Tuscan White Bean Soup

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Many years ago we arrived in Tuscany at the dead of night to our rented farmhouse, which was nestled on its own down a very long track. We were tired and hungry and when we stumbled in we found a note scribbled on a piece of paper alluding to some supper on the stove. Wandering over to the hob we found a white bean soup waiting for us. It was hearty and warming with garlic and tomato undertones. I suppose it wasn’t dissimilar to a grown-ups version of baked beans.

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It was exactly the kind of comfort food we craved after a day of travelling. I never managed to get the exact recipe but have tried to replicate it as best I could ever since. I think this version works pretty well. I tend to always opt for white beans in a glass jar – this variety works for me and I pick it up at a local middle eastern grocers near me. Sometimes I add rosemary and other times not.

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Bay leaves though are essential and add a lovely flavour to the soup. I also prefer to use fresh tomatoes, but if you are out, tinned will suffice. The trick is to put it on a low heat for 30-40 minutes if you can. You want the garlic to be completely soft and the liquid to have reduced a fair amount.

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With all the excess that December will bring I thought this soup was a good one to throw into the mix.

Tuscan White Bean Soup 

serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil

9 whole garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

650g fresh tomatoes, diced

2x400g jar of white beans

1 tsp tomato puree (optional)

300ml vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic cloves. Move around the pan for 30 seconds before adding the bay leaves and then add the fresh tomatoes.
  2. Allow the tomatoes to soften for a few minutes before adding the white beans.
  3. Add the vegetable stock, salt and pepper and leave on a low flame with the lid on, stirring from time to time.
  4. Remove the lid half way through cooking to allow the liquid to thicken. You can add more liquid if you prefer it more soupy. I tend to like mine thickish but still of soup consistency.
  5. When the garlic’s are soft and the liquid has been absorbed a little, turn off the heat and allow to rest.

This is great eaten the following day as well when the flavours have relaxed into one another.


Greek Stifado and Broth by Vicki Edgson and Heather Thomas part 2

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Continuing from lasts week’s post where I told you all about the book ‘Broth’ by Vicki Edgson and Heather Thomas and then made a fusion of their classic beef bone broth and rich bone marrow broth I wanted to show you a recipe from their book that used the broth as the foundation to another dish. There were so many options from ‘gulyas’ to ‘osso bucco with gremolata’ to ‘Chinese braised oxtail’ making the decision on what to cook really hard. In the end I opted for ‘stifado’.

IMG_9568It was a stew that was very similar to ones that I had eaten as a child at my maternal grandmothers, but this version was Greek and had some interesting twists that appealed to me. I liked the fact that cinnamon, allspice berries and raisins were added alongside rosemary, bay leaf and shallots. The beef broth that I had laboured over the few days previously also made the dish somewhat delicious. I also found that there was lots of broth left to freeze and use in the future. Result.

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In Greece, Stifado is eaten all year round and is, according to Edgson and Thomas, often a permanent fixture on the menu of most tavernas. It is often made with rabbit or veal, but since we now have rabbits as pets, rabbit on the menu at home has become strictly off limits (understandably) and I wanted to follow the recipe that was in ‘Broth’. I loved the fact that other than a brief amount of cooking on the hob, the rest can be slow cooked in the oven, freeing me up to get on with other things.

The result was a really hearty and delicious stew, where the meat was tender and flaking and the sauce rich and delicately spiced from the herbs and spices. I chose to accompany the dish with Italian orzo, which is similar, albeit slightly larger, to rice in appearance, and found in Puglia in southern Italy. Equally a crusty loaf would work well with this dish, allowing for lots of dunking of the delicious juices.

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Greek Stifado

Adapted from ‘Broth by Vicki Edgson and Heather Thomas, published by Jacqui Small’

4 tbsp olive oil

600g round shallots, peeled

1.5kg lean stewing/chuck steak

4 garlic cloves, halved

125ml of red wine

500ml of beef bone broth

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

3 medium sized tomatoes chopped

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs of rosemary

1 cinnamon stick

3 allspice berries

2 tbsp raisins

salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

orzo pasta to serve – optional

  1. Heat the oil in a casserole pan – my Le Creuset is my trusted friend – and on a low heat cook the shallots for 10-15 minutes so that they begin to bronze. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Using the same pan, turn up the heat and add the beef  so that it browns all over.
  3. Then add the garlic and red wine and allow it to bubble away for a few minutes.
  4. Add the beef bone broth, wine vinegar, tomatoes, tomato puree, herbs and spices. Stir all the ingredients together well and then simmer for 1 hour OR place in a preheated oven at 140 degrees (I did the latter)
  5. Add the raisins and shallots and then continue cooking for a further 45-60 mins until the meat is tender and the sauce rich and reduced. Season to taste.

Edgerson and Thomas suggest serving with orzo pasta, which is a great idea. All in all it makes for a really wonderful, hearty dish that feeds the whole family.

 

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Mexican Chilli Beef with Butternut Squash

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Mexican food is perfect when the chill sets in and yet it also lends itself well to hot, humid weather. So wherever you are based in the world at this point in time this Mexican chilli beef is a must. The warm, smokey taste from the pasilla and ancho chilli add a wonderful, addictive, depth to this dish that are well suited to the adult and child palate.

 

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If you can cook it a day in advance the flavours really open up, but if you don’t have the time or inclination try and cook it in the morning if you are going to eat it later in the day.

So you may be wondering where on earth do you get Mexican chillies? I tend to buy mine online and I personally find Melbury & Appleton have a good selection and are quick and efficient to deliver. They also provide 1kg catering packs for the serious Mexican chilli aficionados, which is perfect for when I want to make my chipotle en adobe, it also works out far more cost effective in the long run.

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This is cosy, comfort eating at it’s best and perfect to feed a crowd. Washed down with one of my brother’s ales – check out Wiper and True  (he is the True part of the name!) then you have yourself a knock out meal. Don’t go putting his ale in the dish though, it’s too good for that – use any old lager you have to hand.

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Just take a look at that tasty morsel of meat with the smokey gravy working it’s magic and the wonderful combination of dry roasted pumpkin seeds, butternut squash, raw red onion, avocado and sour cream. A match made in heaven. Seriously give it a go. You won’t regret it and I can guarantee it will become one of your firm favourites going forward.

 Mexican Chilli Beef with Butternut Squash

Adapted from a recipe ‘Beef and Squash Chilli’ in the December 2014 issue of Bon Appetit

Serves 4

1 large dried pasilla chilli (2 if it is small)

1 dried ancho chilli

700ml chicken broth/stock

2 tbsp olive oil

1kg boneless stewing steak/beef chuck, cut into bite sized pieces

 1tsp rock salt and black pepper

1 large white onion, finely chopped

8 garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp tomato puree

350ml lager

1 small (500g) butternut squash skin removed, cubed into bite sized pieces

1 lime, juice only

******

To serve

2 avocado, diced into 1 inch cubes

3 tbsp pumpkin seeds, dry roasted

1 tbsp of sour cream per serving

1 red onion, finely sliced

1. First dry roast the dried chillies in a frying pan for a couple of minutes on both sides so that they darken and soften. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl with 500ml of boiling water for up to 30 minutes. Then drain and remove the stork and the seeds and place the chillies in a blender along with the chicken stock, and blend until smooth.

2. In a heavy based pan – I use my Le Creuset Pot – heat the oil and then add the seasoned stewing steak and stir at intervals until the redness has gone and the meat becomes brown. This will take around 5-7 minutes. When the beef is brown take it out of the pan using a slotted spoon and place on a plate. There will be a fair amount of liquid that has come from the beef. Once the beef has been removed, turn up the heat so that the liquid evaporates. This will only take a couple of minutes.

3. Once the pan has become dry, add the onion. You may find you need to add a little more oil at this stage. Stir the onion so that it becomes coated in the remnants of the beef juices, add a pinch more salt at this stage. After 4 minutes add the garlic and stir well into the onions. Let the onions and garlic cook together for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the oregano, ground cumin, tomato puree and stir together for a minute before returning the beef to the pan along with the lager. Increase the heat so that the lager begins to be absorbed. After a couple of minutes add the chilli puree that you made to begin with. Increase the heat so that it boils and then reduce it and leave to simmer gently for around 30 minutes.

5. Add the squash and continue to simmer for a further 15-20 minutes or until the squash has softened. Add the lime juice and stir gently. Leave to rest before serving.

6. Place the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and then add 1 tsp of olive oil over the pumpkin seeds. Place in the oven for no more than 10 minutes, being careful to check they do not burn. Let them cool before serving.

To plate up add the Mexican chilli beef, a dollop of sour cream on the side, the roasted pumpkin seeds over the chilli beef and sour cream, a scattering of thinly sliced red onions and then a few avocado cubes. The combination of all these flavours makes for a really memorable meal.


Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

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With a guest over recently, I found myself improvising with some ingredients to bulk up lunch. It was an unplanned creation and hence the results were all the more exciting and satisfying.  I literally threw together some ingredients I already had in the house to make a very comforting and warming soup/vegetarian stew. It took under fifteen minutes from fridge to stove to table and the silence as everyone delved into their bowl with concentration, was deeply reassuring. As they came up for air, the verbal endorsements confirmed this.

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It’s important to be able to whip up a meal in a matter of minutes. We all need an arsenal of these for when we have little energy or inclination to cook but want to be nourished by good home-cooked food. You can’t beat home-made soups – not only do they taste better, but you can also monitor exactly what goes into them.

I always have a range of tinned lentils on standby to use for soups, stews and salads, so for this soup I used a tin of trusty chickpeas. Everything else I had in my pantry (aka pull out cupboard…buy hey we can dream!) or in the fridge. I always have a pack or two of feta in my fridge as it can last unopened for around three months.

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Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 banana shallot (or small white onion), peeled and roughly chopped

2 large red chillies/chilli peppers (not the hot variety), chopped into inch pieces

4 fresh tomatoes, diced

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas

1 tsp of sweet paprika

1 tsp vegetable bouillon

200ml boiling water

1 tsp rock salt

pinch of black pepper

200g fresh spinach

100g feta, crumbled

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and when it is hot, but on a medium/low heat, add the shallot and garlic and gently fry.

2. After a couple of minutes add the chilli/chilli pepper and continue to stir for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the fresh tomatoes and continue to cook on a medium/low heat until they begin to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes to the pan and stir into the other ingredients.

4. Now add the drained chickpeas, the sweet paprika, vegetable bouillon, salt and the boiling water. Give a good stir and let simmer for a couple of minutes.

5. Finally add the fresh spinach and place a lid on the pan. After a minute give a good stir and add a little more boiling water if necessary. Taste and season.

6. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with a liberal amount of feta.

All these steps will not take more than 15 minutes max to prepare and cook.

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Steak, Guinness and Mushroom Pie

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For those who like their meat traditionally made, this pie is seriously off the charts TASTY. I rarely cook pies as I regard Mr.B’s frame as requiring no extra investment from the pastry department, but when I do I really savour and enjoy every mouthful. Whilst the photo above shows the pie pre pastry topping, the ones lower down show it in all its glory. I apologise though for the rather poor quality of photographs. Normally I shoot my photographs earlier in the day so as to catch natural light, but for this post I wanted to eat the pie as soon as it emerged from the oven in the evening…..so I took the photos with candlelight….BIG mistake as they really don’t do the dish justice. Anyway I hope you will overlook the photographs here this once and just trust me when I say this pie is an absolute winner.

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You’ll need to get hold of a bottle of Guinness, which gives the pie a fantastic depth of flavour. The pie doesn’t require a whole bottle so you will have some to sip whilst the pie is cooking!

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We had some guests over for Valentines dinner, hence the pastry hearts on top of the pie.

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Happily our guests were very happy to receive such comfort food on a cold February evening and we all found it very easy to over-indulge. In these days of calorie counting and healthy eating at every corner, it was very refreshing to have some warming, nourishing food with no attempt at modernisation or  a “skinny version”. Indeed after the sacrifices of January, pairing this with some mature, spicy Rhone red wine was blissful.

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Steak, Guinness and Mushroom Pie

adapted from Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Baking

Serves 6

700g stewing steak, cubed (from your reliable local butcher)

flour, for coating

salt and pepper

175g bacon lardons/pancetta or bacon chopped into small pieces

50g butter

2 white onions, peeled and diced

2 garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh thyme

1/2 tsp ground allspice

300ml/1/2 pint Guinness

150ml (1/4 pint) beef stock – I use this

2 tbsp tomato paste

2 bay leaves

400g button mushrooms

Pastry

300g plain white flour

175g butter

1 tsp salt

180-200ml iced water

1 egg, whisked with a little water

1. In a mixing bowl place the cubed stewing steak, a little dusting of flour and salt and pepper. Mix together gently with your hands.

2. In a large pan dry fry the bacon/lardons/pancetta gently until it has browned and then remove with a slotted spoon.

3. In the same pan place half the butter and cook the stewing steak in batches, for around 5 minutes each batch. Add the fresh thyme, onions, garlic and allspice to the steak and stir in well together. After 10 minutes, by which time the onion and garlic will be nicely cooked, add the bacon.

4. Pour in the Guinness, beef stock, tomato paste and bay leaves and gently simmer for one hour, by which time the beef will be deliciously tender.

5. Heat the remaining butter in a separate pan and add the mushrooms until they are lightly browned and then add to the stewing steak. Give a good stir before placing into a pie dish and discarding the bay leaves. Leave to cool completely before adding the pastry topping. (see first photo in the post!)

6. To prepare the pastry sift the flour and salt into a bowl and cut the butter into very small cubes before placing into the flour. Using your finger tips, lightly rub the butter into the flour so that it begins to form a crumbly consistency. Add a little water at a time to form a dough ball. Place on a clean dry surface and knead together until it is smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is too sticky! Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge to chill for around 20 minutes.

7. Roll the pastry out so that it sufficiently covers the pie dish. The one I use is 31x22x6cm. Gently cut around the pie dish where there is excess pastry. With the extra overhanging bits of pastry, create pastry leaves, hearts, stars, words, basically whatever takes your fancy, to place on top of your pie. Using your thumb and index finger pinch the pastry gently around the edges so as to give a wave effect. Lightly brush the pastry with the whisked egg and use a little water to keep any parts of the pastry in place.

8. Place in a preheated oven at 180 degrees (if using fan, ten degrees more if not) for 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

Serve immediately with mashed potato, red cabbage or greens.


First impressions of Hong Kong and getting over jet lag

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There is always something rather thrilling about going on a trip or a journey, but when you’ve never visited the destination before there is an added level of excitement and anticipation. The smells, sights, sounds and general fever of the place seize you almost immediately as soon as you step foot on to Hong Kong soil. I always knew that the place would be frenetic with activity but seeing and experiencing it in the flesh is another thing. Hong Kong is buzzing and bustling with people. An initial impression is the sheer number of people who all live here side by side, or perhaps more aptly I should say – on top of, in huge towers reaching to the stars. Vertical living is very a la mode and living in dinky dwellings is standard practice.

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Whilst a lot is packed into Hong Kong there are also places to be found where there is an element of calm and serenity and to watch the world go by. One of the first places that I went to visit was the Man Mo temple, which is the oldest temple in Hong Kong, having being built in 1847. I thought it was necessary to experience the old if I was to truly understand and appreciate the new and besides I always enjoy visiting temples and churches when visiting a new country as I find it helps to better understand the underlying fabric of that country.

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The temple did not disappoint and as I strolled around it I particularly enjoyed the heady aromas from the incense coils that hung from the ceiling. From the outside the temple stands surrounded by tall tower blocks, which makes a slightly surreal sight.

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Near to the temple I came across this wonderfully vibrant street art that really appealed to me; I think Banksy would definitely approve.

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Getting to know a city I like to amble around on foot as this not only helps me get my bearings but also see what the locals are up to. Street food sellers were out in abundance selling all manners of temptingly delicious snacks to feast upon.

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As our body clock is a little confused at the moment, we are eating at rather random times of the day, that said little Z and big A always seem to be hungry around tea time and therefore are ready for a little cake to give them some energy before more sight seeing then supper. We have come across a number of bakeries selling all manner of wonderful tasting cakes. Egg tarts are popular here as well as buns filled with red bean paste.

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We visited a fish market, but it is unlike the fish markets we have in the West as the fish here were not to eat. Oh no, if you want to find fish and meat to eat as well as vegetables and fruit you need to visit a ‘wet market’ which are scattered all over Hong Kong. I hope to take some photos of these over my stay so watch this space for more on this soon.

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Tropical fish for sale at the Fish Market in Mong Kok

Our first evening meal out in Hong Kong was dim sum at the very popular Din Tai Fung, which is in fact a Taiwanese import. It’s famous for it’s Xiao Long Bao, which are steamed pork dumplings filled with broth and dipped into vinegar and ginger – basically little mouthfuls of joy! I liked the way that they had instructions on how to ‘eat’ the little darlings. How very thoughtful!

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The winner on the dim sum stakes so far though comes from Hutong where we ate delicious tasting dumplings filled with pork and fennel – ones I wouldn’t mind attempting to make when back in London. Another favourite at Hutong was the Chicken Pot with Sichuan peppers, addictively delicious and not as ‘hot’ as you would think!

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As I mentioned we have all been experiencing a bit of jet lag so I decided to make a southing, homely broth for our first lunch on Hong Kong soil. After gathering a few ingredients I made the following dish, which seemed to hit the spot after a long journey. I kept ours vegetarian, but it would taste equally good with a bit of salmon or trout thrown in for a couple of minutes. Here is how to make it.

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Jet lag Noodle Broth

Serves 3 (and enough for seconds)

splash of olive oil

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

3 tbsp light soy sauce

1 heaped tsp of vegan Bouillon/vegetable stock

boiling water (to cover veg and noodles)

generous handful of Chinese broccoli (Gai Lan) or regular broccoli/spinach/pat choi

6 small tomatoes, halved

3 eggs, boiled, shell removed and halved

2 packs of udon noodles (or 3 if you are serving just adults)

1. Place the eggs into a pan with cold water and when the water has boiled cook the eggs for 4 minutes, less if you like it soft boiled.

2. Meanwhile place a little oil in a medium sized deep pan and when it is hot add the garlic and ginger and stir for a minute before adding the soy sauce.

3. Next add the boiling water so that it reaches a quarter of the way up the pan – you can add more a little later. Add the Bouillon or vegetable stock that you are using and stir well.

4. Add the Chinese broccoli and after 2 minutes add the udon noodles. You may wish to add a little more boiling water at this stage. Taste to see if it requires a little more soy sauce. Add the tomatoes no more than a minute before serving so that they still hold their shape. If you prefer softer vegetables then cook the Chinese broccoli for a little longer, but I find a couple of minutes is more than enough.

5. Serve with a slice or two of boiled egg.

Warming, delicious and ever so quick, before you collapse and have another little sleep.

Other ingredients that would be great to add: fresh chilli, spring onions, fresh salmon/trout, mushrooms.

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Chickpea Curry with Tomatoes, Spinach, Fresh Mint and Coriander

After a full on Monday there is nothing more exhausting than having to cook a long and complicated recipe for supper. So I always try to cook something healthy, tasty and speedy in equal measure. I have always loved the taste of chickpeas and find they compliment so many dishes, but for this dish they feature as the main ingredient. There are so many good chickpea curries I was in a quandary on which to show you first, but settled with this one as it can be prepared and cooked within 15 minutes. Seriously it is so fast you’ll impress even yourself. The fresh mint and coriander, whilst not usually paired together, compliment each other well in this dish as the mint gives a sweet undertone that balances really well with the bold coriander and all the other Indian spices.

I cook this curry using canned chickpeas (shock horror), which will save you having to soak them overnight and boil them for an hour or two. Whilst the curry is perfect to eat on it’s own, if you want to make more of a feast you could cook this delicious salmon curry, which also takes no time at all. I will be eating mine with some wholemeal pitta bread, a dollop of natural yoghurt and squeeze of lemon. Simple and yet satisfying, I hope you agree.

Chickpea Curry with Tomatoes, Spinach, Fresh Mint and Coriander

Serves 2 (as a main meal or up to 4 if having other dishes)

1 tin of drained chickpeas

2 tbsp ghee (or ground nut/mustard oil)

2 green chillies, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

2 large tomatoes, chopped

1 handful chopped fresh mint

1 handful chopped fresh coriander

2 handfuls of fresh spinach

1 tsp salt

50ml boiled water

1. Heat the ghee/oil and when it is nicely hot add the chopped onion, garlic and chillies. After a few  minutes, when the onions are beginning to brown slightly, add the ground turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika (I use this hot paprika one I mentioned in this blog post) and garam masala and stir into the onions, garlic and chillies. Leave to simmer gently for another minute.

2. Add the chopped tomatoes, mint and coriander and again stir into the other ingredients. The smells coming from your pan will be heavenly!

3. After draining the chickpeas add them to the curry and stir in thoroughly. As the curry will seem a little dry at this stage, add the boiled water and stir into the ingredients. Leave to simmer for a few minutes.

4. Add a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach and stir into the curry. Once it is wilted (this will only take a minute) leave the curry to simmer for a couple more minutes. If you think it is still a little dry just add a little more water. Add the salt and stir into the curry before letting it rest for a short while before eating. Equally you can cook it earlier in the day and simply reheat it when you are ready to eat in the evening, although you will have to add a little boiled water when you re-warm it.


Middle Eastern Okra and Tomato Stew, with a twist

I used to live close to the Edgware Road in London, which is the Middle Eastern part of town, well as Middle Eastern as it can be in London. It has a fairly chilled atmosphere with people spilling out of the cafes onto the pavements smoking their apple tobacco from their hookahs, when the weather permit and the sun shines.

There are two things however that I really miss most about the Edgware Road.

1) Mandalay Burmese restaurant, which as the name states is not Middle Eastern but a Burmese restaurant run by the affable and learned Burmese brothers Dwight and Gary. The restaurant serves good, honest, home cooked Burmese food (cooked by Dwight and Gary’s female relatives). It tastes divine and the whole experience is very memorable. They have a little library up at the front with a few Burmese books, which you can peruse at your leisure whilst waiting for your dining companion to arrive. Whilst it won’t win awards for decor, it wins hands down on charm and substance. You need to book as it is often packed to the rafters.

2) Green Valley Lebanese mini market, which Mr B and I always referred to as ‘Valley of the Kings’ for some reason. It has a wonderful deli selling a huge array of salads, hot bread, stews, cheeses and a butcher selling good quality halal meat, as well as cuts you may not see at your typical English butcher – sheeps’ tongues anyone? In addition, it also sells a vast array of fresh produce and the best baklava in town, which they put together on platters for you. Basically they stock every interesting food product imaginable and this place is like a tardis in the amount of food that it holds. We would make weekly weekend trips to stock up on goodies.

I was back there the other day buying some baklava (it’s worth the trip trust me), when I decided to buy a few little savoury edibles from the deli counter to munch in the car on the way home. Whilst making my selection my eyes rested for a while on the delicious looking okra and tomato stew. Whilst it isn’t so easy to transport and eat in the car, I decided to make some of my own when I got home and add my own little twist to the dish – butter beans. I do love my lentils and pulses and couldn’t resist adding them to the dish – for true purists amongst you simply skip the bit about adding butter beans.

The dish tastes great warm or at room temperature with Middle Eastern flat bread. It takes no time to make and am sure can convert even those who are a little reluctant about eating okra (or lady’s fingers as it is also known).

Middle Eastern Okra, Tomato and Butter Bean Stew

Inspired and adapted from  Mongolian Kitchen.com

2 onions, chopped

3 garlic cloves,  roughly chopped

400 g of frozen okra (or fresh if you have it to hand)

1 tin of tomatoes, blended

splash of olive oil

1 tin of butter beans (they tend to be around 240g)

half a lemon, juice only

2 tsp of ground coriander

1 tbsp tomato puree

salt and pepper, to season

1. Add a splash of olive oil to a deep pan and when it is hot add the chopped onion and garlic and stir a little until they soften and becomes translucent. This should take around 6 minutes.

2. Whilst the onions and garlic are softening, blend a tin of tomatoes with a hand blender until smooth. Before adding the blended tomatoes, add the ground coriander and seasoning and stir into the onions and garlic.

3. Add the blended tomatoes to the pan along with the tomato puree and lemon juice. Stir thoroughly and let simmer for a few minutes.

4.  Add the butter beans and frozen okra and add a little boiling water so that the okra is fully submerged. Leave to gently simmer for 25 30 minutes, stiring gently, occasionally.

5. Taste and add more seasoning as required and serve with warm Middle Eastern flat bread. It could also be served with cous cous or steamed rice.


Slow Cooked Lamb with Tomatoes, Dried Fruit and Spices

Winter time calls for hearty stews, casseroles and tagines to lift the spirits and bring joy, warmth and wonderful cooking smells into the home. You can cook them in advance and they are also perfect for leftovers the next day. Cooking with dried fruit divides opinion, but I for one am a huge fan and if someone really dislikes prunes, apricots or raisins I suppose they could easily pick them out so as to avoid eating them, but in many respects I feel they would kind of be missing the point. I think the fruit adds to the depth of flavour and gives it a touch of sweetness that makes this dish stand out from the crowd.

I don’t have a proper tagine dish so I cook mine initially in my Le creuset pot and then transfer it to two oven proof dishes. It works equally well with rice, which you can cook with a couple of cardamom pods, so as to make the dish more exotic, or couscous with a sprinkling of roasted almonds. I have added a chilli to the dish, naturally, but this is optional and tastes equally delicious without.

The amount I cooked was more than sufficient for a large group, so just divide by 2 for a family of 4/5.

Slow Cooked Lamb with Tomatoes, Dried Fruit and Spices

Adapted from a similar recipe by Tana Ramsay’s Family Kitchen

Serves 6

3 tbsp olive oil

1.6kg lamb cut into bite sized portions

2 inch ginger, grated

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red chilli, chopped

6 spring onions

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground cumin

1.5 pints chicken stock

32 vine cherry tomatoes

handful of fresh thyme

15 dried apricots

10 pitted prunes, cut in half

50g/4oz raisins

handful of fresh coriander, chopped

rock salt, sprinkling

1) Preheat the oven to 160 degrees

2) Add  2 tbsp olive oil to a deep cooking pot and gently fry the ginger, garlic, chilli and spring onions for a couple of minutes.

3) Place the lamb into the pot and stir gently so that all the lamb begins to cook and change colour from a deep red to a lighter brown. This will take around 6 minutes. Once the lamb has changed colour add the rest of the spices and really stir into the lamb. Add the stock and then transfer into one or two oven proof dishes and place in the oven for 1 hour.

4) Whilst the lamb is cooking place the vine tomatoes in a separate oven proof dish with a few sprigs of thyme, a little olive oil and a sprinkling of rock salt. Place into the oven for 30 minutes so as to intensify the flavour.

5) When the oven roasted tomatoes have finished cooking add these, along with the dried fruits, a small handful of chopped coriander to the main dish and cook for a further 30 minutes. Serve immediately with a little extra fresh coriander sprinkled on top and either rice or couscous on the side.


New Beginnings and Small Things – Tana Ramsay’s Sausage Casserole with Savoy Cabbage and Butter Beans

There is something rather cathartic about the new year.  A whole new beginning, new goals, hopes, dreams and possibilities. It’s almost as if we can wipe the slate clean and start again. We always set out with good intentions, well I do anyway, but as the year flies by things don’t often turn out the way we hoped or planned. As Mr B and I sat in our yoga class at 10 am on new year’s day feeling very worthy, we pondered on this very question when our yoga teacher spoke about new goals and not being too overly ambitious. She explained that sometimes small changes to our lives can have larger lasting effects than we would think as they start a positive knock on effect. I think this was a good piece of advice as we will find more peace within ourselves in the long run if we set more achievable goals. So I for one am going to focus on the smaller things and then perhaps the bigger things will happen naturally.

I am excited about  the recipes I am going to share with you all over the course of  this year and how, I hope, my photography will improve as I get more practice and perhaps even upgrade the camera.

 A wonderful recipe to start this year’s blog posts is one I found years ago when I got hold of a copy of Tana Ramsay’s ‘Family Kitchen‘. I have always felt she has been in the shadow of her rather larger than life husband, but if the truth be told (sorry Gordon) I actually prefer her recipe books to his. Its good old family comfort food, which is a joy to cook and even better to eat. Her ‘Sausage Casserole with Savoy Cabbage and Butter Beans’ is tasty and the perfect meal to eat after a bracing new years winter walk. I have made a few changes from her recipe – I omitted leeks and added more fresh thyme for example, but on the whole I have tried to keep largely to her original. If you like this recipe a very similar one on my blog is Caldo Verde, so check that out as well if you fancy.

So here is what you need:

I like to add a spicy red chorizo, but with little Z and big A eating it as well I decided to cook with a more family friendly chorizo. Chunks of brown fresh bread are the perfect accompaniment to mop up the the bits in your bowl at the end.

Happy New Year to you all, hope 2012 brings health, happiness and joy to you and your families.

Sausage Casserole with Savoy Cabbage and Butter Beans

Serves 4-6

a good glug of olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

1 garlic, chopped

500g/1lb sausages

55g/3oz pancetta, or bacon lardons

a handful of fresh thyme

55g/3oz chorizo sausage, cut into bite sized chunks

1 tin of butter beans, drained

1.5 litres/2.5 pints of vegetable stock

8 mushrooms, sliced

1 savoy cabbage, shredded and core removed

1. In a deep pan, I like to use my favourite Le Creuset cast iron casserole pot, heat up the oil and add the onions and garlic and fry for 3-4 minutes so that they soften. Add the sausage and do not add any further ingredients until they have begun to brown – this may take a further 5 minutes.

2. Add the pancetta and fresh thyme and leeks if you are going to include them as well. Stir well and then add the chorizo so that is begins to sweat and the casserole begins to take on a reddish hue.

3. Add the butter beans, mushrooms and stock and leave to simmer for around 15 minutes.

4. Add the shredded cabbage to the pot. It may look like a lot, but I promise you it will cook down, similar to spinach, when it has been cooking for while. Simmer on a low heat for at least 30 minutes.

Serve in bowls with chunks of bread.