Spicy Virgin Mary with Rosemary Spiced Walnuts

IMG_6440-2

For as long as I can remember I have adored drinking a Spicy Virgin Mary and time and time again I have been a little disappointed by what some pubs pass off as a Virgin Mary here in the UK. Tomato juice with a little tabasco just really doesn’t pass muster, so it’s not unheard of me asking for the necessary ingredients and making my own. Cheeky I know, but hey! In my old life working as a headhunter in the city I would spend a fair amount of time in hotels around London and other European cities meeting up with candidates who wished to remain incognito. I am not a coffee drinker, other than iced coffee and in particular Vietnamese –  for the recipe click here, and there are only so many cups of teas, water and ginger ales you can drink in a day, so my drink of choice, come the afternoon, would be a Virgin Mary.

IMG_6425

The quality of these Virgin Mary cocktails on the whole were excellent, as you would expect from a five * hotel, however, I recall the ones served to me at Browns Hotel, London and The Four Seasons, Canary Wharf – London and Milan were ahead of the pack. They often came accompanied by some little bar snack – nuts, olives or vegetable crisps, which worked so well with the spicy drink.

IMG_6428

So alongside my recipe of a Spicy Virgin Mary I have found the perfect munchy, Rosemary Spiced Walnuts, which is easy to prepare and guaranteed to please those you hand the bowl to. In fact I have prepared it so many times since stumbling across it on fellow food blogger ‘Gastrogeek’s‘ site that it will definitely be imprinted on my mind as the snack for 2013.

IMG_6458

Spicy Virgin Mary

Makes 1 jug around 6 glasses

1 litre of tomato juice

4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp tabasco

juice from half a lemon

2 tbsp horseradish

pinch of celery salt (or normal rock salt)

freshly ground black pepper

fresh celery sticks

extra lemon juice for rim of glass

1. Add all the ingredients together and taste. I do like my horseradish so perhaps add one tablespoonful then taste before adding the second.

2. To decorate the glasses first squeeze the extra lemon juice on a saucer and the freshly ground black pepper on another. Place the glasses first on to the saucer with the lemon juice followed by the saucer with the black pepper.

3. Add the Spicy Virgin Mary followed by a stick of celery in each glass and a slice of lemon and some ice.

If you want to ‘bloody’ the drink then just add vodka!

***********

IMG_6477-4

Summer is the season for having friends around for a BBQ and generally chillaxing so I hope you get to try this fab drink/snack combo. What homemade snacks do you like to serve up when friends come over?

IMG_6479

Rosemary Spiced Walnuts

Adapted from the lovely Rejina over at Gastrogeek, who in turn sourced it from Lawrence Keogh, Head Chef at the Wolseley

1 tbsp butter if eating immediately OR a splash of olive oil if cooking ahead of munching

150g walnuts

1-2 tsp light brown sugar

4 springs of fresh rosemary, chopped into small pieces

splash of water

1 generous pinch rock salt

pinch of ground black pepper

1/2 tsp chilli powder (or you could try smoked/hot paprika/cayenne powder)

1. Heat the butter/oil in a saucepan and add the walnuts. Cover the walnuts in the butter/oil and keep them gently moving around the pan allowing the natural oils to resonate.

2. After a couple of minutes add the sugar and allow the nuts to begin to caramalise.

3. Add the chilli powder (I also sometimes make these with smoked paprika), fresh rosemary, rock salt and black pepper. Continue to stir and shake the nuts around, making sure that they do not burn.

4. After a couple of minutes pour into a serving bowl and sprinkle some rock salt on top.

Perfect with a Spicy Virgin Mary.

IMG_6487-6


Baba Ganoush – it definitely has a ring to it!

I have to admit that it was initially the name of this wonderfully smokey aubergine (eggplant) dip/appetizer that caught my attention. I know you probably think I’m mad and just another one of those English eccentrics, but seriously saying ‘Baba Ganoush’ out loud has a wonderful ring to it – give it a try and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll want to keep saying it again and again, I promise you it’s rather addictive sounding. Coupled with the smokey undertones of this pureed roasted aubergine with tahini (sesame paste), lemon, garlic and olive oil and you have a perfect little dish. The name itself means ‘father pampered or spoiled’ in other words, it’s a dish that will please and delight and give great joy to those who feast upon it. It will bring smiles, rest assured!

It is common place in Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, all the Arab countries and North Africa, with each region taking their own spin on the  added extra ingredients. For example, in Palestine, yoghurt is often added to the mix, whilst in Lebanon pomegranate juice is sometimes added instead of the tahini and in Iran tomatoes, onion and turmeric is added. Some people like it to add cumin but I find that the perfect dish is one that is not too over complicated with different ingredients. The simplicity of it adds to it’s appeal.

We ate it on a number of occasions this summer in Turkey, cooked outside on an open fire. It tasted delicious and I made a note to myself there and then to share this recipe with you all. My recipe is very similar tasting to the one that I used to buy in those Middle Eastern supper markets around the Edgware Road in London. I acquired a taste for that style of Baba Ganoush, so when I started making my own homemade version the one I wanted to replicate was the one I used to eat in my youth – or perhaps I ought to say  early 20’s!

There is no hard and fast rule to making Baba Ganoush, so experiment and get creative and see which type really works for you. What I will say however, is that if you like it smokey – which is kind of the point of the dish – it is important to really burn the outside of the aubergine. Using tongs I roast them initially over a gas flame on my hob before putting them in the oven for 25 mins to soften them completely. If you don’t have a gas flame, placing them under a high grill so that the skins blacken and burn slightly, will have a similar smokey effect, but don’t forget to turn them regularly if you do this!

Baba Ganoush

Serves 4

3 large aubergine/eggplant

3 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)

juice of one and a half lemons

1 large tsp rock salt (or to taste)

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp olive oil

1 pinch chilli powder

1 pinch sweet paprika

1 small handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

1. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees. Using tongs hold the aubergine over a gas flame so as to burn and blacken the skin. The more the skin burns the more smokey your Baba Ganoush will be. The skin should be sufficiently burned from between 6-10 minutes.

2. Place the aubergines on a baking tray and place in the oven for 25 minutes or until the aubergine is completely soft.

3. Leave to cool and then peal off the aubergine skin and discard the skin.

4. In a blender add the smoked aubergine flesh, tahini, lemon juice, chilli powder, salt and  half the olive oil and blend to a pulp. Taste and add more lemon juice/tahini/salt if required.

5. Place in a dish and add a pinch of sweet paprika, flat leaf parsley and the remaining olive oil and serve with toasted pitta bread, chapati or middle eastern bread.

It stores well in the fridge for a few days so great to cook in advance.

As you gently singe the skin of the aubergine the lovely smokey smells will come through.

After 25 minutes in the oven the aubergines will be very soft. Leave to cool before peeling off the skin, which should come away really easily. If they are at all hard in places, leave to cook for a further 5 minutes before checking again with a sharp knife. If the knife easily pierces the skin and goes through the aubergine then it is ready.

Into the blender goes the smoked and oven baked flesh of the aubergine, tahini, garlic, pinch of chilli powder, lemon juice, salt and olive oil.

I couldn’t resist a photo of my recent antique find – a c.1860 French steel and rosewood handle herb chopper, with the chopped flat leaf parsley ready to go on the top of the baba ganoush.


Baked Sweet Potato Paprika Chips with a Creme Fraiche, Chive and Lemon Dip

It’s been half term and after thinking that we had all managed to get through the winter months with no illnesses, Little Z and Big A both come down with a bug, which is then passed on to my fit and healthy mother. I’m just waiting to be knocked for six myself but am trying not to dwell on the possibility. So instead of being out and about  this week we have been hibernating inside and keeping cosy. With everyone on the mend and appetites returned I made a batch of these delicious morsels to cheer up my loved ones. They were gone in a blink of an eye, so I felt that I must share this simple recipe with you.

Baked sweet potatoes are a delicious addition to any dish, whether it be accompanying, fish, meat or other vegetables. They are also great as pre dinner nibbles if you have guests coming over or if you just simply fancy spoiling yourself or your family. With very little effort you can create these baked paprika chips with a creme fraiche dip and I assure you they are totally addictive.

I am a huge fan of  Santo Domingo Hot Spanish Smoked Paprika which you can buy here, as it has a real kick. As the girls adore them, I bake a batch without paprika or the less hot variety, so they can devour them as well. As an alternative way to serve them as nibbles, I make little paper cones and line each cone with baking parchment, so that the chips do not get stained with newspaper ink. The velvety creme fraiche is a great accompaniment and I like to add chives, as Big A is a big fan, a good splash of lemon juice and a sprinkling of rock salt. Simple and delicious.

Baked Paprika Chips 

Serves 4 -6

900g sweet potatoes, chopped into wedges

1 heaped tsp paprika

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp of rock salt

Creme Fraiche, Chive and Lemon Dip

200g creme fraiche,

1 tbsp of fresh chives, chopped finely

1/4 lemon, juice only

pinch of rock salt

1. Wash the sweet potatoes, but do not bother to peal them as the skins taste great when cooked. Chop them into chip/wedge size chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the olive oil, rock salt and hot paprika and mix thoroughly with your hands so that all the pieces are completely covered.

2. In a preheated oven – 180 degree fan oven – place the sweet potatoes on baking/greaseproof paper on top of a baking tray and bake for 30-40 minutes or until they are soft.

3. When the sweet potatoes are baking prepare the dip by mixing all the ingredients together and taste and add more seasoning if necessary.

4. Serve immediately with the dip on the side.