Toasted sourdough with goats cheese, broad beans, watercress and radish and a simple leek and potato soup

Here in the UK we’ve been enjoying blissfully balmy weather this October. To date, I have yet to don my winter coat, which would have been unheard of in past years. As such we’ve not been craving heavier stews and curries, but instead continuing to enjoy lighter food that we would eat in the summer months. So when my friend Vritti, the founder of Binge Magazine (have you bought your copy yet? I took a couple of the photos, including the front cover and one of the articles – you can buy your copy here), made a whirlwind visit to London from Dublin, I wanted to cook something fuss free, light and delicious for lunch.

I adore sourdough bread, so opted to make toasted sour dough with goats cheese, radish, watercress, lemon zest and pink peppercorns with a honey, lemon dressing. Lots of colours, textures and flavours each complementing one another.

On the side I cooked a simple leek and potato soup that was both light and flavoursome.  I garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche and fresh chives adding another layer of flavours. Both dish are relatively quick to rustle up and can be made a little in advance as the toasted sourdough is best eaten at room temperature and the soup can be heated upon the arrival of your guests.

 

Toasted sourdough with goats cheese, broad beans, watercress and radish

serves 4

150g broad beans (frozen or fresh), boiled and skins removed

6 large pieces of fresh sour dough

2 cloves of garlic

150g smooth goats cheese

3 handfuls of fresh watercress (you could also use rocket)

4 pink radishes, finely sliced (I find a mandolin great for doing this, but be careful about your fingers!)

1 tsp pink peppercorns, roughly ground

1 lemon, zest only

salt (optional – I find you don’t need any due to the goats cheese)

 

dressing

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp running honey or agave

juice from 1 small lemon

  1. First boil the broad beans for 4 minutes and when cool de-pod them and place to one side.
  2. Next make the dressing, taste to test the balance is right for you. If it is too acidic then add a little more honey.
  3. Place the sour dough under a grill and when it is delicately bronzed turn over and repeat. Be warned it burns easily so really monitor this process.
  4. Remove the toasted sour dough from the oven and rub the garlic cloves over each piece so that a hint of garlic lingers on each piece.
  5. Spread a generous amount of goats cheese on each piece of toasted sourdough. Layer up all the other ingredients: broad beans, watercress, radishes. Sprinkle with lemon zest, pink peppercorns and salt if using.
  6. Finally sprinkle, using a teaspoon, the dressing over all the pieces. Cut each piece of sour dough in half and plate up.

 


Leek and Potato Soup

50g butter

3 leeks, sliced

1 onion, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

2 large potatoes, diced

1 vegetable stock cube

water to cover the vegetables

100ml milk

pepper and salt to taste

to serve

creme fraiche and finely chopped fresh chives to serve

 

  1. In a large deep pan heat the butter and once melted add the leeks, onion, potato and bay leaves.
  2. Move around the pan for 5 minutes before adding the stock cube, water and milk to cover the ingredients. I have purposely not given a precise amount of water to be added as I find some people prefer a thicker soup than others. I tend to opt more for the slightly thinner soup.
  3. Leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes, by which time the potato will be soft. Remove the bay leaves and then blend, using a hand blender, until smooth. Add more water if you want to thin out the soup.
  4. When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and add a dollop of creme fraiche and some finely chopped chives.

A great combination that looks colourful and healthy and is packed with lots of fresh flavours.

 

 

 


Saffron and Cinnamon Honey Served TWO ways – sweet and savoury

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Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best. A plate of freshly steamed samphire with a knob of butter, a moule mariniere with crusty bread to mop up the sauce, a mature chunk of cheddar with a crisp apple, a boiled egg dipped into cumin powder, fresh tomatoes with fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella drizzled in the finest extra-virgin olive oil, fresh asparagus dipped in butter (have you noticed there’s a butter theme going on here!). I could go on but in this day and age when many chef’s are pushing boundaries and creating new flavour sensations and wowing us with their scientific approach to the culinary arts it sometimes comes as a welcome relief to sit down and eat a meal that is not complicated and flash but is simple and truly delicious.

For those who have been following my blog for a while will know, I don’t really have a sweet tooth, well certainly not the kind to have dark chocolate cake/torte/mousse at the end of the meal. Growing up my favourite puddings were rhubarb crumble, pavlova, custard tart and anything with nuts in. Mr B on the other hand loves all the old English puds and often puts a request into my mother at around Christmas time to prepare one or two – things like jam roly poly, spotted dick, treacle pudding, tiramisu – she’s good at making all these, so I let her run with it.

Generally speaking we tend to just pick on fresh fruit at the end of the meal, which is not only delicious but also satisfying and involves no effort or preparation.

I recently came across a pudding however that immediately catapulted itself into the top league of puddings after the first mouthful. It involves 7 ingredients and can be whipped together very quickly.

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Saffron and Cinnamon Honey with Figs and Greek Yoghurt

adapted from Greek.food.com

5 figs, halved

2 large tbsp thick Greek Yoghurt per serving

2 tbsp honey

1 large pinch of saffron

1 large stick of cinnamon

40 g white sugar

300ml cold water

1. In a saucepan place the cold water, sugar, honey, cinnamon stick and saffron and stir thoroughly until the sugar has completely dissolved. Simmer gently for around 15-20 minutes. Do not over cook as the liquid will turn into a thick toffee substance, which you do not want to happen.

2. On a serving plate/bowl add a generous dollop of Greek yoghurt and place three fig halves on top of each mound of yoghurt.

3. Finally gently spoon the scented honey over the figs and yoghurt having removed the cinnamon stick first and serve.

Note: You can also gently heat the figs in the honey for a minute on both sides, however I tend to prefer them fresh with the honey drizzled on top. Try both and see which you prefer.

As you are likely to have some sweet scented honey left over the following Scandinavian influenced open sandwich works a treat with the sweetness of the honey and the saltiness of the cheese and prosciutto/parma ham.

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Open Sourdough Sandwich with Prosciutto, Cheese, Rocket, Peach and Scented Honey

Per Serving you will need:

1 slice of sour dough bread

1 slice of prosciutto

2 slices of cheese – I used Italian Taleggio La Baita above, but crumbled soft goat cheese also works really well

small handful or rocket/arugula

1/2 (half) peach

drizzle of scented honey (re above recipe)

pinch of coarse black pepper

Serve

I tend to make this open sandwich in the following order: bread, prosciutto, cheese, rocket, peach (or can be before rocket), honey and black pepper.

It makes a very satisfying lunch as the flavours compliment each other so well. For this photo shoot above I used white flat peaches but I think the sweet yellow flesh peaches would probably look more attractive on an open sandwich.

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Wintery Warm Lentil and Goats Cheese Salad with a Fresh Basil dressing

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We’ve been having some glorious flurries of snow here in the UK, which has been rather exciting for us all. A blanket of snow makes London look magical and the silent, crisp air entices you outside to enjoy what nature has to offer. Whilst it is bitterly cold, returning to the warmth after some jollities in the fresh air is a welcome respite and I for one like nothing more than getting stuck into some cooking and baking. Big A and Little Z set about baking some biscuits, in fact lots of biscuits – I’ll blog this recipe once I have completely perfected it for you. Eating some warming, comforting food is totally necessary in this weather and lentils are the perfect food to tuck into.

The recipe today is great for the winter months, but can also be a fantastic dish in the spring and summer months eaten at room temperature and simply crumble the goats cheese instead of warming it. So if you are reading this in a hotter climate, fear not, you too can also cook the dish and be equally satisfied.

The trick though with this ‘salad’ is in the timing.  So if you are going to eat it warm please read the following.

1) A few hours before you intend to eat the salad place the tomatoes sliced in the oven and cover with caster sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put them on a low heat (100 degrees centigrade or less even) to gently slow roast away. You want the tomatoes to shrivel up at the sides and the slow roasting will give them an incredible depth of flavour. Seriously off the charts kind of taste. 

2) Place the sliced red onion rings on a baking tray covered in balsamic vinegar, caster sugar, olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper and roast in the oven (180 degrees centigrade) for 25 minutes. If you do not have a separate oven to do this – as the tomatoes will need a lower heat – cook the onions first and then just heat them up in the low heat oven when the tomatoes are cooking to re-warm them.

3) Wash the lentils thoroughly then add cold water to cover them along with all the ingredients (listed below) and gently let them boil away for around 20 minutes. It is really important not to over cook them as they will become soft and soggy. You want to have them so that they still keep their shape.

4) Blend up the basil oil while the above is cooking away.

5) Plate up and whilst you are doing this place the goats cheese in a warm oven for a minute or two to warm it up then place on top of the lentils and drizzle with basil oil.

Whilst the ingredients length looks rather long…..please do not be put off as it really takes no time at all – bar the slow roasting of the tomatoes, which need to be cooked slowly over time. Everything, except warming the goats cheese in the oven, can be done ahead of time and then simply warmed up for a few minutes in the oven prior to serving.

Wintery Warm Lentil and Goats Cheese Salad with a Fresh Basil Dressing

adapted from Skye Gyngell’s recipe in her book ‘A Year in My Kitchen’

Serves 4-6

roasted tomatoes

6 plum tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp rock salt

liberally ground black pepper

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roasted red onions

5 red onions, sliced into circles

75g caster sugar

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

handful of fresh thyme

salt and pepper

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flavoursome lentils

400g lentils (I used a combination of green and small darkish green lentils but puy is also good!)

1 white onion, peeled and quartered

handful of fresh flat leaf parsley

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 carrot, peeled and cut into three parts

2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into a few pieces

1 red chilli, kept whole

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp of fresh coriander stalks

———–

2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tbsp sesame oil

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basil oil

2 bunches of fresh basil

150ml extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled

salt and pepper

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fresh goats cheese

6 slices of fresh goats cheese

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1) In the order of the above. Place the halved tomatoes into an oven proof dish and scatter with caster sugar, salt and pepper and place in the oven at a low temperature – 100 degrees centigrade works well – for up to 2 hours.

before slow roasting

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slow roasted to perfection!

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2) Slice the onions into circles and scatter in a roasting tin along with the balsamic vinegar, caster sugar,olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme and mix together well with your hands. Place in an oven at 180 degrees centigrade for 25 minutes.

before roasting

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3) Wash the lentils and then cover with cold water. Add the carrot, red chilli, onion, garlic, ginger, fresh parsley, bay leaves, coriander stalks and bring to the boil and then gently simmer for 20 minutes (or what is advised on the packet). Be careful not to over cook the lentils. 

lentils ready for the boil

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4) Place the fresh basil in a food mixer and blend. Slowly add the olive oil to the chopped basil and add salt and pepper to taste. If you prefer to have more of an oily basil then just add a little more olive oil. I rather like to have it so that you can add little dollops to the plate. (see below)

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5) Drain the lentils and remove the added ingredients as their job to flavour the lentils is now complete. When the lentils are still hot add the tamari, sherry vinegar and sesame oil and mix together.

6) Slice the goats cheese and place on an oven proof dish and place in the oven for a minute or two.

7) Plate up the lentils and add a generous helping of roasted onions, tomatoes and the goats cheese in the middle on the top with some dollops or drizzle of fresh basil oil and leave the rest in a separate bowl for guests to help themselves to more as they see fit.

8) Tuck in and enjoy along with some fresh bread on the side. It is absolutely heavenly. I know I often say that but seriously all the above effort is SO worth it.

Aside from the roasting of the tomatoes, this dish took me 30 mins to cook and plate up.


Lazy Florida days and a healthy option omelette

We have now returned from 10 blissful days in the Florida Keys and Miami. Nine hours on a plane transported us to the depths of summer where the sun shone and a gently cool breeze drifted off the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, giving us a little respite from its warm rays . I’d been to Key West once before but had flown directly onto the island so had not fully grasped how spectacular the drive from the Everglades to the southern tip of Florida – Key West – actually was. There are over 1700 islands in the coral archipelago that makes up the Florida Keys, but only 43 are inhabited connected by bridges, the most spectacular being the seven mile long bridge. We stayed on the beautiful Islamorada and whiled away the days swimming, snorkeling, sea kayaking, seeing dolphins and fishing from the jetty.

A coral reef stretches to almost as far as the eye can see and this coupled by bath warm still waters provided the perfect sea for the whole family to feel safe from deep swells.

We spent a leisurely day driving up to the tip – Key West – and back to Islamorada. Key West seemed to have expanded  somewhat since I was last there 18 years ago, as you would expect, but step off the touristy Duval Street on to the side streets and you will find the the beautiful weather boarded houses covered with bougainvillaea which have remained the same since the days of Ernest Hemingway. The pace of life is slow and it doesn’t take long to feel the stresses of everyday life lift off you when you spend time in the place.

Being only 90 miles from Cuba, therefore closer to Cuba than Miami, the island definitely has more of a Caribbean than American air to it. Many Cubans moved permanently to Key West from the 1860’s  following the ‘Ten Year War’ and with the Cubans came the arrival of the rooster (due to their love of cockfighting), to the extent that today virtually every street has a rooster wandering down it. Cockfighting was outlawed in 1970 but the roosters have remained free to wander at their will around the streets.

Mr B and I ate one of the most delicious lunches whilst in the US at a place called Mangoes, a ‘Tuna, Crab and Avocado Tower’. It was absolutely divine, seriously off the charts. It consisted of  tuna tartar, blue crab, layered avocado, plum tomato, cucumber, field greens and arugula (or rocket for us Brits!) and finished with a tomato vinaigrette and scallion infused oil.  I am going to have to replicate a similar dish and put it here on my blog in the future. Fresh, healthy and delicious what more could I ask for !

Half way through our holiday we said our goodbyes to the Keys and headed to Miami, a city that none of us had visited before. I had high hopes for the place and was looking forward to seeing its art deco district, sample fresh healthy food and soak up the atmosphere on South Beach. I can honestly say that Miami totally lived up to our high expectations. OK, it’s not going to compare to the likes of Rome or Florence for history and culture, but for flamboyance, flair and basically great fun, it definitely rocks.


The pulse of the place is electric and it’s definitely a place that promotes healthy living. South beach is stunning and stretches for miles and all day there are joggers, cyclists, skate boarders, roller bladders and walkers using the board walk that runs parallel to the beach. The beach is exceptionally wide owing to the fact that the part nearest the board walk has concrete underneath with sand on top, which gives it an easier surface to jog for those who want to run on the beach. It’s appearance however, completely blends in naturally with the rest of the beach. I was rather taken by the stunningly painted (mostly pastel shades) life guard huts that are scattered down the beach. There are 125 life guards covering 8 miles of beach and every couple of hundred meters sits another beautiful hut for them to survey the waters and swimmers within their view.

Up until the 1980’s Miami was a no-go zone for tourists, in fact it supposedly had the highest murder rate in the whole of the US. The hit TV series ‘Miami Vice’ played it’s own part at bringing around the change from least desirable city to visit to the happening, tourist magnet it is today. The series put Miami on the map and with the help of the real life cops it cleaned up it’s act. I can honestly say that I was surprised by how safe Miami – well South Beach – actually felt. There was a police presence, but not a threatening in your face kind of presence.

Food wise we ate some delicious meals but there are a few observations I thought it might be interesting to raise here.

1. Portions in the US are SOOOOO BIG. Way bigger than here in the UK. On average I would say they are twice the size. I have a good appetite but even I found the portions to be far too large to be considered healthy for a grown adult. I realise that ‘doggy bags’ are common place in the US, less so here in the UK, and that most people like to take home the food they cannot eat. Just an idea, but why don’t restaurants serve smaller portions, charge less, and then the diners can finish all their plate without having to take home a ‘doggy bag’. Does everyone really like leftover brunch? As far as I could see there must be so much wasted food in the US. Also as the population is growing in girth it might be advisable for restaurants all over the US to join together and serve smaller portions so that the next generation do not have to deal with such first world problems as obesity.

2. Oranges come from Florida right? They even have them on their number plates, so you would expect that a fresh orange juice in a restaurant/diner would be pretty cheap. Oh no think again. Fresh orange and apple juice were so much more expensive than all the fizzy sodas that it is no wonder that people chose the unhealthy option if they are strapped for cash. We went to a few diners and they always seemed to have free refill for coke, lemonade etc, but never the healthy options such as fresh orange or apple juice. I found it rather off putting seeing grown adults drinking pint sized glasses of coke with their breakfast.  Also ordering a fruit salad for breakfast was always so much more expensive than ordering the unhealthy options.

3. Seeing Cops eating in diners was new for us. In the UK you would never see this. It’s not that they don’t eat when on duty – I am sure they do – but you never see a bunch of them chilling out for an hour or so eating a large fry up. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, just an observation we made.

4. Average steak size in the UK is 12/14oz. In the US it’s 22 oz. This tells you something right?

5. We had a fun brunch at ‘The Big Pink’ in South Beach, but a 5 egg omelette is just a little too much for one individual. A healthier option and one that was prepared for me when I was staying in Islamorada is the following and is without out doubt the tastiest and healthiest omelette ever. Seriously try it out and let me know what you think.

 Egg White Omelette with Fresh Spinach, Goats Cheese, Red Onion and Tomato

serves 1

3 egg whites, whisked

half a small red onion, chopped

half a medium sized tomato, chopped

small handful of fresh spinach

1 tbsp crumbled goats cheese/feta

olive oil

pinch of salt (optional)

1. Warm a pan/skillet and then add a little oil and the chopped red onion. Fry for 2-3 minutes before adding any other ingredients.

2. Add the tomatoes and spinach and after 10 seconds add the whisked egg whites, goat cheese and pinch of salt (optional).

3. Continue to whisk gently for up to a minute or just before the eggs set so as to make the omelette fluffy. Using a spatula press down lightly so as to bind the omelette together.

4. Gently fold over half the omelette using a spatula to create a half moon shape and again press down lightly for 20 seconds.

5. Tilt the pan/skillet and transfer omelette on to a plate.

6. Eat immediately, with a scattering of fresh spinach leaves on the side.