantly, they’re prettier!

I’ll think up something more imaginative and artistic for them next time. But pretty food which is better for you: a keeper ingredient – yay!

The other side... of the octopus...

After gathering advice from the more experienced cooks in the family, it was time for octopus attempt #2 with the remaining half. Advice and directions were as follows.
There are two types of octopus, the chunky ones and the baby octopus. We had a large octopus, which one must first freeze for around 3 weeks, then defrost and boil for 30 to 40 minutes, and finally cut up and fry 15 minutes in some olive oil, loads of garlic, rosemary, marjoram, mint, and mixed herbs. 

This was an improvement in texture from last time – the body especially was very tender. The legs were still a little bit chewy. I suppose the quality and freshness of the octopus purchased do play a part in the final result. We bought ours from a bowl of ice in Borough Market, not a Mediterranean seaside fish market. Nevertheless, the flavour of octopus is always perfect with some spaghetti, or potatoes. Since I hate deep frying I didn’t feel like making chips, so I boiled the potatoes, then peeled and shallow fried them in some vegetable oil and garlic. Much simpler, and in my opinion, much softer and nicer than chips.

(What on earth is one meant to do with all the oil left over  from deep frying? I once watched a documentary demonstrating the trouble of some poor guys who had to clean up the London sewer walls from several feet of grime build-up resulting from all the cooking fat discarded down the drain. It was so disturbing!)

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Scallops Meuniere

I've always wanted to cook scallops because they look so posh. So today I bought a pack of little unshelled scallops and opened up The Joy of Cooking on the Scallops Meuniere recipe. It actually instructs you to make some breading mixture, but I couldn't be bothered to be quite frank. So instead I dried up some chunks of a Mediterranean bloomer and blitzed them into breadcrumbs to coat the scallops with.

After that, all that remains to be done is to fry the scallops in olive oil and butter for around 3 minutes and then drizzle them with lemon juice. I literally started flipping the scallops as soon as I had placed the last one in the pan, and took them out the second I finished flipping the last one - I was really scared I would overcook and ruin them! They were really soft and juicy and melt-in-your-mouth lovely though; I'll definitely make them again (and I'll try not to burn any of the breadcrumbs next time). Served up with some risotto milanese.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Turkey with Almonds and Mushrooms Au Gratin

Today's dinner was picked out from The Silver Spoon. My boyfriend worked on the turkey which looked and tasted lovely. The recipe is pretty simple. The turkey steaks are sauteed in a covered pan with onions and white wine, while the almonds are simmered in milk and brandy and then blended into a paste. Quite an unusual looking dish in my opinion but we loved the crunchy almonds on the turkey.

I made the mushrooms, which looked so posh in ramekins. (Everything looks posh in ramekins doesn't it? But especially something au gratin.) The recipe was simple enough. Some mushrooms are sauteed in a pan with a little bit of diced ham and onion. Then topped with white sauce + egg yolk, breadcrumbs, and a spot of butter. Baked in the oven for 20 minutes - et voila!

The only modification I would have made to this recipe is to chop the mushrooms, rather than leaving them whole or in thick slices. The steaming hot mushrooms scalded my mouth a bit when I bit into them. Otherwise, it was absolutely delicious!

Perugia... Perugina... Baci!

Every October, in the city of Perugia in Italy, a chocolate festival is held, called the Eurochocolate festival. Sadly, I'm not writing this post because I'm in Perugia to attend. (Though I do have every intention of going there some time in the next few years.) Perugia is home to the chocolate company Perugina, who produce my favourite dark chocolate ever. And my favourite of the Perugina products, is Baci - small chocolate-hazelnut truffles, coated in dark chocolate, and each individually wrapped together with a love/friendship quote which you can collect and trade.

Now I grew up taking Baci for granted, especially since they're particularly great at Christmas and there are always plenty going around at that time of year. And then I moved to the UK, and I realised, to my dismay, that Perugina is an unimported, and mostly undiscovered delight up here. Unwilling to tolerate yet another incomplete Christmas, I set out in search for an imitation recipe, and came across the YouTube site of this charming girl. Not only is her Baci recipe absolutely brilliant and simple, but I can't wait to try out her other recipes too.

Now, fortunately I can understand Italian. But for those who do not, here's the translation.

To make 20-25 Baci you will need:

100g whole hazelnuts
 40g cocoa powder
 200g Nutella
 150g dark melting chocolate

Reserve some whole hazelnuts and crush the rest. Work the Nutella, crushed hazelnuts and cocoa into a dough. Then just roll tablespoons of the dough into small balls, sticking a whole hazelnut on the top of each. Put these in the refrigerator for around 10 minutes while you melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water (in both cases stirring regularly to ensure the chocolate does not burn). Coat the Baci in a thin layer of melted chocolate and return them to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or until the chocolate hardens. You could either leave them to set as individual truffles, or arrange them into a sheet or tower as you are assembling them to compose something really elegant!

The result? They taste so much like the real thing, and they were so easy to make, that I almost couldn't believe it. I took them to share at work, where my British colleagues, most of whom had never tasted Baci, absolutely loved them, and stated " They're kind of like Ferrero Rocher, except chocolatier and better."

Has anybody ever been top the Eurochocolate festival? - Is anybody reading this?!? :)  - If "yes" and "yes", then what was it like?

My Fish Recipe

So when you're a beginner with fish, absolutely everybody just tells you "Ooooh it's so simple - Just put a drizzle of olive oil and some lemon juice and stick it under a grill and you're done!" Well, that really does not, and has never, worked for me! So I'm going to share the first fish recipe which I really really liked, and which is now my default fish recipe. What this recipe yields is a creamy-textured moist well-cooked fish, no fishy taste, and very low calorie.

2 boneless fish fillets (like cod, haddock, etc.)
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp white wine
1 tbsp olive oil
dried or fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

Preheat the over at 200 degrees C. Place the fish fillets on a large piece of foil. Microwave the garlic for 10 seconds, then peel and split it and rub the fish fillets with the hot garlic. Pour the wine and olive oil over the fish, sprinkle with the rosemary, salt and pepper, and then close the foil tightly, leaving a pocket of air above the fish. Stick it in the oven for 15 minutes, and when it's done unwrap the lovely steamy packet and pour the sauce over the fish when serving. Mmmm, I didn't like fish when I was little, but this is now one of my favourite meals!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Pear and Beetroot Salad

Simple and delicious:
A bed of rucola and other salad leaves
Sliced pear
Chopped beetroot, mixed with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar to balance the sweetness of the beetroot
Chopped applewood (or other smoked or strong-flavoured cheese )
Pine nuts
No dressing required.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Coconut Biscuits

Since I was a little bit unwell this weekend I stayed indoors and cooked, and cleaned and reorganised the whole house, especially the kitchen. I got thinking, in the process, that I really ought to organise my spices and jars in a more dignified manner. Then today, having popped out for medicines, I was drawn into a few shops and, lo and behold, I found this (OXO Good Grips rotating spice organiser):

A spice shelf with spice turntables - Excellent!!!

From cool to cute... How pretty are these coconut biscuits?!

I'm sure there are loads of recipes out there for these, but this is my one, adapted from my grandmothers'. It makes loads - 30 or so.
125g butter or margarine
125g sugar
2.5 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
a few drops of vanilla and almond essence
250g desiccated coconuts
250g flour

Mix the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs, vanilla essence, almond essence and baking powder together, then mix in with the butter mixture. Add the flour and coconuts and mix them in. Roll the dough into chestnut-sized balls and lay them on a baking sheet 3 centimeters apart, sticking a cherry quarter on top of each. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 10-11 minutes until they have only just started to brown. Move them to a cool tray without breaking them so that they'll harden and set.

I also cooked up some octopus in red wine - a recipe taken from The Silver Spoon. It's the first time I've tried cooking octopus, and this was quite nice really, but not the best I've tasted. (Credit goes to my guy for dissecting the octopus, because I went all squeamish.) Octopus is tricky to cook without becoming chewy. This recipe did not hold the secret, I'll have to keep searching.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Scotch Pancakes

The weekends usually start off with me nagging my man to get out of bed. But - and I never though I'd say this - thanks to the rugby (!) he's getting up early (read "before 11:30am") of his own accord. So I get the opportunity to cook breakfasty things - something I never do because it's a little bit sad to cook breakfast for one.

I've never made pancakes before so I made scotch pancakes:
125g self raising flour
20g sugar
1 egg
125ml milk

I whisked the egg and half the milk with the flour and sugar, then whisked in the rest of the milk until the mixture had air-bubbles. Then I just cooked them on a non-stick frying pan on very low heat, flipping them when they were bubbly. 

My man coated his with Nutella and sliced bananas, but I preferred mine just with butter. To be honest, I'm more of a "scrambled eggs with cheese and toast" person when it comes to breakfast - the pancakes are a bit too smooth.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Porcini Mushroom Risotto

Friday evening needs an easy, straightforward recipe. Simple enough to make after a couple of beers, but nice enough to celebrate the start of the weekend. I tried a risotto with dried porcini mushrooms today - took the recipe off the back of the mushroom pack - and it was really lovely. All it took for 2 servings was:

 Half a red onion, thinly sliced
 10g dried porcini mushrooms
 175g short grain rice
 2 cloves garlic, minced
 400ml chicken stock + 50ml vermouth
 and some butter and grated parmeggiano

Soak the dried mushrooms in a bowl of warm milk for 15 minutes. Then drain them and squeeze them out gently. Brown the onion in a small amount of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and garlic and a ladleful of stock and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes to cook the mushrooms.  Add the rice, stir it into the mushroom mixture off the burner, and leave it to absorb the flavours for just a minute. Return the saucepan to the burner and cook the risotto by adding ladlefuls of stock to the rice, stirring, and simmering until the stock is absorbed... and repeating until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is tender. Finally, stir in a knob of butter and a tablespoon of grated parmeggiano and eat up!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Almond Flake Fish

This one is a nice alternative to the standard fish recipes, and still really easy. I usually use river cobbler fillets for my everyday fish recipes because they're really cheap and tasty. But you can use any fish fillets and simply adjust the baking time according to the thickness of the fillets.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.
Beat 1 egg in a bowl and scatter 70g almond flakes in a flat bowl.
Dust 2 boneless fish fillets with flour. Then dip them in the egg and coat them in almond flakes.
Heat 2tbsp olive oil in a skillet and fry the fish for around 3 minutes each side on medium heat until the almonds are browned, not burned.
Transfer the fish to a baking dish, sprinkle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, and bake for 10 minutes or until the fillets are cooked through.
It's always a waste to cook fish too long and end up eating a dry tasteless patty. Rather than playing it safe but risk cooking for too long, I like to check regularly by making slits in the thickest part of the fish. Then, when I get it right, I take note of the ideal cooking temperature, time and method for that type of fish for future reference.
The end result makes a really pretty dish.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Spaghetti with Rosemary Sauce

This is a lovely Mediterranean recipe which I tried out yesterday. I've adapted it slightly from the Silver Spoon - one of my favourite food bibles which almost never disappoints. It's really simple!
Chop around 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, some cloves of garlic and some fresh/dried chilli (around half a de-seeded chilli more or less). Fry them in some olive oil for a couple of minutes.
Add a small can of chopped canned tomatoes and their juices, bring the sauce to a boil and then cover the sauce pan and simmer for around 20 minutes. When this is done you can mix a tablespoon of flour with a couple of tablespoons of water and milk  and stir it into the sauce to thicken it.

Meanwhile cook around 175g (2 servings) spaghetti al dente. Then pour the sauce on top and garnish with rosemary and some grated parmeggiano.

This + wine = a lovely refreshing dinner ;-)