Thursday, 25 July 2013

Week 25- School's Out!

Hurrah for the holidays!

After three of the worst days imaginable at work, I've finally finished. Until September that is, when it all starts up again- but that's ages away. So much to enjoy in the meantime.

The weather is hot, the sea outside my window is almost as blue as the Mediterranean, there's no urgency to do anything tomorrow feels like I'm almost but not quite in the South of France.

Time for an almost but not quite Mediterranean menu.

To start we have a vegetable fritto misto with aioli. Main course is Aubergine Cannelloni. Dessert is nectarines on toast with mascapone. Does that sound like holiday food? I hope so.

Fritto misto ( mixture of fried things) can be made with fish ( squid rings, prawns, shrimp, mussels) or vegetables or both. In the picture I have one made with squid, prawn, artichoke, green beans and courgettes. The recipe I've chosen to blog however is vegetarian.

Take a selection of veg- whatever you have in the fridge. I recommend cauliflower, aubergine, courgette, peppers, French beans,onion and fennel. Artichoke is good too if you have some in antipasti jars.
Chop the veg into bite-size chunks, and toss them in seasoned flour until coated. Then prang them with a fork or skewer and dip them into a bowl of milk quickly - then return to the flour and coat again.
Heat some vegetable oil for deep frying to 190 degrees or until a cube of bread fries golden quickly.
Drop in your veg one by one, taking care not to crowd the pan too much. As each batch cooks (really only a couple of minutes in the hot oil), drain them on plenty of kitchen paper and season with sea salt and black pepper.
Serve with cheat's aioli- two tablespoons of mayonnaise, mixed with a teaspoon of garlic puree and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Fritto Misto

Aubergines are well and truly in season- and blog followers are asking for ways to use them up.
This recipe seems a bit of a faff- but it isn't really. It just takes a bit of planning - and it is so cheap and delicious it is worth the effort.

Allow one aubergine per person, sliced really thinly lengthways. Roast the slices in a hot oven (190 degrees) for 10 minutes or so with a little olive oil until soft. Leave to cool. (I made mine the day before when I had the oven on for something else.)
Roast thin slices of aubergine

Lay 2 slices together
Spread the slices with filling
 Make a filling from chopped mushrooms, garlic, aubergine puree (use the bulbous bits that haven't made thin slices) and season well. Lay 2 slices together to make a wider double slice. Spread the filling mixture over each of these slices and roll up. (A lot easier than you think.)
Roll up the slices

Aubergine Cannelloni

Place in a baking dish and pour on some tomato sauce. Top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs and bake for 20 minutes in a medium oven (180 degrees) until bubbling and golden on top. Serve with garlic bread.

For dessert, I've used little canape toasts (but you could equally well use circles of bread cut from a sliced loaf.) I lay these on a greased baking tray, butter each one, toast them in the oven for 5 minutes
Toast the little breads until golden
until they start to brown a tiny bit -then lay thin slices of nectarine on each one. I melt a tablespoon of jam and a squeeze of lemon juice together in a pan and brush this onto the fruit as a glaze. I then bake them for another 5 minutes or so until the toasts are crisp and the fruit is soft. Serve with ice cream or mascapone.
Nectarines on toast

So- a quick taste of the Med for you, in the absence of the real thing.

I hope it gets you into the holiday mood. Now all I need is a sunbed, a Jack Reacher thriller and a glass of muscat- and I'm almost there!

Happy Holidays!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Week 24- Mexican Lucky

Sometimes, you discover a new culinary skill which then has a whole 'Open Sesame!' moment to it. It might be when you first learned how to make a sponge, a scone, a soup or a pie- and then suddenly realized how you could adapt it to make 101 other dishes.

I had such a stroke of luck this week- when I looked in the fridge and saw I had peppers and onions to use up quickly, so I decided to make a spicy salsa.

The salsa turned out to be lovely- but the real joy was that now I also feel encouraged to try pickling, bottling and jarring up all sorts of other chutneys, jams and relishes with the same technique.

Perhaps some of the dishes featured today will inspire you in the same way... down Mexico way in fact.

We have spicy salsa with tortilla chips to start, followed by chili con carne with sweet potato wedges and a marbled chocolate cheesecake to finish.

To make the tortilla chips- just snip left over tortilla wraps into triangles, toss in a little oil and flavouring (garlic, chilli, herbs or salt and black pepper) and bake for a short time (10 minutes or so) in a hot oven (190 degrees), watching them carefully to ensure they don't over brown, until golden and crisp. So much nicer than yellowy store bought ones.
Homemade tortilla chips

To make the salsa- first sterilize your jars. Wash them well in hot water or put them through the dishwasher, and then place them on a baking tray in a cool oven (50 degrees) to dry completely whilst you make the salsa.

I softened 1 medium onion with a teaspoon each of  garlic, chili and ginger paste (or you could use a crushed fresh clove of garlic, a thumb of ginger and a finely chopped red chili). I then added 1 coarsely chopped green and red pepper and softened those too. Next I added a tin of chopped tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of tomato puree and the following seasonings from the store cupboard: 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a glass of red wine, a teaspoon of mustard, a dash of Worcester sauce, 2 teaspoons of chili powder, a tablespoon of Muscavado sugar and a teaspoon of salt. (If you don't have those precise ingredients - think barbecue sauce and add whatever you have to hand -but add extra chili for kick).
Makes 3-4 jars
Pour into the hot jars

Leave it all to bubble away gently for 30 minutes or so until reduced and thick. Pour into the hot jars from the oven and top with a greaseproof paper disc (or muffin case). Screw on the lids and leave to cool. Finito!

Salsa with homemade tortilla chips
I am keeping mine in the fridge - but they ought to keep on the shelf for a while if the jars have been properly sterilized.

I'm inspired now for other chutneys and relishes- so if you have a surfeit of any particular fruit or veg, think about using them up in a similar way (and send me your recipes!)

For the main course, I used another onion and red pepper from the fridge, gently softened in some oil. To this I added 200g of minced beef per person and browned that too. Next I stirred in 2 teaspoons of chili powder and 1 of chili paste. I then added a tin of chopped tomatoes, a dash of Worcester sauce, some tomato puree, salt and pepper. ( Are you getting the theme here- yes, leave it to bubble and reduce for a while before adding a can of beans (baked, kidney, pinto, flageolet whatever you have in cans.) Keep bubbling away.

For the sweet potato chips, I like to part bake the sweet potatoes in the microwave for about 5 minutes each, then slice them lengthways, toss in a little oil and roast in a hot oven (200 degrees) for 15 minutes or so until starting to crisp up.

Chili chips

Serve the chips and chili in a deep bowl with a side salad.

Dessert is so simple, it seems almost sinful.

Crush some biscuits to a powder (with a rolling pin or in a food processor- depending on your levels of aggression) and place in the bottom of a ramekin dish.
Mix together a tub of  marscapone cheese and 2-3 tablespoons of Nutella (chocolate spread). Go for a marbled effect.  Spoon over the biscuit base and serve with cream, or biscuits or grated chocolate.
Marbled chocolate cheesecake

So, amigos, I present to you my Mexican midweek menu.

Any leftover chili is wonderful in a baked potato, by the way. Just add extra beans to bulk it out if necessary.

There won't be any leftover cheesecake- trust me.

Buen apetito!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Week 23- Pick Your Own

I have sent in an application for an allotment.

Very promptly I received a reply from the Allotment Grower's Association thanking me for my application and telling me that I was number 25 on the waiting list. They also added that number 1 on the waiting list had been there for 7 years.

I think that is Allotment Grower's Association code for 'Forget it, loser!'

So, for the next 175 years I will have to content myself  with my pots of herbs and salad leaves on the windowsill and fire escape- and my local Pick Your Own farm.

It's not so bad- we are coming into peak season for all sorts of fruit and veg- strawberries, broad beans, tomatoes, last of the asparagus, peas, tayberries, gooseberries, rocket and salad leaves, spinach, name it, it's out there.

So, plastic punnet in hand, I've sought out some seasonal foraging to make this week's menu.

Starter is an onion tart with tapenade (and a herb salad), followed by poulet printanier ( spring chicken) and finished with Eton Mess.

For the tart, you need to make onion jam first. Finely slice 4 small or 2 large onions and soften in some butter and olive oil. Add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, 1 glass red wine, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/2 of salt. Boil until the liquid begins to reduce, and then cover with a lid and cook on a low heat until the onions have absorbed everything and have become a soft and spreadable mush.
Onion jam

Spread tapenade (black olive and anchovy paste) over the base of a pastry case and then spread on 2/3 of the onion jam over the top.

 (Keep the remaining third as a relish for cold meat, burgers or steak sandwiches). Pour over two beaten eggs and a good grating of cheese, decorate with a few black olives and then bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. This is a kind of version of a pissaladiere (an onion and anchovy slice from Nice- so you could make it with a pizza base rather than a pastry one if you preferred, or with a rectangle of puff pastry too).

Onion and Tapenade Tart

I served it with a salad made from stuff I grow in pots- rocket, chives and 'living leaves'.

Main course celebrates all sorts of good things about early summer- broad beans, peas, new potatoes and asparagus- all cooked in a one-pot dish with chicken.
Broad beans a-sleeping in a blankety bed!

Brown some chicken thighs and drumsticks in a little oil and place to cook through for 30-40 minutes in the oven (190 degrees). Meanwhile, shell some broad beans and cook lightly for 5 minutes in boiling water. Set some asparagus stalks to steam over the top. Toss some cooked new potatoes in the oil from the roasting chicken in a wok or deep frying pan. Add the chicken pieces to the potatoes. Deglaze the roasting tin with a glass of vermouth or white wine and a large glass of water and pour over the chicken and potatoes.Mix in 2 teaspoons of mustard and a tablespoon of creme fraiche. Add the broad beans, a handful of peas and the asparagus. Simmer until thickened a little and serve garnished with chopped chives. It needs nothing more than a slice of crusty bread with it.

Poulet Printanier

For dessert, I have made an Eton-ish Mess. My version uses ice cream rather than whipped cream.

Take two scoops of vanilla ice cream per person and mix with two crushed meringue nests. Place in a bowl and put back in the freezer until ready to serve.

Chop some strawberries and add them to the ice cream when you are ready to eat, pour over some cream or creme de cassis.
Eton-ish Mess

And for the leftovers, as I suggested, the onion jam makes a great addition to a steak sandwich or burgers. (It will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.)

Steak sandwich with onion jam

I know a lot of you grow your own veg- I'm looking forward to tasting aubergines from la Barbe, and stuffed chili peppers from Steve D- and I do envy you. Send me some pics and some recipes if you can.
Ah! If only I could!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Week 22- Sussex Summer Recipes

I love Sussex. It is such a varied county- a few large towns, mostly small market ones, and lots of rural villages. The hinterland is predominantly farmed- sheep and cattle on the Downs, pigs and chickens in the Weald. Just next door to 'the garden of England' so plenty of fruit and vegetable growing, not to mention brewing of cider and beer- and even a  few respectable vineyards.

And of course we have a long stretch of coastline, rich with mackerel, bass, brill, bream, crab, mullet, squid, herring- and everything from scallops at Rye to shrimps at Selsey and all places in between.

Odd then that some of the most famous Sussex dishes don't use local ingredients: Sussex Pond Pudding is made from lemons and Banoffi Pie (invented at The Hungry Monk in Jevington) is made from a confection of bananas, caramel and cream.
The Hungry Monk at Jevington

Traditional Sussex dishes - Sussex Blanket Roll, Selsey herrings, Sussex Lardy John- have fallen out of favour, as our appetite for suet puds, saturated fat and soused fish in vinegar, seems to have waned.
Sussex Blanket Roll
Selsey Herrings

Time to bring things up to date with a celebration of summery Sussex food - and that does include a version of Banoffi Pie!

On the menu today is summer vegetable risotto, followed by grilled black bream and finished off with a deconstructed (low fat) Banoffi Pie.

I ate a version of this starter at the Tiger Inn in East Dean- creamy risotto with peas, broad beans, mint and rocket.
Summer Veg Risotto

Begin by boiling some shelled broad beans and peas in a litre of water with a sprig of mint. Drain the veg but reserve the stock and mint and keep simmering. Then soften 1 small onion in some olive oil, and add 1 cup of risotto or arborio rice and stir to absorb the oil into the grains. Pour in a glass of dry white wine and stir quickly to absorb it. Add a ladleful of  minty stock and again stir until absorbed. Repeat this process until the risotto is cooked (the grains have swollen and are tender to the taste and the consistency is quite creamy.) Quickly stir in the veg and a handful of fresh rocket leaves (discard the mint) and serve garnished with a little grated Parmesan and a little more olive oil. Season to taste.

For the next course, choose a nice sized bream from your fishmonger- ask him to clean it, but this is best eaten on the bone. This is the season for black bream in Sussex so they should be widely available and well priced. Simply grill until crispy on both sides, pour over some  melted butter, lemon and parsley and serve with potatoes (new pots are really good right now- try baking a larger one and serving it with creme fraiche and chopped dill (my new herb of the moment!)
Grilled Bream
Pudding is a deconstructed Banoffi Pie.

Alas, the Hungry Monk restaurant is no more but I was lucky enough to be taught at evening class by the chef from that celebrated establishment. He would roll his eyes in horror at my version of his classic- and you can look at his recipe on his website at

Mine is low in fat and (as I ate it only last night and so can vouch for it) totally delicious.

First, here's a tip for keeping ripe bananas. If they have been in the fruit bowl longer than you would like and are starting to go a bit spotty- put them in a plastic container in the fridge. In there, like the Hungry Caterpillar, they will turn into something brown and unappetizing. But when you peel them, they will be (like local downland butterflies) pure and white -and  more importantly ripe and ready to eat.

Crush some digestive biscuits (sorry Ian D- I know that's your pet hate) and place in the bottom of a sundae glass. Top with sliced ripe bananas, a spoonful of caramel cream (those thoughtful condensed milk manufacturers now sell it ready boiled and caramelized in the can), a pot of coconut yoghurt, some caramel sauce and toasted coconut. This is best made an hour or two in advance so the yoghurt can percolate through and soak into the crunchy biscuits. Are you drooling yet? Look at the picture!
Deconstructed Banoffi 

So, there you have it- my Sussex summer menu.

But this one yields some interesting leftovers too. Leftover risotto makes a classic dish of arancina. Take the leftover cold risotto, form into patties with a  beaten egg and then roll in fresh breadcrumbs. Heat 2cm of vegetable oil in a wok or deep pan and fry the patties until golden all over. Serve with a salad.
Arancina with salad and dipping sauce

I also plan to make Ban- iteroles.

Take some pre-bought choux buns or profiteroles (or make your own if you are a star baker). Split them and (if they are already filled with cream) spread a teaspoon of caramel sauce, a slice of banana and then reseal them. If plain choux buns, add a teaspoon of whipped cream to each one too. Serve with a warm chocolate sauce or ice cream. Genius!

There will still be plenty of caramel sauce left in the tin - so make fudge! You will need 75ml milk, 50g  butter and 200g demerara sugar. Line a square loaf tin with parchment or greaseproof paper. Place the leftover caramel, butter, sugar and milk in a non-stick saucepan and melt over a low heat, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 10-15 mins. Take a teaspoon of the mixture and drop it into some cold water. If a ball begins to form- the fudge is ready to come off the heat. Beat it with a wooden spoon for a few minutes until it becomes thick and well,  ...fudgy, and then pour into the baking tin and leave to set in the fridge. You can add nuts, raisins, cherries etc at this point if you wish. Or why not be ultra-fashionable and sprinkle with sea salt or fleur de sel once set for 'salted caramel'.

By the way, I'm pinning as many Sussex recipes as I can find or cook on

Also, if you don't like bananas. I think the pie/profiteroles/sundaes work just as well with ripe mango, or other stone fruits in season.

I therefore christen this version- Long Manoffi Pie- in honour of our chalk giant. A good one for Father's Day perhaps? Must remember that next year.

A moment on the lips though - a lifetime on the hips! This one's just for the men.

The Long Woman- be warned!