Category Archives: Herbs

Weekend lunch…

Pesto-Focaccia-(6294)

I never have time to prepare something like this for a weekday lunch, because it does take a little bit of work (unless I don’t have some ready made dough in the fridge/freezer). But during the weekend, when I have a little more time to potter around in the kitchen I am always up for focaccia. And it’s even better when you have someone else prepare it for you. J recently whipped this up a few weekends ago while I was running some errands one Saturday morning. He made some dough (read more about this here) and topped it up with pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes. A quick and easy lunch idea. Simple but yummy. Enjoy!

Rob x

What I’m eating today…

Rice-Salad-(5058)

There are times when my to-do list gets so long (it’s sickening really) that even the kitchen becomes my enemy! It doesn’t happen that often but when it does and I want to eat, I make something simple, quick, with extra for leftovers and good all in one. There are plenty of recipes out there which will give you all of this, and more. But when I’m really pressed for time I opt for rice. I prefer rice over pasta generally because I find it lighter, and the fewer the ingredients the better. It’s wierd I know, especially because when making a stir-fry I go for whatever-I-can-raid-from-the-fridge kind of cooking! But for a salad I go the other way. I cook the rice as usual. Then in a large mixing bowl I throw in beans, spring onions, a yellow pepper, extra virgin olive oil and some fresh chopped parsley. A bit of salt and pepper, mix mix mix and it’s ready. Eight ounces of rice will give you plenty for 2 people.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Savoury puddings…

Creamed-Corn-Cake-(5468)

Most people would say that I have a sweet tooth, but if you read in between the lines of my several rants in this blog (for which I constantly apologise – but I know I don’t always need to), you’ll know that perhaps this is not the case. I love sweet things, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes there’s nothing better than some fresh crusty bread and cheese to alter my mood. Did I forget to include those lovely salty anchovies?! It’s now widely acknowledged that too much salt is not good for the system, but extra seasoning is needed many times for flavour. There’s nothing worse than a bland plate of soup. I know you know what I’m talking about.

When I lived in Michigan some years ago I spent loads of time alone in the kitchen thinking about what my next bake would be. Food Network US was constantly on, day in day out, no exception. I used to drive J totally mad I think! But that’s when my food obsession started. So one morning I saw a short snippet of Nigella Bites. I can’t remember the episode this recipe was from, but I saw her concocting a pudding she served with ham. I quickly tried to write it down and missed some steps here and there, but I thought that I had a workable recipe anyway. So I tried what I had written and the recipe worked. This is before I bought the book. The result was a creamy cake, not that solid I must say, but it was done, the skewer came out perfectly clean. It was wierd but tasted great and I wondered where Nigella got the idea from. You see, however far you look, recipes are always inherited when it comes to home cooking, and there’s nothing wrong in this. There’s a sense of tradition which I love – I have no worries about passing on recipes, especially the ones which I’ve grown up with. There’s no secret here.

I never found where this idea came from until I came back from Rome last week. I was reading through Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy which is definitely one of the must-haves in your kitchen library if you are interested in Italian food and its history. I was thinking about buying it when I discovered that I already had! I rummaged through my books on my last visit to Malta and found it hidden in the shelves! Go figure. In this book I found a recipe for what Del Conte calls Salviata, a.k.a. sage pudding. Nigella’s version is *not* a replica of the Salviata – there are many differences. What I would say is that the Italian recipe is much healthier, if you’re counting the calories. Also, like almost all things Italian it has Parmesan in it of course. I haven’t tried the Salviata yet, but the following is Nigella’s English pudding, which is really quick and easy to prepare, but don’t make it often, ok? You’ll get why in a minute. Also it needs it’s time in the oven to bake through. So give it time. As always, please note that every oven is different, so experiment and don’t give up if it doesn’t turn out the way you’ve hoped.

Before you read on, you also need creamed corn for this recipe. I would recommend you add it here because it will make a big difference in the pudding’s consistency. It’s so good you’ll want to eat it straight out of the can with a spoon! Well I do anyway! You can easily find it in supermarkets in the UK. This is my version of Nigella’s recipe. I take her advice on board as always and use a Pyrex dish, which always works. You need:

  • 5 eggs
  • 280g sweetcorn, frozen (or drain a 340g can – you’ll get roughly the same amount)
  • 420g can creamed corn
  • 300ml semi-skimmed milk (Nigella uses full-fat but I find it works like this too)
  • 300ml double cream
  • 60g plain flour (4 heaped tablespoons will work fine)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of coarse salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  1. Grease an ovenproof dish with some butter and flour, and preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.
  2. In a large bowl whisk the eggs, add the other ingredients and beat very very well! Pour into the dish and place it in the oven. Give it 45 minutes and keep an eye on it through the oven. That’s why you’ll want to use a glass dish here. Wait for it to turn golden brown and puffed up on the top. Give it a good hour if this isn’t so. If you think it’s cooked check it as you do usually, with a knife or skewer but try to leave the dish in the oven as you do this. Ask for some help if you need to.

If you see that it took longer than an hour to cook, next time try it at 190°C as the book says. I find that for an electric oven ten degrees less is more than enough. Experiment and enjoy it though. It makes a mean snack, or a really good side with anything. Happy baking!

Rob x

Paella

Valencian-Paella-(5246)

When Rick Stein published his latest book, and was coming over to Guildford for a book signing, I had the flu. Typical. When J saw that I just couldn’t make it, he went to the venue for me with my copy, making sure I wouldn’t miss the autograph part. I would have like to say hello to Mr. Stein myself, but that’s how life is sometimes.

I have not been able to cook much from Rick Stein’s book Spain, but I have found a recipe which inspired me to make a version of his Paella Valenciana. I have changed a few things here and there primarily because I didn’t have some of the ingredients. So I raided the fridge to see what I could find. It was a bit touch and go; I wasn’t confident that this would work, so I asked J for some advice. If you decide to try this make sure to read the recipe before. It’s really simple mind you, but the steps are very important.

Paella is ideal for a supper party. With these quantities you will have enough for 6 people with some left-overs. This dish is very easy to make; it just requires a bit of looking after…

Before I go on I would just like to say something about paella in general. Although it is not a risotto, so no continuous stirring is needed, you still need to check that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. So make sure to stir and scrape the rice from the bottom of the pan once in a while. Thus ended my rant. You will need:

  • 500g boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 500g paella rice (available in supermarkets)
  • 1 large onion, chopped in large dice
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1.25 litres chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 teaspoons saffron, steeped in warm water and sieved*
  • 240g dried chickpeas, cooked (or 410g can drained and washed under cold water)
  • 400g polpa di pomodoro (or large can whole tomatoes cut in chunks)
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (Do not use too much or it *will* taste so soapy!)
  1. Place the chicken in a bowl and season it well with a little salt and as much pepper (approximately ½ a teaspoon each is ok) as you like. Mix well. When you think you have enough seasoning, heat a large ovenproof pan. I use a large cast-iron one – a favourite of mine. Using a tablespoon or so of olive oil (not extra virgin), brown the chicken on all sides. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and wrap these in some kitchen foil to keep warm. Set aside until needed.
  2. If see the need add another tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and tip in the onion, garlic and paprika, and stir. After 5 minutes or so add the polpa di pomodoro. Let the bottom of the pan de-glaze for a few more minutes. Now add the green pepper, cooked chickpeas, frozen peas. Mix everything together, add the stock, rosemary and the saffron infused water.* You just need the water here; that’s where the flavour is.
  3. It’s time to add the rice, and stir this into the stock. Scatter the browned chicken pieces onto the rice and leave it be. Simmer on a medium/high heat for around 5 minutes, then turn the heat low and leave it for another 15 minutes or so, that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.
  4. When you see that the rice has absorbed the stock, turn off the heat and cover the pan with a clean dish cloth for a few moments. At this point it’s ok if your guests turn up a bit late! Fluff up the rice with a fork before serving.

Please note that the above photo was taken before any fluffing occurred, in case you’re asking. Enjoy.

R.

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Mushroom risotto.

Mushroom-Risotto-(5164)

You know you have a winner when you cook something again and again without minding that much. This is one of my go-to recipes whenever I don’t want to think about fancy dishes or when I’ve had a tiring day. There is some prep work involved and some stirring, but you could always get someone to help with that! You can use a mixture of fresh mushrooms and it’s even better with some dried porcini soaked in a little hot water. (Don’t even dream of using the canned stuff, and if you do please don’t tell me.) I like to use chestnut mushrooms because they are tastier than the white button mushrooms. (I don’t buy porcini often!) Anyhow, you will get more flavour from the grated cheese and fresh parsley later. This is a simple but delicious winter dish. Serves 4.

  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
  • 250g arborio
  • knob of butter (approx. 25g)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 litre hot vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
  • 2 tablespoons grated cheese (Pecorino or Parmeggiano)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
  1. Pour the olive oil and butter in a large-ish saucepan and add the onions, garlic and mixed spice. Stir until everything is coated by the melted butter.
  2. Add the arborio and 1 ladle of stock, and stir until this is absorbed by the rice. Continue to add 1 ladle full to 2 of vegetable stock at a time while stirring often. Add the mushrooms when you have used around half of the amount of stock. When you have finished adding the stock and the rice has absorbed it you should end up with a creamy consistency. If it is too dry try adding more stock.
  3. Remove it from the heat, add the grated cheese and parsley and mix these into the rice. Call everyone to the table and serve at once.

A note on something completely different: I will be away for a couple of weeks, but will be back with some new recipes as soon as I’m back in Surrey, just in time for the run-up to Christmas. Enjoy!

Rob x